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Conclusion - Pros

  • Very good JPEG output at default settings
  • Excellent high ISO output in both JPEG and Raw images
  • Wide dynamic range Raw files
  • Pleasing metering and white balance results
  • Solid build quality, light weight and good ergonomics / handling
  • In-body image stabilization system works with all lenses
  • High quality OLED EVF with high magnification
  • Articulated rear LCD
  • Quick Navi menu for fast access to shooting options
  • Five customizable buttons with a wide range of functionality
  • 'Silent controller' for inaudible operation while recording video
  • Continuous AF at 6 fps
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Built-in GPS
  • Impressive Sweep Panorama image quality and stitching
  • Smart Teleconverter option for 1.4 and 2x crop factor output
  • Fast write times in burst mode shooting
  • Auto ISO and exposure comp. available in manual mode
  • 1080p60 video specification
  • Ability to output uncompressed HD video to an external recorder or monitor
  • Manual audio controls
  • Stereo mic and headphone inputs

Conclusion - Cons

  • Small coverage area of AF array compared to its peers
  • Autofocus not compatible with manual exposure control in video mode
  • No histogram available in video mode
  • Live view not available with continuous shooting above 3 fps (an image review is displayed instead)
  • Magnified live view not available in video mode
  • AF tracking accuracy lags behind its Nikon and Canon peers
  • Tedious navigation through menu system
  • Inconvenient separation of still image and video files during playback

Overall conclusion

The SLT-A99 is a very well-specified camera capable of delivering consistent results in a wide range of shooting scenarios for both still photography and video. Sony has typically maintained a blistering pace of new camera models and the nearly four-year gap between the A900 and A99 is certainly atypical. With such a long gap, its perhaps no surprise that the vast majority of the A99's features and technology have already been introduced in NEX and SLT models during the interim. This is not to say the camera offers no new practical benefits, however, as Sony has shown the ability to continually improve on long-standing features like Sweep Panorama, and refine behavior such as easier engagement of object tracking.

Taken on its own, there is little any A900 user could have reasonably asked for that the A99 doesn't provide. While an EVF may be a hard sell for some DSLR users, the A99 takes significant steps forward in every measurable performance metric. Of course, for Sony that's barely half the battle. Unlike Sony's ground-breaking Cyber-shot RX1, which has literally no peer, the A99 enters a full frame DSLR market that is much more crowded than the one faced by its predecessor, the A900. Canon and Nikon now each offer no fewer than three full frame models, all aimed at distinct segments of the market. This puts Sony in the unenviable position of trying to increase market share while competing against rival models spanning a very wide range of performance, and of course, price.

While Sony can boast of truly first-class Carl Zeiss optics, any DSLR users looking to switch systems are faced with the fact that with the A99, they will not have access to as wide a selection of enthusiast-grade lenses as Nikon and Canon shooters. Sony does counter, however, with in-body stabilization that works with all Alpha-mount lenses regardless of type, age or brand, which means you get stabilization with fast primes, wide zooms and even cheap old secondhand optics.

Image Quality

The A99 gives very good image quality, particularly so at high ISO sensitivities, placing it among the best performing full frame cameras we've seen to date. And with 24MP resolution, only of the class-leading 36MP Nikon D800 resolves more detail. Dynamic range is equally impressive as well, easily on par with its peers. And the camera's multi-shot HDR mode provides JPEG shooters with an easy way to capture both highlight and shadow detail that exceeds single-shot capability.

Default image parameters such as white balance, metering and exposure are well-judged in a variety of both indoor and outdoor shooting scenarios. In-camera JPEGs display a reasonably sensible combination of sharpening, contrast and noise suppression. With this level of camera of course, the majority of users will be keen to explore the capabilities of the A99's raw files. And they will not be disappointed, as even a few basic adjustments can yield superior results, in large part by providing access to relatively noise-free shadow detail that is typically lost in 8-bit JPEGs.

As we've seen before from Sony, video performance of the A99 offers several advantages over its peers and none more apparent than its phase-detection AF system. Focus acquisition in video mode is brisk and object tracking can actually be an effective tool for subjects moving at slow to moderate speeds in a consistent direction. And Sony's well-regarded focus peaking option is among the best options we've seen yet for manual focus. Videographers, while perhaps lamenting the lack of magnified live view and histogram display will be pleased to see an uncompressed video over HDMI option as well as mic and headphone inputs along with an optional XLR mic adapter kit.

