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Sony Alpha SLT-A99V Full-Frame SLR Digital Camera with 3-Inch LED - Body Only (Black)
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- 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- SLT design with fixed, semi-transparent mirror
- 19-point AF system with full-time phase-detection AF in video mode
- ISO 100-25600
- 3.0 inch semi-articulated LCD with 1.23m-dots
- 1080p HD video recording
- 6 frames per second continuous shooting with AF
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Discover truly remarkable clarity with Sony's innovative new full frame DSLR that doubles as a world-class filmmaking camera. With the world's first Dual AF system10 and Translucent Mirror technology, you are no longer bound by limitations of the traditional DSLR. This massive leap forward delivers astounding 24MP resolution plus uncompressed, Full HD video recording—all wrapped in an ultra-light, magnesium alloy body.
From the Manufacturer
"The A99 gives very good image quality, particularly so at high ISO sensitivities, placing it among the best performing full frame cameras we've seen to date. And with 24MP resolution, only of the class-leading 36MP Nikon D800 resolves more detail. Dynamic range is equally impressive as well, easily on par with its peers. And the camera's multi-shot HDR mode provides JPEG shooters with an easy way to capture both highlight and shadow detail that exceeds single-shot capability."
"There's a lot to like in the Sony SLT-A99. It's a camera that combines very good image quality with a high degree of camera customization and an ergonomically well-designed control layout. It incorporates all of Sony's recent technology advances in both stills and video performance. A900 users who've patiently waited for an upgrade and are amenable to using an EVF will be hard-pressed to find much fault with the A99, as it represents a significant step forward in just about every respect other than output resolution.
We ourselves, find very little to criticize outside of relatively minor operational concerns and find the A99 well-suited to variety of applications from landscape to studio work. The biggest challenge here for Sony is that its rivals Nikon and Canon have stepped up their already considerable game and now offer lineups of full frame DSLRs targeted specifically at working photojournalists, well-heeled enthusiasts and most recently, budget-conscious shooters. Make no mistake though, Sony does offer features that are entirely unique to the full frame DSLR market such as in-body stabilization that works with all lenses, an articulated screen and superior live view/video AF performance.
We have to applaud Sony's forward-thinking efforts to leverage all of its existing technology - including its high quality OLED EVF - into its flagship model and not be afraid to look beyond the status quo of what a full frame DSLR-style camera should be. Add impressive dynamic range, top-notch low-light performance and impressive video specifications and the Sony A99 comfortably earns our highest honor, the Gold Award." -dpreview.com
Sony’s new flagship α99 surpasses all expectations. By fully leveraging the
potential of Translucent Mirror Technology, the 35mm full-frame format
and Sony’s professional broadcasting technology, it takes a major leap
forward in quality, performance and handling ease. Meet the future of Sony α.
|Full Frame 24 Megapixel resolution .||World’s first Dual AF system.||Full-frame Sensor Camera.|
A whole new world of high-quality images are realized through the 24.3 MP full-frame sensor, a normal sensor range of ISO 100 – 32000, and a sophisticated balance of high resolving power, gradation and low noise.
The 19-point AF system with 11 cross sensors is complimented by a multi-point focal plane phase detection AF sensor with 102 additional AF points. By maximizing the strengths of both sensors, focus precision is vastly improved.
The SLT-A99 is the world’s lightest10 35 mm full-frame interchangeable-lens digital camera. It weighs only 1.63lbs., thanks to features like Translucent Mirror Technology and high-rigidity magnesium alloy panels. It's an added convenience when you're traveling or on a long shoot.
incredible entertainment quality. Explore the full range of features and options below.
|AF Range Control |
Users can set the range of distance from the camera in which subjects can be focused on the AF system. By limiting the AF range, users can prevent unwanted focusing on foreground and background objects. This intelligent function enables reliable performance when photographing sports through wire mesh fences, for example.
Fast continuous shooting speeds
Highly responsive continuous shooting at approximately 6 frames per second (fps) is made possible by Translucent Mirror Technology and an enhanced Tracking Focus function offering more advanced acquisition and tracking performance. The Tele Zoom High Speed shooting mode shoots up to 8 fps at 10 MP while maintaining continuous auto focus and auto exposure.
Newly designed three-way tiltable LCD
The SLT-A99V is the first in the Alpha series to feature WhiteMagic™ technology, which nearly doubles the visibility of the 921k-dot Xtra Fine LCD™ monitor in sunny outdoor conditions. The three-way tilt-able mechanism, highly acclaimed on the A77, is further enhanced for even greater operational ease.
XGA OLED Viewfinder
There’s never been anything quite like the Tru-Finder™ OLED electronic viewfinder. For size, speed and brightness even after sunset, this is a gem. It begins with 2359K dots for amazing resolution and high contrast ratio for incredible depth. OLED reduces motion blur to a bare minimum. You can also see the results of camera adjustments in real time with superb color and detail.
Dual Slot and Media Control Function
The SLT-A99V employs dual media slots. One of the slots supports SD Cards and the other supports both SD Cards and Memory Stick® media. This dual slot system allows for simultaneous recording for backup purposes (with recordings sorted RAW/JPEG file type or still/movie data) as well as copying between media. Moreover it allows movie recording to two media cards simultaneously – a world’s first.
Translucent Mirror Technology
Sony’s proprietary Translucent Mirror Technology simultaneously directs light to the image sensor and AF sensor at all times to realize Full-time Continuous AF that keeps the subject in sharp focus and even during continuous shooting and movie shooting. It also allows the high-precision electronic viewfinder to accurately display the results of camera setting adjustments in real time so the photographer can make sure the results match his or her creative intentions.
