All it took was an afternoon alone with the Sony Alpha 99 camera for me to fall in love with it (or at least like it as much as a man can like an inanimate object, without it being creepy). Sony completely hits it out of the park with this flagship full frame delight and as soon as I get a raise or win the Lotto (the latter is more likely) I'm buying into this system.
At a glance:
• Sensor: 24.3 megapixel, full frame
• Screen: 3-inch LCD (1,228,800) + electronic viewfinder
• Max ISO: 25,600
Price: $3550 for body only (cheapest price found on Price Me)
Considering its size and the full frame sensor it packs, the A99 is surprisingly light. Weighing around 800 grams (or about 1 kg with a lens) it's not the lightest camera out there, but you definitely won't feel like you're lugging it around all day either.
The build quality is also top notch. The A99's mostly magnesium body took a few hard knocks while in my hands but survived them all. Even the swivel screen feels sturdy enough to withstand the needs of an adventurous photographer.
The A99 achieves its lightness because of its semi-translucent mirror technology. Instead of the traditional (and heavier) pentaprism / mirrorbox setup of DSLRs, the A99 has a partially see through mirror which points most of the light towards the sensor and a few slivers towards an autofocus array. The setup means you have to frame your shot using an electronic viewfinder, but I found EVF to be responsive, bright and most importantly accurate.
Image quality from Sony's camera is fantastic – it reminds me of the creamy richness and tack sharpness of the Sony RX1. In low light the A99 also does well, taking photos in dimly lit rooms is no challenge. The A99's autofocus is the fastest, most accurate I've had the pleasure of using. There's very little hunting, it's as if the camera just throws the focus at a random spot and uses its luck to make sure it's almost always right.
I didn't make much use of the A99's video features, but what little I did was still impressive. With an HDMI dock and microphone port you can turn the A99 into a film making machine, the SLT-powered phase detection gives continuous autofocus even in movie mode.
The one aspect of the camera I felt let down by is its image management system. Two SD card slots are a nice touch, letting me programme one to store photos and the other to store videos – but I found myself losing several batches of images due to file errors (a problem I've never had when using these particular cards in various other cameras). This is completely unacceptable, especially considering at its $3500+ price point this is aimed at professional users.
Verdict: As I said at the start of the review, this is a camera I would happily buy for myself. A few years ago I would've been hesitant to buy into a Sony camera system because the lens selection is nowhere near as comprehensive as Canon, Nikon or the Micro Four Thirds manufacturers. However, this last year has seen Sony put a lot of effort towards giving its cameras the attention they need (and deserve) – and with that comes more lens and accessory options.