Handling

For all of the technology features that Sony has packed into the A99, its worth pointing out that many of them have appeared in earlier SLT and NEX series cameras. While this does reduce the 'wow' factor among those looking for ground-breaking advances, this also means that Sony has had time to tweak certain features based on experience with earlier iterations. As such, the A99, despite being the first full frame 'SLR' with an electronic viewfinder is nevertheless a very mature camera in terms of operation and handling.

The A99 provides five customizable buttons that can each be configured for one of 31 separate functions. The magnesium alloy body feels solid in hand and is surprisingly light weight, with the dust and moisture sealing you'd expect in a $2800 SLR-style body. While the main menu system is a bit tedious to navigate - we'd prefer the ability to 'tab' through entire sections - this is mitigated substantially by a Fn menu and the re-emergence of Quick Navi mode, which gives access to every camera adjustment you'd commonly need to make between shots.

The inclusion of an EVF may not be to everyone's taste, but from a practical standpoint makes for equivalent operational experience whether you're shooting with the camera at eye-level or at arm's length using the rear LCD. Indeed, aside from dedicated sports shooters who will likely balk at the lack of live view at high frame rates, the ability to preview exposure and picture styles, as well as navigate menus without lifting the camera from your eye may be enough to entice shooters who've only ever used an optical viewfinder. And the flexibility of Sony's unique multi-hinged rear LCD makes scene composition on the A99 possible in scenarios that no other full frame DSLR can match.

The Final Word

There's a lot to like in the Sony SLT-A99. It's a camera that combines very good image quality with a high degree of camera customization and an ergonomically well-designed control layout. It incorporates all of Sony's recent technology advances in both stills and video performance. A900 users who've patiently waited for an upgrade and are amenable to using an EVF will be hard-pressed to find much fault with the A99, as it represents a significant step forward in just about every respect other than output resolution.

We ourselves, find very little to criticize outside of relatively minor operational concerns and find the A99 well-suited to variety of applications from landscape to studio work. The biggest challenge here for Sony is that its rivals Nikon and Canon have stepped up their already considerable game and now offer lineups of full frame DSLRs targeted specifically at working photojournalists, well-heeled enthusiasts and most recently, budget-conscious shooters. Make no mistake though, Sony does offer features that are entirely unique to the full frame DSLR market such as in-body stabilization that works with all lenses, an articulated screen and superior live view/video AF performance.

We have to applaud Sony's forward-thinking efforts to leverage all of its existing technology - including its high quality OLED EVF - into its flagship model and not be afraid to look beyond the status quo of what a full frame DSLR-style camera should be. Add impressive dynamic range, top-notch low-light performance and impressive video specifications and the Sony A99 comfortably earns our highest honor, the Gold Award.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Sony SLT-A99
Category: Semi-professional Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Photographers looking for outstanding high ISO performance. DSLR enthusiasts who want the option to shoot using live view without sacrificing AF performance.
Not so good for
Dedicated sports shooters and those who prefer an optical viewfinder.
Overall score
84%
The SLT-A99 is a feature-rich camera that still provides a wealth of easily accessed manual user controls. It stands out as the only full-frame camera to offer in-body stabilization, an EVF, and an articulated rear screen. Budding videographers will enjoy brisk AF performance, as well as the option to output uncompressed video.

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Comments

Total comments: 15
Miki Nemeth

"magnified live view is not available in video mode." This is a terribly brilliant feature I got used to on A7. It would be great if Sony included it as a firmware update.

0 upvotes
fotokram

I just don't understand the point, that the A99 empties its buffer twice as fast as Canon's EOS 5D III at Continuous Hi? Both cameras allow 6 fps, but the 5D III can shoot JPEG Large/Fine until the card is full while the Sony stops after 20 frames. When shooting RAW the 5D III can take 17 frames (like the Sony), before the frame rate switches to 2.7 fps (A99: "only" 1.7 fps). The 5D III then needs 4 seconds to empty the buffer, while the A99 needs 7.5 seconds. From my point of view, the 5D III is the faster camera. Or did I get something wrong?

0 upvotes
Gangstar

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

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.

1 upvote
kevin_r

Waiting for 18Mp,
Mirrorless(or at least the ability to lift the mirror.., somehow...) with high speed AF and low light sensitivity AF down to -3EV[currently seems impossible...]
Touch screen with focus select and AF by touch.

Alternatively to 18Mp - make 36mp with BSI, removing the anti-alias filter and allowing the semi-transparent mirror to be moved out of the way - or else simply have magnificent focus with the sensor itself....wihtout the mirror.....sigh!!!!

1 upvote
Scottelly

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

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

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

0 upvotes
J Shen

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

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

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

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann

beomagi: Thanks, I overlooked it.

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann

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

0 upvotes
beomagi

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

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann

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: 15