A99 worthy over A77?

Started Jan 17, 2013 | Questions thread
William Porter
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A99 vs A77, pros and cons
In reply to Tariag, Jan 17, 2013

It's not an easy decision. The A99 is a great camera. But so is the A77, indeed, what makes this particular binary choice so difficult is the fact that the A77 is so darned good. I'm struggling with this issue myself and here's my listing of the pros and cons each way.

About my lists

These are my personal pros and cons, that is, the things that matter to me. This isn't meant to be an "objective" list. I don't include in the lists some distinctions between the cameras that don't matter to me at all, like the slight difference between the bodies in size and weight. Same thing with autofocus speed: The A99 is supposed to be better but I don't see a big difference, and I do a lot of manual focus work anyway. The autofocus limited doesn't matter a lot to me, but might to someone else.

Finally, I don't list issues twice. I'm trying as much as possible to look at the matter positively, so something that is a pro for one camera gets listed as such and does not get listed a second time as a con for the other camera. Example: The better low-light, high-ISO performance of the A99 is a pro for it, not a con for the A77. The A77's low-light performance, in its weight class, is really quite remarkable. The A99 is better, but the A77 is not bad.

A99 pros

  1. Noticeably better image quality. Under this heading I'm thinking especially of better color but there seems to be more to it than that. 
  2. Better low-light, high ISO performance (1-2 stops better in my rough test usage)
  3. Greater dynamic range (about 1 stop?).
  4. Shallower depth of field, other things being as equal as possible. (But this has its downside, too, see below.)
  5. 2 card slots instead of just 1 (matters to me).
  6. Improved EVF experience. (You kind of need to have both cameras side by side to see the difference.)
  7. Slightly better rear display.
  8. Improvements in the ergonomics, especially if you like to customize things. In other words, it's a better shooting tool.
At least from my personal perspective, the serious reasons for getting the A99 really end at #3 above; the other "pros" are relatively minor. I have long wanted a camera that could write to two cards at the same time, but I wouldn't spend an extra $1500 for the A99 if that were the only difference between it and the A77. Ditto the minor advantages in ergonomics.
The image quality advantage of the A99 is major, but at the same time a bit vague. At least a fair bit of the time, I can in fact tell which photos I've taken with the A99 and which nearly identical photos I took with the A77. But especially if the light was good and ISO low, and assuming that the exposure range of the scene wasn't a big challenge, image quality from the two cameras is not so different. Colors are better on the A99 even at low ISO but you really have to look hard sometimes to appreciate that, and of course, if you shoot raw especially, the A77's colors can be goosed a bit in post-processing. 
In other words, the image quality advantage of the A99 is real, but marginal. That's the way it is in the world of photographic gear. It's the law of diminishing returns. At each stage, you spend significantly more money for slightly better image quality. The question is, how much does that marginal improvement mean to you?