Highly rigid body with magnesium alloy outer panels
The highly robust and durable body meets the heavy-duty needs of advanced amateurs. Both the main outer body panels and interior chassis are constructed of lightweight yet rigid magnesium alloy. Moreover, the grip and front cover are structurally unified to achieve extremely high body rigidity.
|Dust and moisture protection |
Outer body and moisture countermeasures include the sealing and treatment of major operational buttons/dials and a convex/concave mating structure that tightly interlocks components. Controls also feature a durable structure that withstands the touch usage of advanced amateurs.
Approximate 200,000 shutter
The newly developed, highly durable and reliable shutter unit has been proven to endure approximately 200,000 shutter releases. This durability ensures long-lasting shooting performance that takes into consideration the large number of photos shot by advanced amateurs.
Meticulously designed body compliments advanced users
While inheriting the popular design concept of the A77, the SLT-A99 enables comfortable photo shooting through meticulously designed features including improved grip thickness that enhances grasping ease, switch and button shapes that are differentiated for easier operation while keeping your eye on the viewfinder, an exposure mode dial lock that prevents unintended turning of the mode dial, etc.
Vertical Grip Capable
The optional VG-C99AM vertical grip designed exclusively for the SLT-A99 can house two batteries, bringing the total number of batteries (including the one in the camera) to three for significantly more hours of shooting (batteries sold separately).
PC Remote Camera Control
Enables users to remotely change various camera settings, switch still/ movie shooting on or off, and automatically transfer still images to enhance the efficiency of the studio photo shooting workflow.
New Multi-Interface Shoe
Unlike conventional cameras, the SLT-A99 also features a newly developed Multi-Interface Shoe that dramatically expands compatibility with Handycam® accessories, thus raising the potential for photo/movie shooting (The included ADP-AMA shoe adapter maintains compatibility with conventional Alpha accessories as well).
New Flash/Video Light
The new optional accessory HVL-F60M flash with video light offers high output, Sony’s original Quick Shift Bounce mechanism, a new video light for movie shooting and improved operational interface.
New Wireless Commander Control
The new optional accessory RMT-DSLR2 Remote Commander® for movie shooting that includes a dedicated movie record button.
|Auto HDR built into camera |
Captures more scene dynamic range than a single exposure can handle—and more range than photo film. Combines the best highlight detail from one shot, the best mid-tones from a second and the best shadow detail from a third for one incredible shot. (Recommended for still subjects.)
Sweep Panorama™ Mode
Capture expansive landscapes automatically. Press the shutter and sweep vertically or horizontally. The camera does the rest, continuously shooting images and stitching them together.
Improves results with backlit subjects and recovers details hidden in shadows. Settings include Auto, Level with a choice of five operating levels and Off.
Control how the camera processes your images with 13 finishing styles: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn leaves, Black & White, Sepia. You can even fine-tune contrast, saturation, and sharpness to your personal taste.
1200-zone Evaluative Metering
Reads exposure directly from the main image sensor. Choice of Multi, Center and Spot metering accommodates a full range of shooting situations.
An integrated GPS receiver records the location and time of every shot you take and lets you view your images on a map with compatible computer and Internet applications, so you can remember where you took your favorite shots.11
Auto Portrait Framing
Simply photograph a person and Auto Portrait Framing will save an additional, optimally framed image in portrait or landscape orientation. Combining Face Detection and By Pixel Super Resolution technologies with rule of thirds, Auto Portrait Framing provides beautifully composed and appealingly balanced full resolution portraits.
Clear Image Zoom
Utilizing Sony’s exclusive By Pixel Super Resolution Technology, Clear Image Zoom increases the effective focal length of your lens up to 2x by digitally magnifying the center of your image with nearly imperceptible degradation that provides greater shooting flexibility.
Get cleaner, more dynamic pictures and fewer missed shots. Unifies and simplifies Sony intelligent technologies, the camera automatically recognizes the correct scene mode, then quickly shoots and combines up to six shots to produce images with greater clarity, optimum dynamic range using Auto HDR technology and lower image noise using three-shot layering technology.
Sony Suggested Accessories
1. Records in up to 29 minutes segments.
2. In meters, IS0 100
3. Requires 3D HDTV, HDMI cable (at least 10.2 Gbps) and active 3D glasses sold sep.
4. Note that at the time of launch the following lenses support AF-D: SAL2470Z, SAL2875, SAL50F14, SAL300F28GII, SAL70400G, SAL50050F4G.
5. Compatible with BRAVIA® Sync or Theatre Sync™ HDTVs connected via HDMI®.
6. Actual performance varies based on settings, environmental conditions, and usage. Battery capacity decreases over time and use.
7. Requires compatible BRAVIA® HDTV and HDMI® cable sold sep.
8. Not used.
9. Files compatible with iMovie® '09 or later on Mac. Software not compatible with Mac OS® X.
10. Among interchangeable-lens digital cameras with a full-frame image sensor (as of September 12, 2012) according to Sony’s internal survey.
11. Map service requires PC with internet. Service provided by Google and subject to change without notice.
© 2012 Sony Electronics Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Sony, BIONZ, BRAVIA, Exmor, InfoLITHIUM, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, Remote Commander, Theatre Sync, Sweep Panorama, Xtra Fine LCD, Tru-Finder and the Sony make.believe logo are trademarks of Sony. AVCHD is a trademark of Panasonic Corporation and Sony Corporation. Microsoft, Windows, and Windows Vista are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation. Mac OS and iMovie are trademarks of Apple Computers, Inc. HDMI is a trademark of HDMI Licensing LLC. All other trademarks are trademarks of their respective owners. Sony is not responsible for typographical and photographic errors. Features and specifications are subject to change without notice. *Logo mentions need to be included if logo shown or listed in copy
Top customer reviews
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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.
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.