Sony A850 Review

November 19, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star Half rating star


Boasting no less than 24.6 megapixels, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A850 is the highest-resolution and crucially cheapest full-frame DSLR camera in the world. Sony have differentiated the A850 in price from the more expensive A900 by reducing the size of the image buffer and the continuous shooting speed from 5 to 3fps, changing the viewfinder coverage from 100 to 98%, and making the remote control an inexpensive optional accessory rather than including it in the box. Otherwise the two cameras are exactly the same. Along with its big brother, the A900, the A850 is the first full-frame SLR with an anti-shake function integrated into the body. Other highlights of the A850 include a huge and very bright optical TTL viewfinder, user interchangeable focusing screens, maximum shutter speed of 1/8000s, x-sync speed of 1/250s, 9+10 auto-focus points, AF micro adjustment, mirror lock-up, Intelligent Preview, Advanced D-Range Optimiser and a very useful Manual Exposure Shift (ME Shift) function. The Sony A850 has a recommended retail price of $1999 / 1999 Euros / £1700.

Ease of Use

The Sony A850 is virtually identical to the slightly more expensive A900 model, so the comments that we made in our review of that camera are repeated here.

Upon taking the Sony A850 in your hands for the first time, you immediately notice how well built it is, and how the large, carefully sculpted grip fits your hand like a glove. Weighing in at just under 930 grams with a battery - and 850 grams without one - the body itself is not particularly heavy for a full-frame camera, being roughly in the same ballpark as some high-end DSLRs with considerably smaller sensors, such as the Nikon D300. Couple it with a high-quality, fast zoom lens capable of projecting an image circle large enough for its 36x24mm sensor, though, and you'll soon find that the resulting combo can be tiring to carry around all day.

Anyone who has ever handled a Sony A700 will feel right at home with the A850, as the control layout is almost exactly the same. The Drive Mode button has been moved to be in line with the Exposure Compensation button and to make room for a small status LCD, the scene modes have vanished from the mode dial - which is no longer mounted at a slant - the Minolta-legacy grip sensor has been omitted and the position of the Pontor-Compur flash sync terminal has been altered somewhat, but that's it, really. Every lever, button, knob, wheel and switch is exactly where you would find it on an A700, and the highly useful rear joystick has also been retained.

If there is one thing that makes the Sony A850 easy to distinguish from the A700 - or indeed any modern SLR - in terms of its appearance, it has got to be the prism hump. Not only is it huge, even by full-frame standards, it also looks as if it came from the 1960s or 1970s, with the edges being only minimally rounded. It also hints at what you can expect when looking through the viewfinder - but it's something you cannot fully prepare yourself for. The finder of the A850 is both huge and very bright, better than anything I've seen, excepting, perhaps, the Leica S2 shown at Photokina 2008. In use, I have found that it also lived up to the 98% coverage claim made by Sony, slightly less than the 100% coverage of the A900.

The focusing screen is user interchangeable, with Sony currently offering two extra options over the one that ships with the camera. Type M is somewhat dimmer but promises a better separation of what is in focus and what is not, whereas Type L is a grid screen. The former caters to those who like to or have to use manual focusing on a regular basis, whereas the second can make life easier for architecture photographers, although this latter group would possibly have been better served by on-demand grid-lines than a separately sold focusing screen. By way of the Setup menu, you can tell the camera about which type of screen you are using, which is important because the properties of the focusing screen can have an influence on the metering.

On the Sony A850's standard, factory installed Type G screen, there are a number of markings. Most importantly, the positions of the 9 primary auto-focus points are permanently engraved. The active AF point lights up in red at a half press of the shutter release and whenever it is being changed. The number of primary AF points is sufficient, but their arrangement leaves a lot to be desired. Instead of being positioned in accordance with either the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean, the 9 main AF sensors are grouped together in the central area of the frame, forming a diamond shape. In Local AF Area mode you can select, by way of the rear joystick, which one of these should be used to obtain focus. In use, the joystick proved to be just the right tool for AF point selection, much better than the dials and navigation pads employed by other manufacturers.

