273 of 287 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2012
This camera is not for novices and neither is this review. Fasten your seatbelt!
The A99 is probably the most technologically sophisticated DSLR on the planet with the caveat that the video is less than stellar. While the camera's unique features for still shooting, when taken individually, may not sound like much, I've found that they are powerfully synergistic with each other and with the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The result for me is a capability for real-time decision-making and optimization of settings well beyond what I can do with any other camera, even the A77. While I doubt that any one person could make practical use of all of the A99's features, that's not my problem. There is a base set of features, some of which are brand new, that bring real magic and are improving my photography. For example, there's one new A99 exclusive that gives me unprecedented, real-time, simultaneous control of the shutter-speed, aperture, and ISO triad. I can quickly cause the flash to expose for the distance to any feature, anywhere in a scene. As with the A77, I can see an approximation of DRO as well as basic exposure before I shoot, eliminating trial and error.
Now for a dose of reality: The A99 is a full-frame (FF) camera, which means that it costs more, and its lenses are heavier, bigger, typically smaller in zoom range, and generally much more expensive than for APS-C. It has an important competitor in Sony's A77 with the same resolution in a smaller sensor - some would say the A77 is the best of both worlds if you're not concerned with sensor noise. On video, I beat the A99 with a $400 Handycam. The decision to buy may require consideration of all of these things. I'm going to do my best to help you sort it all out.
So the decision to buy an A99 likely boils down to five considerations: purchase cost; lens options and lens investment; low-noise performance; size and weight; the benefits of the unique features; and your requirement for strong video performance. In this review, I'll begin by summarizing my own noise testing results and the significance of noise to the photographer. Next I'll run down features and associated benefits, beginning with feature-differences between A99 and A77 and then covering special features common to both. I'll tell you about the magical capabilities afforded by the unique features mentioned in the first paragraph. I'll also give you my personal take on the EVF versus optical viewfinder (OVF) question and make a few points on that subject that I haven't seen elsewhere. Please see the Comments section for an up-to-date, in-depth look at the video issue.
My noise-test images were done in RAW format, converted to TIFF in Sony software, and then examined in Photoshop. I formerly tested the A550 versus the A580 and found no significant differences in noise characteristics. Later I tested and ranked the A580, A850, and A77 for noise and compared results. Finally, I compared the A850 and A99. The (approximate) rankings are as follows: A77 was weakest; A550 and A580 were about 2/3 stop better than A77; A850 (in RAW only) was a full stop better than A77; and A99 was roughly a full stop better than A850 or two stops better than A77. How important is noise? A lower-noise camera can shoot at higher ISO. An A99 at ISO 6400 will perform roughly as well as an A77 at ISO 1600, for example. Lower noise means more than the ability to work in low light: it means you can shoot at higher f-number when you need depth of focus and at faster shutter speed (SS) when you need to minimize camera-shake blur (e.g., with long lenses or low SS), or freeze action. A lower-noise camera with a wider dynamic range (the A99 records 14 bits) has more to work with when converting raw data to jpeg; for example, you can impose stronger DRO levels to illuminate shadows without blowing out highlights. If you're post-processing from RAW yourself, you have more dynamic range in your RAW files, which gives you more options in how you manage contrast at the extremes. When cameras apply their own noise-reduction algorithms, the details can be softened, which is why I shoot RAW when possible. With low noise, you can get away with more sharpening (which is severely limited by the presence of noise). (Many cases of really ugly noise are the result of too much sharpening, which was THE flaw in the A850/900, an otherwise good low-light camera.) I've found that shooting RAW, I get excellent images at ISO 6400 with an A99. Shooting at ISO 3200, the noise differences in the A99 and A77 were easily apparent without pixel peeping. As I'll explain, multi-frame noise reduction (MFNR) can greatly increase the usable ISO (as much as 3 stops) in both the A77 and the A99. Noise is the biggest reason to choose an A99 over an A77. If this doesn't matter to you, the playing field may be tilted toward the A77, but please read on because I've yet to describe the new A99 magical features.
A77 advantages (besides body cost and smaller-lighter-cheaper, wider-zoom-range lenses):
1. Slightly smaller than the A99, mainly in width - 7mm narrower. This difference pales in comparison to the size and weight penalties of the FF lenses required by the A99. The old Minolta lenses do offer some smaller-lighter-cheaper FF options.
2. 3 ounces lighter than the A99, but again this is nothing to the weight differences in lenses, particularly in zooms and longer telephotos. (Sony claims that the A99 is the world's lightest, interchangeable-lens, FF camera. They have to use the lens caveat because of the RX-1.)
3. 12 frames per second (fps) at full resolution compared to the A99's 10 fps at 10MP resolution or 6 fps at full. If you want to show a foot compressing a soccer ball during a kick, you need an A77 (in good light). For me, high fps numbers are only significant for bragging rights, but they may be essential for you.
4. Built-in flash
5. 6 % more shots from a battery than the A99. See later suggestions on how to conserve battery life in both cameras.
6. 3D recording
A99 advantages (besides lower noise):
1. Customizable button (located where the flash pop-up button is on A77)
2. Magical feature number 1: Flash exposure level (FEL) lock (p122 in the manual), assigned by default to the customizable button. This breakthrough function allows you recompose after telling the camera what scene feature to use to meter the flash. This eliminates a HUGE amount of trial and error in flash photography when your main subject is off-center and the flash tries to meter on a distant background, blowing out your foreground subject. It is also superior to ADI flash metering in most circumstances.
3. Magical feature number 2: "Silent Multi-controller"-- a new third dial that you operate with the thumb of your left hand. I've found magic when I assign it to ISO. For example, if you go into Aperture Priority mode and twirl this dial, you can see your ISO changing and shutter speed (SS) compensating while the aperture holds fast and exposure stays constant. I'll say more about this powerful and VERY COOL feature, which is highly synergistic with the EVF. See, however, my wish list, which suggests how it could use one more assignment option.
4. Autofocus Range Control, another simple-to-use, breakthrough feature, which allows you to constrain focus to avoid foreground focus such as can occur on window glass, screens, link fences, and foliage.
5. Tethering to a computer via an app called Remote Camera Control. This allows you to control the camera from your computer and/or make shots to go directly into a folder on your computer (PC or Mac), but there is no WiFi on the camera. Search with Google for ways to tether directly to Lightroom.
6. Only the A99 (besides the discontinued A700) has a feature called Quick Navi, which allows you to look at your settings screen, hit the Fn button, and make changes from your settings screen view. Earlier models, including A77, have a screen that shows live-view with settings arrayed around the border with similar Fn-button access; the A99 retains this option as well.
7. Two card slots instead of one. Good, but you'll be changing batteries more often than cards. I like it because I don't have to keep up with a spare card in a camera bag.
8. Advanced autofocus robustness on a limited set of lenses that Sony will expand via firmware updates
9. Rapid and accurate autofocus during video with the same limited set of lenses that will be expanded
10. Vertical grip option that allows simultaneous loading of a total of three batteries instead of the usual two. The grip stayed sold out in the U.S. for months after the release of the (power hungry) A99. You're expanding your magazine from 500 to 1500 shots by going from one to three loaded batteries. See my suggestions on power conservation.
11. Higher resolution screen, 1,229 versus 921. A 30 percent increase, but will you really notice?
12. Headphone jack and XLR audio output as well as uncompressed HDMI out.
13. 1080p at 24 Hz as well as 60 Hz. This doesn't matter to me, but maybe it does to you.
14. Expensive video accessories designed exclusively for the A99. Based on my video tests, I don't think they'll be big sellers.
15. You can set the ISO higher - 25,600 vs 16,000. Most reviews point this out as if it matters. This can matter in autoHDR mode; otherwise, I'm not so sure.
16. New iAuto mode that automatically invokes compositing when "needed." **Update: Friedman tells me this is the same as an A77 mode by a different name.** I generally stay away from this mode, which allows the camera to take over ALL the decision making. I don't like surprises when it comes to camera behavior.
17. The A99 has a new hotshoe that is compatible with industry standard flashes (e.g., Vivitar and SunPack) and still incorporates all the contacts necessary to support advanced proprietary flash functions. This is an advantage for some but a disadvantage for those with a heavy investment in Sony flashes. The A99 comes with a converter back to the Sony proprietary shoe, but that's one more thing to keep up with, and it makes your Sony flash less stabile, although it does better than I expected. The new HVL-F60M flash works with the A99 shoe and has a built-in, LED-based movie light. Otherwise it's very similar to the HVL-F58am. I like using the compact HVL-F20AM where I don't have a built-in flash and I need something small and convenient. The new shoe converter will make that little flash ride a little higher than I'd like, but it will put a bit more distance between flash and aperture with some benefit in red-eye reduction.
18. A choice of Max or Standard Power Save mode. The manual doesn't mention it, indicating it was a last-minute addition. I've concluded that Max mode is equivalent to setting the Power Saving Start Time to 10 seconds and having the rear LCD go to a dim mode at about 6 seconds. It lets you to go to the minimum Power Saving Start time with less hassle.
19. In-camera audio leveling
There are tons of features common to the A99 and A77, many of which are Sony exclusives. These are the ones that make me a better photographer:
1. Preview button - if you set this to "Shot Result Preview," you not only get a preview of depth of field, but you preview DRO (only approximately) and lens compensation as well. It tries to show blurring effects of slow shutter speed, but don't bet the farm on that prediction. This is another of those features that couples with the Silent Multi-controller and EVF to make a killer combination.
