Sony has increased the number of new Alpha dSLRs introduced in 2009 to six, with the introduction of the A500, A550, and the A850. The rumors have been with us for months, but Sony has now elected to make it official.
The A500 and A550 are similar, the difference being the A500 carries a 12.3mp sensor, while the A550 is equipped with a 14.2mp chip. Both sensors are claimed to be a new generation Exmor CMOS design, so the A550’s sensor is not the same as that used in the A380, despite the similar pixel count. Both the A500 and A550 offer tilt out LCD screens with Live View.
Sony indicates the A550 can click off seven frames a second, a noticeable improvement over the A350 and A380.
Both the A500 and A550 offer built in HDR capabilities. Available only in the JPEG mode, the HDR function shoots multiple images and then combines them into a single image with extended dynamic range. I’m pretty excited about this option, as creating conventional HDR images is a time intensive process. Being able to accomplish the same thing in-camera, on-the-fly sound great.
I’m less interested in the face detection and smile shutter features, but if you want to rely on your camera to determine when your subject is smiling, the A500 series dSLRs are equipped to do so.
The A500 and A550 follow the lead of the A330-A380 machines by offering users dedicated slots for Memory Stick PRO Duo and SD/SDHC media. Sony is also points out the new cameras can utilize Sonyâ€™s new 32GB Memory Stick PRO-HG Duoâ„¢ HX media. That’s a mouthful, but Sony claims some very impressive transfer speeds for the HK Memory Sticks.
I could not find any specs on which battery the A500 series uses, but I suspect it will use the same smaller battery employed in the A330 and A380 models. I hope I am wrong, because the NP550 used in the A300 and A350 gives much better capacity, at the expense of greater size and weight.
Meanwhile the A850 checks in with the same 24mp full-frame sensor used in the A900. The A850 is quite similar to the A900, but Sony says the new full-frame model will list for $2,000 in body only trim.
That is a nice saving over the A900, but you have to wonder what the A850 will do A900 sales. The A900 is a superior camera in most respects, but is is superior enough to justify a price tag several hundred dollars more than the A850?
The A850 will use most of the A900 accessories, including the battery and vertical grip for the A900. Like the A900, it apparently will not have a built-in flash, so either the HLV-F20AM or the HLV-F58AM flash units will be required to trigger Sony’s wireless flash system. The A850 features memory slots for Compact Flash and Memory Stick Duo cards, including the 32GB HK cards.
I haven’t mentioned video recording, because Sony still has not seen fit to add a video mode to the Alpha dSLRs. If you want video, you will have to wait a little longer.