Sunday, February 13, 2011

Digital DNA

Unless you’re already committed to a specific brand through years of lens and accessory purchases, buying a new DSLR today may mean comparing a dozen models.
By Mike Stensvold Published in SLRs
Digital DNA


Sony has long been a top manufacturer of compact digital cameras and launched its first DSLR, the DSLR-A100, after purchasing Konica Minolta's photography division in 2006. The company has released 16 DSLRs since then, and today is a major force in the interchangeable-lens digital camera arena. The current line-up includes professional full-frame models, consumer DSLRs, two models with an innovative fixed pellicle mirror and Sony's own take on the large-sensor, interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera, the NEX series.

Konica Minolta introduced sensor-shift image stabilization to the DSLR with the Maxxum 7D back in 2003, and all Sony DSLRs have offered this great feature, which provides stabilization with any lens you attach to the camera. All Sony DSLRs offer built-in sensor-dust removers, which use ultra-high-speed vibrations to remove dust from the image sensor assembly.

Sony DSLR-A850

By far the lowest-priced full-frame DSLR, the A850 offers most of the flagship A900's features, including the same 24.6-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS image sensor and image processing, the same rugged magnesium-alloy body with sealing against dust and moisture, and the same image quality. Basically, what the A900 gives you for the extra $700 is a viewfinder that shows 100% of the actual area (versus 98% for the A850) and a faster maximum shooting rate (5 fps versus 3 fps), making the A850 an excellent value.

The A850 was introduced before video came to the DSLR (Canon's EOS 5D Mark II and Nikon's D3S are the only current full-frame DSLRs to offer video capability), but a 24-megapixel, full-frame DSLR for under $2,000 is a great bargain even without video. While it lacks a true Live View mode, Instant Preview lets you see the effects of adjustments to exposure, white balance and Dynamic Range optimizer on the LCD monitor.

Sony DSLR-A580

Sony's top APS-C DSLR features a 16.2-megapixel Sony Exmor CMOS sensor and a host of good features, including a tilting LCD monitor and—thanks to a second live-view sensor—fast phase-detection AF during live-view operation with no disruption of the live image. The camera can shoot at 3 fps in Quick AF live mode, 5 fps in optical viewfinder mode and 7 fps in Speed Priority mode with focus locked.

The A580 features Sony's 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama (3D requires a 3D TV set for viewing), 3-shot Auto HDR, D-Range Optimizer and Multi-Frame Noise Reduction for ISOs up to 25,600.


Sony provides a good lineup of lenses for its DSLRs, including some excellent Carl Zeiss optics. In addition, all Sony DSLRs can use virtually all Konica Minolta Maxxum lenses. DT lenses were designed specifically for the APS-C sensor and can be used on the full-frame models, but will vignette.

The DT lenses range from an 11-18mm zoom to an 18-250mm zoom, including a Carl Zeiss 16-80mm zoom. The full-frame lenses (which can be used on all Sony DSLRs) range from a 16mm full-frame fisheye and a 20mm wide-angle to a 70-400mm ƒ/4-5.6 telezoom. G-series lenses are the "elite" ones in Sony's lineup.

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