2. fast-focusing live view - - as fast as any DSLR through its optical view finder and about 20X faster than Canon and Nikon's live view.
3. multi-frame noise reduction (MFNR), which, for stationary subjects, is the next best thing to a tripod (or my trusty beanbag). Of the three similar options (the other two are Handheld Twilight and Night Scene) on the cameras, MFNR is my favorite. It shoots 6 frames in rapid succession and then lines them up and merges them to average out noise and deliver one high-resolution, low-noise image in low-light. The downside is that the processing ties up the camera for a few seconds. (While this is limited to stationary subjects, you must remember that you can't generally shoot moving subjects with long exposures on tripods either.) The net benefit is up to three stops worth of noise reduction. I ignored this feature until I spent extensive time with the A77, and now I keep it as one of my three memory presets. A memory preset is necessary for me because I mostly shoot RAW plus jpeg, and I have to revert to pure jpeg to use this feature. The memory preset allows me to switch all needed setting changes instantly. When you switch out of a memory setting, the camera resets everything back to where it was before. See my memory settings and wish list for more on this feature.
4. auto high dynamic range (autoHDR), in which, for stationary subjects, the camera shoots three frames in succession at differing exposure levels. You can set the difference to be up to 6 stops total across the three frames. (I've found trial-and-error to be necessary, and I generally start with a 3-stop spread. Too much spread reduces contrast and washes out the image in many situations.) It then aligns and superimposes selected parts of the pictures, replacing dark areas in the middle exposure with corresponding areas from the higher exposure, and replacing "whited-out" areas in the middle exposure with corresponding areas from the lower exposure. AutoHDR does what DRO does without the noise penalty - this has been huge for me on all my Sony cameras, and I've learned to keep it as another memory preset. For more info, see my memory settings and wish list.
5. tilt screen that allows you to hold your camera overhead, on the ground, next to a macro subject, looking around corners, or any way you might hold a periscope. Try putting your camera on a monopod with shutter timer set for 10 seconds. Now it's like a LONG periscope - you can see over a 10-foot fence. (That's also how the pros get those pictures looking down on pre-game football huddles.) The combination of the EVF and the articulated screen also allows me to keep my screen folded up to save power and avoid using a screen protector with the attendant penalty in glare reflection. (Camera manufacturers go to great pains with hardened anti-reflective coatings on the screens, and we stick reflective material right on top of their coatings.) This is a very, very important and practical feature.
6. Panoramic mode - don't overlook the vertical and horizontal options and setting options. Experiment with different zoom levels to help control how much you capture vertically and horizontally. I've used it for shooting tall buildings and shorelines, for example. It may sound more like sizzle than steak, but it turns out to be a staple for me.
7. 1080p 60 Hz AVCHD - but the performance is mediocre.
8. No need to bother with mirror lockup (mirror is stationary)
9. Stabilization in the camera body, reducing lens size-weight-cost and making all Minolta AF lenses good options for FF use. If you're just breaking into FF, and you're on a budget, get the Maxxum AF 50mm F1.7, the Maxxum AF 35-70mm F4, and the Minolta AF 70-210 F4. These are top-flight and readily available on eBaY, but be sure the numbers match exactly because lesser, cheaper alternatives exist. Note that the zooms hold the f-number across the full zoom range. Also, be sure to set the AF micro-adjust for these lenses. There are other superlative AF Minolta lenses such as the macros and the very, very pricey 17-35mm F3.5G with the greenish optical coating (not the orange).
10. Built-in lens compensation but only with output to jpeg
11. Weather-sealed magnesium body, but currently the only weather-sealed lens that I'm aware of is the 16-50mm DT, a dynamite lens, but only for the A77.
I should also mention the stereo mic on the A99. My test results on the mic were evaluated by a pro who said it was superb, offering excellent stereo imaging and superb wind-noise suppression. It's a pity the video isn't of similar quality.
Comments on EVF:
Others have written tons on the pros and cons of EVFs. The trouble is that the Experts who write for online publications are not experts on the EVF. It's like a person who's ridden a tricycle his whole life spending a couple of hours trying to ride a bike and declaring the tricycle superior. (I'll get some negative comments and "not helpful" hits for that, but it felt good anyway.) Let's start with the typical complaints about EVFs.
1. Complaint: The finder view isn't as pretty as an OVF view. It doesn't look like what I see with the human eye. Answer: So what? The purpose of any viewfinder is to show you what you will get when you take a shot, not to look pretty. The EVF does a far better job of predicting how things will turn out than an optical viewfinder and a meter reading.
2. Complaint: The image I see is too contrasty. Shadows are blacked out. The images I produce look better in this regard than what I saw in the EVF, meaning that it failed to predict correctly. Answer: This can be true, primarily because the finder doesn't show the effect of DRO, which brings out shadow detail. Use the preview button set to "Shot Result Preview" to see what you'll get out of the shadows. It isn't a perfect match, but it's close enough. And don't forget that with an OVF you have no clue how any of that will turn out until you take the shot. Actually, I wish there were a way to predict the results of autoHDR, which is the ultimate cure for blacked-out shadows and blown-out highlights.
3. Complaint: The fixed mirror effectively takes away half a stop worth of lens aperture. Answer: True, but the A99 is a superb low-light performer even after losing that half stop.
4. Complaint: A planar glass surface in the optical path can only degrade performance. Answer: In the A77 and A99, the resultant "ghosting" is too little to matter due to the improved anti-reflective optical coatings on the mirrors.
5. Complaint: When I use automatic review, my EVF is interrupted, blocking my vision. Answer: True. Turn off auto review and just tap the review button when you want to see results.
6. Complaint: I can't predict the effects of flash with an EVF. Answer: You can't with an OVF either. With the A99's FEL lock, you can make flash exposure far more predictable than with any other camera.
7. Complaint: I like to shoot flash with the camera in Manual mode. The EVF is too dark when I do that. Answer: Menu > Gear > 3 > Live View Display = Setting Effect Off. This will let you see through the EVF with any exposure setting. You can then hit the preview button if you want a (non-flash) preview. I've found that with low-f-number lenses, I can see better in the dark with an A99 than with an optical finder.
8. Complaint: Images are noisier as seen in the EVF before the shot than they turn out to be. Answer: This can be true in low light, even though the EVF uses the same main sensor that makes the image. The reason is that the exposure time must be shorter in the EVF in order to minimize image shudder, jitter, or "judder" when the camera is panned. When exposure time is shorter, noise is higher because amplification (equivalent to looking with higher ISO) must compensate. Bottom line: if you see noise in the EVF, you can expect the actual shot to be less noisy. Last time I checked, OVFs aren't particularly good at predicting noise either.
9. Complaint: I've heard about image shudder that you get when you pan an EVF. Answer: It is most significant in low light. It hasn't been enough to interfere with utility on either the A77 or the A99, but, theoretically, the A99 should have an advantage here. I'll admit that it can be annoying, especially if you're in a bad mood anyway (like some reviewers whose old paradigm is threatened).
10. Complaint: I can't see anything through the EVF when the camera's turned off. Answer: True, and silly as it is, it can be an annoyance. I suggest that you normally don't need to see through the finder if you don't want to take a picture. (I also have a problem seeing through DSLR OVFs with the lens cap on.)
11. Complaint: What's the big deal? Cameras with live view can do this with the rear screen! Answer: Even in ideal light, the screen is not as good as the EVF, either for predicting the results of shots or for reviewing results. To me, the EVF is roughly like having a 5x7 print to look at. When I get on my computer, I don't find the surprises that I used to.
Before I had the A77, I was hoping Sony would make their next FF camera with an OVF, adding all the in-camera processing features that the A900 and A850 lacked. I didn't trust the idea of an EVF, and I didn't like losing a half-stop worth of lens aperture to the fixed mirror. I was very disappointed when I heard Sony was dropping OVFs. After spending two intense weeks in the Eastern Mediterranean with the A77 in my hands for many hours a day, I changed my mind. Once I learned to take advantage of the EVF, I could set up optimized shots much faster with it. But it was when I had to do without the EVF that I really "got it." I sold my A77 a few weeks before I got my A99. During that time without an EVF, I would go out with my A850, and, in the presence of heavy glare, be unable to tell how my shots were coming out. That single, obvious advantage of the EVF outweighed everything else for me during that transitional time. The EVF is a better way to review results than a rear display in any light. (And boy is that true if you need reading glasses!) In glare situations, it's the only way. As I continue to develop my dexterity in control of aperture, SS, and ISO (using the A99's Silent Multi-controller in conjunction with the usual front and back control dials set as I describe below), I become more wedded to the EVF because I can control so many things simultaneously and see the effects on my exposure in real time. The preview button is also infinitely more powerful with an EVF. This is some of the ultimate synergy that I've been talking about.
The EVF shows exposure level (brightness); white balance; Creative Styles (an example is Sepia Image Style); and Picture Effects (Photoshop-like effects out of the camera). The preview button adds depth of field, DRO, and lens correction, and attempts to predict slow-SS blur. You can figure all these effects out to some extent without the EVF by taking shots and looking at them on a rear display. The EVF eliminates trial and error and gives you a better look, both before and after the shot, with the additional advantage that your eye never has to leave the finder. Sony even makes the rear display more effective with instant-focus live view and the articulated screen.