Focusing was admirably quick and almost silent with the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* 24-70mm f/2.8 SSM lens, especially when the centre point was selected. The central AF sensor is a double cross type, which is great for almost any type of subject, but the other 8 primary AF sensors are of the line type, sensitive to either horizontal or vertical detail, but not both. For this reason, the use of these AF sensors caused the lens to hunt for focus on a number of occasions. Finally, there are 10 "supplementary ranging points" used by the camera in Wide AF Area mode. None of these is marked on the focusing screen, and none is user selectable. They are used by the camera to track subjects as they move across the frame, provided the auto-focus mode is set to Continuous by way of the mechanical AF mode selector located on the left front of the camera, a control which is thankfully not very prone to being moved by accident.

The other markings on the focusing screen include the spot metering area and the frame boundaries for when shooting in wide-screen or APS-C formats. When a DT lens, whose image circle is not large enough for the full-frame sensor, is mounted to the camera, the Sony A850 enters APS-C mode automatically, but if you want to use this mode when a lens with full frame coverage is attached, you need to select this mode manually from the menu. In APS-C mode, only the central 11 megapixels are used. Note that the unused parts of the frame are not masked out in the viewfinder the way they are in a Nikon D3, for instance, so you need to keep an eye on those boundary markings when composing the shot.

Sony A850 Sony A850
Front Rear

The viewfinder status bar is in a traditional place just beneath the finder. This bar is a fairly conventional affair, meaning it does not show the sensitivity, the drive mode or the white balance setting, except when they are being changed. However, there is one indicator that is unique to Konica Minolta and Sony - one that shows how intensively the Anti Shake mechanism (now called SteadyShot INSIDE) is working. Sony were lucky to have inherited this sensor-shift image stabilisation technology from Konica Minolta when they bought that company's camera division, as they could lift it from the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D and 5D models and implement it in the A100 and its successors without much ado.

For the A850, however, the technology had to be tweaked, as its sensor is much bigger and heavier than that of those cameras. Many thought it would be impossible to make this kind of stabilisation work in a full-frame body, but Sony's engineers have done a good job, as demonstrated in the Image Quality section of this review. One disadvantage of this system as opposed to the lens-based solutions of Canon, Nikon and Panasonic is that you do not see the stabilisation effect in the viewfinder. This is why the SteadyShot indicator can come in handy - by keeping an eye on it, you can press the shutter release at the right moment, when camera shake is at its lowest.

While we are at it, we have to mention that where other manufacturers use a specially designed filter in front of the sensor, which can vibrate at ultra-high frequencies to shake off any non-adhesive dust particles that may have settled on it after a lens change; Sony keep trying to kill two birds with one stone by moving the sensor itself to get rid of dust, using the same technology that was developed for the Anti Shake system. Since human hands holding a camera tend not to tremble at a frequency of tens of thousands of kilohertz, it is very hard to believe that a solution developed to combat motion blur resulting from shaky hands can successfully double as a sensor dust buster. And indeed, if you look at our Sample Images, you will easily find a number of dust spots, particularly visible when they appear in homogeneous areas such as open patches of sky, especially in photographs taken at apertures of f/11 or smaller. Therefore you'll still need to invest in some kind of third-party sensor cleaning solution to keep the image sensor completely free of unwanted dust.

In terms of exposure control, the Sony A850 offers almost everything a photographer may need. Three metering modes are available, multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot; accessible by way of a handy three-way knob, just like on the A700, and very much like the old Konica Minolta Dynax 7D, the camera which the A700 and the A850 take many of their design cues from. In multi-segment metering mode, the A850 appears to be fairly conservative, aiming to avoid any blown highlights. This could theoretically lead to the underexposure of the midtones and the shadows in certain conditions - but thanks to the rather wide highlight range of the A850 and the D-Range Optimiser, this is rarely the case in practice. Centre-weighted and spot metering work the way they should and, as noted above, the spot metering circle is clearly marked on the focusing screen.

Setting the main exposure variables of aperture and shutter speed is easy thanks to the dual control wheels of the Sony A850, but the button used to directly access the ISO speeds is located somewhat inconveniently. The P/A/S/M exposure modes are selectable by way of a traditional mode dial, which is refreshingly free of any scene modes or "digital subject programs". In light of this and the camera's intended target group, it is somewhat surprising to see the "green" Auto mode retained. The mode dial is also used to access up to three personalised combinations of your favourite settings - nice!

