Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sony Alpha A200- Re-Review

Sony Alpha A200- Re-Review
July 2013, Carl Garrard
Sony Alpha A200: Re-Review- Introduction: Yep that title is correct. I'm reviewing this camera all over again, but why? Well, that's easy. My first review of the A200 just flat out sucked. Yep, I said it, and have no qualms about admitting it. I've learned a lot since I've reviewed the A200 the first time and  picked one up for next to nothing used in like new condition from an excellent seller on ebay. After spending a couple months with it (again) I realized that there were a lot of good things about this camera that I missed or didn't emphasize in a way they should have been for A-Mount readers. Lets take another (short) trip with the A200.




Sony Alpha A200 Used Price Search

That being said it's also refreshing to go back and review older equipment, and I've done that plenty of times with older cameras. The Sony A200 is early 2008 tech and it's been 5 years since I had purchased mine originally (I was one of the very first to have one in the USA). Much has changed in the marketplace and with Sony's Alpha division since then. Also, this is a camera that lacks almost every new advancement that Sony or other camera companies have made since 2008. Yet, it can still make some beautiful still images and hold it's own performance wise in many respects as long as you want just a camera to do still images keeping things back to basics.

Sony Alpha A200- Re-Review: Ergonomics and Handling

Sony Alpha A200 Used Price Search


Handling the A200 is very similar to the camera it replaced (twice) the A100, and the Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D (or Dynax 5D). On top, things are kept simple and function- a drive button, and an ISO button. These are functions I use most often when I shoot, no matter what camera. And there they are, right there, easy to reach. Simple and functional. On the shutter release area we have a wheel that sits  right in front of the shutter release that faces straight up, not away from you.


You can't believe the difference this makes in comfort when using that control wheel vs. one that faces away from you on the front of the camera (vs. the top). I use that wheel very often, so there's another major point scored in handling. The shutter release is set back far enough where your trigger finger doesn't have to stretch either, more comfort, and again simple and functional.

Looking at the rear of the camera (below) I find the EV button and AEL button in the perfect place- right under the thumb. The FN button also located easily under the thumb that accesses many important menus's and modes. The left side of the camera has the on/off switch and a row of buttons for menu/disp/trash/playback. I like DSLRS that have controls on the left and right of the camera.



Other settings are accessed through the FN button, that fall again- right under the thumb. All of  the settings I use secondary to the buttons I've mentioned, are in there. Settings like metering, AF area, White Balance, AF mode, Flash mode, and D-Range Optimizer that I use quite often are quickly accessed. Not as quick as the A700/850/900's Quick Navi interface, but quick indeed and thwart menu diving.

The A200 also has a comfortable grip. It's large and spacious, just like the A100's and KM5D's it effectively replaces. The camera is mostly well balanced and lacks any snagging surfaces that might make you hesitate when taking the camera out of a bag for a quick shot.Although a small to mid sized DSLR, it doesn't disappoint in comfort even for larger hands.



My medium sized hand has room to spare on the grip, including my fingertips. A battery grip is available for this camera effectively doubling the battery life and giving you a comfortable portrait position to hold it with, if you wish. Newer Sony Alphas don't have that option until you get much higher up in price, like the A77.

Sony Alpha A200- Re-Review: Areas of Interest
Sony Alpha A200 Used Price Search


The A200 uses a single CF card slot. This means that two types of media can be used on the A200. I use a CF to SD converter in which the SD card slides right into the converter itself. I've got no issues using a 32GB SDHC class 10 card in the A200, but if I want to use a CF I can do that too. When you have an SD slot, all you can use is that format.


Another unique point I'd like to make about the A200 is its Jpeg engine. There's lots to tell here. First of all, Sony allowed an NR off setting on the A200. Although there is still some NR being done on the Jpegs (reviewing raw files tells the truth), the NR is extremely minimal and not invasive. This gives the end user more choice on final processing with Jpegs both in camera and in post. But that's just the starting point with the Jpeg engine.

With a 10mp CCD (as opposed to CMOS) sensor, the output at lower ISO's is quite remarkable. Large pixels and that "CCD" look, add to the relatively conservative and accurate processing from the A200. Micro contrast and punchy colors make the images shine, right out of camera. There's a signature on the output that is subtley genius, and of good taste.





Another mention is the B/W output. Out of the hundreds of cameras I've tested or reviewed since I first bought the A200, I think the A200 has some of the best looking B/W Jpegs of any camera out there. Of course that means you make some adjustments in camera to get them but even after quite a bit of fiddling with other cameras I just can't quite seem to get images that look the same as the A200.




