Sony Alpha A99

Sony A99 Video

On this page:
Video Overview
Basic Video Specs
Video Speeds & Feeds
Video Quality
Video Focusing
Video Exposure Control
Audio Recording
Video Samples
Rolling Shutter

Sony A99 Video Overview

Sony has a lot of experience with video recording, which they bring to bear in all of their digital cameras, from entry-level models to the impressive A99. The Sony A99 kicks the line's video chops up another couple of notches into true pro territory, though, with 1080/60p recording, excellent audio-recording option, and the ability to output uncompressed video through its HDMI port to external recording or monitoring devices. At the same time, the A99's video image quality is great, and its full-frame sensor produces excellent results in low-light situations.

Equally important is the availability of live, always-on phase-detect AF during movie recording. This gives the Sony A99 unparalleled focus-tracking ability, although it comes at some cost in exposure flexibility. On a more negative note, we were disappointed to see noticeable moiré patterns in the A99's video, with some subjects.

All in all, the A99 is an impressive step forward for Sony in pro-level video capability from an SLR (or SLT, as the case might be). Read on for all the (many) details.

Sony A99 Basic Video Specs

  • Great live autofocus during video recording, thanks to Sony's translucent mirror technology
  • 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) Full HD recording at 60 / 50 / 30 / 25 / 24 fps (AVCHD format)
  • 1080i (1,920 x 1,080 interlaced) HD recording at 60 / 50 fps (AVCHD format)
  • Universal video timing is not available: Cameras in NTSC countries will only do NTSC, in PAL countries only PAL
  • MPEG-4 recording at 1,440 x 1,080 and 640 x 480 resolution
  • AVCHD and MP4 file formats
  • Choice of three bitrates for AVCHD recording: 28 Mbps, 24 Mbps, and 17 Mbps
  • TTL (through the lens) multi-segment, center-weighted, or spot metering
  • Automatic or manual focus in movie mode (single-shot not available)
  • AF lock works in video mode
  • AF tracking sensitivity can be adjusted for video recording (High/Mid/Low)
  • "Focus peaking" for manual-focus assist
  • Programmed-Auto, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-priority and Manual exposure modes available with Manual focus
  • Only Programmed exposure mode available when AF is active
  • Aperture and Shutter speed can be controlled in Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual exposure modes either before or during recording
  • "Silent Controller" lets you adjust choice of Audio Record Level, Focus Mode, AF area mode, select the AF area, Exposure Compensation, ISO, Metering Mode, Shutter Speed, or Aperture. Many parameters can be adjusted during recording without affecting the audio track
  • EV adjustment (exposure compensation) can be selected prior to or during recording
  • AE lock works in video mode
  • Built-in or external stereo microphone, adjustable sensitivity
  • Optional audio level display on LCD display while recording
  • Wind noise reduction option
  • Audio monitoring via external headphone jack
  • Unique "Live" or "Lip Sync" timing options for audio output, facilitates monitoring via headphones
  • Digital zoom available during movie recording for silent "powered" zoom, but zoom speed is fixed, and resolution suffers
  • HDMI output can be used for uncompressed video recording to an external recorder, by turning the HDMI Info Display off
  • Can simultaneously display video stream on internal monitor, and output uncompressed video feed without any overlays via HDMI
  • Sensor-based SteadyShot stabilization is available during movie recording, but decreases angle of view slightly
  • Movie-mode ISO range is 100-6400 (if lower or higher values are selected in still mode, 100 or 6400 will be used)
  • Auto slow shutter to help with brightness and noise under reduced lighting (we didn't notice an effect in our shots, though)
  • Menu shortcuts available to change audio level and screen brightness directly from Live View mode
  • Supports full-frame lenses, or sub-frame lenses with a 1.5x crop factor (A99 automatically crops to APS-C frame size when it detects a Sony APS-C lens attached)
  • Picture Effect works in movie mode, with the exception of Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Mono, and Miniature
  • Creative Style options are available in Movie mode: Standard, Sepia, B/W, Autumn Leaves, Night Scene, Sunset, Landscape, Portrait, Light, Deep, Clear, Neutral, and Vivid.
  • Minimal rolling shutter artifacts
  • Recordings limited to 29 minutes 50 seconds, regardless of resolution or recording mode
  • Movies can be recorded to either of the two card slots, chosen via the Card Settings menu
  • Class 6 or faster cards recommended


  • Pros

  • Very responsive, always-live phase-detect AF during movie recording
  • Very good video quality; good detail and color, few artifacts, minor moiré
  • Stereo internal mic and jack for external stereo mic
  • Adjustable audio recording level, with optional on-screen VU display
  • Headphone jack for monitoring audio while recording
  • "Focus peaking" for manual focus assist
  • HDMI output usable for recording uncompressed video to an external recorder
  • Silent digital zoom available during recording
  • "Silent Controller" is great for making adjustments while recording
  • Extensive Creative Styles and Picture Effects available
  • Auto-cropping with APS-C lenses
  • Cons:

