Actually shooting with the a99 at Fleet Week

Started Oct 21, 2012 | Discussions thread
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dbiela Regular Member • Posts: 159
Actually shooting with the a99 at Fleet Week

I was fortunate that Sony loan me the a99 for a shoot during Fleet Week in San Francisco. I was there to take images of Sean Tucker and his Oracle 260 biplane. First I want to thank Sean, Brian and all the Oracle team members for their help with the shoot. They are a great group to work with and make it easy to get great images. We use a Piper Seneca with the doors off as the photo ship to shoot out of. Flight time was about 40min around the San Francisco bay area. It was cold about 50F at altitude and our cruised speed 140 knots.  Sean is an amazing pilot and can put his plane were ever you want it. Brian the Oracle team Operations Coordinator flew the Seneca on our first flight and has extensive time flying with Sean so very little time was wasted getting into position to shoot the images.

On to the camera

What a amazing camera It has very fast focus, The light meter was spot on after I gave the camera a bias of -1/3 stop. The frame rate for a full frame camera is not bad about 5 to 6 fps. I do wish the camera had a deeper or larger burst rate. I was at about 10 to 12 frames in raw + jpg mode before the camera hit its full buffer and would slow down or hang for a sec or two before shooting again. I used the Sony 32GB UHS-1 cards in both slots. I did test the SanDisk extreme pro before hand and found little difference between them maybe a frame less before the buffer hits and the recovery of both cards is close. So unless you need max speed the Sony Media cards are a very good value with performance to cost. As to the frame rate I would shoot a burst of a few seconds and only once did I find I wish I could keep shooting  a longer  burst when we were flying past the Golden Gate Bridge.


When shooting air-to-air shots you have to balance out shutter speed to how bumpy the flight is to the prop speed of the plane you are photographing. Images of a plane in the air look odd if the propeller is stopped. I used iso 50 up to iso 400 with 100 being the average to have a slower shutter speed. I love the image files. From 50 to 200iso the images had very very little noise. At 400iso noise was there but I say it was about what 100iso looked like from older cameras. The dynamic range is one of the cameras best features shooting backlit images  they still had depth and detail in the shadows.

Battery Grip

The camera came with the Battery Grip. For me this is a must have accessory I do a fair amount of shooting vertical and the grip has a natural feel to it, at least for my hands. I did not have to look at the back of the camera when shooting. The exposer wheel; shutter button and other function buttons seemed to be at the same orientation as on the camera body. I do wish that Sony would have backlit the buttons on the camera like another brand camera has. Battery life was good I am grateful Sony does not jump to a new battery shape with every new camera the same battery works with the a900, a580, up to the a77 and now the a99. When using the grip you can have up to 3 batteries installed. Plus the camera will display what the power levels are on each battery with using power from the grip first then going on to the camera battery. I like this feature, I see the battery in the camera as the back up. I was told the 3 batteries are more for shooting video to give the user more record time. It was cold and I shot about 1200 images when we were flying and still had power left on that 3rdbattery.


This is a big issue for some people and “cool” for others. I think its good and love some of its features. Like displaying information in the viewfinder as you shoot or not having to take my eye away from the camera to review an image. During the shoot with Sean I did have the histogram displayed so I could keep tabs on my exposure, it helped since I did not have time to review the images as they were shot.

I would love to see the buffer rate – a bar that expands as you start to fill up the buffer so you know when you are about to slow down the cameras frame rate.  It would not matter to the portrait photographer or a wedding shooter but for action it would be handy. The issue I have with the EVF is that the display is not as bright as the outdoors in bright sun. So when I pull my eye away it will take a sec or two for my eye to adjust. In the same sunlight how may of us have struggled to shade the LCD on the back of the camera to review the photo you have just shot. The cameras plus is I have no problem reviewing images in the EVF in bright sun and it’s easy to magnify the image both on the EVF or rear LCD. Electronic viewfinders are still at the beginning of there development and I am sure Sony is working on improving them for camera use. I don’t see switching camera systems over the viewfinder but people do.

Camera construction and features

So I found the camera to be lighter then the other pro level cameras on the market. It’s well built, rugged, felt good in my hand, and I did not feel any of the buttons to be flimsy or a dirt trap (I had a pro camera that two buttons always had dust or dirt collect in them) Sony had loan me the camera for only a week but did not see any major flaws on button layout. The menu was easy to go threw and you can program some buttons for a specific function. What I wish would be a menu page that you could program to display the most important features for your use. Then I would not have to scroll threw a few screens of selections but just put the menu item I most use on the first screen page.  As to its features Its Sony it would not be Sony if you did not have plenty bells and whistles to select from. I did not have the time to try them out but I do use several of the modes on my NEX gear so I do like having the options. The dual SD slots come in handy I could have set it up to shoot raw to one card and jpg to the other but I let the camera shot to one card the switch to the other when slot one card was full.

Lens and Image sensor

One of the most important items for me is the quality of the glass and the output image. I had two lenses with me the outstanding 24-70mm f2.8 Zeiss and the 70-200mm f2.8 Sony G lens. I used the 24-70mm the most since Sean flew so close to us. The images were crisp, had great depth and with this sensor the images had outstanding color.

For me as a working pro it was the fact that the client loved the images and complemented me on how rich they look. There was one complaint the best you could have “too many good images to choose from”

Hope you find this helpful Dennis

Brian flying the teams Piper Seneca. No seats but you are harnessed in so if you should fall out you just dangle 

Shot with the a99 and the Sony 70-200mm f2.8 G lens

This was from our 2nd shoot

I have a lot of great images but the these are my standouts

On our way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The raw file is just amazing in how much detail it has and the rich color. Camera was set to stander color

We had afternoon light I think we shot this at around 5pm it was a perfect day to have some fun and take picts. Enjoy Dennis

 dbiela's gear list:dbiela's gear list
Sony Alpha NEX-5N NEX5R Sony Alpha a99 Sony Alpha 7R Sony 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* +9 more
Sony Alpha a99 Sony SLT-A58 Sony SLT-A77
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