Sony DSLR-A100 Review
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Operation & User Interface
The Sony A100's user interface may appear slightly daunting at first, but spend a little time with the camera and you'll find the controls intuitive and well-placed. The A100's external dials and buttons access essentially all of the main camera settings, reserving the LCD menu system for less commonly-used functions. The front Control dial with the Exposure Compensation button functioning as a shift key quickly accesses shutter speed and aperture settings, in addition to a wide range of functions when used with other control buttons. Most of the camera adjustments are made by rotating a dial, pressing a button, and turning one of the control dials. External mechanical controls like these are much faster to use than navigating the LCD menu. With a little practice, the experienced photographer can develop a muscle-memory map of the camera and actuate some controls by feel alone.
As in all d-SLRs, the LCD monitor doesn't act as a viewfinder but does offer a control panel of sorts, showing you the main camera settings and presenting adjustment screens for some of the control buttons. You can disable the LCD display entirely using the Display button, or activate the full or basic information readouts. You can also see the main exposure settings through the viewfinder. See the Viewfinder sub-tab in the navigation bar above for a full description of the Viewfinder and rear-panel LCD displays.
While you can quickly feel comfortable using the camera, getting to know everything it can do can take a little time, given the large number of custom settings and setup options. However, once you get the hang of it, the control layout and overall feel of the camera are quite natural. Right out of the box, you could probably snap a few images with just a cursory look at the manual, but plan on investing more time to get better acquainted with all of the camera's controls and settings.
Depth of Field Preview Button: Tucked away on the right bottom corner of the lens mount, this button stops down the lens to the selected aperture, so you can get an idea of the depth of field when looking through the viewfinder.
Lens Release Button: On the left side of the lens mount, this button unlocks the lens so that it can be removed from the camera.
Focus Mode Switch: Mounted in the bottom left corner of the left panel, this sliding switch controls the main focus mode:
- AF: The AF system operates only when the Shutter button is halfway pressed.
- Manual Focus: Disables the autofocus system, so that you can manually adjust focus via the lens ring.
Front Control Dial: This ridged wheel sits just in front of the Shutter button on top of the handgrip, conveniently under your index finger. All of the most commonly used camera settings are adjusted by using this wheel in conjunction with one of the function dials or control buttons on the camera. It also controls aperture and shutter speed in Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority exposure modes and shutter speed in Manual mode (press and hold the AV button on the camera's back while turning the Front Control Dial to change the aperture value).
Shutter Button: Just behind the Front Control Dial, this button sets exposure and focus (in autofocus mode) when half-pressed, and trips the shutter when fully pressed.
Drive Mode Button: Directly behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this button accesses the camera's drive settings, which include Single Frame Advance, Continuous Advance, the 10 and Two-second Self-timer modes, Single and Continuous Exposure Bracketing modes, and White Balance Bracketing.
Exposure Mode Dial: Resting on the right side of the pop-up flash compartment, this textured dial controls the camera's exposure mode. Choices include Auto, Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Night Portrait, Sunset, Sports, Macro, Landscape, and Portrait modes.
Function Dial and Button: This control combination is located on the far right side of the camera's top panel, and controls a range of settings. Turning the dial selects the available function, and pressing the Fn button displays the options for that setting on the LCD monitor. Dial choices are:
- Color/DEC: Adjusts the overall saturation, sharpness, and contrast for each of the available color modes, which include Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night View, Black & White, and Adobe RGB settings.
- D-Range Optimizer: Enables the camera's dynamic range optimization tool. Choices here are Off, Standard, or Advanced.
- White Balance: Sets the camera's white balance mode to Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, or Flash presets, each with a fine tuning adjustment range. Also available are a range of Kelvin temperature settings and a manual adjustment.
- ISO: Accesses the camera's sensitivity settings. Choices are Auto, or 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, Lo 80, and Hi 200 equivalents.
- Focus: Lets the user adjust the camera's focus mode and area selection. Under Area Selection, options are Wide, Spot, or Focus Area Selection (manual). Under AF mode, options are Single-shot, Direct Manual Focus, Automatic, and Continuous.
- Flash Mode: Adjusts the camera's built-in flash mode to Auto, Fill, Rear Sync, or Wireless, and also provides an intensity adjustment.
- Metering Mode: The final position on the dial, this option lets you adjust the camera's metering method. Choices are Multi-Segment, Center-Weighted, and Spot.
Power Switch: Located in the top left corner of the rear panel, this sliding switch turns the camera on or off.
Menu Button: The top button in a series lining the left side of the LCD monitor, this button calls up the menu system. Pressing it a second time returns to the LCD's Status display.
Display Button: Directly below the Menu button, this button controls the LCD information display in Record and Playback modes. Though the LCD monitor does not provide any image preview, it does report the camera's exposure settings. Pressing this button cycles between the full information display, basic display, and no display (disables the LCD entirely). In Playback mode, this button cycles between an information overlay, no information, and the index display.
Delete Button: Right below the Display button, in Playback mode, the Delete button prompts the camera to ask if you want to delete a displayed image.
Playback Button: The final button in the series on the left side of the LCD monitor, this button accesses the camera's Playback mode, so that you can review any captured images. Once in Playback mode, a second press of the Playback button returns to Record mode. (You can also press the Shutter button.)
Diopter Control Dial: Practically hidden on the top right side of the optical viewfinder, this tiny dial adjusts the viewfinder display to accommodate eyeglass wearers.
Exposure Compensation Button: Just right of the viewfinder eyepiece on the rear panel, this button shifts the control dial to set exposure compensation in Auto, P, A, and S exposure modes or any Scene mode. In Playback mode, it zooms out from an enlarged view.
AE Lock Button: To the right of the Exposure Compensation button, this button locks the exposure. When using the flash in Program, Aperture Priority, or Full Auto exposure modes, this button accesses the Slow-Sync flash function. Pressing and holding the button locks the exposure, and the flash output is based on the locked reading. In Playback mode, this button enlarges captured images.
Multi-controller and Spot AF / OK Button: Right of the LCD monitor, this rocker control steps through selections within the LCD menu system and interacts with various status messages or requests for confirmation that appear on the LCD screen. You navigate the menus by pressing one of the four arrows around the control's periphery, and confirm selections by pressing the Spot AF / OK button in the center of the control. When selecting an AF area, the rocker actually moves in eight directions, giving you more flexibility in moving the AF point. In Playback mode, the right and left arrows scroll through captured images on the memory card, while the up arrow activates a histogram display and the down arrow rotates the image 90 degrees counterclockwise, clockwise, then back to the original orientation with each press. In Record mode, when the AF Area mode is set to Wide, pressing and holding the center of the control switches the camera to Spot autofocus mode as long as it's held down.
Super SteadyShot Switch: In the lower right corner of the rear panel, this switch turns the camera's image stabilization system on and off.
Battery Compartment Latch: Located in the battery compartment door on the bottom of the camera, this latch unlocks and opens the battery compartment cover.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.