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Conclusion - Pros

  • Class-leading resolution (as long as your lenses are good enough)
  • Very solid build quality, environmental sealing
  • Intuitive operation and uncluttered control and menu system
  • Excellent out of camera JPEG results with superb tonality, dynamic range, color
  • Excellent raw dynamic range gives lots of headroom
  • Almost 100% reliable metering and exposure
  • In-body image stabilization that works well (around 2 stop advantage)
  • Superb screen and attractive menu system
  • Excellent 'Quick Navi' control system
  • Large and bright optical viewfinder
  • Excellent handling and ergonomics
  • Excellent battery life and percentage battery status display
  • Value for money

Conclusion - Cons

  • Noise reduction settings applied to raw as well as JPEG files - cannot be 'turned off for raw but left on for JPEGs' (as is normal practice)
  • Relatively high levels of noise at anything over ISO 400 (ISO 6400 is of very, very limited use)
  • JPEGs a little soft by default (some loss of detail due to NR visible even at ISO 200) - you really need to shoot raw (and use ACR or similar) to get the best out of the sensor
  • Top panel LCD very limited compared to all competitors
  • Less customizable than most competitors (though a lot less confusing for it)
  • No live view
  • No movie mode
  • Focus speed not up to other cameras in this class (though it is very accurate)

Overall conclusion

For this Quick review we ran some basic studio tests to confirm the A850's image quality is as good as identical to the A900's. On the previous pages of this article we have described all specification and performance differences between the two cameras. To get all the in-depth information that you expect from a dpreview review on the Sony DSLR-A850 you'll have to read both this article and our in-depth review of the Sony DSLR-A900.

As we've described earlier there are only two noticeable differences in specification between the subject of this review, the Sony DSLR-850, and its bigger brother, the A900 - the A850 comes with a slightly smaller viewfinder and a smaller buffer, resulting in slower continuous shooting.

Sony tells us the imaging pipelines of the A850 and A900 are absolutely identical. Having run some basic studio tests (including noise tests and shots of our 'compared to' studio scene at all sensitivities) we can pretty much confirm that. Our copy of the A850 measured very slightly lower chroma noise levels than the A900 in its review from October 2008 but the differences are small enough to be attributed to sample variation and/or margin of error.

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 Alpha DSLR-A850
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Resolution-hungry applications such as landscape or studio photography
Not so good for
Low light photography or anything that requires fast continuous shooting speed such as sports or wildlife photography
Overall score
75%
The Sony DSLR-A850 is the most affordable full-frame DSLR on the market. It's a no-nonsense photographer's camera that delivers excellent image quality at base ISO but cannot quite keep up with the competition at higher sensitivities.

Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean

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Sony DSLR-A850 Review Samples

36 images • Posted 15 April 2010 • View album
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