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Sony adds new Alpha DSLRs

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August 31, 2009

Sony's Alpha A550 and A500 DSLRs feature two live view focus modes, in-camera HDR, and low...

Sony's Alpha A550 and A500 DSLRs feature two live view focus modes, in-camera HDR, and low-light sensitivity up to 12800 ISO.

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Sony has announced two new cameras in its Alpha range of consumer-oriented DSLRs. The DSLR-A550 and the DSLR-A500 both feature two live-view focus modes, in-camera high dynamic range (HDR) capability, and low-light performance with sensitivity of up to 12800 ISO. The new Alphas also feature tilting 3in (7.6cm) LCDs as well as a new in-camera SteadyShot feature.

The Alpha A550 is the higher-end model, featuring a 14.2 megapixel CMOS sensor while the Alpha A500 sports 12.3 megapixels. The A550 also features a slicker 3in (7.6cm) high-resolution 921k dot resolution LCD. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the LCD brightness to compensate for the surrounding light levels. The A500 screen is also 3in and offers 230k dot resolution. Both LCDs tilt 90° up and down, and the cameras also feature an optical viewfinder for old school-style composing and focusing.

The A550 and the A500 offer two live view modes. Sony says its Quick AF Live View uses two sensors to reduce shutter lag and maintain the same focusing speed as when using the optical viewfinder. For more precise control, Manual Focus Check Live View allows you to zoom the display to 7x or 14x and fine-tune the focus.

Sony claims the Alpha A550 can shoot a maximum of 7fps, and that the A550 and A500 can sustain 5fps continuous shooting while using the optical viewfinder. Both cameras use a 9-point TTL phase-detection auto focus system and include Sony’s Smile Shutter feature, which takes the picture when your subject smiles.

The Alphas feature Sony's SteadyShot INSIDE in-camera image stabilization. Image stabilization compensates for camera shake to help take blur-free shots. Sony built this into the camera body itself so that the feature is available regardless of which lens is installed.

These are Sony’s first DSLR cameras to include their in-camera high dynamic range (HDR) feature, which brings out detail and colors in shadowy areas or severely backlit images. The HDR technology combines two separate captures into one enhanced image on the fly. Sony says the HDR feature processes the images within two seconds and uses 'positional interpolation technology' to compensate for slight changes in camera position and align individual shots so no tripod is required.

For storage, Sony has continued the welcome trend of including a slot for standard SD and SDHC cards but the company has not given up on its proprietary Memory Stick media. The Alpha DSLRs accept those as well and, in fact, Sony recently announced new, large 32GB Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo HX memory cards.

Sony expects the Alpha DSLR-A550 and Alpha DSLR-A500 to be available in October. The A550 will be priced at USD$950 (body only) and will be available with an 18-55mm lens for USD$1,050. The A500 will be priced at USD$750 for the body only or USD$850 with the 18-55mm lens.

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