The Sony A850 has no differences from the flagship Sony A900 besides a slower rate of fire, a slightly smaller viewfinder and $700. For the money, it is the best bang-for-your buck value out there right now for full frame photographers. Put some nice Minolta or Zeiss glass in front of that sensor and you’ll begin to see some very nice results. During my hands-on time, I noticed some other slight differences in handling.
Tech Specs at a Glance
The Sony A850 features a 24.6MP 35mm full frame Exmor CMOS image sensor, SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization, Dual BIONZ processors, ultra bright glass pentaprism viewfinder (98%), 3.0″ display, 9-point AF system, and 3fps shooting. The camera weighs about 1lb-14oz (850g) without battery, memory card, and accessories. It records to Memory Stick PRO Duo media / Compact Flash Type I, Type II (Microdrive), and it is UDMA(Mode5) compliant. Like the A900, there is no built-in flash. There is also HDMI support just in case you need to display your work on an HDTV.
Just like the Sony A900, there is no Live View mode. More details can be found on Photography Bay’s Sony A850 Reviews and Resources.
Perhaps it’s the slightly smaller viewfinder, but the A850 feels lighter than the A900. That isn’t to say that it feels more flimsy though. The A850 is still a very solid camera with a magnesium body, dust and moisture resistant seals and a shutter rated for 100,000 cycles.
Shooting the camera is still very easy to do with the shutter and aperture wheels being done similarly to Nikon’s standards. Turning the camera on and accessing many of the button is very easy to do. Additionally, Sony DSLRs have in my opinion, the best laid out menu system with emphasis on quick and easy accessibility to what you need to do.
Something that I missed was Live View. I’m only around 5 foot 7 inches tall, so taking “Hail Mary” shots were very common at crowded events if I wasn’t able to make it to the front.
To be fair, the trade-off is the shooting preview feature. Using a button near the bottom of the lens base, one can take a preview shot to see what it will look like. If the photographer doesn’t like it, they can dial in their settings accordingly and take the photo again. I do not understand why the cameras don’t just allow the user to keep the photo instead though.
The camera operates quietly, which is very nice if one is shooting an event, speech, wedding etc. You can shoot with the confidence to know that the sound of a machine gun will not interrupt the participants and viewers.
These photos are samples that came straight from the camera onto my CF card. They were shot as JPEGs.
As you can see, color rendition goes a bit more towards the purple side. This is understandable as the algorithms in the coding for each camera companies pictures tend to favor certain colors more than others. To be fair, there is plenty of tungsten lighting in the Javits Center at Photo Plus. Florescent white balances though are usually the ones that come out purple.
High ISO images with the A850 seem to be less noisy than with the A900. The ISO goes up to 6400. Shooting at ISO 800 and above allows you to clearly see the noisy, although it becomes more apparent in areas which are out of focus. Because of this, the images have an old school film-like look to them.
The camera can accept a battery grip if needed and Sony’s flashes are very versatile with heads that twist and rotate in more ways that could possibly be needed.
Based on my initial impressions, I would very much so recommend the A850. At such a low price point for full frame, it’s a real tempting alternative to a crop-sensor camera like the Canon 7D or Nikon D300s. If you don’t already have an investment in another system, the Sony A850 would make a great start. I expect that existing Minolta and Sony users will be very pleased with the results and the savings over the long term.