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Cameras

Sony A100 dSLR: the alpha camera struts its stuff

It's Sony's first dSLR! Is it a revolution in styling and functionality? Well, no. It's a dull-looking, plasticky-feeling entry-level 10-megapixel camera. Great

From the disk-munching Mavicas and the rotating lenses of the F-series cameras to the super-slim T-series cameras and the lens-with-a-handgrip that is the DSC-R1, Sony has produced many of the most radical cameras in the history of digital photography. Crave was expecting it to pull out all the (f) stops for its first digital SLR, the A100 (technically it's the alpha 100, but Crave doesn't do Greek characters). Surely the A100 would be different, daring, unlike any SLR we'd seen before... but it dropped into our laps from the most conservative branch of the really traditional tree. From the outside, the most radical thing about it is the use of orange as an accent colour.

On the inside, the A100 is an entry-level camera that will compete with the likes of the Canon EOS 350D and the Nikon D50. It amalgamates Konica Minolta and Sony technologies (Sony bought Konica Minolta's camera technologies when Konica Minolta withdrew from the camera market in January 2006).

• The A100 has a 10.2-megapixel APS-C size sensor with an anti-dust coating and an anti-dust vibration system that gives the sensor a good shake each time the camera is powered down.

• The alpha lens mount is basically the Konica Minolta A-type bayonet mount, so it's compatible with existing Konica Minolta Maxxum/Dynax lenses as well as new lenses from Sony and Carl Zeiss. Sony is promising 21 lenses by the end of the year, ranging from an 11-18mm wide zoom to a 300mm telephoto lens (multiply by 1.5 to get the equivalent focal length on a 35mm camera). Most of these lenses will be backwards-compatible with existing Konica Minolta cameras.

• The autofocus and autoexposure systems use pre-existing Konica Minolta technology. Another carryover is the Eye-Start system, which activates the autofocus when you put the camera to your eye, rather than waiting until you half-depress the shutter button.

• Super SteadyShot image stabilisation compensates for trembling hands by jiggling the CCD around in the opposite direction to keep your photos sharp. Sony claims the system is worth up to 3.5 stops, enabling you to use a shutter speed of 1/90s in conditions when you'd normally need 1/1,000s for a sharp image.

• Other features include Sony's newly developed Bionz image-processing engine, a Dynamic Range Optimiser that attempts to compensate for backlighting and the 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD from the DSC-T9. It records to CompactFlash memory cards, although you also get an adaptor that lets you use the Memory Stick Pro Duo card from your Sony PSP or Sony Ericsson W810i.

Crave hasn't spent quality time with the A100, but we did get our paws on it briefly. It's small, light and somewhat plasticky, although it feels larger and more solid than Canon's diminutive EOS 350D. There's a control wheel where your shutter finger naturally falls, with the shutter button behind it -- an odd arrangement that feels awkward at first. Settings such as ISO and white balance are accessed by turning a control dial on the top and then pressing a button. You then have to refer to the LCD on the back to make your selection. Like the position of the shutter button, this hybrid system may take some getting used to.

Like the body, the 18-70mm kit lens feels plasticky, but it gives you a greater zoom range than the kit lenses on competing cameras. The eye-activated autofocus kicks in when you raise the camera to your face and continues to function as you frame the scene, making it easy to take photos quickly.

The A100 will be available from July, priced at £600 for the body only, £700 with the 18-70mm lens and £850 for a twin-lens kit that adds a 75-300mm lens. -ML

Update: a full review of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 is now live.