ACCORDING to specifications revealed on a German site, the new Sony Alpha 500 will have a 12.3 megapixel CMOS sensor capable of providing Live View to the rear 3 inch medium resolution screen – with Manual Focusing at 14X magnification. The in-prism based Quick AF Live View is retained, giving a choice between two entirely different systems of Live View, Sony’s innovative and easy solution scanning the focus screen, and a critically accurate alternative for tripod work. The camera may sell for just €50 more than the Alpha 380 – or break the £500 body only barrier in the UK right from the start.
The Alpha 500 is a 300/350 sized body and accepts the same NP-FM500H batteries as the Alpha 200, 300, 350, 700, 900 and 850 – not the smaller battery used in the Alpha 230, 330 and 380. As you can see from the overlaid image (matched exactly to lens mount size) the 500 is substantially bigger than the Alpha 380, with a much larger right hand grip and prism housing. A battery grip VG-B50AM accepts the same cells.
Until the press conferences – variously tabled between August 27th and September 2nd at locations round the world – this is the only apparently authentic image of the 500 to be found. The location is:
In addition to Live View from the sensor with manual focus only, Face Recognition is offered (apparently) for up to eight faces. There is no reason why this needs to be linked to the main sensor; Face Recognition could be provided using the Quick AF Live View image.
This also includes the specifications in German, but there are a few suspicious details. For example, the ISO range is given as to 12,800 but no lower limit is stated. It is normal to put the bottom end as well as the top, whether it’s 50, 100, 200 or whatever. The CMOS sensor is not ‘qualified’ as being CMOS-R (back-illuminated) though the inclusion of ISO 12,800 would indicate a new sensor.
Remember – Sony created a CMOS 12.24 (final) megapixel sensor which they used in the Alpha 700. Since then, Sony has not used this sensor or its variants in any other camera. Nikon has used it in the D300, D90, D5000 and D300S (which I am testing at the moment, having used all these as they were released). Nikon still only gets ISO 6400 (as Hi 1.0) from this sensor, and a very good 6400 it is – but so is the 6400 from the Alpha 700. Nikon has not advanced to 12,800.
The pixel count of the Alpha 500 is shown as 4,272 x 2,848 which is exactly the same as the Alpha 700 and the larger figure given will be the active area pre-Bayer conversion. This is an exact match for the IMX-021 sensor as used in the Alpha 700; the Nikon D300S converts to 4,288 x 2,848. Such minor differences are normal and depend on the de-Bayer algorithm used, the amount of sensor set aside for calibration, the type of Low Pass filter. But it’s unusual for an entirely new sensor type to match an earlier one this precisely. So you may either count the information as suspect, or assume that the Alpha 500 sensor is a modified Alpha 700 sensor.
According to the German site, 5 fps is achieved (much as with the Alpha 700) but the shutter unit is limited to the 1/4,000th top speed found in the lesser camera models. A wider range of creative image styles in both sRGB and Adobe RGB colour space will be augmented by a built-in HDR function. This is listed in addition to DRO+ with 5 manual steps, as found in the 700. Auto bracketing is included, but what will matter is the extent of the bracketing and how this works with the HDR processing. The card media changes to a dual slot Memory Stick Pro Duo and Secure Digital drive, much like the Alpha 230-380 series.
The rear screen is a 230,000 pixel type, though stated to be 3 inch instead of 2.7 inch, and is tiltable. The remote IR control can be used, but there’s no indication of whether a wired remote socket is retained. There is an ‘album function for the management of pictures on a PC’. The built-in GN12 flash appears to have either the usual +/- over-ride, or perhaps manual setting. This is one of the best features of the Nikon D3000, a flash which can be set to 1/32nd power and used to trigger studio strobes.
The same site has Alpha 850 specifications:
This site states definitely that the Alpha 850 has two Bionz processor like the 900 – this was always on the cards, and raises the possibility that more relaxed processing demands could have allowed Sony to improve the noise reduction and JPEG encoding stages. Other confident rumour-mongers state that the A850 image is identical to the A900. I say ‘wait and see’. The Nikon D5000 image quality is, after all, better than the D300 much to the annoyance of D300 owners. That’s what can easily happen with the next generation, even if it’s cut down in specs or a different model. The A850 might just perform better than the A900.
It looks as if the rugged mag exterior housing of the A900 might also have been modified – that Sony badge is fixed in a panel, where the 900 has the entire front of the prism as one casting. Perhaps the top plate is now a material similar to the Alpha 700.
Most of the remaining details on the German site are repeating specifications already present in the Alpha 900 even where the writer thinks these are new or changed. There is one possible exception. The CF Card and Memory Stick switching of the 900 is not remembered by the Memory positions 1, 2, 3 on the mode dial. The German text implies that in the Alpha 850, this has been changed so that the memorised setup includes the option to identify a specific card. This would be of great use when shooting RAW to one card and JPEG to another as the occasion demanded.
Clearly all the details are not known by Digitalkamera – they ask questions as to how the live view and face recognition functions work – but they appear to have a price, of just 50 Euros (£60, $100) more than the Alpha 380 for Alpha 500. There is no mention of the Alpha 550 but one intriguing reference from another source indicates that this model may be bundled with the vertical grip. Anothe rumour is that it will have 15 megapixels. Then there’s the CMOS-R discussion too. Perhaps the Alpha 550 will be considerably more expensive than the market-beating price indicated for the 500. Perhaps it will have CMOS-R, suited to a newly developed 15 megapixel sensor, and a vertical grip packaged with the kits – and perhaps it will have HD video recording as well as contrast-detect focusing from a sensor based live view.
A 920,000 pixel rear screen with improved articulation would be too much to hope for…