Alpha? You Bet

I bought myself the biggest birthday present ever; a Sony A100 digital SLR!

Now, anybody who knows digital SLRs will immediately jump and ask, “Why this brand? Why this model? Why not this model? Are you stupid?

I think it’s dumb that I’ve to justify why to everybody, but hey, I know what I want and what I use it for. What I use the camera for is different from other people (which is why I get different shots, aha!)

First, a long rant for those of you who are Nikon fanboys. (Since Canon fans seem to be more… docile.)

I am not a Nikon fanboy. Every damn fanboy I know rushes out to get a 50mm F1.8D. They also have this typical craving for a Nikon SB-800.

I don’t care about that. I am not a flasher.

I shoot in low light without flash, and Super SteadyShot is needed for that.

Similiarly, if you were a macro shooter, the Olympus E330 with Live View and swiveling LCD is a great, great help.

I do greatly admire the Nikon D80, though, and Nikon’s huge array of lenses. Nikons feel sturdier, though I’ve met a Nikon D50 with a cracked viewfinder LCD screen, like so:

(Red line indicates where a fault line moved; white box drawn in to show viewfinder. Please pardon the camera shake.)

I have no idea how you can cause impact to the insides like that. The shutter count was supposedly 300.

The fanboys are annoying, though; they can’t seem to acknowledge what other brands have.

So, since the Nikon D80 and Sony A100 are at similiar price points, I’ll compare these two.

Things that the Nikon D80 has that the Sony A100 has, as well:

AF-A (Auto-focus Auto) – when the subject moves it changes from Single-AF to Continuous-AF.

Focus Priority/Release Priority option – in Focus Priority the camera will NOT take a picture until it is in focus. I find it annoying so I’m in release priority all the time.

Color profiles – this was in Vivid, +2 Saturation.

Spot the not-so-hidden Mickey!

Yes, I’m discovering the joys of 18mm (27mm equivalent.)


The Nikon D80 does not have a center joystick button, so you can’t jump to the center AF point. The Sony A100 and Nikon D200 have this. (The Sony A100 allows you to choose diagonal points in the 9-point AF. Top-left arrow corresponds to top-left point, so it’s one press to get to any AF point.)

I don’t bother with multiple AF points, really; I’m on Direct Manual Focus by default. Half-press, focus; if it focuses on the wrong thing I turn the focus ring!

Alternatively, I could use AF-A, and whip the AF/MF switch to manually focus it. Much faster than pressing left, left, down, aiming the AF point at the object, and shooting.

With multi-segment metering, the camera tended to underexpose by 2/3rds of a stop (quite the opposite of the overexposing D80); easily adjusted when you know your subject is dark. It could be said that it keeps the blacks black, when you look at the scene and go “Yeah, it IS black.” Thankfully, pulling the shadows up in Photoshop shows detail.

Tight dials
I love how quickly I can flick Canon dSLR dials; they’re light but accurate. Nikon dSLRs have this heavy rubberized tension I have to overcome, which is worse on the Nikon D200. Sony takes the sweet in-between.

I saw no ISO?

One major gripe about the Sony A100 is how they don’t have an ISO button. However, when the left dial is in ISO mode, holding down (or tapping) the Fn button and rolling the dial changes the ISO! You can even see the ISO change in the viewfinder, like the Nikon D200! You can tap the custom button on the Nikon D80, but that only shows the ISO and doesn’t let you change it! I know the ISO is low, duh; I wanna increase it!

This is great when you’ve moved from a sunny ISO 100 area, to some sneaky indoors spying, and you half-press and find “Aye captain, we need more sensitivity!” How? Tap Fn and roll, without taking your eye off the viewfinder! (Of course, you’d use your left hand to tap Fn, and the right hand to roll, not as shown in the picture.)

The view inside the Sony A100’s viewfinder as you change ISO. Going from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 is exactly 4 clicks in either direction.

With the Nikon D80, you’d have to look at the status LCD screen on the top-right (or tap the custom button if it’s programmed to show ISO in the viewfinder… but you can’t change it). With the Canon 350D, you’d have to move your head back a bit to see the ISO on the status LCD screen above the main LCD screen. (So that’s why Canon put it there instead!)

I have to give credit to Nikon’s press-and-roll system; holding down the Flash button, then rolling one dial, changes the flash exposure; the other dial changes the flash mode. Like I said, I’m not a flasher by habit so I don’t need that button. 😀 I set my slow-sync mode to rear-sync/second-curtain by default, and flash compensation to 0 (never needing to change it) so I don’t ever go there.

