Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The rumored Alphas - Advanced commandos or mere clones?

In the past year or so, Sony seemed to have lost some some steam in their dSLR line up. After their historic launch of the affordable full frame body A900 and the highly acclaimed A700, they only managed a series of lackluster launches in the form of Alpha 230, Alpha 330 and Alpha 380. Feature wise, these shooters are not up to the marks set by their competitors and they are simply put, uninteresting. The recent review by dpreview proved this.

"If you shoot mainly at base ISO, in live view and Auto mode the Sony DSLR-A380 is worth a closer look. For everyone else the camera can only become a consideration if its price drops significantly. At the Sony's price point there are currently several better alternatives available."

The rumors are rife again for a set of new Alphas. Namely the A500, A550 and A850. Here are the rumored specs.

Alpha 500
  • 12 Mp EXMOR R CMOS sensor
  • New Quick AF Live View
  • 5 Fps

Alpha 550 - This is essentially the same as A500 except for a higher resolution sensor.

  • 15 Mp EXMOR R CMOS sensor
  • New Quick AF Live View
  • 5 Fps

Alpha 850

  • 24.6 Mp Full Frame EXMOR CMOS Sensor
  • 98 % Viewfinder
  • 3 Fps

Now you may think that Sony has produced a set of uninteresting clones again. Look closer. Sony has recently announced a new breakthrough in CMOS sensor design which was said to greatly improve high ISO performance, the EXMOR R. This is good news because sensor noise and poor Drange has been the main issues plaguing modern sensor with such high pixel counts. If a new technology can solve these issues, it simply means that photographers can shoot in extreme low light conditions without worrying about the loss of details due to image noise.

Sony has since release two point and shoots, the DSC WX1 and the DSC TX1 using this sensor technology. Initial sample images from these two sensors showed mixed results. While the high ISO performance was good, it seems like the low ISO performance is a little weak. We will have to wait for a proper review to know the real verdict.

If the A500 and A550 indeed uses EXMOR R sensors as said in the rumors, I think they will be interesting cameras to look at. However we have to understand that sometimes technologies, being technologies, may not deliver what they promise. An example is the Super CCD EXR which promises good high ISO performance. Lab tests have shown that the conventional CCD in the LX3 has better high ISO performance than the fanciful Super CCD technology.

As for the A850, this could be Sony's answer to the rumored Canon 7D. It seems like it is not using the EXMOR R technology which has not found its way to full frame sensors. If priced right, this could be worth a look. Otherwise, the A850 would be just another clone from Sony's clone factory.

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