  • Significant moiré with some subjects
  • Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority, and Manual exposure modes only available with manual focus
  • No magnified Live View for manual-focus assist in Video mode
  • IS in movie mode decreases angle of view slightly
  • Digital zoom aggravates moiré problems
  • No provision for capturing still images during video recording
  • While record levels can be adjusted, audio limiter can never be disengaged
  • No provision for trimming movies in-camera, or to save single frames from the video stream
  • No flicker reduction for line-frequency fluorescent lighting; with high shutter speeds, you'll see "hum bars" with 30 and 60 fps recording

Sony A99 Video Speeds & Feeds: Image size, frame rate, and file format

The Sony A99 offers two video recording formats, a total of three video frame sizes, three frame rates, and both interlaced and progressive scanning options. The available options vary depending on the file format in use, and interlaced recording is only available at the highest resolution setting in AVCHD mode. The A99 doesn't have "universal" video timing; models sold in NTSC countries offer 60/30/24 fps frame rates, those sold in PAL countries offer 50/25fps. The table below shows the options available in each video recording mode:

Sony A99 Video Options
AVCHD Recording Mode
Aspect Ratio
Available Frame Rates
Average Bit Rate
Max. Duration

1,920 x 1,080


60/50 frames per second
(59.94 fps for NTSC)

28 Mbps
20 min.

60/50 frames per second
(59.94 fps for NTSC)

24 Mbps
20 min.
17 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

24/25 frames per second
(23.976 fps for NTSC)

24 Mbps
20 min.
17 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec
MP4 Recording Mode

1,440 x 1,080


30/25 frames per second
(29.97 fps for NTSC)

24 Mbps
20 min.

640 x 480


30/25 frames/second
(29.97 fps for NTSC)

3 Mbps
29 min. 59 sec

As noted above, the Sony A99's video timing is tied to the country it's sold in; any given camera will support either NTSC or PAL timing, but not both. In the table above, then, references such as 60/50fps mean that the first number will apply to A99s sold in NTSC countries, and the second number to those sold in PAL countries.

The Sony A99 offers both interlaced and progressive recording in its AVCHD mode, including 60p recording at full 1,080 x 1,920 resolution. Interestingly, the A99 offers no 1,280 x 720 mode like most of its competitors. Perhaps because they were able to achieve 60p recording at full resolution, Sony felt there was no need for a lower-resolution mode.

While it doesn't offer a 1,280 x 720 mode, the Sony A99 does include the 24/25fps frame rate, which some prefer for its more "cinematic" appearance. This frame rate would also be of interest to professionals wanting to mix digital video with footage shot conventionally on film.

The Sony A99's MP4 recording options are more restricted than those in AVCHD: Sony clearly feels that AVCHD is the way to go for video, seemingly offering the MP4 as more of a check-box feature for those who prefer it. Footage shot at 1,440 x 1,080 has a 16:9 aspect ratio (rectangular pixels) while 640 x 480 mode has a 4:3 aspect ratio, matching conventional old-style displays vs. the 16:9 aspect of HD TV screens. (How your TV handles the different format will depend on the particular model you have. Some will display black bands on either side of the narrower video material, while others will simply stretch the video horizontally to fill the screen at the cost of considerable distortion to the images.)

Sony A99 video quality

The Sony A99 produced good video in our tests, with very natural color and contrast, and few if any motion artifacts. Thanks to its large sensor and big pixels, it does very well in both daylight and after dark, and should work well for anyone interested in recording typical city night scenes, indoor performances, or residential interiors.

We found very few compression or motion artifacts in the Sony A99's video, even during rapid panning or subject movement. Detail loss to inter-frame compression was also lower than we're accustomed to seeing, and the video produced was very smooth-looking -- at least when we shot with a shutter speed close to the frame rate: You may note that our daytime videos below are rather choppy-looking, because we shot that footage in programmed exposure mode, in which the camera uses a larger aperture and fast shutter speed, to preserve the phase-detect autofocus. (See our note about this below, in the Focusing and Exposure Control sections.)

We've recently begun paying more attention to aliasing (moiré patterns and jaggies) in videos, since we encountered examples of each in the Nikon D600's video output. Now that we're somewhat sensitized to its presence, we're finding it's a much more widespread problem than we had previously been aware of. The Sony A99 does better than some cameras in this regard, but we nevertheless found situations where video moiré was quite obvious.

