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Low Noise and Some Undiscovered Magic but Mediocre Video,
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This review is from: Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Full-Frame SLR Digital Camera with 3-Inch LED - Body Only (Black) (Electronics)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 156 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 12, 2012 8:31:29 AM PST
Thanks, this is by far the best review I've read on this camera anywhere, and I've been looking. I three questions:
1. Are you serious? There's no ISO indicator on the top LCD? Isn't this like, 33% of the reason why you want the display to begin with?
2. I've had an a65 for a year now, my first and only Sony, and while I've toyed with the shot preview function, I don't quite understand why it's so useful. Sure, the shots look cleaner than in the EVF in most cases, but the entire point of the EVF is the ability to compose in the finder. So it seems like a cool but redundant feature. When do you feel like this feature is critical?
3. you mentioned the eye sensor. I'm assuming you can't turn this off and just have the EVF activated by simply tapping the shutter button, or can you? While we're on the subject of battery conservation tips, you've provided some great tips; if one were to follow all of your saver suggestions, what kind of improvement are we talking? For instance, on my a65 I'ver found that by keeping the LCD closed, turning off my lens's AF and shooting in MF with no flash, I can clear between 650-850 shots (about 100 frames past an 16GB card).
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 12, 2012 5:05:11 PM PST
The preview function, for me, is primarily useful for roughly predicting the DRO effect, especially when I'm in extremely contrasty situations. I do my composing in the normal EVF mode as well.
There is a setting called Finder/LCD (Menu > Gear1). If you set that to Manual and then keep the rear display folded inward, you can turn on the finder manually by touching the button on the top right of the finder. It is the same for the A65 since I just looked it up in Friedman's e-book.
If you follow all those suggestions, you should be able to get close to 900 shots on a single battery. Actually, I set the power-save delay for 20 seconds, not 10. 10 is too annoying for me.
I just read Steve Huff's review of the RX-1. He claims it gives Leica a run for their money. The RX-1 has the same sensor as the A99. I recently acquired a used 135mm 1.8 Zeiss lens, arguably the best overall performing DSLR lens on the market. On the A99 it reminded me of Leica M film cameras (the only time I used a Leica). The pictures have deeper colors and the 3D quality I remember from the Leica. I'm talking WOW factor. In terms of pure IQ, I don't think any DSLR out there can beat that combination. This is simply a killer camera.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 7:20:32 AM PST
Breakin my heart with this news. I was so keen on the Sigma 85. Looks like I have to rethink everything I ever knew.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 2:45:19 PM PST
I also have the Zeiss 85 f/1.4, which, again, I picked up used for $1200 (the 135 set me back $1300). It is also stunning and perhaps better suited for portraiture than the 135. I do wish there were a 35mm Zeiss option. The 35mm Sony G gets mixed reviews, and I'm planning to stay away from it. I've heard that Zeiss is coming out with a 50mm lens for Sony. Hopefully it will have a lower price tag, even if it's f/1.4. Sony-Zeiss may not do a 35mm, since the G lens is already there, and Sony wouldn't want to call their baby ugly. Of course an RX-1 is a 35mm Zeiss option; it isn't much bigger than a DSLR lens (although the price sure is).
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 3:37:46 PM PST
Last question: what do you mean when you say 'better suited'? In most of the forums debating those two lenses, I've drawn the conclusion that most people who have the 85 love it, but almost everyone who has both prefers the 135. If the 85 is indeed better suited for portraiture, what is the 135's strength over it, aside from the technical improvements on CA and fringe control?
