Alpha A100 Compared to the Nikon D80
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100
Canon Rebel XTi / 400D
The main players in this segment now consist of the Sony Alpha A100, the Nikon D80 and the Canon Digital Rebel XTi digital SLR.
The Sony A100 digital SLR with the Sony DT Alpha 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens has a current manufacturer's recommended retail price (MSRP) of $1199 Canadian, the Nikon D80 digital SLR with AF-S DX 18-135mm ED Nikkor zoom has an MSRP of $1549 CDN.
The Canon Rebel XTi with the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens comes in at the most affordable print point with an MSRP of $1099 CDN. See the latest US price for the Digital Rebel XTi , Nikon D80, and the Sony A100 digital SLR's at Adorama.
Ergonomics and Design: For some camera manufacturers ergonomics seems like an afterthought. In the field, ergonomics can make the difference between a winning shot and a shot missed. In our opinion the Nikon D80 digital SLR camera is the leader in this respect when compared to both the Sony A100 and the Canon Rebel XTi.
With the Nikon D80 digital SLR you can operate the camera without moving your eye from the viewfinder with key buttons and dials placed within instinctive reach, even when you are wearing gloves. (An unfortunate reality in our climate.)
The Nikon D80 also has a Function button located on the front of the camera that can be customized for quick access to specific frequently used settings.
Menu System: In terms of being able to read and navigate camera menu options we find the Nikon D80 offers the most user friendly interface compared to both the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100. The Nikon D80's Menu system is presented in plain language with minimal use of icons making it easier to quickly make selections. The D80 even incorporates a handy "Help" menu that can be accessed to provide a brief explanation of settings. The menu interface on the Rebel XTi is better than the more confusing Sony A100 setup especially from a novice perspective.
With the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100 digital SLR the rear LCD monitor is used to display camera settings which means that you have to move the camera further away from your body when you want to simply view current settings or make adjustments . With the Nikon D80 you can view the camera settings information on the top LCD panel at a glance while keeping your eye closer to the viewfinder and ready to respond sooner to that unexpected moment.
Canon sacrificed the rear LCD information panel found on the Digital Rebel XT to make room for the larger 2.5" LCD monitor found on the Digital Rebel XTi while keeping the camera size about the same.
Grip and Feel: In terms of overall construction the Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel XTi are all fairly similar. None of the cameras offer the ruggedness provided by magnesium alloy and enhanced weather seal body construction similar to the design found in higher end models like the Nikon D200 and EOS 1Ds Mark II. Nevertheless, the Sony A100, D80 and Rebel XTi all offer a fairly solid well built feel and are designed to withstand the type of normal use required by most novice to serious enthusiast photographers.
The Nikon D80 features a larger rounded grip portion with natural grooves for your fingers that allows you to wrap your hand comfortably around the camera for a more solid hold and feel.
We find that the grip on the Canon Rebel XTi is a bit small and lacking depth making the camera more awkward to hold. For someone who does not have big hands this might not be an issue.
The Digital Rebel XTi does become more comfortable to hold if you add the optional vertical battery grip BG-E3 that extends the base portion of the camera and provides an additional area to rest your fingers. The Nikon D80 also provides for an optional vertical battery grip MB-D80 that likewise makes the camera more comfortable to hold and helps add balance when shooting in the vertical position (portraits). The Sony A100 does not provide the option of using an accessory grip however the grip on the camera itself is pretty good.
The design of the Nikon D80 maintains an image that is consistent with the current lineup of Nikon digital SLR camera bodies like the Nikon D50, D200 and D2Xs. The Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100 digital SLR both incorporate their own individual design. The Rebel XTi shares a similar look and design to the 8MP Rebel XT digital SLR.
Viewfinder System: One of the most important components of a great SLR camera is having a good viewfinder system. A major argument provided by full frame DSLR camera advocates is the advantage offered by the larger viewfinder magnification incorporated in such cameras as the professional Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II.
Most digital SLR cameras, with the exception of a couple of offerings from Olympus and Panasonic, do not offer the option of a live LCD monitor preview as found on point and shoot consumer digital cameras. The viewfinder system on a digital SLR becomes a critical part of being able to see the image to focus and compose your shot.
With respect to having the best viewfinder system, the Nikon D80 easily trumps over the Sony A100 and the Canon DIgital Rebel XTi. Delivering a large bright viewfinder the Nikon D80 incorporates a glass pentaprism viewfinder similar to the type found on more expensive digital SLR's. The viewfinder magnification on the D80 is 94% compared to the viewfinder magnification on the Sony A100 at 83% and the Canon Digital Rebel XTi at 80%.
Below is a graphical illustration showing the difference between the viewfinder magnification as seen in the Nikon D80 versus the area seen in the viewfinder on the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (shown by inner grey area bounded by red lines). In our opinion the viewfinder system on the Sony Alpha A100 seems slightly brighter and better than the viewfinder on the Canon Digital Rebel XTi.
Response and Performance: The Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel XTi all offer a quick continuous shooting performance of 3 fps, fast enough to capture the action as it unfolds.
