Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 Verdict
At first glance, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 appears to be little more than a refresh of its predecessor, the Alpha A100. It shares the same 10.2 Megapixel sensor, the same 3fps continuous shooting speed, the same 18-70mm kit lens, and the same basic feature-set including built-in stabilisation.
In terms of actual improvements over its predecessor, the A200 has only a handful including a maximum sensitivity of 3200 ISO, quicker AF speed, a slightly bigger screen, support for an optional battery grip and the inclusion of an Info Lithium battery pack to deliver accurate feedback on remaining charge. The body and control layout has also been tweaked, although some may not necessarily prefer the switch from a function dial to the A200’s buttons.
Without Live View, faster shooting or a higher resolution sensor, there’s no real reason for owners of the existing A100 to upgrade, but that doesn’t necessarily make the A200 a disappointment. As we discovered at the 2008 PMA show, the A200 represents the base model in a new DSLR strategy for Sony, where like its compact range, subsequent models simply take the existing body and add various ‘up-selling’ features.
So the A200 is Sony’s new entry-level DSLR, and the base upon which other models build on. The Alpha A300 takes the same sensor and body, but adds Live View and mounts the screen on a vertically tiltable platform. Then the Alpha A350 takes the A300 and simply switches its 10.2 Megapixel sensor for one with 14.2 Megapixels.
Like Sony’s compact range, this can be seen as a cynical attempt to increase shelf-space and editorial coverage, not to mention an easy way to up-sell buyers to the ‘best’ model. But on the plus side it does separate the new features and allows consumers to buy a DSLR that’s better-tailored to their requirements. Fancy the A200 but want Live View? No problem, buy the A300. Like the A300, but wish it had more pixels? No problem, buy the A350. Or equally, want a good, solid entry-level DSLR but aren’t interested in Live View? Get the A200.
So with that in mind, let’s see how it compares to the increasing Alpha range, along with rivals in the market.
The A200 is the successor the Sony’s debut DSLR, the Alpha A100. As mentioned above though, there’s no really significant differences. Both share the same sensor, continuous shooting speed, and kit lens, and both have built-in stabilisation. In its favour, the A200 increases the maximum sensitivity to 3200 ISO, has 1.7x faster AF speed, a slightly bigger screen, employs an Info Lithium battery with accurate feedback, and supports an optional battery grip.
The design and control layout have also changed, although whether you think this is for the better is entirely personal. It’s also worth mentioning the A100 has a couple of features missing on the new A200, including Mirror Lockup and a depth of field preview, which will certainly annoy some photographers. So ultimately there’s no compelling reasons for A100 owners to upgrade and at least two reasons to stick with what they’ve got. If these features aren’t important to you though and you were considering buying Sony’s original model, then the new A200 will ultimately be a better bet – or of course one of its stable-mates below. See our Sony Alpha DSLR A100 review for more details.
Compared to Sony Alpha DSLR-A300
Sony’s Alpha DSLR-A300 is the next step-up from the A200 in the Alpha range. It shares the same sensor and built-in anti-shake facilities, along with virtually identical controls and body shape, but adds Live View and a vertically-tiltable screen. Sony’s Live View system is also quicker than most rivals, eliminating the delay and interruption as you autofocus. For this you’re looking at spending about $100 USD over the A200.
It’s not all good news though. The Live View sensor used by the A300 results in a slightly smaller optical viewfinder magnification (0.74x versus 0.83x), and due to the way Sony’s implemented the system, you won’t be able to preview the stabilising effect on-screen. It’s an easy decision to make though: if you like the A200, but want Live View and a tilting screen, simply go for the A300. See our Sony Alpha A300 / A350 preview for more details.
Compared to Sony Alpha DSLR-A350
Sony’s Alpha DSLR-A350 is the next step-up from the A300 in the Alpha range. It essentially takes the A300 and swaps its sensor for a 14.2 Megapixel model. So compared to the entry-level A200, you get four extra Megapixels, Live View and a vertically tilting screen – and again this ‘upgrade’ will cost you around $100 USD more than the A300, or $200 USD more than the A200.
Again, there’s a couple of cons though. Like the A300, the viewfinder magnification is a lower 0.74x compared to the A200, and the higher resolution sensor has resulted in a slower continuous shooting speed of 2.5fps (or 2fps in Live View). We’ve not yet tested the A350, but there’s also the argument a higher resolution sensor will incur higher noise and lower tonal dynamic range, while also placing greater demands on your lenses; as a consequence, many enthusiasts may see the A300 as the sweet-spot of sensor and features. Those who value high Megapixel count however will probably justify spending the extra for the A350. See our Sony Alpha A300 / A350 preview for more details.
Compared to Canon EOS 400D / Rebel XTi
Canon may have announced the EOS 450D / Rebel XSi, but it’s keeping the earlier 400D / XTi on as its ‘new’ entry-level DSLR. As such it goes directly up against Sony’s Alpha A200. Since the A200 is so similar to its predecessor, the argument between it and the 400D / XTi is similar to previous comparisons.
Without Live View, faster continuous shooting or a higher resolution sensor, both models are quite similar. Both have 10 Megapixel sensors, 3fps continuous shooting, no Live View, and 9-point AF systems. In the A200’s favour is built-in anti-shake facilities, a slightly longer 18-70mm kit zoom lens, a slightly bigger 2.7in screen, 3200 ISO sensitivity, spot-metering and an InfoLithium battery pack with accurate feedback.
