Sony Alpha SLT-A99 REVIEW

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 REVIEW

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Sony Alpha SLT-A99 front.jpg

After a run of compact digicams it sure was a change of scenery to grasp this major one for review.

However, I was surprised at how easily I fell into its working modes. Am I getting more camera-wise or is the Alpha SLT-A99 more user-friendly?

I suspect the latter because, when you run your eyes over the exterior control points everything seems to be where you would expect it, clearly labelled and easy to use.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 1.jpg

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 rear.jpg

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 Features

At left on top is the mode dial with selection points for auto exposure, PASM, memory recall, scene selection (portrait, sports, sunset etc), sweep panorama, continuous shooting and movie recording options.

Scene selection.jpg

To the right of the top deck is the power lever, shutter button, exposure compensation, front control dial, exposure compensation, ISO setting, white balance and an LCD display.

Rear: the familiar red movie record button, exposure lock, multi selector lever, Function button, display selector, focus magnifier, menu etc.

Menu.jpg

All of this means, once you’re familiar with the camera’s control layout, you need rarely delve in to the LCD finder menu.

Sure, the camera’s heavy and bulky. It does have, after all, a full frame sensor. With the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar f2.8/24-70mm lens the kit weighed in at 1.8kg. Not your average snapshot camera!

This is of course Sony’s first translucent mirror camera to have a full-frame 35mm CMOS sensor, measuring 35.8×23.8mm.

Fishermen.jpg

If you came in late, here’s a quick rundown of the SLT (Single Lens Translucent) feature: SLT stands for “Single Lens Translucent”, using a translucent mirror that allows roughly two thirds of the incoming light (the photo) to pass directly through it and onto the sensor; at the same time a smaller amount, approximately a third is reflected up to the camera’s phase detection autofocus (AF) sensor.

The mirror does not flip up as in an SLR, but stays in place; this reduces the time to take a photo, and provides fast, full-time phase detection AF.

The benefits include no mirror blackout, so no blackout when the shot is taken and faster shooting speeds … in this case up to 10 fps, depending on frame size (half or full frame).

The negatives include the fact that the finder view is electronic and while, of excellent quality, is comparatively dim and the view quality does not compare with an optical prism finder. Also, there is a light loss to the CMOS, about a third of an f stop.

Windsurfer 1.jpg

Yachts 3.jpg

The body is made from high rigidity magnesium alloy panels. The SLT-A99 is also described as ‘the world’s first DSLR with professional movie recording capabilities’, which neatly puts it up against Canon’s much-acclaimed (by video shooters) EOS 5D Mark III.

The maximum image size is 6000×4000 pixels, or as a 46x34cm print. Movies can be recored as Full HD 1920×1080 pixels in either AVCHD or MPEG 4.

Movie makers will appreciate a new feature that allows silent adjustment of exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and metering methods, shutter speed, aperture and audio record levels during Full HD video capture.

I found that the video system works quite well with AF and auto exposure, monitoring the scene continuously; but you will notice it sometimes fail to track AF correctly. You can’t shoot stills while capturing video.

The auto focus system relies on a 19-point AF system with 11 cross sensors, complemented by a multi-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor. Helping with moving subjects, this is complemented by a 102-point multi-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor that senses subjects crossing the focal plane.

This new AF control helps by allowing users to set the distance range recognised by the AF system and is explained by Sony as the situation where you can focus on distant sports action, even if you shoot through a nearby wire mesh fence.

Out of focus.jpg

In focus.jpg

One feature that caught my eye is the manual focus mode, switchable on the left side (viewable from behind) of the lens barrel. If focus is out, the screen view is of course, out of focus; if in focus the sharp areas of the subject are outlined in a bright colour: the default hue is red. No excuses any more!

Appreciated by stills and video shooters, the LCD screen tilts 140 degrees upward and 180 degrees downward, then rotates 180 degrees clockwise and 90 degrees counter-clockwise. It is the only full frame DSLR with a vari-angle screen.

There are two card slots for either the SD series or the Memory Stick Pro Duo range. You can record the same image on one only or both cards simultaneously. Other options include writing JPEGs to one and RAW images to the other; another is to record stills to one card and movies to the other.

There is no onboard flash but there are still concessions to the less-skilled photographers who may embrace the SLT-A99: picture effect has an arsenal of renderings (toy camera look, pop colour, retro etc); smile shutter; auto portrait framing that crops face shots, saves the latter and the uncropped version.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 ISO Tests

Sony SLT-A99 ISO50.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO200.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO400.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO800.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO1600.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO3200.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO6400.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO12800.jpg

Sony SLT-A99 ISO25600.jpg
All the way up to ISO 12800, the images appeared to be very useable with only a slight increase in noise at the latter level. By ISO 25600 you would expect the house to fall down but, while the presence noise is obviously higher the only objectionable factor to me is a slight loss of sharpness.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 Verdict

Quality: razor sharp, fully saturated colour. Exceptional.