Sony A99: Video Moiré
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

The roof and sidewalk details that often show moiré patterns in our night videos did produce some aliasing issues with the A99, but they were more subdued than we've seen with a lot of cameras. On the other hand, the clip above shows very clear moiré problems in the bands of color that appear and disappear as the lens is zoomed. Whenever the pattern of the bricks is close to some multiple of the video pixel pitch, colors appear and crawl across the subject. This sort of problem only appears when the camera is presented with repeating patterns, but as you can see above, even a fairly coarse pattern can produce false colors. We didn't experiment with it, but it's probable that you could see moiré patters or color aliases like this with fabric as well.

One of the Sony A99's features we liked more in concept than execution was the ability to zoom digitally during video recording. While handy, this zooming appears to be done without cropping further into the sensor array, so doesn't take advantage of the huge difference in resolution between the video output and the A99's 24-megapixel image sensor. As you zoom in, the image just becomes softer, with less definition.

Sony A99: Digital Zoom Exacerbates Moiré Issues
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

As it turns out, though, loss of sharpness is the least of the problems with the A99's digital video zoom: It greatly aggravates moiré issues, as you can see in the video above.

Overall, video quality from the Sony A99 was a bit of a mixed bag. We generally liked its detail, clean imagery, natural color and contrast, and lack of motion artifacts, but the moiré patterns we saw could be a real impediment with many subjects.

Sony A99 video focusing

  • Sony's unique translucent mirror technology makes live video focus easy
  • Downside, though, is AF can only operate at apertures of ~f/5.6 and faster
  • Only continuous AF is available for AF during video recording, single-shot is disabled in the menu
  • Manual focus during recording is also supported
  • Focus motor noise depends on the lens in use, but is less than we're accustomed to hearing. (With the Sony Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, at least.) Still, best to use an external mic if you're using live autofocus during recording
  • AF area mode options:
    • Wide-area
    • Zone
    • Spot
    • Local
  • Manual focus is also available during movie recording, with Focus Peaking to help determine focus. (We'd still like to see a magnified Live View option, though.)
  • Focus tracking seems to work pretty well, and the camera responds well to sudden, large changes in subject distance, rarely if ever getting "lost"
  • Tracking sensitivity is adjustable (High/Mid/Low), to control how quickly the camera responds to changes in subject distance

Arguably the biggest news with the Sony A99 and video is its always-live phase-detect autofocus. With phase-detect AF, the camera doesn't just know when the subject is out of focus, but by how much and in what direction as well. This means there's no need for the "hunting" you often see in videos from cameras using contrast-detect AF, and, because the phase-detect system is always "live", motion tracking can be fast and accurate.

One limitation of phase-detect AF, though, is that it requires a fairly large lens aperture to operate. This means that you can't stop down much with the A99 if you want to take advantage of its excellent autofocus. You can certainly use ND filters to achieve slower shutter speeds in bright lighting, but to get significant depth of field, you have to resort to manual focusing.

Sony A99: Autofocus
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

We tested the A99's focus tracking by shooting a car moving towards the camera at 30 mph, with Sony's Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set to 70mm. (The longer focal length making for a more challenging test.) We shot in MP4 mode, with the AF tracking duration to High, as that seemed to produce the best results, although in truth, in cases where the camera has an unobstructed view of the subject, tracking duration doesn't really matter. In all cases, the camera did a really excellent job, tracking the subject well until the focal distance was just 10-15 feet or so. Very impressive.

Sony A99 video exposure control

  • Defaults to Programmed exposure, exposure compensation adjustment is always available
  • Auto-ISO limits are shared between Still and Movie modes, although Movie mode maxes out at 6,400
  • ISO can be set in any Movie exposure mode
  • Multi-segment, center-weighted and spot metering modes supported
  • Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and Manual exposure modes are only available with Manual Focus (see discussion below)
  • Programmed exposure curve locks-out small apertures, making it hard to get high depth of field or slow shutter speeds
  • Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) is available in movie mode: Auto plus five manual level options
  • Creative Style options are available in Movie mode: Standard, Sepia, B/W, Autumn Leaves, Night Scene, Sunset, Landscape, Portrait, Light, Deep, Clear, Neutral, and Vivid.
  • Contrast, Saturation, and Sharpness can be adjusted for all Creative Style settings
  • Several Picture Effects are also available: Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization Color, Retro Photo, Soft High-Key, Partial Color (red, green, blue, yellow), High Contrast Monochromes
  • AE (auto-exposure) lock is supported in video mode
  • No flicker-reduction option for fluorescent lighting

The awesomeness of the Sony A99's always-on phase-detect focusing unfortunately exacts a price when it comes to exposure flexibility. Phase-detect focusing requires a relatively large aperture to work its magic, which means that video-mode AF on the A99 just won't happen at small apertures. As a result, you can only use Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and Manual exposure modes when the A99 is set to manual focus. In the case of the Sony A99, the minimum aperture for many lenses is f/5.6, but if the lens in question has a maximum aperture greater than f/4, the minimum aperture becomes f/3.5.

