The announcement at the start of this year that Konica Minolta was pulling out of the camera business altogether came as a huge shock to most people in the camera industry and photographic press. Minolta has a pedigree dating back to 1873 and was one of the “Big 5” camera companies, with a long history of innovation and excellence.
As well as its popular range of digital compacts, it was also a major player in the digital SLR market, with the Dynax 5D and 7D meeting wide critical acclaim. The accompanying statement that all of the company’s digital SLR technology was being transferred to Sony was greeted with some scepticism among those who discuss such things, but in fact Sony and Konica Minolta had been working on a joint digital SLR project since July last year, so the news wasn’t all that surprising.
Well, the fruits of that collaboration have now been revealed, in the shape of the Sony Alpha α100, the company’s first digital SLR. I was lucky enough to be invited to Marrakech in Morocco for the official European launch event, and spent a couple of days in the desert learning about the camera and trying it out with some of the range of lenses available for it. While not quite my usual review template, it is based on handling a full production camera.
The basic details are certainly encouraging. The Alpha α100 uses the same Sony 10 megapixel APS sensor found in the Nikon D200, and also uses the Minolta lens mount, giving it instant access to Konica Minolta’s 10 per cent share of the digital camera market and a ready supply of very high quality lenses.
Further optical excellence is provided thanks to Sony’s partnership with the legendary Carl Zeiss company, the German firm that practically invented optical engineering. The camera is being launched with a range of over twenty lenses bearing the Alpha brand, as well as a couple of flashguns, a range of attractive bags and cases, and other useful accessories.
In overall styling the Alpha α100 resembles, not surprisingly, the Konica Minolta 5D, however it is far from being merely a re-badged Minolta. In order to be taken seriously in the highly competitive DSLR field, Sony has had to come up with something unique and special, and in my opinion it has succeeded admirably. The α100 is crammed full of advanced technology designed to make taking good pictures easier, addressing most of the major problems that can ruin your pictures.
To combat camera shake it features an improved version of Konica Minolta’s already excellent moving-sensor Anti Shake system, which is now renamed Super SteadyShot and offers 3.5 stops of extra low-speed hand-held shooting - more than any competing system.