Some thoughts on A99 - part 1

Started Sep 14, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Grevture
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Some thoughts on A99 - part 1
Sep 14, 2012

Sony has held a press meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, introducing their new cameras to a very large group of journalists. This is a two day event, but I could unfortenatly only attend during one day. After a few hours with briefings on all the new models and equipment, I got to spend a afternoon with the A99.

The following is not a test, not a review, not a comprehensive study ... Just some first impressions and thoughts. This after Sonys briefings and a few hours driving around in a rental car on the icelandic countryside and stopping ever so often to shoot some images and handling the camera. The images shown in part 2 are not anything much, I was not out to create art, just to get a initial feel for a brand new camera. What does it feel like to handle and operate?

So who am I? Well, I am a technical journalist writing (among other things) about photo equipment, and I am also a freelance photographer mainly doing sports and events. As a photographer I shoot Nikon (have two D3 bodies, a D3s and a ragged band of beat up lenses and accessories). I have been testing and shooting with a wild assortment of cameras over the past years. Just recently I spent almost three weeks shooting Canon Eos 1D X and Nikon D4 side by side - at times testing can be really fun

Anyhow, back to Sony and the A99. Lets start with some dry theory to get everybody bored ...

Last winter I spent a few weeks shooting with the A77, a camera I like a lot: fast, fun, rich with features for a good price. I was however slightly frustrated with a feeling the A77 was a model not entirely fulfilling its potential. It has some glitches and oddities leaving me with a impression of a camera somewhat prematurely released without enough field testing.

With the A99 Sony seem to be upping the game a bit. It is a pricier camera aiming for a even more demanding audience. Reading the specs and hearing the Sony people talk during the briefings, some points stuck in my mind:

  • They described the sensor having a thinner design, essentially making the light-sensitive "wells" less deep. This has several advantages, like the sensor being less sensitive to angles of incidence which (among other things) translate to better utilization of really fast lenses - like f2 and beyond. I guess this could be consisdered as "almost BSI, without the more expensive BSI manufacturing".

  • They described the light sensitive part of each photo site to be bigger. This is the "photodiode expansion" many has wondered about. In short: more light gathering area per pixel, and thus for the entire sensor. Seem like a logical improvement

  • "Multi segment low pass filter" which is supposed to give better suppression of unwanted artifacts (like moirĂ©) without sacrificing legitimate detail. Could be marketing lingo for a weaker AA filter, but I guess they mean this new filter strikes a better balance between the contradicting roles of a low pass filter - reducing artefacts while not reducing detail.

  • "Area specific noise reduction" is supposed to analyze image content and vary the amount of NR depending on the content. Basically more NR in smooth areas (like a skye) and less in areas with lots of detail, so not to smudge legitimate detail. Seems like a nice idea. In theory at least

  • "AF Range control" - a concept which really intrigues me. I spend a lot of time analyzing AF performace, and here I think Sony really could be on to something. The idea of limiting how much distance up to and beyond a subject the AF is supposed to go for should have a very real potential of reducing hunting and sudden drastic misfocusings. I am a little wary about the implementation though. If this is going to fly, it need to be something you can work with very quickly.

  • The AF-D focus mode utilizing the much written about 102 extra PD focus points on the sensor. Essentially there are two almost rectangular groups of AF sensors on each side of the central AF point. The way Sony people described this focus mode, it should be much better at tracking moving subjects by giving the camera an almost 3D sense of the subject. "Depth mapping" was a experssion they used. This actually sound a lot like the "3D focusing mode" Nikon employs and the similar technology Canon uses. The difference being Sony is using on sensor PDAF to assist the traditional AF sensors, while Canon and Nikon utilizes color and light information from their (fairly high res) exposure sensors. This basically is a vaguely "content aware" focusing system, a bit related to face detection and similar, but faster and more geard towards fast tracking of erratically moving subjects.

 Grevture's gear list:Grevture's gear list
Nikon D70s Nikon D3 Nikon D3S Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II Nikon AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF +7 more
Canon EOS-1D X Nikon D3 Nikon D3S Nikon D4 Sony SLT-A77 Sony SLT-A99
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