Both the Sony A100 and the Nikon D80 allow you to shoot continuously in JPEG mode limited pretty much only by card capacity. The Canon Rebel XTi will allow you to shoot up to 27 successive images in JPEG, however the camera offers a burst shooting capacity of up to 10 images in RAW mode. This is an advantage compared to the Sony A100 and Nikon D80 which offer a maximum of 6 shots when shooting continuously in RAW mode.
The Nikon D80 offers the fastest start up although the Canon DIgital Rebel XTi comes in very close. The Sony A100 is considerably slower taking almost a full second to start up. There is a delay that occurs on the Canon Digital Rebel XTi if you have the Self Cleaning sensor system set to activate when the camera is turned on. (1 sec delay) The dust cleaning process can be interrupted by lightly tapping the shutter release button on the Rebel XTi and the camera is ready to take pictures.
Both the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 offer a fast 2 channel output from the image sensor which helps speed up camera image processing performance. The Nikon D80 features a short shutter lag of only 80ms compared to 118ms for the Sony A100, making the D80 more responsive to catching the moment.
Comparing the Rebel XTi to the Sony A100 we feel that the Canon Rebel XTi does a better job at exposure metering. Canon's advanced exposure metering algorithms and general metering technology account for the difference.
The Nikon D80 also supports the Nikon Creative Lighting System and Advanced Wireless Lighting capabilities with compatible Nikon Speedlights. The Nikon D80's built-in flash is able to function as the master flash unit (activated in the D80's Custom Settings menu) and perform as a two-group remote commander that provides direct control over wireless SB-800, SB-600 or SB-R200 Nikon Speedlights. User friendly setup and a great benefit if you are passionate about creative flash photography.
Although the Sony A100 digital SLR is compatible with two new Sony flash units (Sony HVL-F56M and Sony HVL-F36M) and some of the older Minolta system units, the Sony Alpha A100 features a proprietary hotshoe for external flash connection. Both the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 feature a standard type hotshoe mount making them compatible to a certain degree with non proprietary flash systems.
Based on the advanced flash technology available today from Canon and especially Nikon, we would definately recommend investing in one of the latest brand dedicated speedlights to take proper advantage of what these camera systems are capable of offering.
White Balance (WB): The Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel XTi all provide an Auto WB mode that matches white balance automatically to the light source of the shot. The cameras also incorporate a number of options that allow you to set WB settings manually or select a preset option for using a gray or white object as a reference for white balance.
With respect to Auto White Balance we find that the Nikon D80 and the Canon Digital Rebel XTi do a more consistent and accurate job of determining the correct White Balance (WB), especially when dealing with mixed and difficult lighting conditions compared to the Sony A100. The Nikon D80 stands out in particular for offering very accurate Auto WB when using the built in or external flash. (D80 uses readings from its 420-segment sensor to assist in determining AWB)
AF system: The Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel XTi all feature very capable Auto Focus (AF) systems for most shooting situations. The Canon EOS Digital Rebel XTi inherits the reliable and proven AF system incorporated in the higher end Canon EOS 30D. The Nikon D80 does offer a more sophisticated AF system however (based on Nikon D200 technology) with the advantage of providing 11 focus areas offering improved subject acquisition and tracking capabilities compared to the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100 which incorporate 9 focus areas.
The D80 also features a new Auto-Area AF mode that measures from all 11 focus areas, automatically determines which of them are on the primary subject, and activates only those areas as a group. A nice feature especially for more novice users.
The Nikon D80 is also able to focus under lower light levels than the Canon Rebel XTi or the Sony A100. The D80 can focus down to -1 EV light levels compared to the Canon Rebel XTi at -0.5 EV and the Sony A100 at 0 EV.
The Nikon D80 features an Auto Focus assist beam that can illuminate a close by subject so the camera can focus under lower light conditions. The Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100 both employ intermittent firing of the built-in flash to help the camera focus on the subject. The downside with this is that the flash has to be in the up position for the AF assist to work. With the Sony A100 a particular inconvenience is that the built in flash does not offer an Auto pop up feature like on the Nikon D80 and the Rebel XTi so you have to manually lift the flash to the upward position whenever required.
Kit Lens Options: The Sony A100, Nikon D80 or the Canon Digital Rebel XTi can be purchased as a body only or in a kit with a lens. The Sony Alpha A100 is available with a Sony DT 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.
The Nikon D80 can be purchased with a Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 ED zoom lens (same as in the Nikon D50 kit) or in a kit with the camera body and the new Nikon AF-S DX 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF zoom lens. The Canon Digital Rebel XTi is sold with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens.
The Nikon AF-S DX 18-55mm is also a nice entry level lens and does offer the advantage of incorporating Nikon's ED glass to help minimize chromatic abberations (purple fringing in highlight areas of an image) and Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) technology for faster and quieter focusing.
The Canon EF-S 18-55mm zoom lens is in our opinion the weakest of the lenses offered showing fairly soft edges and less sharpness in general than the Nikon or Sony kit lenses. Canon has however an excellent EF-S 17-85mm image stabilized zoom lens that we would recommend taking into consideration if buying into the Canon system. Quite a bit more money although you get a much better lens with some very nice features.
