Sony DSLR-A850 List Price: $1,999 (body only)
Sony’s DSLR-A900 was the first full-frame D-SLR to go below the $3,000 barrier, and now the DSLR-A850 does the same for the $2,000 barrier. The new model features the same 24.6-megapixel, Sony Exmor CMOS sensor and most of the A900’s features in a more affordable package.
Retained from the A900 are the rugged magnesium-alloy body shell with good weather sealing, the 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot LCD monitor, SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization that works with every lens, dual Bionz image processors, 40-segment multi-pattern metering, fast 9-point AF system with 10 assist points, sensor-dust remover, AF micro-adjustment and more.
What you give up for the $700 difference in price between the A900 and the A850 is basically shooting speed—the A900 can shoot at 5 fps, the A850 at 3 fps. The A850 also has a viewfinder that shows just 98% of the actual image versus the A900’s 100% finder. But image quality and AF performance should be the same for the two cameras. Note that neither has a Live View mode or video capability.
INTELLIGENT PREVIEW: While it lacks a true Live View mode, the A850 provides Intelligent Preview. You can preview the effects of shutter speed, aperture, Dynamic Range Optimizer and white balance before taking the shot. DRO: Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer improves shadow detail while maintaining highlight detail. It does this automatically, or you can select one of five correction levels. There’s even DRO bracketing, which shoots three shots at different DRO levels. DUAL CARD SLOTS: The A850 can save images on CompactFlash or Sony Memory Stick Duo media. STANDOUT FEATURE: A 24.6-megapixel, full-frame D-SLR for under $2,000! ALSO CONSIDER: SONY DSLR-A900
If you want to shoot at 5 fps, need a 100% viewfinder or just like to have the top of the line, check out the A900. List Price: $2,699.
Sony DSLR-A550 List Price: $949 (body only)
Replacing Sony’s top-of-the-line DSLR-A700 “APS-C” model, the new DSLR-A550 features an all-new, 14.2-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS sensor that provides enough resolution to produce large prints of landscapes with good detail. Sony’s newest Bionz image processor improves image quality further and speeds operation.
The A550 incorporates sensor-shift image stabilization that works with all lenses, along with an effective sensor-dust removal system. Like all Sony D-SLRs, the A550 will accept Minolta Maxxum, as well as Sony SLR and Zeiss lenses designed specifically for Sony’s D-SLRs.
AUTO HDR: You don’t need a computer to do High Dynamic Range photography with the A550. In Auto HDR mode, the camera will take two bracketed shots and automatically merge the best of each into a single image with more detail in bright and dark areas. Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimizer also improves detail in high-contrast scenes. ISOs TO 12,800: With a normal ISO range of 200-1600, expandable to ISO 12,800, the A550 can handle those dawn and dusk shots when wildlife is most active (and the light most attractive). 7 fps: The A550 can shoot up to 5 fps when using the SLR viewfinder (up to 7 fps in Speed Priority mode, with exposure and focus locked) and up to 4 fps with Quick Auto Focus Live View—fast enough to handle most wildlife action. STANDOUT FEATURE: The A550 provides Live View operation, but a bit differently. Because it uses a second sensor to provide Live View with quick phase-detection AF, there’s no disruption of the live image. The high-res, image sensor-based Live View mode doesn’t provide AF; rather, you use the magnified high-res image to aid manual focusing. The 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot high-res LCD monitor tilts up and down—great when you’re shooting low-angle close-ups or have to shoot over tall brush. ALSO CONSIDER: SONY DSLR-A700
You can still find the A700 at dealers for about the same price. The A700 offers a more rugged build, but fewer megapixels (12.24), no Live View and a nontilting LCD monitor. List Price: $899.