Sony is pitching its latest entries to the Alpha range as "powerful" and "feature packed," and after getting our hands-on with the Sony Alpha a500 TechRadar isn't going to argue.
Pitched at the more mature camera user who wants a step above a compact, the a500 manages to balance itself nicely as a mid-range shooter but still pack in some compact-style features.
In the hand, the camera is surprisingly light. Although it is nowhere near as 'compact' as the micro four-thirds camera released by Panasonic and the like, the a500 shouldn't scare off anyone new to DSLRs.
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Underneath the hood of the camera is Sony's rather impressive Bionz engine, which means that picture noise is severely reduced with the camera. Unfortunately, in our limited time with the camera we couldn't do any serious tests on the camera but the pictures we took were completely free of artefacts.
The a500 has a shooting speed of 5fps when you use the optical viewfinder. Switch on the LiveView though and this drops to 4fps.
The a550, a step up from the a500, manages to trump this shooting at a super-speedy 7fps. While we only took the a500 for a spin, the two models are identical in the body, but have different specs. More of which you can read about here.
The Xtra Fine LCD on the back of the camera was impressive. Not just because of its bright feedback of images, but its dexterity. You can pull it out and move it to pretty much any angle you want. What this means is that you don't have to twist your body into weird shapes, you can let the camera do most of the work.
Another nice feature is the Manual Focus Check LiveView mode, which will help you fine-tune your shots. Simple but very much warranted.
Megapixel-wise the a500 packs a 12.3MP sensor, compared to the a550's 14.3MP one.
And as with their bigger brother, the a850, SteadyShot is built into the cam, so handheld shooting is much improved.
The Sony Alpha a500 and a550 look likely for a UK release date of September.