The new DSLR-A850 from Sony offers serious photo enthusiasts a step up to the creative possibilities of full-frame imaging at a compelling price. Ruggedly built for unflinching pro-style handling and performance, the A850 shares the same 24.6 megapixel sensor and virtually all features of the flagship DSLR-A900, introduced last year. Like its full-frame sibling, the A850 fully exploits the creative possibilities of the a family of lenses that includes premium full-frame optics from Carl Zeiss, plus five high-performance G Lens models.
At the heart of the A850 is a full frame 24.6 effective megapixel Exmor™ CMOS sensor that captures flawless, detail-packed images with vibrant, lifelike colours and fine textures.
Shots can be viewed on the large, high contrast 3.0 type Xtra Fine LCD that offers an exceptionally high resolution (921k dot) for critical evaluation – even outdoors or in bright ambient light.
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At a street price of currently $1930 the Sony DSLR-A850 is by far the cheapest full-frame DSLR on the market. Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II comes with a similarly high nominal resolution, live view and a HD video-mode (no in-body stabilization though) but is almost $600 more expensive. If you’re happy to frame your images through the viewfinder and can live without the ability to shoot movies this makes the Sony A850 look like a really good deal (it also makes the A900 at currently $2600 appear a little overpriced).
All in all, with its tank-like build quality, intuitive user-interface and excellent handling the A850 is, despite (or rather because) of the lack of some ‘digital’ features such as live view or a movie mode, a no-nonsense photographers’ camera that delivers excellent image quality at base ISO but cannot quite keep up with the competition at higher sensitivities. Wildlife and sports photographers would almost certainly prefer better low light performance, faster continuous shooting and autofocus but for resolution-hungry applications in good light, such as landscape or studio photography, the A850 is a more than valid option. This is especially true for those photographers who operate on a tighter budget but do not want to do without the full-frame format.
Sony rocked the full-frame DSLR world when they first announced the A900, bringing unprecedented resolution at a price point under $3,000. In the intervening time, Canon announced a camera with slightly lower resolution and a price point below the original A900 (the 5D Mark II), and Nikon announced a camera with similar resolution but at a much higher price point (the D3x). Now, the Sony A850 decreases a couple of specs (viewfinder coverage and continuous frame rate), but brings the cost down to under $2,000. Isn’t competition great?
The Sony A850 is a formidable camera. It’s big, which won’t work for everyone, but I found it more than bearable with my medium-sized hands, and even my daughter had no trouble hefting the A850 with the (very beefy) 24-70mm f/2.8 attached and firing off a few frames. If the image quality is as good as we’re hoping for, the new 28-75mm f/2.8 will reduce both the overall price and bulk of a full-frame body/lens kit significantly.
If you want the most pixels in a small package at the best price on the market, the Sony A850 is where you’ll find it. Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II beats the Sony A850 in high-ISO capability and (slightly) in size and weight, and offers HD video recording as well, but at a price point that’s $700 higher. Nikon’s D3x offers the same resolution, but at a cost literally 4x that of the A850. If you’re into landscapes or architecture, or need a studio camera with enormous resolution at a relatively budget price, the Sony A850 would make a great choice. It truly ushers in a new era of affordability for full-frame DSLR cameras.
Making full-frame digital photography more affordable than ever before, and at a level of 24.6 megapixels to boot, the Sony A850 is one impressive image maker, and a clear Dave’s Pick.
Sony has clearly decided that they want a major slice of the DSLR pie and are pulling out a lot of the stops to make this happen. With the new A850 they are taking no prisoners, undercutting their only real competitor, Canon’s 5D MKII, by 25% in terms of price. Few observers thought we’d see a 25MP full-frame camera for under $2,000 this soon, but I can’t see anyone complaining about it, except maybe the competition.
Well done Sony.
Who is the A850 for?
Probably best suited for budding professional/professional studio and art photographers, serious enthusiasts wanting to get into full frame or, like me, want to have the best of both worlds with an APS-C and 35mm full frame solution to any of the above. The A850 gives you a resolution advantage for stock photography, which could help a determined photographer earn back the money they paid for the camera. Most of all it should appeal to those who already had thier eye on the A900 but were waiting for a better price point, even those photographers deeply rooted and invested into another DSLR brand.
It’s hard to call a $1,999 DSLR a great deal, but the Sony alpha DSLR-A850 is one. It’s the cheapest 24.6MP full-frame model available, $700 less than the Sony A900 and six grand less than the 24.5MP Nikon D3x. The camera requires a serious commitment in dollars (our test rig with lens has an MSRP of close to $3,600). It also demands you spend the time learning its intricacies. We had it for just a few weeks and really enjoyed every minute of it.
Pros: Most affordable full-frame DSLR to market, Intelligent Preview
Cons: Too closely priced to a900, Intelligent Preview button poorly placed, auto white balance inconsistent, no in-built flash/live view/video mode
The a850 pleases yet perplexes in equal measure. It’s certainly a fine camera, like the a900 before (and still currently above) it, yet one that seems a little misplaced in the market place. If its price point really undercut the competition then it’d be a genius proposition to full-frame hungry consumers. But despite the removal of the in-camera remote, lowering the burst rate and shaving 2% from the viewfinder’s field of view the effective monetary compensation is somewhat paltry. The a900 was, by and large, a superb studio camera thanks to its 24.6MP count, but lacked low-light capabilities to the same standard of some of the competition. What the next generation of Sony DSLR is really waiting for is the implementation of the Sony’s backlit ‘Exmor R’ technology – something that lacks here and leaves the a850 in a curious position of offering nothing ‘new’. In effect there’s an argument to bag an a900 over this newer, less-equipped venture each and every time. That is unless, of course, your savvy shopping locates it at a sensible price that trounces its initial RRP. The a850 is a solid piece of kit that pulls down the full-frame DSLR price-point by a whisker, but otherwise sadly lacks that anticipated next-level punch and, as such, feels like a bit of a gap-filler in Sony’s newly and rapidly expanding DSLR range.