Sony DSLR-A850 Review

 
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Sony A850 Performance


Timing and Performance

Except for burst speed, the A850's timing performance is about average for a semi-pro SLR.

Startup/Shutdown
Power on
to first shot
0.5 second
Time it takes for camera to turn on and take a shot.
Shutdown
0.5 second
How long it takes to turn off.
(Assuming buffer has cleared. The slight delay is the time required for the anti-dust system to shake the sensor.)
(Timings with Kingston 266x CompactFlash Card)
Buffer clearing time
Large Extra Fine JPEG
14.5 seconds*
(after 23 LEF JPEGs)
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared.
Buffer clearing time
RAW
13 seconds*
(after 16 RAW frames)
Buffer clearing time
RAW + LF JPEG
14 seconds*
(after 10 RAW + LF JPEG frames)
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a Kingston 266x CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. Settings such as ISO sensitivity can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance, with higher ISOs generally increasing JPEG cycle times and reducing burst performance.

A850 startup and shut-down times are quite fast. Buffer clearing time depends on the image size and quality, burst length and the speed of memory card used.


Mode Switching
Play to Record,
first shot
~0.3 second
Time until first shot is captured.
Record to Play
1.2 seconds
Time to display a large/extra fine file immediately after capture.
Display
recorded image
0.5 second
Time to display a large/extra fine file already on the memory card.

A850 mode switching is reasonably fast, except for Record to Play, which is notably slower than average. (Slow enough to be an annoyance; this bothered us a fair bit as we shot with our test sample.) We noticed this with the A900, the A850 shows the same behavior.


Shutter Response (Lag Time)
Full Autofocus
Spot AF
Optical Viewfinder
0.184 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting. (All AF timing done with Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro lens.)
Full Autofocus
Wide AF
(Multi-Area)
Optical Viewfinder
0.205 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with the lens already at the proper focal distance setting.
Prefocused
Optical Viewfinder
0.074 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button.
Continuous AF
Optical Viewfinder
0.189 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects.
Manual focus
Optical Viewfinder
0.154 second
For most cameras, shutter lag is less in manual focus than autofocus, but usually not as fast as when the camera is "prefocused".

In terms of the A850's ability to determine that it's properly focused when shooting the same target multiple times, its speed is about average for a semi-pro SLR, and very similar to the A900. The A850 required 0.184 second for full AF using the center AF point. (The A900 measured 0.183 second.) Multi-Area (Wide) AF mode was a little slower, at 0.205 second. Continuous autofocus mode lag time was a bit slower at 0.189 second (the A900 measured 0.181 second), and manual focus was slightly faster at 0.154 second (0.153 second for the A900). When prefocused, shutter lag dropped to 0.074 second (vs 0.072 second for the A900), which is quite fast.


Cycle Time (shot to shot)
Single Shot mode
Large Extra Fine JPEG
0.40 second
Time per shot, averaged over 23 shots, 8.8 seconds to clear.*
Single Shot mode
RAW
0.50 second
Time per shot, averaged over 22 shots, 12.6 seconds to clear.* Occasionally longer cycle times (0.70-0.83s).
Single Shot mode
RAW + LF JPEG
0.46 second
Time per shot, averaged over 15 shots, 13.4 seconds to clear.*
Early shutter
penalty?
YES
Some cameras refuse to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer.
Continuous mode
Large Extra Fine JPEG
0.33 second
(3.00 frames/sec);
23 frames total;
14.5 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 23 shots. Then slows to about 0.53 seconds per frame or 1.89 fps.
Continuous mode
RAW
0.33 second
(2.99 frames/sec);
16 frames total;
13 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 16 shots. Then slows to about 0.94 seconds or 1.06 fps.
Continuous mode
RAW+ LF JPEG
0.33 second
(3.00 frames/sec);
10 frames total;
14 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 10 shots. Then slows to about 1.38 seconds or 0.72 fps.
Flash recycling
n/a
(No built-in flash.)
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a Kingston 266x CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. Settings such as ISO sensitivity can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance, with higher ISOs generally increasing JPEG cycle times and reducing burst performance.

