Sony has gone in hard ahead of this year's Photokina camera trade show by announcing its first full-frame SLT (Single Lens Translucent) camera, the Alpha A99.
In what could be the end of traditional DSLR cameras from Sony, the A99, which sits above the A77 in the range, uses a translucent mirror system that makes for a different user experience compared to a DSLR such as the A900.
As a result the A99 features an electronic viewfinder - an XGA OLED Tru-Finder as Sony likes to call it - rather than the traditional optical construction. The viewfinder resolution and size are the same as that found in the NEX-6, but Sony claims to have made advances in the optical elements for a better viewing experience.
It's not just the viewfinder technology that Sony looks to push forward though. The A99's 24.3-megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor includes a trio of new technologies - "photo diode expansion", "light concentration technology", and a "multi-segment low-pass filter" (more info on these as and when we have it) - said to improve image quality, particularly at higher ISO settings.
The sensor, which is paired with the latest Bionz processor (the same as found in the also announced Sony Cyber-shot RX1 full-frame compact camera) is also capable of producing 14-bit raw files, and there's an area-specific noise reduction option for a sharper-appearing image depending on the scene's combination of elements.
Elsewhere Sony has amped up the focusing system by introducing what it calls a "Dual AF system". As well as a 19-point phase-detection autofocus sensor, which focuses based on reflected light from the translucent mirror, the sensor also includes a 102-point system on the sensor itself that works in tandem with the phase-detection system. A new "AF-D" autofocus mode, which Sony referred to as a "depth mapping" focus option, is able to track subjects in a 3D-like matrix with supposed great accuracy. Sounds good to us.
But that's not all: the inclusion of an AF Range control allows you to control the focus area's depth limitations. For example, the subject you're shooting is 15 metres away but there's a lot of foreground and background distraction - set the range to aim for 14-16m and problem solved.
Flip the camera around and the 3-inch LCD is mounted on a three-way tiltable bracket for positioning it away from camera at any angle. We're surprised it's not the WRGB version as used in the RX100 and RX1 Cyber-shot cameras, but the 921k-dots the A99 offers should suffice none the less.
The Sony Alpha A99 includes a 200,000 cycles tested shutter for long-lasting professional use - and given the 10 frames per second burst mode (10fps) it sounds like something that'll provide extra assurance to snap-happy photographers.
As well as stills there's a lot of focus on the A99's movie capture abilities. The sensor can shoot 1080p at 60 frames per second and make benefit of the continuous autofocus and AF-D modes as previously outlined. There's an audio level display with volume control, a clean HDMI output, a headphone jack and even an optical XLR accessory should you be using pro-audio kit too. Combine this with a silent multi-controller that makes no sound when pressed and turned and the A99 sounds like quite the machine for both stills and movie capture.
Available from November, the Sony Alpha A99 is earmarked to have a £2,500 body-only price. We'll be playing with a final production model and a bunch of lenses in the next couple of days, so keep those eyes to the site for our first impressions before the end of the week.
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