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CNET First Look
Sony's full-frame flagshipThe Alpha SLT-A99V is a generally great camera that's equally adept at both stills and video, but with a few caveats.
-Sony's last attempt at a full-frame camera was about four years ago, the A900 and its cheaper clone, the A850. And I have to say, the A99V is a huge improvement over those. It produces excellent photos and very good video and has a well-constructed and designed body, solid performance, and a great feature set. As you'd expect from a pro camera, it has boatloads of direct access controls. They're all logically laid out within reach and fairly easy to distinguish by feel. The only control I don't like is the navigation joystick, which feels mushy and requires little too much back and forth movement to control precisely. If you hold it down, it moves too fast and then you end up having to backtrack. The OLED articulated display, viewfinder, and the control design make this one of my favorite cameras for shooting video. It incorporates the silent controller that Sony uses for its prosumer camcorders to provide access to settings like metering, focus, aperture, and shutter speed. Unfortunately, Sony counters all the design intelligence by doing things like disabling the ability to control aperture and shutter speed while shooting video if autofocus is enabled. Other questionable decisions include going with two SD cards instead of a combo of a CompactFlash and an SD card and a rather sad battery life of 410 shots. The camera's features include built-in geotagging and camera image stabilization and an on-camera stereo microphone, which neither of its competitors, the D800 or the 5D Mark III, offer. There's also a useful in-body focus-range limiter. That's something that's usually only on particular lenses, plus it offers clean HDMI output for video. For ISO 1600 and below, the photo quality is great incomparable to competitors. Above that, it's not quite as good, but it really takes a lot of pixel peeping to see much of a difference. The camera preserves a lot of detail in highlights, but I found that clipped shadows don't recover quite as well without introducing color noise. And while it's capable of accurate color, that's not the default setting. The video is really good, but not quite as good as the 5D Mark III in low light where aliasing and moire pop up more often than I'd like and it doesn't seem quite sharp. It does perform really well, though. It delivers the fastest continuous shooting performance of its class, but that's as long as you don't need a JPEG per strand of more than 20 shots. There's tons to like about this camera, but for some folks, things like the lack of a CompactFlash slot, poor battery life, and compromises on video autofocus may not be reasonable trade-offs for the unique features and then optimized video shooting design. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Sony Alpha SLT-A99V.