Sony has added three new cameras to the Alpha dSLR range, and we've taken them out for a quick spin. The mid-level 550 and 500 add improved screens, while the 850 is a more affordable take on Sony's top-end 900.

The 850 blasts out a dizzying 7 frames per second in burst mode. It's a concentrated version of the Alpha 900: the same screen, same full-frame CMOS sensor and same steady-shot system. The difference is the viewfinder has 98 per cent coverage instead of 100 per cent -- what's two per cent between friends? -- and burst rate is 3 frames per second instead of 5fps. Oh, and you have to buy the remote control separately instead of getting it in the box.

The Alpha 550 and 500, also announced today, pad out the Alpha range -- only the Alpha 700 is being discontinued, with the new cameras slotting in between the existing models. The 550 and 500 pack 14-megapixel CMOS sensors and are aimed at the middle ground between first-time dSLR users and the experienced amateur.

Headline features include ISO 12,800 and an automatic, in-camera high dynamic-range function. This rolls together multiple images taken at different exposures to give that detailed HDR look. Sony reckons this does away with the need to plan for an HDR shoot and take a tripod, as the software not only stitches images together, it corrects and crops the images. If subjects are on the move, D-range optimiser hunts for details when just one shot is possible.

The two cameras include automatic focus via both viewfinder and live view. They'll shoot bursts of 5fps with the viewfinder or 4fps on live view. Live view allows for previewing manual exposure, but you can't preview depth of field, sadly.

The cameras and lenses announced today all include autofocus motors in both, so that you can stick an old lens on a new camera or a new lens on an old camera and still make use of autofocus.

Click through our gallery for more details on the Alpha 850, 550 and 500.

The 850 includes a 76mm (3-inch) screen for displaying menus. No live view, though. In this day and age? Well, I never.
A second LCD status display sits atop the 850's shoulder.
The improved user interface includes this nifty radio-dial-style exposure readout.
The three new dSLRs all support SD cards as well as Sony's stoopid Memory Sticks.
The 850 is joined by the 500, pictured here, and 550, two very similar cameras.
The 550 and 500 sport Sony's concertina-like fold-out screens. Both measure 76mm (3 inches), but the 550's resolution is 921,000 dots and the 500's is 230,000.
The bendy-flexy has been improved so the screens now fold out to 90 degrees.
The 550 and 500 also boast HDMI connections. In fact, every Alpha camera will connect to your Sony Bravia HDTV, although none of them shoot video.
The Sony Alpha 550 and 500 will arrive in October 2009. The 550 is currently on pre-order for £650 body-only or £900 with a 18-55mm kit lens. The Alpha 850 lands in September and is currently priced at £1,900 body-only, and £2,350 with 28-75mm lens.


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