Sony has finally launched its first ever digital SLR, the alpha 100 u2013 and with it, an entirely new camera system u2013 at a price point that will give some of its competitors nightmares...

Sony has finally launched its first ever digital SLR, and the first model of an entirely new camera system. Based partly on the Konica Minolta Dynax DSLR which Sony bought the rights to last year (an event which signalled the end of camera production for Konica Minolta) the Sony alpha 100 is a 10.2 megapixel camera featuring an APS-C sized sensor, and enough new Sony innovations to avoid any accusations that the camera is simply a re-badged Dynax.

Although bearing some resemblence to the now defunct Dynax 5D, the alpha100 (herinafter referred to as the a100) boasts a superior build quality, and a variety of new features, the most interesting of which are the Anti-Dust system and a unique Dynamic Range Optimiser, which aims to improve shadow and highlight detail.

Sony has simultaneously announced a range of 22 new lenses (including 3 Carl Zeiss T* lenses, in addition to various Minolta-derived optics) plus flashguns and other accessories, allaying from the outset any fears that purchasers would be buying into a small and limited system.

No UK price has yet been confirmed, but it is expected to sell for a highly competitive £599 for the body or £699 with the 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens ? making it the highest resolution SLR in its class. A twin-lens kit is also expected to be available for around £849.

The a100 is expected to be available late July.

SUMMARY OF KEY FEATURES

10.2 MP CCD

The a100 features at its heart a 23.6 x 15.8 mm APS-C-size Sony CCD ? most likely the same one used by the (much more expensive) Nikon D200.

Super SteadyShot

Konica Minolta?s anti-shake CCD technology gets a new name but its function remains the same: to compensate for shaky hands at slower shutter speeds, enabling sharper pictures in lower light levels. Like the KM system before it, Sony?s Super SteadyShot system is in direct contrast to the optical image stabilization systems favoured by Canon, Nikon, Panasonic and others, and offers the benefit of stabilization with every lens in the system.

Anti-Dust Technology

To keep the CCD clean and dust free, the a100 utilizes both static-free anti-dust coating on the CCD filter and an anti-dust vibration function that automatically shakes the CCD to dislodge dust each time the camera is switched off.

Dynamic Range Optimizer

To recover details in dark or bright areas of the picture, the camera provides two levels of Dynamic Range Optimization: Normal DRO, to improve shadow detail using standard gamma curves for fast shot-to-shot response time, or Advanced DRO, to adjust dynamic range area-by-area for the greatest precision.

Bionz Image Processor

Like Canon?s DIGIC and Panasonic?s Venus, Sony?s processor gets a name, albeit a strange one. The Bionz Image Processor uses hardware-based Large Scale Integrated (LSI) circuitry that, Sony claims, responds ten times faster than software image processors ? thereby improving camera response time and extending the battery life.

Eye-Start Autofocus System

Another Minolta innovation retained by Sony, the a100 automatically starts focusing the moment you bring your eye to the viewfinder, and stops when you remove your eye.

2.5? Clear Photo LCD Plus Screen

The Clear Photo LCD Plus design of the camera?s built-in screen enhances viewing in bright sunlight, and offers a wide viewing angle.

Continuous Burst Mode at 3 Frames Per Second

Unusually for a DSLR, the a100 camera offers continuous JPEG image capture up to the limit of the flash memory card ? plus RAW Burst Mode of up to 6 shots, with intelligent buffer management to allow more shots without having to wait for the buffer to clear.

Metering and Exposure

A 40-segment honeycomb sensing system provides multi-pattern metering for precise exposure control accuracy. The a100 camera provides full manual exposure control as well as Program Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Exposure Compensation modes.

9-Point Auto Focus Selection

The a100 camera offers manual focus point selection, Spot AF, Continuous AF and AF Lock.

Lithium Ion Battery with Stamina® Power

A supplied NP-FM55H Lithium Ion rechargeable battery enables up to a claimed 700 shots on a full charge, and recharges quickly using the supplied battery charger.

Dual Media Options

Unique in the current Sony range for not including a Memory Stick slot as standard, the a100 accepts CompactFlash Type I/II cards, or Memory Stick Duo using the supplied adaptor.

Minolta A-mount compatible

Sony has introduced 22 new lenses ? some based on existing Minolta lenses, as well as some new ones by Carl Zeiss ? all using the 20 year old A-Mount used by Minolta Dynax/Maxxum cameras.

Check out the Sony Alpha interactive micro-site by clicking here