Sony has a new flagship digital SLR camera, and it's a stunner. The Alpha SLT-A99 has a much larger image sensor than its other models, meaning higher resolution and sharpness. It's a whiz in low light, and shoots terrific video, too.
It's also very expensive, ($2,800 for body only), so the A99 will appeal to serious hobbyists and pro photographers.
But if you've been looking to upgrade from an entry-level SLR, you'll get a lot of camera for your money. Let's explore. With the A99, you'll see:
Better, more consistent autofocusing than either the comparable Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D600 for stills and, especially, for video.
Cool features such as automatic panorama stitching and auto HDR processing. With HDR, the camera snaps three instant shots, one at normal exposure, one over-exposed, one under-exposed. It then patches them together to get richer colors, a darker sky and more details in the shadows.
A terrific professional workhorse. The A99 is easily Sony's best SLR to date.
It has a full-frame image sensor, and with more pixels (24MP), there's more room for resolution and color.
The A99 has Sony's "translucent" mirror technology, which basically ditches the familiar mirror used in SLRs since the earliest days. The result is faster focusing and rapid-fire 12-frames-per-second shooting.
In the past, the mirror helped photographers compose images by presenting a true rendition of a scene. Sony SLRs use an OLED electronic viewfinder, instead.
Anyone who has struggled with autofocus on SLRs in dark environments (think sports, school plays) will love the results on the A99. The focus clicks in within fractions of seconds.
For video, the improved autofocus is even more of a big deal. The autofocus is quick and responsive, and continues to function even once the recording has started.
The bad news: You can only make use of autofocus features for video if you're willing to shoot in automatic exposure mode.
That is a huge negative for pros. I always shoot in manual exposure for video (and stills) because I want accurate exposure. Auto overrides tend to give you wild mood swings if there's, say, a window behind a subject, or bright light of any type.
Sony attributes the auto exposure snag to a quirk with the translucent mirror.
Your workaround: Flip the lens from auto to manual focus. For those of you who don't trust your eyes, Sony has a "focus peaking" feature that adds a colored line on the focus point to help properly align you. But caution: It's not 100% accurate.
Sony has pulled out the stops for this camera. It's got a wider accessory lineup of sharp Zeiss lenses than in the past, and a cool new flash unit that doubles as a video light.
Bottom line: If you're in the market for an amazing DSLR, pay serious attention to the A99. The autofocusing for stills can't be beat, the image quality is stellar, and features such as the Sweep Panorama mode and HDR may sound gimmicky but work well.
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