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Performance

Overall Performance

The SLT-A99 is a quick and responsive camera in nearly every facet of its operation - as you'd hope for a model at this cost. With a wealth of logically placed external controls, as well as onscreen Fn and Quick Navi menus, you're not likely to be more than a button press away from altering any shooting setting. And the ability to customize as many as five hardware buttons means that by spending a little time at the outset, you can have a camera that operates exactly as you want it.

We're also happy to report that the A99 avoids the operational pitfalls of previous Sonys, like the SLT-A77, which have been prone to delays when showing or zooming a playback image. The A99 is much improved in this regard - the review image appears immediately (though there's a slight delay before the effects of DRO are applied), and the lag between pressing the zoom button and the camera responding is very slight.

The only operational aspect of the A99 we'd characterize as slow is the time the camera takes to capture an exposure upon first powering up. It can take as long as two seconds from power-on to first exposure with the camera in MF mode. By contrast, even mid-range DSLRs can capture an initial image in about 0.5 seconds. During this delay on the A99, you see the screen populate with aperture and shutter speed information and the SD card slot access lamp briefly flash. Waking the camera from sleep to capture an image triggers this same routine, and takes about two seconds as well.

The A99 features dual SD card slots and a number of storage configuration options. You can record both stills and video to the same card slot (the default behavior) or designate a card slot to each media type. You can record stills and/or video simultaneously to both cards, for a real-time backup. You can also choose to specify one card slot for stills and the other for video. And when shooting in RAW+JPEG mode, you can also designate a specific card slot to record either file format.

SLT features

One of the biggest appeals of the fixed-mirror SLT design is that the camera doesn't need to wait for its mirror to get out of the way before it can make an exposure, so frames can be captured at a maximum rate governed by the speed of the shutter mechanism. Ultimately, it is easier and cheaper to build a shutter which opens and closes 10 or 12 times per second than it is to make a mirror which has to be raised and lowered at the same rate. Those cameras which can manage it, like the Canon EOS-1D X or the Nikon D4, are very costly.

By default, the A99 enables electronic first curtain shutter mode. It's an idea we've seen on Sony's recent SLTs and NEXs (along with Canon DSLRs dating back to the EOS 40D) - rather than closing the shutter then opening it again to start the exposure, the camera keeps the shutter open and begins the exposure by starting to read the information off the sensor, one line at a time. The exposure is then ended when the physical shutter travels down across the sensor, blocking off the light. The result is a shortening of the time lag between pressing the shutter button and the exposure being made.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

The Sony A99 has two continuous shooting methods - the full resolution Continuous drive mode available from most shooting modes and the faster, but more automated, 'Tele-zoom Continuous Priority AE' shooting mode, selected from the mode dial. The Continuous Hi drive mode provides 6 fps shooting and is available in any of the JPEG or Raw settings. It is only at the Continuous Lo setting of 3 fps, however, that live view is available while shooting.

The 'Tele-zoom' crop modes allow up to 10 frames per second, depending on the how small a crop you specify. The options are a 10.3MP (1.5x crop) image at 8 fps or a 4.6MP (2.4x crop) image at 10 fps. You can shoot Raw images in the 8 fps mode, whereas the faster 10 fps mode is JPEG-only.

Continuous Advance Priority AE T10 (4.6MP 2.4x crop)

Timing
JPEG Large/XFine
JPEG Large/Fine
Frame rate 10.0 fps 10.0 fps
Number of frames 17 18
Buffer full rate 4.5 fps 7.0 fps
Write complete 4.5 sec 4.0 sec

As you can see, shooting at the JPEG 'extra fine' setting significantly slows down the shooting rate once the buffer is full, compared to the JPEG Fine option.

Continuous Advance Priority AE T8 (10.3MP 1.5x crop)

Timing
JPEG Large/XFine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 8.0 fps 8.0 fps 8.0 fps
Number of frames 19 21 20
Buffer full rate 3.0 fps 2.8 fps 2.3 fps
Write complete 6.5 sec 6.5 sec 8.0 sec

Reducing the rate to 8 fps allows a slightly higher capacity before the buffer becomes full. The major benefit though, by far is the ability to shoot Raw files. This 1.5x crop mimics the field of view of an APS-C camera like the A77, albeit at a lower resolution.

Continuous Hi

Timing
JPEG Large/XFine
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 6.0 fps 6.0 fps 6.0 fps
Number of frames 20 17 13
Buffer full rate 2.5 fps 1.8 fps 1.5 fps
Write complete 5.0 sec 7.5 sec 8.5 sec

In full resolution mode, the maximum shooting speed is 6 fps for both JPEG and Raw files. This is on par with the performance of similarly priced DSLRs. The most impressive numbers here though are the very short write times for the A99. When compared against DSLRs of similar resolution like the 22MP Canon EOS 5D Mark III and 24MP Nikon D600, the A99 empties its buffer more than twice as fast for JPEG and Raw files.

All timings performed using a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-I SDHC card (45MB/s)

Frame 1 Frame 2 Frame 3 Frame 4 Frame 5 Frame 6

As you can see in the six-shot sequence above, a 6 fps shooting rate is useful for capturing fast action. As we'll discuss on the AF performance page of this review, however, that's only part of the equation for sports photography, with focus tracking being of even more importance.

SteadyShot image stabilization

Sony's in-camera image stabilization system, dubbed SteadyShot, is a incarnation of technology that dates back to the Konica Minolta days and is well-established throughout Sony's line of Alpha cameras. Sony typically claims between a two and four-stop benefit and in real-world use we've found this to be a reasonably accurate claim. The benefit of a sensor-based stabilization system, is of course, that it's available regardless of which lens you have mounted on the camera. This stands in comparison to Nikon and Canon, both of whom offer lens-based image stabilization.

