Operation & Controls

Top Left Controls

The top left of the camera is home to a mode dial. It's a lockable dial, with a central button that needs to be pressed to allow rotation. It's options are largely similar to those found on other Sony SLT models, with PASM modes sitting alongside more automated and specialist modes. This approach may seem a bit unorthodox for a flagship camera, but it does make it easy to change from your chosen shooting mode to quickly grab a movie or a panorama and then switch back, without affecting any of your usual shooting settings.

What sets the A99's mode dial apart from those on lower-level Sonys is the addition of three customizable dial positions, which give you quick access to any prior exposure and shooting settings you've registered.

Top Right Controls

The camera's top plate LCD displays exposure information and shooting settings along with a battery life indicator. Its backlight can be enabled by pressing the display illumination button to its right. Most of the settings you're likely to change between shots can be accessed via buttons located just behind the shutter release, which is surrounded by the power switch. The ISO and exposure compensation buttons are the most conveniently placed for operation with the camera in an eye-level shooting position. And the ISO button can even be re-purposed if there's a setting you change more frequently. The drive mode and white balance buttons are handy too, although since their functions are also available from the Fn menu, the ability to re-purpose these would have been a welcome option.

The decision not to make the exposure compensation button customizable becomes clear when you engage Auto ISO while in manual exposure mode. In this scenario, the exposure compensation button is operable, with the ISO sensitivity then adjusting to provide the required image brightness at your chosen aperture and shutter speed settings.

Rear Controls

Most of the A99's controls are on the back of the camera and they're pretty well positioned. The top three buttons are the ones that you might expect to use with the camera to your eye: AF/MF, AEL and the movie record button. The Movie button can be configured either to function in any shooting mode, or restricted to be active only when the mode dial is set to movie mode. The AEL and AF/MF buttons can be totally reconfigured, not just to define whether they toggle or hold their settings, but to represent any one of 31 custom options, shown in the table below.

Functions that can be assigned to the AEL, AF/MF, ISO, Custom and Preview buttons
 • Exposure Comp.
 • Drive Mode
 • Flash Mode
 • Focus Mode
 • AF area
 • Smile/Face Detect.
 • AutoPort. Framing
 • ISO
 • Metering Mode
 • Flash Comp.
 • White Balance
 • DRO/Auto HDR
 • Creative Style
 • Picture Effect
 • Image Size
 • Quality
 • AEL hold
 • AEL toggle
 • AEL hold (spot metering)
 • AEL toggle (spot metering)
 • FEL Lock hold
 • FEL Lock toggle
 • Object Tracking
 • AF/MF Control Hold
 • AF/MF Control Toggle
 • AF lock
 • AF On
 • Aperture Preview
 • Shot. Result Preview
 • Focus Magnifier
 • Memory

Below these buttons is the camera's joystick - this is used to select focus points while in shooting mode and for navigation and selection in the menu and image playback screens. To its right is the DISP button that cycles though the display modes you've enabled in the settings menu. This affects either the rear screen or viewfinder display - whichever you're using at the time. Below it is the Fn button that brings up the Function menu or activates the control panel view, if you've got it displayed on the rear screen.

Clustered at the bottom of the camera are three more buttons - the Smart Teleconverter button (that can be configured to achieve one of three zooming functions, including magnified view for manual focusing), the playback button and the AF Range button. The AF Range button can either be used to show in-camera guide information or to engage the A99's unique AF Range mode (a virtual focus limiter switch).

Front Controls

The front of the camera features two buttons whose functions can be re-assigned. The custom button, indicated by the stamped 'C' can be assigned to an one of 31 separate functions. The knurled knob below the lens release is the silent multi-controller which is used to navigate among a sub-set of camera settings without the attendant button noise of normal operation. Though clearly designed for use during video recording, the controller can be used equally as well in a stills shooting mode. It has a center button that is used to confirm settings.