Here's my parting shot on the EVF. Long ago, people used rangefinder-type VFs. When the SLR came along, it was hailed as a breakthrough because you could see through the actual lens. With the EVF as implemented with fixed mirror, you not only see through the actual lens, you see through the actual sensor too. It's another big step forward. A lot of people didn't think real photographers needed a pentaprism when they first came out. If you've got all day, get out a Leica M3, tripod, and light meter. You'll get fantastic results. If you've got 15 seconds to get the right exposure, get an A99.
Now I want to tell you about my personal favorite settings. These are the choices that give me that super synergy of features:
1. Front dial to exposure compensation (Menu > Gear5)
2. Silent controller to ISO (hold down center button - can change quickly)
3. Preview button to Shot Result Preview (Menu > Gear4)
4. ISO button to DRO (Menu > Gear4)
5. Quality to RAW + jpeg (Menu > Camera1)
6. Mode to any PASM, but especially A
Memory Setting 1:
1. DRO/HDR to autoHDR 3EV (Fn button > right side)
2. Program Mode (when it's invoked with a memory setting, you can't come out of this without losing other settings, so you may want to go with A, S, or M)
3. ISO Auto (can always change it instantly with the Silent Multi-controller)
4. Quality to Extra Fine (Menu > Camera1) (can't use RAW here)
Memory Setting 2:
1. ISO to Multi-frame Noise Reduction (MFNR) Auto (ISO button or Fn button)
2. Aperture Priority
3. Aperture at F/2.8 (This is wide open for my walk around zoom, and I can always change it quickly with the rear control dial)
4. Quality to Extra Fine (Menu > Camera1) (can't use RAW here)
Memory Setting 3:
Gary Friedman's recommended settings for tripod shots (I must respect Gary's copyright on these)
The first combination of settings with either Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority can give you instantaneous control that is more complete than what you get with ordinary manual control and do it without the manual control awkwardness of having to maintain exposure by watching a meter. The next list tells how it all shakes out.
Front Dial (D1) = exposure compensation
Rear Dial (D2) = program shift; cycles aperture-SS combinations
Silent Multi-controller (D3) = ISO
D1 = exposure compensation
D2 = aperture
D3 = cycles through ISO-SS combinations
D1 = exposure compensation
D2 = SS
D3 = cycles through ISO-aperture combinations
D1 = SS
D2 = aperture
D3 = ISO
Note that Program Mode effectively becomes ISO-priority mode! We have perfect symmetry across PAS for the exposure triad. For each of these options, look what you have with D3 removed. That's what you have with all other cameras except the A99.
Consider aperture priority as an example. Your right thumb (rear dial) controls aperture. Your left thumb (Silent Multi-controller) controls shutter speed (SS) because when you change ISO, SS compensates to maintain the exposure level. You can run up and down the range of SS settings without ever changing exposure, which gives all the benefit of two-dial manual control without the hassle. Want the image a little brighter or darker? Use your right forefinger (front dial) for exposure compensation and you see in the EVF exactly how your exposure will turn out. If the image is too contrasty, blacking out the shadows, press the Preview Button. If the shadows are still too dark (or the contrast is too weak), tap the ISO button with your finger and adjust the DRO. You can swap the roles of aperture and SS by switching to Shutter Priority. Are you getting this? Don't glaze over on me: this is VERY, VERY powerful stuff, and the biggest difference maker is that ability to trade ISO with SS with your left thumb via the Silent Multi-controller. That's what turns Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority into total simultaneous control of aperture, SS, ISO, and exposure. You're doing all this with the EVF providing full, on-the-fly awareness of how your product will look - an exposure meter isn't precisely accurate unless it's metering on something that's 18% gray. Want to know how you're doing in the shadows with DRO? Use the preview button with your left forefinger. Want to change it? Tap the reprogrammed ISO button.
Now, I'll grant you that this takes a little getting used to, but if you're experienced at all, it'll come quickly. What takes the time is discovering what I've just told you. That's what I meant by graduating from a tricycle to a bicycle. These well-meaning Experts who spend a few hours with an A99 aren't likely to figure this out, and, if they're arrogantly closed minded, they never will. This is a paradigm shift, and people invested in one way of doing things can easily overlook opportunity for a major improvement. I only figured it out because I forced myself to work with the new equipment. Canon and Nikon WILL copy the third-dial idea, but without EVF, it won't be as powerful. Remember, you heard it here first.
Next I want to offer suggestions on battery conservation. These are similar to Gary Friedman's suggestions, but I didn't plagiarize them, so here they are:
1. The rear display uses less power than the EVF, but it can tend to stay on much more. Keep the rear display turned around and closed against the camera, which turns off all power to it. You can flick it down when you need it. Keeping it closed allows me to avoid using screen protectors as I said earlier. I also don't get skin oil on it with my face. Note that if the screen isn't closed flush with the body, the EVF won't come on automatically. This is because if you flipped the screen all the way up, it would trigger the EVF.
2. Set Menu > gear 1 > Eye-Start AF to off so the autofocus doesn't churn around if you don't need it to continually focus (especially when it bounces against your body).
3. Set Menu > gear 1 > FINDER/LCD Setting to auto.
4. If you don't need it, set Menu > GPS Settings > GPS On/Off to Off.
5. Keep Smile Shutter off (Fn menu)
6. Keep Face Tracking off (Fn menu)
7. Set Menu > wrench >Power Save to Max if you can live with it that way. It goes to power save in just 10 seconds unless you have a menu open, in which case it stays on for a full minute, even if you don't touch anything. Note that you can wake the camera up by touching the Menu button as well as the shutter button.
The A99 and A77 use an infrared sensor at the eyepiece to tell when to switch on the EVF, which consumes significant power. If you have the camera over your arm or around your neck, clothing contact with the eyepiece may keep the EVF on indefinitely, which will rapidly discharge your battery. I find that a heavy lens will tip the camera far enough away from my body to usually leave the EVF off. Even so, when Power Save kicks in, the camera's consumption of power drops to zip, and you can wake it up with a a touch of the shutter or the Menu button. The shutter touch brings it back to the same exact state in which it powered down (unless it was on a menu). Friedman reported that he more than doubled the number of single-battery shots on an A77 using essentially these same settings. He used fill flash on some of his shots too. (It's troublesome to think that the A99 has 6% less magazine with no flash.)
Wish List (my message to Sony):
1. Give us a lossless format option for compositing, DRO, lens correction, etc. (Sony, I'm going to keep hitting you with this in these reviews until you give in. If it takes more processing power, add it; we'll pay for it.)
2. Combine MFNR and autoHDR. AutoHDR can lead to some slow shutter speeds. Help us here!
3. Allow customization of exposure comp button (e.g., flash exposure comp). How can you offer the option of setting a control dial for exposure comp and NOT let us reassign the exposure comp button??? What are you thinking???
4. Display ISO on top LCD display.
5. Display ISO while in autoISO mode through EVF without pressing shutter.
6. Allow DRO assignment to Silent Controller.
7. Is it just me, or is it hellish to use the joystick on the menu if you're in a hurry? I have trouble pushing the button down without tilting it. Please put it back like it was on the A900.
8. On a related subject, how about a touch screen to really make Quick Navi sing? You're behind the competition on that.
9. Most of all, I want Sony to fix the video. I don't have to tell them: the blogs are doing that all over the web. I hope Sony isn't run by the kinds of corporate execs who refuse to admit mistakes and face reality. If their handling of the noise problems in the A900 is any indication, they just may be. The video isn't bad; it just isn't good. The video problems for me don't overwhelm or underwhelm; they just whelm. We expect better.
**Update** You're probably aware of the emerging A7 and A7R. If you want something easier to haul around, consider those two. See Steve Huff's reviews for more info. Steve is one of the few pros who take the time to get used to new features; I've learned to trust what he says, even though my perspectives and needs may be very different.
If you've stayed with me this far, you must be deadly serious about this camera. I wish you luck in your decision. Be sure to peruse the comments section for other points of view.
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
on June 11, 2013
The more comfortable you are with your camera, the better you will be able to develop your skills, and the more confident you'll become.
To give you a little back story, m first DSLR was a Canon Rebel XTi that I purchased around six years ago. It was a dependable, wonderful camera to learn on. Around 3 years ago ,I had already upgraded some lenses (including a 24-70 L), and flashes (580exii), so a body upgrade seemed like the next logical step, and I was debating between the 7D and the 5D mark ii. I opted for the 7D over the 5D mark ii, primarily for the lower price, but also for the better autofocus and build quality. The 7D was a very good camera, however I was never particularly satisfied with it. I don't know if it was my lens, or the body itself, but I was never satisfied with the focus. It was often front or back focusing, despite my best attempts to adjust the micro focus. Even on a tripod, at fast shutter speeds, the focus was regularly off. Additionally, the noise due to the crop sensor was really rough, especially at 1600 or above. All of these things made shooting seem like a chore, particularly in post. I got to the point where i was rarely taking my camera out, because I had lost confidence that I could "get the shot." After trying my lens on several of the newer bodies (5D mark iii and 6D), I determined that the focus issues were my 7D, and not the lens, so I decided I wanted to jump to one of the full-frame bodies. For comparison's sake, I decided to look at the Nikon and Sony options as well. I was obviously already heavily invested in the Canon system, so a jump to a new system would have to involve some serious changes. The Canon 6D seemed like a step down in terms of build quality and autofocus, and the Nikon D600 was uncomfortable to handle (I have very large hands), and the layout was not intuitive to my brain. Additionally, it would involve the previously mentioned system switch. Comparing the Canon 5D Mark iii and the Nikon D800, I felt that there were no particularly huge benefits that pushed the D800 above the 5D Mark iii (I didn't need the massive megapixel count), so I had basically settled on the 5D Mark iii as the camera that I planned to upgrade to.