As befits a camera intended for serious use, the A850 has an autoexposure lock (AE Lock) function, with a button dedicated to it. Apart from locking the exposure in P, A and S modes, this button is also used for activating the very useful Manual Exposure Shift (ME Shift) function in manual exposure mode. ME Shift is similar to the Program AE Shift function found on many cameras - including the A850 itself - but is not dependent on the internal meter, which makes it better suited to shooting in constant lighting conditions. ME Shift makes it easy to keep the exposure value constant when quickly changing the shutter speed or aperture, and should be a standard feature on every serious camera in my view.

Sony A850 Sony A850
Top Front

When designing the A850, Sony have apparently shied away from any technology or feature anyone has ever spoken of in a disapproving manner. Thus the camera lacks a pop-up flash, Live View and Eye-start AF. The omission of these - or at least the first two - is a pity. The lack of a pop-up flash, for instance, means that if you want to take advantage of the A850's ability to wirelessly control off-camera system flashes, you will have to buy one of the new HVL-F58AM flashguns to act as commander, irrespective of how many earlier WL capable Minolta/Sony flash units you have already. Not that the HVL-F58AM is a bad investment. With its innovative Quick Shift Bounce system, it is certainly an interesting and capable flash - but it does set you back at least £375 on top of what you have to pay for the A850 body.

Speaking of flash, the Sony A850 has both a standard Pontor-Compur flash sync terminal and a non-standard hot-shoe. The former is meant to be used with studio strobes, but can also serve to sync up old cable-contact flashguns with the A850. The latter is the odd proprietary hot-shoe inherited from Minolta. Unlike other DSLRs, which typically allow the use of non-dedicated flash units in Auto or Manual - though obviously not TTL - mode, the A850 and other Sony DSLRs only accept flashguns tailor-made to their peculiar hot-shoe. This also means that you cannot use Pocket Wizards or other typical hotshoe-mounted accessories either, unless you buy a separately sold adapter.

The omission of Live View is probably also down to Sony's intention of marketing the A850 as a serious camera for the traditionalist photographer - but those using the camera on a tripod will likely miss it. The A850 does offer an 'Intelligent Preview' feature which, if enabled, allows the camera to capture a low-res image at a press of the DOF preview button, which it then displays, and lets the photographer preview the effect of any changes made to the overall exposure, the white balance or the D-Range Optimiser. Crucially, you cannot magnify into this preview image to check focus accuracy and neither can you save it on the card. Intelligent Preview can thus be somewhat helpful when photographing static subjects, but is no substitute for Live View. To be fair though, those who predominantly use their cameras hand held - which is quite possibly the majority - are unlikely to mind this omission.

With no Live View - and no video for it - the big and ultra-high-resolution rear LCD is used only as an - interactive - status screen and menu display in Record mode. As a status screen, it really excels, showing all important settings, and allowing you to change them by way of the Fn button and the rear-panel joystick; the latter of which does not only move up, right, down and left, but can also be pressed inwards to confirm a settings change. When the camera is rotated to portrait orientation, the information display adjusts itself accordingly, which is again something we first saw in the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D of 2004. There are two eye proximity sensors below the optical viewfinder, which, upon sensing that you have raised the camera up to your eye, send a signal to the camera to turn off the rear LCD, so that it does not disturb you. The A850 also has a conventional monochromatic top-panel status LCD, but it is unusually small - the huge prism and the large top-plate buttons take up a lot of space - which means that the range of information presented by it is fairly limited. In dark conditions, it lights up in orange upon a press of a dedicated button.

The A850 has a fairly comprehensive set of drive mode options, accessed by way of a dedicated button located just behind the shutter release and right of the exposure compensation button. Single frame advance is self-explanatory, whilst continuous shooting can be set to 3fps by way of the rear control wheel. The latter figure is respectable enough for such a high-resolution camera, although not as fast as the A900 which boasts 5fps burst shooting. The self-timer can be set to either 10 seconds or 2 seconds, the latter of which is smartly combined with mirror lock up (MLU).

