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
Build and handling
The recent restyling that has been bestowed upon Sony’s lower-level DSLRs has not been applied to the Alpha 850 as it has the same angular looks of its full-frame forebear. It’s not unattractive, but it is unlikely to draw too many admiring glances, either.
At 850g without batteries or memory card, the Alpha 850 is a little heavier than both the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the Nikon D300S. Despite the weight, I like its solid, no-nonsense, robust feel.
Reassuringly, there are no creaks or squeaks when the Alpha 850 is gripped and squeezed firmly, and the camera feels comfortable in my grasp. Rubberised coatings on the deep ergonomically shaped finger and thumb holds provide just enough grip to keep the camera from slipping in the hand, and the camera’s contours seem to guide my right index finger to the shutter release button.
Although the exposure compensation and drive mode buttons on the top plate are within easy reach of my finger when it’s over the shutter release, the white balance and sensitivity control are not. These buttons are a little further back on the top plate and I am unable to reach them without adjusting my grip.
Part of the problem is that the camera strap lug gets in the way of my index finger in its journey from the shutter-release button to the white balance or sensitivity controls. In fact, they are more conveniently reached by my right thumb.
Reaching up to the top of the camera while looking at the setting options on the rear LCD doesn’t feel especially natural at first, although it doesn’t take long to get used to it.
The remaining buttons and dials are fairly sensibly arranged. I particularly appreciate the dials that enable the user to switch metering and focus modes. Along with the main mode dial, they provide enough resistance to prevent them from being accidentally knocked out of position on a frequent basis.
Although it isn’t the most customisable camera on the market, there are a few ways in which the camera can be set up to the user’s preferences.
The Custom (C) button, for instance, can be set to access the image quality, Creative Style or D-Range Optimizer options. I chose to use it to reach the Creative Style settings, as this enables me to switch quickly to recording monochrome JPEG files when the mood takes me. It is rather strange, however, that this option should be activated via the Recording menu rather than the Custom menu.
Similarly, the option to save up to three collections of settings for later recall via the main mode dial is also found on the fourth screen of the Recording menu.
As the Alpha 850 has no Live View or video modes with additional options that clutter up the menu or require controls, the camera is relatively straightforward to get to grips with. Nevertheless, it would be nice to have a personalised menu screen to which the most commonly required menu settings could be saved.
Image: The strong graphic lines of highlights and shadows in this scene made it a good monochrome subject. I shot it using the Alpha 850’s default B/W Creative Style settings with the aspect ratio set to 16:9 to emphasise the converging lines