The Sony a850 is a pro-spec, stripped-down version of the Sony a900. As the most affordable full-frame DSLR to the market, does the Sony Alpha a850 really open full-frame shooting to the masses? The What Digital Camera Sony Alpha DSLR-a850 review finds out...
Sony Alpha a850 Review
Beyond being the most affordable current-range full-frame DSLR to market, even against its considerable peers, has the Sony a850 ticked the right boxes to make it a worthy sibling of the Sony a900, and, more importantly, an attractive venture for prospective purchase?
Sony Alpha a850 review – Features
Sony Alpha a850 sensor
Featuring a highly resolute 24.6 megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor, the Sony a850 is certainly one for those who want to print big – ideally suited for studio work or similar. It’s 35mm-equivalent 35.9x24mm full-frame also brings a wealth of benefits to enhance shallow depth of field, provide greater low light performance and a wealth of image clarity – something that the dawn of digital photography hadn’t made immediately affordable to the everyday man.
With the Sony a850 there had been many rumors and much talk that Sony would introduce the ‘Exmor R’ sensor type – a backlit sensor which significantly improves signal to noise ratio and, as such, high ISO image quality – but this is not the case.
The Sony a850 has exactly the same Exmor CMOS sensor and Bionz processor as the Sony a900 released before it. In fact the a850 is nigh-on a carbon copy of the a900, albeit with some stripped-down features: the 5fps burst mode dips to 3fps, the remote commander has gone from the box (though available as a separate accessory) and the viewfinder coverage has been pulled back from its former 100% glory to a 98% field of view. Everything else, bar the price, is very much the same as before.
Sony a850 review sample image – click for full size gallery
Sony Alpha a850 ISO
Of course, this means the Sony a850 is a powerful bit of kit and such processing power allows for ISO sensitivity to range from 200-3200 as standard, but this can also be extended to ISO 100-6400 or in conjunction for those looking to straight switch from using traditional pro film types, such as ISO 160 portrait or ISO 125 black & white. 13 in-camera Creative Styles add further control, through from in-camera black and white to vivid and other options, shooting Raw + JPEG will mean you always have the original data at hand should you wish to tweak or change results back to their common standard.
Sony Alpha a850 image stabilisation
Sony is the only current manufacturer to provide in-camera image stabilisation to a full-frame DSLR too. Unlike competitors which utilise lens-based stabilisation in some lenses, Sony’s SteadyShot Inside utilises sensor-shift to compensate for handshake and camera movements – and, given the range of Konica-Minolta lenses of old that will still fit to this body, adds an injection of value to long-term photographers looking to retain old kit or take the leap from film to digital.
Whilst the a850 doesn’t come bundled with a lens as standard, the new f/2.8 28-75mm is an ideal accompaniment, also complimented by a host of other top-end Carl Zeiss optics.
Sony Alpha a850 file formats
As well as Raw and Jpeg options, including Raw + Jpeg, the a850 also offers a space-saving compressed Raw (cRaw) format too. Given the huge sensor, the average ‘X.Fine’ JPEG weighs in at around the 15-20MB mark, or a Raw file at around 36MB, output at 6048×4032 pixels – if size is your thing then make sure your computer has the processing power to keep up, particularly when processing volume.
Sony Alpha a850 focusing
Autofocus is the same 9-point system as found on the a900, with the option of selecting between single, continuous, AF-A – which automatically provides a combination of the two aforementioned – or manual focus.
Sony Alpha a850 body
Keeping up with its pro-spec name the a850 also offers a rugged aluminium chassis and magnesium alloy body panels for extra strength, without being excessively weighty. Like the name, the body weighs in at around 850g and this is a good weight to grip in the hand.
A 3in, 920K-dot high resolution LCD screen on the back completes the package. It’s also worth noting that, like other pro-spec cameras, the a850 doesn’t include a pop-up flash, live view nor, as per all Sony DSLR cameras to date, a video mode.
Sony Alpha a850 image quality and value for money