9.12.2012

Oh Yeah. Now this is what I'm talking about.


Here's a great video about the camera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjEwsnwbwbs

A while back I wrote a "wish list" of things I wanted to see incorporated into the new flagship camera from Sony. They did everything I wanted except for the carbon fiber construction. But I wasn't 100% serious about the carbon fiber anyway so let's let that drop.

What Sony has done with the a99 camera is to effectively and decisively leapfrog over Nikon and Canon and deliver a next generation imaging solution for photographers who are not mired in place by concepts of what constitutes a camera based on old traditions and metrics.  While the curmudgeons may not want video or an electronic viewfinder or some of the bells and whistles you'll find on this and other Sony cameras (a77?) that contingent of photographers is not necessarily the future of professional, commercial photography. They represent the past. And the past is already gone.  All around me I am keenly aware that the generation of image makers who are in ascendency are more and more comfortable slipping back and forth between video and stills. They are looking for cameras that create movies fluidly, unhampered by antiquated live view adaptations and legacy viewing solutions. 

This is why I predict that Nikon and Canon will come stumbling after Sony in a year or two with cameras that have electronic viewfinders. The movie creation aspect may seem meaningless to someone who does photography as a hobby but for someone who earns their living mixing stills and motion (and that will constitute, more and more, what successful photographers do to make a good living) the video capabilities of a camera are as important as how quickly it focuses and how nice the still image files look. I guess you just have to separate the markets when you look at new products.

So, from the press releases and the intro on DPReview we can make a list of all the things Sony got right:

-full frame sensor with the promise of great dynamic range and good high ISO noise performance.

-innovative and state of the art autofocus. With both PD on a chip and above mirror PD sensor.

-the use of a proven and easy to master body style and control interface.

-electronic first curtain shutter for fast response and lower noise.

-focus range control. Let's you set a min and max focus range for faster lock on.

-dynamite video !!!

-a headphone out jack for monitoring video sound.

-manual level controls in 32 steps for video sound levels.

-an interface that allows for the connection of XLR microphone connectors (another industry first).

-high level, unprocessed video out for highest quality.

-dual card slots that are configurable in the ways I suggested.

-true 14 bit raw files.

-the promise of performance, performance, performance from the new sensor.

-weatherproofing and long life shutter.

AND THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF ALL.......they're using the same battery as in the a77.

When I get one in my hands I'll write a long review but for right now I want to discuss why the Sony camera is a superior video production tool.  The a99 can shoot at 1080 at 60 fps with 28mps throughput and that's very cool but not nearly as cool as the three major things that are, right now, Sony exclusives in the full frame, high end DSLR camera/video market: The electronic viewfinder, the phase detection auto focus (full time) and focus peaking.

I was outdoors shooting video footage yesterday of a very famous athlete swimming a fast workout in our pool.  It was bright, direct sun light coming from straight overhead. In the days of shooting with a Canon 5Dmk2 the ambient light would have rendered the rear screen useless for shooting video without the addition of a cumbersome finder attachment like the expensive and heavy Zacuto finders. The optical finder, in the video mode, is locked off and vacant.  The camera's slow contrast detect AF would be useless in tracking a fast moving swimmer. We'd need a focus puller holding on to the front of the lens while I followed the action in the aforementioned expensive and kludgy finder strapped to the back of the camera like a goiter.

Not so with the a77 (and soon with the a99).  I was shooting yesterday with the a77 and the Sony 70-200 2.8 G lens. Since the ambient light was too bright to use the rear screen I did all the set up stuff using the menu in the EVF finder. When I was ready to shoot the image in the EVF was perfectly isolated from the ambient light and worked well. I was able to judge both exposure and color temperature while I was shooting, both on the screen, and in the case of exposure, with an on screen histogram. Shooting at 60 fps gave me a smooth set of video clips of the fast action and the higher frame rate allowed me to work at 1/125th of a second without getting a jittery look that can come from raising the shutter speed beyond 2x of the fps.

If I switched to program or aperture priority I would lose control of the shutter speeds but I would gain full, DSLR speed AF with my video footage. Even through a variable ND filter the camera locked on to my athlete at 200mm and wouldn't let go.  It was better AF performance than I've gotten with any video camera or hybrid, ever. If I wanted exacting control over shutter and aperture I had to go to manual mode which, with the Sony, means I lose AF.  No sweat. The inclusion of focus peaking makes manually tracking focus easy as pie. And the entire time you're seeing the exact results, via the EVF, that you'll see when you head in to edit.