Just to be certain that this was the right move, I decided to also investigate the Sony A99. I already knew that I liked the option of the Carl Zeiss glass (IMO the best optics out there aside from Leica), and the in camera image stabilization for any lens, but I still had my doubts given the small user base, and the fact that it would involve a system switch. However, every photographer I've ever spoken to who shoots Sony is almost fanatical about their love of the system, so I figured it was at least worth checking out. After spending half an hour with the camera (with a Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8 on it) at a local shop, I was overwhelmed at how much I enjoyed using the camera. The layout was immediately intuitive, and several of the features immediately stood out. Needless to say, I was drooling over it by the time I was done. Still, the cost of switching systems seemed prohibitive. That's when the sales clerk dropped the bundle bomb on me: Buy the A99, get the flash and grip free. That was a $1000 in free stuff, and would go a long way to defraying the cost of switching. After figuring out what I could sell my Canon gear for, I decided to pull the trigger, and purchased the A99 bundle, along with the Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8. After a month of shooting, I can honestly say that it was the best photography decision that I've ever made.
The very first day home, I was blown away by the accuracy of the focusing system, exposure metering, and white balance. Then I uploaded the images to my computer, and couldn't believe my eyes: the Raw files were practically usable straight from the camera. Sharp, beautiful colors and contrast (obviously the lens has a lot to do with this), and a dynamic range that allowed for incredible flexibility (almost an HDR-like option, if I so decided). Since that time, here are my thoughts:
*Ergonomics - The body feels solid, yet light. It has some plastic construction, but it's rugged and professional feeling, similar to my 7D. It is incredibly comfortable to grip solidly, and the button layout is very intuitive, and fully customizable. The battery grip maintains this intuitive and ergonomic feel.
*Viewfinder - This is one of the big features that a lot of people discuss in detail about this camera. Many people argue that the electronic viewfinder is inferior to an optical viewfinder, however I can only assume that they have never actually used the camera for any length of time. I will give them that it takes some getting used to, but after that, it is possibly one of my favorite features of the camera, for several reasons. First and foremost, you can see your exposure adjustments in real time. I generally shoot in Aperture priority or Manual, and in both modes, I can easily dial in my desired exposure, including any compensation if needed, and see how the results will appear. You can even have a live histogram or level appear in the viewfinder as you're shooting, if you so desire. While I almost always shoot in Raw, you can see any creative filters in real time through the viewfinder, which can help compose a shot with that filter in mind (for example, black and white). You can then adjust from the color Raw in post. Secondly, the viewfinder is a 100% view, and incredibly bright and clear, so I feel that it is completely comparable to my 7D in that regard. Where it surpasses the 7D is when shooting in very low light, where you can see the exposure in real time, so it is actually a brighter and clearer vision of the scene you're about to capture. Finally, you can view images, menus, and anything else that you would normally view on a rear LCD, through the EVF. This means that I don't have to pull myself away from the viewfinder, which allows for faster operation between shots, which means fewer missed shots. As the title of my review states, the camera doesn't make the photographer, but a tool like the EVF helps me feel more confident that I'll get the image I'm attempting to capture without any issues.
*Rear LCD - Even though I just mentioned the benefit of being able to use the EVF for all of the typical rear LCD operations, the rear LCD still has many great features, the greatest of which would be the articulating screen. Gone are my days of shooting in live view and having to attempt to view my screen from an incredibly awkward angle, or even "pray and spray" because I can't even see the screen from the angle I want to shoot. Now, I can simply angle the screen to whatever view I like, and shoot from any vantage point with confidence. Shooting from the hip? No Problem. Strange overhead angle that was previously impossible without a ladder? No ladder needed (at least for me. I am 6'4" after all)! Additionally, the screen is clear, bright, and easy to read/view. It can be a little tough to view in bright, direct light, but most rear LCDs are. Additionally, the camera senses when your eye it at the EVF and turns off the rear LCD, and vice versa.
*Menus/settings - Joystick controls make navigation a breeze, and everything is easily available. As I previously mentioned, the button layout and customizability make it very easy to adjust anything on the fly. There is also a silent controller knob on the front for changing settings during video (which I haven't tried yet). The DOF preview button is the only button that seems out of place. I wish it were slightly easier to access from the shutter release.
*Memory Cards - Dual SD card slots are great for peace of mind (I copy to both simultaneously in case one gets corrupted). I do notice a very slight decrease in writing speed vs the CF card on my 7D, however it is generally only noticeable when I do any kind of burst shooting (which I rarely do).
*Battery - This is one area where the camera is lacking. The EVF/rear LCD definitely affects Battery performance. I have been able to get around 400-500 shots per charge, which is significantly fewer than I got with my 7D. That being said, the battery grip holds two additional batteries, and doesn't use the main battery compartment, so you can have three batteries in use, and can replace them without shutting down the camera. If you don't have the battery grip, a spare battery or two (and maybe a spare charger) are definitely needed if you are shooting a long event/traveling significantly.
*Hot Shoe - The hot shoe is seemingly the standard hotshot, however it has a Sony proprietary pin connection for data transfer. You can use this with interesting accessories such as a stereo boom mic, however I haven't had the opportunity to try these. The camera also comes with an adaptor for the old Minolta style shoes.
*GPS - The camera features GPS, however I haven't used this feature yet.
*Other - In addition to the standard USB, DC power, PC flash, and remote release connections, you have stereo mic in (with phantom power), stereo headphone out for monitoring during video, and mini HDMI out for direct connection to an HDTV or recording device. I haven't tried any of these, so I can't speak to their usefulness.
Operation (Still Photography):
*Image Stabilization - Since it's in the body, every lens is stabilized. Even primes and all the old Minolta A-Mount lenses. Amazing (particularly if you have shaky hands like I do). This was a major selling point for me, and it's lived up to expectations. It also works for video, which is a plus.
*Shooting Modes - As I mentioned, I typically shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual, however you can also shoot in Shutter Priority, Program, Auto, and/or one of the many scene settings, that include the standard scenes (portrait, landscape, etc). Interestingly, the camera doesn't force you into JPG in the Auto modes. Additionally, there are three custom settings that you can set to your own preferences. There is also a panorama setting that takes multiple shots as you pan and stitches them together, as well as an auto HDR option. Both of these require JPG shooting. The creative modes that are available are Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Autumn Leaves, and Black and White. The Picture Effects that are available (in JPG only) are toy camera, Pop Color, Posturization, Retro Photo, Soft High Key, Partial Color, High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich Tone Monochrome, and Miniature. I haven't had a chance to play around with any of these yet.
*Focus modes - Here, you have the standard single shot, continues, and auto. The continues does a really good job at tracking subject within the standard 19 points, however my experience with this mode is limited (I don't shoot sports, wildlife, or children all that often). Where the camera really shines at tracking is the depth map assisted autofocus mode. Here, all of the sensor points can track a subject once you lock on with one of the 19 standard points. This makes for quite the light show in your viewfinder, but it works very well. The downside is that it isn't available with all lenses, however it is with my Zeiss 24-70, and it's worked well. Additionally, in burst shooting, you can only use continuous drive. In addition, to the auto options, you also have a direct manual focus mode, where it will autofocus lock and then you can adjust manually from there (only matters with certain lenses). Obviously, there is also a pure manual focus mode that disengages the motor. Additionally, there is an assist illuminator for dark situations, and micro adjustment that you can set for different lenses. Pretty standard stuff.
*Autofocus Performance - Really impressive. It does a great job of nailing the focus on the get-go, even to the point of hitting the eyes on a portrait. It has face recognition, which seems to be working very well. In addition to the standard 19 points (11 cross type), there are 102 assist points on the sensor itself, which seem to work very well at nailing items that are outside of the range of the normal focus points. My one complaint is that all of the regular focus points are clustered in the center of the frame, however I haven't had many issues nailing the focus with the assist points. That being said, there are some situations where the focus needs to hunt a little bit to lock in if I'm not using the single point select. Any times that I've used the focus and recompose method, it's maintained and nailed the focus very well. Again, the lens has a lot to do with all of this, but this lens, body combo is truly amazing. If they were any sharper, I would cut myself (sorry, I had to throw a few clichés in, just for good measure).
*Face Detection - There is face detection as well as face tracking when you lock on during continuous/Depth Map Assisted auto focus.
*Focus Point Selection - You can select all the points, zone (3 zones), center only, or specific point selection. All work well for their given purposes.
*Focus Peaking and Magnifier - Two really cool features are focus peaking and focus magnifier. Since the EVF is real time, it will show this as you are using them. The peaking will highlight in white, red, or yellow the areas that are in focus at a given focusing plane. This works with auto or manual focus, and is constant as you change focus or pan, etc. The magnifier allows you to magnify to a very close view of the object in focus. Both of these are great options for macro/portrait work.
*Autofocus Range Adjustment - There is a really interesting feature where you can set the autofocus range, in order to ignore something at a given distance (for example, a chain-link fence between you and the subject. I haven't had a need to use it yet, but I could see it being very helpful for certain events. I did play around with it, and it seemed to work well.
*ISO/Noise - Since this was one of the major reasons I wanted to jump to full frame, this was a major factor for me, and I can say that I've been very pleased. I've gotten very good, usable images at 6400, and haven't had to go above that for anything yet. There is also a mode that will take multiple shots and blend them to reduce noise (JPG only) though I haven't used it.