Why you’d buy the Sony Alpha SLT-A99: excellent control layout; full frame quality; high speed continuous shooting; excellent video quality; rugged build; vari-angle LCD; GPS feature; in body stabiliser widens range of lenses.useable

Why you wouldn’t: too heavy.

A top performer from Sony.

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 Specifications

Image Sensor: 24.3 million effective pixels.
Metering: Multi segment, centre-weighted, spot.
Lens Mount: Sony A-mount, Konica-Minolta AF mount.
Exposure Modes: iAuto, Superior Auto, Program AE, shutter and aperture priority, manual.
Effective Sensor Size: 35.8×23.8mm CMOS.
35 SLR Lens Factor: 1x.
Shutter Speed (stills): 30 to 1/8000 second and Bulb. Flash sync: 1/250 sec.
Continuous Shooting: 8 or 10 fps.
Memory: SD/SDHC/SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo cards.
Image Sizes (pixels): Stills: 6000×4000 to 2640×1488.
Movies: 1920×1080 (60, 24fps), 1440×1080 (30 fps), 640×424 (29.97fps).
Viewfinder: Turret electronic plus 7.6cm LCD screen (1,229,000 pixels).
File Formats: JPEG, RAW (Sony ARW), JPEG+RAW, MPEG4, AVCHD.
Colour Space: sRGB, Adobe RGB.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100 to 25,600.
Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI mini, remote.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery, DC input.
Dimensions: 147x111x78 WHDmm.
Weight: 812 g (inc battery).
Price: Get a price on the Sony SLTA99V Alpha SLT-A99 Body Only.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Author Rating
4

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Barrie Smith is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

Some Older Comments

  • Allan Staines August 25, 2013 04:56 pm

    I have an A900 and I recently bought an A99 and found the viewfinder unworkable in bright sunlight. With all shaded areas black in the finder prevented me from selecting a mid grey area to balance the severe contrast. I had to take a picture to find out if my selections worked or not. So much guess work I never have on my A900. You could never do a wedding job with it.
    The photos it produces are excellent. But it's all guess work. I sent the A99 back for a refund in the hope Sony come to their senses and give us a true pro camera with OVF in a future model.
    Allan
    .

  • Scott Kennelly February 22, 2013 01:18 pm

    I like the viewfinder of my A55. I am coming from using a Canon 5 D, a Nikon D5000, a Sony R1, and a Sigma SD14. NONE of those cameras can hold a candle to the Sony A55, and the A65 improves on the A55, so I'm going to get one of those. If I had the money, I would probably get the A99, because it does better in the dark, but frankly, I would probably have the A77 too, because I like the reach that a crop sensor provides. As far as you people who say the viewfinder is not good, think about this . . . when you are shooting, what do you see? You see what your eye sees, not what the photo is going to look like, right? Well, that is . . . unless you're shooting with an EVF. The Sony A99 is the only full-frame digital camera that shows you what your photo will look like BEFORE you shoot. THAT is very important. I get WAY more good exposures now, compared to what I got with my Canon 5 D. Why? No more chimping necessary. No more worries about whether the white balance is set right for the lighting and the colors in the scene. I can actually SEE the scene, as it's going to look in pictures BEFORE the shot. With my Sony A55 there is no waiting until after I have shot, just to see if my shutter speed selection was right. As light chages outdoors, I have to chimp a lot with a regular camera, but not with a Sony SLT. In my opinion, EVF is the best! I can also turn up the gain, so I can see better than what I can see with my own eyes, when shooting at night. You just can't do that with other cameras. I do this often, when I'm composing 10 second shots in the dark. I often shoot night scenes, where the exposures are 10, 15, or even 30 seconds long, and having the ability to accurately compose BEFORE making a long exposure is really nice!

    There are other advantages to these Sony cameras too, such as the built-in GPS. Nikon and Canon make you buy accessories, just to have data that should be included in EVERY photo file. It's absurd that you can get a water-proof, shock-proof, tiny little digital camera with GPS for about $300, but buying a $3,000 Nikon you don't get that simple feature that SHOULD be ubiquitous in high-end cameras today.

  • Marshall Bishop February 8, 2013 04:07 am

    I've been asking around and haven't had a chance to get hands on with the 99 yet. How does the video compare to the 5D3 and D600?

  • Jason January 31, 2013 12:42 am

    Regarding the price complaint above, the A99 is $2499 through Slidoo..that is about $500 cheaper than the 5D3 and D800and only a couple of hundred more than the D600 and 6D. I think it is priced squarely where it needs to be.