Since the a99 uses nearly the same video system it will crush Nikon and Canon's current DSLR video production capabilities as expressed in the D800 and 5Dmk3.

There's a lot more to the a99 but when people (fellow photographers) ask me why I switched systems to the Sony I can truthfully say it's because this is where the future of professional photography is heading. I didn't want to be left behind.  And my experiences shooting video between the Sony and the Canon 5D2 is night and day. The gap has just widened. And since Canon and Nikon did their prosumer refresh and pro camera refreshes this year it will be quite a while until they even have a chance to rebut.  

If the high ISO performance and the touted 1.5 stop increase in dynamic range over the Sony a900 is accurate then this camera will be the hottest pro tool in the market for at least the next year.  And in the current state of the commercial photography field that's almost a lifetime.




For another take on the Sony revolution check this blog: http://blog.atmtxphoto.com/2012/09/12/the-rx1-and-a99-is-sony-getting-its-mojo-back/

43 comments:

Keith I. said...

Min e is already on order. I am very excited to try out the new AF system.

ginsbu said...

Times really have changed. Sony, Fuji and the micro 4/3 team are (in their different ways) the real innovators these days, not Canon or Nikon.

Your point about "body style and control interface" deserves more emphasis. Sony's high-end bodies are very well thought out. It's a shame that their consumer-grade offerings (both alpha & NEX) aren't up to the same level and give many a misleading impression.

Andreas Manessinger said...

OK, I've just bought an OM-D for its size and weight, so my opinion may be influenced by that, and I also don't want to rain in your parade, but:

Interestingly enough I see no sensor stabilization. As far as I remember, the A900/A850 didn't have it either. That's fine for you and the way you work, but probably not for the intended market. In their press release Sony speaks of "advanced photographers". In Nikon terms this would be buyers of the D300/D700 or the upcoming D600, not their pro line. Same for Canon.

As far as I know, Sony A-mount lenses are not stabilized either. Again, this may not be a problem for you, but for me, using a camera on dark streets in European winter (or in churches where neither tripods nor flash are allowed), stabilization is a major feature. In fact it was one of my main reasons for choosing the OM-D and why I am still so happy with it.

The other thing is ISO. It's overrated, I know your line of argument, I completely agree, but still: "maximum sensitivity range (in expanded sensitivity mode) as wide as ISO50 – 25600" (from the press release as well) is just what every APS-C camera has nowadays. Or MFT, at least what regards the upper end.

Sure, ISO 50 (if it's comparable to what you see on the A77) is nice, but on the upper end I can't imagine that Sony wouldn't have claimed 50000 or 100000 extended, if 25000 were any good. They are either exceedingly honest (a rare quality among corporations) or their sensor can't compete with those of Nikon and Canon. But then, we'll see, and I agree, for you this is obviously what you wished for and what will make you happy. Can't wait to read about your hands-on experience.

FotoEdge said...

I just wish they had retained the Built-In GPS feature of their A77 & A65... it makes record keeping so easy.

Mr Beast said...

The A99 has built in sensor stabilization for photos (equiv of 1.5 to 4.5 stops dependent on lens) and uses electronic stabilization when shooting video. Hope that addresses some of your concerns. It also means the lens do net require it.

ISO - if the high range means something like 6400 is everyday useable then surely that's a bonus for those that don't like to use flash? (also using the multishot merge feature you can take ISO to 102,400)

The sensor used in the A99 and RX1 is brand new - not used in any other camera yet and is meant to out perform even the excellent sensor in the D800 - the coming weeks will hopefully tell us more as we see real world examples.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to this: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.de/search?q=gear#!/2012/07/staying-ahead-and-getting-behind-why.html?

Karsten

Mr Beast said...

It does have GPS - http://presscentre.sony.eu/content/detail.aspx?ReleaseID=8033&NewsAreaId=2

It seems that the specs DPReview have posted are incorrect for some reason - the link above is Sony's official press release.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm aware, the GPS is included. It may not be there for some markets, just as it wasn't for some A77s.

I think it's the V version that has the GPS. Certainly is on the Australian model.
Cheers
Barry

Frank Grygier said...

Sony offers in-body IOS on this camera. Canon is going in two directions. The new series C video cameras and DSLRS. Nikon is still somewhere in the middle of offering an imaging tool that would satisfy the video end of things.

I own two OMD's. This camera system fills my needs as an enthusiast for making stills and I intend to stay with it for the foreseeable future. If I were to go back to video I would have to choose between Canon C100, Black Magic (I have the lenses for the upcoming M4/3 mount)or Sony.

The Sony A99 appears to be an imaging system that can handle both with equal performance.

