Sony's full-frame A99 has been a long time coming, but has the wait been worth it? The What Digital Camera Sony A99 review finds out
Sony A99 review – Image Quality
Colour and White Balance
The A99 contains an unusually broad range of colour options; indeed, it’s debatable whether so many are actually necessary. Colours are generally lifelike at default settings, so certain situations – such as landscapes – benefit from the selection of a more vibrant Creative Style. The Auto White Balance is reliable in natural conditions, and still very good when tasked with capturing images under artificial sources, although fluorescent sources do sometimes fox it.
It’s rare for a metering system to be deemed “inaccurate”, and most of the time the camera gets things right, regardless of whether it’s being used in balanced lighting conditions, or more challenging set-ups with a more uneven distribution of shadow, midtone and highlight areas. As with most metering systems, extended time with the camera does reveal a tendency one way or the other, and here it’s decidedly towards underexposure, particularly when faced with backlighting.
The Alpha 99 does well to maintain resolution across the sensitivity range. Its performance is similar to that of Nikon’s D600, which also has a 24.3MP sensor, although it maintains resolution considerably better than Canon’s 18.1MP EOS-1D X model at higher settings.
It’s slightly disappointing that chroma noise exists in images captured in fair conditions even at sensitivities as low as ISO 200, although at higher sensitivities there appears to be a fine trade-off struck between noise reduction and detail retention. Lettering which is obscured by a sea of chroma noise in high-sensitivity Raw images remains legible in JPEGs which have been treated by the camera’s Low or Normal noise reduction settings. Admittedly, some coloured blotchiness remains, but the target market is likely to rely less on JPEG noise reduction and more on their own post-processing prowess.
Raw and JPEG
Raw images tend to be a touch sharper than JPEGs, most likely due to noise reduction. the boost in contrast which JPEGs typically receive over Raw images is lower than expected, although this is down to the immediate usability of Raw images rather than any deficiencies in JPEGs.
The A99 records detailed HD videos with decent sound quality, and the effectiveness of the Super SteadyShot system is visible. The camera focuses quickly (and accurately) between different subjects, but not so rapidly that it disrupts the viewing experience. Only when there is no ambient noise can the lens be heard focusing (this varies between lenses), but even here it’s quiet. The Silent Multi Controller could do with being larger, but it offers precise control over audio levels which allows smooth fade-in/out effects to be made with ease.