Sony is steadily maturing into a very serious player in the DSLR market. The A500, its new mid-range stalwart, is yet another impressive camera in the range, and a pleasant surprise after the relatively disappointing A230, A330 and A380 entry-level DSLRs launched earlier in the year.
While the lower end Alphas’ compact size, stripped-down interface and unnecessarily ostentatious styling pitches them at the ‘lifestyle’ market, the A500 looks and feels like a proper camera for proper photographers.
For example, it has a grip you can actually hold, rather than shaving a few crucial millimetres off the width for the sake of looks. There are also lots of buttons on the back of their camera, so you can tweak settings quickly without having to dip into the menu system.
That’s not to say it’ll be too daunting for newbies to get to grips with. There’s a simple GUI, which uses pictures to show the effects of adjusting the aperture or shutter speed settings, plus presets for the usual picture modes: portrait, landscape, sport, sunset and the like.
Improved low light performance
The Sony A500 sports a brand new 12.3megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor, which Sony claims offers reduced noise at higher ISO settings.
Shift the ISO up to 3200, 6400 or the maximum of 12800, and you’ll still see unsightly speckles, but it’s certainly an improvement on previous Alpha mid-rangers. ISO 1600, for instance, is usable for prints on the A500 – you couldn’t say the same for the (now discontinued) A350.
Better low light performance isn’t the only shiny new feather in the A500’s cap. It can also shoot continuously at a very respectable 5fps (or 4fps in live view mode), and its autofocus is brilliantly swift at locking onto a subject.
JPEG snaps come out with beautifully accurate colours and a high dynamic range, while you can of course shoot in RAW mode if you prefer to tweak images yourself in post-production. On that subject, the A500 comes with a fairly handy Sony conversion/adjustment software package for your PC or Mac.
Live view, letting you frame your shots on the tiltable, 3in screen, is available, and as with other live view-equipped Alphas it boasts something you won’t find on any other brand of DSLR: very fast autofocus.
Most DSLRs use the main sensor for live view, and autofocus in a sloth-like manner in this mode. Not so the A500 – it uses a separate sensor for live view, and can usually lock autofocus in under a second.
No video star
One upshot of this dual-sensor setup is that Sony hasn’t added HD video capabilities to the A500. It’s a simple thing to do with a camera that uses main sensor live view, but that’s not the case here.
Ultimately, the A500 adds up to a very solid stills DSLR camera that lacks HD video. That could be an issue for some people, but for anyone looking to upgrade their entry-level Alpha, or get into a new DSLR system for stills shooting only, the A500 fits the bill snugly.