Full-frame DSLRs used to be a luxury reserved only for the pros, but now there are a lot more options available at the most affordable prices ever. We take a look at the Sony a99.
The 24.3MP a99 is Sony’s first pro-level full-frame DSLT camera. Despite the fact that they look almost identical to DSLRs, DSLTs don’t have a moving mirror but rather a fixed translucent one that lets through 90% of the light to the sensor and reflects the other 10% for focusing. The most noticeable difference with a DSLT system is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). We liked that we could review our images on the EVF because on bright days screens can be difficult to see. On the downside it is a big drain on battery life, as either the screen or the EVF is always on, meaning the a99 only gets 500 shots from a single charge, around half of that of the other DSLRs being tested.
The Sony a99 is packed with great features, including a three-way tiltable 3in LCD screen, which is not available on any other full-frame DSLR, and which, with 1229k dots, is the highest resolution screen on test. It also has built-in HDR, GPS, panorama function and SteadyShot in-camera image stabilisation.
The a99 only has 19 AF points, but we found focusing to be very responsive even in difficult lighting. Although the camera doesn’t have a CF card slot, it can take two SD cards so images can easily be backed up during shooting. Overall image quality is very good, though despite the maximum ISO of 25,600 it doesn’t perform as well in low light as other cameras in its class, with significantly more noise at ISO 12,800.
Sony’s a99 certainly looks good and feels very comfortable in the hand. At 733g the a99 is much lighter than the D800 (1kg) and 5D MkIII (810g), thanks to its magnesium alloy construction and translucent mirror system. In fact, it’s the lightest full-frame body currently on the market.
The flip-out screen is well-engineered and feels robust, and the menu system is fairly self-intuitive. The camera’s buttons are well-laid out for the most part, though the D-Pad on the back is nowhere near as effective as the large dial on the 5D MkII and MkIII. We absolutely loved that you can see what your image exposure will look like through the EVF before you shoot it.
Sony’s a99 is a good all-round camera with a high quality flip-out screen, electronic viewfinder and a wide range of other useful features. At £2199 we couldn’t help feeling the a99 is a little overpriced, especially since the battery life is so poor and the low light performance isn’t as good as the Canon 5D MkIII and Nikon D800. If the flip-out screen, EVF, built-in IS, GPS and panorama function are important to you, this lightweight body is a great option, but if long battery life, ease of use and low light performance are needed, you should consider other cameras.
- Price: £1479 (As of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 24.3MP
- Focus points: 19
- Battery life: 500 shots
- LCD: 3in 1229k dots
- Card slots: 1x Memory Card Duo or SD, 1x SD
- Shooting speed: 6fps
- ISO range: 100-25,600
- In-built features: HDR, GPS, Flip screen
- Visit: www.sony.co.uk
This review was first published in the Spring 2013 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.