Sony Alpha A200 Digital SLR Review - After a successful paddle in the DSLR pool, Sony have gone to the top diving board and dive bombed everyone with three new DSLRs. Matt Grayson puts on his speedos and takes a look at the entry level Alpha A200.
The resolution of the Alpha A200 leans it towards Canon EOS400D territory although this camera is older, so age wise, it's more akin to the EOS450D which is a 12Mp model. This similarity in resolution is also shared with the Nikon D60, Pentax K200D and Olympus E-420, however at £345, it's the cheapest of the lot. The Canon comes in at £394 with the 18-55 lens, the Nikon is £449 with the 18-55 VR lens, and the Pentax is body only at the moment, so quite expensive at £469. The Olympus at £379 with the 14-42mm lens is the closest in price.
Sony Alpha A200: Modes and features The Alpha A100 was the original Sony DSLR and the new breed of cameras have been styled on it. The A200 has a number of cosmetic differences which, Sony say, make this camera a lot easier to use.
The function dial on top of the camera has been removed and the mode dial put in its place.
Functions have been moved to a dedicated button now located on the rear of the camera. In the interests of user ease, the ISO ratings have been given their own access button just behind the shutter release where the drive mode used to be and the drive button is where the Mode dial was on the Alpha A100.
The menu, display, delete and playback buttons are located down the left side of the screen and the navigation pad is clean and free from doubled-up modes. Image stabilising has been moved to a horizontal position under the navigation pad. The rubber flap on the side of the camera houses the AC connector and remote port.
The screen is a "hardly-seems-worth-it" 2.7in. In my review of the Pentax K20D, I mentioned that I would've liked to see a 3in screen and didn't see a problem with it.
Responses to this claim were that this would mean a complete overhaul of the design of the camera, which I think was a fair point. I would also liked to have seen a 3in screen on the Alpha A200 and, seeing as they've redesigned the camera making it smaller and smoother, I don't see why they couldn't have done it.
I suppose the main point of a larger screen on a DSLR these days is to use Live-view, which the Alpha A200 doesn't have.
Interestingly, according to Sony's recent stance on the number of pixels found on monitors, Sony have always listed their screens in dots stating that their number has to be divided by three to get the pixel count. The listing of 230,400 dots equates to 76,000 pixels.
The body has been decreased in size by a few millimetres and the weight from a portly 638g on the Alpha A100, to a leaner 545g.
Unsurprisingly, Sony have changed the battery in the Alpha A200 so the Alpha A100 battery doesn't fit, for those of you switching. The batteries are identical in size, shape and weight, but the new one has a groove down the centre which slots into the ridge in the battery bay. The ridge ensures any other batteries can't fit. However, this is the same battery as the A700, so if you're getting the A200 as a back up, then the batteries are interchangeable.
The resolution is the same, which isn't such a bad thing, but ISO tolerance has been increased to ISO3200 from ISO1600. The layout of the screen has been amended making it easier to see the settings you're looking for. I would've liked to see a similar version of the Olympus menus here as the main screen can be accessed directly without using the menu button.
Looking over the camera, it has more of a matt finish to it and cleaner lines. The back of the camera at the top leans in towards the top plate in a more up-to-date design and the thumb rests nicely against it. My main grievance with the Alpha A100 was the shutter release being set in an odd position and the Alpha A200 has had this issue amended to a degree, although I doubt Sony ever considered it to be a problem.
The branding of the camera has been given a newer, fancy update. The painted on logo of the Alpha A100 is now a prettier embossed version. The lens cap now lacks the stamped Sony name and instead, a less nice, plain lens cap with a painted on Alpha sign is provided.
Incase you ever forget what the resolution of the camera is, Sony have kindly written it on the front of the camera for you.
It's worth pointing out that while the Sony Alpha A200 comes with a standard lens and there are other Sony lenses available, Sony have taken full advantage of their alliance with lens gurus Carl Zeiss and have released a number of Zeiss glass in Sonnar T* and Planar T* quality for us all to drool over.
Sony Alpha A200: Flash options The Sony Alpha A200 has a built-in flash which can be activated by pressing a small button on the left side of the camera. The auto feature works in all preset modes as well as fill-in, rear curtain sync, slow sync and has red-eye reduction.
Compensation is +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments with a recycling time of four seconds and the guide is 12. The guide number is the same as the Nikon D60 and Olympus E-420, but the nearest Canon rival, the EOS450D, has a guide number of 13 the same as the Pentax K200D.
