Sony DSLR-A100 Guide

Posted in September 2006

In this Sony DSLR-A100 guide, I'm going to use this word a lot: first.

Here's why: the DSLR-A100 is the first digital SLR camera produced by Sony, in a partnership with Konica Minolta (who has ceased their digital SLR production).

It's also the first digital SLR camera to include virtually every advanced feature you can get:

  • Built-in anti-shake
  • Self-cleaning sensor
  • Eye-start autofocus
  • Extended dynamic range

In addition to all of this, Sony has included a 10.2 megapixel sensor (great for large prints) and has priced the camera competitively in the consumer digital SLR market.

Enough intro - let's dig into the Sony DSLR-A100 guide and find out more about this promising camera.


Quick Overview

  • 10.2 megapixels
  • Compatible with all Sony and Konica Minolta A-mount lenses
  • 3 photos per second
  • ISO settings from 100 to 1600
  • Maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second
  • 1.5 times crop factor
  • 2.5 inch LCD with anti-reflective coating
  • Stores photos on CompactFlash
  • 9-point autofocus

Key Feature

In other digital SLR camera guides on this web site, I single out one feature of the camera that is especially interesting or notable.

It's hard to do that with the Sony, since it includes about four features that are note-worthy.

To summarize what I mentioned in the introduction, the Sony packs in four advanced camera features: built-in anti-shake, a self-cleaning sensor, eye-start autofocus and extended dynamic range.

If you're not familiar with what all these features mean, here's a quick overview:

Built-in Anti-shake Even minute camera motion can lead to blurry photos. Anti-shake systems compensate for the minor movements a camera makes when you're holding it in your hands, resulting in clearer photos.
Self-cleaning Sensor Microscopic dust particles can get on your digital SLR sensor when you remove the camera lens. This dust shows up in every photo that you take. Self-cleaning sensors vibrate to "shake off" the dust.
Eye-start Autofocus Most autofocus systems engage when you press down halfway on the shutter release button (pressing down all the way takes the shot). With the Sony, the autofocus engages the moment you bring the camera up to your eye.
Extended Dynamic Range Dynamic range is a limitation of both film and digital SLR cameras. Simply put, the camera can't capture the same range from light to dark that your eyes can see. Extended dynamic range is an attempt to produce better detail in shadows without washing out highlights.

You may have noticed that many of these features are designed to help you take better photos, or improve the quality of the photos that you take.

This is a growing trend in digital SLR technology, and you can expect to see many of these same features on future Sony digital SLR cameras.

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Who The DSLR-A100 is For

The Sony ALPHA DLSR-A100 is ideal for the spontaneous photographer.

It actually took me a long time to come to this conclusion. With many other digital SLR cameras, it's pretty easy to tell which features stands out from the crowd.

Since the Sony packs in so many different features, it was hard to determine who would benefit the most from this camera.

Here's the rationale:

  • The Sony turns on instantly and is ready to take photos when you flick the power switch
  • The eye-start autofocus engages the AF system when you look through the viewfinder
  • The built-in anti-shake helps you take clear photos no matter where you happen to be

It's probably easier to put this into perspective by way of a concrete example.

In order to use the camera for this Sony DSLR-A100 Guide, I took it up to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.


For anyone not aware, this is now the unofficial home of hundreds of wild parrots. I wanted to capture a few to see how the A100 handled their colors.

As I was taking some flower shots (Telegraph Hill also has some amazing gardens), I heard a flutter overhead and looked up to see a great flock of the birds flying by.

I lifted the camera to my eye, the autofocus engaged and locked, and I fired off a few shots - all in a matter of seconds.

Even though I found out later that my photos were terribly over-exposed (I was in manual mode and forgot to change settings) it was at that moment that I realized that the A100 is a great spontaneous camera.

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In Comparison

It's not very easy to compare the Sony to any other digital SLR camera since it's kind of in a class all it's own.

There is no other digital SLR camera (as of September 2006) that packs in the same number of features as the Sony DSLR-A100.

