This is the Alpha 99, Sony’s first full-frame Alpha camera since the Alpha 900 was launched four years ago.
Unlike the Alpha 900, this camera has a fixed translucent mirror which means that it can have a high continuous shooting rate of 6fps at full resolution or 10fps at reduced resolution. It can also use phase detection autofocusing when shooting video or composing images on the rear LCD screen.
Inside the Alpha 99′s body is a full-frame sensor, in other words a sensor that’s the same size as a 35mm frame. This means that the 24.3 million pixels are larger than they are in the Alpha 77 which has an APS-C sized sensor – larger pixels means better image quality.
Sony has mounted the 3-inch LCD screen on a strange tilting-articulating bracket. It’s easy enough to arrange when you’re shooting horizontal format images, but its a bit more fiddly to find the right angle for it when shooting vertical format pictures. The good news is that the screen provides a nice clear view even in direct sunlight when its brightness is turned up
Because it’s an SLT the Alpha 99 has an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one. With over 2-million dots this shows lots of detail, but scenes tend to look a bit warmer and more contrasty in it when compared with the captured image – even when its reviewed in the EVF.
The EVF is particularly useful when shooting in low light conditions because it shows the scene at the selected exposure settings, making the subject easier to see than it is in reality. Unfortunately though, the autofocus system doesn’t fair so well in low light. In fact it only needs a small drop in light levels before it starts to become quite hesitant. Even in good light it isn’t as fast as the systems in competing cameras like the Canon 5D Mark 3 and Nikon D800.
It also annoying that the 19 selectable AF points are so closely clustered around the centre of the frame.
There are plenty of direct controls available for making settings adjustments. This one on the front is quite unusual and its designed to allow near silent settings changes during video shooting.
This button here is intended to activate the Smart Teleconverter – a type of digital zoom. But I wonder how many full-frame photographers would want to use it for that? I’ve set it to magnify the screen image when focusing manually.
Thanks to its full-frame sensor and 24.3 million photosites the A99 can record a lot of detail – especially in raw files – and noise is controlled well. Even images captured at ISO 12,800 look good at sensible printing sizes like A3. Noise, or the impact of its removal, is more of an issue in images taken at ISO 25,600 – but the results are still usable.
The A99 has lots of useful features and customisation options. It’s also capable of shooting high quality stills and Full HD movies, but it’s let down by a disappointing AF system and its menus could be better organised.