That controversial control dial

Yes, to change some settings, you need to roll the dial and press Fn. Going clockwise:
– Metering: always multi-segment metering
– Flash: always rear flash, EV 0 compensation (slow sync off by default)
– Focus: Spot AF (I always thought selecting an AF point was slower than just pointing at the object then framing it), Direct Manual Focus (once you know what you like, you’ll hardly change it)
– ISO: Auto ISO (it goes up to 800)
– WB: Auto White Balance (except when using a grey card in studio lighting, which affords me time to roll the dial)
– D-R: Dynamic Range Optimizer Advanced mode
– Color: Vivid color

The supposedly relevant ones are ISO and White Balance, but I trust my WB and the dial’s always on ISO. In the dark, I can flick the dial quickly to DEC (to change to Black-and-white color), then count three clicks back to ISO. ISO is smack center, 3 clicks from either end, so it’s easy to locate.

But it does not suck as much as going through a custom menu

If you thought having a function dial was bad, wait till you see the Nikon D40; the Fn button changes from self-timer (default), shooting mode (drive), image quality, ISO or white balance. You can’t roll a dial; you have to go to Custom Function 11 for this! Yeah, I think the Nikon D40 sucks bad, being a shame to previous Nikons. With no in-body focus drive, it forces you to use that Nikkor 50mm F1.8D in manual focus, which is going to be hard for most people.

I don’t know how Ken Rockwell can love it, when the exact reasons why he won’t try a Sony A100 is for the same reasons the D40 sucks.

It’s like Ken Rockwell’s site is a site Nikon fanboys go to, to feel better about themselves.


Also, the Sony does not automatically pop up the flash. I always found auto-flash annoying. Often, when you let a friend play with your camera, they might return it in Auto mode. Next time you need to make a quick shot, you whip it out, turn it on, shoot, and find that you’ve blown your cover! The A100 however doesn’t flash unless you flip it up.

Tapping the AEL button while the flash is up turns on slow sync fill flash. You get to see AEL in the viewfinder, so I rarely have to wander to the function dial and muck around flash settings. (I changed the AEL button to Toggle, not Hold, so I don’t have to hold it down.)

I almost miss how Nikon dSLRs can delete pictures by double-tapping the Delete button. I have to press Delete then Set, quite like my Canon Powershot A520. (By default, I’d have to press Delete, Left, Set.) The Sony A100 also has a Marked Images deletion.

Yet another picture break.

Barrel distortion at 18mm.

Mirror Lockup

There’s an interesting way to use mirror lockup; when you choose 2 second timer, it locks up first, and opens the shutter after 2 seconds, then releases the mirror after that. The 10 second timer, however, works like every other dSLR, locking up only right before the exposure. I’m not sure if Super SteadyShot counters this, since the mirror locking up should always provide the same amount of vibration, and thus the sensor could be moved exactly the same way to counter this same vibration.


An interesting way to shoot people inconspiciously is with the 10-second countdown timer. Set your exposure and focus. Activate the timer and hang it around your neck… while lingering, pointing to the subject until the picture is taken. Eureka!


Anti-dust shake activates when you turn the camera off (instead of holding you back when you turn it on.) I panicked when a speck of dust wouldn’t go away after turning it on and off 5 times, even with the camera facing down with no lens attached. Strangely, later that night, the speck disappeared!

While I do admit I have paid allegiance to Sony’s dSLR system, I do credit and cherish the following brands:

Canon: Vibrant colors, cleaner noise, full-frame dSLRs (for wide shots and smaller depth-of-field), electro-focus lenses (a Canon 50mm F1.8 II will have a focus motor inside, unlike a Nikkor 50mm F1.8D), faster AF at the long long professional range.
Nikon: Compatibility with ancient lenses (the temptation to go ape buying lenses is worse since you can, and shops here seem to have more old Nikkors), a button for everything (almost), Creative Lighting System (mastering flash however isn’t simple).
Pentax: Innovative modes (the Pentax K10D has Sensitivity Priority, among other things), kickass Limited lenses (77mm F1.8 limited), kickass pancake lenses, brighter viewfinders, and seems to be the third most common lens mount for third-party lenses (it’s hard to find Pentax lenses, so ask for a Sigma catalogue)
Olympus: Four-thirds system means smaller, brighter lenses (40-150mm F3.5-4.5 gives a 300mm equivalent at F4.5 where others are F5.6), Live View (Olympus E330, for macro photography), anti-dust (but where’s anti-shake on body or lens?), is the fourth most common lens mount for third-party lenses.
Panasonic: Aperture rings and shutter speed dials! Live View, too.

