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Tackling Southern California with the Sony A99: Fast Cars, Helicopters, Sunsets and Aquariums

by Chris Gampat on 10/11/2012

In the past 24 hours, I’ve been testing lots of new cameras from Sony. But the one that I seem to consistently reach for is the A99. By far, it has to be one of the best cameras I’ve ever tested and its versatility makes my jaw drop. It has also opened up a ton of possibilities to me: I’ve shot better sports photos with the camera, better landscapes (and I really think I suck at landscapes though some like my work) and I’ve also for the first time created video with very little camera shake while shooting handheld with a DSLR. The video will come in a later post, but here are my impressions for my experiences today.

Editor’s Note: be sure to check out our three way full frame comparison test, the NEX 6 vs the X Pro 1, our studio shoot with the A99, our first studio sample with the camera, and a high ISO/long exposure.

Gear Used

Cars

The President of Sony showed up to an excursion that we took to a racetrack. For this time, the A99 and the 500mm f4 spent a ton of time mated to one another. This lens is one of the few that can support the new AF-D function. In real world use, the AF-D setting is really quite impressive. The lenses/camera can track moving targets in the same way that Olympus’s Micro Four Thirds cameras can. But it’s not only that: the motors are fast, the objects can be tracked through the entire sensor area, and the camera can also do this while maintaining incredible sharpness. It is indeed a game changer.

I’ve really never seen such awesome performance from a DSLR at this price range. Sure, the Canon 7D, 5D MK III and 1D X have awesome focusing abilities. But nothing has been able to lock onto moving subjects like the new Sony A99 and the AF-D compatible lenses. It is almost unreal how good it is.

For the record, I also shot at shutter priority at ISO 1600 for much of the time.

From a Helicopter

After we were all raced out; Phil Ryan of Pop Photo, John Schafer of Photography Review, Steve Huff and I took a chopper to fly over to a vineyard.

No one made any reference to the Governator’s, “Get in the choppa” line either.

Despite the fact that we were photographing the land below through glass (which I really hate doing), the views were incredible. I found myself needing to stop down quite a bit (as I should) and sometimes switching on manual focusing. Using the AF mode wasn’t always cutting it because the AF points work best when placed on contrasting areas of a scene.

When it came to exposure though, the Sony A99′s metering system seemed just so simple to use and also so intuitive based on my knowledge of using film. Plus the colors absolutely rocked.

Here are a couple more photo samples:

Vineyards

It wasn’t long before we touched down in the cliffs and took a ride over to the vineyards where there was just so much beauty surrounding us. If anyone took their A99 out to scenic areas, the fact that they’re using the camera’s EVF would allow them to have a much easier time getting the exposure right vs having to take photos over and over again.

The A99′s sensor is capable of capturing so much color depth and lots of subtleties in colors as well.

It is also capable of locking focus fairly quickly. We were driving past these grape rows and I’m actually amazed I was able to get this shot so well exposed. Perhaps the overcast clouds helped though.

Landscapes

Landscape photography is something that I feel has never been a strength of mine. Living and growing up in NYC, there just isn’t much to work with. Thankfully, I was able to shoot at the 17 Mile Drive and captured what I believe to be my best attempts at landscape photography yet.

This is where both the color depth and dynamic range really came into play. To fix some of these photos, I lowered the whites and highlights all the way: which gives me some incredible latitude when it comes to editing. That also means that this is one damned good sensor.

Once again though, I needed to place my focusing points on contrasting areas: like right where a rock meets the water: and even that sometimes gave the camera some trouble.

Aquarium

Sony also took us to an Aquarium; and that was really cool. You’ll see lots of coverage with animals behind the glass; but once again, I wasn’t really happy with the photos I got. So I tried something else: I metered the scene for the ambient blue of the water.

Then, I set the HVL-F60M flash off wirelessly; two of them actually. And that’s how I created this image and the one below.

I could have sure used a tripod; but for what they are the images came out quite well with no editing except for some slight color boosts.

More to come soon!

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