Sony Alpha a99 review

Sony gets back in the full-frame game

Sony Alpha a99 review
The Sony Alpha a99 is Sony's first full-frame DSLT

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After a long spell when it seemed to have forgotten enthusiast photographers, Sony appears to have woken up to the needs of these users over the last 18 months, with the arrival of cameras such as the Sony Alpha a77, Sony NEX-7 and Sony NEX-6.

As an SLT with a full-frame sensor, the Sony Alpha a99 is faced with strong competition from the Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Nikon D600 and Nikon D800.

Priced at around £2,299/AU$2,999/US$2,799.99 (body only), the Sony Alpha a99 seems rather expensive, especially considering that Sony has to prove its commitment to full-frame photographers and that photographers are currently skeptical of electronic viewfinders.

We liked

Thanks to its 24.3 million pixel sensor, the Sony Alpha a99 can resolve lots of detail, and noise is well controlled.

Features such as the AF Range control, focus peaking and the articulating screen are also great additions that will be appreciated by experienced stills photographers and video shooters.

We disliked

Although the AF system can focus quickly, it can't be relied upon to do so quite so much as the competition's. The performance of the non-cross type AF points is woeful in anything less than good light. When shooting indoors you can expect the lens to hunt a little (even a high-quality optic such as Sony's 24-70mm f/2.8) when the competition snaps the subject straight into focus.

Although there are plenty of direct controls, a couple of them - such as the AF Range and Smart Teleconverter buttons - could be assigned by default to controls that are more likely to appeal to the camera's target market.

While it is possible to follow a moving subject in the EVF of the Sony Alpha a99 (with the image review turned off), the AF system doesn't inspire confidence and the Object Tracking mode is a bit limiting.

Final verdict

There's no question that video is becoming an increasingly important feature for DSLR-style cameras. Sony's DSLT design makes the new Alpha cameras more suited to video shooting than more traditional cameras with a reflex mirror.

With a tilting screen, audio in and out ports, the Silent Multi-controller and its collection of video options, the Sony Alpha a99 is particularly well suited for creating movies.

It is also a very capable stills camera that can produce great images with natural colours and good exposure.

Although it's not perfect, the electronic viewfinder is very good, and we would urge skeptics to take a look at it to see what the future holds. Optical viewfinders aren't perfect either, we've just got used to accepting their shortcomings - not showing the impact of exposure settings adjustments, white balance changes or enough detail for very precise manual focusing.