Despite being in the DSLR market for less than three years, Sony has already established itself as a big player in the world of digital photography. Thanks to its adoption of Minolta tech and a fine selection of lenses, it’s fair to say that in terms of reputation only the twin towers of Canon and Nikon stand taller.
Now Sony has shown just how serious it is about its Alpha DSLR range by launching the flagship A900. This camera sports a brand new Exmor 24.6-megapixel CMOS sensor, which unlike most cropped-down APS-C DSLR sensors is ‘full frame’ - in other words, it’s the equivalent size to a whole film frame in an old non-digital 35mm SLR.
The idea behind having a full frame sensor is that its immense size is able to gather more light while the shutter is open, resulting in shots with stronger contrast and better colours, and this is certainly the case with the A900 when compared to its lesser Alpha brethren – the A200, A350 and A700.
There’s bags of contrast and detail in the JPEG photos processed by the A900’s built-in BIONZ tech, thanks partly to the sensor and partly to the (optional) D-Range Optimiser, which deepens shadows and brightens highlights to deliver punchy, almost HDR-like exposures.
Of course, you can also shoot in RAW if you wish, processing your own shots using external software.
While we had impressive results in general, one aspect where the A900 struggles in comparison to its Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II rivals is noise. This speckly menace is visible in shots at ISO 800 and above, which means you’ll almost always have some of it in photos taken in low-light situations.
The built-in noise reduction isn’t particularly effective either, so if you’re intending to make huge prints of your work, you’ll probably need to do lots of cleaning in Photoshop or similar.
That issue aside, the A900 an absolute stonker of a camera. It lacks the frills of some rivals – there’s no live view screen, no video recording function, no pop-up flash – but nails almost everything it does have spot-on.
In-body SteadyShot technology means you have anti-shake with any lens, even 25 year-old Minolta ones. The 3in LCD screen is pin-sharp, ultra-detailed and easy to view in bright sunlight, while the viewfinder is a real peach. Probably the finest viewfinder yet seen on a DSLR, it’s massive and offers 100 percent frame coverage.
Its menu system is a cinch to use, the body sits nicely in the hand and, while a tad heavy, it’s solid and sealed against dust and moisture.
Existing Sony Alpha or Minolta users looking for a prosumer upgrade shouldn’t hesitate about considering the A900. While it’s expensive, it’s a fantastic high-end addition to the system.
Is it good enough to tempt non-Alpha users away from Nikon or Canon? Well, in some ways, certainly – but until Sony has totally nailed the noise issue it’ll always be a slight blot on the A900’s copybook.