2012 has been one of the most innovative years in the camera world. We’ve seen the Olympus OMD, The 5d Mark III, Canon’s first mirrorless camera and the staggering 36 megapixel D800 from Nikon. Now, enter Sony with what could very well be the most exciting camera of the year.
It’s called the A99, and it’s being dubbed the ‘world’s first full frame SLT’. SLT (standing for Single-Lens Translucent) sits right in the middle of the conventional SLR and the Mirrorless camera. Sony’s SLT has an electronic viewfinder, but a translucent mirror-like frame in front of the sensor that doesn’t flip up when photos are taken. Beyond a reduction in size and weight, the translucent, static frame allows for some groundbreaking focusing and video capabilities.
The A99′s Specs
The A99 is sony’s successor to the A900. Like the A900, the new A99 holds a full frame 24.3 megapixel sensor, but it’s been fully rebuilt. Sony claims that the new sensor has twice the low-light sensitivity of their previous full frame cameras and an improved dynamic range. The sensor is capable of ISO 100-25,600 with boosted low light functionality up to ISO 102,400.
The new BIONZ image sensor is capable of offloading photos at 10fps, and delivering 14-bit RAW images. The sensor can also intelligently reduce noise in its photos – far from a new feature, but Sony claims it’s capabilities are nye on incredible.
The Autofocus System
As an SLT, the A99′s focus capabilities are tremendously important. With a translucent frame infront of the sensor at all times, the A99 has full focus capabilities even whilst a video is being recorded. Sony’s A99 has an impressive (and slightly ridiculous) 121 AF points across two separate planes. One plane, holding 102 points, is built directly onto the camera’s sensor. Another, holding 19 points, is attached to the plane infront of the sensor.
The benefits of this ‘world-first’ system are yet to be independently tested, but the theory is sound. The A99 should be able to “understand a scene and to distinguish the difference between the subject and its background”. You can also set the camera to focus within a certain range. For example, you can set it to focus only within 1 meter of the lens, and the camera will ignore any objects beyond that point.
The AF system will shine in video mode. Typically, when an SLR like the Canon 5D shoots video, the mirror will flip up and the sensor will be left to manage focus by reading the image’s contrast. With the translucent pane and 102 point AF built right into the sensor, the A99 can maintain continuous, smooth and fluent focus even whilst recording video. No hunting back and forth. The A99 presents a focusing breakthrough for video users.
The Video Capabilities
Sony has taken video functionality very seriously with the A99. It boasts full 1080p HD video at 60fps. With their clever AF system, the A99 will be able to manage video continuous focusing unlike any DSLR on the market.
The audio features of the A99 are impressive too. It holds a 32-step audio input, allowing for precise levels control. Importantly, the A99 also holds a headphone jack to let you hear just what’s being recorded. The A99′s hot shoe also doubles as an XLR input (with an adaptor) allowing for remarkable flexibility with microphone and audio inputs.
Dubbed the ‘Silent Multi-Controller’, the A99 holds a new programmable button on the camera, allowing for specified, smooth adjustments while video is being recorded. If you want to adjust exposure during a video, rather than pressing noisy, clicky buttons, you can now rotate a smooth dial to unobtrusively change your settings.
Adding to the video functionality, the A99 contains two SD card slots which can be configured to mirror their data as a backup feature.
The Other Features
Beyond the new sensor, video capabilities and the AF system, the A99 does hold a few other neat features. It holds a tilty-swivvely 921k dot lcd screen, a detailed Electronic View Finder at 2359k dots that shows you your current DOF, and a built in GPS.
At 733 grams, the camera’s body is also the lightest in its class. It boasts a magnesium alloy body with dust and weatherproof features, and the SLT technology allows for a lighter, smaller design because of the elimination of mirror-flipping hinges.
The A99 goes on sale in October for $2,799 (Body only).
What this all means
There are a few breakthrough features on the A99, like the AF system. It’s the combination of certain features though that makes the A99 a very important new camera. This is the first SLT camera that can be taken seriously, with a full frame sensor and powerful video capabilities. The A99 breaks away from traditions, respectfully holds a finger up to the old world of SLRs, and offers a powerful, innovative array of features on a camera that embraces the technology of the time.
Canon and Nikon, be very afraid.
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