2017 Roundup: Semi-Pro Interchangeable Lens Cameras $2000+
Sony Alpha a99 II
42.4MP Full-frame CMOS sensor | 5-axis image stabilization | 4K video capture
What we like:
- Excellent Raw dynamic range
- Advanced Hybrid AF system
- In-body 5-axis image stabilization
- Oversampled 4K video with numerous capture tools
What we don't:
- SLT design results in 1/2-stop less light reaching sensor
- AF performance can be unreliable
- Major AF limitations in video mode
- While refined, menus still a bit clunky
The Sony a99 II is the company's top-end Alpha-mount camera. The 'SLT' design uses a semi-transparent mirror to split light between a DSLR-style AF sensor and the main CMOS imaging sensor. The dedicated AF sensor provides 79 points, with the main sensor adding 399 more, which work together during bursts of up to 12 fps. The downside is that SLT tech reduces the amount of light hitting the sensor by around 1/2-stop.
The a99 II is highly customizable, with plenty of buttons and dials. It has a flip-out, rotating 3" LCD as well as a large OLED electronic viewfinder. The camera has every I/O port imaginable as well as dual SD/Memory Stick Duo slots.
The a99 II's hybrid AF system combines 79 points (15 of which are cross-type) from its dedicated AF sensor with 399 phase-detect points on that 42MP full-frame sensor itself. The result is 79 hybrid cross-type points. Sony claims that the camera can shoot at 12 fps with continuous AF with 'consistent high-precision tracking,' though it was not as reliable as Sony claims. Other issues, such as the inability to see focus points in the viewfinder and the loss of phase detection past F3.5, mean that mirrorless or other DSLRs might be a better choice. The a99 II's battery is rated to 490 shots per charge, which is respectable for a live view-only camera.
The a99 II uses the same 42.2MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor as the a7R II and, aside from a very slight noise penalty at high ISOs, image quality is nearly identical. The a99 II's sensor provides very good Raw dynamic range at high ISOs and JPEGs with smart sharpening and noise reduction. The JPEG engine isn't perfect, though, with green-tinted yellows and slightly cool greens. The a99 II supports 14-bit Raws, though only for single-frame shooting.
The a99 II captures 4K/30p video sampled from the Super 35mm area of the sensor, which is 1.8x larger than 4K, resulting in higher quality footage. It uses the XAVC S codec for bit rates of up to 100Mbps for 4K and 50Mbps for Full HD (which has a top frame rate of 120 fps). The camera supports both S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma for capturing wide dynamic range (up to 14 stops). It has virtually every video capture tool available, from audio levels to time code to zebra patterns, and the a99 II sports both mic and headphone sockets. It can output clean 4:2:2 4K video over its HDMI port. All of that sounds great, but once you put the a99 II into continuous AF, the aperture is locked at F3.5 and manual exposure control is lost, ultimately making it a poor choice for videophiles. (You can get manual exposure control if AF is turned off entirely.)
Overall, the a99 II is a good camera, but its hampered by the SLT technology that's supposed to set it apart from the competition. Photo quality is very good, in-body image stabilization incredibly useful and the 12 fps burst mode is something to behold. The bad news is that autofocus is just so-so, the camera is crippled when using C-AF in movie mode, the menus are confusing and JPEG colors aren't the most pleasing. While owners of A-mount cameras will drooll over it, there are better choices in this class.
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