Record mode display

Although it does have an LCD info panel on the top, the Alpha 900 still uses the LCD monitor as a record mode display for camera settings, exposure etc. In record mode you can press the Display button to toggle between the full recording mode display, 'enlarged' recording mode display (which has less information) or no display.

Detailed recording mode display Enlarged recording mode display

Using the Quick Navi menu

Once again you can now change most settings directly from the info screen by pressing the 'Fn' button, which turns the screen into a 'Quick Navi' menu - one of the Alpha 700's standout features that thankfully hasn't been changed in the Alpha 900. Using the multi-commander you simply move the highlight from one setting to another. Pressing the central button brings up a mini menu for that item, allowing you to change settings. It works well and my only complaint is that you can't change the button used to activate the Quick Navi menu - odd when so much customization is on offer - and the Fn button is too much of a stretch for your thumb (so changing settings is impossible if you're not holding the camera with both hands (and it feels unnecessarily fiddly). There is, however, a way to overcome this (see next section).

Pressing the Fn button turns on the Quick Navi screen. The left, right, up and down arrows on the multi-controller are used to move from one setting to another. Press the middle button on the controller and a menu appears allowing you to change the setting.
Selecting a Creative Style Changing Exposure Comp. setting.

Using the direct access buttons

By default you see a dedicated menu - as shown above - when you press one of the external buttons (ISO, DRIVE, WB and +/-) on the top of the camera. An option in the custom menu allows you to change settings directly on the Quick Navi screen by pressing one of these buttons and turning the front control dial. For settings - such as white balance - with additional options, the rear dial cycles through the parameters. The table below shows the (default) function of each dial/button combo:

Button Front Dial Rear Dial
ISO Change ISO (1 EV steps) Change ISO (0.3 EV steps)
WB Cycle through WB presets • Presets: Change WB adjustments (+3 to -3)
• Kelvin: Change Kelvin value and color filter
• Custom WB: choose from 3 saved settings, create new setting
DRIVE Cycle through drive, bracketing, self timer, remote control modes • Continuous: Hi or Lo
• Self timer: duration
• Bracketing: EV step and number of frames
+/- AE compensation AE compensation (same as front dial)

One big advantage of using the Quick Navi screen in this way is that once you've pressed one of the direct access buttons you can use the multi-commander to move to any of the other on-screen settings (thus overcoming the rather awkward positioning of the Fn button).

ISO (not all settings shown)
• turning front or rear dial

WB fine tune (not all settings shown)
• turning rear dial

Intelligent Preview

The Alpha 900 doesn't offer live view (we've yet to get a definitive answer from Sony on exactly why) - in its place is 'Intelligent Preview' - a sort of pre-capture test shot. Pressing the DOF preview button (by default, though it can also be assigned to the Focus Hold button) takes a picture using the current settings and puts the raw data into the buffer. The Intelligent Preview interface (shown below) allows you to experiment with different exposures, DRO settings and white balance until you're happy with the result. At this point you have to actually take the picture by pressing the shutter (the Intelligent Preview shot cannot be saved) - any changes made to the settings are used for the actual photo.

In the studio the system works pretty well, though it must be said that it's no substitute for a good live view mode (we use live view in the studio a lot - though rarely anywhere else), chiefly because it can't be used to check critical focus (you can't magnify the preview image). And obviously it's only really useful when the camera - and subject - are relatively static - I suspect you may start 'missing the moment' if you try to use it for sports photography.

You get three stops either side of the current exposure to play with, though if the preview is massively under or over exposed you'll hit the limits of raw headroom before then (in other words, if you're in P mode and the AE compensation is set to +3.0 when you take the preview shot, you can't see what -3.0 will look like).

This is what you see after pressing the DOF button; a small preview image, histograms and your current settings. Changing the exposure (not all settings shown here) - you can also do this in Manual exposure mode, though obviously you won't see depth of field changes.
Changing the white balance (again, not all options are shown in this animation). And changing DRO settings.
Press the Display button to toggle between the original settings and your new settings.