SONY's first Full Frame camera is a strong contender
Aug 15, 2009 (Updated Aug 15, 2009)
Review by karasa
Rated a Very Helpful Review
DSLR-A900 is SONY's first entry into the high-end full-frame digital SLR (single lens reflex camera) territory, and it's a tour de force. Full-frame refers to the size of the sensor, equal to the 24mm x 36mm frame of a 35mm film, a dominant SLR format from the film days. Full-frame has over twice the light capture area of APS-C, the other currently popular and more economical DSLR sensor format. Therefore, film-era lenses (and modern ones designed for full-frame), on A900 will have no crop factor or "focal length multiplier" - i.e. they'll be used to their full potential.
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SONY DSLR-A900 has a magnesium alloy chassis and magnesium alloy body panels. Shutter blades are carbon fiber. The controls are environmentally sealed. The body is fairly compact compared to other full-frame cameras (a vertical grip accessory is available to extend the holding area), and feels robust and hefty compared to "plastic fantastic" lower end cameras. The heft is just right to balance the big high end glass likely to be used on this instrument. Besides the metal construction, much of the heft is attributed to the very large glass pentaprism for that beautiful viewfinder. The top part of the camera is even styled to show off the huge prism.
QuickNavi is used for direct access to most settings without having to dive into the menus. Dedicated physical controls manage a number of key settings. Some of the physical controls are user-assignable, i.e. their function and behavior can be customized.
A900's high megapixel count does translate into a higher resolution captured, compared to its competitors in the same price category and even higher. Big help there are the class-leading Zeiss lenses, which only on SONY Alpha system are available with both autofocus and image stabilization.
In addition to the high megapixel count, SONY also uses fairly strong and narrow-band microfilters on its sensor. This results in a beautiful, natural and precise, color/tonality captured, but works against it when comparing ISO1600 and higher image noise with other 20+ megapixel cameras in low-light conditions. That said, the A900 low-level results are still very good. The large sensor helps, and if its 24.6 megapixels are not needed, the images can be downsampled, averaging out much of the noise in the process.
The camera is capable of shooting 5 frames per second at full quality. If you find yourself shooting more than a few frames at a time at those high rates, you'll benefit from a fast UDMA CompactFlash card for this camera, such as a Sandisk Extreme IV or a Sony 300X.
THE SONY ALPHA SYSTEM
Obviously, this is not the camera which would be bought with a random kit lens "to go with it" without much thinking. Folks evaluating A900 are keen to know the Alpha system advantages and limitations as compared to its competitors, as well they should.
A huge advantage of the Sony Alpha system are the Zeiss autofocus lenses including 135mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 16-35mm f/2.8. These are nothing short of class-leading in terms of both optical performance and build quality. Autofocus Zeiss DSLR lenses are exclusive to the SONY Alpha system; while Zeiss does make some glass for the other systems those are manual focus only.
Compared to Canon and Nikon, SONY at this point is relatively lacking in regards to tilt and shift lenses. The best SONY PC/shift option for architectural work so far is the Schneider 28mm f/2.8 PC Super-Angulon, which is available with the Sony Alpha mount among others. Other alternatives include Hartblei, Arsat, and Arax lenses.
In-body image stabilization is another big Sony Alpha advantage. By moving this function to the body, ALL the lenses therefore become image-stabilized, without any added cost or changes or compromises in their optical designs. Canon's and Nikon's image stabilization is available on a few zooms; however on SONY even the wide-aperture Zeiss and G series primes are stabilized, thus enabling to shoot handheld at a much lower ISO, thus increasing image quality.
Together with other Minolta legacy, SONY has inherited the clever wireless flash system and the iISO (intelligent ISO) flash hotshoe. It sometimes gets criticized for its non-standard shape, but the reality is, flashes are not really compatible across camera systems due to proprietary contacts and interfaces, and at least SONY iISO shoe offers quick and sure one-handed attachment, detachment and latching, eliminating the risk of the flash gradually shifting in the shoe and making the contact with the wrong pins.
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Amount Paid (US$): 2600
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Solid Enough for a Professional
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