Buying Advice: Comparing the Sony Alpha 100 and Nikon D200

Russell Hart answers a reader's question about the latest entry in the D-SLR market.

Last month's release of the Sony Alpha 100, a moderately priced, 10.2 megapixel entry in the D-SLR field, generated quite a bit of excitement. Just ask our readers, who made our various reviews some of the most popular articles on the site. The following question comes from a reader in Turkey who is interested in the Alpha and how it compares to the 10-megapixel Nikon D200. American Photo Executive Editor Russell Hart, who traveled to Alaska with a group of journalists to try out the camera, offers his expert opinion.

If you have a technical question you'd like answered, e-mail us at editor@popphoto.com

From: Turgut Tarhan:

Mr. Russell Hart,

I've read your article at popphoto.com. Actually I'm seeking a D-SLR for stitched landscape photography (see Tarhan's website) and planning to sell my Mamiya 7 system to finance a Nikon D200 + 18-200mm VR lens. Though the new Sony Alpha 100 may not be a direct competitor to D200, it seems to hold great potential. To my initial impression from the many samples (and comparisons to D200), it appears more noisy (above ISO 400), more contrasty, and doesn't display any similar color palette (though it may be all about WB or other settings; but unlike the Nikon, I can see a tendency to show magenta cast on neutrals & blues). The kit lens looks quite soft with a lot CA; but with a decent lens, the quality may be much improved. Do you agree with the above?

And a simple question: Did the camera with its kit lens stay balanced hanging on your neck, or tilted downwards? (E.g. Nikon D200 stands balanced with medium size/weight lenses, thanks to its bayonet and hook placement. Canon 20D does not, and applies uneven strain on neck).

Kind Regards,

Turgut Tarhan
Ankara, Turkey

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Dear Mr. Tarhan,

I think the Sony compares favorably to the Nikon D200 in image quality, if not in build and features. (I hear it even uses the same Sony-made chip.) If you're not hard on your camera and don't need such features as the Nikon's higher framing speed, I think it would serve your purposes very well. Keep in mind that if you're stitching multiple images, especially at full resolution, noise and other artifacts won't be nearly as apparent as if you were taking a single frame up to the same print size, and that a three-frame stitch turns the Sony (or the Nikon) into something on the order of a 30-megapixel camera.

I agree with you that color isn't a big issue, since it can be adjusted a bit in the camera and a lot in post-processing, especially if you shoot in RAW mode. (The same holds true for contrast.) As for the Alpha's kit lens, while I didn't look at it critically I was surprised at how good it seemed for its price, and being quite small it certainly didn't make the camera tip forward when it was hanging around my neck.

That said, you could probably go to eBay and for the same money get yourself a good Minolta zoom to use on the Alpha. And along with saving money on the camera itself you won't be paying for lens-based image stabilization, as with the Nikon zoom you're eyeing, because the Sony moves its sensor to steady any lens you mount on it.

Russell Hart
Executive Editor
American Photo

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