Photography enthusiasts have been waiting with baited breath for Sony to produce a digital SLR since it swallowed up Konica Minolta in January. Now the 10-megapixel Alpha 100 has finally hit these shores, riding in on a tsunami of hype. Inevitably, the look and feel recalls Konica Minolta’s earlier cameras – though the Alpha has a slightly plastic feel, a fact better hidden by the black version than the silver.
On the upside, it has borrowed some of Konica Minolta’s trail-blazing technology, such as Anti-Shake (renamed Super SteadyShot), which is built into the camera, plus a nifty sensor that switches on the viewfinder and focuses a shot as soon as you bring your eye up to it. Both of these features indicate Sony has the SLR beginner in its sights as much as the advanced amateur.
In fact, Sony has two distinct advantages with the Alpha: the Sony brand will attract a younger photo enthusiast, while Konica Minolta’s heritage means thousands of older Minolta film users can now make the leap to digital, because it shares the same lens mount.
Along with more professional results than a compact camera, the chief appeal of an SLR is that you can swap the lens in use to best suit your chosen subject (though the Alpha’s 18-70mm kit is an adequate ‘catch all’). In removing and re-attaching lenses you run the risk of introducing dust and hairs to a camera’s CCD or sensor, visible as black flecks on an image. Sony has attempted to get round this by coating the CCD in an anti-static layer and automatically vibrating the sensor each time the SLR is switched off so it shakes off undesirables. Having used the camera in Morocco, swapping the standard lens for close-up and telephoto lenses from the existing Konica Minolta range, not one instance of grit intrusion was noticed.
With a rechargeable lithium-ion battery inserted, the camera is pleasingly sturdy to grip when used landscape fashion. There’s no second vertical grip should you wish to turn the camera on its side for portraits but it’s light enough for this not to be a problem. Another plus is that, to keep things simple, Sony has done away with a secondary LCD indicator atop the camera. Instead essential shooting information, such as resolution and ISO speed, is displayed on the solitary 2.5in screen. As a result, and unlike other DSLRs, it remains active in capture mode and, if you turn the camera on its side, the display flips round for easier viewing. This isn’t too much of a drain on battery life, which is good for an impressive 750 shots from a single charge – enough to keep you powered across an average two-week holiday.
The Alpha takes just over a second to power up ready for the first shot, which might not be instantaneous enough to please professionals but is perfectly adequate for serious enthusiasts. Upon taking a shot you’re struck by the sound of the shutter firing being a tad loud, which may make candid shots problematic, but at least reassures you this is a serious photographic tool. Left to its fully auto devices, focus and exposure are mostly spot on – thanks to its nine point AF system and 40-segment pattern metering respectively – though a busy scene can confuse the camera as to what it’s supposed to lock onto first. However, a half press of the shutter button and it’s corrected. Manual focus proved useful when using a macro (close-up) lens in trying to determine a specific area of interest, and will appease those aiming more for artistic images.
It’s when zooming in that the Super SteadyShot function comes into its own; the extreme telephoto end of the lens being especially susceptible to hand wobble. Although its hit rate is not 100 per cent, performance is consistent enough to impress. Reviewing the images in Photoshop CS2 on a 20-inch iMac reveals plenty of detail in the images, while colours (especially primary) border on the vivid and flesh tones look healthy.
Doubtless future generations of the Alpha will see Sony stamping its own identity and innovations on the product, but for those mourning the passing of Konica Minolta this camera is a guilty pleasure to use. As long as you can afford the £700 outlay for basic body and lens kit, that is.