Sony Alpha A99: Performance

by Chris Gampat Reads (7,145)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 9
    • Features
    • 9
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Expandability
    • 9
    • Total Score:
    • 8.80
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Performance

The Sony A99’s overall performance is really quite excellent; especially with the AF-D focusing setting if you’re using a compatible lens. In other AF settings, manually selecting the AF point (and especially trying to work with the outer points) will show you that the best focusing point is the center. Other than this, the camera is very straightforward with having all of the critical controls placed quite literally at your fingertips.

Shooting Performance

One really can’t go wrong with using the A99 for many reasons. The metering is top notch for one: and that not only goes for ambient usage but also when it comes to using studio strobes and flashes. To this day, we haven’t seen a full frame sensor that performs so closely to film until the A99 launched. But that doesn’t mean that this is an antiquated camera. The autofocus is generally very good until the lights start to dim and/or you switch the focusing point manually to the outer focusing points. One of the A99’s saving graces though is the AF-D focusing system. For those that love using the center focusing point and recomposing, you’ll love this feature when combined with the AF tracking mode. It will also heavily appeal to sports photographers; and we tested this feature out on a racetrack with solid results.

For photographers who had a late night of editing and rushed into a shoot the next day wired on too much Starbucks, you’ll be happy to know that the image stabilization in the A99 is excellent. That’s quite a feat for a full frame sensor camera as it is overall a larger sensor to keep steady. Combine this with the stunning image quality that can be output, and you’ve got yourself a winner–providing your battery doesn’t die. Due to the fact that this camera has an EVF, the battery life will deplete quicker. Even when using battery saving measures like sleep mode and dimming the LCD and EVF, the battery still couldn’t last us an entire day. In that case, make sure you stock up.

Lens Performance

Sony provided us with their 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4, and 135mm f/1.8 lenses to test with the A99. Of the three lenses we tested, the 50mm f/1.4 is the only one that can utilize Sony’s AF-D feature; which is a three-dimensional tracking system that is one of the best we’ve ever seen. At another point, we also tested the company’s 24-70mm f/2.8; which also works with AF-D. Of all the lenses we tested, that one works the best.

Sony’s 50mm f/1.4 stayed glued to our camera for most of the time due to the more normal focal length. Given the fact that this is a full frame camera, the lens’s full imaging circle was also used. This lens delivers its best performance when stopped down to around f/4 to f/5.6. Though it can be shot wide open, there are sharper options out there such as those from Zeiss, Rokinon and Sigma.

All of the prime lenses we used proved to have extremely sharp and yielded highly detailed images; especially when specular highlights were added in studio style shots. These three lenses are highly regarded in the Sony community, and the images that they can deliver are well worth their weight in gold. The 135mm f1.8 is the fastest 135mm lens to date; and the image quality for headshots is really quite out of this world.

For subjects that prefer to work a bit closer to their subjects, the 85mm f1.4 might be a better option. The sharpness, bokeh quality, and build quality make up for the loud focusing motor and the fact that it is not an AF-D lens.

Video Quality

The A99’s video quality is quite good in many situations. For the best results, we would recommend shooting in manual mode at 1/50th for 24p and 1/125 for 60p. Additionally, shooting at wider focal lengths will often yield you the best results when coupled with the camera’s already very good stabilization on the sensor.

With a camera this powerful though, we also would highly recommend pulling your footage into an editing program and working with the files as well. When shooting 60p video and slowing it down to 24p, we saw some really jaw dropping footage when properly exposed.

The video files themselves though don’t have much editing versatility in terms of color and dynamic range; so you’ll need to try your best to get it perfectly right in camera. As a note, we did not try shooting video with the camera in the uncompressed setting.

Image Quality

Image quality from the A99 is overall really quite excellent. The images look very film-like; but for the best results right out of the camera we would recommend using the Vivid picture style and shooting in RAW. From ISO 100-1600, we saw very excellent results in terms of detail capture.


ISO 100                                                                     ISO 400

ISO 1600

To get the most out of this camera’s sensor, we highly recommend that you spring for the more costly glass. The 135mm f/1.8 proved to be the best lens that we tested on the camera. Sony is promising an update to their 50mm f1.4; and so the update may take more advantage of the new 24.3MP sensor.

Upon testing Sony’s 500m f/4 lens a while back at a media excursion, the lens’s newer design was able to take better advantage of the sensor. Additionally, the fact that the focusing worked perfectly with the AF-D system meant that we were able to achieve sharper images when capturing fast moving objects. That will be critical for sports photographers.

High ISO results between 3200 and 6400 kept noise down quite well, but we saw some detail loss  and some smudging. Interestingly, at 25,600 we saw more detail captured but at the risk of lots of image noise. Indeed, there was even lots of color noise.

ISO 6400                                                                   ISO 25,600


RAW file versatility proved to be extremely good when using Lightroom 4. Editing the images almost felt like dealing with negative film in the darkroom. In terms of color depth, the A99’s sensor performs excellently and the range for color correction is one of the widest we’ve seen. When it comes to shooting landscapes, the high dynamic range scores right up there with color depth.

Additional Sample Images 


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