And finally, Sony:

Anti-dust (I changed lenses often on the Olympus OM-2000, pictured on left.) Anti-shake. Low-light usage. Playing with a Nikkor 50mm F1.8D I found that often, I was in too dark a situation, e.g. a roadside bistro, or a mamak. Yes, even with ISO1600. I even contemplated getting the body only, with the Sony 50mm F1.4 lens, but the 50mm was rare then, so I went for the body and kit lens for RM2799 at Boeing, Sungei Wang.

The lady there asked if I wanted to add a camera bag and spare battery for RM200.

I didn’t expect it to be so big! It’s a blimp. Major major bargain, that was.

I also got a Transcend 2GB 120x Compact Flash card for RM185 at Low Yat Plaza. Note the Lowepro Mini AW; that was RM190 originally! Compare that to the size of the blimp, and remember that it comes with a spare battery!

Two days later, I stumbled upon a Minolta 600si sitting in a camera shop in BB Plaza… with a Minolta 50mm F1.4! Thankfully they recognized me and let me buy the lens alone for RM800. The lens focused very fast compared to a Nikkor 50mm F1.8 on a Nikon D80, but in field usage I found it stupid at close range and dark places; I’d often whip it to manual focus, which is great because it takes a 135 degree turn to go from 45cm to infinity.

Note how objects you focus on are soft, because very little of that is in focus at F1.4.

However, the further away the subject, the greater the depth of field. This was at F1.4.

Decent portrait lens.

It does show some interesting artifacts with bokeh, though, notably where the flowers intersect with the bokeh circles.

I’ve always been shooting in low light situations, so Super SteadyShot is great on my Minolta 50mm F1.4 lens. 1/4th of a second has never looked so possible, and 1/15th of a second is great when you do a quick snap without bothering to hold it steady with both hands and nose.

The brightest, widest prime that Sony had was the Sony 20mm F2.8 lens (other than the Sony 16mm F2.8 fisheye). However, in the same dark situation, the 50mm F1.4 would be more stable (needing the same shutter speed as a theoretical 12.5mm F2.8.)

The lens that would give the biggest bokeh and smallest depth of field would be the Sony 500mm F8 Reflex with auto-focus. A close second would be the Carl Zeiss 85mm F1.4.

(Nope, still a 50mm F1.4.)

How do I know who has bigger bokeh?

Divide the focal length by the aperture. The bigger the number, the bigger the bokeh if you are framing the subject to fill up the same space in the frame. (Edited)

Sony 500mm F8 Reflex = 500/8 = 62.5
Carl Zeiss 85mm F1.4 = 60.71
Cosina 100-400mm F4.5-6.7 at 400mm = 59.70
Sony 75-300 F4.5-5.6 at 300mm = 53.57
Sony 50mm F1.4 = 35.71
Sony 75-300 F4.5-5.6 at 200mm (brightest aperture F5.6) = 35.71
Nikkor 18-200 F3.5-5.6 at 200mm = 35.71
Sony 18-200 F3.5-6.3 at 200mm = 31.75
Nikkor 50mm F1.8D = 27.77
Cosina 100-400mm F4.5-6.7 at 100mm = 22.22
Sony 75-300 F4.5-5.6 at 75mm = 16.66
Sony 18-200 F3.5-6.3 at 70mm (brightest aperture F5.6) = 12.5

A F1.4 has 29% bigger bokeh than a F1.8 lens for the same focal length.

The Sony 75-300 is brighter at most focal lengths compared to the 18-200. It has a big throw, which is a joy for manual focus, but is slow with auto-focus. The 18-200 however is quite zippy, with a tiny 30 degree throw.

I haven’t tried the Cosina 100-400mm so I don’t know if it gives soft images at all focal lengths. The 75-300mm, in theory, should be better at 200mm than the 18-200mm at its end. The 18-200mm apparently has soft corners… but who frames the subject at the corners, especially at 200mm? As long as my rule-of-thirds lines are still crisp I’m fine with it.