Can't wait for the full review. I should be a doozy!

Thomas Brotherton said...

I don't know of any recent Sony that is not stabilized with Super Steady Shot built in as inherited from Konica Minolta when Moses was just a corporal. That includes the 900/850 you made reference to. Are you serious?

Andreas Manessinger said...

Oops, I thought I had read the press release carefully. I see sensor shift stabilization mentioned in the feature lists at dpreview and dcresource, but I still can't find it in the press release. Neither the generic "stabilization" nor Sony's own term "SteadyShot". May I still doubt it :-?

Andreas Manessinger said...

@Thomas Brotherton : actually no. The A900 seems to have had it as well. I just couldn't remember and didn't check. Sorry for that :)

ohnostudio said...

Good for Sony on keeping the battery the same. It's one consideration I make when looking at a new camera model. Right now I deal with about 7 different chargers and it's really getting old.

Andreas Manessinger said...

OK, I'm wrong. It's just not in the press release. This is from the official feature list on Sony.com:

"Image Stabilization : SteadyShot INSIDE™ in-body image stabilization. Compensation effect: Equivalent to approx. 2.5 to 4.5 steps in shutter speeds *Varies according to shooting conditions and lens used. Type: For still images: Image Sensor-Shift mechanism, For movies: Electronic"

I still won't buy it, but if I were in the market for a camera of that size, this is one I'd seriously consider :)

Keith I. said...

The NEX series is lacking stabilization in body but I assure you my A900 has it.

Keith I. said...

I love the battery thing too. Even my 6 year old A100 can use the current battery.

John Krumm said...

No, it has been standard for quite a while, and they are the only ones to offer sensor-based stabilization for full-frame cameras. Mike over at TOP wrote about it working pretty well on his A900. You must be thinking of the Nex cameras, which many people wish had sensor stabilization.

Mike said...

It looks like a spectacular camera. I am one stop closer to ditching Canon & Fuji for Sony.

David Liang said...

What got me was the amount of customization available on the camera. Where the a77 flash open button used to be is now a vacant button that can be customized. Then there's the front "silent" control wheel and button also customizable to whatever needs, although I'm thinking sound/ISO would be the most useful.

The AF Range thing is genius I can't recall seeing that in other systems. I love my a77 but I can't help but think I'll be getting the a99 within months.

Steve J said...

Those old Minolta engineers were always ahead of the curve and they have finally regained their position. Sony make all the world's top sensors, so they really are in a pretty strong position now.

Will be interested to see how well it tracks in AFC mode and how the new flash shoe will translate into better flashes and other accessories.

cidereye said...

A stunning camera, just wish I could afford one.

For the likes of Canon & Nikon I'm sure EVF's are the future on DSLR's, but the future has been here for a while already thanks to Sony.

I'm just surprised how both Nikon & Canon have been giving up so much sales ground for the last few years whilst their competitors have racked up the sales with innovative, new cameras especially with decent CSC systems like the Sony NEX, Fuji X-Pro & M43. Where are they with their fightback?

Anonymous said...

From the specs you listed above, it sounds just like a 5D Mark III, except it likely won't come close to the Canon for AF performance. Hopefully the EVF will be better than the NEX-7 I tried, which was pretty awful. The 14-bit file capture must be a first for Sony - along with the ISO-standard hot shoe.

kirk tuck said...

Um, that's all insane gibberish. The cameras from Sony currently out focus 5Dmk3's under just about any condition and are a hell of a lot easier to shoot video with. The EVF is really great and I suspect you're just kidding when you say it's awful. The firsts for Sony are PD focusing during video capture and during full time live view, a great EVF, by all accounts a great new sensor and lots of fun stuff inside. You might want to get used to using EVF's now, when Canon desparately tries to catch up you'll be a couple of years behind the curve. You are right about one thing, that new hot shoe is a 70 year old POS. I prefer the recent one that's been standard on Sony cameras. Thanks for writing.

Frank Grygier said...

Please don't turn on the Captcha stuff!

kirk tuck said...

Snicker...

Ash Crill said...

Your argument is very compelling!

Incidentally, several of the points also apply to the upcoming Panasonic GH3. It should prove to be a much better video solution than the current mainstream offerings, though not as premium as the A99.

Hooray for innovation and electronic viewfinders!

Steve J said...

I never liked video on flappy mirror cameras. Not that it didn't work, but that it was such an inelegant engineering solution which seemed to take on a life of its own.

Hybrids need to be more video centric to succeed and the A99 manages that without losing most of the DSLR handling advantages. Sony seem to have given this approach a lot more thought than anyone else.

jim said...