If, for whatever reason, you want more than two seconds to pass between mirror up and taking the shot, you can also select MLU as a separate drive mode. In this case, a first press of the shutter release raises the mirror, and a second one opens the shutter. Although this can be done by physically pressing the shutter release button twice, it kind of beats the point of MLU, so the use of a cable release is recommended. The shutter of the A850 is not particularly loud, but of course the mirror slap is - it's a big mirror after all. Other drive mode options include AE/WB/DRO bracketing and a separate mode for when using the supplied infrared remote controller. This unit has a surprising number of buttons, but only a couple of these are relevant in Record mode. One gripe I have about the infrared remote release is that you cannot use it with MLU, since it is a different drive mode - so, as noted above, you will want to buy a wired remote release if you do a lot of tripod work.

Sony A850 Sony A850
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

The white balance options are also accessible via a dedicated button. These include the usual range of presets, all of which can be fine-tuned in 10-Mired increments. In addition to these, you can set the colour temperature in degrees Kelvin, between 2500K and 9900K, as well as make adjustments along the green-magenta axis using simulated colour compensation filters. Naturally for a high-end digital camera, a Custom WB option is also provided, and there is the ubiquitous AWB setting available too.

There is one last feature worth expanding upon, AF Micro adjustment. Just like other manufacturers, Sony have acknowledged that certain camera-lens combinations may cause the AF system to front- or backfocus, and provided an on-board solution to this. In-camera AF Micro adjustment alleviates the need to send your camera and lenses in a repair centre upon encountering front- or backfocus. It has to be noted though that AF Micro adjustment is not a simple task and demands a high degree of precision from the person doing it. Otherwise you can do more harm than good.

Once you have captured a photo, the true qualities of that hi-res rear LCD can be admired in their full glory. Displaying the image just captured takes some time - about a second - as the files are huge. You can magnify into the photo by pressing the button left of the rear control wheel. This again takes a bit of time, but it's worth it. The default magnification for full-resolution images is 9.4x, which is perfect for judging focus - which is why I didn't usually bother to magnify into the photos any further, although if you wish, you can do so, up to 19x. You can move around the frame in enlarged view by way of the joystick, and return to normal viewing via the same button used to enter it, or the Playback button.

As usual, the DISP button is used to cycle through the various information screens, but what's not so usual - except if you are coming from an A700 - is that there is a dedicated button to bring up the the four-way histogram and shooting data. This I found immensely useful, as it allowed me to quickly toggle between full-frame view with no data overlay and histogram view with all the necessary shooting info, without having to cycle through the other screens. All digital cameras should have a dedicated Histogram button like this (in Record mode, the function of this button can be tailored to your needs - my choice would be either Flash Mode or Flash Exposure Compensation).

The A850 runs on a proprietary Lithium-ion battery bearing the InfoLITHIUM trademark. What this means is that the battery can report exactly how much power is left in it, and the camera displays this in percentage form. In the field, this was invaluable information, much better than the limited-use pictographs displayed by most other digital cameras. Sony rates this battery at around 880 shots per cycle according to the CIPA standard. Either I chimp too much or this figure is too optimistic - I barely managed half of that. The battery slots into place via a door on the bottom of the camera, and is cleverly protected by a lock lever from accidentally falling out.

The A850 records photos on Compact Flash and Memory Stick Duo cards, each of which has its own slot in a card compartment that opens to the right-hand side of the camera, when viewed from the back. Having dual card slots is always welcome, but they have very pared-down functionality in the A850. You cannot record images simultaneously on both cards, and neither can you save RAW files on one and JPEGs on the other. You can connect the A850 to an HDTV via its HDMI terminal, but naturally there is a VIDEO OUT/USB port as well for connecting the camera to a regular TV or a computer. The A850 supports USB 2.0 'Hi-Speed', and thanks to this, downloading the images from a fast Lexar Professional UDMA 300x Compact Flash card was really fast despite the extreme amount of data that had to be moved. All connectors are protected with sturdy rubber flaps on proper hinges, so they stay put, whether closed or open. It goes without mention that the A850 has a metal tripod mount aligned perfectly with the lens' optical axis.

In the field, the Sony A850 proved to be a well-crafted, responsive and highly capable photographic tool that was a joy to use. Sony must also be applauded for supplying a manual in print form, which you can take along for quick reference. Of course a PDF version is also provided, which is exemplary in being fully cross referenced. That's all excellent news , but how does the quality of the Sony A850's super-high-resolution images stack up?