*Exposure Metering - Standard modes of Multi Segment (Evaluative), Center Weighted, and Spot, all of which work very well at their respective tasks. Since you can see exactly what's happening as you adjust exposure compensation, you're likely to get the shot you want the first time.
*White Balance - This is incredibly impressive. I've barely taken it out of Auto WB, and it's nailed it 98% of the time. This means one fewer step in post production, which means more time I can spend shooting.
*Other - there are some other features such as teleconverter for crop sensor specific lenses, etc. I haven't used these, so I can't speak to them
I haven't had the opportunity to test out the video functions, though I've heard a wide range of opinions from "terrible" to "really good." I'll update once I've had a chance to try it myself
In addition to the amazing, previously mentioned Carl Zeiss Lenses, the Sony G lenses at your disposal are supposed to be stellar as well, though I haven't tried any yet. Additionally, the Sony non-G lenses get good reviews (I've tried the 85mm f/2.8 and came away very impressed). Finally, you have the entire library of old Minolta A-mount lenses at your disposal, most of which can be found for a song on Ebay. I already have three, which I've paid a total of $90 for, including shipping. The best part is that all of them are now image stabilized!
Obviously, if you've read everything I've written here, you can tell that I'm a pretty big fan of my camera. In my subjective opinion, the controls and features allow you to get better shots, more often, and I think we can all get excited about that. The image quality is excellent, and I'm incredibly excited to see the images that I'll be able to capture with this thing of beauty.
You can check out some of my shots at [...] (has both Canon 7D and Sony A99 shots)
104 of 111 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2012
Make no mistake; this is a top notch camera. I can't imagine anyone will dispute that. But this camera directly competes with the likes of Canon and Nikon (Nikon D800 for example). I have been a Nikon enthusiast for about 15+ years and have gone from film (N80) to digital (D70) to better digital (D7000) and recently went to full format (D600). As I've progressed, I have noted one glaring problem with basically ALL Nikon and Canon cameras: that would be the phase detect autofocus. The bottom line is that I have yet to see a DSLR that doesn't back-focus or front-focus to some extent. This is why there are autofocus fine tune settings on most DSLRs and this works fine with prime lenses. But if you are using a zoom lens then you usually need to adjust a certain amount on one end and a different amount on the other. Since there is only one focus adjustment for the whole lens, you end up compromising with less than perfect focus at all focal lengths. This never worked well for me because I am absolutely obsessed with perfect focus. These ongoing focus issues with Nikon and Canon annoy me to no end. I thought if I upgraded to a better camera (like the Nikon D600) with a serious lens (Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8), then my problems would be solved. Wrong again! Suffice it to say that after using a LensAlign MkII Focus Calibration System and Reikan's FoCal software, I concluded that the D600 was back-focusing either slightly or a lot (depending on which lens I used and at what focal length). That was frustrating. I didn't even bother looking at the D800 because it was totally plagued with this problem from day 1 (see all the negative reviews - have they solved that yet?).
Frustrated, I started looking at this new Sony. What attracted me was the "dual phase detect autofocus". That's a new approach! It has a phase detect chip like all the other DSLRs but also a second one right on the imaging sensor. The problem is that Sony and all the write-ups on this camera talk about how this benefits video capture but talk very little about how it affects focusing accuracy for still images. I've done one preliminary test using the LensAlign tool and am working with Reikan to get it to work with their software. So far the results are very encouraging. I seem to be getting much more accurate focus on still images (without any calibration) than I ever got with the D600. I will update this part as I do more testing.
Other things that make this camera awesome: a lot of info in the viewfinder that you will never get in an optical viewfinder. This is the way of the future for sure, but Sony's electronic viewfinder (EVF) only has about 2 million pixels and I can easily see future versions pushing that to about 5 million or more. The noise level and dynamic range will also improve a lot in the coming years. When that happens, I can imagine Nikon/Canon will rethink the optical viewfinder. I personally like the EVF a lot and appreciate the fact that I can see the white balance of my picture as it will actually be captured, I can see the picture I just took right in the viewfinder (great for bright outdoors) and the clarity and realism of what you see through that thing is remarkable. You can also zoom in on what you are focusing on right in the viewfinder which is very helpful. Some have said that what you see through an EVF is not as realistic as an optical viewfinder (OVF). That may be true, but the picture I'm about to take is also not as realistic as what I see in the OVF! So wouldn't you rather "see" in the viewfinder what you will "get" in the final picture? I say yes to that.
Also, this camera has tons of buttons with tons of ways to customize them. You can pretty much have every button do whatever you want and that makes it fast and easy to use. Picture quality is frankly fantastic although I have to defer that discussion to the labs and their special equipment with phD-type people in white lab coats to tell you more.
As for why go with this over the a77? Well why go with this over any APS-C camera? The full format sensor really excels in dark environments. You can push this to ISO 3200 and hardly notice any noise. If I push my Nikon D7000 to even 1600 ISO, it starts looking pretty bad. There are other advantages to full format, of course, but this is the main thing for me. I have played with the a77, and it is very similar in feel and function as the a99, just smaller, lighter and a lot less expensive. Whether the a99 is worth the huge premium depends on your needs and your budget.
Now for what I don't like about the a99: It is slow. When I switch my D7000 from off to on, the top LCD lights up instantly and I can press the shutter and take a picture. Total time is about ½ second. The Sony on the other hand is slower, taking about 1.5 seconds, sometimes 2 seconds. This may not sound like a big difference, but when you are trying to capture a spontaneous moment, a second or two can make ALL the difference. You also don't want to leave the Sony powered on waiting for that "moment" because it sucks battery juice surprisingly fast. I had a 100% full charge and then spent about 1 hour playing with it, going through the menus, taking pictures. Suddenly I noticed the battery was already at 50% full. With the Nikon D600, I played with it for several days and an hour or so per day and it dropped to about 77%. So this camera requires that you get a battery grip or at least one or more extra batteries if you plan to shoot all day or will be away from power for a while. Also, there is an annoying lag between switching from the EVF and the LCD display. When you take your eye off the viewfinder it switches automatically to the LCD and then switches back when it detects your eye in the viewfinder. But that switch takes about 1 whole second and can be pretty annoying. I guess for a flagship pro-grade camera, the switch from off to on and from LCD to viewfinder should have been close to instant.
Other things I don't like: no built in flash. No I don't want to walk around all day with another 2 pound brick external flash sitting on the camera for the few pictures that need some fill flash. I really think Sony could have splurged and put one in. Also the big thing with this camera is the video - with the dual phase detectors, the camera does indeed focus faster and continually - Nikon/Canon simply can't touch it in this regard. But I was expecting the focus to be much like my Canon camcorder: smooth, continuous focus. This Sony does not focus smoothly at all; however, it does focus very quickly and precisely. Think of how it focuses when you take a still image, now imagine that's how it will focus on your video subject: sharp, robotic, instant and not very pleasing from a cinematography standpoint. It is still leaps and bounds better than the current contrast detection methods out there, but this will not be replacing my camcorder any time soon.
Once I do more testing on the dual phase detection autofocus, I will update this review. If it passes as I expect it to, then goodbye Nikon...hello Sony! Hope you found this review helpful.
I ran about 100 test shots today at various focal lengths using the Sony 24-70 lens and then had them analyzed by Reikan's FoCal software. At 24mm, the best focus was found at an AF fine tune setting of -2. At 70mm the best was at +4. Wow! This is actually pretty darned great. See uploaded image. When I tested the Nikon D600 using the Nikon 24-70 lens, it was also -2 @24mm but -17 @70mm. That's a huge difference. When I tested the Nikon D7000 using an equivalent 17-50mm Sigma lens, it was -8 @ 17mm and -24 @50mm (beyond the AF settings). So the Sony smashes it out of the park in comparison. I will continue to run some more tests, but the a99's dual-focusing system seems to be the real deal.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This is an impressive, yet interesting, camera from Sony. I had my very first digital camera from Sony many years back, but I tried Canon DSLR for a couple of years, and then I settled for Nikon DSLRs. Sony has some innovative technology that no other camera companies have incorporated in their systems yet (including Cannon and Nikon). Just like the cell phones evolved from flip phones and PDAs to iPhones and Android phones, this Sony A99 might be the trigger to more innovative DSLR or DSLT cameras, and who knows if it changes pro camera systems and environment forever like the iPhone did many years ago. This camera certainly is new to its kind and offers many innovative features.
First, this is a 24 megapixel full frame sensor camera. I learned that the number doesn't matter, but the sensor size does. And this A99 can directly compete with Canon's 5D mark II and III and Nikon's D600 and D800 because of the amazing image quality. I don't know who makes Canon's full frame sensors, but I believe it's known that Sony makes Nikon's D600 and D800 sensors. And the amazing details from that full frame sensor is just unbelievable. Owing two Nikon D800 bodies, I was able to compare the image quality on the both using Minolta's standard 50mm and Sony 24 -70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T Zoom Lens for Sony Alpha Digital SLR Cameras, A99 and D800; it was a tie and both were tack sharp. I was especially impressed with the 24-70mm lens. It is one of the best lenses in the range and very sharp, fast, and quiet. It might be priced a bit higher and heavier in weight than Nikon's 24-70mm, but this lens is equally super quality compared to other lenses on the market. I remember I was blown away by my friend's Leaf back and how many details medium format sensor can catch. 35mm sensor is still a long way, but what A99 FF sensor can do is still amazing compared to APS-C. The benefit of full frame sensor is the ability of shooting in low light condition. I usually don't go over ISO 3200 with my D800, and I found ISO 6400 was doable (for professional use) on A99.