The most obvious comparative analysis is to use other cameras with the same number of megapixels (10):

FEATURESony A100Canon xTiNikon D80Samsung GX-10
Built-in Anti-ShakeX  X
Self-cleaning SensorXX X
Extended Dynamic RangeX   
Eye-start AutofocusX   

This table shows that the closest competitor to the Sony - in terms of features - is the Samsung GX-10.

The most obvious (and useful) feature missing from both the Canon and Nikon is the built-in anti-shake which works with every lens you attach to the Sony.

This makes sense because both Canon and Nikon already produce high-end anti-shake lenses for their cameras. Why would they build anti-shake into a camera when they'd rather have you buy an expensive lens?

This is not to say that the other cameras listed here are without merit.

Both Canon and Nikon have established a long track record or producing high-quality cameras used by professional photographers the world over.

Sony is a new player in this game, and had to create a camera with more whiz-bang to compete.

Which brings me to my next point...

Digital SLR...or Digital Gadget?

Photography purists will argue that the Sony DSLR-A100 is more like a modern digital gadget than an SLR camera.

Let's be honest here: Sony is an electronics company, not a camera company.

They excel at creating CD players, televisions, game consoles and have also made their mark in the compact digital camera category.

But SLR cameras have always been more mechanical than electronic, which is why you can buy a 30-year-old film SLR at a flea market that still works perfectly fine today.

There are two take-away points here:

  1. This camera is NOT for the technology-phobic
  2. With more features, this camera also has more failure points

My concern as digital SLR cameras become more and more like gadgets is that in 6 months they'll be completely obsolete.

Put another way: if you like to be cutting edge, then this is probably the right camera for you. If you're more of a photography traditionalist, then take a look at the other options out there.

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How It Works

Simply put, the Sony is a mass of buttons and dials.

Since it has so many different features, there is a button or dial somewhere to control every single one. This is why I don't recommend this particular camera for the techno-phobic.

If you feel pretty comfortable around your computer (and using any modern remote control) then the Sony should be easy to figure out.

In Use

The Sony is a compact digital SLR (it doesn't have any display on the top of the camera) and feels quite solid in the hand.

It's not as small as the Canon Rebel XT, and the contoured grip is easy to hold onto. I didn't ever have the feeling that the camera would drop out of my hand.

The camera features two prominent control dials: one sets the camera shooting modes (aperture priority, shutter priority, manual mode, etc.) while the other controls camera functions (more on that below).

One main dial on the front of the camera is responsible for changing aperture and shutter speed, while the directional control pad on the back is for using the menus and changing other camera settings.

One minor issue with the DSLR-A100 that I used is that the aperture/shutter speed dial was not very easy to spin.

There are times when you want to quickly adjust your shutter speed to match your photographic subject. Let's say that you're photographing your dog in the backyard.

He starts out sitting, but winds up running around. You start off with a slow shutter speed, but need a faster one to capture the action.

Spinning the control dial takes a bit of effort and it not quite as smooth as it is on other digital SLRs.

Function Dial

One of the nice features of the DSLR-A100 is its function control dial (not the same as the control dial I just mentioned).

There are many features on a digital SLR camera that are a good idea to change manually to maximize the quality of your photos: ISO, White Balance, Color Balance and Metering Modes (not sure what these mean? Take a look at the visual digital SLR dictionary or the 5 online SLR lessons.)

The point here is that once you start changing these settings, you change them a LOT.

While many digital SLR cameras have individual buttons for each feature, the Sony just has a function dial.

All you have to do is turn the dial to the setting that you want to change, push the "Fn" button in the middle of the dial and then make your adjustments.

This is much easier than many of the menu-intensive setups on other cameras. I found myself "customizing" settings much more often than I would with a camera where these settings were hard to access.


The Sony A100 has a wide variety of color settings that are typical on modern digital SLR cameras.