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 24.6 megapixel Extra Fine JPEG mode, which gives an average image size of around 8Mb.

During the review the Sony A850 produced photographs of stunning quality. The amount of detail resolved by the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* 2.8/24-70mm SSM lens and the A850's 24.6-megapixel sensor is truly astounding, even if you need to produce huge prints and look at them very closely to see it all. This resolution is likely to be enough for even the most demanding applications, such as magazine spreads, coffee table books, and calendars etc. Of course, resolution is not the only measure of image quality – and for some, it does not even rank among the most important. Fortunately, the A850 delivers the goods in the other departments as well. Colours are rich, vibrant and very pleasing, the dynamic range is fantastic and the tonality is superb. There is no denial that noise is present in images at ISO 1600 and above (and sometimes below as well), and it is easy to see it in 100% crops – but to see it in the final output, you have to print really, really big. At most print sizes, including some that would be described as large by most people, noise is simply not an issue, particularly if you shoot in the RAW format.


The base sensitivity of the Sony A850 is ISO 200, but you can go down to ISO 100 if you wish. ISO speeds are accessed by way of a dedicated button, which, as noted in the Ease of Use section, is a bit inconveniently located. You can select "full" ISO speeds with the front control wheel and in-between values – such as ISO 250 for example – with the rear wheel. An Auto ISO option is also provided, with the ability to set a minimum and a maximum threshold. Unfortunately, Auto ISO is not available in M mode. The camera produces admirably clean files between ISO 100 and ISO 400. ISO 800 will depend heavily on the lighting, whereas ISO 1600 clearly exhibits noise at 100% viewing. The situation gets worse at 3200, while the expanded setting of ISO 6400 looks rather nasty up close. We have provided, as usual, a set of 100% crops, but with the photos produced by the A850 being nearly 25 megapixels, it is imperative that we point our how small a portion of the full frame these crops represent. Therefore we urge you to judge them accordingly – remember that no matter how ugly the ISO 6400 crops may look, they still retain more detail than most other cameras can capture in the first place. Also note how the appearance of the noise differs between the JPEG and RAW crops, with JPEGs exhibiting some rather blotchy colour noise and fairly obvious luminance smoothing. The JPEG crops are from Extra Fine JPEGs, whereas the RAW samples are default Photoshop CS3 conversions. Individual parameter adjustments or the use of a different RAW converter may have yielded a slightly different look.


ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 100 (100% Crop)


ISO 200 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 400 (100% Crop)


ISO 800 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)

ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


ISO 3200 (100% Crop)

ISO 3200 (100% Crop)


ISO 6400 (100% Crop)

ISO 6400 (100% Crop)


File Quality

The file quality settings available on the Sony A850 are Standard, Fine and Extra Fine for JPEGs, plus there is the option of shooting either compressed or uncompressed RAW. Both RAW and cRAW can be combined with JPEG, but in this case, the only JPEG setting available is Fine. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.

24.6M Extra Fine (100% Crop)
24.6M Fine (100% Crop)
24.6M Standard (100% Crop)
24.6M RAW (100% Crop)


The out-of-camera JPEGs are in fact quite sharp at the default settings if you use a sharp lens to begin with, but you may decide that they benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Night Shot

The Sony A850 has a maximum shutter speed of 30 seconds and a Bulb setting for even longer exposures, which is very good news if you are seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 25 seconds, aperture of f/8 at ISO 100. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Anti Shake

The A850 has a SteadyShot INSIDE function, which is an improved version of Minolta's Anti Shake technology; an image stabiliser that is built into the camera body itself rather than the lens, adjusting for external hand-shake by counter-moving the CCD in a compensating manner. Crucially, it works with any lens that you attach to the camera, removing the need to buy more expensive lenses with anti-shake. This allows you to take hand-held photos at shutter speeds that are critically slow for the focal length used. SteadyShot is activated with a sliding switch on the back of the camera, which requires a reassuringly firm flick of the thumb, meaning that accidental activation or deactivation isn't a problem. The crops below are from two photographs, both taken at 1/4 second at 70mm. As you can see, anti-shake does make a difference at shutter speeds like this. Importantly though, it won't help when even longer exposure times are required – in those cases, switch off SteadyShot and use a sturdy mount such as a tripod.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Anti-Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti-Shake On (100% Crop)
1/4th sec / 70mm

Dynamic Range Optimizer

D-Range Optimiser (DRO) is Sony's solution to improve shadow detail in photos taken in contrasty light. The selectable settings are Off, Standard, Advanced Auto and Advanced Level 1-3. Especially the last of these, the ability to set DRO to one of three levels, is very effective, as our examples show.

