Sony DSLR-A200

    leadpic_A200

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    Sony DSLR-A200

      In summary

      An affordable, easy-to-use DSLR camera with some useful functions to ensure high quality pictures.Sony's new DSLR-A200 model replaces the A100 and is targeted at entry-level buyers, for whom it provides all the functions a keen photographer requires. Most of the features that were introduced with the A100 model are provided, including the 10.2-megapixel sensor. However, many have been upgraded or enhanced to make the new model a more Sony-like product. Live view shooting is not supported. . . [more]

      Full review

      leadpic_A200

      Sony's new DSLR-A200 model replaces the A100 and is targeted at entry-level buyers, for whom it provides all the functions a keen photographer requires. Most of the features that were introduced with the A100 model are provided, including the 10.2-megapixel sensor. However, many have been upgraded or enhanced to make the new model a more Sony-like product. Live view shooting is not supported.
      Marginally smaller and lighter than the A100, it comes to the market as a twin lens kit at a significantly lower price than the earlier model fetched when it was launched. The polycarbonate body looks and feels a little plasticky but is nonetheless solidly constructed and the battery, card and port covers on the test camera fitted securely.

      A200_front-w-out-lens

      Front view of the A200 body.

      A100_front-no-lens

      For comparison, the front view of the A100 model.

      Some significant changes have been made to body design and control layout to make the new model easier for novices to operate. The mode dial on the top panel has been shifted to the left side of the penta-mirror housing, where it replaces the A100's function dial. A Function button on the rear panel now provides quick access to flash, metering and focus modes, AF area selections, white balance and Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) settings.

      A200_top

      A200 top view.

      A100_top

      For comparison, the top view of the A100.

      The drive button on the A200 now sits where the A100's mode dial used to be, with a new ISO button to its right. The grip on the A200 is also slightly larger and the shutter button and control dial stand less proud from the top panel. We found the grip to be marginally less comfortable but the shutter button is better positioned than on the A100. No cover appears to be provided for the hot shoe.

      A200_back

      The rear view of the A200, showing the changes made to the menu display and controls.

      A100_back

      For comparison, the rear view of the A100.

      The rear panel has also been redesigned to provide space for the slightly larger LCD screen and make some controls more usable. The power off/on switch is in the same place but it's smaller and less likely to be nudged accidentally. The exposure compensation and AE lock buttons are also smaller and higher on the rear panel. The same line of buttons ranges down the left side of the LCD but, again, they're slightly smaller and more elegantly designed.
      The arrow pad, in contrast, is a little larger, while the Super Steady Shot slider has been rotated and now moves horizontally instead of vertically. The remote terminal has been moved to a compartment on the side panel, which it shares with the DC-in port. A hard plastic cover with a secure-feeling hinge protects both sockets.
      Menu design has also been fine-tuned and the selected shutter speed and aperture are now displayed on the LCD beside the shooting mode. The flash setting is also shown and the image size and quality settings are shifted to the bottom of the screen. Minor rearrangements have been made to other icons.
      The Super SteadyShot image processor has been improved to provide approximately half a stop more latitude than the A100. Autofocus processing is faster and AF tracking is claimed to be better than the A100. But the nine-point AF sensor remains unchanged.
      Exposure metering, flash, viewfinder data display and image adjustments are all carried over from the A100 without major changes. Creative Style options - which were introduced with the A700 - include the Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night View, Sunset, Black and White and Adobe RGB settings.
      The design of the pop-up flash has also been changed and, although it integrates a little more elegantly with the camera body, the flash doesn't rise quite as high above the lens axis, leaving potential for red eyes in flash shots. The A200's flash settings include the standard auto, off, fill-in, slow synch and rear synch settings. Wireless triggering is also supported with compatible flash units.
      When the camera is set to Auto or one of the scene modes is selected, the flash will pop up automatically when the camera detects low light levels or strong backlighting. Flash output is adjustable through +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps. Flash metering options include TTL pre-flash and Advanced Distance Integration (ADI), which uses distance information to control flash output.
      The battery indicator now displays the percentage of charge remaining as well as an icon graphic. The new camera can also accept a vertical grip (VG-B30AM), which holds one or two rechargeable batteries.

      Sensor and Image Processing
      The A200's sensor is essentially the same as its predecessor's but it benefits from new firmware and a boost in top sensitivity from ISO 1600 to ISO 3200. Measuring 23.6 x 15.8mm, it produces high-resolution images with 3872 x 2592 pixels, giving each photosite a surface area of 6.09 microns, which is the same as its predecessor - and also Nikon's D40X, D80 and D200 models.
      As in the A100, image files can be recorded in JPEG or ARW.RAW format. Three image sizes and two Quality (compression) levels are available for JPEG files. Simultaneous RAW+JPEG capture is offered but the image size is fixed at Large and the quality is set to Fine. Two aspect ratios are supported: 3:2 and 16:9, the latter being designed for viewing on a widescreen TV set or computer monitor, although it can also be used for raw file capture. Typical file sizes are provided in the table below.

