Two new mid range Sony DSLR cameras - the Sony Alpha a500 and Sony Alpha a550

The Sony Alpha a550 and a500 were officially announced today, adding a new mid-range level to Sony’s Alpha DSLR range. Similar in appearance to the existing Sony a380, the a550 and a500 offer a host of new features…

The a500’s APS-C sized ‘Exmor’ CMOS sensor comes laden with 12.3 megapixels, with the a550 stepping this up to an even larger 14.2MP. Both cameras benefit from a new, faster BIONZ image processor which can now process images at up to ISO 12,800 at full size. 

Both cameras have a 3in LCD which now pivots to face a full 90degrees vertically in both directions, making for exciting new photo-snapping possibilities. Whilst the a500 offers a high resolution 230,000 dot screen, the a550’s LCD ups this to an ultra-high 921,000 dot resolution – the same high resolution as can be found in Sony’s creme de la creme DSLR, the a900.

Having taken on customer feedback, Sony has upgraded and improved the Quick AF Live View mode, which now, as well as the benefit of the extreme vari-angle screen, also introduces face detection subject tracking auto focus and a grid overlay function. Even when adjusting the options the live view mode continues to feed the image from the lens to the screen, so you’ll never miss a shot from fiddling around in the options. Other menus get a re-working too, with a more intuitive and easy to understand structure that can be quickly dialled through. When using live view mode, the a500 is capable of 4 frames per second continuous shooting, or 5fps when using the viewfinder. The a550 extends this further to 7fps, making it the fastest continuous shooting DSLR in its class to date.

Additional modes, such as the in-camera HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode also captures two frames and automatically merges them into one single frame in a speedy two seconds. This is the first system which can be used hand-held in this mode as it auto-aligns images – ideal for those landscapes or still lives. Where moving subjects are concerned however, Sony’s Dynamic Range Optimiser remains, albeit with enhancements: the ‘advanced mode’ of previous models is now sown into the standard system but doesn’t ebb away at any of your precious time due to the swiftness of the new BIONZ processor, whilst results promise to be even better than before. Optimisation here can be selected from five different levels.

In tandem with the a500 and a550, the new full-frame semi-pro Sony Alpha a850 was also announced, alongside a 28-75mm f2.8 SAM lens with zoom lock and 30mm f2.8 SAM macro lens

Both the a500 and a550 will be available from October 2009, with no word on price as yet. As and when we get an RRP we’ll let you know. In the mean time, why not check out our full size product image gallery.

Video preview of the Sony A500 and A550