The Nikon D80 is also available with the new AF-S DX 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED Nikkor zoom lens which offers considerably more telephoto range with the equivalent field of view of a 28-200mm lens in 35mm terms. A great feature for zooming in on the hockey or soccer action as it unfolds or for that candid shot across the room. The lens offers very good image quality and sharpness, ED glass and Nikon's SWM technology (similar concept to Canon's USM lens technology), and makes for a very nice all in one solution for those that like the convenience that carrying just one lens offers.
Optical image stabilization systems offer superior VR effectiveness, since they use individual mechanisms which are optimized for each lens. Nikon provides lenses in their lineup that will offer up to 4 stop VR effectiveness. Canon's image stabilized (IS) lenses offer up to 3 steps of compensation while the Sony A100 offers on average only about a 2 stop effectiveness. The reason for this is that the physical amount of vibration compensation differs by the focal length of the lens. CCD shift based VR systems can not recognize the individual differences of focal length for each lens, so the accuracy suffers compared to optical VR.
System Accessories: The Canon or Nikon system offers a much larger selection of available system accessories such as lenses, grips and speedlights that can be used with the Canon Digital Rebel XTi or the Nikon D80 respectively. Sony being a new entrant to the DSLR market is working on expanding its lineup of available accessories and does offer compatibility with the Minolta AF lens system. As of now however the Sony A100 does not match Canon or Nikon with respect to available system accessories.
With the Canon Rebel XTi, Canon has used a number of different methods to minimize the occurance of dust.
The shutter unit (the same as in the Digital Rebel XT) generates minimal dust; the body cap is now made of a material which minimizes dust caused by normal wear and rubbing, and the low-pass filter features an antistatic design to prevent static electricity from attracting dust and foreign matter to its surface.
A Self Cleaning Sensor Unit was designed to eliminate larger types of dust. Lowpass filter #1 on the front of the sensor is attached to an ultrasonic vibrating unit (piezoelectric element). When LPF #1 is subjected to ultrasonic vibrations, the dust is shaken off the surface.
Two kinds of dust are less likely to be dislocated by the movements of the vibrating Low Pass Filter: small and light particles and the worse sticky stuff. In the event that the Self Cleaning Sensor Unit cannot remove all the dust, the Dust Delete Data (the size and position of dust too small or too sticky to remove with the Self Cleaning Sensor Unit) is obtained and added to the image so that Digital Photo Professional Ver. 2.2 software that comes supplied with the camera can erase the remaining dust spots on the image automatically.
The Nikon D80 also incorporates a number of dust prevention measures. The following lists the measures taken to prevent dust or foreign matter on the surface of the optical low-pass filter (OLPF) on the D80:
The Sony A100 does not offer a sensor "dust mapping" feature with software like the Nikon or the Canon although the camera does feature an anti-static coating on the OLPF and an anti-dust vibration system designed to perform similar actions to the "Self Cleaning" sensor unit in the Rebel XTi.
Overall we feel that anti-dust shake removal technologies are a bit of a marketing hype aimed at more novice consumers. These systems are only really effective in dealing with larger dust particles and other measures still have to be taken to efficiently remove smaller forms of dust and sticky substances.
There are a number of different third party sensor cleaning kits available on the market that allow for "do it yourself" sensor cleaning. We would generally recommend however that if you find that dust is becoming a persistant issue you should have the cameras sensor checked and cleaned by the manufacturer's authorized service centre.
The Nikon D80 with its advanced metering capabilities does offer an advantage over both the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Sony A100 allowing much finer precision in determing the correct exposure important for creative control and overall image quality. As mentioned previously we are also particularly impressed with the Nikon D80's Auto White Balance capability especially with respect to flash photography.
In terms of low light and high ISO performance, the Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 both perform very well with a slight bit of an advantage given to the Canon Rebel XTi at 1600 ISO. The Nikon D80 provides the advantage of featuring ISO boost settings up to 1 stop which can be set in 1/3 increments (H0.3, H0.7, H1 3200 ISO). The Sony A100 provides poorer results showing higher than average image noise levels at 800 ISO and 1600 ISO.
The Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 offer the benefit of incorporating proven image processing technologies and other advanced trickle down features from some of the higher end digital SLR's in their respective lineups.
Canon and Sony have taken the step of naming their image processors. The Canon Digital Rebel XTi incorporates Canon's DIGIC II image processor the same reliable and high quality processor found in their top of the line DSLR's including the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II. The Sony "Bionz" image processor is newly developed for the Sony A100.
The Nikon D80 features a newly developed image processing engine based on the Nikon D200 and the Nikon D2Xs image processing technologies. Nikon does not market a name for their image processing technology.
Other Features: although they all provide many similar standard features (10MP, 2.5" LCD, 3fps shooting etc.) the Sony A100, Nikon D80 and the Canon Rebel XTi all incorporate certain proprietary and exclusive options. Some of these are highlighted below:
The Canon Digital Rebel XTi is a solid performer in its own right, certainly the lightest and most compact, and with its very capable feature set, good image quality, wide range of optional system accessories and relatively aggressive price point will be sure to be another Canon success.
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