Sony's A99 is a formidable entry into the full frame game, and it proves to many that the company will be as aggressive as it needs to be to get to the #1 spot in the camera market over Canon and Nikon. The camera has features that will appeal widely to enthusiasts and professional alike such as AF-D, GPS tracking, an excellent swivel-tilt LCD screen for video, a bright EVF, and relatively simple controls with the exception of the caves of menus.
The Sony A99 is the latest DSLR from Sony, and in many ways it is one of their most aggressively marketed to date. The camera features a full frame sensor and an EVF that has to be one of the best we've seen on the market. Targeted at the professional and high end enthusiast, the camera features many diversions away from typical Sony DSLRs. For example, the camera features a new hot shoe designed for a new type of flash and accessories. This means that PocketWizards and other third party flashes can be used easily.
Additionally, it is also possibly the smallest and most lightweight DSLR out there; and part of this is due to the lack of a moving prism and viewfinder.
The A99 features a 24.3Mp Full Frame sensor, a Dual AF system with two phase detection sensors, a 1,266K dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder, 1,440K dot 3 inch LCD, 6fps shooting, 1080p HD video, sensor based image stabilization, and loads of other controls including GPS built in. The camera has an ISO range of 100 to 25,600. However, it can go lower with extended range if needed.
Build and Design
The Sony A99 is really a DSLR that has some of the most unconventional looks we've ever seen. With most DSLRs, the prism area rises far above the rest of the body; but that isn't the case with the A99. The reason for this is because of the translucent mirror technology. When you actually grip the camera though, long term use shows that it is perhaps one of the most ergonomically comfortable DSLRs to hold.
Coming in at 5.8 x 4.5 x 3.1" / 14.7 x 11.4 x 7.9 cm and weighing just 1.8 lbs with battery and memory card, it is also extremely light to hold for long periods of time when on a shoot, when taking a photowalk, or shooting video. The button layout though is something that anyone coming from Canon and Nikon DSLRs will need to get used to though. One of the nicest touches is the silent control dial; which we programmed to quickly change the autofocus type.
Otherwise, potential buyers should know that the majority of the camera's controls are on the right hand side of the camera. That means that once you develop the muscle memory, you'll just need to slide your thumb down to change a control or use your index finger to hit something on top of the camera (like the ISO button). In practice, that translates to you almost never needing to remove your eye from the viewfinder.
Ergonomics and Controls
Sony's A99 will take a little bit of learning to master nearly everything that this camera is capable of doing and even then users will perhaps not use every single feature. When one holds the camera in their hands, they know that Sony meant to target this at the higher end of the photography spectrum; and that they meant serious business when they created it. While the camera is capable of doing some amazing work and is clearly intended for the higher end, Sony still decided to put an Auto mode on the mode dial; which we're truly baffled by, especially at this price point.
The mode dial though is placed conveniently on the top left of the camera and requires the user to depress the middle button in order to change the settings. That means that if your camera gets thrown in your bag, you can whip it out and shoot without having the settings changed (for example, you won't be on Program mode when you last shot it in Manual.)
Sony has also taken the new method of changing their hot shoe. And for the types of people this is aimed towards, this was an extremely smart decision. The new shoe can accept nearly any flash accessory out there including PocketWizards and flashes from other camera systems. The new shoe looks much more like the older and more standard types of hot shoes vs the Minolta Maxxum shoes. Never fear though, Sony Veterans: all of your old accessories will still work with a small converter that comes standard with newer accessories like Sony's HVL-F60M flash.
On the top right is where one would find other controls such as the drive mode, white balance setting, exposure compensation, ISO, and the shutter release (which also houses the on/off switch.)
But what about manual control? Well, both Canon and Nikon users will both find happiness. While these controls still feel very Nikon-like, they are placed in such a way that a Canon user won't be moving their thumb down to access the multi-control dial (which controls the aperture on higher end Canon DSLRs).
The back of the camera has a plethora of controls on the right-hand side. These include one touch movie record, AF/MF switch, custom function control, display settings, playback, and more. The only button on the top left-back is the menu button.
Plus there is that beautiful LCD screen, which can be a godsend for video recording. Just hold the camera in close to your body and look right down; then you've got yourself some very stable video when combined with Sony's steadishot technology built into the sensor.
Beyond this though, a user can also hold the camera up to their eye and use the viewfinder. The A99's electronic viewfinder has to be one of the best we've ever tested. Upon putting it in the hands of photographers who swear only by optical viewfinders, they even thought that it was nice and a drastic improvement over previous EVFs.
Menus and Modes
The menus for the A99 are numerous. First off, there are some that can be accessed by pressing the Fn button. These menus give you direct control for shooting settings and is another way to control the drive mode, white balance, ISO, autofocus type, tracking, and lots more. Indeed, there are a ton of options; but Sony presents them in a way that won't be intimidating for experienced users as they use very standard symbols and vernacular.
Pressing the menu button will put you into a jungle of menus with load of submenus. Indeed, working with these can be the most painful part of working with the otherwise excellent camera. Need to format the card? Get ready to feel like you're going to have to run a race to the finish line. Want to turn off the Live View Preview setting? It will take a little bit of memorization to remember where it is. Unfortunately, this is the least intuitive part of the camera; but it controls so much extra power that can be unlocked.
Movie: Full HD at 1920x1080 and HD at 1280x720, both at 24 frames per second (fps) or 60 frame per second.
The A99's viewfinder is a 1,266K dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder while the LCD is a 3 inch 1,440K dot screen. What helps to contribute to the fact that the screens are so good are the fast frame rates that are delivered. Indeed, everything looks just as it would through an optical viewfinder without any lag. Of course, this only applies to whether or not you turn off the Live View effect setting. If this setting is activated, the viewfinder will darken and lighten accordingly. As a general rule of thumb, those who love shooting in the studio may want to turn off the Live View effect.
For videographers or those who get frustrated with the autofocusing in certain situations, you may want to consider using Sony's options for manual focusing. The company has taken their focus peaking mode from their camcorders and implemented them into the A99 (and other cameras of theirs). While using the viewfinder, you'll be able to see exactly what is focus with no clarity issues at all.
Using the camera's LCD screen is also quite a joy to do for filmmakers more than composing stills unless the camera is on a tripod. In some of the camera's control menus, one would almost think that this LCD is a touchscreen, but indeed it is not. The LCD is designed to tilt-swivel, and can be very useful in various situations. Indeed, the A99 has come a long way from the A900; which never had Live View to begin with.
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