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Sony A850 versus Panasonic GH5

The Sony Alpha A850 and the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 2009 and January 2017. The A850 is a DSLR, while the GH5 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on a full frame (A850) and a Four Thirds (GH5) sensor. The Sony has a resolution of 24.4 megapixel, whereas the Panasonic provides 20.2 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Sony A850 vs Panasonic GH5

The physical size and weight of the Sony A850 and the Panasonic GH5 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also toggle the display to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left side – the A850 – represents the basis for the calculations across all the size and weight measures).

Snapsort Sony A850 vs Panasonic GH5
Compare A850 versus GH5 top
Compare A850 and GH5 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Panasonic GH5 is notably smaller (25 percent) than the Sony A850. Moreover, the GH5 is markedly lighter (19 percent) than the A850. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

Concerning battery life, the A850 gets 880 shots out of its NP-FM500H battery, while the GH5 can take 410 images on a single charge of its DMW-BLF19 power pack.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Sony A850» 6.1 in 4.6 in 3.2 in 31.6 oz 880 Y Aug 2009 1,999- i
Panasonic GH5« 5.5 in 3.9 in 3.4 in 25.6 oz 410 Y Jan 2017 1,999 i i
Nikon D500« » 5.8 in 4.5 in 3.2 in 30.3 oz 1240 Y Jan 2016 1,999 i i
Olympus E-M1 II« » 5.3 in 3.6 in 2.6 in 20.2 oz 440 Y Sep 2016 1,999 i i
Panasonic G9« » 5.4 in 3.8 in 3.6 in 23.2 oz 400 Y Nov 2017 1,699 i i
Panasonic G85« » 5.0 in 3.5 in 2.9 in 17.8 oz 330 Y Sep 2016 899 i i
Panasonic GH4« » 5.2 in 3.7 in 3.3 in 19.8 oz 500 Y Feb 2014 1,499- i
Sony A7 III« » 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.9 in 22.9 oz 610 Y Feb 2018 1,999 i i
Sony A9« » 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.5 in 23.7 oz 650 Y Apr 2017 4,499 i i
Sony A99 II« » 5.6 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 29.9 oz 490 Y Sep 2016 3,199 i i
Sony A7 II« » 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.4 in 21.1 oz 350 Y Nov 2014 1,999- i
Sony A7« » 5.0 in 3.7 in 1.9 in 16.7 oz 340 Y Oct 2013 1,699- i
Sony A99« » 5.8 in 4.4 in 3.1 in 28.6 oz 500 Y Sep 2012 2,799- i
Sony A77« » 5.6 in 4.1 in 3.2 in 25.8 oz 470 Y Aug 2011 1,999- i
Sony A900« » 6.1 in 4.6 in 3.2 in 31.6 oz 880 Y Sep 2008 2,999- i

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The two cameras under review were launched at the same price and fall into the same market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

 

Sensor comparison: Sony A850 vs Panasonic GH5

The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Sony A850 features a full frame sensor and the Panasonic GH5 a Four Thirds sensor. The sensor area in the GH5 is 74 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.0 and 2.0. The sensor in the A850 has a native 3:2 aspect ratio, while the one in the GH5 offers a 4:3 aspect.

Sony A850 and Panasonic GH5 sensor measures

With 24.4MP, the A850 offers a higher resolution than the GH5 (20.2MP), but the A850 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 5.94μm versus 3.34μm for the GH5) due to its larger sensor. However, the GH5 is a somewhat more recent model (by 7 years and 4 months) than the A850, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that further enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the GH5 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.

A850 versus GH5 MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for most cameras. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar image quality. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Sony A850» Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032-23.812.2141579
Panasonic GH5« Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38884K/60p23.913.080777
Nikon D500« » APS-C 20.7 5568 37124K/30p24.014.0132483
Olympus E-M1 II« » Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38884K/30p23.712.8131280
Panasonic G9« » Four Thirds 20.2 5184 38884K/60p----
Panasonic G85« » Four Thirds 15.8 4592 34484K/30p22.812.565671
Panasonic GH4« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34564K/30p23.212.879174
Sony A7 III« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.014.7373096
Sony A9« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p24.913.3351792
Sony A99 II« » Full Frame 42.2 7952 53044K/30p25.413.4231792
Sony A7 II« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.913.6244990
Sony A7« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.814.2224890
Sony A99« » Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p25.014.0155589
Sony A77« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.013.280178
Sony A900« » Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032-23.712.3143179

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The GH5 indeed provides for movie recording, while the A850 does not. The highest resolution format that the GH5 can use is 4K/60p.

