Sony A99 Mark II Conclusion

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 at 30mm, f/11, 5s, ISO 50.
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It took four years for Sony to release a new flagship A-mount camera, but the calls were answered with the Sony A99 Mark II. The A99 II, like its predecessor and other past A-mount cameras, comes equipped with a translucent mirror, making it more of a pseudo-DSLR than a traditional DSLR, but it is an A-mount camera through and through.

The camera packs a 42.4-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor that utilizes Sony's Exmor R backside-illumination technology. The end result is a camera that produces excellent image quality for its resolution across a wide range of ISO speeds. While the high-resolution sensor impressed us, what makes the A99 II unique in the market is its combination of resolution and speed. Equipped with a Bionz X image processor and new front-end LSI, the Sony A99 II can capture full-resolution images at nearly 12 frames per second, although our lab results showed the camera coming up just a bit short of spec -- still, very impressive.

Is the Sony A99 Mark II the camera that Sony A-mount shooters have been waiting for? Read on for our final word.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 II at 400mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 500.
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Image Quality: A99 II's sensor delivers great images across wide range of ISOs

JPEG images look excellent straight from the camera, although a bit oversaturated, which is standard for modern cameras. Detail is very good as is default noise reduction processing. The A99 II can render fine detail very well, thanks in part to its lack of optical low-pass filter (OLPF). Resolution doesn't change much when you process RAW files from the A99 II, but RAW files showcase excellent dynamic range.

The Sony A99 II fared very well in our print quality analysis. Its 42.4-megapixel full-frame sensor produces excellent 30 x 40 inch prints up to ISO 800. Colors are vibrant and details are sharp. There is some shadow noise at ISO 400-800, but not enough to drastically impact overall print quality. At ISO 1600, some fine details lose sharpness, but we could make a good 24 x 36 inch print nonetheless, which is impressive for a camera with this many megapixels. You can make a good 20 x 30 print at ISO 3200, which is great, and 13 x 19 prints still look good at ISO 6400. At ISO 6400, the amount of noise does increase quite a bit, which significantly hurts the ability of the camera to render fine detail.

Beyond ISO 12800, you won't be able to make good large prints. In fact, ISO 51,200 and 102,400 are far too noisy and soft to make any prints at all. Nonetheless, the A99 II provides a lot of flexibility with its excellent 42.2-megapixel sensor. You can make very large prints anywhere from ISO 50 (extended) to ISO 800 and continue to make pretty large prints up through ISO 6400.

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 at 17mm, f/8.0, 1.6s, ISO 50.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Additionally, this image is focus stacked. Click on the links to view the foreground and background images used in the composite.

Overall, despite packing 42.4-megapixels onto its full-frame sensor, the A99 II still offers very good high ISO performance. The camera is jam-packed with great features, but its sensor should be near the top of the list because it offers excellent image quality across a wide range of ISOs.

Sony A99 II's hybrid phase-detect autofocus delivers speed and accuracy

The Sony A99 II is the first full-frame Sony camera to include a 4D AF autofocus system. This hybrid phase detection autofocus system combines two separate autofocus technologies. The camera has a dedicated 79-point phase detection AF module and also 399 on-sensor phase detect autofocus points, the latter of which is similar to what is found in the Sony A7R II. In traditional DSLR cameras, a camera cannot utilize two autofocus systems simultaneously, but the SLT A99 II can thanks to its translucent mirror.

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 at 30mm, f/8.0, 2s, ISO 50.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

By combining the separate autofocus systems, the A99 II has 79 hybrid cross autofocus points the 79 points from the dedicated PDAF module overlapping with 79 of the 399 points on the sensor itself. The dedicated module has horizontal detection and the sensor points have vertical detection, so combining them creates cross detection AF points.

During our testing, we found the autofocus performance to be very impressive overall for both stationary and moving subjects. Using wide, zone, center, flexible spot, expand flexible spot and lock-on AF, the A99 II excelled in a variety of shooting and lighting conditions. Compared to our high-end, fast DSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D5, the Sony A99 II felt comparable in terms of overall speed and accuracy.

