Sony Alpha A200
- Great interface, simple control layout, vibrant colours, strong noise performance
- Pictures are a little soft, some chromatic aberration
While its pictures are a little softer than those produced by some competing models, there is no denying the A200 is a great overall camera, with particular appeal to novice users who may be afraid to take the next step.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
With companies such as Pentax and Olympus ramping up their efforts in the entry-level SLR space, the market has never been more competitive, so Sony is doing its part to maintain the situation with the release of the Alpha A200. Replacing the first SLR product, the Alpha A100 this new model has made big improvements over its predecessor and while in terms of image quality it doesn't quite compete with entries from Canon and Nikon, it is probably the most user-friendly SLR we've ever used.
One of the big problems with the A100 was the relatively poor quality stock lens which resulted in some hefty chromatic aberration. That issue has mostly been rectified with this model. There was some minor haloing which was a little more prominent than we'd expect from an SLR, but it wasn't particularly problematic and was only really visible in areas of intense contrast.
Packing in a 10.2-megapixel sensor this model is competitive with other entry-level products in terms of resolution. That said, on the whole its pictures were a little softer than those of competing models. They weren't blurry or unclear by any stretch of the imagination and they were still sharp and detailed, but some finer edges definitely lacked the crispness we've become accustomed to and Imatest corroborated this. For most sized prints this won't even be noticeable.
Colour response was strong as usual with the A200 producing bright, strongly saturated tones and accurate hues. Our shots came out very vividly which should please outdoor and nature photographers. Of course there are several colour modes on offer in the camera's menu so this can easily be tweaked both on board and in post-processing.
Noise performance was impressive all the way up to ISO 1600 with minimal graininess and no noticeable loss of clarity. At ISO 800 some fine, colourful chroma noise begins to make an appearance but it isn't until the maximum setting of ISO 3200 that it becomes an issue.
In our speed tests the A200 was up to par, giving us the seamless user experience that is one of the hallmarks of a D-SLR. Its 0.04-second shutter lag, 0.5 seconds startup time and 0.4 seconds shot-to-shot time are all very speedy and in-line with our expectations. The burst mode also operates at a fairly quick 3.5 frames per second.
As we stated earlier though, the best thing about this camera is how accessible it is. For novice users who aren't yet comfortable with the idea of full manual controls and the host of other options SLRs offer, this may be the perfect choice. The interface is dead simple, with a function button handling the menu options and a dial on top changing modes. It still has some SLR-style features such as a scroll wheel for adjusting shutter speed and a switch to flip between auto and manual focus, but on the whole compact camera users will be on their way in no time with this model.
That isn't to say that it's lacking in features though. All the usual manual modes are present as well as Sony's Super SteadyShot image stabilisation which does a good job of eliminating handshake. Rather than going with lens based systems like several companies, Sony's stabilisation is sensor based, so it will be compatible with the company's full lens range. Also included is the Dynamic Range Optimiser which does a decent job of enhancing the balance between light and dark and bringing out detail in shadowed areas. Another nifty feature is the eye sensor that automatically begins focusing as you raise the camera to your face. Rounding out the feature set is dust reduction technology which shakes the sensor free of dust when powering up the unit.
Build quality is about what we'd expect with the A200 feeling a touch on the flimsy side. This is fairly standard for an entry-level SLR and despite the construction, the heavy rubber grip means it sits comfortably in the hands and has a nice weight behind it. As long as you treat it with a reasonable amount of care it will be sturdy enough for your needs. It comes in a dual-lens kit with 18-70mm and 75-300mm lenses.
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