Sony expanded its entry-level offerings of DSLRs today, with the announcement of the A550 and A500. The two DSLRs are outfitted with new CMOS sensors, faster burst modes, and upgraded Bionz image processors. The 14.2-megapixel A550 will retail for $950 for the body only and the 12.3-megapixel A500 for $750 when they go on sale in late October.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 has 14.2 megapixels, like the older A380, but the new model has a CMOS chip rather than a CCD. This is paired with a Bionz image processor that has been upgraded to include features like the noise reduction system from the pricier A900 and a quicker live view auto focus.
The Sony DSLR-A500 also includes a CMOS sensor, but packs 12.3 megapixels onto it and pairs it with the same feature-laden processor. The two cameras have secondary image sensors for use with the Quick AF Live View, but now include a feature that allows photographers to access the 100-percent-accurate image from the Exmor CMOS sensor itself to check manual focus – and zoom up to 14x to confirm the focus. The Quick AF Live View now includes features borrowed from the Cyber-shot line of digital cameras: face detection and Smile Shutter, which automatically releases the shutter when a smile is detected, are built into the system.
The fast image processor also allows the cameras to offer a faster burst mode. A 4 fps burst is available with the live view enabled, and users can quicken that to 5 fps when the optical viewfinder is used. A faster burst mode is available on the A550; it is being called “speed priority mode” and it can shoot 7 fps when the autofocus and exposure are locked from the first frame.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A550 and A500 are designed to have improved low light capabilities, not only with the nicer noise reduction system but with expanded ISO offerings. The older A380 has ISO settings up to 3200, but the new models extend the range up to 12800. The two new DSLRs also include an automatic high dynamic range mode that takes two pictures quickly, and then combines the images into a single image that has less noise and less blur.
The new Alpha DSLRs both have 3-inch LCD monitors that tilt out from the camera bodies with a full 180-degree range. The Sony A550 has 921,000 pixels of resolution on its screen, while the A500 has 230,000 pixels.
The pricier A550 seems to have the A500 trumped with higher resolution on its CMOS and LCD, but the A500 wins the test of battery stamina. The Sony A500 has “the highest capacity of any α series digital SLR camera battery to date,” states the Aug. 27 press release, with its battery rating of 1000 shots per charge. The A550 isn’t too far behind at 950 shots. For comparison sake, the Sony A380 gets 510 shots per charge and the A700 gets 650 shots.
The two DSLRs will be sold as bodies, or in packages with an 18-55mm kit lens. The kit lens will add a hundred dollars to the cost of the camera. The Sony Alpha DSLRs can accept Sony Alpha lenses and Minolta and Konica-Minolta auto focus lenses. Because the image stabilization system – which Sony calls SteadyShot Inside - is built into the camera bodies, the blur-reducing effects can be seen no matter what lens is attached.
Other accessories will be available soon, including a vertical grip that also serves as a dual battery pack to extend shooting time and make it more comfortable. Memory Stick Pro Duo cards are also currently available, although the Alphas also accept SD and SDHC cards.