A99 Mark II performance: 42MP images at crazy-fast speeds

The A99 II offers excellent overall performance. Admittedly, it is a bit slower than many other DSLRs when powering on to first shot and when switching from playback to recording mode, but many other aspects of its performance are very quick. Full-autofocus shutter lag is only 0.11 seconds, which is fast for its class. Single shot cycle times were less than 0.3 seconds, which is fast as well.

What's most impressive about the A99 II is that it can shoot continuous compressed RAW images at nearly 11 frames per second with a total number of frames just under 60. Considering the A99 II's resolution, this is especially fast and a remarkable feat. It is worth pointing out that we were unable to achieve Sony's spec of 12fps shooting in the lab. Shooting uncompressed RAW images brings the speed down to 10.58fps and drops the buffer depth to 24 frames. Depending on the lens and aperture used, the A99 II can continuously autofocus at its max speed, too. You can learn more about potential continuous autofocus caveats here (PDF, page 39).

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 II at 70mm, f/8.0, 1/80s, ISO 320.
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Buffer clearing, however, is an area of weakness for the A99 II and the only major negative mark on the A99 II's otherwise excellent performance report card. 61 Extra Fine JPEG images -- captured at 10.53fps -- takes 56 seconds to clear with our testing card, a pretty quick SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/sec UHS-I SDHC card. UHS-I is the kicker here, as UHS-II support would likely improve buffer clearing performance considerably. We have seen cameras that support UHS-II SD cards offer write speeds that more than double what the A99 II can achieve. Nonetheless, the A99 II does offer faster write performance than the Sony A7R II, which utilizes a 42-megapixel sensor as well.

Despite being a "DSLR" camera, the A99 II doesn't offer the great battery life we're used to observing. The A99 II utilizes an electronic viewfinder due to its translucent mirror design, which decreases its battery life relative to optical viewfinder-equipped DSLR cameras. Battery life using the viewfinder is 390 shots and 490 shots using the rear display. We recommend picking up a spare battery or using the optional battery grip to double the battery life.

Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6 II at 280mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 125.
This image has been cropped. Click for full-size image.

Overall, while buffer clearing performance is slow, the camera is overall very fast. For a full-frame "DSLR" camera, the Sony A99 Mark II offers excellent performance across the board. Autofocus speeds are quick, shutter lag is low, the camera cycles quickly and it achieves great continuous shooting speeds considering its resolution.

Video: 4K video quality is good, but the A99 II has odd restrictions

Capable of recording 4K UHD video, the Sony A99 II can capture very high-quality video. It records 4K video at up to 30 frames per second with a bitrate up to 100Mbps (when using a compatible SD card). The camera offers two 4K recording modes. The default is Super 35mm format that records the central 6K-resolution-worth of pixels before downsampling to 4K UHD. If you want to record using the full sensor, you can do that too, but this latter mode has pixel binning.

Videographers will also be pleased to find that the A99 II has S-Gamut and S-log shooting modes, clean HDMI output, a zebra display mode and headphone/mic inputs. But the camera also has odd video recording limitations. You cannot record video when using AF-S nor can you record outside of program auto mode using AF-C. This means that if you want to record video in manual, aperture priority or shutter speed priority modes, you must manually focus. This is an odd restriction and one not placed on other Sony cameras, such as the A7R II.

Overall, video quality proved to be very good, although the interesting limitations of the Sony A99 II are worth considering if you intend to shoot a lot of video.

Build Quality: Smaller than its predecessor, but even more rugged

Bulkier than Sony's E-mount full-frame mirrorless cameras, the A99 II feels much more like a standard DSLR, with a large, chunky grip, for example. With that said, the camera is 8% smaller than the original A99. The A99 II is dust and moisture resistant, although Sony stopped short of calling it weather-proof. We found that the camera was very comfortable to hold, and we also enjoyed the wealth of physical controls, with many important functions within reach of your index finger, as well as lots of user customization to the buttons and dials.

