So, enough about the competition, let’s take a look at the camera. The overall size and shape holds no surprises for anyone familiar with recent consumer DSLRs. Measuring 130.8 x 98.5 x 71.3 and weighing 532g it is a little larger and heavier than either the Nikon D60 (126 x 94 x 64 mm, 495g) or the Canon 400D (126.5 x 94.2 x 65mm, 510g), but the difference is not great and the A200 feels light and compact. Compared to the Alpha A100 it is almost the same size (133.1 x 94.7 x 71.3mm) but slightly lighter (545g). The body is made of plastic over a metal chassis, and it has to be said that the construction doesn’t feel as robust as the rather chunky A100, but it is by no means flimsy, especially when compared to other current entry-level models.
The design of the body is clearly based on the A100 , which in turn was based on the Minolta Dynax 5D, so it does have a certain pedigree. Although broadly similar, the shape has been softened somewhat, with wider-radius curves and a sloping top to the rear panel. The finish is a more matt shade of black than the A100, and that too somehow softens the appearance. The shape of the rubberised handgrip is the same at the front, but that shape-softening has resulted in a slightly smaller thumbgrip area on the back, and as a result the camera is not quite as secure and comfortable to hold. This is a little unfortunate, since the same body design is being used on the A300 and A350.
The most obvious external changes are seen in the control layout, which has been completely revised. The main mode dial has been moved from the right to the left side of the top plate, while the A100’s function selection dial has been replaced by a function button and on-screen menu. This makes the camera look a lot less complex, while still retaining the same level of control and range of features. ISO setting now gets its own button on the top plate, but other than that the position and function of the other buttons remains unchanged from the previous model. Other less obvious changes include the shutter release button, which now has a shorter travel and is a lot more sensitive, but has lost the very positive double action of the A100. The LCD monitor is also slightly larger, 2.7 inches rather than 2.5, and has slightly higher resolution, with 230,400 dots. One negative change is found on the underside of the camera. The A100 had a textured base, enabling it to fix securely to a tripod even when using a telephoto lens in portrait format. The underside of the A200 is smooth, and even has a couple of slippery labels around the tripod thread. I found I had to over-tighten the tripod retaining screw in order to stop the camera tilting when using the aforementioned zoom lens. Some things have remained unchanged, most notably the viewfinder. It has the same 83 percent magnification and 95 percent frame coverage, and is nice and bright.
The A200 doesn’t add much to the A100’s feature set, in fact something has been removed. The main photographic features are unchanged, with 30-1/4000th of a second shutter speeds, multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot metering and multi-zone, centre or selectable AF. The main additions are an improved Bionz image processor chip now offering 3200 ISO maximum sensitivity setting and an improvement to the Super SteadyShot image stabilisation system, which now offers 2.5 – 3.5 stops of extra stability at low shutter speeds. The AF system has also been improved, with nine AF points and a cross-type centre spot, for faster and more accurate focusing. One very useful new feature is support for Sony’s InfoLithium battery technology. The remaining battery life is displayed as a percentage figure on the monitor, so you know exactly how long you can continue shooting. One very useful feature has been removed however. On the A100, when using the 2-second self-timer for shake-free tripod shots, the camera would raise the reflex mirror as soon as the shutter was pressed, so that any vibration caused by the mirror moving would not affect the photo. This mirror-up feature has been removed for the A200 for no readily explicable reason. Maybe it’s because the A200’s shutter release is a lot smoother and quieter than the loud clack of the A100, and produces less shake.