Countdown to the A99

The fine folks at Sony called me to update me on the status of my A77, which is on schedule to be shipped back to me later this week, so I may get my A77 back next week, right on time to receive the new firmware update! I looked at my calendar today and realized it is not August. So I turned the pages to October and realized it has been more than a month since the Sony A99 was announced and made available for Pre-order. Not knowing I was going to find an A900 for a really good price, I was excited to be going Full Frame. I am still excited about the A99, probably even more so now I have had the chance to play with the A900 for a week.

I’ve tried to brain dump some of the things I have seen about the A900 coming from being used to shooting with my A77 and have had the advantage of having my A77 in for repair and I have been “forced” to use the A900. I have a pretty extensive list so far.

A900 Pros (so far):

1. Full Frame. I know, obvious right? I hadn’t seen the edges of my lenses yet, but now I have and they look as good as the centers do. Full frame is a completely different art form. I am excited to see the next revision of the Sony Full Frame sensor.

SONY DSC
I would shoot this subject differently with the A77 than I would with the A900
The yellow outline shows the APS-C sensor size in comparison. (ISO 100, 85mm, f/1.4, 1/500s).

2. Giant viewfinder. The OVF vs. EVF debate can go on. I am independent in the election but I caucus with the EVF side. I will say I feel like the A900 OVF is much much bigger than the A77 EVF, if that is possible. I also realize I kinda missed being able to frame shots without turning the body on. Time will tell if the A99 EVF is a value above and beyond the A77 and possibly inherits the perceived size of the A900.

3. Battery life. I now have four batteries. I’ve only used one. The battery life on the A900 is orders of magnitude longer than the A77. I get a sense from the specifications the A99 will be closer to the behavior of the A77 than the A900.

4. Memory card management. This one surprised me a lot. I have a couple of SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC Cards for my A77 and upcoming A99. I did not own Compact Flash or Sony Memory Stick of useful size, so I bought one of each. My laptop has an SDHC slot but I either need to use a special reader for the cards, or plug the camera in. I choose to plug the camera in, and you know what? I like that better! I am the worst at forgetting to put my card back into the camera and then when I frame my shot and it blinks “NO CARD”, I have no one to blame but me. I’ll probably set my A77 and A99 up to do the same.

5. 200 is the new 100 and 1600 is the new 400. ISO, that is. I’ve heard rumblings about the A99 high ISO quality being on par or better than the A900. This is exciting to me. The A900 rocks it at ISO 1600, especially with decent light.

SONY DSC
This shot doesn’t happen unless I am comfortable at ISO 1600. 85mm, f/1.4, 1/60s.

6. Quick Navi. I have a feeling the A77 has this and I missed it. If it does, I am turning it on next week. If it doesn’t, I hope Sony puts it into a firmware rev. I know the A99 will have it.

7. SteadyShot switch. I like the switch being on the body, I don’t have to troll the menu to find and set it.

8. Continuous drive is faster than I expected. It is not quite as fast as the A77, but the buffer seems to clear faster. I bet if I shot continuously over a full minute, the A900 would get more shots in.

9. Autofocus seems more accurate. I still miss focus peaking in manual, but I haven’t needed to switch to manual as much as it seems to me the lenses acquire the subject better.

SONY DSC
I didn’t need focus peaking to get this shot, it was acquired by AF on its own. 300mm, f/5.6, 1/60s, ISO 200.

A900 shortfalls (so far):

1. Optical Viewfinder. Yes, I have the OVF as a pro above. It is also a liability. My #1, #2 and #3 weaknesses are masked by the A77. 1. Getting White Balance right, 2. Getting White Balance right, 3. Getting White Balance right. My other weakness is exposure and properly compensating, which the A77 OVF does a great job of previewing. I also miss focus peaking. I can also tell there is a Fresnel magnifier in the OVF under certain lighting conditions. A little annoying but it doesn’t affect picture quality.

SONY DSC

Shots like this one where there are a bunch of bright bokeh circles really expose the presence of the Fresnel magnifier.
(Not sure how to show it without another camera body present.)

2. The LCD experience. I miss tucking the LCD in. The A900 LCD reminds me I have the face of a teenager. Read into it how you want. I miss live view a little bit, like being able to see myself (or myself and one of my kids) while shooting or holding the body high to shoot above people or at weird angles. Not a big problem, but noticeable nonetheless.

3. I like the lens release switch on the lower left hand front of the A77, I use it to go into manual focus with focus peaking. I can turn it to the setting I want without looking. The A900 switch isn’t eyes free yet, but I also haven’t had to use it as much.

4. Movies. Not that I use the movie mode as much as I probably should, but I find comfort in knowing it is there in the A77.

Things I am looking forward to in the A99 above and beyond the A77 and A900 not mentioned above:

1. AF-D (when support is offered for my lenses). The A99 will have AF sensors functionality provided by the presence of the translucent mirror as well as by detection built in to the sensor like the Nex cameras.

2. Application support. Yeah, like the phones have. I will be a kid in a candy store, especially if there is a developer network. I’ll be one of the first to sign up.

3. Dual storage cards. I like having both a Memory Stick and a Compact Flash card in the A900. Unfortunately I can’t use both. In the A99 I will be able to use two SDHC’s at the same time. I can use one for RAW and one for JPG or one for photos and one for movies. All I know is, I am going to configure it to where I keep the cards in the camera body.

4. Form factor. I don’t mind the A900, it just takes a bit of getting used to. It is bigger than my A77, but not by much. It is about a half inch taller and wider. The A99 is going to be slightly bigger than the A77 but probably not enough to really tell unless you have both in your hands.

For convenience, here is the DPreview comparison of the specifications of the A99, A900 and A77 and the DXOMark comparison with their test results of the A900 and A77 sensors.

In all, I am having a ton of fun with the A900. I miss my A77. And I am anxiously awaiting the A99. No one can give me a straight answer on when I will get it. I figure I will get the alert on my Credit Card when the charge goes through and it will be my advance notice. Sony’s website said November 2nd and has since been moved to November 4th. Other sites say mid-October or early-November. Last time I checked, October 15 is mid-October. No charges and no A99 at my door. I tried to pry it out of the Sony people who called to let me know about the status of my A77. They punted, as expected. As soon as I know, I’ll post. But I am thinking any day now…

I am looking for ideas for testing the A99, A900, and A77 similarly, in a more scientific fashion than shooting poorly lit chess pieces. I hope to test all three, but make the tests fairly compensate for the APS-C sensor in the A77. I’m thinking of using the 70-300G at 100mm for the A77 and 150mm for the A900 and A99, but I also want to incorporate the 85mm and 24mm lenses in testing. Maybe shoot same distance, and then move back 50%? I have a wealth of potential subjects. Any ideas will be considered.

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