Single-shot cycle time performance is good for a 25-megapixel SLR, at 0.40 second between shots in large/extra fine JPEG quality, increasing to 0.50 second in RAW mode and 0.46 second for RAW + large/fine JPEG. (The JPEG quality is fixed to large/fine in RAW+JPEG mode.) If we ignore the sometimes slower cycle times we found in RAW mode, that average falls to 0.44 second. Buffer depth is quite good (particularly for a camera with such exceptional resolution) at 23 frames for large/extra fine JPEG, 22 frames for RAW and 15 frames for RAW+JPEG.

Continuous mode is a bit slow among prosumer SLR models at 3 frames per second in all modes, but with good buffer depth at 23 frames for large/extra fine JPEGs, 16 for RAW and 10 for RAW+JPEG files. (Remember, though, that these are very large, 25-megapixel files, and our test target when doing timing is designed to be difficult to compress to deliver results from a worst-case scenario.)

We did not measure APS-C crop mode timing on the A850, but it didn't improve cycle times on the A900.

One note here, on a difference in behavior between the Sony A850 and A900 that may affect some users: In our prior review of it, we indicated that the A900 didn't penalize you for pressing the shutter too quickly again, after the previous shot was taken. (On some cameras, if you press and hold down the shutter button too quickly after a shot, the camera won't fire the shutter again unless you release and re-press the button.) That's because we really never noticed the problem on the A900. With the A850, this was a real problem when we were trying to measure the minimum single-shot cycle time: If we got our rhythm of pressing the shutter button wrong, things would slow down dramatically. Puzzled that we hadn't seen this with the A900, we went back and re-tested it, and discovered that it did in fact penalize early shutter presses, it's just that the "dead time" after a shot was so short that we never encountered it when we were using the camera in any normal sort of way. (To trigger it, we had to frantically mash the shutter button down continuously many times/second, in order for a button-press to happen to fall at just the wrong time to trigger the penalty.) So... If you anticipate needing to fire multiple shots in rapid succession in single-shot mode (as some sports shooters very well might), the A850 could be frustrating to use and the added cost of the A900 would be well worth it.


Download Speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
12,568 KBytes/sec
Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-770=USB 2.0 Low;
More than 770=USB 2.0 High

A850 download speeds were extremely quick, fast enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader.

Bottom line, the Sony A850 is generally a responsive camera, able to handle typical family shots as well as some faster sports action. If you need to be able to fire off rapid bursts of shots in single-shot mode, look to the A900 instead, to avoid the A850's more noticeable "early shutter penalty." For a semi-pro SLR, performance is only average for most metrics, and slower than average for burst mode, but this was expected in this cost-reduced version of the A900, the least expensive full-frame camera on the market today.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery

Good battery life for a full-frame DSLR.

Test Conditions
Number of Shots
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
(CIPA standard)
880

The Sony A850 uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and comes with both a single battery and charger. The rated 880 shots per charge is above average for an SLR, but don't forget, the A850 does not have a built-in flash which is normally fired for 50% of the shots during CIPA standard testing. We recommend getting a second battery and/or the optional battery grip for extended outings.

The table above shows the number of shots the camera is capable of on fully-charged battery, based on CIPA battery-life and/or manufacturer standard test conditions.

(Interested readers can find an English translation of the CIPA DC-002 standards document here. (180K PDF document))

Storage

The Sony A850 stores its photos on CompactFlash or Memory Stick Duo memory cards, and no card is included with the camera. The chart below shows approximately how many images can be stored on a 2GB card at each size/quality setting. (These numbers from A900, A850 files sizes appear to be identical.)

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
2GB Memory Card
Extra Fine Fine Normal
RAW
RAW
+
LF JPEG
6,048 x 4,032
Images
(Avg size)
87
23.5 MB
201
10.2 MB
302
6.8 MB
54
37.9 MB
42
48.8 MB
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 7:1 11:1 1:1 -
4,400 x 2,936
Images
(Avg size)
157
13.0 MB
344
6.0 MB
491
4.2 MB
- -
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 7:1 9:1 - -
3,024 x 2,016
Images
(Avg size)
283
7.2 MB
599
3.4 MB
789
2.6 MB
- -
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 5:1 7:1 - -

We strongly recommend buying a fast, high-capacity CompactFlash or Memory Stick Pro Duo card. The A850's files are huge, so you should probably consider at least a 4GB card, if not an 8GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings, especially if you plan on doing a lot of RAW shooting. (Check the shopping link above, cards are cheap these days, so there's no reason to skimp -- But do consider faster cards for this camera, to reduce buffer clearing times.)

 

Sony DSLR-A850

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