Sony came out swinging for the fences with the introduction of its “flagship” DSLR, the A900. Billed as a prosumer digi-snapper, but packed with a panoply of pro-style features, a memory card bursting, 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, crystal clear high-def LCD, on-board image stabilization, and priced at $3000 [body only], this one’s likely to give the vastly more expensive, highest end Canons and Nikons a solid run for their money.
Taking some notes from its Minolta heritage and trickled down through previous alpha cameras, Sony planted plenty of buttons and a “multi-selector” joystick on the back of the body for no-menu-digging-necessary adjustments. The layout, while a bit visually daunting at first (especially when the battery grip is attached), is pleasingly intuitive and once mastered makes on-the-fly changes to all the key shooting parameters a breeze. Another nod to its Minolta forbears is the A900’s viewfinder. Like a prominent Roman proboscis perched atop the body, the viewfinder offers 100 percent coverage and is easily the brightest of any camera on the market today.
Another stand-apart-from-the-crowd feature is Sony’s sensor-borne image stabilization system. The first of its kind on a full-frame sensor, engineers had to make it quicker and more powerful to handle the size and stresses of the larger sensor. And from our brief test, it worked. Comparing images, the Steady Shot added a good three stops of shutter speed leeway. While the stabilization system greatly abetted slow shutter shots, we were a tad disappointed at noise levels in low light situations at ISOs ranging above 3200. But frankly, it’s hard to beat Nikon at the high ISO, low noise game right now.
Live View is, of course, the all-the-rage, “me too” function of late. Well, Sony gave it the heave-ho on the A900 in favor of something it calls Intelligent Preview. When you press the depth of field button, the camera takes a “preview” image and displays it on the LCD so you can adjust white balance, dynamic range and exposure parameters to get exactly what you want when you’re ready to hit the shutter. It’s actually a very useful function when you’ve got time to set up and compose a shot, and it keeps you from burning up a bunch of memory on bracketing shots.
Sony sent us a $3K no-nonsense sharpshooting Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 lens to test with the A900. This hefty two-plus pounder makes the A900 a formidable load in one hand, and makes an unusual amount of work for your zooming hand, as well. The Zeiss focusing ring is smooth, light and precise, but the zoom ring is noticeably stiff and a day’s worth of rotating the barrel from one end of the range and back easily replaces a gym workout.
Putting that aside, from the viewfinder to the LCD to images on paper the A900 is truly an impressive camera. It’s got an ease of use that will most certainly appeal to aspiring enthusiasts along with some industry-leading features that completely exceed expectations and, at this price point, may cause some professional shooters to step to the Sony side of the street.
- Camera Resolution: 24.6 megapixels