It's not every day that a digital SLR manufacturer releases a new full-frame camera -- in fact, it's not even every year. Sony's last top-end model, the A900, was first released four years ago, so you better believe its successor offers an overflowing boatload of enhancements. The Alpha A99 is a flagship if ever there was one, crushing every other Sony still camera in terms of capability, both when it comes to stills, and in the HD video realm as well. With this $2,800 behemoth, the company is targeting both professional photographers and leading filmmakers, with plenty of features that will appeal to both. The centerpiece is an all-new 24.3-megapixel Exmor sensor (nope, it's not the rumored 36MP chip you might be expecting), which features an increased photodiode area for boosted low light quality (up to ISO 102,400). The camera also features what Sony's calling the "world's first dual-AF system," which includes two different phase-detect AF systems, including the same 19-point system on the A77, plus an additional 102 points on the imager itself.
Video shooters will find 1080/60p and 24p options with AVCHD 2.0, including uncompressed output through HDMI (with simultaneous output to a monitor) and phase-detect focus support in video mode. There's also a 6 frames-per-second burst mode, 14-bit RAW output for stills, the same 921k-dot Xtra Fine twilt-and-swivel LCD included with the A77 with WhiteMagic and TruBlack, and the same OLED viewfinder found on the A77, NEX-6 and NEX-7, that offers slightly boosted functionality thanks to the full-frame sensor, letting photographers snag a realtime depth-of-field preview without dimming the finder. It also offers a 34-degree viewing angle and color tone adjustment control. Because the A99 offers a translucent mirror, Sony was able to eliminate the pentaprism to keep the size and weight at bay, making the DSLR lighter than the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III. Jump past the break for our hands-on.
Sony Alpha A99 hands-onSee all photos
We had an opportunity to see how the A99 weighed in -- having spent many hours behind the lens of a 5D Mark III, it felt surprisingly light, and was a pleasure to hold (even in one hand). The lack of a pentaprism also aided in refining the design, eliminating that raised hump where you'd otherwise find a pop-up flash on lower-end models (the A99 is meant to be used with external strobes, which can be mounted on the Multi Interface Shoe). There are plenty of other connectivity options as well, including a mini USB port, HDMI out, headphone and microphone jacks, power in, a remote control jack, PC Sync socket (for studio strobes) and GPS. Video shooters will surely appreciate the new silent controller just to the left of the lens, and the ability to add an XLR input module to the hot shoe. There are also dual SD card slots (one is Memory Stick compatible), letting you duplicate images, assign video and stills to different cards or copy folders without removing a card.
You'll be able to pick up your very own A99 beginning in October for $2,800 -- a relative bargain -- at which point you'll also be able to snag an updated 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II lens for $7,500, the new HVL-F60M flash or a VG-C99AM vertical grip ($380), which doesn't include the typical "chimney," letting you add two more battery packs for a total of three. There's also a new 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6 optic coming in September. As you'd expect from a camera with this level of functionality, we can't cover every detail here, so skim through Sony's press release after the break for remaining details. You'll also find some close-up shots in our hands-on gallery up above, including a peek at the new $800 XLR mic module, which features a shotgun mic and looks like a camcorder transplant. Stay tuned for a closer look once the A99 ships this fall.