A99: neither pro nor con
There are some full-frame differences that are quite significant but that I don't think necessarily are advantages or disadvantages, just differences.
. You're usually close to the subject in a portrait, and when shooting landscapes you usually go wide. In other words, shooting portraits or landscapes you'll seldom be needing focal lengths greater than 100mm (in full-frame terms).portraits and landscapeThe full-frame camera "sees" wider than the APS-C camera. Some full-frame lovers think this is a big pro for full-frame. But you can buy ultra wide-angle lenses for APS-C like the excellent Sigma 10-20. And I think, in many ways, the APS-C camera's advantage in terms of telephoto reach is more significant than the full-frame camera's advantage in terms of wide angle shooting. If I were a wildlife photographer, these days, I'd go with a top-of-the-line APS-C camera like the A77, with a 300 or 500mm lens, for the extra reach. This is part of the reason people say the full-frame cameras are good for 
 to get shallower depth of field, you'll almost always be getting shallower depth of field than you're used to. That means that focus becomes more critical—just as focusing with an APS-C camera is more critical than it is with a camera with a smaller sensor like the RX100 or the one in your iPhone.ability Full-frame doesn't just have the this advantage may not be as desirable as people think. As for depth of field, this is a mixed blessing. Yes, you can get that wafer thin depth of field that many people love in portraits. But, for one thing,
If you're using an APS-C camera you can compensate for this by using shorter focal lengths, but in this example, you'd have to go down to f/2.0 on the A77 to get approximately the same shallow depth of field that the A99 achieved at f/3.2. In the end, full-frame's shallower depth of field doesn't seem to me an indisputable pro, it's just a difference. But it's a difference that matters to one's view of things, to the way one thinks. And for that reason, I think I'd prefer to work either with two APS-C cameras or two full-frame cameras, and not to be working at the same time with one of each. I think I'd find that confusing.the A99 will give you about 33% shallower depth of field (0.64ft vs 0.97ft, according to dofmaster.com). Say you're shooting a portrait. Focal plane (subject's eyes) is 8ft from the sensor in the camera. You're shooting with two cameras: an A77 and an A99. To get the same field of view, you set the focal length to 50mm on the A77 and to 75mm on the A99. Now, if you set your aperture the same on both cameras (say, f/3.2), 
I'm not sure what to make of the new flash hot shoe in the A99. It's a bit awkward for those of us with older flash units; but Sony obviously thinks it's an improvement. It just doesn't factor into my comparison at all. The A99 comes with an adapter that works.

 (as compared to A77)A99 cons
Of these A99 cons, #1 and #2 are fairly significant. #2 (wireless flash delay) may get fixed by firmware update. I don't know but one can hope. But I'm afraid we're stuck with #1. #3 (placement of the focus points) is not a big deal to me.
  1. I dislike the joystick on the A99 even more than the one on the A77. I find it even harder to press straight down. Expect I could get used to it — or at least stop being actively annoyed by it — but even after a week of working with the A99, this remains a fairly big annoyance.
  2. The wireless flash delay. Might be fixed with firmware update? There's are workarounds (use FEL lock, or go to radio triggers) but it's something that ought not to require workarounds.
  3. The bunching of the focus points in the center of the screen? Not sure this matters to me. Might matter to somebody.

A77 pros

Will

But if you have to choose, the question, in the end, is a simple, practical one: Do you want the A99's somewhat modest benefits enough to pay almost twice as much for them?

Seems to me the bottom line is simply price. If money didn't matter, it'd be easy to say: buy the A99 and while you're at it, get one each of all the Sony "G" and Zeiss lenses. And if money really, really didn't matter, hell, buy one or two of each camera.

And there you have it. Let me know if I've overlooked something significant.

Bottom line

As for cons, compared to the A99, the A77 really has only one con: It's not an A99.

That's all I can think of to say on the A77's behalf in comparison to the A99. That's because so many of the A99's other intrinsic advantages are shared by the A77, and vice versa. Describing the A99 as a "full frame A77" is an understatement, but isn't wildly wrong, so long as you know that the "full-frame" difference is significant.

  1. The crop-factor advantage. I'd go for the A77 over the A99 if I were mainly interested in shooting birds or wildlife, because the lenses have longer reach, and the long lenses seem to be cheaper.
  2. Much faster frames-per-second in burst shooting—although A99 is no slouch! 
  3. Built-in flash. Useful if you didn't bring a flash with you, and also for triggering wireless remotes.
  4. There's a high quality weather-sealed lens that works with this body: the Sony 16-50 f/2.8. The A99 body is weather-sealed but most of the lenses I'm likely to buy for it are not.
  5. I'm generally avoiding talking about money here, but it does seem to be the case that the A77, in addition to being cheaper to start with, is also cheaper to "feed", that is, there are more decent and really cheap DT lenses (like the 30, 35, 50, but also others) for the A77 than there are for the A99.
     William Porter's gear list:William Porter's gear list
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