Editor’s Choice, June 2008: Sony Alpha DSLR-A200

by Reads (118)

What? Another DSLR? For the third month in a row (but also, looking down the road, probably for the last month for awhile), a DSLR has taken home our Editor’s Choice honor. This time around it’s the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 earning bragging rights.

Editors Choice

The A200’s journey from its humble first days in our office to the lauded position it enjoys today is a story of triumph in the face of adversity – the kind that makes great made-for-TV movies. Suspense-filled? Probably. Melodramatic? You bet’cha. To be serious, though, lackluster initial impressions of the A200 make its ultimate climb to the top of the heap in our eyes that much more impressive.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A200

Like the other two DSLRs that have earned kudos from us of late, the A200 proves to be a complete package: though it’s not perfect (what camera is?), it shows itself to be thoroughly well-rounded in use, with excellent image quality, an optically proficient (if physically unimpressive) kit lens, quick AF performance, and high-sensitivity shooting up to a relatively clean and very usable ISO 3200. The interface and “acres of plastic” build quality were admittedly a bit off-putting at first, but in light of everything else the A200 does well these concerns were ultimately moved to the back burner.

Using Sony’s 10.2 megapixel CCD sensor that’s become a staple among several consumer DSLRs (and finds its way into at least one other Editor’s Choice winner, the Pentax K200D), the A200 – like the K200D, the Nikon D60, and the Canon XSi – represents the logical outcome of progress made by Sony in the entry-level Alpha cameras. Building on the A100’s solid platform, the A200 refines the formula further into something that makes a lot of sense for entry-level users looking to move up. To this end, in-body image stabilization – which makes every lens a stabilized lens – and a dust-reduction system are the icing on the cake.

Likewise, Sony offers the kinds of processing options for in-camera JPEGs traditionally reserved for advanced-amateur models. Shooters interested in tightly controlling the look of JPEG output will find plenty to work with here, and Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimization technology, while not life-changing in its results, is a nice inclusion for milking a little more detail out of high-contrast shots.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A200

All in all, the range of options, combined with a transparent, almost point-and-shoot style interface, encompass what’s best about the A200: its versatility. Equally at home as a absolute beginner’s DSLR or a working photographer’s backup body, the A200 has an ability to transcend categories that we see less and less in the increasingly tightly defined DSLR market. As DCR reviewer Jim Keenan put it in evaluating the camera:

“The A200 can be a simple to use DSLR while still offering users plenty of creative input options should their desires or needs dictate.”

For our complete evaluation of how the A200 stacks up, take a look at our Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 review.

With flexibility and well-considered performance upgrades over the A100 forming two parts of the camera’s success, the kit’s phenomenal price-to-performance ratio represents the third. A street price under $500 for the kit makes this camera an amazing deal for the kind of vibrant, clean, high-res images this combo is capable of producing. Sure, you make a clear trade-off in terms of build quality compared to the next tier of consumer DSLRs, but if taking great pictures is more important to you than having the trendiest camera on the block (and it should be), the A200 gets it right in a big way.

Finally, lens availability has been one of our gripes with Sony since the company’s acquisition of Konica-Minolta’s camera division, and something that has to be given some degree of consideration in evaluating a DSLR. Sony has been a bit slow in repopulating the market with their own lenses, leaving users looking to expand their kit to scramble for older K-M glass in the interim. In its defense, the manufacturer continues to up the pace on new glass, and just about everything we’ve seen from them these days – from the A200’s humble looking but optically acceptable kit lens to their higher-end Sony G and Zeiss T* optics – has been of good to excellent quality. Moreover, while it may not make sense for serious shooters with an investment in another system to jump over to Sony just yet, the A200’s target market of general shooters will find plenty that serves them well for the present, and from all indications, an increasing number of new lenses to grow into as their photographic skills grow.

Just as it’s unwise to judge a book by its cover, the A200 shows that snap judgments based on an initial impression don’t always pan out over the long haul. The A200 is definitely a camera that grows on you, and with a price that’s hard to beat it’s also arguably the best combination of image quality and performance available for less than five Franklins. Ultimately, Jim’s eloquent final assessment of the Sony sums up the collective sentiment around here: “If you’re looking to move into a DSLR and aren’t wedded to any particular brand, there’s a lot to like in the simplest Sony.”

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