Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 review:

Sony Alpha DSLR-A200

The A200 supports wireless flash, uncommon but not unique in this price class, and I actually like the bare-bones implementation. Rather than grafting pro multichannel support on the camera, which can be quite confusing to configure, it's basically binary: on or off. The rest of its features--and their implementations--is pretty typical for its class, including sensor-shift image stabilization and a 2.7-inch LCD. (For a complete list of features, download the PDF manual.) Like most, but not all, of the cameras in this class, the A200 lacks Live View shooting, but you can get that by forking over another $100 for the otherwise identical DSLR-A300.

CNET Labs' tests indicate it wakes up and shoots very quickly--in roughly half a second. Under good, high-contrast lighting, it focuses and shoots in just under a third of a second, rising to a moderate 1.2 seconds in dimmer conditions. Typically, it captures consecutive frames in 0.6 second, jumping up to 1.3 seconds with the built-in flash enabled. Its 2.8 frames-per-second continuous shooting speed falls around the class average. Also as is typical for this segment, it has limited non-JPEG burst shooting capabilities: only 3 frames raw+JPEG or 6 frames raw in burst mode. In casual testing, the image-stabilization system delivered about 3 stops of latitude over what the reciprocal rule dictates--1/10 second versus 1/70 second for a 70mm focal length--which is pretty standard.

Shooting speed
(Seconds--smaller is better)
Time to first shot
Raw shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim light)
Shutter lag (typical)
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200
Pentax K100D

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Frames per second--larger is better)

I do have a few performance gripes, though. For one, the 2.7-inch LCD is very difficult to view in direct sunlight. Second, the focus indicators for the 9 off-center focus points are lines (rather than squares), and very dim--some people may have trouble seeing them. And the shutter, or at least the mirror flip it drives, sounds unusually loud.

Photo samples from the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200

On the whole, the A200's photos looked okay, if unexceptional. It renders reasonable, if somewhat warm or cool automatic white balance, depending upon the lighting. In standard mode, exposures seem skewed too much toward the midtones--probably to avoid blown-out highlights--so images look a bit low contrast. Its noise profile looks good until ISO 800, at which point color artifacts become obvious, but that's par for the course on low-end SLRs. And the kit lens we tested produced soft photos.

This is the first entry-level camera we've seen in 2008, so it's quite possible that we'll be back to reevaluate the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 more favorably in the context of its competition. But for now, there are better, more interesting models from earlier years whose prices are dropping into its territory; the Nikon D40x or Canon EOS Rebel XTi if you're willing to forgo the image stabilization, or the slightly more expensive Pentax K10D if you're not. You can even opt for the similar and still-available two-year-old Alpha DSLR-A100, if you don't shoot a lot at high ISO settings, and put the money you save toward a better lens.

What you'll pay

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