So can you mount as many different lenses on the A99 as the Nex7? Or for that matter on the A77?

atmtx said...

In-body IS is one of the features of the Sony DSLR/DSLT I like. I was disappointed when the NEX system didn't have it.

atmtx said...

Thank you, Kirk for the adding the link to my Sony post. Exciting times for Sony. Let's hope Canon and Nikon wakeup sooner rather than later.

Keith I. said...

No, the sensor distance on the A99 is still the same as any of the A-mount Sony/Minoltas and too large for a lot of legacy glass. NEX or other mirrorless cameras are still the way to go for legacy lenses.

Anonymous said...

Being someone who uses (and loves) an A77, just sold an 850 and who can't seem to part with an old 7D, I'm absolutely amazed at the number of posters on a certain equipment based forum, who constantly bash about every Sony product. I know that paranoia is a normal human condition, but come on !!

I can't say whether the D600,5Dmk111, or any other camera is good or bad, as I don't use them and wouldn't know, but the bashers seem to have some sort of psychic insights into the ability, or lack, of Sony's unreleased products.

If the A99's not for you, just move on and enjoy your camera of choice and take some pictures for God's sake (and get a life)

I'm getting real pissed at the insinuation that I'm a fool for using Sony.

So endeth the rant. Thank you linesmen, thank you ballboys.

Barry

Keith I. said...

Right there with you, Barry. I have been a Sony shooter since the A100 and used or at least quickly tried may others. People just knock it for being Sony. I will miss the iISO hotshoe too, despite how much it was loathed by non A-mount shooters, but I understand why they changed after seeing all the new contact points.

Terry Schmidbauer said...

Unfortunately, the Sony bashing will get worse before it gets better. This latest release of innovative cameras from Sony is going to make the people, who have invested heavily into their gear, feel threatened and in response they will lash out in defense. If the latest threads on popular gear forums are any indication, it’s going to get real ugly. And it’s really just beginning because I believe Sony has a couple more tricks up their sleeve. I’m just going to go shoot and forget about the comparisons for now.

David Mantripp said...

I wonder if it would make any difference to price for Sony, or indeed anybody, to offer a still-only variant. I've got nothing against video and convergence and all that wonderful stuff, but I do wonder what proportion of DSLRs sold are really used to shoot video. Or indeed how many DSLR-using videographers shoot stills. Regardless of whether the box lets you do it or not, they ARE different pursuits altogether, and in my opinion much the better for it.

Anonymous said...

Kirk, I agree on the leapfrogging and wonderful technology of the Sony; I'm loving it. I checked out the a77 at a camera store recently an it not only felt good in my hands, it was so high tech that it seemed like it was just delivered by aliens. But unfortunately I'm a photojournalist and shoot a lot of sports and beat on my camera pretty hard, and truly only Nikon D3/D4 Canon EOS 1D meet theses high demanding specs. I wish it weren't so but my choices for gear as much more limited. And with Nikon not delivering a D400 nor a D700 replacement (think D4 lite), there really are no cheap choices really. I love the a99, it's beautifully designed.
-CL

Kirk Tuck said...

Still right there on the server... :-)

This is a Photokina year. There's a lot to talk about. That doesn't mean we have to buy it all.

Kirk Tuck said...

The Sony Alpha DSLT cameras all feature in body IS so that EVERY lens you hang on the front becomes image stabilized. Just like the OMD. And Sony's IS seems to be state of the art. The NEX kit lens and the "must have" 50mm 1.8 are also both image stabilized in the lens. They are also "just right."

Kirk Tuck said...

Love that the new flash shoe honors old flashes but also opens up a new interface for stuff like XLR microphone adapters...

Kirk Tuck said...

By the way, the flash shoe isn't just like the ones in the Nikon and Canon. The smart people at Sony have also made the front end of the shoe an interface for new peripherals. Another leapfrog in action.

Kirk Tuck said...

The Panasonic GH line is pretty compelling. I love what they do with video. And it is a much more accessible price point.

Kirk Tuck said...

The introduction of the EVF and it's operational superiority over traditional methods is telling. Adapt or die.

Kirk Tuck said...

The sensor is already capable, the EVF is already in place. The difference between creating a "live view" camera and a fully video ready camera is equal to maybe the cost of a take out pizza and a big bottle of diet coke. It does nothing to impede the capture of stills. Don't like it? Ignore it and it will (for all effects and purposes) go away. You'd be surprised at the large number of younger photographers who shoot both ways with very little friction between disciplines. It seems evolutionary.