Off (100% Crop)

Standard (100% Crop)

Advanced Auto (100% Crop)

Advanced Level 1 (100% Crop)

Advanced Level 2 (100% Crop)

Advanced Level 3 (100% Crop)

Creative Styles

Sony's Creative Styles are akin to Canon's Picture Controls in being preset combinations of different sharpness, contrast, saturation and brightness settings. The default Creative Styles include Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape and Black-and-White, and are accessed by pressing the 'C' button, unless another function has been assigned to it. They can also be changed on the interactive status screen. There are other "image styles" available, some of which – such as 'Sunset' and 'Autumn' – are almost like scene modes in that they override the white balance setting too. Within each Creative Style and "image style", the user can fine-tune the sharpness, saturation, contrast etc. settings. Shown here are the six default Creative Styles for illustration.







Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Sony A850 camera, which were all taken using the 24.6 megapixel Extra Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample RAW Images

The Sony A850 enables users to capture RAW and JPEG format files. We've provided some Sony RAW (ARW) samples for you to download (thumbnail images shown below are not 100% representative).

Sample Movie & Video

Product Images

Sony A850

Front of the Camera

Sony A850

Front of the Camera

Sony A850

Isometric View

Sony A850

Isometric View

Sony A850

Isometric View

Sony A850

Isometric View

Sony A850

Rear of the Camera

Sony A850

Rear of the Camera / Info Display

Sony A850

Rear of the Camera / Info Display


Sony A850

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu

Sony A850
Top of the Camera
Sony A850
Bottom of the Camera
Sony A850
Side of the Camera
Sony A850
Side of the Camera
Sony A850
Front of the Camera
Sony A850
Front of the Camera
Sony A850
Memory Card Slot
Sony A850
Battery Compartment


The Sony A850 is virtually identical to the A900 for significantly less money, with the only concessions to price being the slightly smaller viewfinder coverage, slower burst shooting mode and the lack of a remote control in the box. We're a little late in reviewing the A850, but that still doesn't stop it from being an attractively specified and crucially well-priced full-frame DSLR.

The Sony A850 is not simply the highest-resolution DSLR out there – it's much more than that. Its viewfinder is one of the best you'll find south of medium format, the build is incredibly robust, the controls are intuitive, with some of them – such as the dedicated Histogram button, the metering mode knob or the well-implemented rear joystick – being close to pure genius. On top of that, the fact that it is the only full-frame digital SLR with image stabilisation integrated into the body (alongside the A900) makes it a very attractive proposition. Add to this a few useful features such as Manual Exposure Shift (ME Shift), AF Micro Adjustment and Dynamic Range Optimisation, and you have a very well-rounded photographic tool that is not likely to let you down in the field.

In terms of image quality, the A850 is also hard to find fault with. The resolution is jaw-dropping, the dynamic range is fantastic, the tonality is great and the colours are pleasing. You do get quite a bit of noise at ISO 1600 and higher (and sometimes lower as well), but it won't really impact on the final output unless you print those high-ISO shots really, really big, and then scrutinise them from a distance that borders on the ridiculous.

Does this mean that the A850 is the perfect camera then? Of course not – there is no such thing as a perfect camera. The auto-focus system, while capable, leaves a lot to be desired. The AF points need to be arranged more sensibly, and all of them need to be a cross type – or a double cross type, like the central one – in order to be really useful. Some kind of Live View – preferably off the main sensor, so that the great optical viewfinder is not compromised – would be more than welcome for the sake of all the tripod users out there. We do realise, however, that there are many photographers who will be more than happy with the AF system of the A850 as it is, and won't miss Live View at all – which is why we do not hesitate to award this camera our coveted Highly Recommended rating.

