Body & Design

In terms of external design, the SLT-A99 is essentially a very slightly scaled-up SLT-A77, sharing a largely identical control layout with its APS-C sibling. The lack of a built-in flash on the A99 does mean that the button on the front-left of the viewfinder hump that was used to pop-up the A77's flash is now customizable. Beyond this, there is a silent control dial on the front lower left of the body which allows control over numerous camera functions without audibly interrupting video recording. The A99's environmentally-sealed magnesium alloy body feels solid and confidence-inspiring, yet the camera is noticeably lighter than either of its full frame rivals, the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The A99's biggest hardware change from previous SLT models is the incorporation of a hotshoe that's compatible with the ISO standard allowing the welcome use of third party accessories. It still features a series of proprietary connector pins along its front edge, allowing use with Sony's flashguns and various accessories.

The A99 stands alone among full frame DSLRS with an articulated rear LCD. This multi-hinge design offers an impressively wide range of movement, allowing you to comfortably evaluate composition with the camera placed in awkward viewing positions. This design is inherited from the A77 and you can watch a video demonstration of its screen movements on the body and design page of our A77 review.
For the first time, Sony has included an ISO standard hotshoe, which allows for adapter-free use of third party accessories. In the rear of the shoe you can see the gold proprietary connector pins which are compatible with various Sony add-ons including flash guns and an XLR mic adapter that provides balanced input. An adapter for using Minolta-mount flashes is included with the A99.
Alongside the lens throat, in place of the A900's AF switch, the A99 introduces a customizable silent control dial with a central confirmation button. While designed primarily as a way to adjust camera settings inaudibly while recording video, the dial can also be configured independently for stills shooting mode.

Compared to...

Sony Alpha A900

Shown next to its predecessor, the A900, you can see just how much the design aesthetic has evolved at Sony over the last four years, with the A99 inheriting the rounded corners and sleeker contours of recent SLT models. The switch to an electronic viewfinder reduces the camera's height compared to the A900's pentaprism optical finder.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III

As you'd expect from high-end DSLRs, both the A99 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III have magnesium alloy frames to go along with their dust and moisture resistant bodies. Yet the A99 manages to weigh in at 138g less than the 5D Mark III. The A99's EVF allows for a smaller viewfinder hump.

Viewfinder

With the A99, Sony brings the same high-resolution Trufinder 2 OLED display found in the A77, NEX-7 and NEX-6 to a full frame model. The unit boasts a 1024 x 768 2.4M dot resolution display, making it by far the most detailed electronic viewfinder available. With its 100% coverage and 0.71x magnification, it's essentially the same size as the immense optical finder in the A900. The OLED display uses a progressive update and as a result, is free from the rainbow-like 'tearing' effect common to displays in lower-end Sonys.

Standing alone among its full frame competitors, all of which use optical viewfinders, the A99 may well be the first experience with an EVF for new Sony users. And for many we suspect that a high quality OLED viewfinder's advantages like the ability to preview exposure and white balance, gain-up in low light or compose with a horizon level may go a long way towards alleviating concerns about the choice to forgo an optical viewfinder. In the course of shooting with the A99, we found the EVF performed well even in bright sunlight, with the camera's eyecup preventing stray light from causing glare.

There will clearly be some photographers for whom an EVF is a deal-breaker. From a practical standpoint, however, there are undeniable benefits to an SLT design and the approximately 0.5EV light loss compared to a conventional SLR design is negligible in terms of noise, given how good modern sensors are.

Magnification

One figure hidden away in every SLR's spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing models impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in usability - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'.

The Sony SLT-A99 has a viewfinder magnification of 0.71x, fractionally larger than the Nikon D800 and falling shy only compared to the Canon EOS 1D X.