One consequence is that you can't use small apertures to get slower shutter speeds in bright lighting, if you want to use autofocus. This can produce rather choppy-looking video, as you can see below in our daytime clips of Charlotte chasing the Frisbee. For the smoothest-looking video, you'll want to keep your shutter speed no more than half the frame rate, for instance 1/60 when shooting at 30fps, 1/120 when shooting at 60fps, etc.

The solution to too-fast shutter speeds is pretty simple: Just buy a set of ND filters to fit your lenses. You could probably get away with just an ND 0.9, which cuts the light by three stops, but for best results, you'll want a full set of 0.3, 0.6, and 0.9. This is by no means a fatal flaw for the A99; the glacially-slow AF of most SLRs using contrast-detect focusing is only useful for relatively static subjects:: Most pros "pull focus" manually, anyway. Still, it's a limitation you should be aware of and have a plan for dealing with.

Shutter-priority exposure also works a bit differently than you might expect in movie mode, as the aperture setting is fixed when you begin recording. Since the shutter speed is also fixed (as you'd expect in shutter-priority mode), this means the exposure will vary if the scene brightness changes at all. Sony tells us the reason for this was to avoid noise from iris actuation from affecting the sound track. Whatever the reason, it's something else you need to be aware of when recording video with the A99. Happily, there's no such issue in Aperture-priority mode; shutter speed changes freely as needed, from a low corresponding to the frame rate in use (except for 24fps, which oddly limits the minimum shutter speed to 1/50 sec), to the maximum of 1/8000 sec.

The Sony A99 also has a mode for shooting in reduced light, called Auto Slow Shutter mode. Ostensibly, this increases the image brightness in low light conditions, and reduces image noise, but when we tested this in after-dark shooting, we couldn't see any difference. It's possible that it helps at intermediate light levels, when the camera's normal programmed exposure curve would lead it to stop down the aperture slightly and use a slightly higher shutter speed. We didn't see a positive effect from it in our shooting, though.

Sony A99 audio recording

  • Internal stereo microphone
  • Manual attenuator available via Movie Settings menu, with 31 levels available
  • VU (audio level) meter display also available via Movie Settings and DISP button
  • Mic sensitivity can be adjusted while recording, via the Silent Controller on the camera's front
  • While levels can be adjusted, audio limiter can never be disengaged
  • External stereo mic input - use external mics for better sound quality, and to eliminate camera and lens noise
  • External headphone jack for monitoring audio level and clarity while recording
  • Headphone level cannot be adjusted
  • Unique audio timing options to facilitate monitoring, Live or Lip Sync (see below for description)
  • Audio can be turned off entirely (set level to zero)

The Sony A99's audio capabilities put it very much in the professional class of video-capable DSLRs. While the internal stereo mic seems to work quite well, and autofocus can be pretty quiet with the right lens, you'll still want to use an external mic any time you care about audio quality. A number of cameras have input jacks for external microphones, but very few have a headphone port for monitoring the audio being recorded, as does the A99.

When you monitor audio through the headphone jack, though, there's the possibility of a slight time shift between the audio you're hearing and what's going on in the scene. Because it has to go through the A99's video processor first, the image you see in the camera's viewfinder or LCD is slightly delayed from real time. If the audio is delayed the same amount, everything's fine, as the audio and video will be in sync with each other. In the Sony A99, this corresponds to the Lip Sync audio mode. In contrast, though, if you're watching the scene directly, rather than through the camera's viewfinder, audio processed through the camera will lag behind what you're seeing. Switching to the Live audio timing option addresses this, picking up the audio before it goes through the camera's processor. All in all, a very neat solution to a real-world problem, monitoring recorded audio.


Sony A99 video samples

Here are some examples of video shot with the Sony A99:

Sony A99: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, ISO 2000, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, ISO 2000, 30 frames per second
Download Original


Sony A99 video rolling shutter artifacts ("Jello effect")

Pretty much every DSLR on the market distorts moving objects, or the entire scene, if the camera is being panned. The technical term for this is "rolling shutter artifacts," but many users simply call it the "Jello effect," because the image can jiggle and sway like Jello as the camera is moved. This occurs because the image is captured and read out line by line, so the bottom of a moving object may no longer be underneath the top of it by the time the camera gets around to capturing that part of the frame.

Rolling shutter artifacts can be very annoying if they're severe, but as noted, all digital SLRs show them to one extent or another. In the case of the Sony A99, they're pretty minimal. If you pan at anything approaching a reasonable rate while filming, you're not likely to notice them at all.

Sony A99: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original