June 22, 2013 00:00 By Paisal Chuenprasaeng
Sony's new flagship camera, the Alpha SLT-A99V, features a full-frame sensor that guarantees quality shots
Designed for DSLR enthusiasts who want excellent image quality, an effective full-frame image sensor and lots of external and customisable controls, the new Sony Alpha SLT-A99V is the Japanese company’s new flagship camera.
Among other impressive features, the A99 features 24.3MP 35mm full-frame sensor, 14-bit RAW output, uncompressed Full 1080 HDMI output in 60p/60i, up to 25600 ISO, Dual AF, continuous AF in all modes, up to 10 fps in Tele-zoom mode, and 3-inch tiltable LCD.
It uses a 35.8x23.9mm sensor, which is nearly the same size as 35mm film and larger than APS-C sensor used in most DSLR cameras. The larger sensor means larger photo sites, resulting in better image quality.
The full-frame sensor lets you take full advantage of your lens’ perspective without a crop factor, which limits outward view. So, when the A99 is mounted with a 24mm lens, you will get a real 24-mm wide-angle perspective shot.
Together with bright lens, the full-frame sensor of A99 lets you easily capture portraits with beautifully blurred backgrounds or shots with impressive detail in low-light conditions. It uses Exmor CMOS sensor technology, which further enhances the low-light performance of the camera, allowing it to achieve high ISO sensitivity.
Enthusiastic photographers will love the buttons and knobs on the A99 that allow you to change settings without having to bring up menu.
Among them are a front control dial, a front custom bottom, an ISO button, an Exposure button, a White balance button, a Drive button, and a Rear control dial.
The customisable button on the front can be assigned as option selector for one of several functions, including Flash Mode, Focus Mode, AF area, DRO (dynamic range optimiser), Auto HDR, Creative, Style, Picture Effect and Image Size/Quality.
In addition to these external control buttons, the A99 provides Quick Navi Pro features that allow you to immediately access all camera parameter settings. The Quick Navi Pro can be activated with the Function button when you switch the camera’s display to viewfinder mode. You then use the navigation controls to select the desired item to quickly change settings with your right hand while shooting photos.
The A99 has fast auto focusing and very good shooting performance thanks to its Dual Phrase Detect AF system and Sony’s Translucent Mirror technology.
The A99’s 19-point AF system with 11 cross sensors is complemented by a multi-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor with 102 AF points overlaying the image sensor.
And the camera’s Translucent Mirror Technology simultaneously directs light to the image sensor and AF sensor at all times, allowing the camera to maintain sharp focus even during continuous. It also allows the high-precision electronic viewfinder to accurately display the results of camera setting adjustments in real time.
The A99 can capture approximately 6 frames per second (fps) and about 8 fps at 10 MP in Tele Zoom High Speed shooting mode.
The camera is solidly built with a body made of magnesium alloy panels. The body is light for a full-frame interchangeable-lens digital camera, weighing just 733 grammes. That goes up considerably when the lens is added.
Sony says the A99 uses the newly developed, highly durable and reliable shutter unit that has been shown to endure approximately 200,000 shutter releases.
The LCD monitor with WhiteMagic technology nearly doubles the visibility of the 921k-dot Xtra Fine LCD monitor in sunny outdoor conditions. The LCD comes with three-way tilt-able mechanism to allow you to compose shots in normally difficult to compose positions.
Most advanced photographers like to compose shots with the viewfinder. The A99 comes with bright Tru-Finder OLED electronic viewfinder, which features 2359K dots for high resolution and high contrast ratio for incredible depth. Used with Quick Navi Pro, you can see the results of camera adjustments in real time in bright colours and details.
Another good point is that the A99’s mode dial is locked and you need to press the dial lock release for turning it. This will prevent accidental dialling of the shooting modes.
A further nice hardware feature is the integrated GPS receiver, which records location and time of every shot you take so that you can view the images on a map with a computer and Internet applications.
The A99 employs dual media slots, which allow for simultaneous recording for backup purposes. You can also set one card to record RAW-format images and another to record JPEG files.
Although it is an advanced camera, Sony also provides easy-to-shoot Superior Auto and Programme Scene Modes.
In Superior Auto mode, the camera automatically recognises the correct scene mode, then quickly shoots and combines up to six shots to produce images with clarity, optimum dynamic range using Auto HDR technology and lower image noise using three-shot layering technology.
If you want select Scene Modes on your own, you will find several fun modes, including Macro, Sports action, Sunset and Handheld Twilight.
I was impressed with the Handheld Twilight mode, which fires off six shots in different exposures in seconds and combines the data into one sharp and clean shot of beautiful night lights.
The A99 also allows you to select one of 13 finishing styles for the camera to process your shots. They are Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn leaves, Black & White, Sepia.
Another nice feature is the Auto Portrait Framing function. When activated, this function will save an additional, optimally framed image in portrait or landscape orientation. It achieves this by combining Face Detection and By Pixel Super Resolution technologies with rule of thirds.
Our team in The Nation newsroom tested the A99 with three lenses: the Carl Zeiss Vario-Soonar f/2.8 24-70 ZA lens, Carl Zeiss Sonnar f/1.8 135 ZA lens and Sony f/2.8 70-200 G lens.
We were impressed with the image quality of shots mostly taken inside the newsroom. The camera and the lenses provided good performance thanks to the light-sensitive Exmor CMOS full-frame sensor and the bright lens of f/1.8 and f/2.8.
Using the 24-70 ZA lens, I was able to capture beautiful landscape photos at a wide-angle focal length of 24mm. The 70-200 G lens was fun to use for telephoto shooting. I managed to capture good shots of birds with it and its full-time f/2.8 aperture ensured that most shots were bright and clear.
We were especially impressed in portrait quality of shots captured with the f/1.8 135 ZA lens.
The bright lens allowed us to easily achieve dissolved background effects to highlight the portrait. The quality was stunning with faces looking sharp and clean and showing attractive skin tone against the dissolved background. There is no Soft Skin effect but you can select the Creative Style of Portrait when taking portrait shots.
The A99 has good performance. It takes about two seconds between starting up and getting ready for the first shot. We didn’t notice any shutter lag and we were able to take the next shot right away if we didn’t use an option that requires post-shot processing like the DRO effect.
Its battery can last for more than 400 shots if you use the electronic viewfinder for composing. A battery grip, which allows you to add two more batteries, is available from Sony.
Sony Alpha SLT-A99V’s body retails for Bt91,990. The Carl Zeiss 20-70 f/2.8 (SAL2470Z ) and 135 f/1.8 (SAL135F18Z ) lens retail for Bt67,990 and Bt59,90 respectively while the Sony 70-200 f/2.8 G (SAL70200G) lens retails for Bt70,990.
Other accessories for the full-frame camera are HVL-F60M flash (Bt16,990), VG-C99AM battery Grip (Bt11,990), and LCS-BP2 camera bag (Bt3,990).