DigitalCameraReview.com
Sony Updates A-series, NEX-series Cameras
by Jerry Jackson -  9/11/2012

Sony officially took the wraps off its long awaited new full-frame DSLR, the a99, combining the advantages of a full-frame image sensor with the speed of Sony's Translucent Mirror Technology. Sony also updated its NEX line with the new NEX-6, a camera that puts to rest any complaints about the NEX-7.

The New Full-Frame a99

The flagship a99 model combines a new 24.3 effective megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor with the latest BIONZ image processing engine to deliver a combination of image quality and shooting speed both for still and video shooting. The image sensor uses a separate multi-segment optional low-pass filter for improved resolving power. The BIONZ processor also gives the ?99 model a maximum sensitivity range (in expanded sensitivity mode) as wide as ISO50 to 25600 -- a range of nine F-stops. In addition, the camera is able to shoot a burst of images at up to six frames per second at full resolution or up to 10 fps in a cropped high speed shooting mode.

The new a99 features a unique dual AF system, a first for Sony and for the digital camera industry. The camera's main focusing system -- a 19-point AF system with 11 cross-type sensors -- is complemented by a 102-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor overlaying the main image sensor. Thanks to Sony's Translucent Mirror Technology, light is passed to both phase-detection AF sensors simultaneously and continually, meaning the a99 should deliver ultra-fast, accurate autofocus that tracks your subject and maintains focus even if a subject temporarily leaves the frame.

The AF-D (depth) continuous autofocus mode utilizes the Dual AF system for wider and more dense coverage of the frame, helping improve AF with fast or erratically moving subjects against complex backgrounds. A new AF range control allows photographers to manually select foreground and background distances to which the AF system will not respond, making it easier to photograph fast moving sports or animals without the lens "racking focus" between macro and infinity.

Of course, no modern DSLR would be complete without a list of impressive video capabilities ... and the a99 is no exception. The new a99 is the first full-frame DSLR to offer Full HD 60p/24p progressive video recording to meet AVCHD Version 2.0 specifications and Full-time Continuous AF Movie mode, allowing smooth, non-stop tracking of moving subjects. Other enhancements include real-time Full HD video output via HDMI, and uninterrupted "dual-card" recording using both of the camera's memory card slots.

The camera's audio features include an audio level display and adjustable audio record levels joined by a headphone jack for monitoring audio on location. Additionally, the multi-interface shoe provides balance audio input for the optional XLR-K1M adaptor kit, which adds a mono shotgun microphone and pro-standard XLR connections for dependable audio acquisition.

The camera's XGA OLED Tru-Finder viewfinder offers 100% frame coverage on the viewfinder screen and will also maintain a 100% field of view with DT lenses that are optimized for APS-C sensor cameras, converting the angle of view automatically for image recording and display. 

In addition to the EVF, a three-way tiltable 1229k-dot (VGA equivalent) XtraFine LCD display with WhiteMagic technology to boost overall screen brightness.

Lastly, the camera is weather-sealed and all buttons and controls have been ruggedized.  A redesigned shutter block, tested to approximately 200,000 releases, further ensures the camera's long-term reliability.

New Lenses for a New Camera

The full-frame imaging capabilities of the a99 camera make it an ideal partner for the new 300mm F2.8 G SSM II (SAL300F28G2) lens. Designed for sports and wildlife applications, this bright super-telephoto offers a new optical design and handling compared with its predecessor. The Sony-developed Nano AR Coating reduces flare and ghosting, producing enhanced contrast. A new LSI drive circuit offers faster, more accurate autofocus with enhanced subject tracking.  The new lens is also dust- and moisture-resistant for just about any outdoor shooting assignment.

Pricing and Availability

The a99 full-frame digital system camera will be available this October as body-only for about $2,800. 

The SAL300GF28G2 lens will be available this November for about $7,500.

The new camera, lenses and all compatible accessories will be sold at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.

Now let's find out more about the latest Sony Alpha NEX camera ...

While most people agree that Sony stole the spotlight in 2011 with the announcement of the NEX-7, at least a handful of people were quick to complain that Sony should have used a lower-resolution image sensor in the NEX-7 to give that camera superior high ISO performance ... and possibly a lower price tag. Sony was apparently listening because today Sony unveiled its NEX-6 camera packed with a 16-megapixel sensor and a starting price of just $850.

This newest addition to the Sony E-mount camera line-up includes Fast Hybrid AF, built-in WiFi capabilities and the Play Memories Camera Apps platform recently introduced on the Sony NEX-5R model. The camera's APS-C Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor offers 16.1 effective megapixels and works with a BIONZ image processor to deliver better ISO performance (up to ISO 25600) than last year's NEX-7.   

The Fast Hybrid AF system combines phase- and contrast-detect AF methods.  It uses 99 phase-detection AF points on the image sensor to detect a subject's distance and direction to quickly lock focus on it, and then utilizes contrast-detection AF to confirm extremely fine focus detail. In Speed Priority Continuous shooting mode, the camera automatically switches to phase detection tracking AF to track fast-moving action at up to 10 frames per second.

As with the flagship NEX-7 camera, the NEX-6 features a built-in XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF. This 2.36 million dot electronic viewfinder delivers 100% frame coverage and looks almost as good as the opitcal viewfinder on a DSLR. On-screen grid lines and a digital level gauge can also be displayed to assist with accurate framing. In addition, the 3.0-inch Xtra Fine LCD display can be angled up to 90° up or 45° down (approx.) for easy viewing in a variety of shooting positions.

New for the NEX-6 camera is a traditional mode dial on the top, similar to those found on DSLR cameras, giving photographers easy access to commonly used shooting modes.  The camera also has a separate control wheel on the camera back for fine adjustments of exposure, ISO, white balance and other settings. 

As with the NEX-5R model, integrated WiFi on the NEX-6 camera allows photos to be transferred wirelessly to a smartphone or tablet running Sony's free PlayMemories Mobile app, available on both Android and Apple iOS platforms.

New Lenses For The E-mount As Well

Sony has also introduced three new lenses for its E-mount line of interchangeable lens cameras, adding to the system's flexibility. 

The new SELP1650 lens is an extremely light, compact 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 powered zoom model that measures only 29.9 mm (1.17 inch) thick when fully retracted and contains built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization for sharper handheld images.  Additionally, it features a dual-function ring that controls both power zoom and manual focus, depending on the camera's focus mode. With the camera set to AF the control ring adjusts zoom and when the camera is in MF mode the ring controls manual focus. 

The new SEL35F18 lens is a wide aperture 35mm focal length model with a bright maximum aperture of f/1.8 and built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization. Sony says "it offers excellent optical sharpness, clarity, and background defocus" for both still images and HD video, and is exceptionally light and easy to carry.

The new SEL1018 lens is a super-wide angle zoom with a maximum aperture of f/4.0 across its range of 10-18mm and built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization. This lens -- which is ideal for shooting landscapes and interiors -- uses super ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass which reduces color aberration.

Pricing and Availability

The NEX-6 compact system camera will be available this November in a kit with the SELP1650 power zoom lens for about $1,000.  It will also be offered as body-only for about $850. 

The SELP1650 power zoom lens will be sold separately in January for about $350, and the SEL35F18 prime and SEL1018 wide angle lenses will be available this November for about $450 and $850, respectively.

The new camera, lenses and all compatible accessories will be available at Sony retail stores (www.store.sony.com) and other authorized dealers nationwide.