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Handling

The A99's external control layout is virtually identical to that found on its APS-C sibling, the SLT-A77, with little in the way of design or ergonomics that harkens back to Sony's first full frame SLR, the A900. As you'd expect from a top-tier model, the A99 has a magnesium alloy body with dust and moisture resistant sealing. What's more noteworthy, is that such a solid construction weighs in at only 812g, making it noticeably lighter than both the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III. It must be said though that pairing the A99 with top-notch Zeiss glass like the Sony 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens will effectively negate any weight savings against rival combinations from Nikon And Canon.

Photographers who demand immediate access to highly personalized shooting options will appreciate the high degree of customization possible with the A99's numerous control points. No fewer than five external buttons can be assigned to any of 31 separate functions. You can also choose to disable the movie record button when the camera is set to a stills shooting mode. Outside of our wish for a more efficient way to navigate the menu system, we find little to slow you down from an operational standpoint.

The A99 features the same 1.23m dot RGBW LCD screen found in the Cyber-shot DSC-RX1 and RX100, although here it is mated with a dual-hinge articulated design that allows for a a number of useful - if origami-like - configurations using the camera in awkward viewing positions. The camera's lockable mode dial gives users quick and easy access to shooting modes without fear of accidental operation. An eye sensor located just beneath the viewfinder automatically switches between the EVF and rear display panel, though you can opt to switch between the two manually if you prefer. With no fewer than five separate display overlays available in the electronic viewfinder (and six on the rear panel), we suspect that most users who refer to the A99's top plate LCD will do so out of habit rather than necessity.

Overall operation and handling

The A99 largely follows the tried and true path of a contemporary high-end DSLR, with a deep, comfortable hand grip, one-button access to video recording and shooting parameters along with front and rear dials to navigate among camera settings and exposure options. The standout spec compared to its full frame rivals, of course, is the inclusion of an electronic viewfinder. The 2.4M dot OLED screen used here was first seen in the A77 and NEX-7 cameras. Its comprehensive integration means that you can use it in exactly the same manner as the rear LCD. In addition to viewing accurate image previews that reflect exposure, white balance and color mode selections, you can navigate the Function menu and menu system with the camera held at eye level.

Studio photographers who use flash will appreciate the ability to toggle exposure simulation on and off via the 'Live View Display Setting Effect' option. This allows you to compose a dimly lit scene (to be illuminated at the time of exposure via flash) through the finder or rear LCD with the camera 'gaining up' to provide a bright preview image.

In terms of design and UI, the A99 is almost identical to the A77. Exposure settings are changed using front and rear control dials, and both the EVF and rear LCD can provide a live view feed in still and movie modes as well as image review during playback.
The 3.0-inch rear LCD panel is mounted on a dual hinge that allows for rotation of 180 degrees both downward and clockwise, a tilt of 140 degrees and a 90 degree rotation counterclockwise.
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.

The button can be configured independently for stills and movie modes.

In addition to its front and rear dials, the A99 introduces a new 'silent controller' (shown above) on the front of the camera below the lens release. Intended primarily as a way to adjust camera settings while recording video without introducing audible button clicks, its function can be defined separately for stills mode (and changed simply by holding the central button down). The options include changing focus mode, which recreates the function of the control that Sony usually puts in this position.

VG-C99AM Battery Grip

The optional VG-C99AM grip provides not only a vertical-oriented set of controls but offers greatly extended shooting capacity with the ability to install two additional NP-FM500H batteries for use alongside the existing one in the camera body. This also gives the useful advantage of changing the batteries in the grip without powering off the camera.

The VG-C99AM grip triples the power options of the A99, allowing for two additional NP-FM500H batteries to be used in succession along with the one housed inside the camera body. As we've become accustomed to, Sony adds a comprehensive set of duplicate vertical controls, including a shutter release, front/rear dials, five control buttons and a joystick.

As with the A77, Sony adds a wide array of external controls to the optional grip for the A99. And as we saw in that earlier SLT model, the exposure compensation button again occupies the same relative position as the AF/MF button on the main body, which may take some getting used to when adjusting settings by feel in portrait orientation. And while no one can accuse Sony of providing too few controls, one nice feature would be the ability to customize the vertical grip's buttons.

Auto ISO in Manual Mode

The availability of Auto ISO in Manual exposure is something we've seen an increasing number of our readers ask about. Auto exposure while you're in manual mode may seem like an odd request, but this is something we've seen from Pentax, who makes its use clearer by separating this combination out as a dedicated 'TAv' shutter-and-aperture-priority mode. To make it useful, unless the camera somehow has perfect exposure in all conditions, you really need to also have access to exposure compensation in manual mode - which is an unusual combination to offer. The good news for people wanting to shoot this way is that A99 does indeed offer exposure compensation and Auto ISO in manual exposure mode. With ISO set to a fixed sensitivity, however, the exposure compensation button is inactive. Should you press it, the A99 helpfully gives you a warning that ISO must first be set to Auto.

Specific issues

Our only complaints in using the A99 out in the real world center around fairly specific shooting situations. For all of the advantages of an EVF in terms of information display and exposure preview, the limitation that remains is that live view is unavailable when shooting at the camera's fastest frame rates. In these instances the viewfinder does not black out, but what you see is not a live preview, but instead the succession of images you have just captured. Panning while tracking fast moving subjects, therefore, will prove difficult to do with precise framing accuracy.

The joystick on the rear of the camera protrudes rather noticeably from the camera body, extending beyond the LCD panel. As a consequence, we sometimes found ourselves inadvertently moving the AF point around, for example when shooting with the camera in portrait orientation while wearing a hat.

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Comments

Total comments: 11
Lassoni
By Lassoni (1 month 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 (7 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 (5 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 (8 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 (8 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 (7 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 (10 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (10 months ago)

beomagi: Thanks, I overlooked it.

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (10 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
beomagi
By beomagi (10 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
Thomas Karlmann
By Thomas Karlmann (10 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: 11