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For a while now I have been receiving private mails on both Dooyoo and on Ciao asking me to review the Sony A200 DSLR camera, this is because I have made mention of it in a few of my camera reviews lately but never actually got down to doing a full write up on it.
I haven't reviewed it previously for a couple of reasons mainly though that I had up until now only had a few hours experience of the unit.
Now with a whole weeks shooting with it under my belt and over 1000 pictures taken with it I feel much more capable of writing a thorough review on it. For anyone who has not read any of my previous camera reviews, I am a professional photographer and test many of the cameras I review rather than owning them.
So onto the Sony A200 then, well Sony are very new to the DSLR market even though they have been making point and shoot cameras successfully for a long time. They entered the market with the A100 and have gone on to bring us the A200, A300, A350 and the more professional A700. The one I am reviewing today (the A200) took over pretty much from where the A100 left off but it has a much improved feel to it as well as better positioned controls and a few added functions that left the A100 lagging.
The SonyA100 took excellent images but it had a very slow autofocus and it felt a bit clumsy in your hand as well as looking a bit dated, this and much, much more has been put right in the A200. All together there are more than 20 changes in the A200 from the A100 and all were needed, the body for example, has been completely redesigned to be cleaner, rounder, better built, more ergonomic. The slow autofocus I spoke of has been greatly speeded up to provide a much more satisfying outcome and it just looks much more modern and pleasing to the eye.
Before we get too deep into this review I should give mention to the fact that this DSLR camera is aimed at people just getting into DSLR`s rather than pro`s or really advanced users. It has most if not all the main features but it uses them in a way designed to be friendly to learners, it is in short an entry level DSLR and a very good one at that.
So onto the cameras layout, like the A100 the power switch is still at the back of the camera unlike many DSLR`s which have it on the top of the unit. The A200 only has one scroll wheel unlike the A100 which had two, having only one wheel and a rear touchpad dial makes altering settings whilst shooting much easier in the 200 than it was in the 100. The touch pad on the back allows you to select everything from shutter speeds, aperture settings and also the very useful D-RangeOptimizer which is a function that helps you to shoot in tricky lighting by automatically giving your shots better colour saturation to make up for shadows or dark spots.
All this can be accessed by one touch of the function button then using the touch pad rocker on the rear, this camera has no live view which means you never see what you are shooting in the screen on the back you have to use the eye piece to set your shots which for me is actually a good thing as I feel it encourages proper photography and ultimately gets you taking better shots.
It is also good because you then have your settings on the screen
Pictures of Sony a (alpha) DSLR-A200K
This photo was taken with a 300mm lens at full zoom
at all times so you know exactly what settings you are shooting with and can adjust them very quickly when needed.The other thing I like about the screen on this unit is that it is big enough (2.7 inches) to allow the text to be in big print making it easy to see in darker studio conditions and also the fact that the display automatically tilts to match how you are holding the camera so if you go into portrait mode the display moves with you allowing you to always be able to read what's on it.
The start up on this camera is very quick as are all DSLR`s and do not be worried by the sort of clunking noise as it starts this is the anti-dust mechanism doing its job, basically it shakes the sensor to remove dust particles that may have gotten on it during lens changes. Once powered up this camera can be used in automatic mode, manual mode or a mixture of both, if manual is chosen you the photographer will be responsible for setting everything up right such as the shutter speed the Iso and the aperture, if used in automatic mode the camera will do everything for you all you need to do is choose what to shoot aim and press the shutter button, if you choose one of the other options say for instance you want to set the shutter speed to get a particular result then the camera will automatically set everything else to suit the shutter speed you have chosen.
Most photographers will enjoy setting up at least part of their shooting mode themselves because the camera will just choose basic settings if left to it and this will inevitably result in basic images whereas when you learn a few shutter speed tricks and exposure tricks you can create special images.
The settings on this DSLR camera are good enough to allow you to go fully manual and create brilliant images and equally the camera is capable of getting it right every time you allow it to help you out which means together you and the Sony A200 can be producing images you never thought you could pull off with just a little practice.
When you flick through the menu of this camera or any other DSLR for the first time you could easily become very anxious at how you will ever get to the bottom of all the options on it, the truth is to start with you will probably only ever use about half of them and a lot of the others will become self explanatory as you get used to the unit. There is also the fact that this Sony comes with an excellent manual that explains in very straight forward terms just what all the buttons and the functions they perform are for and how to get the best out of them.
The battery on this unit will allow you to take around 750 shots between charges and displays clearly on the rear screen just how much power is available to you so you never get caught out. Being a DSLR of course means that you are not stuck with the one lens and that is a good thing because se the kit lens that comes with this camera is the one thing that lets it down slightly, the 18-70mm lens that this unit is almost always sold with will do you fine to get used to the camera with but you will almost certainly find yourself looking at bigger and better lenses fairly soon after purchase but don't worry because this camera has lots of lenses available to it and many at very reasonable prices.
The pop up flash isn't great either but then none are and the Sony has a hot shoe fitment so again you can upgrade your flash to an excellent Sony flash gun when you have mastered the camera and have the money.
The Sony A200 is of average size and weight for a DSLR and depending on which lens you have fitted is fine for carrying around, if you have a huge telephoto lens fitted then obviously you increase the weight of the camera dramatically and you should allow for this when buying a camera bag or arranging certain types of shots.
