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Sony Alpha A900 Preview

by Bob Atkins, September 2008


Earlier this year Sony said they were working on a 24MP full frame DSLR with built-in image stabilization and they intended to bring it to market by the end of 2008. Well, they did! The Sony Alpha A900 is just that camera, and what’s equally noteworthy is that the price is “only” $3000. When you consider that the only other current high pixel count full frame DSLR is the $8000 Canon EOS 1Ds MkIII, the $3000 price tag seems almost cheap. Nikon’s new full frame DSLR, the D700, is also $3000, but it has a 12MP sensor and Canon’s venerable EOS 5D full frame DSLR (which also has a 12MP sensor) currently sells for around $2200. The Sony Alpha A900 certainly sets a new price/specification standard, at least on paper.

If a 24MP full frame DLSR for $3000 wasn’t enough, Sony added in-body stabilization via sensor shift technology. The specifications indicate higher performance than the system found on their crop sensor DSLRs and they say that it should offer up to 4 stops of stabilization. The obvious advantage of in-body stabilization is that you only pay for it once, and every lens mounted on the camera becomes part of a stabilized system. That means that all wide and normal primes become stabilized, something currently not possible with Canon and Nikon’s approach of putting stabilization in the lens rather than the camera body.

The Alpha A900 uses dual image processors to deal with the large amount of data, which the sensor generates and enable a continuous shooting rate of 5 frames/sec. The ISO range is 200-3200, expandable to 100-6400 via a custom function. While not as wide a range as the Nikon D700 (100-25,600), it’s probably as much as most photographers will need.

While the EOS 5D now seems a little dated, that should change when Canon announces their successor to the EOS 5D in the next few weeks, prior to the Photokina show at the end of September. Internet rumors abound, but it looks very likely that the new “Canon 5D MkII” will have a 20+ MP full frame sensor and my guess is a price around $3000, so it will likely go head-to-head with the 24MP Sony A900 and the 12MP Nikon D700.

Amazon.com has the Sony A900 available for pre-order:

Sony A900 Main Features

  • 24.6 MP 36mm x 24mm full frame CMOS sensor
  • Image sensor-shift stabilization
  • ISO 200-3200 (expandable to ISO 100-6400)
  • 5 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 9 point AF with 10 assist points
  • Glass pentaprism, 0.74x magnification
  • 40 segment metering
  • 3” 921,000 pixel LCD display, 100% coverage
  • User changeable focusing screens
  • CF Type I/II and MS memory cards
  • New Vertical Grip available
  • Wireless remote control standard
  • Magnesium Alloy body
  • Rubber seals for dust and moisture resistance
  • AF micro adjustment
  • Weight 850g (body only)
  • $2999.99 body price
  • Should be available in late October 2008

Sony A900 Press Release

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 9, 2008 — Sony is introducing its full-frame, a (alpha) DSLR-A900 camera, aimed at serious photo enthusiasts looking for traditional SLR performance with the added benefits of digital photography.

It is designed to deliver ultra-fine picture quality with the world’s highest resolution, 24.6-megapixel, 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor and fast image processing with a new dual BIONZ processing engines. The camera is also the first to have a body-integrated image stabilization system for a full-frame sensor with Sony’s SteadyShot Inside anti-shake system.

One look at the camera’s distinctive pentaprism and nostalgic body design will evoke its full-frame optical performance. It features a bright, clear optical viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage that would impress even film photography loyalists.

“The a (alpha) DSLR-A900 introduction solidifies Sony’s position as a leading camera manufacturer that can meet the demands of serious enthusiasts,” said Phil Lubell, director of digital camera marketing at Sony Electronics. “It represents the best in sensor and image processing technologies and offers enhanced functions, performance and reliability so photographers can push their creativity to the limit.”

Ultra-Fine Images As The Human Eye Perceives Them

The camera’s Exmor CMOS sensor delivers the photographic expressive power of wide angles and perspective that only a 35 mm full-frame sensor can offer, and is designed to take advantage of the resolving power of high-precision a (alpha) lenses. Its high pixel count and large size provide enhanced image detail and a wider dynamic range for natural color reproduction and subtle tonal gradations.

The sensor is produced using proprietary Sony planarization technologies to ensure an ultra-flat surface across the entire imaging area. Instead of a single analog/digital converter, the sensor uses over 6,000 on-chip, column-parallel A/D converters to convert analog signals to noise-resistant digital signals at the earliest possible stage. The result is reduced noise and high-speed transfer of data.

Image processing gets a boost in speed and power from the application of two BIONZ image processing engines. Large amounts of data captured by the 24.6-megapixel sensor can be quickly processed to achieve a fast shooting response. Additionally, this dual BIONZ processing system applies advanced noise reduction algorithms producing images of exceptional quality and detail, especially at high ISO sensitivities.