As such, Sony’s cleverly out-specified the 400D / XTi while holding back the big guns for the other Alphas in the range. But like the A100 before it, the A200’s high ISO performance is below that of the Canon. It’s a tough call with both cameras carrying the same RRP, although most first-time buyers would probably accept the A200’s artefacts at higher sensitivities in return for its built-in anti-shake. But we’ve seen the Canon being sold from reputable online dealers for over $100 USD less. So if your budget is tight, the Canon may be more appealing, but the A200 remains a compelling alternative, again considering its built-in anti-shake. See our Canon EOS 400D / Rebel XTi review for more details.
Compared to Nikon D60
Nikon’s latest entry-level DSLR is the D60. We’re yet to review it, but in terms of features, the Sony A200 already looks stronger. Both may have 10 Megapixel sensors, 3fps shooting and no Live View, but the Sony A200’s built-in anti-shake arguably trumps the Nikon’s new stabilised kit lens, the A200’s kit lens itself is slightly longer, the screen is slightly bigger, the maximum sensitivity higher, the battery gives better feedback, and the Sony has a 9-point AF system to the D60’s basic 3-point offering. It’s also worth noting the D60, like the D40(x) before it, does not have a built-in AF motor, so cannot autofocus with non-AF-S Nikkor lenses.
Given an RRP that’s $50 USD higher than the A200, there’s little reason to recommend the D60 over the A200 unless it trumps all rivals in our forthcoming image quality and usability tests. See the complete Nikon DSLR range.
Compared to Olympus E-510
The Olympus E-510 was one of the most feature-packed DSLRs of 2007 and heavy discounting makes it a highly compelling option today. Like the Sony Alphas, the E-510 has built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, but unlike the A200, it also includes Live View facilities and an anti-dust system which does a much better job of hiding any foreign particles.
In its favour, the A200 has a slightly bigger screen, a 9-point AF system to the E-510’s basic 3-point offering, better battery feedback, and slightly higher 3200 ISO. That said, given the E-510 is typically available from reputable online dealers at $50-$150 USD less than the A200’s RRP, most people would happily trade these features for a cost saving. Even the E-510’s twin lens kit can work out cheaper than the A200’s single lens kit RRP. Ultimately the E-510 remains a highly compelling proposition. See our Olympus E-510 review for more details.
Compared to Pentax K200D
Pentax’s latest entry-level DSLR is the K200D. Like the D60, we haven’t tested one yet, so can only compare features here. Like the Sony A200, the Pentax K200D has a 10 Megapixel sensor, built-in stabilisation and a 2.7in screen. In its favour, the K200D has an 11-point AF system to the Sony’s 9-point, includes rotational stabilisation, and perhaps most impressively of all, dust-proof and water-resistant construction.
The K200D may not have the accurate battery feedback of the A200 nor its slightly longer 18-70mm kit lens, but the toughened construction will certainly appeal to many. That said, it does result in a higher RRP than the A200, and places the K200D directly against Sony’s A300 kit which of course includes Live View and a tilting screen. See the complete Pentax DSLR range for more details.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A200 final verdict
Sony’s Alpha A200 may only sport minor improvements over its predecessor, but holds an important position in the new Alpha range. As discussed above, it represents the entry-level base model upon which subsequent models build. So while it may not have Live View or a higher resolution sensor, both are features you can effectively add by up-selling to the next, or next-but-one model in the range.
After a debut model which owed a lot to the earlier Konica Minolta 5D, the new A200 is a 100% Sony camera with some considerate and consistent touches which tell us more about the company’s vision for the range. For example, the four models in the current Alpha line-up now all use the same Info Lithium battery pack, while the A200, A300 and A350 can all use the same optional battery grip. The Info Lithium battery allows all Alphas to display accurate feedback on remaining charge and is a really nice feature over the traditional battery meters with just three or four basic segments.
Of course all Alphas also sport built-in sensor-shift stabilisation and now additionally have a similar user interface and menu system. As other manufacturers chop and change both features and accessories, it’s refreshing to find Sony take a consistent approach across the entire range.
Range consistencies aside though, is the A200 actually any good? Well it may not have much beyond its predecessor (and indeed a couple of the A100’s features have gone missing), but for the money it’s still a great entry-level DSLR which stands-up well against the competition. Its predecessor’s old rival, the Canon 400D / XTi is likely to become the A200’s new nemesis, especially with its superior high ISO performance, but with built-in stabilisation at a similar RRP, the Sony still looks strong. It’s also looking good against Nikon’s new entry-level D60.
Tougher competition comes from the Olympus E-510 which at current prices is hard to resist – we’d certainly advise any budget DSLR buyer carefully considers this model before making their final choice.
Interestingly two of the bigger rivals for the A200 come from Sony itself. For little extra you could alternatively go for the A300 and get yourself Live View and a tilting screen. And for the same again you could ‘upgrade’ the resolution to the 14.2 Megapixel A350. Of course by the time you’ve added around $200 USD to the price of the A200, you’re arguably looking at different cameras, but at least the option’s there if you favour Sony’s style and system.
Ultimately few existing A100 owners will be upgrading to the A200, as there’s no truly compelling reasons for doing so – instead they’ll be eyeing-up the A300, A350, or a bigger step to the semi-pro A700. But anyone who was about to buy an A100 – or indeed any entry-level DSLR – should definitely add the A200 to their shortlist. It may not have the bells and whistles of Live View or more than 10 Megapixels, but you may not want or need them. So as it stands, the A200 may be unremarkable, but remains a good, solid, entry-level 10 Megapixel DSLR we can easily recommend, although as always, carefully compare it against the competition.
NEW: Gallery and Results pages updated with images from a full production retail Alpha A200.
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