 

Feature comparison: Sony A850 vs Panasonic GH5

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. For example, the GH5 has an electronic viewfinder (3680k dots), while the A850 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Sony A850 and Panasonic GH5 along with similar information for a selection of comparators. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
  Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Sony A850»optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 8000 3.0 n Y
Panasonic GH5«3680 n 3.2 1620 swivel Y 8000 12.0 n Y
Nikon D500« »optical Y 3.2 2359 tilting Y 8000 10.0 n n
Olympus E-M1 II« »2360 n 3.0 1037 swivel Y 8000 18.0 n Y
Panasonic G9« »3680 Y 3.0 1040 swivel Y 8000 20.0 n Y
Panasonic G85« »2360 n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 4000 9.0 Y Y
Panasonic GH4« »2359 n 3.0 1036 swivel Y 8000 12.0 Y n
Sony A7 III« »2359 n 3.0 922 tilting Y 8000 10.0 n Y
Sony A9« »3686 n 3.0 1440 tilting Y 8000 20.0 n Y
Sony A99 II« »2400 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 8000 12.0 n Y
Sony A7 II« »2400 n 3.0 1230 tilting n 8000 5.0 n Y
Sony A7« »2400 n 3.0 1230 tilting n 8000 5.0 n n
Sony A99« »2359 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 8000 6.0 n Y
Sony A77« »2359 Y 3.0 921 full-flex n 8000 12.0 Y Y
Sony A900« »optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 8000 5.0 n Y

The GH5 is a current model that online retailers, such as amazon, will have in stock. In contrast, the A850 has been discontinued (but it can be found pre-owned on eBay). There has not been a direct replacement model for the A850 from Sony.

Review summary: Sony A850 vs Panasonic GH5

So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Sony A850 better than the Panasonic GH5 or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.

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Advantages of the Sony Alpha A850:

  • More detail: Offers more megapixels (24.4 vs 20.2MP) with a 12% higher linear resolution.
  • Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Requires less light for good images (0.8 stops ISO advantage).
  • Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
  • Easier setting verification: Has an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
  • Longer lasting: Can take more shots (880 versus 410) on a single battery charge.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 2009).

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Arguments in favor of the Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5:

  • Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
  • More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (0.8 EV of extra DR).
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/60p video.
  • More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1620k vs 922k dots).
  • More flexible LCD: Has swivel screen for odd-angle shots in portrait or landscape orientation.
  • Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (12 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • More compact: Is smaller (139x98mm vs 156x117mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 170g or 19 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
  • More modern: Reflects 7 years and 4 months of technical progress since the A850 launch.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the GH5 is the clear winner of the contest (13 : 7 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera.

A850 07:13 GH5

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the A850 or the GH5 handle or perform in practice. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased. This is why expert reviews are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). The detailed reviews can be accessed by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review scores
  Camera cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Sony A850»-75/100-4/54.5/5 Aug 2009 1,999- i
Panasonic GH5«HiRec85/1004.5/55/55/5 Jan 2017 1,999 i i
Nikon D500« »HiRec91/1004.5/55/55/5 Jan 2016 1,999 i i
Olympus E-M1 II« »HiRec85/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2016 1,999 i i
Panasonic G9« »HiRec85/1005/5-5/5 Nov 2017 1,699 i i
Panasonic G85« »HiRec84/1005/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2016 899 i i
Panasonic GH4« »HiRec85/1005/55/55/5 Feb 2014 1,499- i
Sony A7 III« »HiRec89/1005/5-5/5 Feb 2018 1,999 i i
Sony A9« »HiRec89/1005/55/55/5 Apr 2017 4,499 i i
Sony A99 II« »-85/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2016 3,199 i i
Sony A7 II« »Rec82/1004.5/55/55/5 Nov 2014 1,999- i
Sony A7« »HiRec80/1005/54.5/55/5 Oct 2013 1,699- i
Sony A99« »-84/1004.5/5rev4.5/5 Sep 2012 2,799- i
Sony A77« »91/10081/100-4.5/55/5 Aug 2011 1,999- i
Sony A900« »HiRecHiRec4.5/54/55/5 Sep 2008 2,999- i

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting. If you cannot find the camera you are interested in, please send me an email, and I will try to locate and add the respective data to the application.

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