Next, dual auto focusing is worth mention. This A99 is the only camera with this unique dual auto focusing system on the market right now. There are two different auto focusing system inside of this body that are working and helping each other, and it can focus 100% of the time. In my test, A99 focused better than my D800 (speaking of auto focusing, my D800 is in repair shop for the second time due to the famous `left focus issue'). One particular feature I liked is the `peaking' . The `peaking' is one of the A99's AF feature that shows where the focus spot (sharp spot) is in the image by displaying highlighting(somewhat glowing looking) in the area through the electric viewfinder or the back screen with live view. And again, this will be really useful for many different types of photography. It's just wonderful to see this kind of new technology in a pro digital camera system. And also, this `peaking' feature works with a movie shooting, and it's great to see where it is focusing on the back screen or viewfinder easily.
Video shooting is another strong feature of this camera as well. Unlike its competitors, this A99 has a built in 2 channel audio recording, and the quality is generally (not too significantly better than my other DSLR built in microphone) better. Also, this camera offers AVCHD recording as well as MP4 (.H264) recording. I am not a video pro, but I enjoy video shooting with my cameras as high quality as possible because that way I can have more room to edit. I know AVCHD is better when dealing with `editing' in post production. One more great aspect of video shooting with this camera is the `in camera' stabilization. As far as I know, Sony has been making high end broadcasting and filming equipment, and I dare assume that the in camera stabilization came from the same root. What is good about this system is that I can use any lens that I can mount to take advantage of the stabilization. And it worked just great, and I really loved when I tried with my Minolta's standard 50mm lens.
Electronic viewfinder is new and something I've never seen in any other camera system yet. I experienced both pro and con, but I do see this has a potential for some kind of new photographic technology. It might take some time to get used to this viewfinder for some, but my eyes got comfortable quickly looking through. Nice thing was that it showed exposure level very clearly 100% of the time. I could see what I get. The bad part was that sometimes I wasn't clear if the focused area was sharp or not. However, I have to admit that this electronic viewfinder is very close to mechanical one and the best on the market. Again, there are pros and cons about everything, and I think, this new tech could benefit the photo system in the future.
Articulating LCD screen might not be the newest technology, but it is convenient to have it in the system. I was able to see the liveview on the LCD screen while putting up the camera way on top of the monopod I was holding high. It was wonderfully convenient to shoot really high angle with a monopod. It could have been more wonderful if I had a remote control which only cost $30(http://www.amazon.com/Sony-RMTDSLR2-Wireless-Remote-Alpha/dp/B0097DFRMC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368619665&sr=8-1&keywords=sony+a99+remote), instead using a self timer. Also, using the articulating back screen on a various angle was not inconvenient. The articulating part was designed smart with the LCD screen, so it doesn't look different from other DSLRs. I also see this will be beneficial for video shooting if not using bulky eyepiece.
Built in GPS. This is nice little addition without costing extra. This is something useful for landscape or street photographer. Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver for Canon EOS 5D Mark III Digital SLR Camera for 5DM3 is near 300 bucks. Geotagger N3-a GPS Unit for Nikon Camera D800, D800e, D4, D3-series, D700, D300-series, D2x, D2xs, D2hs and D200 for D800 is about same as well. There are some cheap versions available, but I'd like to say savings is savings.
One downside to this camera that I'm not fond of is about panning technique and the electric viewfinder. With a traditional DSLR, I have the line of sight in the view finder whenever the mirror is in down position; I can do panning where the player (i.e., soccer player) is going, but with this camera it's showing me the picture I just took in the viewfinder click after click, so it's little hard to pan smoothly. If I am a full time sports photographer, this would be tricky to use and it might take some time to get used to this. Besides this, minor cons like slow starting and fast battery discharge are easily adaptable with an extra battery or two.
Operating this camera is no different from my D800. What I did first before the first shooting was reading the manual while charging the brand new battery fully. The manual book is quite simple and thin compare to D800's, and it's always better to do more research on my own. How quickly and easily one can operate the camera completely depends on how well one can get used to the buttons and positions. Once I know where all the buttons are and do, I can shoot comfortable without looking at the back/front of the body. I remember I practiced and practiced in the dark with my eyes closed to get comfortable loading a roll of film in a dark room. The practices paid off on the first day of my photo lab day.
Overall, Sony might have started late, but this A99 is certainly a stronger competitor on the rise to Nikon and Canon. Features like full frame sensor, electric viewfinder, single lens translucent technology, in body stabilization, dual AF, and built in GPS are another reasons for stronger performances of new player. I see macro photographers will benefit from no mirror vibration (because mirror is not flipping inside) and videographers will benefit electric viewfinder, in body stabilization and better focusing. I was a strong believer of Nikon and Canon cameras, but not anymore. Beside my recent disappointment with the auto focusing issues with my D800, I haven't seen many innovations since D700 from Nikon. (They make really good and expensive glasses, but they will have to find a way-out for the innovation that has remained in the doldrum since D700.) So to me, this camera woke me up and widened my view about brands. I recommend this A99, and I might make complete transition from Nikon.
As I mentioned, there are pros and cons on everything, and this body is no exception. If I were upgrading from APS-C sized sensor, this camera's full frame is a huge beneficial factor with a cleaner and higher quality image (not to mention the capability of low light situation shooting.) Also, it was nice I could customize many buttons the way I wanted, especially the `silent button'.
However, I do see the digital viewfinder (when shooting sports) and competition from Nikon and Canon with their glass and accessory choices as a disadvantage. Also I wish the A99 has more AF points than my D800.
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2012
I have been shooting Minolta and later Sony for more than 15 years. My last cameras were the A900 and Nex7, and now I upgraded to the A99.
At first I was not sure, if I was really going to gain that much by moving from the A900 to the A99. But it turns out that I am super happy I did the upgrade. Here is why:
1) the enhanced Electronic Viewfinder. This feature I find totally amazing. And no other camera vendor has this on a FF camera. It will change the way you take pictures, because
- you can see the result of your exposure settings before you shoot. No re-taking pictures for better exposure any more.
- Depth-of-field preview button now doesn't give the typical dark image at closed apertures, because the EVF compensates, and you can beautifully judge the DOF effect.
- And in contrast to previous incarnations of the EVF, you can now use it in the studio. You can set it to give visible brightness views even at your flash settings in manual mode.
2) better high ISO and DR.
- the noise is improved by about 2 stops over the A900. DR is much better, too.
3) video capabilities.
- I have not tried them much, but I can see no more rolling shutter effect. Just great.
4) enhanced AF system.
- definitely faster than and more accurate than on the A900.
Honestly, I have worked a long time with my A900, and I also now tried the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D III, but I find this A99 a gamechanger. Especially with its EVF, I find the shooting experience so much superior to any conventional DSLR. I am glad I bought the A99.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2013
I got the a99 and spent about 35 hours shooting in 20-30F degree weather all weekend long. As a street fashion photographer it is customary for me to carry around a camera in my hand for 6-10 hours a day, so my review will be based with these conditions in mind (heavy and continuous use) and in direct comparison the Sony crop sensor that I had been using for the past year, the a65.
A lot of people have expressed how light the camera body of the a99 is for a full frame. On my a65 I shot primarily with a Minolta 58 f/1.2 (all metal, heavy) lens and the 16-105mm (also heavy). With the a99 I acquired a Zeiss 85 f/1.4. In my opinion this combination is noticeably heavier, but it does not feel "substantially" heavier. Weight in terms of grams and pounds aside, The question boils down to this: How difficult is it to carry this around all day? The answer: It wasn't that bad! I'm 6'2" and 190lbs so perhaps because of my build it's not a problem. I can imagine people of slight build finding the a99 with a pro lens a bit cumbersome, but I believe the Sony/Zeiss is supposed to be lighter than the Canon Mark/85 f/1.2 combo. With that in mind, the a99 body is no problem at all.
*Quick tangent: In terms of arm fatigue, the a99/Zeiss combo did not give me problems as the a65/Minolta does in less time. I think this has to do with weight distribution being more equal from end-to-end (with the a65, all of the weight is in the lens, so the pull is a different direction). With this in mind I would imagine that if I used the Zeiss 135 with the a99, I might experience that sort of fatigue if I had to carry it for hours.
In terms of feel, it sort of reminds me of a Nikon for some reason (button layout notwithstanding). The weather-sealed body is sleek and assurred compared to the a65, but curiously enough, the a65 feels more secure in my hand. It may be because the grip area is slightly smaller, but on the other hand, the a55 was too small for my hands. I spent the weekend carrying the a99 with knitted gloves, and while I never had any slippage issues, I just had the impression that I had to stay mindful of holding it occasionally. The a65 always felt like an extension of my hand; I never, ever had fears that it could slip. The grip on the a99 may be just a tad too smooth IMO.
