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Should I upgrade to a Full Frame Sony DSLR

Posted on Jan 22, 2012 by Paul White

If you are like me that means you likely own one of the APS-C Sony Alpha DSLR cameras.  After years of shooting with my a700, I have reached the point where I am considering going full frame.  After a visit to the Sony Store at the Houston Galleria, I have pretty much made up my mind that Full Frame is the way to go.  On this article I share my observations of the a900 of which I demoed, and how it differs from my a700.

My Sony Alpha Background

I bought the Sony a100 when it first came out.  When you intially start shooting with a DSLR ( any brand ) you go out and shoot everything.  You shoot your house, your dog, your girl, your car.  Everything looks great when shot with an DSLR.  And during this initial break in period of your new camera everything is good.  Until you start shooting in scenes with little lighting or where the light is not consistent which throws off your light meter, causing shots to be terribly over / under exposed, or your subject is a blur from extended shutters.  You are forced to put the camera into manual mode, as its AI isn't smart enough to figure out what you are trying to do.  Still your shots are not coming out.  You do some research and determine that maybe its the kit lense that came with your camera.  So you go buy a very fast and bright F1.4 Lense.  Things are a little better but still not perfect.  This is where i was, when I decided that maybe the Sony alpha 100 was not going to get the job done, and I needed a more powerful camera. 

Upgrade to a700

At this point I upgraded to a Sony a700 DSLR.  The Sony a700 is considered a ProSumer level camera.  It has many of the bells and whistles of the Professional grade cameras have ( Dynamic Range, High ISO, Buttons and controls ),  but it is still using an APS-C sensor.  I used this camera for years, and it worked well.  However you always wonder if there is something better that you are missing out on.  Some things the Sony a700 disappointed me in, was its slow focus in low lighting, and its small viewfinder which made it very difficult to tell if you had your subject in perfect focus. 

a900 or a77

I wanted to upgrade to the Sony a900 or a850, but the price and age of the model made me stop.  Naturally in technology you don't want to buy something a couple years old if the latest and greatest is about to launch in the next month.  So I like many waited for the Sony a77 to release.  This was supposed to be the replacement for the aging Sony a700.  It had 24 MP ( 2x the a700 ).  It could shoot Full HD 1080P video.  And it had extremely high ISO.  Plus since it was an APS-C Sensor all my current glass would work on it.  Finally the day came, and Sony launched the a77.  I waited to see what kind of reviews the photography community would give about it.  Most of the industry sites, gave it good ratings.  But these guys are often just using it for a day or two, and sometimes they are being paid for a good review. 

Reliable Reviews of the Sony a77

The real reviews would come from the Sony Alpha Community on Flickr.  Initially all new a77 owners gave it praise, but after a while some owners reported the camera failing or freezing.  This told me that Sony still had some bugs to work out.  Plus I had to come to the realization of what I was buying a new camera for.  Even though I do spend some time shooting friends and family.  My paid gigs involve shooting Nightclubs, and Stripclubs.  This means almost no lighting with the exception of a few effects lights.  Even though the a77 had great high ISO performance it still was rated much lower than the a900 and a850 ( full frame professional models ). 

Why Sony Full Frame is better
For years I have heard the other community members on Flickr talk about the large view finder on the a850 and a900, and how fast the camera is to focus.  So I visited the Sony Store at the Houston Galleria.  The a900 was not on display, but this is because they don't want notice customers to be messing with a $2700 Camera Body.  Customers have to ask for it by name.  They will then bring it out. 

When I first held the store's demo model I noticed how massive it was.  Much larger than my a700, but it felt good.  Solid and well constructed.  Then I looked through the view finder.  Wow!  What a difference.  I actually had to move my eye from right to left to see the whole view finder.  The amount of detail I was able to make out was awesome.  Then a few test shots.  Autofocus was instant. No hunting for focus, it would just lock on.  These features alone were worth it.  Now the negative was Sony was trying to sell it for $2699.00  After 8.25% TX sales tax you are sitting at $2921.  A little steep considering the a99 is about 9 months away.

Searching for a used a900 or a850

Rather than paying retail I searched ebay for an used a850 or a900.  From what I have found the prices for these models varies.  If you want to buy a used a850 or a900 with all the original hardware and with the original box, then be prepared to spend about $2k for the a900 and about $1700 for the a850.  If you are willing to buy a camera ( body only ) which includes no charger or batteries, then I saw an a850 go for $1350.  If you already have an a700 and just want to add an a900 or a850 to your camera bag, and have no intentions of selling your old a700 then this can be a good deal.  The a700, a850 and a900 all use the same batteries.

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