Modelshoot with the Sony Alpha 99

Last week I showed some streetstyle photography with the Sony Alpha 99.
Because I mostly shoot models it’s of course also a good idea to test a camera in that situation, so today some images from a recent modelshoot with Lenaa.
Actually these were shot during her testsession.
Some images might be considered not safe for work, although I think they are not, but it will vary per country.

Let’s start very simple.
The sensor of the Sony is awesome, this really took me by surprise. I’m always someone that will say “It’s not the gear, it’s the photographer” but when someone asked me what camera to buy I would always say “Buy a Canon or Nikon, just get a feel for the one that fits you, both are great”, now I will have to add the Sony. To be 100% honest I’m more and more beginning to have some sort of romance with the camera :D, it’s a shame that in a few weeks I will have to give it back to Sony……

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it blows the Canon 5DMKIII out of the water, far from that…. but the combination of the glass (lenses) and the sensor does make the Sony a REAL competitor at the moment for Canon and Nikon, and I strongly believe that this is a good thing (a very good thing), the more competition the better the next Canon and Nikon will be, right? Pricing wise I do think Sony has to change some things at the moment it’s a bit pricey considering the glass I have with it.

A sensor only will not cut it of course, with the Sony it’s without any doubt also the glass they gave me to play with, and I do realize that if you put lesser glass on the camera it will probably be a bit less “stunning” but still it’s a very interesting camera due to the EVF. In the previous reviewblogpost I mentioned that it was a bit difficult to get used to for me in the studio but that it would probably grew on me…. well it did indeed. Now don’t get me wrong (again) it’s still a love/hate relation. But when shooting for example images with lightbulbs, which you can see in the following two shots, it’s very interesting/nice to see the end result in the viewfinder at the moment you press the shutter. No more guessing, it’s just as you see, and that’s a nice addition to shooting material like the following shots with a “normal” DSLR. The following shots were done with just a lightbulb on AV mode.

Now when working with strobes I’m still preferring the normal viewfinder to be 100% honest, but I feel the Sony is a lot better than I thought last week, so it’s growing on me. At first my initial thoughts were that I missed the feel of looking through the viewfinder (and I do) HOWEVER what you get back is very interesting. Not only do you see with normal lights the end result through the viewfinder but when working with strobes I opted for the preview after the shot is taken, this is really nice because it gives you the image in the viewfinder straight after it’s shot, the disadvantage of this is that you miss the interaction with your model during that “black out” time, what you get back however is also very nice, you get the preview, all the settings etc. etc. what makes me think that it would be incredibly cool if you could switch between EVF and OVF with a switch, like on the Fuji cameras, that would get you the best of both worlds.

All my images are slightly changed (and sometimes a bit more) for color  but the skintones from the Sony are really nice, I always create my profiles with the X-rite colorchecker passport and after the calibration the Sony colors look very good. Although they do look a bit different from the Medium format camera I used next to it (Leaf Credo60). The Credo is just more refined, but hey it’s a high-end Medium Format camera, so one would expect that. But making a long story short (and I mentioned it before) I really like the sensor and the combination with glass that makes the system I have here for testing.

As you can see the dynamic range of the camera/sensor is really nice, I already noticed this on the outside shots but also in the studio this continues (of course), there is a nice detailed black/shadow area and when using shadows/fill light there is a lot of real information there instead of some noise/blocky/fluffy stuff. This is something that I really like. Some people commented that the images I took outside looked too much HDR and that’s why they would not be interested… well I think that’s a bit short sighted (sorry), do remember that over time dynamic range in cameras WILL continue to grow, and in my opinion we can never have enough, one big thing is that we can always take away dynamic range, just use some curves and you’re done, but we cannot add dynamic range when it’s not there, except shooting HDR.


Now before you think the A99 shoots HDRs like I would do with the 5DMKIII with 2 exposures sorry you’re wrong.
There is a lot of detail you can get back without it getting “nasty”, but also with the 5DMKIII I can get a lot of detail back but it’s just a bit less, I don’t want to say how many stops because that also would break into the conversation if noise levels should account to real dynamic range (that’s why I hate to do that kind of reviews), for me it’s a matter of what I see. And concluding (for now) the Sony Alpha 99 is a real professional camera in image quality. Some things I do miss or I like better on the 5DMKIII so let’s look at that, and maybe that would be also something for you to consider.

When shopping for a new camera realize the following differences between (what I can see now) the Sony and Canon/Nikon, and if I’m wrong please feel free to correct me.


1. Lenses
For the Canon/Nikon system there is a lot of glass available, but also for the Sony there is a lot of glass available of course, however as I mentioned in the review before I miss the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 OS which I love to use for sports and animals. Some people claimed the lens would be available for the Sony mount but I searched and could not find anything more than some announcements.


2. EVF
Love/Hate on some parts.
I LOVE the fact you see what you’re doing outside, but in the studio it’s still a bit of a weird animal, it’s something I can/are already getting used to, but I would strongly advise to test it out before buying, on the other hand it will take you some days to get used to, so maybe make a good agreement with your camera store so you can try the camera for a few days. I think that people working outside or with continues light will LOVE this a lot and maybe it could even be a reason to buy the A99, for me (I mostly shoot with strobes) it’s a bit of a double edged sword, it works fine, I love seeing the overlay of settings and the preview of the image after I shot it (if you want more speed you can deselect that option). I think it would be awesome if Sony would release the new camera (next generation) with a switch between OVF and EVF.


