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9/10

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Sony Alpha a100 Digital SLR - Sony Alpha a100

Dust on the sensor is the bane of digital SLRs, since it causes picture-ruining black marks on every frame. The α100 has a two-fold defence against this. Its CCD sensor has an antistatic coating, so dust is less likely to stick to it, and it also uses the anti-shake system’s actuators to vibrate the CCD every time the camera is switched on or the lens is changed, thus dislodging all but the most persistent particles. While not offering100 per cent protection, this does at least go a long way towards alleviating this problem.

The old digital bugbear of limited dynamic range is also addressed, with the inclusion of the Dynamic Range Optimiser, a system within the camera’s newly developed Bionz image processor that is capable of evaluating and adjusting the exposure of different parts of the image separately, so in theory it should always achieve a perfect tonal range between the brightest highlight and darkest shadow, without losing detail in either.

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The funny thing is, all of these systems have been seen before. Olympus E-System SLRs have a vibrating CCD anti-dust system, HP has used an evaluative gain-adjustment system on several of its compacts to improve dynamic range, and of course the CCD-shift anti-shake system has previously appeared on a number of Konica Minolta compacts and SLRs. The α100 takes these ideas, improves upon them and adds them all together in one camera.

However there’s a lot more to a good camera than just a bunch of clever electronics. Handling, performance and picture quality are equally important, and far more subjective. This is where real hand-s on experience with the camera counts, and although I only used the camera for a day’s shooting, that was enough to form a good opinion of it.

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Thanks to its Dynax pedigree, overall handling is exceptionally good. The camera weighs 545g body only, or around 630g when fully loaded, which is considerably lighter than any of its main rivals but still solid enough to provide a stable shooting platform. The large rubberised handgrip is very comfortable, and the eyepiece is large and bright, with a large soft rubber surround that I was able to use easily despite wearing my sunglasses.

I did find that the shutter was rather noisy, with the reflex mirror making a loud clack with every shot, however it was explained to me that if the mirror was damped to make it quieter it would transfer vibration to the body which would interfere with the anti-shake system. Surely there would be some way to counteract this?

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