Sony a99 Full-Frame DSLR Initial Impressions


  After 7 years, I had finally decided to upgrade my Nikon D700 to something more modern. First, I considered just upgrading to the D800, but the price differential between the D700 and D800 was big enough for me to consider switching brands and consolidating lenses. With all the options in the market at this time, it became such a difficult decision to just narrow down brands, not to mention lenses and accessories. After some consideration, I decided to stay away from Canon because I’ve already had the 5DII and L lenses. While the Nikon body and range of lenses did more than enough for me, I was itching for a change. Sony has been up and coming with their full range of mirrorless cameras. They introduced the the a99 and it seemed worth a shot. My only concern going into purchasing the a99 was the fact that it uses an Electronic Viewfinder instead of an optical viewfinder. But if anyone can make it work well, it’s Sony and their OLED technology.

Burlingame Crit Racer

This camera basically acts like a SLR without the mirror, but functionally holds and shoots like one. I like this because of the rigidity and handling ergonomics. This and the availability of high end glass makes a SLR style camera ideal for high quality shots really pop. Secretly, I want to try out Carl Zeiss glass, which is similar to Canon’s L or the high end Nikon glass. The first picture of the body and the lens is exactly what I have, the Sony SAL1635Z. Zeiss has been around since the 1800’s and has been one of the top optical manufacturers for years… so I can’t go wrong right?

Taro @ Fort Funston

In comparison, the Sony is 200g lighter than the Nikon, which is quite a bit. But, the new D800 is 100g lighter than the D700, so really it’s just a tad lighter than if I went w/the D800. Overall, that 200g savings is very important when your lugging around a camera for many hours of the day. Admittedly, the Zeiss glass does weigh quite a bit and is a pretty large lens, but it’s amazing for on tripod sunset and landscape work. Below was my first test run and I am very happy with the results.

Marshall Beach Rocks
Golden Gate Bridge from Marshall Beach

Now on to my thoughts about the photos and videos (the D700 doesn’t shoot video). I tried to the a99 through a whole range of shots and it seemed to outperform the dated Nikon in most aspects. One thing that was particularly bad for the Sony was the “action” type of shots because of a lack of mirror. Why? The Sony’s EVF has to display what the sensor is going to take a picture of versus a normal SLR which is like looking through the lenses directly. Other than that, the screen on the back is on a swivel which makes it easier to use the cameras at a range of different angles (including taking a selfie lol). The menu’s are a little more intuitive than the D700 (but I heard the D800 had a revamped menu). Overall, it takes a little while to get used to all of the controls again, but it’s laid out pretty well on the Sony.

Fireworks @ Foster City (Hand-held)
Fireworks @ Foster City + Moon (Hand-held)

In conclusion, I think this camera will be just as rugged as my old Nikon, but shaving a little bit of weight and giving me the opportunity to try out Carl Zeiss glass is important too. The updated features make it more versatile with video and a tilting LCD that gives you the option of shooting via “live view”. The other plus is the ability to used old Minolta Maxxum lenses (cheaper on the used market). I think this will serve me well for years to come.

And a Video bonus:

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