One interesting point: the α100 takes CompactFlash cards, and is the first Sony camera that doesn’t have a slot for the company’s expensive Memory Stick cards. However it does come with a CF-Memory Stick Duo adaptor, so existing Sony camera owners can at least still use their old cards.
The control layout is extremely well thought out and I found it very intuitive to use, which is important because like all serious DSLRs the α100 is a complex beast, with an extensive range of manual options and adjustments.
On the top panel are two large control dials. The left-hand one controls all of the main systems, including metering mode, flash mode, focusing mode, white balance and the two modes for the Dynamic Range Optimiser system. You simply turn the dial to the appropriate notch, press the function button in the centre of the dial and then adjust the setting using the data wheel positioned just in front of the shutter button. Quick and simple.
The α100 doesn’t have a separate LCD display for camera data, but all the information you need is displayed on the monitor screen.
On the right-hand dial you’ll find the usual five exposure modes (auto, program, shutter/aperture priority, manual) as well as six program modes; portrait, landscape, close-up, action, beach/snow and night scene. This gives it a wide enough range of manual and automatic options to satisfy both the experienced photographer and the relative newcomer.
Other frequently-used options are also controlled by external buttons, including self timer, continuous shooting, exposure compensation and exposure lock. The only time I needed to go into the menus was to format the memory card.
Taking photos in the harsh desert sun is a challenge for any metering system, but the α100 coped with the conditions admirably. The autofocus and exposure system proved to be extremely quick and precise, certainly the equal of any of the camera’s main market rivals, and the Dynamic Range Optimiser was a revelation. At midday everything was either eye-searingly bright or deep black shadows, but the system never missed a trick, capturing detail in both shadows and highlights. Even when I accidentally over-exposed a few shots when experimenting with the manual exposure settings, the processing system managed to retain detail in what should have been badly burned-out areas.
The DRO system has two settings, one which just optimises the picture at shooting to get a good tonal range, and the other more complex setting which analyses the whole photo and adjusts it zone by zone. This produces even better results, but does add about two seconds to the processing time for each shot. However even using this mode I was impressed by the shooting speed. In standard mode (i.e. with the DRO turned off) the α100 can shoot at a continuous three frames a second, and the big 1700mAh InfoLithium battery is good for at least 750 shots on a single charge, although I was told privately that the actual figure is over 1,000 shots, which is extremely impressive.