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 13, 2012 4:29:31 PM PST
First, 85 is typically, but not always, a better focal length for portraits; you don't need as much separation (although you always want at least 5.5 feet if you want to flatter your subject). Second, one of the 135's superlatives is incredible sharpness -- the 85 is very sharp, but I'd think it would be a bit gentler on complexions. Of course the 85 is f/1.4, but the 135 will be more than adequate for throwing the background out of focus. They both have creamy bokeh. The guy I bought the 85 from was using it for studio work. Also, since you were considering the Sigma, I thought you might be looking for an 85 rather than a 135. If I could only have one, I'd probably choose the 135. It's the one that really knocked my socks off. Both lenses are noisy when they focus. Both are built like tanks, and are heavy, with the 135 being the heaviest. My walk-around lens is the 24-70 f/2.8Z, and it's a world-class zoom, but these are world-class primes, and they perform accordingly. I also have the 24 F2Z, but I haven't put in enough time with it yet to pass judgement.
Posted on Dec 15, 2012 4:22:51 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 15, 2012 4:23:32 PM PST
D. F. Watt says:
Very fine review - the deepest penetration into the camera by anyone. Agree that the front dial adds some remarkable functionality, and really wish the A65 had it. Curious if DP Reviews will even get close to seeing all the potentials of the A99 as you have dug them out here.
Very fine job.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2012 7:42:41 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 15, 2012 9:17:27 PM PST
When the third dial thing hit me, I was in aperture priority mode. I started twirling the third dial. What to my wondering eyes should appear but a rapidly changing shutter speed! Of course, it was compensating for the ISO, and the image in the EVF was holding constant. That's what makes it so cool. But note, in a two dial system you could do a similar thing in manual mode with the ISO set to auto. You twirl either the first or second dial adjusting SS or aperture, and the image in the EVF holds constant while the ISO compensates. The catch is that they don't display the ISO until you touch the shutter button. So you can't just watch the ISO change. You have to stop and touch the button. That's behind one of my recommendations. And, of course, in manual mode, you can't use exposure compensation. You're stuck with the camera's choice of ISO and the resulting exposure. So the third dial is very, very cool. In aperture or shutter priority, I think the third dial, combined with the EVF, yields the best rapid photographic control ever achieved.
When I was touring this summer, I found myself again and again in situations where I had to get a shot off quickly. The suggestions in the review were strongly influenced by my experiences while touring. Some of the situations were low light. Some were high contrast. There were tons of opportunities but tons of challenges. The high contrast scenario that I remember most was in the famous ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. The sun was overhead in a clear sky. The ruins were bleached white and glaring in the sun, but in the same scene there were deep shadows within many of the structures -- a digital camera's worst nightmare. That was when I started using a memory preset for auto HDR. It could absolutely handle those lighting extremes. I remember, in Croatia, walking out of harsh sun into the very dim light in Diocletian's palace. The multi-frame noise reduction just kicked butt in that circumstance, and it was time to give a memory preset to MFNR. Remember, you can do all this with your A65. I was using an A77 with your 16-50 lens. Could an A99 have done better? Absolutely. But the special features of the A77 typically carried the day for me. This is what I love about what Sony is doing. They have come out of nowhere, and they are making digital photography better. They took another step forward with the A99. Unfortunately, the corresponding step-up in price is a steep one. And I'm not going to stop agitating about failing to provide the output of autoHDR, MFNR, auto lens correction, etc. in a lossless format like TIFF. One more time: "Sony giveth and Sony taketh away." Blessed be the name of Sony? I don't think so. (Come on guys, aren't you tired of reading this?)
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 9:13:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 17, 2012 9:27:43 AM PST
M. G. Ross says:
Great review! Your review and the recently posted DPREVIEW pushed me over the edge. I will be ordering the A99 but will also keep my A77.
Your explanation regarding the customization of the Silent Multi-controller is something no other reviewer has covered and I believe that your suggested implementation makes it a game changing feature.
I also agree with your wish list of future modifications, to which I would add the the option of a five (5) EV spread in one (1) EV increments, i.e. (-2,-1,0,+1,+2) , in addition to the current .5 and .7 EV increments when bracketing for HDR work.
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 4:08:08 PM PST
I agree with the idea of a wider EV spread. It has certainly crossed my mind more than once.