4.5 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 5
Features 4
Ease-of-use 5
Image quality 4.5
Value for money 5

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Sony A850 from around the web. »

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).
Read the full review » »

With the new A850 Sony is pushing the price envelope once more. The A900 currently sells for $2,700, with Canon being forced to match them in terms of pricing with the 5D MKII, the only other 20+MP full-frame camera available in this price range. (The Canon 1Ds MKIII is currently about $6,500 and the Nikon D3x is some $8,000, so both are in another league altogether).
Read the full review » »

Sony tells us that the body, sensor, and electronics are identical to those of the A900, and our tests of the Sony A850 bear that out: Image quality is essentially identical to that of the A900, and other performance characteristics apart from the continuous-mode speed and viewfinder coverage appear identical as well. If you've been hungering for an A900 but couldn't quite justify the cost, the Sony A850 is the camera you've been waiting for.
Read the full review »


Lens Mount
Sony α mount YES
Compatibility with A-Mount bayonet lenses from Minolta and Konica Minolta YES
Lens Compatibility
All types of Sony α lenses YES (DT lens compatibility is not guaranteed)
Minolta & Konica Minolta α/MAXXUM/DYNAX lenses YES (DT lens compatibility is not guaranteed)
Image Sensory
Image sensor type Exmor CMOS sensor
Image sensor colour filter R, G, B, Primary color
Size (mm) 35.9 x 24
Total sensor Pixels (megapixels) Approx. 25.7
Effective Pixels (megapixels) Approx. 24.6
Automatic White Balance YES
White balance: preset selection Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash
White balance: custom setting YES
White balance: types of color temperature 2500 - 9900 k with 19-step Magenta / Green compensation
White balance bracketing 3 frames, Selectable 2 steps
ISO Sensitivity Setting ISO200 - 3200 equivalent, ISO numbers up from ISO100 to ISO6400 can be set as expanded ISO range
SteadyShot INSIDE
System: Sensor-shift mechanism YES
SteadyShot INSIDE scale (in viewfinder) YES
Camera-Shake warning (in viewfinder) YES
SteadyShot INSIDE capability Approx. 2.5 EV - 4 EV decrease in shutter speed (varies according to shooting conditions and lens used)
SteadyShot INSIDE compatibility All Sony DSLR lenses and A-Mount bayonet lenses from Minolta and Konica Minolta
*SteadyShot INSIDE was previously known as Super SteadyShot  
Double anti dust system (anti-static coating and sensor shift mechanism) YES
Auto Focus System
TTL phase-detection system YES
Sensor 9 points with centre dual-cross sensor + 10 assist focus points
Sensitivity Range (at ISO 100 equivalent); EV 0 - 18
Eye Start AF System (on off selectable) NO
AF Area: Wide focus area YES (auto with 9 areas)
AF Area: Spot YES (center dual-cross sensor)
AF Area: Local focus area selection YES (9 local areas)
AF Modes Continuous, Single Shot, Automatic, Manual Focus, Direct Manual Focus
Predictive Focus Control YES (with moving subjects in AF-A and AF-C)
Focus Lock YES
AF Illuminator YES (with built-in LED)
AF Illuminator range (meters) Approx. 1 - 7
Auto Exposure System
Light metering type TTL
Light metering cell 40-segment honeycomb-pattern SPC
Light metering: Multi segment YES
Light metering: Spot YES
Light metering: Center weighted YES
Exposure: Automatic YES
Exposure: Program Auto YES (with Program Shift)
Exposure: Shutter priority YES
Exposure: Aperture priority YES
Exposure: Manual YES
Exposure: Scene selection NO
Exposure compensation YES (+/-3.0 EV, 0.3 EV, 0.5 EV steps selectable)
AE Bracketing 0.3 EV / 0.5 EV / 0.7 EV / 2.0 EV increments, 3/5 frames selectable (2.0 EV only 3 frames)
