First Impressions: Sony a99 II

It’s been years since Sony has updated the a99, and at Photokina 2016 the company announced the successor–the Sony a99 II. Chock full of upgrades like a 42.2MP full frame sensor, hybrid autofocus detection, 4K video without pixel binning, 12 fps shooting capabilities in raw with a buffer of up to 56 images, and a new three way tilting LCD screen there is surely a lot to love here.

We got a chance to play with the camera–like 15 minutes if anything. And though we weren’t allowed to take home sample images, we’re quite impressed with what we’ve seen so far.

Tech Specs

  • Ultra-Fast 4D FOCUS with 79 hybrid cross AF points
  • 12 fps continuous shooting
  • High Resolution 42.4 MP Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization and more
  • Without Lens
  • Full Frame Camera
  • GPS
  • 12.0 fps continuous shooting
  • 4K

Ergonomics

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Ergonomically speaking, Sony took advantage of the fact that they have a significantly larger amount of space to play with when designing and working with the Sony a99 II. For starters, you’ll find a few dials and buttons on the front of the camera. The most important is this area down near the bottom front where you’ll see a dial. There is a button and a switch here that makes it clickless if you’d like. Turning the knob after pressing the button in the center lets you control a parameter choice of your programming.

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Much of what you do to operate and work with the camera is done via the back and the top of the Sony a99 II. This is very much just like any other DSLR system that you find out there.

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The top of the camera is characterized by the fact that you find a mode dial, a giant LCD screen, Sony’s multi-interface shoe, and a few other controls. You’ll spot white balance, drive, and ISO control here–much different from the a7 series of cameras–especially when you consider the giant LCD screen.

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On the back of the camera, you’ll find another giant LCD screen with buttons primiarily placed for a right handed use. Indeed, this just makes sense overall. Some of the major highlights here are the menu button on the top left, the joystick controller (which feels like it should be slightly higher), function buttons, and a few other custom function buttons.

There is also the EVF.

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The LCD screen tilts out like the previous one did on the Sony a99. But this time around, it can’t be placed right on top of the camera for when you want to shoot from the hip.

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Instead, the screen tilts out and then on a three way axis to move around. It’s a bit weird but useful and I’m sure that in use for more than 15 minutes it will make sense.

Build Quality

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The original Sony a99 was already very well built–I was able to take it out during a rain shower and it would keep on clicking. The Sony a99 II has an aluminum alloy interior frame while also being billed as dust and splash proof. Essentially, it’s probably got the protection that the original a99 had and more than the a7 series has.

If I had my personal choice though, I’d go for the a7 series.

Ease of Use

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With the Sony a99 II, Sony has a revamped menu system overall. In some ways it’s deeper, but at the same time I personally found it a bit easier to navigate. See those big five menus up top? They’re color coded. Then you drop into the sub menus and for the first camera section that alone splits itself into 12 pages. You surely get more power and more customization; but Sony users should expect to learn some new tricks if they pick up the a99 II.

Autofocus

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During our short time with the Sony a99 II, the company set up a few dancers to perform for us while testing the autofocus. When using the Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4 for Alpha mount, I was able to get the fast moving subjects in focus at f1.4. That’s tough for any camera system, but then new hybrid AF system is quite capable with its 399 AF points.

In the image above, you can (barely) see them overlaid on the screen.

Here’s the new Sony a99 II shooting dancers with the new hybrid AF system.

A video posted by The Phoblographer (@phoblographer) on

With that many focusing points, the best way to approach the shooting situation was to use the expanded focusing point option. This splits the camera’s focusing areas into zones and lets you choose which you want to work with–it’s similar to any Nikon or Canon DSLR though a bit more refined than what Fujifilm, Panasonic, and Olympus offer.

Edit: 11/18/2016

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In our further tests, the camera seems to be able to handle tracking fast moving horses and rodeo work very well.

These images are JPEG samples

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Image Quality

Sony said that we weren’t allowed to put our own SD cards into the cameras. So in that case, we don’t have any sort of special images to show you.

Update: Here are some JPEG samples

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First Impressions

The 15 minutes I had with the Sony a99 II is barely enough for me to fully evaluate it; but from what I’ve seen so far from the autofocus performance, Sony has been working quite hard to improve what they already have–which is good as it is. In some ways, I’m expecting it to be something like the previous Sony a99 and a combination of the Sony a7r II.

I’m waiting for my review unit; and I hope this camera is more than good enough to justify its high (but arguably understandable) price point.