Featured User Review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

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Another fine review from member, cgarrad. This one is for Sony’s impressive, full-frame, professional digital SLR – the 24-megapixel A900.

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Featured Review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

by cgarrard (Professional)

Price Paid: $2699.00 from Adorama
Review Date: June 2, 2009
Used product for: 1 to 3 months

Overall Rating: 5 of 5
Value Rating: 5 of 5


Summary:
Ultimately the Sony A900 was built for Minoltan’s who wanted an upgrade path to the discontinued KM 7D. In a sense, this camera is a confluence of that camera, the Sony A700, and the Minolta Maxxum 9 film camera that never saw a digital equivalent come to life.

Sony’s Alpha A900 represents value. It is a high performance DSLR with a rather conservative feature set when compared to its peers on the market. It does not offer live view or video, instead it offers arguably the best 100% coverage viewfinder in a DSLR to date, excellent 24.6mp resolution, the worlds only image stabilized full frame sensor, excellent Quick-Navi gui interface, top notch build quality, and large easy to use external controls.

Handling is excellent and intuitive. The A900 is built to handle an extreme range of weather conditions with an excellently sealed body. The external buttons are designed to be larger on purpose, and spaced out so that it can be used with gloves on in cold weather situations (it definitely passed my test in the Sierras).

Build quality on the A900 is top notch, all external panels and framework are made from an advanced Magnesium Alloy, giving an overall excellent strength to weight ratio. The grip is large and comfortable with recesses for the fingertips on the right hand that aid in portrait shooting and overall ease of grip, reassuring less hand fatigue for all day shooting for all hand sizes.

The design itself is rather compact for a full frame camera (without the vertical grip) when compared to its peers, yet is large enough to let you know that this is one serious camera for advanced enthusiasts and professionals (even though Sony is careful not to classify it strictly for professional use). Add a vertical grip to it, and it is actually larger than Canon or Nikon’s largest professional cameras by a hair. The vertical grip is probably one of the best designs ever made, nearly perfectly mimicking the back panel of the A900 itself and is very comfortable.

Autofocusing is by way of a diamond arranged 9 AF points, with the center point being optimized for a f/2.8 aperture. The surrounding 8 points have been increased in sensitivity compared to the A700, for more reassuring AF performance. The speed of the in body focus motor is snappy, and the overall speed of the autofocus varies depending on the lens itself (due to different internal gearing and programming, etc.

The A900 has 3 custom presets built into the main menu dial that are quickly accessible, but the bread and butter of your adjustments will be made the way of the Quick Navi system which employs the LCD and use of thumb and front wheels and/or the multi controller joystick. Adjustments can be made to most functions without having to go one level into the menu system, which saves time and headache in moments you need to make quick decisions.

The Alpha A900 boasts an overall impressive feature list. It will shoot 5 frames per second at full 24.6mp resolution on Jpegs until the memory card is used up, ISO sensitivity ranges from 100-6400, has an excellent low light autofocusing illuminator, intelligent preview function for making changes to WB/exposure/DRO etc., lens micro AF adjustment (with memory up to 30 lenses), HDMI output, dual memory card slots, sensor based dust reduction, APS-C capture mode, 1/300th sec flash sync, built in viewfinder shutter (to black out light on long exposures), user changeable focus screens (with 3 total optional screens), 880 shot per charge battery life, 3″ 920K dot LCD screen, a top deck illuminated LCD panel, comes with a wireless remote, and much more.

In use, the A900 is designed to be intuitive and is, it is simple enough so that it won’t leave you perplexed but featured enough to handle most job situations. While the current trend is to add video and other such gizmos to DSLR designs, the A900 remains conservative. Film SLR users will feel right at home.

To me the A900 is more utilitarian in design, and less about a features war with competitors. Sometimes I wish it had more creative software features or live view, but I never miss video on it. Intelligent Preview is good enough to replace the live view feature for many applications although not all, such as zoom micro focus aid, but it gets most of the job done and helps to save storage space by not having to take several test frames.

In a way the Sony A900 is an old fashioned DSLR with just the right amount of modernization, which may throw some who expected the opposite from Sony for a loop. The A900 is reliable, right out of the box. It has not exhibited any focusing issues or firmware/hardware errors once. It is a well designed camera in this aspect, and reliability is first on my order checklist. It does all I need it to do for most circumstances.

Image Quality is simply fantastic. As long as your sensitivity needs aren’t higher than ISO 3200 for nearly noise free images, the A900 will impress you with color gradation, excellent dynamic range, and mind boggling detail. Raw files are out of this world good and compare well to medium format rigs costing thousands and thousands of dollars more.

This camera is for the enthusiast with deep pockets, a budding professional, or a professional that wants a lot of camera for the buck. It is really hard to find any faults with this camera within its specification sheet, a real joy to use and own.

- Carl

Strengths:
Build
Features for price
Viewfinder
Speed
Image Quality (ISO 3200 and under)
Resolution is extraordinary (close to medium format DSLR backs)
Noise reduction can be turned off
Lightest in class
Excellent LCD Panel
Well thought out controls
Built in Full Frame Image Stabilization (2-4 stops advantage)
A landscape shooters dream DSLR (weight, size, resolution)
Reassuring mechanical mirror/shutter cycle sound
Has character and some old fashioned heritage
AF Zeiss Lenses

Weaknesses:
No live view
Image Quality above ISO 3200
Tends to underexpose .3-.7 EV (at least consistently)
Proprietary flash shoe
AF motor drive in camera can be a bit noisy
Mirror slap is also a bit loud
No pop up flash (debatable weakness)

Similar Products Used:
Sony A700
Nikon D300
Canon 5D

Customer Service:
Excellent for other service but the A900 has had no issues to date


This Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 review was written by Carl Garrard, a long time contributor to PhotographyREVIEW.com and a truly excellent photographer. Take a look at his member gallery to see his excellent photos. Carl runs a Sony Alpha DSLR Web site, AlphaMountWorld.com.

Related Content:
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Sony Digital Camera Web Site


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About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of PhotographyREVIEW.com and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.


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