World’s First Anti-Shake System for a Full-Frame Sensor

The camera’s newly-developed, body-integrated SteadyShot Inside unit achieves an anti-shake effect equivalent to shutter speeds faster by 2.5 to 4 stops. This new unit provides stabilization for Sony, Minolta and Konica-Minolta wide angle, large-aperture lenses, which is difficult for lens-integrated systems.

State-of-the Art Optical Performance and Responsiveness

The ultra-bright viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage and 0.74x magnification enables accurate framing and preview. It features a high-power condenser lens, an eyepiece with high reflective-index glass, and a multi-layer, anti-reflective coating on every optical surface to deliver its extraordinarily bright and accurate view.

Additionally, the focusing screen is user-replaceable, with additional L-type (grid pattern) and M-type (super spherical acute matte) screens sold separately.

The camera’s newly-developed autofocus system consists of nine wide-area sensors with 10 assist points for improved tracking of moving subjects. A center dual cross sensor comprised of two horizontal and two vertical line sensors as well as a dedicated f/2.8 sensor are included to achieve greater precision, especially when using fast-aperture lenses.

It also offers high-speed continuous shooting of 24.6 megapixel images at five frames per second. A newly-designed mirror box features a unique parallel-link mirror mechanism that moves on two horizontal axes to accommodate both 100% viewfinder coverage and the body-integrated image stabilization system without increasing the camera’s size. The mirror box also has a new moving magnet actuator, a high-powered coreless motor for a faster shutter charge, and a magnet catcher to minimize mirror bounce and light refraction within the box.

Versatility to Unleash Creative Possibilities

The model’s innovative intelligent preview function takes the guesswork out of setting up a shot and the hassle of taking multiple shots to achieve a desired effect.

After pressing the depth of field preview button, the camera “grabs” a RAW preview image which is processed and displayed on the LCD screen. You can then fine tune white balance, determine the best level and effect of dynamic range optimization, adjust exposure compensation and check histogram data, all before you actually take the picture. Preview images are not recorded on the camera’s memory card, thus saving capacity.

Other key features aimed to expand creative options include the Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) with five levels of user-selectable correction as well as DRO bracketing for enhanced scene analysis and graduation optimization. EV bracketing with ±2EV range makes it easy to create high dynamic range composite images.

Thirteen creative styles can be selected to enhance images and then fine-tuned by customizing contrast, sharpness, zone matching and other parameters, while 3 user-programmable memories provide instant access to as many as 26 different mode settings.

Powerful RAW file processing control is put in the photographer’s hands with the included Image Data Converter SR3 software that delivers faster file processing speeds, easy adjustment of image parameters, Dynamic Range Optimization and a new Peripheral Illumination function that compensates for corner light fall off.

With the camera’s HDMI output and Photo TV HD mode, your creative output can be enjoyed on a compatible HD television. This mode brings the look of actual printed photography to the television, by fine-tuning such image parameters as sharpness, gradation and color.

Comfort in Your Hands

Its construction features rugged, lightweight magnesium alloy with moisture-resistant, rubber seals for buttons and dials, an anti-static coating to prevent dust adherence to the imager, and a high-endurance shutter rated for more than 100,000 release cycles.

It has a 3-inch, Xtra Fine LCD screen (921K) makes it possible to check focus and image quality with accuracy. It incorporates an easy-to-see display with a quick navigation menu to easily access common functions without interrupting your creative flow. A backlit LCD panel sits on top of the camera and displays key settings.

System Expansion with New Accessories

The A900 camera will be accompanied with an array of accessories like the recently-announced Sony HVL-F58AM flash unit with its innovative Quick Shift Bounce system, powerful performance with a guide number of 58, and wireless auto flash ratio control.

The Sony VG-C90AM vertical grip offers the same ease of operation when shooting vertically as horizontally, with its button layout and low-position shutter-release button. It also houses two InfoLITHIUM batteries (sold separately) for longer shooting and playback.

Where to Buy

The DSLR-A900 body will be available in November for about $3,000 along with related accessories. You can pre-order the camera from amazon.com:


Original text ©2008 Bob Atkins.

Article created September 2008

Readers' Comments


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Rick Eselgroth , September 14, 2008; 10:04 P.M.

WOW!!! I Really don't think Nikon OR Canon can compete with the price point and statistics like this. They ( Nikon & Canon ) are going to have to rethink their pricing . I sure am glad I've stuck with Minolta/Sony for the long hall. I think this is what we have all been waiting for ( some real competition ) in the DSLR market.