And lastly I'd like to mention a few other things I like about the A200 that endears it to me, and it's best to make a list with bullet points so as to make it seem very professional and impactive to the reader. :)
  • Battery life is phenomenal, even in cold weather. Really, phenomenal (better than the $3,000.00 A99 as well)
  • The steady shot setting is a switch, not a menu diving item (great when you go back and forth from a tripod to hand held shooting).
  • The whole package is just about everything you need for still shooting without clutter
  • Decent optical viewfinder with an acute matte focusing screen to aid in fine manual focusing (it works if you know what to look for) and 16:9 markings
  • ISO is displayed in the viewfinder (once you push the ISO button)
  • Snappy and accurate Auto Focus
  • Great prices nowadays :)
  • Simple 9 point AF system with a center cross sensor
  • On/Off switch and menu/disp/trash/playback buttons on the left side of the body (gives the left hand something to do, instead of tasking almost everything with the right)
  • Decent punchy LCD screen for an older camera
  • Good amount of shooting data on the back panel
  • Lack of any modern conveniences like video, live view, art filters, HDR, etc. etc. etc.- just a refreshing simple shooting camera that does its job well 
  • Faster start up than any of the new DSLT's (A33/35/37/55/57/77), and faster shut down too

Now onto things that are slightly annoying, or moderately annoying. For the moderate ones, I'll just include an asterisk next to them so they stand out. This is a relatively small list, which coincides with my overall approval rating of this camera.
  • *No depth of field preview button
  • Construction can be better, namely stiffer around the battery compartment
  • Left row of buttons on the back are a bit too small
  • No way to disengage the AF button in the center of the control pad
  • No toggle for spot AEL, only way you can spot AEL is if you set your metering to spot (and I prefer evaluative)
  • Louder AF and shutter cycle than new cameras 
  • *No 2 second mirror lock up (has a 2 second mode but the mirror does not go up in advance of the shutter), or any mirror lock up mode
Sony Alpha A200- Re-Review: Conclusion


Lets face it. The Sony Alpha A200 on paper is not an impressive camera anymore compared to modern cameras. In hand though, the A200 is a sort of refreshing, simple, back to basics DSLR (with a moving mirror and optical viewfinder) that has excellent image quality from Raw and Jpeg, and won't bust your wallet.  I can't help but think if the A200 had the A700's viewfinder and a depth of field preview button just how successful it would have been.

As it was, the A200 sold a lot of units and thus is widely available on the used market. If you want an inexpensive and back to basics digital SLR, the A200 is a good choice for those who've invested in A-Mount glass as long as you don't need some of the more advanced/standard features of SLRS/DSLRS. And, it's just a fun camera to use too. I shouldn't have to remind readers just how rare that trait is nowadays in camera design. Sometimes simple is just the best.

Be safe and happy shooting!

-Carl

8 Comments:

OpenID bryantakespictures said...

This was my first DSLR and I completely agree with what you've written here. I've sold my Sony / Minolta stuff, but when I go back and look at pictures from the A200 I miss that CCD look. As you said the ergonomics were great.

July 24, 2013 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Yep the CCD DSLR's had a look to them on images that was quite fantastic, even the A100 did.

Carl

July 25, 2013 at 6:22 AM  
Anonymous marc petzold said...

The A200 was a nice cam, but worse compared to the Nikon D90 in it's time,
from sensor...also the 2nd Dial like on the KM5D, A100 was gone...and the DoF
Preview Button, die A100 was a direct KM5D Sucessor, but the 5D had better
AL Abilities...so much for that. I own the D40, D60, D90, also the KM5D, KM7D,
the Samsung GX-10(99% Pentax K10D Clone) and a NX100, NX1000 Mirrorless... ;)

Greetings
Marc

PS: I had forgotten my Sony R1, and Sigmas, DP1s, DP2s. And i love the older CCD
Colors, too.

July 25, 2013 at 9:24 AM  
Anonymous 4paul said...

Nice idea Carl!

I remember on AMW you said as late as a couple years ago you thought the a100 was still the best camera at iso100 - I kind of agree with you. I dusted off my a300 (first DSLR) and wondered why I bought another camera! Whether it's the CMOS sensor, whatever - something about the earlier digital cameras make the pictures look "less digital".

I have become accustomed to some of the "BS features" that are quite useful, like in-camera HDR and MFNR (I know you're a big fan) - I used an a100 recently and really wanted it for those for the dark areas. So I like some of the old camera features, but like some new camera features too. Can't I have it all?!?! :)

:Paul

July 26, 2013 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Brian Murphy said...

Good re-review.

One reason I have kept an a100 is that old CCD sensor. Image quality is still very good between ISO lo80 and hi200. I subjectively feel that sensor produces images that have deeper and richer color than some CMOS sensors.

10MP is perfectly adequate for a 20x30 inch print.

July 27, 2013 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger C.GARRARD said...

Yep the A100 indeed is. I think the A200 was very similar but had better 800-3200 ISO performance. Probably a better all round sensor than the A100's but the A100's 80 ISO images are still some of the very best I've ever seen from any DSLR.

C

July 27, 2013 at 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too admire my a200. Actually preferring it for certain shoots because it only has one control dial. Easy portrait camera in A mode with spot meter lock. Settings stay put with no accidental bumping exposure compensation. Perfect size and weight with vertical grip shooting portraits all day.

Make me a full frame with AF/MF button in the size of an a200 and I just might have to stay with Sony.

August 17, 2013 at 12:43 PM  
Anonymous andy r. said...

Shame that Sony/KM never offered quiet shutter modes or softened the mirror slap on these cameras.

Cheers for the nostalgic review Carl! On to mirrorless we go.

August 25, 2013 at 3:26 PM  

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