This first look is designed to give you a complete overview
of the new Sony Alpha DSLR-A900. Due to time constraints, a full review will not be published for this camera.
The Alpha DSLR-A900 ($2999) is Sony's long-awaited full-frame digital
SLR. They first showed
off their flagship SLR back at PMA, where they announced
some of its core specifications. They mentioned a full-frame 24.6 Megapixel
"Exmor" sensor, built-in image stabilization, and the rugged design that you'd
expect from a high end SLR.
More than eight months later the DSLR-A900 is a reality.
It does indeed have a full-frame 24.6 Megapixel sensor, image stabilization,
and superb build quality. It also features an enormous optical viewfinder that
shows 100% of the frame, an ultra-sharp 3-inch LCD display, 5 frame/second
continuous shooting, great battery life, and much, much more. About the only
things the A900 doesn't have are a built-in flash and live view.
It's pretty obvious who the competition is: the Nikon D700
and the Canon EOS-5D (or its yet-to-be-announced replacement). We'll see in
the final review how the DSLR-A900 compares. In the meantime, enjoy our preview
of this camera!
in the Box?
The DSLR-A900 is sold only in a body-only kit. Here's what
you'll find inside the box:
- The 24.6 effective Megapixel DSLR-A900 camera body
- NP-FM500H lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Wireless remote control
- Body cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- Video cable
- CD-ROM featuring
Sony Image Data Suite and Picture Utility software
- 174 page camera manual (printed)
Since the A900 doesn't come with a lens, you'll need to supply
your own. The camera supports all Alpha-mount lenses, whether they say Minolta
or Sony on the front. If you're using a lens designed for 35mm cameras, then
you'll enjoy the benefit of a full-frame sensor: no focal length conversion.
If you're using a designed-for-digital lens, which Sony calls "DT", then you'll
want to use the APS-C lens mode, which uses a smaller area of the sensor. As
a result, the resolution drops to 11 Megapixel, and a 1.5X focal length conversion
ratio takes effect.
You may also need a memory card, since those never come bundled
with D-SLRs. The A900 supports both Memory Stick Duo and CompactFlash Type
I/II cards. The camera supports UDMA-enabled CompactFlash cards, which are
blazing fast. I would recommend starting out with at least one 4GB card, and
yes, it should be high speed!
The DSLR-A900 uses the NP-FM500H InfoLithium rechargeable
battery, which is used in several other Sony SLRs as well. This battery packs
a powerful 11.8 Wh of energy, which translates into these battery life numbers:
|Canon EOS-5D Mark II
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 *
* Built-in image stabilization
Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer
As you can see from the chart above, there are just two other
SLRs in the A900's class. In terms of battery life, the A900's numbers are
right in the middle.
Two quick notes about the type of batteries used by the DSLR-A900
and its competitors. For one, they're quite expensive, with a spare costing at
least $50. In addition, should your rechargeable battery die, you can't
an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day. While some D-SLRs support
AA batteries via their optional battery grip, the A900 isn't one of them.
Battery grip photo courtesy of Sony Electronics
Speaking of battery grips, above you can see the optional
VG-C90AM grip ($380). The grip takes two NP-FM500H batteries, giving you 1760 shots
per charge. In addition, you get extra buttons and dials that make shooting
in the portrait orientation a lot more comfortable.
Before you attach the grip
you'll have to remove the battery from the camera and put it into the "tray"
that slides out of the grip. The grip then slides into the battery compartment,
and screws into the tripod mount.
When it's time to charge the NP-FM500H, you can just
pop it into the included charger. It takes just under three hours to recharge
this powerful battery. This isn't one of those chargers that plugs
directly into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
Here's something you don't see everyday: a remote control
bundled with a digital SLR. While it's intended mostly for playing back your
photos, you can use the remote for taking them as well.
Camera with optional HVL-F58AM flash
Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that
the DSLR-A900 supports plenty of accessories. One of the most unique is the HVL-F58AM external flash (pictured), which can pivot from side-to-side. Here's a summary of what's
||The A900 supports all Konica Minolta and Sony
lenses that use the Alpha mount. "DT" lenses may
have vignetting and metering issues.
|Since the camera doesn't have a built-in flash,
you'll probably want one of these! The last flash on the list
is the crazy one pictured above.
|Macro ring light
||Always-on lighting for close-up shooting
|Macro twin flash kit
||For taking close-up flash photos
|Wired remote control
|Basically a shutter release button on a cable.
The S1 has a short cable, while the L1's is quite long (5 meters)
||Get double the battery life and extra buttons
and dials for portrait shooting
|AC adapter / Dual battery charger
||This does double duty as both an AC adapter
and a dual battery charger
|* Prices were accurate at time of publication
The nice thing about digital
SLRs is that if you can think of an accessory, it probably exists!
Sony includes a number of software products with the camera. The software package includes Picture Motion Browser (a generic image viewer), Image Data Converter SR (for editing RAW images), Image Data Lightbox SR (for comparing images side-by-side), and Remote Camera Control (does what it sounds like). I'll give you a lot more detail about all of these when the final review is posted.
The DSLR-A900 is a complex camera, and it deserves an in-depth
manual. Unfortunately, Sony doesn't really give you want. Yes, the manual is
174 pages long, but it's not very detailed. Complex settings are described
in one or two sentences (if you're lucky), which isn't all that help. Documentation
for the bundled software is installed onto your Mac or PC.
As you'd expect from a flagship, $3000 camera, the DSLR-A900
is exceeding well made -- the cliché "built like a tank" is quite appropriate.
The body is made of magnesium alloy, though do note that it is not weather-sealed.
The only parts of the camera that could be a little stronger are the plastic
doors over the memory card and battery compartments.
The A900 has a large grip for your right hand, and the rubber
coating on it gives you confidence when you're holding it. Sense the camera
is pretty heavy, you'll definitely want to hold onto whatever lens you have
attached, as well. While the camera has a lot of buttons, switches, and dials,
they're logically placed and easy to access.
Until the EOS-5D's replacement arrives, the Nikon D700 is
undoubtedly the A900's closets competition. Since I happened to have both of
them at the same time, I took these side-by-side photos:
In the photos, the D700 looks like the bigger of the two cameras, but that's not the case in reality. The backs of the cameras are quite similar, with large viewfinders, 3-inch LCDs, and similar control placement.
Alright, here's how the DSLR-A900 and its two main competitors
compare in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
|Canon EOS-5D Mark II
||6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 in.
||81 cu in.
||810 g |
||5.8 x 4.8 x 3.0 in.
||83.5 cu in.
||995 g |
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A900
||6.2 x 4.6 x 3.3 in.
||94.1 cu in.
||850 g |