Design and ergonomics
The A99 and A99 II don’t look too dissimilar from the outside, and both have been crafted around the same Transluscent Mirror design that split Sony’s models from more traditional DSLRs. And, once again, the A99 II makes use of the same lens mount for compatibility with Sony A-mount (and older Konica Minolta) optics.
Sony A99 – Front
Sony A99 II – Front
The A99 II also gains a more durable shutter unit that promises to last for over 300k actuations, next to the A99’s 200k. Furthermore, the Silent Multi Controller around the front has been revamped, and allows the user to alternate between clicked and de-clicked operation.
Compared with the original A99, the changes made to the main imaging pipeline are broad. The new model still makes use of a full-frame sensor, but in place of the 24.3MP Exmor CMOS chip found inside the A99, the A99 II ramps things up with a 42.4MP Exmor R alterative, one that’s been designed with a back-illuminated architecture and gapless design for greater light-gathering power.
Unlike the sensor inside the A99, the newer version has also been designed without an optical low-pass filter for better detail. Sony has also revamped the previous BIONZ processor with a more recent BIONZ X engine, one that promises faster operation than before.
While the original A99 featured sensor-based image stabilisation, the A99 II has an updated stabiliser that works over five axes (pitch, roll, yaw and both horizontal and vertical shifting). Sony claims this can provide a maximum benefit of 4.5EV steps.
While the sensors inside both cameras feature phase-detect AF pixels, the newer model packs in a considerably more advanced system.
Whereas the previous A99 employed a Dual AF system, one with 102 sensor-based phase-detect pixels teamed with a more conventional 19-point AF sensor, the A99 II sports a 4D Focus system – a first for a full-frame Sony model – that partners 399 on-sensor phase-detect points with a 79 all-cross-type points on a separate dedicated focusing sensor.
Sony claims this hybrid system is better equipped for subject tracking, while a boost in the working range sees the focusing system continue to operate down to -4EV. This is quite a step up from the -1EV rating of the A99’s system, and will no doubt please those who imagine themselves shooting in low light with any frequency.
Sony A99 – Back
Sony A99 II – Back
Although the A99 was capable of up to 10fps burst shooting, this was only possible when using the Tele-zoom Cont Priority AE option, which cropped into the centre of the frame. Otherwise the a99 fired at 6fps at full resolution, a figure that has now risen to 12fps on the A99 II, with autofocus and auto-exposure working throughout.
The company has also boosted the electronic viewfinder’s magnification for the A99 II, up from 0.71x on the A99 to 0.78x here (in 35mm-equivalent terms). Once again this is has a 0.5in-type, OLED panel with a 2.359k dots.
4K video recording has proliferated across the company’s compacts and compact system cameras in recent years, so it comes as no surprise that the A99 II is a far more capable tool for video recording than Full-HD-shooting A99.
Sony A99 – Top
Sony A99 II – Top
The camera records 4K footage to the UHD 4K resolution (3840 × 2160 pixels) at 100Mbps, when using the XAVC S codec. It can be set to record using the full width of the sensor, or alternatively set to a Super 35mm option, which records 15MP of information without pixel binning, before outputting it at 4K. This, Sony claims, benefits definition in footage.
There’s also a new Quick and Slow mode that gives you the option to record at a choice of frame rates from 1-120fps, and new S-Log3 and S-Log2 gamma options. And, like the A99, the camera can output clean footage through its HDMI port.
While the A99 II adheres to the same principle as its predecessor, and appears similar from the outside, Sony has made the newer model a much more competent tool through a raft of changes across the spec sheet.
The faster burst rate, together with the more advanced focusing system, mean it’s particularly likely to appeal to sports and action photographers, while the boost to 4K video recording means that it may sway some away from the likes of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.
Of course, with a much more populated sensor than before, it will equally appeal to those who simply want to be able to capture images destined for hefty enlargements.
Overall, the A99 II is as significant an upgrade as we’d expect from the four-year gap between the two, and more-than-worthy competitor in the full-frame arena.