Sony A99 – First Impression

LukeLee-130814-001

That’s right people.

I made a move.

I know, it’s very awkward move, even for me, an early adopter. But you know what? I don’t regret it. I am actually very happy I made this bold move. Let me just tell you how I feel this camera.

First of all, the temptation came from special deal the Photo & Video International had.
A99 and vertical grip AND Tamron’s 24-70mm lens. The lens I have for Nikon D800 also. Yes, I believe the lens is that good.
I took the deal, I sold my fuji gears and my good-old beloved backup body Nikon D700 to grab this deal.

Here’s my first impression, piece by piece.

1. Focusing
Auto Focusing Speed, Blazing fast! I think I have good understanding when it comes to AF speed. I’ve used most of Nikon’s flagship digitals, D1, D2h, D2x, D3, D3s and Also had my hands on Canon’s old flagship 1Ds and 1D mark 2 N back in the “dark days”. I think I know a thing or two about AF. And this Sony A99 CAN FOCUS! Unfortunately I am not using Sony’s AF-D supported lens, but still it’s really good with focusing. I’ve only briefly tested AF-D function in the shop with Sony 50mm f1.4. It was AWESOME!… but next time for me… I currently have no plan on buying Sony lenses… or any time soon.

Manual Focusing. Brilliant! I’m looking forward to using some old converted manual lenses. I’ve already bought a mount adapter for m42 screw mount. While I don’t enjoy zooming in while composing, but I love how it paints over the edges that are in focus with it’s focus peak function. It is just so, so, so much easier to focus manual focus lenses with this camera. This is also greatly helpful to assist AF in dimmer situations with the help of Sony(Minolta)’s AF/MF button. I am already utilising this and feel very awkward and insecure when I try to focus without these functions in Nikon D800.

2. Handling

There are so many buttons in A99 and oddly (also beautifully), most buttons are within my right hand thumb’s reach. I did not try to memorise anything but my thumb is quickly learning where to go to do certain things. Coming from Nikon’s D800, mode dial on the right side feels a bit awkward to me. And also lack of metering mode dial. But I’ve already set the default for silent knob to metering mode change and changed few functions on the buttons. It’s great to have so much options. In Nikon D800, I was happy that I could change 2-3 button’s functions, adding even more combined with dials. But with A99, I get to change almost all button’s functions the way I want to. I’m still trying to get the best combination for me. It will take me couple of weddings to get the best settings.

While shooting was fine, I find reviewing photos are not as good. Zooming to check focus and reviewing multiple photos quickly aren’t as easy as Nikon D800. Even with Canon’s few models, I never thought reviewing was hard, but with A99, reviewing is rather slow, especially when I’m zooming in. It reminded me of using Fuji’s X-Pro1, only slower.

3. Image Quality

So far, so good. I once took it to the beach to get some test shots. I was surprised with its sharpness. And so much details. Of course, coming from Nikon D800’s whooping 36MP, I wasn’t overwhelmed. But I thought to myself, “this is actually good enough for my work”. Dynamic Range was good, although I thought it could use more in shadow side. I was concerned with its light lose due to the translucent mirror, but that wasn’t any problem when I was out there shooting. It never clicked to my mind.

Low light capability is still not up to Canon or Nikon’s level. However, I wouldn’t mind using it upto ISO 3200 if I was using this for wedding. Many photographers forget that, clean photos aren’t the best photos. I still remember back in old days, I was using ISO 400 film with flash and was always careful with my shutter speed. Now, I can push this upto ISO 3200 and would get much better results even without flash. Plus the built-in steadyshot function is a bless.

4. Build

Build quality, including the vertical grip, I like it. It feels sturdy when I’m holding it. Grip is nice and thick. It actually feels much better on my hand than Nikon D800. I haven’t used it on a wet day yet, but I’m sure it will do fine even in those weathers.
It’s light. My D800 and A99 have the same lens, so I can actually feel the difference. D800 and Tamron 24-70 would be about the same as A99 with vertical grip and Tamron 24-70. I don’t know in exact numbers, but it definitely feels that way.

BUT, while I love the articulating LCD screen, whenever I grab it from the bag, one of my fingers will always get right under the screen and lift, causing the screen to raise a bit. I’m sure it’s built well and strong but every time I get it out of the bag, I’m worried that I might break that LCD screen joint.
Also, it’s great that how they had A99’s “head” smaller thanks to their new DSLT design, but now it’s “head” is flat, when I see it from the top, I can almost see the lens mount. It’s ok for most part, but when I grab the camera from the top, I have a habbit of grabbing that “head” where the logo is, and lift it up to grab the body. It was so easy with Nikon and most of them had big forhead. But with A99, I kept slipping away. But it’s only my habbit and a bad one. I will eventually have to fix this myself.

5. Overall

I love this camera. It’s great to my hand and shoots great photos. EVF is great when you get used to it. I find it better everyday, especially with focusing. MF was never easier! I think it’s even better than split screen from film days.
It’s beautifully light, yet so capable. articulating screen is great and built-in steadyshot also great. So many features to help photography.

I still find people saying “Really? Sony?” to me all the time. Many people don’t consider Sony as a major player especially in pro market with lack of professional support and all. But here’s the thing. I don’t get benefits of NPS (Nikon Professional Services), and even if I went to Canon, I wouldn’t have CPS (Canon Professional Services). I am not a full time photographer and I probably won’t be for a while (sad but it’s true). This got me thinking. In New Zealand, it takes roughly 3 weeks to get something looked at by Nikon or Canon. Then they find out what’s wrong with your gears and it will take about the same amount of time for repair. Last time I had my D3s water damaged, it took Nikon 2 months to repair and send it back.
I don’t know how they do it overseas, in New Zealand, I think for someone like me, Sony might have better services available. At least, they have a store in where I live.

So, for now, this is how I see this camera. It’s beautiful. I love holding this camera. I’m already so used to it’s ergonomics, I feel its more comfortable than my Nikon D800.
HOWEVER, it will take more than that for me to move my system completely to Sony. I will work with this camera along with D800 through this wedding season, and make an informed decision.

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