Peter Blaise Monahon , September 15, 2008; 06:18 A.M.

Too bad about the lack of in-built on-camera flash for wireless control of remote flashes, something I'd come to expect on even the cheapest Alpha SLR cameras, and, of course, was also on the top of the line Alpha camera, too, the Minolta Alpha/Dynax/Maxxum 9 SLR film camera. I can't see having to pay for and lug around and power a big intimidating separate accessory flash unit just to allow the A900 to do what my little Alpha cameras have always done so well on their own.

Otherwise, the detail available in captured images promises to be incredible, and the viewfinder seems equal to or better than the incredible viewfinder on the film Minolta Alpha 9, which, if I recall, was like not having a camera in front of my face at all, the scene was so big and bright, like looking directly at my subject without a camera at all.

Well, two out of three ain't bad - captured detail and perfect viewfinder.

Now to wait for a subsequent full frame Alpha with Minolta's traditional splendid intelligent in-built flash.

Richard Harris , September 15, 2008; 09:01 A.M.

To add to that Peter, at the moment you can't trigger wirelessly w/o a big 56AM or 58AM flash on top... that's pretty expensive too! So we can surely await a wireless transmitter sooner rather than later. While I do like the wireless flash via pop up, I can also admit the advantages of a more controlled lighting w/o any pop up flash input (in some situations). But, if you ask most Alpha photog's, we're all going to say we want a pop up flash rather than NON at all.

Looks a great camera. Can't wait for the next :P

Jose Amado , September 19, 2008; 04:29 A.M.

I do like Sony TV's. But now there's also the Canon 5D MKII. Maybe I'll wait for a Alpha A900 MKII...

Pan Lao , September 26, 2008; 09:23 A.M.

Good review, love intelligent preview. For my hope more raw converters support soon, raw images here sony a900 preview off gallery for peoples who want.

John Tran , November 10, 2008; 02:06 P.M.

I would like to know what are all the lenses available for this Alpha-900 from Minolta, Sony, Zeiss, and Sigma. I'd appreciate it if someone will fill me in on these information

Bob Moon , November 23, 2008; 05:59 P.M.

Just bought the a900 and so far I don't really miss the pop up flash. I've been able to do some sample shots with about half of my old Minolta "A" lenses along with a Tokina APO 70-200 f2.8 and the results so far have been great. I'm glad to have caught the warning about Raw on a Mac, thanks. I also have the K/M D7 and the Sony a700 but when the 900 was available in Portland, Oregon I just had to have it. As I do some work with it I come back with some more comments. Bob Moon

Richard Harris , December 06, 2008; 06:41 A.M.

John, go to dyxum.com and look through the lens database. You can search by brand - it will give you a good idea of the options available.

Hans Neukomm , February 19, 2009; 02:35 A.M.

Instead of using many technical words of description - may be a few example photos show best the result of the Sony A900. One of the first projects I did was lotus flower wallpapers, then Jungle wallpaper and a series of travel photos Cambodia.

Since I do mostly nature photography, I appreciate Sony's potential to work in extreme light conditions and still display beautiful brilliant colors.

The A900 definitely is an improvement compared to the A700 I used extensively before. One of the most difficult tasks for me with any previous ( Sony ) camera always was to shoot white flowers, white roses, White lotus with A900 , etc. The A900 is the first one to have a clean white color rendering with all smallest details in contrast still visible.

Image Attachment: fileRP2lEP.jpg

Richard McGee , February 24, 2009; 11:18 A.M.

I hate to say this, but... I'm a gadget junkie, have owned a good deal of Sony products, including cameras, and I have had to tell myself over and over that no matter how good it looks on paper, Sony products will usually always crap out on me first. The company has a reputation that they don't deserve.

Richard Harris , March 15, 2009; 03:57 P.M.

Richard, that is my experience with my Sony A100 - but that is a lower class body. I'd hope that with higher end products they will be much more realiable. Afterall, Sony have been making pro quality video equipment for years and have earnt a reputation there for a reason. I think it's safe to say a body of this calibre is high quality, you've just been unfortunate with your previous experiences I feel (no doubt you aren't the only one with these such experiences though!)

Mark Olwick , May 15, 2009; 09:40 A.M.

Could we please get an actual review of the A900 instead of a press release?

Marc Williams , August 10, 2012; 04:11 P.M.

It is now mid 2012, I have used a pair of Sony A900s since they were available to professionally photograph weddings and portraits. They have been my work horse cameras now for over 3 years. Zero issues, excellent images with the best out of camera color of any 35mm DSLR I've used.

 

I say this in case someone is ever interested in a used A900 ... but not mine! I'm keeping them : -)

 

-Marc


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