Back in the good old days (as I like to say) you didn't have a lot of control over the colors that your camera captured - if you wanted to change the color tone in the photo, you had to edit the photo after the fact.

Now you can adjust the color in your images as you take the photo to account for different lighting conditions.

For example, the A100 includes different individual settings for standard, vivid, portrait, landscape, sunset, night and black and white.

Each setting is designed to maximize the color tone for the subject and lighting. Just a word of caution - if you do get carried away setting color modes, make sure you check the setting before you start taking photos.

The sunset mode in particular affects the colors during daylight, and you don't want all of your vacations photos to have a tint to them.

In direct sunlight the Sony has a tendency to wash out photo (adjustments can be made to correct this) but it works incredibly well in shade and partial overcast situations photo.


The eye-start autofocus is easy to trick.

Put another way: the autofocus starting is not specifically associated with your eyes.

There are small sensors at the base of the viewfinder that detect whenever ANY object is in front of them. This means that anything can set off the autofocus: your hand, arm, head or chest.

So long as something is blocking the sensors, the autofocus will be whirring away.

With a camera strap around my neck I tend to hold cameras in front of my chest when I'm not taking photos and I could hear the camera focusing constantly.

The good news is that the autofocus does engage immediately when you bring the camera up to your face - great for spontaneous shots.

The bad news is that the autofocus is not quite as precise as on some other digital SLRs I've used, and tends to search around a bit before it settles on a subject.

Anti-Shake (a.k.a. Super Steady-Shot)

A hand-held shot at 1/15th of a second - not possible without anti-shake

For anyone who's been wondering: yes, the anti-shake in the DSLR-A100 does exactly what it's supposed to do.

It greatly reduces camera vibration, even at shutter speeds that are absurdly slow.

Here's the concrete example: with most digital SLR cameras and a standard 50mm lens, you really can't hand-hold the camera and use a shutter speed slower than 1/30th of a second without getting a blurry photo.

For this Sony DSLR-A100 Guide I deliberately tried to use shutter speeds that were much slower than 1/30th of a second to see if I could pull it off.

You be the judge.

I took this first image at 1/13th of a second with a 50mm lens and turned off the anti-shake photo. Blur city.

Without changing my position or any of the camera settings, I activated the anti-shake and what was previously blurry became sharp photo.

While this makes it clear that the anti-shake is working well, what's the practical application?

There are a few:

  • You can take photos of static subjects even in dim light (if your subject is jumping around the anti-shake in the camera won't help prevent THAT blur)
  • You can take landscape photos even after the sun has set holding the camera in your hands
  • You can take great shots of falling water WITHOUT using a tripod (see above)
LCD Display

The A100 has a big bright 2.5 inch LCD that is very easy to see, even in daylight.

But the real feature of this LCD that I like (acquired from the Konica Minolta line of cameras) is that the display rotates when you flip the camera up to take a portrait shot.

While this is not one of those make-or-break features, it does make it incredibly easy to view and change camera settings no matter how you're holding it.

With other digital SLRs you have to crane your neck to review the settings, especially when you have the camera attached vertically to a tripod.


While the built-in flash on the Sony DSLR-A100 works like many other comparable flash units, there is one key problem: it's manual.

Here's how it works: on other digital SLRs, the built-in flash pops up automatically whenever the camera is in AUTO mode and it detects that there's not enough light to get a good photo.

The flash on the A100 never pops up automatically.

To activate it, you have to lift the flash up away from the camera body.

This means that if you're not paying attention and just snapping photos in AUTO mode, there's a high chance that you're going to get some very blurry photos.

This won't inconvenience the outdoor photographer, but it's a real problem for anyone who takes photos indoors with flash.


The DSLR-A100 uses a rechargeable NP-FM55H battery.

Battery life is great: I had only used up about 50% of it's power even after taking all of the photos for this A100 guide.

The A100 also sports a nice battery life indicator with 4-steps (vs. the usual three available on other cameras) which tells you when it's time to recharge.