Sony 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 apertures:
18mm onwards F3.5
26mm onwards F4.0
35mm onwards F4.5
50mm onwards F5.0
70mm onwards F5.6
135mm onwards F6.3

Sony 75-300mm F4.5-5.6 apertures:
75mm onwards F4.5
90mm onwards F5.0
120mm onwards F5.6

More 18mm-loving.

The 18-200mm and 75-300mm only share a F5.6 aperture between 120 and 135mm. The 70-200mm F2.8 is beyond me, sorry. 😛

…like a chocolate tower caged in glass.

I also tried the Sony 11-18mm F4.5-5.6:
11mm onwards F4.5
12mm onwards F5.0
16mm onwards F5.6

What about the Sony 18-70mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens?
18mm onwards F3.5
20mm onwards F4.0
24mm onwards F4.5
28mm onwards F5.0
35mm onwards F5.6

50mm at F1.4.

2/3rds of a stop might not sound like much (that’s the distance from a F1.8 to F1.4 lens) but 1 stop, people pay a lot for! (Like F4 to F2.8).

50mm at F2.0.

50mm at F4.0.

I LOVE how the old 49mm-filter-threaded Minolta 50mm F1.4 lenses do not have circular aperture blades. This means that out-of-focus points will only look like circles at F1.4; at F2 they start to look angular; at F2.8 there is a slight shape, and at F4 it makes beautiful heptagons! (The newer 55mm-filter-threaded Minolta and Sony versions have circular aperture blades.)

I loved that effect in Casino Royale (noticed the octagonal bokeh, anyone?) and I’m glad I can replicate that.

However, the Minolta 50mm F1.4 lens has a retractable lens hood, which is real cool.

The Sony 16mm Fisheye was rather interesting, as it had built-in graduated color filters (since you can’t screw on filters). I had to pull on the front and turn to adjust the intensity of each filter; it would work quite like my two-polarizer white-balance setup. The darkest is the 056 black-and-white-contrast filter, 180 degrees from the normal mode, which gives a 1 and 1/3 stop drop in speed, while the A12 (removes blues) and B12 (removes reds) make the lens 1 stop slower.

It also focuses to 20 cm, which is camwhoringly awesome!

So why don’t they make their fisheye a 8mm one? A 16mm fisheye has smaller depth of field but retains the 180 degree view (okay, 110 degrees cropped.) Makes for better flower macro shots.

In other branding issues, I wish Konica Minolta didn’t recall their stock; if those lenses were still out Sony would seem more viable with lens availability.

Infrared photography performance:

These shots were at 24mm:

F8 1/80 ISO 100

F4.5 1 ISO 1600 (not sharpened or auto-leveled, but you should load this in Photoshop to see what it could become)

The infrared-cut hot-mirror filter inside the A100 cuts away 12 stops of infrared.

My Canon Powershot A520 shot this equivalent crop at F2.8 1/3 ISO 200. In this case, it’s 3 stops faster.

The Minolta 50mm F1.4 is so sharp at F4, it’s almost 3D-like, especially when separating the object and background. Please click on the bigger version.

Super macro shooters: The Sony A100 with Minolta 50mm F1.4 lens with Fujinon 50mm F1.4 lens reversed; the Olympus OM-2000 with Olympus 70-210mm F4.5-5.6 lens with Vivitar 24mm F2.0 lens reversed.

Oh, and finally, Merry Christmas!

19 thoughts on “Alpha? You Bet

  1. Silencers Post author

    Canon fans aren’t exactly docile – we just have more common sense and we admit our love to the brand more than just the quality 😀

    "I shall only have one item of camera" lol. Forget that line I will not.

  2. ShaolinTiger Post author

    Nice, congrats.

    Welcome to the world of SLR, I would have gone for the Pentax K10D though 😀

    There are a few KM lenses around too, keep an eye on buy and sell, some nice ones crop up.

  3. ShaolinTiger Post author

    Aye that’s a huge problem with Pentax here. You can get the lenses though, it’s just not so easy.

    Shashinki has a decent range.

    Body here too:

    At least Tamron and Sigma are coming out with Sony mount lenses now so you can get yourself some decent constant f/2.8 glass for reasonable prices (like the new 17-50mm Di II from Tamron).

    Definitely useful for you as a low light shooter.

    Key Colour is just about my favourite shop, pretty much unbeatable prices for cash, good range of stock in hand and willing to order.

    Any gear is for onanists! People take pictures not cameras, they are all fine or they wouldn’t be for sale.