If the grip surface had me scratching my head a little, the mechanics of shooting pictures with the a99 certainly did not! Yes, it's a few ticks slower than the a57/a65/a77 family, but that's to be expected with a full frame. What's important is the confidence has in taking the shot, and in this regard the a99 is much better than the crop sensors. Now this might have been an issue because I was wearing gloves, but while walking around with the camera in my hand, my thumb kept tapping the AF/MF button, which was a pain. Since the the camea is a battery hog, I like to power save, and I do this in part by leaving the AF off while I walk. It was annoying then when my Zeiss would suddenly start hunting because I accidentally engaged it. Getting used to the physical pro layout of the buttons was a bit of a learning curve (I often change settings by memory without looking at the buttons), but I'm sure I'll have it down in a month's time, so no issues there. One thing that I miss though is the white balance shortcut from the a65. On the a99 there's a dedicated WB button, but whenever I engage the menu it reverts back to the top of the selection. For those of you who like to quickly (hit the right button, then down to engage the WB custom gradient), it's curiously missing here. Just a small gripe. The a99 compensates for this by adding 3 white balance memory banks. Finally, the much-coveted 3rd dial on the front of the camera is brilliant. You can set it to focus mode, ISO, exposure and more. I spent the weekend shooting in M mode with my top dial set to shutter, rear dial for aperture and front dial for ISO or exposure (when in auto ISO mode). The ISO button itself is conveniently placed next to the top dial, so theoretically you can simultaneously control shutter/aperture/exposure with ISO just a press away. No other camera give you that sort of full control. Paired with the EVF, this feature will make you the fastest setup photographer around, without question.
I'm primarily a manual focus shooter and I'm pretty fast with it. The AF system on the a99 is very, very assured. Everyone says that the Zeiss 85 (and 85s in general) are slow to the target. In terms of speed I had no issues. But I think my lens has a front-focusing problem, and I didn't have time to micro-adjust it as of the time of this review. That said, when I needed to raise up my camera and shoot someone (say, running across the street) in a pinch, the AF system on the a99 was definitely faster and more accurate than what I've experienced with the a65 by at least 40%. My conclusion: you may need to calibrate, but with a little bit of tinkering it will give you what you want.
I haven't used the Quick Navi, but I find the a99 to be less intuitive than the a65. Sure there are way more features, but when I picked up the a65 for the first time, it was my first camera, and the learning curve wasn't challenging at all. I've decided that my gripe with navigating the a99 lies primarily in the fact that you can't 'subfolder' the options. (Maybe you can and I don't know that this feature exists). It sucks having to wheel through FOUR camera menus and SIX customize menus and two more main menus just to get to the friggin memory card options. I would like there to be collapsable windows, if this makes sense, so I can get from memory card to Camera Options in one jump, as opposed to wheeling through every set of options in between them.
IMAGE QUALITY FOR PEOPLE WHO EDIT WITH LIGTHROOM/PHOTOSHOP/ETC..
Lots of reviews for cameras centre around who images are straight out of the camera, but for pro shooters and people who do a lot of post editing on photos the information can sometimes be misleading, especially when what matters to you is the end image (post, not just out of the camera). While noise ratings can be extremely helpful, there are less talked about things like tonal balance and dynamic range that matter just as much and always get completely glossed over. With the a65, to get an image of a subject to render with great depth, contrast and clarity, I'd often have to chain edit through Lightroom, Photoshop and the RAW editor in Adobe Bridge. To put it plainly, the images produced on the a99 (with appropriate glass) is so beautiful straight out of the camera, I felt it a disservice to edit them so thoroughly. Out of the camera (I only shoot in RAW) I only needed to apply a tiny amount of noise reduction, barely tweak the RGB balance and light profile. No Photoshop layers, no multiple passes of noise reduction. In fact, the a99 with Zeiss glass produced the finest straight out of the camera images I've seen since the Canon Mark/85 1.2 combination. The images simply have no faults, and I was about 300% more efficient in the amount of time it took me to edit the photos I took. ***Note to Editors: this is especially brilliant for those of you who like to create actions to quicken your workflow. With great consistency in the quality of the images produced, it makes it easier to creat and apply universal actions. Crop sensors in general can be all over the place, but using the a99 is like using sturdier reigns on your horse. It's fantastic.
Let me just put this into practical terms for everyone who doesn't understand the whole (2 f-stops better) language: When using a program like Adobe Lightroom, to clean up noise on an image that I took at 800 ISO with the a65, I'd have to set the noise reduction to about +40 to have the image render reasonably (but not absolutely) clean. For the same image taken with the a99, I can get a perfectly clean image by setting the noise reduction to +15. That's the difference.
By request on another review thread here, I did comparitive tests filming some subjects for a job I was commissioned for on both the a99 and a65. Aside from speed, this is the only area when my a65 really kicked the a99s tail. The caveat here is that I engaged filming straight from Manual mode (as opposed to going to filming mode), but in all instances (about 6 subjects, spanning from 10am til about 3p), the a99 automatically overexposed my subjects by 1-2 full steps. The a65 is tac sharp at 60 frames per second. Some people have complained that the video on the a99 isn't sharp, but I have a slightly different take. It's not that the video isn't sharp per se, it's more like... just mushy. If you have the a65 or a77, you know how the JPEGs come out muddy, cakey, like the NR/sharpness ration is dialed way to the left? That's what the a99 video looks like. How UNACCEPTABLE is that? Well, as someone who probably uses his camera to video 1 to 5% of the time, its not that big of a deal, and yet... it bothered me. Sony is supposed to be the king of video, and the rest of the alpha lineup (especially the crops) are, IMO, knockout good with video. I just paid $3 grand for a camera that does not take substantially better video than an iphone 5. how UNACCEPTABLE is that? Well, put it this way: if your main focus is still photography and you want to occasionally film stuff to put on Youtube, for that particular medium there are no issues. It won't look any better or worse than whatever on there you'd deem as "acceptable". I would absolutely not use the a99 to film something with the purpose of it going to a big screen or HDTV. On the plus side, the microphone is indeed superb as Tim Naff mentioned. I didn't use an external mic for my subjects on the streets of New York and every one of them came through clearly with little ambient interference. That was a major surprise.
Forgot to mention this in my original post. As a manual focus shooter using the viewfinder 70% of the time, I could consistently get between 750 - 850 RAW images out of the a65, or rather, about 100 shots more than the capacity of a 16GB memory card. I haven't shot to exhaustion on the a99 yet, but under the same conditions (manual focus, EVF 70% of the time) I took about 500 shots on one of the days and showed just under 30% battery life. I personally would not use a grip because of the added bulkiness but I gotta say, not even owing one seems like it's on the verge of an idiotic move. I could not imagine going fully auto for a day of shooting without a grip; you'd easily spend 3 batteries on 1200 measly frames. In a vertical grip or in your bag, you will be carrying extra batteries.
With Fashion Week looming, I feel as though I'm entering the pit with a superior device compared to the other full frames out there. Does it take better video than Canon? No. Is it better than a Nikon with noise? Not quite, but it's very close! You choose the a99 because the 3 wheels in conjunction with the EVF give you uprecidented control over your shot composition, and at the end of the day, that's what a photographer needs, whether they know it or not--the ability to set up, finely tune and compose a shot with nothing to chance is an experience that really does no justice in writing. It feels like using a medium formar almost, except with more speed and ease. As a camera and not a video device, I've finally acquired a camera that gives me precisely what I want, and that's something I've never been able to say about anything else I've owned.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2013
Some of the best features of the Sony A99 include: 1) the shooting modes like panorama, HDR Paint, Handheld Twilight and the excellent focus system. 2)This camera has replaced a Nikon D800 that was plagued with focus issues. Less than 50% of the shots with the D800 were in sharp focus. With the A99, the sharp photo rate is over 95% with the same shooters. The focus system is fast and accurate and must be experienced. 3) Although expensive the Zeiss lenses for this camera, the 24-70mm and 85mm are exceptional performers. The bokeh is smooth and among the best examples. Zeiss lenses contrast and color are in a league of their own, rendering almost 3D images. 4)Perhaps partly due to the lenses but more likely the camera firmware, the colors are more interesting and vibrant than what I experienced with the later Nikon cameras, D800 & D600. Older Nikon cameras, like my D2X and D300s seemed to produce better color, especially where green dominated the scene, such as forest shots in Summer. The Sony has no issues here.
What are the cons? 1) battery life is much less than the Nikon D800, providing only about 1/2 the shots I experienced before. This is easily cured with a spare battery or the optional (or included in the bundle deal) vertical grip that holds two additional batteries. 2) Slightly (.5-.75 stop) more noise than the Nikon D600. This is also easily cured with handheld twilight mode for static subjects. Handheld twilight, which shoots up to 6 shots in under a second, merges multiple shots to reduce noise by about 3 full stops and at that point has much less noise than a D600 at the same ISO. No need for a tripod as the camera merges the images flawlessly even if the camera moves slightly between shots. 3) Slightly slower startup time than the Nikons.
After shooting Nikon cameras for nearly 40 years, the D800 (focus issues) and D600 (dust and oil on sensor) experiences forced me to take a gamble and switch to Sony. Had Nikon been forthcoming with admissions/fixes, I would have never made the change. Now that I have, I am glad I did so and have added a RX 1 and RX100. If the upcoming NEX 7 has the incredible dual PDAF/CDAF system like the A99, I will be adding it to the collection. By the way, the Zeiss lenses on the RX100 are just as incredible as the full frame lenses.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Sony is unique in their offering of a translucent pellicle mirror camera in today's market. Yes, Canon had one a long time ago, but the technology wasn't ready for it back in the day. With current digital sensors that are begging for live view, the pellicle mirror has made its comeback.
A traditional SLR has a reflex mirror, that has to move out of the way of the film (well image sensor now) so it can expose the image. This is known as the blackout time, the viewfinder is totally blocked out, and so are the AF sensors, they use the same reflex mirror to see what to focus on. The mirror returns to position, and then the camera can resume focusing. So what is special about the T in SLT? It allows the camera to focus and be taking photos and video at the same time.
