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August 29, 2009

New Sony Alpha A550 offers a 14mp CMOS, tilting-display, 7fps alternative for $200 more

Coming together with the Alpha A500, the brand new Alpha A550 offers photographers an alternative, while at the same time sharing numerous features. Since we already covered the A500, we will focus here on the features that distinguish the A550 from the A500.

What does the A550 offer over the A500?
We start with the most visible difference, the A550 has a 3-inch display that can be tilted off the camera body, unlike the A500. Its display is of the 921K dot variety, over the standard 230k of the A500 (corrected!)

Next up, the sensor. The A550 uses a 14mp APS-C CMOS Exmor sensor, which will please photographers looking for more megapixels, but it also increases the risk for the camera, considering that the last two 14mp CCD sensors of the A350 and A380 had their issues, and the golden middle of the current technology is where Nikon settled (12mp CMOS). However, this is a brand new sensor, and perhaps the fact that they jump to 14mp instead of 15mp may be an encouraging sign.

And now something for the speed-demons! In addition to the two 5fps (OVF) and 4fps (Q-AF-LV) modes, the A550 introduces a 7fps speed-priority mode. And while speed-demon fans will celebrate, skeptics will ask "what exactly can you do with 7fps as opposed to 4fps or 3fps?" Well, Photo Club Alpha wondered about that and wrote about it - to paraphrase the title, "useful or marketing?" ;-)

There is a price to pay for more megapixels as all the nanobots inside the camera have more work to do. This results in a drop in the CIPA estimate from 1000 to 950 shots when using the OVF. However, for those who want or need 14mp, this is a small price to pay. We do not know what the impact of battery life is when using the 3-inch (921K) display.

And there is a price to pay literally, because the A550 costs $200 more than the A500, both in the body-only and standard kit configurations.

Other differences that will certainly get some in a heated uproar include an extra 2g of weight, a "5" instead of a "0" in the camera name on the front of the camera body, and a different number of megapixels written on the upper-left-side of the back of the camera ;-)

Price and Availability
The body-only price for the A550 is $950, with the kit with the new standard 18-55mm SAM DT lens going for $1050. Already Amazon is taking pre-orders for the A550 body-only and the A550 with kit lens, also known as A550L.

Also taking pre-orders, at the same prices is Sony Style.

Further Reading
+ Preview and brief hands-on at Alpha Mount World
+ 10-page preview by R. Butler at dpreview
+ Camera body pictures (with the grip) at Pocket Lint
+ Press release at Imaging Insider
+ more coming in a separate post

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