  • Matthew Dunlap January 27, 2013 05:50 am

    Yes as far as AF is concerned you are correct ;) no worries.. I just wanted to clarify as some others on the interwebs think of blackout as the actual blacking out of the VF.. which is what it is.. but I get your context :)

  • E January 27, 2013 05:20 am

    Just thought you comment was to the mentioning of blackout in the article.. which as I see it refers to AF blackout. Didn't mean to be a smart ass, just seems I misunderstood your comment ;)

  • Matthew Dunlap January 27, 2013 04:10 am

    Yes I am aware of this. It's called phase detect autofocus and it's thanks to the translucent mirror. Viewfinder blackout is something different and in order not to suffer from viewfinder blackout, the lens gathering the image couldn't be the same as the one providing the image in the viewfinder. I'm essence a camera would need 2 lens to avoid blackout.

  • E January 27, 2013 04:00 am

    @Matthew Dunlap the viewfinder may have blackout, but the AF doesn't not which means it will still be active during exposure (unlike an SLR which can't follow objects and be ready for the next shot while the mirror is up).

  • Brian January 26, 2013 12:15 pm

    A99 is lightest compared to D800 and 5DMKIII

    http://www.cameraegg.org/5d-mark-iii-vs-nikon-d800-vs-sony-a99-specs-comparison/

  • Chris January 25, 2013 06:33 am

    Weight? Too me the camera is a tool and as with most tools, the best are usually the heftier ones. I don't buy a camera based on how it will look hanging around my neck or how I can carry it all day and not even notice it there. Again, it's a tool and I want to know it's there. If you want a durable work horse for a full frame camera it will require rigid materials which have more weight than plastic. Sure Sony could cut the A99's weight nearly in half by adding more plastics but, then everyone would complain how cheap it feels. And of course you'd also lose the reliability factor. The folks who complain about the weight are the same ones who will not carry a tripod because it's too heavy and too hard to use. I prefer some weight to my cameras and tripods. I've been carrying and using the A900 since 2009 with Sony's CZ 16-35, CZ 24-70, G-70-200 lenses without issues. And now I've added the A99v and I'm very happy with it. If the weight is really a big issue to you then stay away from full frame cameras. There are plenty of APS-C's out there which will do nicely, unless you put on any of the f/2.8 or faster lenses, then you're back to the too heavy issue.

    -If your still carrying your camera around your neck I recommend getting a new strap, preferably one of the sling styles similar to the Black Rapid. You'll be amazed how much better you'll feel by moving the weight off your neck.

    -The A99v does have GPS.

  • Palm Beach wedding photographer January 24, 2013 05:12 pm

    Just got 6D and I really liked it, even though, it lacks on features. Sure, A99 specs looks great, but there is something about the way canon renders shadows, highlights and contrast that attracts me to it.

  • Liam January 24, 2013 03:16 am

    Poloniak, the A99 is the same price as the D800 and the 5DF Mk 3. If you want something cheaper, try a bare-bones, no-frills FF body as in the 6D or the D600...or go film.

  • Liam January 24, 2013 03:11 am

    Last I checked there were many lenses with the Sony/Zeiss badge as well as Sigma and Tamron with the A mount. How many do you need anyway? The A99 is much more feature-laden than the 6D, including weather sealing. If you simply want the Canon name, suit yourself.

  • Jens Schwoon January 21, 2013 02:33 am

    Hi guys

    By the way - the Sony is a nice camera. I had a first look at the Photokina last year. But what is always keeping me away from buying a Sony DSLR is the missing lenses, the additional stuff and so on that keeps Canon and Nikon a leading position. The guy on the Sony Booth at the photokina told me that Sony doesn't get into competition when it comes to the 1Dx - Models, but wants to take a piece out of the consumer cake... Compared to the Canon 6D I would personally prefer the Canon Model.

    Best, Jens

  • Powolniak January 20, 2013 03:28 am

    Why i wouldn't buy A99 is the price. This camera is too expensive.

  • William Leong January 20, 2013 01:16 am

    This review somehow feels like a half hearted attempt at introducing the A99. What mentioned above is not even a quarter of what an A99 has to offer.

    And as many has mentioned above as well, your weight comparison is very very off the mark. Well, unless you're comparing it with a point-and-shoot/iPhone/GalaxyCamera/or heck, the RX1, then yeah, the A99 is a horse in a pony stable. Bolt on a 2470L / 2470G on any Canon/Nikon, see your flaw there Barrie?

