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DCRP First Look: Sony Alpha DSLR-A900
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 8, 2008
Last Updated: January 7, 2009

Front of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

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 Due to time constraints, a full review will not be published for this camera.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!

What's in the Box?

The DSLR-A900 is sold only in a body-only kit. Here's what you'll find inside the box:

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:

Camera Battery life
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-5D Mark II 850 shots LP-E6
Nikon D700 1000 shots EN-EL3e
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 * 880 shots NP-FM500H

* 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.

DSLR-A900 with battery grip
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.

A900 with BC-VM10 battery charger

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.

DSLR-A900 with HVL-F58AM flash
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 available:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The A900 supports all Konica Minolta and Sony lenses that use the Alpha mount. "DT" lenses may have vignetting and metering issues.
External flash

HVL-F36AM
HVL-F42AM
HVL-F58AM

From $180
From $217
$500
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 HVL-RLAM From $226 Always-on lighting for close-up shooting
Macro twin flash kit HVL-MT24AM From $475 For taking close-up flash photos
Wired remote control RM-S1AM
RM-L1AM

From $53
From $60

Basically a shutter release button on a cable. The S1 has a short cable, while the L1's is quite long (5 meters)
Battery grip VG-C90AM $380 Get double the battery life and extra buttons and dials for portrait shooting
AC adapter / Dual battery charger AC-VQ900AM From $120 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.

Look and Feel

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:

Front views of the Sony A900 and Nikon D700

Back views of the Sony A900 and Nikon D700

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-5D Mark II 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 in. 81 cu in. 810 g
Nikon D700 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

As you can see, the A900 is the biggest of the three "budget" full-frame SLRs. It is certainly bulky and heavy, so you'll want to get a nice camera bag to carry it around in.

Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now!

Front of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

Here's the front of the DSLR-A900, without a lens attached. The A900 uses the Alpha (α) lens mount, which was first developed by Minolta. That means that your old Minolta lenses will work, plus all of the Sony-branded lenses that are now available. If you're using a regular (non-DT) lens, then you'll get to enjoy one of the main benefits of a full-frame sensor: no focal length conversion ratio. Thus, a 50 mm lens really is 50 mm.

If you're using a DT lens, which is designed for an APS-C sensor, you'll want to turn on APS compatibility mode. This uses a smaller area of the sensor (which reduces the resolution to 11MP), eliminating any metering issues that may come up. This also means that there will be a 1.5x focal length conversion ratio for those lenses. There will also be some vignetting in the optical viewfinder. Speaking of which, there are lines in the viewfinder that show you the capture area in APS-C compatibility mode.

To remove an attached lens, simply press the button just to the right of the mount.

Looking past the lens mount, we see the camera's mirror. Sony has redesigned this mirror to allow it to flip up and out of the way quickly enough for 5 frame/second shooting. Behind the mirror is Sony's newly designed 24.6 effective Megapixel, full-frame "Exmor" sensor. Who said the Megapixel race was over?

The DSLR-A900 is currently the only full-frame camera in the world with sensor-shift image stabilization. Sony engineers told me that it was quite a feat getting this large sensor to move with the precision required for image stabilization to work properly. The SteadyShot Inside system works by detecting the motion caused by the shaking of your hands, which can blur your photos. The sensor is shifted to compensation for this motion, allowing for a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Sony says that you should be able to get between 2.5 and 4 stops of shutter speeds that would be otherwise unusable.

I'll post an example of the SteadyShot system in action in our final review of the A900.

The same system that reduces blurry photos is also used to remove dust from the CCD sensor. Whenever you turn off the camera, the sensor is vibrated rapidly, which helps to "shake" dust off of the low pass filter. This same low pass filter is statically charged, to help dust from settling there in the first place.

Getting back to the tour now: the next item of note is the flash sync port, which is just under the Alpha logo, and protected by a rubber cover. This is one of two ways in which you can attach an external flash to the A900. Straight down from that, you can catch a glimpse of the camera's focus mode switch. You can choose from single, automatic, continuous, and manual focus. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release. Continuous AF keeps focusing, even with the button pressed, which is useful when your subject is in motion. Auto AF selects between the two based on what is going on in the frame. Manual focus should be self-explanatory.

Over on the right-hand grip we find the shutter release button, front control dial, and remote control receiver. To the right of those is the AF-assist and self-timer lamp. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations.