Type Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
Shutter Speed Range (seconds) 1/8000 - 30 and bulb
Flash Sync Speed (With Steady Shoot Off); second 1/250
Flash Sync Speed (With Steady Shoot On); second 1/200
Built-in-Flash Guide Number (in meters at ISO 100) NO
Flash Metering System ADI / Pre-flash TTL flash metering
Flash Compensation +/-3.0 EV (0.3 EV, 0.5 EV steps selectable)
Built-in-Flash Recycling Time (approx. time in seconds) NO
Flash Mode Autoflash, Fill-flash, Rear flash sync. High Speed sync. with optional compatible accessory flash
Wireless flash mode YES (only with optional accessory)
Slow Synchronization YES
Red-Eye Reduction NO
Flash Popup NO
Automatic Flash YES (with AUTO mode)
Type Fixed eye-level system with optical glass type pentaprism
Focusing Screen Spherical acute matte screen
Field of View (%) Approx. 98
Magnification (with 50mm lens at infinity) 0.74x
Eye Relief Approx. 20mm from the eyepiece lens
Diopter Adjustment -3.0 to +1.0 diopter
Live View
Type NO
Other NO
LCD screen
Screen Size 3
Monitor Type Xtra Fine LCD
LCD Total Dot Number 921.600
LCD on/off YES
Brightness adjustable YES
Tilting screen NO
Drive Mode Single, Continuous, 10sec. / 2sec. Self-timer, Single AE bracketing, Continuous AE bracketing, White Balance Bracketing, DRO Advanced Bracketing, Mirror lock up, Remote commander
Continuous-Advance Rate (approx. frames per second at maximum) Max. 3 fps
Number of Continuous Advance JPEG (L size, Fine): 384 images, RAW: 16 images, RAW+JPEG: 12 images
Recording Media Compact Flash Type I / II / MicroDrive slot. Memory Stick™ Duo / MS Pro Duo and MS-PRO HG Duo
Recording Format JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG, 16:9 selectable
RAW (pixels) 6048 x 4032
Image Size L - JPEG (pixels) 6048 x 4032 (24M)
Image Size M (pixels) 4400 x 2936 (13M)
Image Size S (pixels) 3024 x 2016 (6.1M)
Still Image quality RAW, cRAW, RAW+JPEG, cRAW+JPEG, Extra fine(JPEG), Fine(JPEG), Standard(JPEG)
Noise Reduction (Long exp.NR) On/Off, available at shutter speeds longer than 1 second
Noise Reduction (High ISO NR) High/Normal/Low/Off, available at the ISO set to 1600 or above
Delete Function Single, multiple, or all frames in a folder
Color Space (sRGB) YES
Color Space (Adobe RGB) YES
Color mode/DEC/Creative styles Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night view, Autumn leaves, B/W, Sepia
Dynamic Range Optimizer Off, Standard / Advanced: Auto / Advanced: Level
Date/Time Print With PictBridge™
Information Display YES
White/Black Out Alert YES
Index Playback YES (25, 9, 4 or 5 last frames filmstrip)
Enlarge (Maximum magnification) L size: 19x, M size: 14x, S size: 9.4x
Image Rotation YES
Auto Image Rotation YES
Battery Remaining Indicator YES
InfoLITHIUM Battery Indicator YES (in %)
Histogram Indicator YES
Exif 2.21
Exif Print YES
PictBridge YES
Menu Language English / French / German / Spanish / Italian / Portuguese / Dutch / Russian / Swedish / Danish / Norwegian / Finnish / Polish / Czech / Hungarian
Zone Matching YES
Depth-of-Field Preview YES
PRINT Image Matching III YES
Remote Release Terminal YES
IR Remote Control YES (with RMT-DSLR1)
DPOF(Digital Print Order Format) YES
Indicator of remaining memory space (CF) YES
Beep Sound On/Off selectable
File Number Memory On/Off selectable
Folder Name Mode Standard and Date
Operating Temperature (degrees C) 0 - 40
Video Out YES (PAL or NTSC)
HD/HDMI™ Out HDMI™ mini connector, 1080i/720p/SD selectable (optional HDMI™ cable necessary)
USB 2.0 Hi-Speed YES
USB Mode Mass Storage (Multi LUN compliant) / PTP / PC Remote Control
Battery System NP-FM500H
Supplied Battery NP-FM500H
Stamina (battery life in CIPA condition) Approx. 880 images
Weight (g) Approx. 850
Width (mm) 156.3
Height (mm) 116.9
Depth (mm) 81.9

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