3. Flash system
I have to be honest with this part as I don’t know anything about the Sony flash system but hear me out.
Canon just released a totally new flash system that finally really rocks, I always liked Nikon’s small flash system better than Canons but with the release of their new strobes and radio system I think Canon is ahead of Nikon. If you work with small flash a lot I would dive into the system Sony uses and find out if that is enough for your needs, if not Canon or Nikon would be the better choice, and I actually believe that the next Nikon flash system will also be radio triggered, because this is really a BIG plus that Canon now has.



4. Video
I still didn’t have time to test out the video a lot but I did shoot some small test videos and the AF seems to work just fine, also the clean HDMI output and many options for refresh rates, the “silent” button, setting audio levels, inputs/outputs etc. makes the A99 a really good contender for video shooters.


5. Settings
This is were I really like the Canon a lot more.
I would love to see a favorites menu (if it’s there please correct me, I have to do without manual), but also for the HDR shooters I would love to see the system Canon uses, why limit the user to presets, with the Canon you can select the amount of shots and set the distance yourself, with the Sony there are a few presets and that’s it, it works but a bit more flexibility in a pro camera is very much appriciated.


Same goes for the auto ISO.
I love auto ISO, you don’t have to think about the ISO or the scare that you miss shots because the shutter “hangs” into a too slow shutter speed, auto ISO is for some an amateur setting but well I guess you can call me an amateur than because I use it all the time when shooting in the street. With the Canon (and Fuji) you can set the moment the ISO changes, for example on 1/100, 1/250 etc. this is something I cannot find in the A99, and I would love to see that. Sometimes 1/50 is more than enough, but for movement sometimes you just need more. Also here for a pro camera that should be added to the options, and seeing what they can do with firmwares (just look at Fuji) I think it would be easy for Sony to add this. You can of course work around this with Manual mode but even then it’s not as flexible as when setting the shutterspeed, there are many situations where the circumstances very so much that you are too limited with manual mode.


6. GPS
Some hate it, I LOVE it.
I love to tag all my images, normally I use an iPhone app for it and sync this later in Lightroom, with the A99 it’s build in. I tried it out during the photowalk and it’s pretty accurate, only a few images were placed wrong, which were corrected by my iPhone app by the way, it will drain a bit of battery without any doubt but it’s something I don’t mind. You need extra batteries anyway.


7. Batterylife
The A99 is one hungry camera, with the 5DMKIII I maybe recharge once a week, with the A99 I recharge almost every day, I do however use a grip on the Canon. Sony has a great grip which fits three batteries and I would highly recommend getting that one, but make sure to buy at least 3 batteries anyway, the third party brands are not expensive so it’s not a big hit out of your budget.


8. The screen that swivels
I already mentioned it briefly in the first review but the A99 has a great backlcd screen that you can move around in some interesting positions, this makes shooting from a lower angle really handy without having to sit down on the floor, meaning you can shoot quicker and save your back 😀
But you can of course also hold the camera high above you and shoot from a higher viewpoint down without guessing if the shot is ok. This is also a feature I actually expected on the 5DMKIII but did not see, and most of the time I’m a viewfinder kind of guy but I have to admit that it’s a very nice tool and if I had to pay let’s say 200.00 more for the same camera that had the moveable screen I would, so it’s without a doubt something I hope Canon will use on the succeeder of the 5DMKIII.


9. Tethering natively not supported (at the moment of this review)
NO tethering solution native in Lightroom, Capture One at the moment.
One could argue that for example the Eyefi cards could be a solution but for me that doesn’t work, the time it takes to download a buffer is just too slow with large files, and just transmitting jpg’s in a normal workflow not an option, we always select the images straight away and often even need to make preview samples with looks during the shoot, so I (and many with me) need a good RAW supported fast tethering solution. There is a USB connection on the camera so I hope Sony will quickly develop something that will make tethering a normal working solution, as it should on ANY pro camera.


There is a plugin available from DNA software, but it’s not free (and it should not be by the way) which works for Lightroom and some mobile devices. However I think it’s important that Sony supports this natively. At the moment for example there is no Apple version (alpha state) and I think most professional shooters are also Mac users. Again it’s something that can be solved but when you release a high-end pro camera now a days tethering should just be there from the start and working.


Overall conclusion
It’s no secret by now that I love the A99.
It’s a great camera, with a cool EVF which opens new options and fits user needs we never knew we needed.
The image quality is awesome (also related to the used glass of course).
Dynamic range is impressive.
Noise levels are more than adequate.
Colors are nice.
The combination I’m testing now has a really nice “round” “3D” look to the images.
Price is a bit high but it’s a pro camera, however when you’re already in the Canon or Nikon system it would make no sense to switch. However when you are already using Sony it’s without any doubt an AWESOME update.


In 3 weeks I have to give back my A99 and I have to be honest…. I think I’m gonna miss it.