The 24.6-megapixel Alpha A900 is Sony's first full-frame digital SLR and is aimed at professional photographers, especially studio-based pros looking for the ultimate in high resolution.
The first few times we turned the camera on, the Auto Rotate function would display the graphic user interface at the wrong orientation. For example, we would be holding the camera horizontally but down towards the ground, while the display would be vertically aligned. The camera would need a good shake for it to adjust itself – fortunately this feature can be disabled via the menu.
Sony doesn’t quote what memory card it used to achieve its burst depth figures, but using a Lexar 8GB UDMA card with a write speed of 300x, simultaneous Raw and JPEG images, as well as cRaw and JPEG images, each beat their targets by a frame to make 11. Extra Fine images also surpassed their 11-frame limit to an average of 35, but the biggest surprise came with Fine JPEG files. Despite a quoted frame depth of 105 shots, we achieved bursts of 251, 216, 586 and 153 frames. The final attempt fell just six frames short of the full capacity of the card, notching up a staggering 1,366 frames with no slowdown.
We used a range of lenses to compare any differences in focus, and as we may expect from compact, fixed-focal-length lenses, the 50mm f/1.4 did a fantastic job. In low light at its widest aperture it did well to focus quickly, and in better light its speed was hard to fault. I was surprised by how similar a performance the slightly quieter 16-80mm Zeiss lens exhibited, particularly with no SSM high-speed motor to drive its focus. So, focusing is generally good, though anyone wishing to upgrade this would have to pay a fair price for one of Sony’s SSM lenses. Only four Sony lenses with the technology currently exist, in addition to two Zeiss-branded optics and a few older Minolta High Speed (HS) telephoto lenses. As with Olympus, this can be attributed to how long Sony has been developing lenses in comparison with other manufacturers, though more SSM lenses have been promised in the near future.
Sony’s ambivalence about using DT optics is perhaps equally an issue. While we didn’t see any grave exposure errors using the DT 16-80mm Zeiss lens, the viewfinder’s method of marking out the DT area seems very half-hearted. There are just four thin corners, which can be hard to see against dark or more intricate subject matter, and worse still, they don’t light up at any point during focusing to assist you. For this reason, shooting at night with a DT lens can prove difficult, and I’d say this poor support is perhaps one of the biggest disappointments about the A900, particularly if you’ve already invested in any of Sony’s DT lenses and see the a900 as a potential upgrade. Aside from this, the viewfinder is hard to fault; it’s large, clear and bright, and exactly what you want it to be.
One feature we did use often was the Intelligent Preview function, given how practical we found it. It provides the easiest method of fine-tuning key settings; for instance, fine-tuning exposure can be easily and quickly done, as is the case with the Dynamic Range Optimisation, and also of finding which combination of the two provides the best result. The white balance presets, though, may only be compared easily with those directly either side of them. The Auto setting, for example, is five steps away from the fluorescent preset, meaning you need to make a mental picture of one before turning all the way to the other and figuring out which is the most appropriate. We should clarify that we’re poking holes in the finest system of its kind and that in most situations it’s a perfectly valid and useful function.
We anticipate this feature will work its way down to future consumer models, as it serves more as a good learning tool rather than something the post-processing pro will need to call upon too often. We also hope this transcendence applies to the A900’s high-resolution LCD screen which is as a perfect match for the model’s other high-end credentials. Now that we’ve seen a fair few models with this LCD resolution, only the most entry-level of DSLRs will be able to get away with anything less. Our only niggle regarding how it performs is its drop in contrast in bright, outdoor conditions, though this is a criticism you could level at most DSLRs.