While we like the A99 II's body overall, there were a couple of issues. The 3-inch rear display is sharp and works well, including its tilting functionality, but the lack of touchscreen functionality is notable. Further, the multi-selector joystick on the back of the camera takes the place of a traditional directional pad. The joystick works okay, but it proved to be not as consistent as a directional pad with a dedicated central button in order to accurately select and confirm what you want.

The Sony A99 II is an SLT camera rather than an SLR camera, which means that it uses a translucent mirror. As an SLT, the A99 II uses an electronic viewfinder in lieu of an optical viewfinder. The EVF is very good, offering a 0.5-inch OLED display with 2.4-million dots. The 0.78x magnification is improved over the EVF in the predecessor and the EVF itself worked well in the field. The one drawback to the A99 II's EVF is that it doesn't offer a live view of the scene when shooting in the fastest "Continuous High+" burst mode, which can make it difficult to accurately track fast-moving subjects.

The Sony A99 II features an updated 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization system, similar to the one from the A7R II, and corrects for X/Y translational motion, as well as for pitch, yaw and roll. We found it to work very well with the two lenses we tested with the A99 II, the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 and Sony 70-400mm f/4-5.6G SSM II.

Overall, we found that the Sony A99 II build quality and handling characteristics were very good. The weather-resistant body feels built to last and is oriented toward professional shooting with its ample physical controls and button layout.

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 at 20mm, f/8.0, 0.8s, ISO 100.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. This image is focus stacked. Click on the links to see the two images used in the composite: Foreground and background.

Summary: A-mount lives! A99 II brings high-resolution, lots of speed

The Sony A99 II is a bold statement that the Sony A-mount is alive and well for enthusiasts and professionals alike. It is a remarkable technological achievement in multiple ways, from its ability to capture full-resolution 42.4-megapixel RAW images at nearly a dozen frames per second, to utilizing a super-quick, advanced hybrid autofocus system with tons of individual AF points.

However, it is also a camera that, despite how advanced many of its features are, felt occasionally stuck in the past. 4K UHD video recording is hampered and despite Sony's efforts, the menus and a few of the controls are somewhat clunky.

Overall, the Sony A99 II is an excellent full-frame "DSLR" camera that achieves some great feats. To be able to utilize hundreds of autofocus points while shooting 42.4-megapixel images at nearly 12fps is very impressive.

Pros & Cons

  • Superb image quality at low to moderate ISOs straight out of the camera
  • Very good high ISO performance, much improved over its predecessor
  • Very high resolution
  • Very good dynamic range, especially at higher ISOs
  • Fast, sophisticated hybrid autofocus system
  • Low prefocused shutter lag
  • Outstanding ~11fps burst mode speeds
  • Very good buffer depths considering burst speed and resolution
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization
  • Electronic first curtain shutter option
  • Flicker reduction feature
  • 4K (UHD) in-camera video recording
  • Full HD up to 120fps
  • Uncompressed RAW option
  • Comfortable camera body with good physical controls
  • Durable, weather-resistant camera body
  • Sharp electronic viewfinder with higher viewfinder magnification than its predecessor (0.78x vs 0.71x)
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Built-in Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth
  • Susceptible to aliasing artifacts (common issue these days)
  • Dynamic range not as high as predecessor and some competing models at low ISOs
  • Slow buffer clearing times
  • No UHS-II support
  • Struggled to autofocus on our standard low-contrast AF target below -0.5 EV (but could focus on our high-contrast AF target down to -4.7 EV)
  • No built-in AF illuminator
  • No touchscreen functionality
  • Electronic viewfinder cannot keep up at fastest shooting speeds
  • Multi-selector joystick is not a great replacement for a traditional directional pad
  • Poor battery life compared to DSLRs without optional grip
  • Odd focus quirks with video: AF-C only with Program Auto, or Manual Focus for other exposure modes.
  • Improved but still limited remote shooting capabilities
  • No built-in GPS (unlike its predecessor)

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