Thanks to the arrival of the Sony Alpha 850, the aspiring full-frame digital photographer now has another reasonably priced DSLR to consider, and only a few features separate it from the Alpha 900

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Sony Alpha 850

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LCD viewfinder:
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Sony Alpha 850 review


Price as reviewed:



Like the Sony Alpha 900, the Alpha 850 has a CMOS sensor with 24.6 million effective pixels and approximately the same dimensions as a 35mm film frame. This pixel count puts it on a par with the D3X from Nikon and just ahead of the likes of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or even the EOS-1Ds Mark III, both of which have 21.1 million effective pixels.

Naturally, to make the Alpha 850 a little less expensive than the Alpha 900, Sony has had to make a few compromises. The most significant of these is a reduction in the maximum continuous shooting rate, which is 3fps on the Alpha 850 rather than the 5fps of the Alpha 900.

Neither the Alpha 900 nor the Alpha 850 is really intended as a sports photographer’s camera, and I suspect for many prospective buyers this is not a huge sacrifice.

The 2% reduction in the viewfinder coverage (now 98%) may also not concern photographers using APS-C-format cameras that offer around 96% coverage. Although I am sure they would like a 100% viewfinder, 98% coverage is probably close enough for many.

Unlike most other manufacturers, Sony rather generously includes the infrared RMT-DSLR1 Remote Release with the Alpha 900. This is an optional accessory with the Alpha 850, and it retails for around £26.99.

In other respects, the Alpha 850 is just like the Alpha 900. Sony has not taken the opportunity to introduce a Live View system to its full-frame DSLR. However, the LCD screen still measures 3in across the diagonal, and its 921,600 dots (307,200 pixels) should ensure that the menu and any images look nice and crisp.

Those wishing to check the impact of setting changes on their images prior to their capture must use the Alpha 850’s Intelligent Preview system. Once activated in the Custom menu, this allows an image to be captured, but not saved, when the depth of field preview button is pressed.

The impact of changing settings such as the white balance and exposure are displayed on the resulting image. Once the preferred look is found, images may be captured and saved in the usual way.

Not surprisingly, but nevertheless a little disappointingly, Sony has also not made it possible to record the highest quality JPEG images (Extra Fine) simultaneously with raw files. As with the Alpha 900, the Alpha 850 can only record Fine JPEG images at the same time. Ideally, I would like the option to specify the quality of the JPEGs that accompany raw files.

Aided by Apical, Sony has led the way with in-camera dynamic range optimisation, and the Alpha 850 has the same Dynamic Range Optimizer as the Alpha 900.

In addition to the Automatic and Standard options, the system may be turned off or set to one of five levels of effectiveness in the Advanced Levels mode.

Sony users will be pleased to learn that the company hasn’t made any compromise with the SteadyShot Inside system found in the Alpha 850, as it is the same as the one in the Alpha 900. As such, it is claimed to extend the safe handholdable shutter speed range by up to 4EV. I generally find that it is good for around 2EV or 3EV extensions in most situations.

Given its status as a marginally edited version of the Alpha 900, there are no shocks with the specification of the Alpha 850. As Sony is a respected manufacturer of televisions, games consoles and video cameras, it surprises me that the company hasn’t produced an enthusiast-level DSLR (full-frame or APS-C format) that features either Live View or video technology.

  1. 1. Sony Alpha 850 at a glance:
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Build and handling
  4. 4. White balance and colour
  5. 5. Metering
  6. 6. Autofocus
  7. 7. Resolution, noise and sensitivity
  8. 8. Dynamic range
  9. 9. LCD and viewfinder
  10. 10. The competition
  11. 11. Our verdict
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