This is the first camera to be reviewed using our new 'Quick Review' format. From now on we will be using this format for cameras that are in terms of operation close and in terms of image quality fundamentally identical to either their predecessors or other models in the line that we already treated to a full review. We first confirm the image quality is identical by running a couple of basic image quality tests (noise test and shots of our 'compared to' studio scene at all ISOs) and then concentrate in the review on the differences between the two cameras. For a fuller view of the camera's qualities we therefore recommend you not only read this Quick Review, but also the full review of the Sony DSLR-A900.

When the Sony DSLR-A900 was introduced in September 2008 it looked like an incredibly good deal: a full-frame DSLR with a weather-sealed pro body and a whopping 24.6 million pixels resolution for $3000. This was price-wise in a similar ballpark to what were at the time its closest competitors, the Canon EOS 5D and Nikon D700. However, the only camera that (at 21.1 million pixels) came close in terms of resolution, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, was significantly more expensive ($8000 at launch). The Sony A900 seemed like the obvious choice for resolution-hungry photographers on a smaller budget.

The digital camera market moves fast though, and within weeks of its launch the Sony's price advantage had vanished with Canon's announcement of the EOS 5D Mark II ($2,699 at launch). Canon's new 'compact' full-frame not only had a 20+ MP resolution but also came with a maximum ISO of 25,600, live view and a 1080p HD movie-mode, making the Sony look a little weak in the features department.

Sony's answer came, with a slight delay, in August 2009 in the shape of the DSLR-A850. Rather than upping the new model's feature set Sony decided to leave the A850 (compared to the A900) almost unchanged and compete exclusively on price. The new model is available at a RRP of $2000, making it the cheapest full-frame DSLR currently on the market. Obviously something had to be done to justify the price difference to the flagship A900 (and not completely annoy existing A900 owners), so Sony decided to differentiate the A850 from its bigger brother by slightly reducing the viewfinder coverage and the buffer size (the latter resulting in a 3.0 fps vs 5.0 fps continuous shooting rate). All other key features remain unchanged and are listed below.

Key features

  • 24.6 MP 35mm format full-frame CMOS sensor (still the highest res in class)
  • SteadyShot INSIDE full frame image sensor shift stabilization (world first)
  • Dual Bionz processors
  • Eye-level glass Penta-prism OVF, 98% coverage, 0.74x magnification
  • 9 point AF with 10 assist points, center dual-cross AF w/2.8 sensor
  • 3 frames per second burst
  • Intelligent Preview Function
  • 3 User programmable custom memory modes on mode dial
  • Advanced Dynamic Range Optimizer (5 step selectable)
  • 40 segment honeycomb metering
  • 3.0" 921K pixel Photo Quality (270 dpi) LCD display, 100% coverage
  • Direct HDMI output
  • ISO 200-3200 (ISO 100-6400 expanded range)
  • User interchangeable focusing screens (3 options)
  • CF Type I/II and MS slots, LI-ION battery, STAMINA 880 shots
  • Weight 850g (without battery, card, accs)
  • New Image Data Converter SR software (includes vignetting control)
  • Optional vertical Grip
  • Magnesium Alloy body and rubber seals for dust and moisture resistance
  • AF micro adjustment