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