Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Disappointing Results From The First Impressions of the Sony A99

EOSHD has posted impressions of the upcoming Sony A99 and VG900 and they are very negative. This is a huge disappointment. I have not been quiet in my support of Sony on this website; I think that they are the most innovative, the most willing to take risks, and the most technologically advanced. In most cases, they have been hitting balls clear out of the park.

The NEX-5, 5n, and 7 have put their still-new NEX camera system on the top of the mirrorless market in every country except Japan. And while their video hasn't compared to the GH2, their photographs are the top of the heap. The RX100 was a sensation, immediately becoming the compact camera to beat upon its release, and it had fantastic video quality to boot. Indeed, Sony has almost all hits and no misses.

Sadly, today, Mighty Casey has struck out. The problem? Moire, and loads of it. Mix in a healthy dose of jagged edges and compression issues and you have a wholly disappointing hybrid camera. As EOSHD pointed out, these issues are simply unacceptable in a $3,000 camera aimed at a premium market. When the GH2 has been producing world-class 1080p for over two years, to say nothing of the Blackmagic camera, this is absolutely unacceptable.

It wouldn't be as much a problem if Sony hadn't been touting the video aspects of the camera. In fact, almost every feature and doodad that a videographer would want on an SLR is there! One could say that Sony was trying to segment their product lines and leave alone their pro-level cameras like the VG900, but apparently the video from that camera sucks just as bad! What in the world happened, Sony?

Video isn't the only issue at hand, no. Luminous Landscape, while being more than a bit conservative with their viewpoint, has posted an only mildly-conservative early take on the A99. Remember, the primary writer over there was a Sony/Minolta guy for many years, building up a large set of lenses around an A900. He's no Sony hater. That said, he has a big problem with the camera's main feature, the SLT design.

I've made no bones about my dislike for Sony's SLT tech. I know that many people say they don't notice the difference, but I do. The images are soft and the light performance is reduced, as nearly every online review will show you. I could accept the softness, since at most sizes it's not noticeable, but the reduced noise performance is not something that I can accept. If Sony allowed us to move the mirror, this would be moot, but Sony does not seem to be interested in offering that feature. I shoot primarily free-hand, which means that I need a minimum 1/500th on many lenses, which means that in almost every environment, I'm going to be pushed up into the ISO200-400 range. Give me more ISO!

Luminous Landscape dislikes the SLT and accompanying electronic viewfinder for another reason: it disconnects you from the scene. I agree with this. It's an unavoidable consequence. I suspect that the experience is an accumulation of small, almost imperceptible things: the slight lag from event to display; the eye focusing on something near the face as opposed to distant through optics; the fact that no EVF will ever reproduce the full breadth of colors as seen through a glass. Regardless, this is very much a problem with the sensation, the art, of photography. My problems are more geeky and technical. What can I say? Once a pixel-peeper, always a pixel-peeper.

That said, his criticisms don't fall on deaf ears. I don't mind EVFs, but I must admit, that when jumping between EVFs and optical viewfinders, the old-fashioned optical ones are in a different league. There is a jarring and noticeable difference. Just naturally, I have always found myself preferring the optical equipment to the electronic. And remember, this is coming from a board-certified geek and technophile. I can never have enough gadgets.

And while I haven't used the EVF on the A99, he says that in a comparison of EVFs, the Olympus E-M5 would actually come out on top. If that's true, than his final point rings very true to me: staring through to a screen does not a premium experience make. It does not make the camera feel like a $3,000 camera. This disconnect is fine on the E-M5 since it is one-third the cost. One does not pick it up and expect to feel a certain je ne sais quoi. For me, and this is weird to say, the Nikon D600 looks like it will be the better choice, especially considering the huge price difference. Video sucks for both of them, and the Nikon will likely make better use of the same sensor.

As it stands, in the price category in which the A99 is competing, I have to admit that I think it outclassed. This is the first time that Sony has flubbed its market point in many years, and I hope that they adjust. Because currently, Sony is up against the Goliath that is the Nikon D800 and D800e, and Nikon's lenses are both better, more varied, and equipped with a mount that enjoys far wider third-party support. If the video quality had been a cut above the D800, which isn't very good, I'd be singing a different tune. But with crap video, the A99 has one hell of a fight ahead of it.

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