Sony expands its mid and high-end Alpha DSLR options
Sony's new Alpha A500, A550, and A850 DSLRs are available on Amazon. See the links at the bottom of this page.
After refreshing its entry-level DSLR range three months ago, Sony has re-vamped its mid-range and high-end offerings. Three new bodies have been announced today and we've been having a look at them. The new Alpha 500 and 550 are aimed at existing owners of earlier, lower end Alphas, as well as photographers new to Alpha. We're told last year's Alpha 300 and Alpha 350 are not replaced by the Alpha 500 and 550. Instead, the range has been expanded. Meanwhile, the new Alpha 850 reduces the cost of the flagship Alpha 900 full frame DSLR via some subtle changes in specification.
Sony has clearly widened its offering at the entry level, the mid-range, and the high end full frame end of the range. One surprise, though is that the Alpha 700 is not being replaced, at least not yet, leaving a gap in the Nikon D300 area of the market. Alpha 700s are now in their end of life stage and while stocks are still available, sometimes at bargain prices, they are no longer in production.
Three new lenses have also been revealed today, two DT-spec lenses for APS-C sensor bodies, a 30mm f/2.8 macro and a 50mm f/1.8 portrait lens, and a new, more affordable, 28-75mm kit lens option for full frame users.
Alpha 500 & 550
Sony Alpha 550 fitted with the new DT 30mm f/1.8 SAM macro lens
| Check the latest price or purchase options|
for the 50mm f/1.8 portrait lens via
| Each Amazon outlet can ship to |
most countries in the world.
Let's start with the two new mid-range Alphas. Both share a number of key technology upgrades, and differ in other significant ways. The Alpha 500 is the cheaper of the two and makes do with a twelve megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor, while the Alpha 550 has a 14 megapixel version. These new generation Exmor sensors are claimed by Sony to be significantly improved on the previous generation, enabling Sony to offer a maximum ISO 12800 setting, the performance of which is compared to ISO 3200 previously. A controversial noise reduction stage prior to the creation of RAW files is now a user-selectable option. A new and faster Bionz image processor is employed to speed up various imaging functions, including a new high dynamic range (HDR) mode that combines to images in just two seconds, and enables high speed continuous shooting at up to 7 frames per second.
Live view evolution
A clever feature of the older Alpha 300 and 350 models is the use of a secondary sensor coupled to the optical through the lens (TTL) viewfinder, enabling a live view mode that doesn't suffer slow autofocus that is otherwise associated with live view. Unfortunately, along with the advantage of fast live view AF, there were some disadvantages which Sony has sought to address in the Alpha 500 and 550. The old system didn't have face recognition, and could not be used for magnified view critical focus checking. The latter can only be performed reliably by using the main imaging sensor. The new cameras have now been fitted with such a feature. However, that is basically it as far as live view using the main sensor goes. Virtually all other live view functions, including face recognition, smile shutter mode, etc., are dependent on the secondary sensor.
You can't check depth of field with either camera using live view, and I can't see how exposure, contrast and white balance can be previewed in live view with a degree of certainty. Instead, you will need to take picture, then review it on the screen.
Sony has widened the angles at which the fold-out screen can be articulated but, as with the A300 and A350, movement is restricted to up and down. This means you can't see the screen from the front of the camera for uses like self portraits and neither can the screen be viewed conveniently from one side, although new LCD panels used in the A500 and A550 have clearer off-centre visibility and more accurate colours than before.
Live view continuous shooting rate
Up to four frames per second shooting rate is possible in live view mode, which is quite impressive. A speed-priority mode, which disables continuous autofocus, is available on the A550 that can reach seven frames per second.
No video options
Sony, one of the biggest players in the video camcorder market, continues to resist the temptation to include video recording on any of its DSLRs, though there was a subtle hint that Sony is studying its option in this area for the future.
Improved optical viewfinder
Sony has candidly admitted that its clever tilting pentamirror system that enables the use of a secondary live view sensor meant that the optical viewfinder view was smaller than ideal. Therefore, the A500 and A550 have a redesigned optical viewfinder that delivers a bigger view.
A neat feature that Sony has worked hard to make as usable as possible is High Dynamic Range (HDR). Normally, you would combine at least two donor images, one exposed for shadows and one exposed for highlights, using software on your computer. Sony now let's you do this in the camera, and the process is very fast thanks to the Bionz processor; it takes just 2 seconds. The HDR system also works in conjunction to the SteadyShot Inside image stabilisation system to maximise the success in aligning the two donor images.
HDR mode differs from Advanced D-Range Optimiser mode because the latter only works with one image. With only one image to work with, there is less range available and a risk that noise will emerge in darker areas of the image.
Alpha A850 – an economy version of the flagship Alpha 900
This message is quite simple to tell. Sony wants to get more people using its full frame platform and, consequently, buying full frame lenses. The Alpha 900 is actually pretty good value for what it offers – especially compared to the Canon EOS 1Ds and Nikon D3x, which are around twice the price. The Alpha 850 retains the same sensor, alloy weather-sealed body, large viewfinder, and imaging pipeline as the Alpha 900. And the real differences are quite subtle. You don't get an infra red remote control in the box, the viewfinder covers 98% of the frame instead of 100%, and the continuous shooting rate drops from 5fps to 3fps.
Whether the difference in price will be enough to make an impact will be interesting to see.
What about the Alpha 700?
The first real Sony Alpha was the 700. It's no longer being manufactured, but there are apparently enough stocks to see the 700 through to the new year. It's a high-end, ruggedised, weather-sealed camera in the same sector as the highly successful Nikon D300. However, there is no news of an Alpha 700 replacement. The Alpha 550 is more of a Nikon D90 competitor, a gap in Sony's range is now appearing. I can't wait to see if Sony plugs this gap next year and with what.
On page two we have a gallery of shots of the new cameras from the UK press launch.
| Check the latest price or purchase options for the new Sony Alpha A500, A550, and A850 via
| Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.|
Discuss this story:
Preview insight into Sony's new Alpha A500, A550, and A850 DSLRs
DPNow Preview insight into Sony's new Alpha A500, A550, and A850 DSLRs
Here is a summary or excerpt from an article that has just been published on DPNow:
Sony has expand... (more)