Hi there guys, I'm a prospective D-SLR owner shopping for my first Alpha camera, I have a Dynax 404si with 35-80mm lens, However I'm wanting to move to a Digital platform.

I've been happy for the last few years with my point and shoots performance, a sony P150, for the casual snaps, but it's time to move up and retire the film camera.

The fact is, I haven't shot film since getting the P150...

I'm off to China later this year as a TESOL teacher, spending a year in the picturesque three gorges region at Chongqing, where I will be making day tour trips as time allows away from classes. I was budgeting for a A850, and still want one, but some financial readjustments came up and now i need a cheaper camera.

My choice now is between an A380 and an A500. Both come with an Sony 18-55 SAM kit lens, I will have my (1999 version) 35-80 Maxxum AF off the Dynax, and will be picking up either a 100-300 or 70-210 secondhand Minolta lense before I go for those long shots across the gorges and at details of such things as the Dazu rock carvings.

Please don't suggest others, these are what is available here near me, I'm not looking to import from the states, and New Zealand doesn't have the full range of cameras to choose from, these are actually "mates rates" wholesale clearance as A390 and A580's take their places on the stock room shelves, so importing retail price cameras won't get any cheaper...

I notice the www.dpreview.com score for the A550 is 70%, while the A500 is un-scored as presumably too close featurewise to the A500 to bother doing the whole rigmarole, meanwhile the A380 scores a measly 59%. Is the 500 significantly different from the 550 or can it be considered to effectively share the same 70% score, less 2 Mp lower res?

I don't think at my level that 2 Mp (1.9 actually by the specs) difference will really affect me in any way. I wanted the A850, not so much because I needed it, I'm no pro, but because before the financial reset I could afford it and I'm a toy-collector kind of guy... Now I'm stuck in the welter of models in the middle and can't just grab the nicest thing off the top of the tree :P

As a tourist, shooting long range shots from tour boat decks and moving trains, the in-body image stabilisation is going to be a great help

Shooting will range from indoors (Buffet tables with traditional foods, "Look Ma, chicken Feet", museums, old buildings and architectural stuff, classes of eager Chinese TESOL English students), close shots outdoors ( buildings, groups, statues, traditional chinese eating traditonal things "Look Ma, the EAT those chicken feet! A street stalls!"), longer range things like buildings the other side of the park instead of the other side of the street, to long shots, close up details on a statue, or carving halfway up a cliff face, a temple perched on the hillside the far side of a gorge...

With an 18-55 sony, and 35-80 and either 70-210 or 100-300 Minolta, which do you guys recommend? A380 or A500?

Waiting anxiously for your replies