So in theory, the SLT should be able to perform better focusing for sports, action, and video since the mirror never moves. The focus sensors can keep tracking the subject while the image sensor is being exposed and the sensor can even be shooting video while maintaining full autofocus capability. An SLR has to flip the mirror out and go to live view, where it loses use of its best focus sensors.
The question is, does it really work as well in practice as in theory? Yes and No.
This con has been said over and over again in every review, but it needs stating again here. The sensor array is too tight in the center. There are 3 zones, left, right and center, and if you divide the sensor into 9 rectangles for rule of thirds, almost all the sensors are inside the center rectangle. This is too small if you focus out at the third points.
That aside, there is a lot to like about the autofocus. Since it is using live view technology, it can blend features like face detection into its choice of AF points, the camera attempts to use a focus point where the face is located over some of the others. This is huge in preventing accidental focus on the background as is prevalent with many cameras. The only thing to keep in mind is you have to make sure there is a focus point located in the face box drawn in the viewfinder/on the screen.
Focus for moving subjects is good in some focus modes. I found AF-A a bit slow, but putting it in AF-D with my 24-70 made it really quick and fast locking. Also, using just a single point helped as well, like center point only. Focus will be perfect for my event shooting. I will use the AF-A mode most of the time, and will register in the bride's face so the camera knows to give focus preference to her.
A focus quirk is there is no contrast-detect mode available (I know, on a live view only camera!), but you can work around this by setting a manual focus point anywhere on the sensor and zooming into it to set focus with high precision.
Please, if you don't like EVF cameras don't look at this camera or at least give it a chance. I like EVF better than OVF in 90% of the time. I like the what you see is what you get aspect. The viewfinder is on almost instantly (slight delay), and is very large and clear. The only issue I had with it is the image is a bit darker exposed than what you take.
Also, I really don't like instant review images showing in my viewfinder. I disabled that functions so I wasn't getting a still image popping up in my finder after every shot. I prefer to always have a live view from the viewfinder. Doing this makes the camera 50% more usable to me. I do this in all my EVF cameras.
It is easy to see if the camera is focused or not using the viewfinder, a treat that I don't get with OVF, and to make matters better I can also use focus peaking, zoom to focus, etc through the viewfinder.
Even in extreme darkness there is very little lag, darker conditions than I would care to shoot. You do get extreme mottling (noise) since the sensor gains up so much to create a reasonably quick refresh rate.
Lens Selection 8/10:
There are plenty of good lenses. I will shoot the 24-70 and 70-200 for weddings, and both lenses are plenty good for that task. IS is built into the body so that is a huge plus if you shoot a variety of older lenses or primes which don't traditionally have IS.
Battery Life 7/10:
I got 700 shots and still had 20% left, but this was doing a lot of bursts and continuous shooting. I shot mostly view finder and did little reviewing of images. I plan to use a grip for weddings/events which will give me 3 batteries and I figure that will be plenty for a day of shooting, but will carry maybe 5 batteries total. From my D7000 where I could shoot 1500 shots on a charge this is a large departure, but don't think it is that far off from what a 5DIII will do.
Flash Performance 7/10:
Unfortunately the HVL-f60m overheats quickly, so be sure to have a spare or be sure not to shoot a lot of shots back to back. This could be an issue for event shooters, and I will update after my first wedding with the camera.
Nearly every button can be programmed or tweaked to your liking. I love the multi-function soft touch dial on the front for video use. The grip is one of the better SLR cameras I have used. I reprogrammed AEL to be AF and AF/MF to be the manual focus assist, as I prefer the placement of the AEL button for AF function. The locking mode dial is a nice touch to prevent accidental changing, I just wish the command dials on the right had an easy way to disable them as well. The articulated screen is a really nice feature, especially for video users, and you still get full focus capability using the rear monitor vs the viewfinder (this is different if you are used to SLR which is live view only on the rear screen). Build quality is superb, it feels right up there with my D700 or 5D series cameras.
Image Quality 10/10:
Sure the pellicle mirror takes some light (about 25-30%) which is 1/2 stop, but being a full frame and already one of the best full frame sensors on the market, the image quality remains at a very high level. Sure it might not score as high in some benchmarks as other full frame cameras, don't let this fool you: it is an extremely capable camera. I don't feel at all inadequate next to my friends shooting D800 or 5DIII. They are both great cameras too, but this camera definitely deserves your look when shopping professional level camera.
The bottom line is I received this camera as a review tool, and am selling all my Nikon gear to keep using this camera. I purchased a Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8, which is an amazing lens, and will get a 70-200mm f/2.8 before my next shoot. Shooting a group of skateboarders the other day and I felt the focus was up to the task, the RAW performance is good (but could be a bit better), and loved how the camera performed. It really is a world class tool that has its own strengths and weaknesses next to the competition, but it definitely stands on its own merits.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2012
I've done two jobs with my Sony a99 and the camera has already paid for itself. It's a wonderful imaging machine. Mine works flawlessly, the EVF is as close to an optical viewfinder as you can imagine and the extras on the camera are features you can't find in the Nikon or Canon camp. For me the biggest feature (behind the wonderful full frame, low noise sensor) is the EVF. It's so great to be able to see in advance exactly what the camera is seeing, with the addition of creative settings, white balance settings, etc. already factored in. I have been a professional photographer for 25 years and I've been through the arc, from 4x5 view cameras being the standard, through medium format film and finally through the last ten years of digital. I've seen a lot of progress and, in my opinion, the Sony a99 is the next step down the line of imaging evolution.
With an 85mm 1.4 Zeiss on the front the camera might just be the ultimate portrait camera.
My likes: a very flexible, two memory card system. Great video performance. Wonderful images at ISOs right up to 6400. A range of autofocus Carl Zeiss lenses.
My dislikes: I wish there were a couple of slower, cheaper prime lenses for everyday use. I'd love a 35mm 1.8 that's full frame.
About the price: five years ago most of the professional photographers I know would have dropped $8,000 in a second on this kind of performance. That you can buy this bundle of advanced capabilities for around $2800 is astounding. And a great bargain.
If you can't make great photos and videos with this machine then you need to take some classes because it absolutely delivers.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on November 5, 2012
The image quality from this camera is stunning. It's great to be able to crank the ISOs up so high, and still (after shooting RAW and processing my images in Lightroom 4.2) get clean, colourful images. There's a good amount of head-room in the RAW files, to pull detail out of highlights, such as revealing clouds in an overexposed sky. And I like having high enough resolution to crop and straighten images as needed.
The camera itself is reasonably light weight for a full frame camera. Pairing it with the Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8 turns it into a big, heavy overall kit, but the weight comes from the lens. Put a smaller prime on the a99 and you've got a very portable camera.
Mixed thoughts on the focusing: I love the speed and accuracy of the AF, it snaps things into focus even in low light. The focus peaking function (highlighting areas in focus during manual focus) and image enlargement while focusing both help nail manual focus. Having the focus limiter for AF built-into the camera instead of the lens is also a brilliant idea. Instead of just a few choices on a switch on the lens, you can dial-in the near and far limits for the AF, so no more hunting or focusing on background trees or foreground windows or cages you're shooting through. The downside of the AF is that all of the AF points are in the center of the frame -- if you turn on the "rule of thirds" display they are all in the middle square -- so you can't expect it to track faces into other parts of the image, or even set an AF point where a person's face is likely to appear. This is a result of an APS-C sized AF array being used, even though this is a full frame camera. You have to do an old-fashioned process of aiming-at-the face, then AF-ing on the center point, then tilting the camera into your final composition to take the shot, then repeating that process. Sometimes it's easier to just frame the shot wider so that someone's eyes are on an AF point, then crop the extra ceiling or sky out of the shot in Lightroom, since you have enough resolution captured to crop heavily.
I love having a pivoting rear-LCD, although I have mixed thoughts here as well. It's great that you get full AF functionality even in live view, so you can use it whenever you want to take pictures with the camera down under you, or up over your head. The pivoting LCD works well when shooting in landscape orientation, whether the camera is above you or below you. When the camera is turned into portrait orientation, the pivoting LCD becomes unruly. Sometimes the picture will appear upside-down, and the complexity of the multi-axis articulation can slow you down with complex twists, where sometimes you can turn things around one way but not another. I wish the LCD pivoted off the side like a regular camcorder style LCD, which would be much more flexible, intuitive, and useful to me.
The viewfinder is great. It always works, even when shooting video (other SLRs go black in the viewfinder during video recording), and you can use it to review shots while out in the sun, showing much more of what you just shot than an LCD could when there's screen glare. When shooting stills, the data overlays (histogram, fluid level, focus peaking, etc.) are an awesome plus. It would be hard to go back to an old-fashioned optical VF after getting used to this.
The camera buttons and dials are customizable in many ways. The silent dial on the front can be programmed to many functions, and would be great to adjust audio levels or other things while shooting video, or as an extra control for ISO or something else you want to tweak while shooting. The on-screen functions aren't customizable (as far as I can tell so far), so when you press the Fn button, the icons you see around the edge of the frame are always there, including gimmicks like smile detection and "artistic" modes that would only affect your footage if you were shooting JPEG images. If we could clean up those icons and get them down to the ones we really used, I would probably only need half of them.
Overall the a99 is a great camera if you want/need the image quality that comes from a new full frame sensor. If you don't have that need, an a77 is much faster, much cheaper, can use more compact lenses, and might be a smarter bet for some people.