Sony Alpha A200: Build and handling For an entry level DSLR, the Alpha A200 feels sturdy and well-built. The shell is plastic with mock leather on the hand grip. The body is coated in a dull paint, giving it a more matt effect than you'd normally expect on a DSLR.
The menu is much easier to use than the Alpha A100, with the brighter screen. The words are larger and easier to understand and the colours contrast each other to stand out more.
In action, the shutter has a definite clunk to it which is more satisfying than the Alpha A100 and hearing them side by side, makes it sound weak in comparison.
Sony Alpha A200: Performance The layout of the playback has been altered and now features small thumbnails of your previous five images above the main image you most recently shot. A useful touch, I think you'll agree, but deleting one by one can be arduous as you have to wait for the thumbnails to load in before the camera allows you to do anything.
The time taken between shooting an image and it showing up on the screen is appalling. For a general shot of 1/60s at f/5.6 it took two seconds to appear, which doesn't sound long but is double the wait time of rival cameras. This isn't just limited to RAW, either.
The colour test chart proves a good result in the tones and earthy colours. The primaries look good with the exception of blue which is over saturated.
Looking at the white bars of the ladder into the lock and fringing can be seen of orange and blue with a light blue line along the top of the roof.
The portrait shots have given a disappointing result. The images were shot in RAW, so expectedly, the colours are flatter than when shot in JPEG, but what's disturbing is the cast. The white wall in the background has come out with a magenta cast. Using a simple Auto colour correction in CS2 solves the issue, but that's not the point.
The D-Range optimiser is present in the Alpha A200 and is a feature that works similar to Nikon's D-Lighting. It's designed to provide detail in shadowed areas and there are two settings: Standard and Advanced.
Standard performs a general analysis of the image and boosts brightness and contrast while the Advanced setting performs a more in-depth scan of the image and corrects individual segments of the image. The Advanced option does take longer, meaning a longer wait while downloading.
Good overall result with only the deep blue being over saturated.
Matrix metering gives the most balanced result, but the sky is still blown.
Centre-weighted metering is more contrasty, but a bit under exposed all over.
I took a reading from the barn and recomposed for Spot metering.
The standard colour produces a nice, colourful image.
Vivid colour boosts the saturation but not excessively.
D-Range optimise set to standard. Compare this to the image above with the feature turned off.
D-Range Plus is the advanced version and adjusts the image segment by segment, meaning a more balanced image.
Portrait mode, shot in RAW format. Expectedly, colours are flatter, but I'm surprised at the cast.
The Program mode shot, also done in RAW has given similar results. The wall behind is actually white.
Landscape mode has chosen an aperture of f/10 which isn't a typical setting.
Program mode chose an aperture of f/8 to balance the exposure.
Sony Alpha A200: Noise test Having a dedicated processor like Sony's BIONZ certainly helps with noise. It's not until ISO400 that any kind of alteration starts to appear in the image at full size and all that happens is a slight discolouration of the grey card.
Purple and green blobs start to appear more at ISO800 and at ISO1600 where the jump in noise is at its worst, the Sony is still perfroming well.
A softening of the image occurs at ISO3200 and this is a new technique to effectively smudge noise out of the shot. It does work as the performance is still very good with no artefacts littering the image as I would normally expect to see. A good result from Sony in the noise test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
There are points both for and points against the Sony Alpha A200. I like the performance of the processor, the weight and easy to use interface.
However, I don't like Sony changing the battery or the slow downloading and I've never liked the inverted hotshoe since Minolta introduced it.
If you have a Sony Alpha A100 already and use more than one battery, you'll probably be annoyed at having to buy another one. If you're new to photography and are looking for a lightweight, easy to use camera with great lenses, take a look at this one.
Now take a look at the video review of the Sony Alpha A200 on ePHOTOzine.tv here.
Disabled Photographers Society One of the DSLRs that the guys from the DPS took a look at was the Sony A200. Alan Kelly is partially sighted and he said: "The buttons are too small on this camera as is the writing which tell you what the buttons do. For instance, the power switch is a black switch on a black body. It's not easy to see and when I can't read what it says either, it puts me off."
Tom Molloy has Rheumatoid Arthritis and John Miller is Tetraplegic. They both agreed that the weight of the camera is good especially for people with muscle weakening problems.
Sony Alpha A200: Plus points Great noise performance
Easier to use
Fast AF performance
Sony Alpha A200: Minus points Download time is too long
Too many compatability changes
The Sony Alpha A200 costs around £345 with the 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 lens and is available from your friendly ePHOTOzine store here.