      Image quality

      Aspect ratio

      Image size

      File size

      Fine

      Standard

      ARW.RAW

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      12.2MB

      ARW.RAW

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      12.0MB

      RAW+JPEG

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      18.2MB

      17.7MB

      RAW+JPEG

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      18.0MB

      17.5MB

       

      JPEG L [10M]

      3:2

      3872 x 2592

      6.2MB

      4.5MB

      16:9

      3872 x 2176

      5.3MB

      4.2MB

       

      JPEG M [5.6M]

      3:2

      2896 x 1936

      4.0MB

      3.2MB

      16:9

      2896 x 1632

      3.7MB

      2.9MB

       

      JPEG S [2.5M]

      3:2

      1920 x 1280

      2.7MB

      2.4MB

      16:9

      1920 x 1088

      2.6MB

      2.1MB

      The Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) has been tweaked to provide improved performance. However the same three settings remain: off, standard and advanced. In the advanced mode, the camera processes the image in small segments, analysing the differences in contrast between the lightest and darkest areas and applying enough correction to produce smooth tonal gradations. It's similar to the A700's system and well worth using.
      Two types of noise reduction processing are provided, separately covering long exposures and high ISO settings. Long-exposure NR uses the dark-frame subtraction method, which roughly doubles image processing times. High-ISO NR kicks in automatically at ISO settings of 1600 and above and appears to have little effect on processing times. It can be switched off manually in the camera menu.

      Playback
      The default camera setting displays shots briefly immediately after they have been taken. Playback options are similar to the A100 and include full-frame display with or without image data overlay, a large view of the selected shot with thumbnails of the four preceding shots above it and a histogram view with a thumbnail image and flashing highlight warnings, brightness and RGB histograms and shooting data.
      You can zoom in and magnify Large JPEGs up to 12x and scroll around the image with the arrow pad. Nine-frame index displays are also available, along with slideshow play. Images can be tagged for protection or deletion. Rotation is also available - but only counter-clockwise and the camera can't identify images for automatic rotation. In-camera editing is not supported.

      Software
      The bundled software disk contains Picture Motion Browser Ver. 2.1.02 for Windows, Image Data Lightbox SR Ver. 1.0 for Windows and Macintosh and Image Data Converter SR Ver. 2.0 for Windows and Macintosh. Picture Motion Browser is a general-purpose downloading and image organiser application with basic editing facilities and support for printing images and burning them to optical disk.

      Sony_A200_softwarePMB

      Picture Motion Browser displays image folders in calendar form.

      The application initially requires you to 'register' folders of images. It will then display thumbnails in calendar form and you can select months and days by clicking on thumbnails. It will even show the time of day in which shots were taken.

      Sony_A200_softwarePMB2

      It will even show you the time slot in which shots were taken when a particular day is selected.

      Editing facilities include an automatic correction (which covers brightness and colour balance), brightness, saturation sharpness and tone curve adjustments and red-eye correction. You can also run slideshows of shots in selected folders.

      Sony_A200_softwarePMB3

      Editign facilities are very basic.

      Image Data Converter SR is a better-than-average raw file converter that supports a wide range of adjustments. It also lets you change the Creative Style settings, adjust the DRO parameters and apply colour and edge noise-reduction processing before converting raw files to TIFF or JPEG format. TIFF files can be saved in 8- or 16-bit format. You can also apply several special effects, including B&W and sepia conversion, solarisation and negative conversion.

      Sony_A200_software1

      The user interface for Image Data Converter SR showing the range of adjustments provided.

      Image Data Lightbox SR allow users to display and compare raw and JPEG images recorded with the camera and rate them on a scale of one to five. It also provides a seamless interface with Image Data Converter SR for raw file conversion.

      Performance
      Pictures from the test camera were similar to our test shots from the A700, with natural-looking colours and an attractive tonal balance that minimised the need for post-capture processing. Raw files were clean and easily adjustable and the DRO control allowed us to take usable shots in contrasty lighting that would overwhelm a less-capable camera. Flare was noticeable in contre-jour shots - but not overwhelming.
      Imatest showed the camera to be capable of high resolution but revealed significant edge softening with the 18-70mm kit lens. The graph below plots the centre and edge resolution at different lens aperture for five focal length settings.

      A200_resolution-vs-FL

      Interestingly, resolution was retained throughout the ISO range, as shown in the graph below.

      A200_res-vs-ISO

      Lateral chromatic aberration was severe at the 18mm setting but low at 50mm and 70mm. However, we found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots at either focal length setting, as can be seen in the illustration below.

      DSC00135_fringing

      Colour accuracy was generally very good, with only minor shifts in hue and saturation revealed in our Imatest assessments. The white balance system had the usual problems with incandescent lighting but produced acceptable colour rendition under fluorescent lights. The tungsten pre-set corrected the orange cast of the incandescent lights almost totally and the manual measurement system produced neutral hues under both types of lighting.
      Image noise was generally low at high ISO settings, even with the in-camera noise-reduction processing turned off. At ISO 3200, both pattern and colour noise could be discerned but we found no evidence of stuck pixels and the noise pattern was not overly intrusive. Shots taken at ISO 1600 were of printable quality.
      The test camera's flash performance was also very good. We found no evidence of vignetting with the kit lens and flash exposures were even across the focal length range of the kit lens. With all ISO settings, the flash had sufficient power to produce correct and evenly-balanced exposures.
      The test camera took less than a second to power up and shut down and shot-to-shot times averaged just under 0.5 seconds. We measured an average capture lag of 0.1 seconds, and there was no delay when the lens was pre-focused. It took 3.6 seconds to process a Large/Fine JPEG file and just over four seconds to process a raw file.
      The burst mode recorded ten Large/Fine JPEGs in 3.1 seconds and the same number of raw files in four seconds. Raw capture rates slowed slightly after seven shots. It took 5.6 seconds to process a burst of ten raw files.

