A mild sunny day allowed me to use the Sony a850 plus 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM in exactly the kind of situations and weather I wanted. The afternoon was one of bright sunlight and wispy cirrus cloud across a blue sky. Perfect for testing the camera and lens.
Once again it proved to be very impressive and I've reached the conclusion after only a day that, for my purposes, this is the best DSLR I've ever bought. I actually prefer the results from this over the Nikon D3X because of the beautiful rich colour. Combined with the excellent dynamic range, this produces images which are the closest I've ever achieved to conveying the reality of what I was photographing. The camera appears to produce these images without my having to work with them extensively in Photoshop. These first four images are from the out of camera jpgs., with only minor levels changes.
The images are punchy and sharp with no blown highlights or blocked up shadows.
The above shot of the crocuses is an untouched (apart from a slight crop) camera created jpg. Shot in very strong sunlight and backlit. Its managed to combine strong, accurate colour with a wide range of tones. The highlights are intact and there is detail in the shadows. I also shot it at a low angle with one hand and its pin sharp. I'm not normally one for looking at histograms but in this case they can be very revealing. This is the levels graph from Photoshop of the original full-size jpg.
I've included some more images below with these levels graphs superimposed on them.
All of these are from raw files with again only minor levels changes.
No clipped highlights, no spikes against the right hand side of the graph and yet punchy colours and contrast. There's virtually no noise when brightening shadow area either. I haven't seen such good results before, and I wasn't even sure it was possible with a digital camera. Add on to this the fact that there is very little CA and fringing and its a remarkable result. None of the other full-frame cameras I've used have ever had this full set of good results. There's always been a problem somewhere, even at the low ISO's that I use most of the time.
Kodak 14n and SLR/n - Noise, artefacts and moire.
Nikon D3 and D700 - little bit soft and even out resolved by m4/3.
Nikon D3X - less punchy colours than the a850 and no matter what lens I used lots of CA and fringing.
Canon 1DsMkII - Dull, flat colours - again problems with CA and fringing.
Canon 5DMkII - Noisy shadows even at low ISO's, CA and fringing problems.
I'm finding it difficult to find any fault with this camera / lens combination. Even my concern about it underexposing didn't re-occur under these sunny conditions. The metering yesterday was spot on.
With all of these positives the a850 is looking to lay waste to my camera collection! Having decided to keep my Panasonic L10 last week, there's now no point. The a850 does everything it can do with a massively increased pixel count. Subject to some final comparison tests at high ISO's, everything the K-5 offers me is covered. Its even making me think about the need for my Leica M9, though I doubt thats going anywhere!! There are limits! My m4/3 system is safe because there will be occasions when I don't want to carry the Sony. Though having said that I came up with a strap / carrying position combination yesterday that let me walk quite some distance. However there were a few back twinges at the end.
What does frustrate me is the fact that I could have been getting all this for a couple of years at least if I had bought an a900. The reviews and samples I saw just haven't done it justice. It says a lot that as soon as I saw the Photography blog review I decided to buy the a850. If I had seen something like that when the a900 was initially released then I wouldn't have wasted a lot of time, money and effort on the cameras that I did buy. I do realise that none of them were bad cameras and virtually all the full-frame cameras I bought with the exception of the Kodaks were better at high ISO's than the Sony. The thing is the Sony is perfect for the vast majority of the pictures I take to earn my living. Its got me really excited and I can't wait to use it again.
It will however, according to Sony Alpha Rumours. http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/sr5-sony-says-it-all-future-alpha-cameras-will-be-translucent/ be the last "conventional" full-frame DSLR that Sony make. All future Alpha cameras are going to have the translucent mirror technology of the A55 and EVF's. I have no problem with that, and I certainly liked the A55, apart from the video overheating. EVF's mean live view which would be of benefit to the a850. Obviously it remains to be seen what Sony come up with, and they don't seem in any hurry to bring out a new full-frame camera. The a77? seems to be first on their list of priorities. Whether something like that will tick as many boxes for me as the a850 remains to be seen. However, even if it doesn't, at the moment my inclination is to keep using my new wonder until it turns to rust.
I do usually treat these "enthusiasms" I have with caution, as reality tends to set in after this "honeymoon" period. However I can't remember ever feeling this positive and excited about any other camera I've ever bought. As usual, I repeat my customary "it won't suit everybody" statement, but it does seem to suit me and what I do very well.
Words - David
Images - David and Ann