Here's the preview shot... ... and here it is with a little exposure and DRO boost

There's one last button here, that's very hard to see. Just to the lower-left of the lens mount is the preview button. This is as close to live view as you'll get on the A900. Press the button and a photo is taken. Then, the preview screen you see above appears on the LCD. You can preview the effects of adjusting the shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, dynamic range optimizer, and white balance. If you like what you see, just press the shutter release and the photo will be taken with those settings. This button can be redefined to provide a depth-of-field preview, as well.

Back of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

The first thing to see on the back of the DSLR-A900 is its huge 3-inch LCD display, which is the same one found on their A700 model. With a resolution of over 921,000 pixels, the sharpness of this screen must be seen to be believed -- it is truly stunning. Since the A900 doesn't have live view, you'll be using this screen for menu navigation, viewing and adjusting camera settings, and playing back photos you've taken. The screen can be difficult to see outdoors if you're wearing polarized sunglasses, so you take that into consideration if you were them.

Basic version of info screen... ... and the detailed one

Above you can see the two shooting info screens that can be displayed on the LCD. One is simple, while the other is more complex. When you put your eye to the viewfinder, the display shuts automatically.


Changing settings using the Quick Navi feature

The info screens not only show you current camera settings -- you can actually change them too. Just press the Function button and you can use the four-way controller to change any of the displayed settings. I'll describe all of the features you see on that screen throughout the review.

The other "big" thing on the back of the DSLR-A900 is its optical viewfinder, which is directly above the LCD. The viewfinder has a magnification of 0.74x, makes it larger than those found on the EOS-5D and D700. It also displays 100% of the frame, compared to 96 and 95 percent on the 5D and D700, respectively. There are composition guides inside the viewfinder for shooting with a DT (APS-C) lens. Underneath the field-of-view is a line of green-color shooting information, covering things like aperture and shutter speed, shots remaining, and camera shake.

There's a diopter correction knob at the top-right of the viewfinder, which focuses what you're looking at. There's also a built-in viewfinder cover, which is activated by flipping the switch on the left side of it. Under the viewfinder are the eye sensors that disable that LCD info screen when you place your eye up to them.

Just to the left of the viewfinder is the power switch. Moving down, we find these four buttons on the left side of the LCD:

Now let's talk about all the buttons on the right side of the photo. Starting at the top, we have the AE-Lock button, which has the metering switch wrapped around it. The metering choices are multi-segment (40, to be exact), center-weighted, and spot. The button next to that switches between autofocus and manual focus when it is held down. The AE-L and AF/MF buttons are used for zooming in and out of photos while in playback mode. Just to the right of the AF/MF button is the camera's rear command dial, used for adjusting exposure settings.

Below all those buttons and dials is the camera's four-way controller. This is mostly used for menu navigation and playing back photos.

Under the four-way controller are two more buttons, plus the on/off switch for the SteadyShot image stabilizer. You'll probably want to turn IS off when the camera is on a tripod.


Creative Style menu

The button with the "C" on it is a customizable button in record mode (it shows a histogram in playback mode). By default, it opens the Creative Style menu. There are six Styles available (standard, vivid, neutral, portrait, landscape, black and white), and each can be customized in a number of ways. First, you can change the image style itself, with the additional choices being clear, deep, light, sunset, night view, autumn leaves, and sepia. You can also tweak the contrast, saturation, sharpness, brightness, and zone (under/overexposure protection).

The Function (Fn) button activates the Quick Navi feature that I showed you a few paragraphs up, that lets you adjust settings on the info display. In playback mode this button is used to rotate an image.

That's all for the back of the A900!

Top of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

The first thing to see on the top of the DSLR-A900 is its mode dial, located at the left side of the photo. The dial, which has a really nice "notchy" feel, has these options:

Option Function
Custom 1/2/3 modes Three sets of your favorite camera settings, easy to access
Auto mode Point-and-shoot; camera does not store settings when turned off
Program mode Still point-and-shoot, but camera stores settings when it's powered off. A Program Shift option lets you select various shutter speed/aperture combinations by using the control dials
Aperture priority mode You choose aperture, camera picks appropriate shutter speed. Range depends on lens used.
Shutter priority mode You choose shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. Shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec.
Manual mode Choose both the shutter speed and aperture yourself (same ranges as above). The manual shift feature lets you adjust the shutter speed and aperture, while keeping the exposure you just set. A bulb mode will keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release is pressed.

