Sony Alpha SLT-A99 In-Depth Review
The A99 hews closely to the user interface we've seen on the recent Alpha-series cameras - with a menu option to enable up to six different views with varying amounts of information overlaid. These displays can be selected independently for the viewfinder and the rear screen, and you cycle through the selected options using the 'DISP' button. As with other recent Alpha SLTs, exposure parameters are listed along the bottom of the screen surrounded by a black border.
|There are five display modes available for both the viewfinder and rear screen. The graphic mode includes a beginner-oriented shutter speed and aperture overlay.||An 'all info' mode displays more than a dozen shooting settings alongside resolution, battery life and storage capacity.|
|The image-only view eliminates all onscreen information except the 19-point AF overlay.||You can choose to display a dual axis level...|
|...or a luminance histogram that reflects, in real time, the tonal distribution of the live view preview.||The rear LCD has a sixth viewing option. You can choose this status screen if you prefer to compose solely through the viewfinder or wish to take advantage of the Quick Navi interface.|
The ability to toggle visibility of these screens is useful, as you can set the camera to cycle through only the screens you're actually likely to ever use. The ability to choose different settings for the rear screen and the eye-level finder is also a welcome one as well. You can, for example, choose to have the virtual horizon level gauge appear only on the rear screen, for situations when you're shooting at an awkward angle. One slight criticism we continue to have with Sony's implementation is that you cannot combine individual features from separate screens. We'd like the ability to view both the histogram and level at the same time, for example.
Although most major settings have their own buttons on the A99, the majority of these can also be adjusted onscreen through the 'Fn' menu. Absent from the Fn menu is the Raw/JPEG quality setting. As several of the camera's features are JPEG-only, we'd prefer to see this option more directly accessible. You can, however, access it through the Quick Navi menu or assign the function to one of five customizable buttons on the A99.
|Pressing the Fn button brings up the familiar Sony function menu listing most of the camera's key settings. The joystick allows you to quickly navigate around...||...while pushing the joystick in takes you to a separate settings screen. Alternatively, spin the front dial to change the setting without leaving the Fn screen (pictured).|
The A99 sees the welcome return of the Quick Navi interactive settings screen. Having been one of the first companies to offer such a screen (and which has now become all-but universal), it's odd that it took so long for Sony to bring the concept to its SLT lineup. Quick Navi is a sixth display option for the rear LCD only. You can be access it by cycling through the display modes using the DISP button (though we'd ideally like to see it accessed from the Fn button). With Quick Navi displayed you do forgo live view on the rear screen, but it has the distinct advantage of including more settings (including Raw/JPEG quality) than the Fn menu.
|Quick Navi makes a welcome return as one of the display options. If chosen in the menus, it can be accessed by pressing DISP to cycle through the selected displays.||Press Fn when Quick Navi is on screen and the panel becomes interactive. Note that Quick Navi gives access to file size/quality, which the Fn menu doesn't.|
|As in the Fn menu, pressing the joystick in takes you to a separate screen for your currently selected setting.||Alternatively, spinning the front dial lets you make your selection without leaving the page. Press Fn again to select.|
The A99's playback mode offers three separate image views. The camera can be configured to immediately display the image after capture for either two, five or 10 seconds, or bypass automatic image review altogether. The A99 has dual SD card slots and you can specify the card slot from which the image reviews are generated.
|In playback mode there are three image views available. Using the DISP button you can opt for a display with shooting data overlaid, a thumbnail view with single channel RGB+Luminance histograms, or an image-only view.|
Playback magnification and thumbnails
You initiate zoom on the A99 by pressing the AF/MF button on the shoulder of the camera when in playback mode. You can increase the view to maximum magnification by rotating the rear dial. The front dial cycles among images while maintaining the specified magnification view, allowing you to compare critical focus of consecutive images.
Pressing the AF/MF button again reverts back to the normal view. Alternatively, pressing the AEL button jumps out to a thumbnail view, allowing you to browse more quickly through images.
|Pressing the AF button zooms in to a magnified view. You can continue zooming to maximum magnification by rotating the rear dial.||Like previous Sony Alpha models, the A99 offers a single 2 x 2 grid thumbnail view.|
As is Sony's way - and as we detailed in our NEX-7 review - the ability to playback both stills and movies is made unnecessarily difficult, as they're stored into different 'Folders', meaning you must actually switch view modes to go from browsing stills to reviewing video and vice versa. The camera defaults to the view mode of your most recent capture.
We also find it odd that when you play back a movie it doesn't actually stop at the end, like pretty well all other cameras do. Instead it insists on continuing through all of the following movies on your card as well, stopping only when it's reached the end of the most recently-recorded one. This means that playing through your movies with a view to deleting those you don't want becomes fraught with peril. You have to pay very close attention to what you're doing, as it's all-too-easy to decide to delete a movie, only to find the camera had moved onto the next file and you've deleted the wrong one.
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