So with all the settings, weight and size, looks and quality taken care of how about the images it produces, after all this is what really matters isn't it? Well I can tell you that the images produced by this unit are excellent and I would compare them with the images from much higher range cameras such as the Nikon D80 or the Canon 40D, it mattered little what I tried with this camera the results were outstanding every time. I used the camera for some studio work in conjunction with some serious strobe units and the camera fitted in with the much more expensive equipment admirably and produced some stunning images. I also tested it out with some night photography and with the right lens this produced brilliant images also although with the supplied kit lens the images were not quite as good.
I found that some of the images taken in brighter sunlight were very soft but this is where the D-Rangeoptimizer came into its own producing the saturated colourful images that I was looking for, I also shot some of these types of shots in the Sony vivid mode which makes the images much sharper and more colourful, so granted you have to tamper with the settings to get the results that the Nikon D80 will get you on its own but it is all part of the fun and I enjoyed using this unit very much.
There are better DSLR`s out there but certainly not at this price, this A200 can be bought most places for £299 with the kit lens I have mentioned, it can also be bought as a twin kit lens option with the 18-70mm and the 75-300mm lenses for a little over £400. At those prices this camera is brilliant value for money and without doubt it is THE unit I would recommend to people looking for an entry level DSLR. I think most new users could get a couple of years use out of this unit with a few accessories before having to upgrade to suit their advancing skills and the unit is so robust that it will easily still be re-sellable after those two years so you can recoup some of your money to go towards your upgrade.
When it comes to upgrading you are in good hands too because all the lenses or flash units you may have bought for the A200 will fit straight on to its big brother the A700 and will also work with any future upgrades to the Sony Alpha range in the future.
THE IMPORTANT SPECIFICATIONS
Weight: 532 Grams(approx.) body only without battery, recording media, or lens
Dimensions: 5 13/16ths in. wide x 3 7/8th in. tall x 2 13/16ths in. deep
Imaging device: 10.8 mp sensor, 10.2 mp (effective), APS-C size sensor 23.6 x 15.8mm; RGB primary color filter
Anti Dust System: Anti-Dust charge protection coating on low pass filter and Image-Sensor shift mechanism, engaged in menu system and auto engages when camera is shut down
Bionz Processor: LSI with Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO/DRO+) LCD: 2.7" TFT (230,000 pixels) w/clear photo anti reflective coating -2 to +2 brightness adjustment
White Balance: Auto plus 8 modes (Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, Color Temperature/Color filter, Custom) each with +/- .3 step adjustable step. Color Temperature range 2500-9000k with 19 step Magenta/Green Compensation, bracketing 3 frames h/l selectable
Self Timer: 2 and 10 second timer, no MLU (Mirror lock up mode)
Red eye reduction: Yes, menu on/off
Super Steady-Shot: Image sensor shift mechanism, approx 2.5-3.5 EV decrease in exposure value gain
Image burst mode: Up to 3FPS; Unlimited to capacity of media (JPEG L/M/S); Maximum 3 frames (RAW + JPEG); Maximum 6 frames (RAW)
Color Modes: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Night view, Sunset, Black & White, Adobe RGB (Except for Adobe RGB, all other color modes use the RGB color space)
Image Formats and Sizes: Jpeg (Fine/standard), Raw (ARW 2.0), Raw + Jpeg, Raw 3880x2600, Jpeg 3:2 (L 10mp) 3872x2592, (M 5.6mp) 2896x1936, (S 2.5 MP) 1920x1280
USB Port: Yes covered and Supports USB 2.0 Hi-speed
Video output: NTSC/PAL Selectable in menu
Shutter Speed: 30 sec. to 1/4000th sec in 52 steps, and Bulb setting in Manual Mode
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2.0 Exposure Value, in 1/3 EV Steps ISO Range: 100 thru 3200 with Auto in the following order: Auto/100/200/400/800/1600/3200
Recording media: Compact Flash slot, or Memory Stick Pro Duo (with via optional adaptor sold separately)
Histogram Display: All 3 RGB modes, displays on playback of images
AF Illuminator Light: Yes, via on board flash on/off selectable in menu
Metering: TTL Metering, Spot, 40 Segmented, and Center Weighted
Accessories Supplied: DT 18-70mm f3.5 Zoom lens (27 - 105 35mm equiv.), NP-FM500H rechargeable battery, BC-VM10 battery charger, Video and USB cables, Shoulder strap with eyepiece cap and Remote Commander clip, Body cap, IDC and IDL Software/USB Driver via CD-ROM( Note: no Memory Stick media nor the adaptors are included and are purchased separately)
So if that list of specifications and the review that went before it have not made your mind up then here are another couple of things that may help sway you.
The Sony A200 also has an excellent anti-shake mechanism built into the body which means you have no need to buy expensive anti-shake lenses to get those steady shots at low speeds or low light, it can also capture shots in burst mode at up to 3 frames per second and can do this continuously in JPEG shooting until your memory card is full which is great for sports photography and a 10.2 mega pixel sensor allowing you to crop or blow your images up to poster size without losing clarity.
These are all little things that make the Sony A200 the best entry level camera there is to date and make it the one I will certainly be recommending to anyone that asks for the foreseeable future.