News of the A850, Sony’s full-frame follow-up to the Alpha dslr-A900, surfaced on the Web weeks ago–Sony itself accidentally leaked the entire manual, for pity’s sake–but the most important aspect of the product, the camera’s price, remained only speculation. Without that context, one really didn’t know what to make of the subtly stripped-down version of the A900. Now we know it’ll cost $1,999 for the body, making it the least expensive full-frame dslr currently available. That makes it newsworthy, but does that automatically make it droolworthy?
It’s worth taking a step back and considering the benefits–and drawbacks–of a full-frame dslr; that is, a camera with a sensor that has the same active area as a frame of 35mm film. In comparison, typical consumer dSLR sensors are anywhere from two thirds to half that size. Since larger sensors are generally better for cramming a lot of pixels in without losing ground to an excessive amount of image noise, full-frame sensors are commonly accepted as the best choice for high-resolution and/or low-light photography (without opting for the significantly larger and more expensive medium format option). It’s also easier to build wide-angle lenses for larger sensors.
A big, low-noise, high-resolution sensor: what’s not to like? Well, for one thing, big sensors mean big cameras; they require lenses with larger circumferences than the smaller sensors, larger viewfinders, larger bodies, and so on. And all of that costs more. The A850 is still $1,000 more and 10 ounces heavier than its newly minted 14-megapixel little brother, the A550.… Read more