    It’s down to personal preference at the end of the day and which camera gives you the closest to the look you want, minimal PP is preferable.

    Let’s go shoot some stuff anyway 🙂

  4. Albert Ng Post author

    ShaolinTiger: That technically started with the Olympus OM-2000. 😛

    Thanks for the heads-up!

    Sadly, Pentax has a ‘virtual’ presence in Malaysia; even shops that have the Pentax *ist on display won’t order lenses and have a strong disdain for their after-sales support.

    Man, that sounds like a bad nightmare, being stuck on a 18-55mm.

    I had a Cosina 19-35mm KAF-mount but sold that… the guy I sold it to, I might poison him enough, and we’d go find the elusive Shiriro place where I could touch a Pentax dSLR with batteries inserted. 😀

    In Sony Wings KLCC I didn’t bring my camera but got to molest practically every Sony lens there is for sake of this entry. (Minus the 70-200mm F2.8 and 500mm F8.) I’m confident of good lens coverage. Key Color in Midvalley is willing to order the newer lenses, and the shop I bought from has equivalent prices.

    Cheneille: Exactly my point. The picture is upside-down, heh. 😀

    Silencers: More like "Oh, if you insist your brand’s more sturdy…" They should see that Nikon D50. Nothing’s invulnerable; I’ve crashed a Mac, Linux and Notepad all the same.

  5. Pinkfrog Post author

    Personally I don’t really care about brand loyalty as long as I like the feel of the camera andit can get me the photos. I think it’s personal preference as well. There’s no which is better as all have itsown downfalls. Take for example the A100’s inferior noise problem comparedto Canon’s, the lack of choice of lenses compared to Nikon, and so on and so forth. The Canon Nikon debate can also go on forever with the fanboys from each side touting their specs and strengths. Pros don’t like their cameras that much. Canon users complain about their Mk11 1ds, Nikon users complain about their slow D2xs and about Nikon not having full frame. Specification-wise, I guess the D80, 400D and A100 is more or less on the same level with slight differences depending whether you like them or not.

    Flasher & work & Landscape: Nikon
    Non-flasher & speed & colour: Canon
    Casual & Low budget & All rounder: Sony

    More or less there… I didn’t have time to slowly comment on evrything individually. I hate Canon’s metering though, and I hate D80’s metering, I hate the A100’s flash system (even the external unit is horrible). There is a lot of credit to give also… But what for…the fanboys are doing just that…Haha

  6. Albert Ng Post author

    Pinkfrog: You mean Canon full-frame for landscapes?

    Other than a missing cheap 50mm, a tilt-shift and other exotic lenses I think Sony has quite a lens coverage. Also, I’ve figured that the flash looks best in Slow Sync mode. Haven’t fiddled with it much at all.

    I’ve a feeling that Canon and Nikon are just waiting for Sony’s full frame dSLR so they can launch their new 5D’s and D200’s. 😀

    ShaolinTiger: I got my camera on the 18th, and the 50mm F1.4 on the 21st. It would’ve been too late (and off-budget, too). 🙁 Last I heard Paul hasn’t gotten his flash yet (though that could be attributed to the shortage of SB-800’s.)

    I’d still have to go to Shriro for after-sales support, which I heard was iffy. Heard of backfocus problems also.

  7. smashpOp Post author

    i didnt continue reading from 3rd photo onwards(yesterday)

    i just finished reading this post and i find it addictive. lol and guess what. I sorta understand 90% of it!(10% was the calculating bokeh size part cos i nvr read it)

    and i did notice the octagonal bokeh from 007(u know i always look at bokehs in movies)

    and theres another movie that u should watch.. Confession of Pain. it has damn good cinematography and super nice bokeh. lololol just pay that stupid 9 bux to see them.. don care if u dont understand cantonese.. they got subtitles

  8. Jack|SQ Post author

    Congrats upon getting your new cam Albert. Wow..this is one mega post! Great pics. SONY will love you for this. Anyway, I saw your name in the Star few days back. You’re a tech blogger after all. Hehe

  9. Ramen Junkie Post author

    Interesting post. I was looking into buying one of these to replace my point and shoot Digital but I decided it wasn’t cost effective for my budget right now and I reieved a KodakZ710 for Christmas anyway.

    I was looking intot his camera mostly due to it’s compatability with the lenses I already own for my Minolta film SLR camera.

  10. Pingback: Eye Eye, Kept Turn | Glaring Notebook

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