The Sony Alpha range

Digital SLRs are easily the fastest-growing camera market. That's led Sony - which until recently had no DSLRs in its range - to jump on the bandwagon. The company has lots of experience with digital compacts, in the form of its Cyber-shot range, but had never produced a digital SLR camera until 2006.

To combat the established players, Sony acquired technology developed by Konica Minolta and based its first camera heavily on the Konica's existing Maxxum design.

Sony came in with artillery blazing, and in a bid to outgun the established players it offered a feature introduced by Konica but much-improved by Sony's engineers: integrated image stabilisation. Dubbed SteadyShot, it performs the same function as image-stabilised lenses, but by being integrated into the body it effectively makes every lens image-stabilised without the extra expense. It works by physically moving the camera's sensor to accommodate for the less-than-perfectly steady human hand, effectively allowing you to take hand held shots around two to three stops slower than would otherwise be possible without introducing visible camera shake (see p26 for more).

The A100 also brought image sensor-cleaning to the fray, which vibrates the sensor to shake off dust particles. At the time, the competition from Canon and Nikon didn't offer this at an equivalent price point. It's now standard in stock kit lenses of both makers, but neither yet offers the in-camera image stabilisation of Sony. Pentax and Olympus do have models with in-body stabilisation, though.

The lens mount of the Alpha range was also brought over from Konica, giving Alpha users access to the range of pre-existing lenses, and Sony also introduced its own range. However, the availability of third-party lenses using the Alpha mount is still relatively limited, and own-brand Sony lenses tend to be expensive.

Later Alpha models such as the A330 (below) have addressed the clunky, utilitarian looks of the earlier Konica bodies. There's also an extension into the higher-end market (although it's still a very long way from Canon or Nikon's professional cameras), with the A850 offering an advanced 24-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, 9-point autofocus and sensitivity up to ISO 6400. Its price - about £1,700- puts it in competition with the likes of Nikon's D700 and Canon's EOS 5D Mk II.

The Sony Alpha series Is based on Konica's technology. The first models kept the agricultural looks of the old Konica cameras, but new bodies such as this A330 have a sharper, contemporary look.

The Sony Alpha series Is based on Konica's technology. The first models kept the agricultural looks of the old Konica cameras, but new bodies such as this A330 have a sharper, contemporary look.

TWO OF THE TRADITIONAL BIG PLAYERS STILL HAVE PLENTY TO OFFER IN THE DIGITAL AGE.

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