      Conclusion
      Shortly before we completed this review, Sony released details of the DSLR-A350, which has a 14.2-megapixel CCD image sensor and variable-angle LCD monitor that supports live view shooting. It will be offered as a twin lens kit for $1699 and should appeal to photographers who are moving up from a digicam to a DSLR. But you'll have to wait until the beginning of March for it to reach the shops.
      For purists, (and photographers for whom live view shooting is irrelevant) the DSLR-A200 represents excellent value for money and provides all the adjustable controls a keen photographer requires in a compact, affordable body. It also offers slightly better continuous shooting capabilities than its higher-resolution rival.
      The supplied kit lens doesn't quite match the camera's sensor and image processing capabilities and we weren't able to evaluate the zoom lens in the bundle. However, we hope to be able to review some of the recent additions to Sony's lens range shortly.

      IMATEST GRAPHS

      DSC00036_colorerror
      DSC00036_colors
      DSC00011_YBL73_ca_18mm

      Lateral chromatic aberration with the lens at the 18mm setting.

      DSC00086_YL76_ca_70mm

      Lateral chromatic aberration with the lens at the 70mm setting.

      DSC00036_YAR29_cpp

      Resolution near the centre of the frame.

      DSC00036_YBL73_cpp

      Resolution near the edge of the frame, showing edge softening.

      SAMPLE IMAGES

      DSC00101_awb-tung

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      DSC00095_awb_fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

      DSC00083_ISO100

      Short exposure at ISO 100.

      DSC00094_ISO3200

      Short exposure at ISO 3200.

      DSC00115_ISO400

      Long exposure at ISO 400.

      DSC00111_ISO3200

      Long exposure at ISO 3200.

      DSC00126_flare

      Lens flare with contre-jour lighting.

      DSC00130_beach
      DSC00138_Ruby
      DSC00140_portrait

       

      Specifications

      leadpic_A200

      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8mm CCD with 10.8 million photosites (10.2 megapixels effective)
      Lens mount: Sony Alpha mount (compatible with Minolta lenses)
      Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
      Image formats: ARW.RAW (12-bit); JPEG; RAW+JPEG
      Image Sizes: 3:2 aspect ratio – 3872 x 2592, 2896 x 1936, 1920 x 1280; 16:9 aspect ratio – 3872 x 2176, 2896 x 1632, 1920 x 1088
      Image Stabilisation: Body-integrated CCD-shift type
      Dust removal: Vibration of optical low pass filter in front of sensor; charge protection coating on filter
      Shutter speed range: 1/4000 to 30 sec plus Bulb; X-synch at 1/160 sec.
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2 EV in increments of 1/3EV
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 sec. delay
      Focus system: TTL phase detection with CCD line sensors; 9 AF points
      Focus modes: Single-shot AF, continuous AF, manual focusing; wide and spot focusing modes plus AF point selection
      Exposure metering: TTL full-aperture metering with 40-segment honeycomb pattern SPC; multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot metering
      Shooting modes: Program AE, Shutter-priority auto, Aperture-priority auto, Manual; six Scene Selection modes (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night Portrait)
      Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night View, Sunset, Black and White and Adobe RGB
      Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
      ISO range: ISO 100-3200
      White balance: Auto, daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, flash; colour temperature setting; bracketing in increments of 3 frames
      Flash: Built-in flash GN 12 (ISO 100 in metres)
      Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 2 EV in 0.3 EV increments
      Sequence shooting: 3 fps to memory capacity with JPEGs; 6 RAW frames or 3 RAW+JPEG frames
      Storage Media: CF Type I, II or Microdrive, single slot; Memory Stick via optional adaptor (FAT 12, 16, 32 compatible)
      Viewfinder: Eye-level penta-Dach-mirror; 95% coverage; approx. 0.83x magnification; 17.6mm eyepoint; dioptric adjustment -2.5 to +1 dpt
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT LCD with 230,400 pixels
      Live View: n.a.
      Data LCD: Integrated into main monitor
      Playback functions: Single image (image only, image + information, image + information + histogram), index (4 / 9 / 25 images), tabbed browsing
      Interface terminals: USB 2.0 Hi-speed, Video Out (PAL/NTSC)
      Power supply: NP-FM500H rechargeable lithium-ion battery (up to 750 shots per charge)
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 130.8 x 98.5 x 71.3 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 532 grams (body only)

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $1,399 (with 18-70mm and 75-300mm lenses)

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9
      • Ease of use: 9
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 9

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