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The standard 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens packaged with the DSLR-A100 seems exceptionally cheap to me.

While the optics are probably not the best (I didn't compare image quality of other available Sony lenses) they are probably sufficient for most people's standards.

The real issue is the build quality of the lens.

Put simply, the lens feels exactly like the type of lens I would expect from an electronics company: it feels more like a plastic gadget and less like something that you can use and abuse.

I'm not saying that a lens has to weigh a ton to take great photos.

I'm just pointing out that other lenses feel more "solid" than this one, which gives you confidence that the lens can withstand the accidental drop (it does happen).

While this lens will work as a starter, if you're really serious about taking photos with your digital SLR camera, then you'll eventually want to consider a superior second lens.

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The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Built-in anti-shake
  • Self-cleaning sensor
  • Eye-start autofocus
  • Efficient function dial
  • Rotating LCD display
  • Stiff main control dial
  • Manual built-in flash
  • A lot to learn for the techno-phobic

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Photo Samples

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Price Analysis

While the A100 falls at the higher end of the digital SLR price range, it is very competitive with the other available 10 megapixel cameras.

Add on all of the extra features offered by the A100 (that aren't on the other cameras) and the price becomes even more reasonable.

CanonRebel xTi with 18-55mm lens10.1 $ 900.00 £ 619.00
SonyDSLR-A100 with 18-70mm lens10.2 $ 900.00 £ 550.00
NikonD80 with 18-55mm lens10.2 $ 1,100.00 £ 850.00
NikonD200 with 18-70mm lens10.2 $ 2,000.00 £ 985.00

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Compact Flash Memory Cards

When it comes to accessories, the first thing that you're going to need for your new Sony DSLR-A100 is a memory card.

A memory card does not come in the standard camera package, unless you get a special deal.

The A100 uses standard Compact Flash cards, and there are a wide variety of them to choose from.

I recommend that you purchase 2 or 3 smaller capacity cards (1GB to 2GB) to protect yourself from photo loss: if a card goes bad, you only lose 100 photos, not 500.

I also recommend that you only use high-speed cards (like the SanDisk Ultra II) with the A100, otherwise you will spend a lot of time waiting as you transfer photos from the card to your home computer.

SanDisk Ultra II512 MB $ 35.00
SanDisk Ultra II1 GB (1024 MB) $ 50.00
SanDisk Ultra II2 GB $ 80.00
Carrying Case

Sony has created a branded soft carrying case for the Sony ALPHA cameras.

While the LCS-AMSC30 carrying case is designed specifically for the A100, there are two problems that I see with it. The first is price: $90 seems a bit steep for something to carry your camera around in (cases do get quite dirty on the road).

Problem number two: the case is emblazoned with the Sony ALPHA logo, making it clear to anyone within eyesight that you are toting around a $1,000 camera.

I prefer to be a bit more subtle and not advertise that I have a camera on my back, which is why I prefer the Adorama slinger bag. This bag does sport the Adorama logo, but many people may not be aware that this is a camera retail company.

Remote Control

This is the ideal accessory for the night-time photographer.

When taking photos at night, you want to ensure that there is zero camera vibration - which means that you don't even want to touch the camera to take a photo.

The RM-S1AM remote commander lets you do just that.

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For Owners

This section of the Sony DSLR-A100 guide is for existing owners of this digital SLR camera. If there are other links that you'd like to see here, please send your feedback and let me know.

Manuals and Support

Have you misplaced your owner's manual or need support for your camera? Here you go:

Digital SLR Lessons

Tired of missing great photo opportunities even though you have an advanced digital SLR camera?

I'll let you in on a little secret: there's nothing wrong with your camera.

Digital SLRs are great at taking photos, but not so good at making decisions - it's up to you to know what you want and to take manual control when you have to.

Here's some good news: it's easier to learn how to use your digital SLR than you might think.

In fact, you can learn all about all the features of your Sony A100 digital SLR camera in just 5 easy online lessons.

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