It's pretty obvious who this camera is intended for, and it's not the entry-level crowd. There are no scene modes to be found on the A900. What you will find are the usual manual exposure modes, plus three custom spots for your favorite camera settings.

Next up, we have the A900's hot shoe. If it looks a bit unusual, that's because it's the same proprietary Konica Minolta shoe that's been around for decades. That means that an external flash with a "standard" mount won't work. The A900 will work best with currently available Sony flashes I described in the accessories section: you'll get TTL metering, high speed flash sync, and wireless support. Other flashes may need to have their settings adjusted manually. For non-Sony flashes, the maximum sync speed is 1/200 sec with SteadyShot on, and 1/250 sec with it turned off.

To the right of the hot shoe is the A900's awkwardly shaped LCD info display. The display shows just a few things: aperture, shutter speed, shots remaining, and battery life. If you press any of the direct buttons to its right, you will see those represented on the screen. You can turn on the screen's backlight by pressing the button just to its right.

Now it's time to talk about the buttons to the right of the info display. They include:

Lots to talk about before we continue the tour. First, I want to mention the camera's drive options, starting with the continuous modes. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the A900:

Quality setting Low speed High speed
RAW+JPEG 13 shots @ 3 fps 11 shots @ 4.9 fps
cRAW+JPEG 14 shots @ 3 fps 12 shots @ 4.9 fps
RAW 17 shots @ 3 fps 14 shots @ 4.9 fps
cRAW 20 shots @ 3 fps 15 shots @ 4.9 fps
JPEG (Large/Extra Fine) 41 shots @ 3 fps 10 shots @ 4.8 fps, then small bursts @ 3.3 fps
Speeds tested with a 4GB UDMA CompactFlash card

As you can see, the DSLR-A900 has a pretty hefty amount of buffer memory. The only thing I really want to comment on is high speed shooting in JPEG mode. The camera fired off 10 shots at full speed, then started shooting more slowly in 2-3 shot bursts. At lower qualities I imagine that the camera would keep firing away without slowing down.

The A900 offers several bracketing modes as well. For exposure, you can take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure. The interval between shots can be 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 2.0EV, and you can take the shots one at a time, or in a burst. You can also bracket for white balance and dynamic range.


Adjusting white balance by color temperature

The camera has quite a few white balance controls, including the usual presets, plus custom and color temperature options. For the custom option, you can use a white or gray card as a reference, and then save the result to one of three spots in the camera's memory. Each of these settings can be fine-tuned along the red-blue axis. In the color temperature window you can also apply color filters that go along the green/magenta axis.

The DSLR-A900's native ISO range is 200 - 3200, but you have 100 and 6400 at your disposal, as well. Sony says that dynamic range may be reduced at the lowest settings, and obviously noise will be a problem at the highest. You can define the range for the Auto ISO option in the record menu.

The last items on the top of the camera you've already seen -- the shutter release button and the front command dial.

Side of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

The first thing you'll probably notice in this photo is the absolutely gigantic Carl Zeiss F2.8, 14-70 mm lens. No, it doesn't come with the camera.

The parts of the A900 to pay attention to include the previously mentioned focus mode switch, and the I/O ports. The ports are kept behind rubber doors, so let's open them up and take a closer look:

The ports on the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

Starting at the top and moving clockwise, the ports here are:

Yes, the A900 has an HDMI port, so you can connect to your HDTV and enjoy your photos at the best quality. Sony doesn't include a cable, but you can pick one up for cheap if you know where to look.

Side of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

On the other side of the DSLR-A900 you'll find its dual memory card slots. The small one on the left is for Memory Stick Duo cards, while the one on the right is for CompactFlash. The camera supports both Type I and II CF cards, and ultra high speed UDMA cards can be used, as well. The reinforced plastic door that covers this compartment is of average quality.

Bottom of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The plastic door over the battery compartment could be a little sturdier, though I appreciate the locking mechanism.

The included NP-FM500H InfoLithium battery is shown at right.

Using the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900

Record Mode

As you'd expect, the DSLR-A900 is ready to shoot a fraction of second after it's been turned on.