50mm, 1/10 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 800 100% crop

The image above was shot handheld at a 50mm focal length with SteadyShot enabled. As you can see, shooting at 2 1/3 stops EV below the traditional 1/focal length guideline still results in a critically sharp photo. This means that you can use a lower ISO sensitivity, reaping the benefits of lower noise, without sacrificing sharpness.

Battery life

The A99 uses the familiar 11.8Wh NP-FM500 battery, the same one we've seen in previous Alpha models, including the A900. With a CIPA standard capacity of 410 shots using the EVF, it provides less than half the shooting capacity of the A99's rivals; a direct consequence of having to support full-time live view.

In our daily use with the camera, we were able to go on a reasonably full day of predominantly still-image shooting and return with a battery that still held some charge. Of course on multi-day photo-specific journeys you'd be best served by carrying a spare, should you neglect to fully recharge a battery at the end of the day. But for many local shooting situations, we suspect many photographers will carry on just fine with a single fully charged battery.

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Comments

Total comments: 12
Gangstar
By Gangstar (1 week ago)

I have owned previously the a55 a77 and for the last 12 months the A99 I paid £1750 new inc tax the a99 paired with the Zeiss 24-70 it a fantastic combo in fact the sony 28-75 2.8 produced stunning results but I would tell lies if i said it was on parr with the Zeiss which really pops the subject although has softness at corner edges @ 24mm is evident...Low light for my use has been great never has any problems...The flash/system shoe is the only annoyance and slight over exposure easily fixed in light room. what would I change upgrade faster AF..sensor 24mp ff is more than ample.In all I am a very happy with my a99 well done sony engineers...

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Lassoni
By Lassoni (2 months ago)

There's really no way around it. This is hands down sony's best camera to date. They really should revisit this, maybe give it a sensor and/or mount of their A7s , aim to make it better @ low light than Canon 5d3 (much more cleaner than 5d3, almost 1DX spec), and get rid of the translucent mirror maybe. Keep the body as is, make it mirrorless with around 15-18 megapixel and give it FPS of 8-11.

0 upvotes
Scottelly
By Scottelly (8 months ago)

Something that amazes me about the A99 is the fact that it handles high ISO better than the new Nikon D600 and D610 cameras. I just found this out by looking at the ISO 6400 samples here on DPreveiw in their studio shot comparison tool: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/studio-compare#baseDir=%2Freviews_data&cameraDataSubdir=boxshot&indexFileName=boxshotindex.xml&presetsFileName=boxshotpresets.xml&showDescriptions=false&headerTitle=Studio%20scene&headerSubTitle=Standard%20studio%20scene%20comparison&masterCamera=nikon_d600&masterSample=dsc_4526_03&slotsCount=4&slot0Camera=nikon_d600&slot0Sample=dsc_4526_03&slot0DisableCameraSelection=true&slot0DisableSampleSelection=true&slot0LinkWithMaster=true&slot1Camera=sony_slta99&slot1Sample=dsc00049&x=-0.378464142966364&y=0.34409159041539195

Make sure you look at the playing card, after you pick which cameras you want to compare and set the ISO selection box to ISO 6400 (or whatever ISO you want to compare).

1 upvote
HowaboutRAW
By HowaboutRAW (6 months ago)

It doesn't handle high ISOs better than the Nikon D600.

Though one way to help with high ISOs is to use good Zeiss lenses and those are more readily available for this Sony.

0 upvotes
J Shen
By J Shen (9 months ago)

Continued post: During burst shooting, SLT cameras can see a live image preview or can not see ? Thanks for advice !

0 upvotes
J Shen
By J Shen (9 months ago)

About SLT & SLR cameras, If following two comments (from dpreview) are conflicting each other ? During bursts shooting SLT cameras can see the frames or can not see ? maybe I'm misunderstood. Thanks !
1, Unlike ordinary DSLR cameras, SLT cameras by Sony use Translucent Mirror technology that directs light onto the main image sensor as well as a separate autofocus sensor. This means that subjects stay sharply focused at all times as you compose scenes with the tilt-angle LCD or through the high-resolution, high-contrast OLED Tru-Finder. And with no moving mirror to slow you down, you’ll enjoy non-stop live image preview during speedy burst shooting or while you’re recording Full HD video.
2, One distinct disadvantage to current EVF technology is that when shooting bursts at higher frame rates, you are not seeing a live preview, rather the frames you have just captured. This can make camera panning (to follow a fast moving subject) virtually impossible to do with any accuracy.

0 upvotes
Scottelly
By Scottelly (8 months ago)

Well, my A55 worked just fine for following fast-moving subjects, while shooting at 10 fps, and I believe the A99 is an improvement over the A55. (also can shoot at 10 fps)

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (11 months ago)

It may be only the a99 RAW for ISO 25600 that is broken. Thanks.

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (11 months ago)

beomagi: Thanks, I overlooked it.

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (11 months ago)

DPR Raw Link for a99 Studio Scene appears to be broken. Please fix.

0 upvotes
beomagi
By beomagi (11 months ago)

Connectors under flaps here
http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/sony-alpha-slt-a99/18

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (11 months ago)

This review fails to show the I/O connectors! What is under those flaps? Most importantly where is the PC-sync terminal???? If there isn't one, I'll keep looking for a different camera. Please clarify.

1 upvote
Total comments: 12