  • Geo Mich January 19, 2013 09:09 pm

    I have a77 with EVF (the same on a99) and I love it. I have the camera viewfinder adjusted to my sight. To review the image I don't have to put my glasses on and use LCD, I use EVF. This feature is not available on any OVFs and is very valuable especially on sunny, bright days. Also all of the camera adjustments and menu changes can be done in the same way.
    I used Nikon before but now using a77 I simply forget that I look through EVF. It's really good.
    There is worth to mention that what you see in OVF will not be exactly recorded as seen. This is an optical view only and what will be electronically recorded by the camera is a different story. Both OVF and EVF have their flaws.

  • Jason January 19, 2013 07:17 pm

    The EVF is the same as the A77, NEX-7, NEX-6 and the bolt -on "Tru-Finder", but much better than that on the A55/57. The one Sony uses is currently the highest resolution of any EVF, unless someone has bought the technology from Sony and is putting it into their bodies this year...Fuji? That being said, I'd love to see an OVF in a similar body.

  • Jason January 19, 2013 07:13 pm

    "Weight? Sure, the A99 body weighs only 812g. But the body won’t be of much use without a lens!" Yes, but that is not the fault of the body. All bodies need lenses and there are always nice compact primes. If you want OM, surely you have seen and used the new OM-D? Heck, I even use a few OM lenses on my NEX-5n.

  • davesalpha January 19, 2013 10:34 am

    I have an a350 and an a55. The one thing I don’t like about the a55 is that the camera is tiny; it leaves my pinky finger hanging, so I’m not worried about weight. I wouldn’t mind if the camera was bigger and weighed a little more. I think if Sony made a bigger camera they could put more in it and make the data to the card a little faster, and put more options like double exposure, GPS (on the a55 but not on the a99), and an intervalometer would be really nice. I’ve been waiting for a full format camera and the fact that the a99 has iso of 50 is great. Sometimes I have found that it would have been nice to have a slower is setting. Not many digital cameras go below iso100.

  • Gijsbert Peijs January 19, 2013 10:25 am

    @Barrie Smith: Quality comes at a price. In this case it is weight (and of course the retail price). You can't expect full frame quality from a point-and-shoot package.

    Even 1.8 kg isn't that much (also compared to the competition). Try bolting on a 70-200 1:2.8. So it's hard to say how much the combination will weigh but the body ain't heavy at all.

    Good to hear the OVF is tons better than the one on the A55 (and A77?) cause those are dreadful. Maybe I should check out the A99 some time and see if the OVF is decent enough.

  • Barrie Smith January 19, 2013 09:52 am

    Weight? Sure, the A99 body weighs only 812g. But the body won't be of much use without a lens!

    The point I am making is that, with the Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar f2.8/24-70mm bolted on, the whole kit weighed 1.8kg. Maybe you will need another lens or two tucked away in your camera bag. Add another 500g or so each.

    I lugged this body and lens around the city for two days— and I can tell you it was heavy!

    My point is that camera companies need to look again at the total picture of camera body and lens weights and sizes. As Olympus did with its OM line of SLRs back in ye ole filmy days!

  • Jason January 18, 2013 09:36 pm

    You said: Why you wouldn’t: too heavy.

    Canon 5D Mark3 - 950g
    Nikon D800 - 1000g
    Nikon D600 - 850g
    Canon 6D - 770g
    Sony A99 - 812g

    Too heavy? Compared to what. Perspective needed. Ok, the 6D is marginally lighter, but missing about 50% of the features of the A99.

    Forget about any of the professional models which weigh considerably more than the A99 or anything mentioned above. Sounds like Barrie needs a Sony RX1 or just stick with your point and shoots.

  • brett valentine January 18, 2013 07:39 pm

    Coming from a KM7D, it's all only good to me. The EVF is a BIG improvement over the a55's, and while not my first choice (I like OVF), the information you get at a glance definitely balances things out for me.

  • Mark Olwick January 18, 2013 04:42 am

    Okay, it's the second lightest full frame DSLR. Did you mention how heavy all the other full frame DSLR's as a con in their reviews?

    Face it - you confused the weight of the 24-70 (which is substantial) with the weight of the body only.

  • pieter January 17, 2013 09:30 pm

    @mark - no, the Canon 6D is lighter.

  • Gijsbert Peijs January 17, 2013 07:15 pm

    You mentioned it in the text already but it might have been added to the why-you-wouldn't section: The electronic view finder.

    I own(ed) a few Sony Alpha's and love them but my next camera isn't going to be a Sony. The viewfinder is horrible. It's dark and slow (blurry and takes time to see what you're pointing your camera at).

  • Matthew Dunlap January 17, 2013 04:53 pm

    It is indeed nearly the lightest DSLR/DSLT Only the new Canon 6D is lighter. As an a99 shooter myself I can testify that it indeed does have viewfinder blackout. Heads up.. just because it has an EVF does not make it immune to this.

  • Mark Olwick January 17, 2013 11:58 am

    You keep saying it's heavy, but you realize it's the lightest full frame DSLR made, right?