On the day before Photokina began, every major camera company held a press conference announcing their key products for the expo.
Nikon, Pentax, and Canon unfortunately didn’t really show up with anything new (although each company did unveil landmark DSLRs this year in the Nikon D500, Nikon D5, Pentax K-1, Canon 1D X Mark II, and Canon 5D Mark IV), so it was up to Sony to spark some life into the crowded room.
Number after number flashed onto the projector, and we saw impressive but recognisable specs for those familiar with Sony’s mirrorless cameras.
In many ways the A99 II is groundbreaking for a DSLR (I know it’s technically a SLT), and a true competitor to flagship models from Nikon and Canon. On the other hand, it’s simply a large body capable of housing all of Sony’s previously developed technologies.
Let’s talk first about the handling and design of the camera. It is indeed smaller than the first A99 (8% to be exact), and so close in size to the a77 II that Sony can even use the same battery grip for both cameras. On the top of the camera, the design does remind us of the RX10-series, since the prism hump is flat and elongated. The layout is simplistic, with one dial to select exposure modes, and buttons for ISO and white balance. It’s pretty standard, and while we rarely anticipate ergonomic innovation from Sony, there’s also little to complain about. Sure it would have been great to have an ISO dial at last, but that’s not exactly Sony’s schtick.
Their prowess and competitive advantage has always been about wowing consumers with their technology – and from what we could see, the A99 II doesn’t have to worry about overselling its capabilities.
The autofocus is just as good as we’ve previously seen on the A6300 and A7S II, while the images are as detailed as the ones we ordinarily get from the a7R II. This much doesn’t need to be repeated often – same sensor, naturally we’ll get the same results.
So let’s talk about the thickness of the camera, and the flipping LCD. The LCD is extremely flexible, and can be used to shoot selfies, while also allowing for shooting from above and below. It’s especially decent for video, as the LCD can lie on top of the aforementioned flat prism hump. However, Sony haven’t bothered with a touch scren interface, so they aren’t demonstrating any new tech.
With uncropped 4K that will have no pixel-binning, this camera instantly becomes a serious consideration for videographers. It’s well weighted, and balances better with large a-mount lenses than full-frame FE lenses like the new G-Master kits. In fact, the G-Master lenses are often even bigger than the a-mount equivalents. The point here is that G-Master lenses on mirrorless bodies are neither compact or well weighted. For example, using an a7R II with a 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master is almost as bulky as using the a99 II, with the advantage of course that the a99 II has more battery, better performance in low ISO, and better autofocus.
But before people think that FE-mount is suddenly worse than A-mount, let’s consider the matter of lenses, which we just recently brought up.
Over the past few years, and despite initial issues, the FE-mount has developed into a full ecosystem powered by official Sony lenses and third-party manufacturers.
A variety of lenses are being designed every month for the mirrorless FE bodies, and while the A99 II might tempt readers at first, let’s remember that Sony don’t care too much for the A-series at all, and that probably the A99 II is just a service for existing users of this old Minolta legacy.
We found that, considering the high megapixel count, the high ISO was usable in all conditions at up to 8,000. Any higher, and we experienced a loss of colour in the shadows, as well as a considerable colour shift and increase in noise.
That’s not to say that anything above that is poor, because in good lighting, 16,000 was clean and acceptable. Once again, these are our first thoughts garnered from a limited amount of time spent with the camera, but we thought the ISO performance was good – just not as stunning as from the a7S II. So while ideally this sounds like a perfect blend of the two cameras, perhaps it’s not as simple as that.
The autofocus however, is worthy of all the Sony mirrorless cameras, and in Live View, it can focus at -4 EV – similar to the 5D Mark IV and far better than the D810, which only can focus at -2 EV.
The a99 II promises to be good at sports and action, and can shoot at up to 12 fps, with a buffer for up to 60 JPEGs or 54 Raws. It will also continuously show the live view while shooting at up to 8 frames per second, making the whole process quite seamless.
In its current reincarnation, the A99 II is better than either mirrorless models from Sony, but that must surely be a sign that the A9-series is imminent. I think it’s pretty clear the A-mount is secondary to Sony’s thoughts, especially since the a99 II has nothing particularly new.
Our initial enthusiasm for the A99 II hasn’t exactly waned over the first few days of Photokina, but it’s hard to be overly excited over what is essentially a stop gap measure – something to placate the fans and capture customers who value camera bodies over ecosystems.
Which is not to say that the Canon 5D Mark IV is a better camera simply because there are more EF-lenses – it’s clearly a disappointment, while the A99 II is a pleasant surprise. It’s just that for the price of $US 3,199 for the body only, does it really make sense to jump into, or continue investing in something with a limited time frame?
The A99 II has good enough specs to stay relevant for a few year, but anyone considering the jump to Sony might just consider waiting to see what the next mirrorless models hold.