Focusing performance was very good, at least with the pricey F2.8, 24 - 70 mm lens that I tested. Focusing times ranged from virtually instantaneous in the best case scenarios, to around one second when the AF-assist lamp had to be used in low light situations. I'll post some additional impressions once I've had a bit more time with the A900.

I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, which shouldn't come as a surprise. Shot-to-shot delays are barely noticeable: you can just keep shooting away.

You can delete a photo after you've taken it by pressing -- guess what-- the delete photo button!

Ready to see some BIG file sizes? They're in our table of the A900's available image sizes:

Aspect Ratio Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB CF card (optional)
3:2 Large (24 MP)
6048 x 4032
RAW+JPEG 48.8 MB 41
cRAW+JPEG 35.7 MB 56
RAW 38.5 MB 52
cRAW 25.6 MB 78
Extra fine 23.3 MB 86
Fine 10.2 MB 197
Standard 6.8 MB 296
Medium (13 MP)
4400 x 2936
RAW+JPEG 44.4 MB 45
cRAW+JPEG 31.7 MB 63
Extra fine 13.1 MB 153
Fine 5.9 MB 337
Standard 4.2 MB 481
Small (6.1 MP)
3024 x 2016
RAW+JPEG 41.7 MB 48
cRAW+JPEG 29.0 MB 69
Extra fine 7.2 MB 277
Fine 3.4 MB 587
Standard 2.6 MB 773
16:9

Large (21 MP)
6048 x 3408

RAW+JPEG 46.5 MB 43
cRAW+JPEG 34.5 MB 58
RAW 38.5 MB 52
cRAW 25.6 MB 78
Extra fine 19.8 MB 101
Fine 8.7 MB 230
Standard 5.8 MB 343
Medium (11 MP)
4400 x 2472
RAW+JPEG 43.5 MB 46
cRAW+JPEG 30.8 MB 65
Extra fine 11.1 MB 180
Fine 5.1 MB 389
Standard 3.6 MB 550
Small (5.2 MP)
3072 x 1704
RAW+JPEG 40.8 MB 49
cRAW+JPEG 28.6 MB 70
Extra fine 6.2 MB 321
Fine 3.0 MB 664
Standard 2.3 MB 861
APS-C Large (11 MP)
3984 x 2656
RAW+JPEG 22.0 MB 91
cRAW+JPEG 16.7 MB 120
RAW 16.1 MB 117
cRAW 11.7 MB 171
Extra fine 10.6 MB 188
Fine 4.9 MB 407
Standard 3.4 MB 582
Medium (5.6 MP)
2896 x 1928
RAW+JPEG 20.2 MB 99
cRAW+JPEG 14.8 MB 135
Extra fine 6.2 MB 325
Fine 3.1 MB 650
Standard 2.3 MB 861
Small (2.6 MP)
1984 x 1320
RAW+JPEG 19.0 MB 105
cRAW+JPEG 13.7 MB 146
Extra fine 3.6 MB 550
Fine 2.0 MB 1002
Standard 1.6 MB 1222

If that's not the list to end all lists, then I don't know what is. And check out those file sizes -- this is why I recommended at least one 4GB card earlier in the review!

The A900 has two RAW formats: regular and compressed. Shooting in cRAW shrinks file sizes by 60-70% which, when you're dealing with 24 Megapixel images, seems like a pretty good idea to me. You can take a RAW or cRAW image alone, or with a fine quality JPEG at the size of your choosing.

Files are named DSC0####.JPG (or .ARW for RAW, where # = 0001 - 9999. As you'd expect, the numbering is maintained until you choose to reset it.

The DSLR-A900 has a stylish, easy-to-navigate menu system that looks really nice on that high res LCD display. It's divided into four tabs, covering record, custom, playback, and setup options. Here's what you'll find in each of those:

Recording Menu
  • Image size (Large, medium, small)
  • Aspect ratio (3:2, 16:9)
  • Quality (RAW, cRAW, RAW+JPEG, cRAW+JPEG, extra fine, fine, standard)
  • D-Range Optimizer (Off, standard, advanced auto, advanced level 1-5) - see below
  • Custom button (Quality, Creative Style, DRO) - define what this button does
  • Creative Style (Standard, vivid, neutral, portrait, landscape, black & white) - described earlier
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Flash mode (Auto, fill-flash, rear sync, wireless)
  • Flash control (ADI flash, pre-flash TTL) - how the flash metering works
  • Flash compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3-step increments)
  • Exposure step (0.3EV, 0.5EV)
  • ISO Auto range (200-400, 200-800, 200-1600, 400-800, 400-1600)
  • AF-A setup (AF-A, DMF) - see below
  • AF area (Wide, spot, local) - see below
  • Priority setup (AF, release) - whether focus lock is required for shutter release
  • AF illuminator (Auto, off)
  • AF w/shutter release (on/off)
  • Long exposure noise reduction (on/off)
  • High ISO noise reduction (Off, low, normal, high)
  • Memory - save current settings to one of the three spots on the mode dial
  • Rec mode reset
Custom Menu
  • AF/MF button (AF/MF control, AF lock) - what this button does
  • AF/MF control (Hold, toggle)
  • AF drive speed (Fast, slow)
  • AF area display (Off, 0.3, 0.6 secs) - how long the focus point is illuminated in the viewfinder
  • Focus hold button (Focus hold, optical preview, intelligent preview) - for certain lenses only
  • Auto review (Off, 2, 5, 10 secs)
  • Preview function (Intelligent, optical) - described earlier
  • AE-L button (AEL hold, AEL toggle, spot AEL hold, spot AEL toggle) - how this button functions
  • Control dial setup (Shutter speed/aperture, aperture/shutter speed) - which dial does what
  • Dial exposure compensation (Off, front, rear) - this will also affect what exposure setting is adjusted in the manual shooting modes
  • Control dial lock (on/off) - when on, deactivates the dials when an exposure value is not displayed in the viewfinder
  • Button operations (Exclusive display, Quick Navi) - how the camera reacts when you use one of the direct buttons like ISO and WB
  • Release w/o card (Enable, disable) - whether the shutter can release without a memory card installed
  • Rec info display (Auto rotate, horizontal) - whether the info display on the LCD rotates when the camera is held vertically
  • Exposure compensation setup (Ambient & flash, ambient only)
  • Bracket order (0/-/+, -/0/+)
  • Custom setting reset
Playback Menu
  • Delete (Marked images, all images)
  • Format
  • Protect (Marked images, all images, cancel all)
  • DPOF setup (Marked images, all images, cancel all)
    • Date imprint (on/off)
    • Index print (Create, delete)
  • Playback display (Auto rotate, manual rotate) - whether portraits are automatically rotated)
  • Slideshow
    • Interval (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 secs)
Setup Menu
  • LCD brightness (-5 to +5, in 1-step increments)
  • Info display time (5, 10, 30 secs, 1 min) - how long the rec info display is shown
  • Power save (1, 3, 5, 10, 30 mins)
  • Video output (NTSC, PAL)
  • HDMI output (1080i, 720p, SD) - what resolution is used
  • Language
  • Date/time setup
  • File number (Series, reset)
  • Folder name (Standard form, date form)
  • Select folder
    • New folder
  • USB connection (Mass Storage, PTP, Remote PC)
  • Mass Storage card (Both cards, selected card) - whether both cards are mounted on your PC if you have two inserted
  • Menu start (Top, previous)
  • Delete confirm (Delete first, cancel first)
  • Audio signals (on/off)
  • Cleaning mode - flips the mirror up for manual sensor cleaning
  • AF micro adjustment (On, off, clear) - lets you fine-tune the focus of up to thirty different lenses
  • Focusing screen (Type G, Type M, Type L)
  • APS-C size capture (on/off) - you'll want to use this with DT lenses
  • Reset default

I want to explain just a few things before we move on. First is the Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO), which has been on other Sony D-SLRs for a while now. DRO basically controls the contrast between light and dark in your photos. Interestingly enough, this feature is off by default on the A900. The standard DRO option analyzes the entire image, and adjusts the contrast appropriately. Advanced Auto DRO breaks the image into little pieces, and analyzes each one separately. As you might expect, this usually does a better job than the regular mode. You can also adjust the amount of DRO manually, from level 1 to 5. In the final review of the camera I'll show you the DRO system in action, though you can get an idea by looking at my DSLR-A700 review.

The AF-A setup option is where you'll turn on Direct Manual Focus (DMF), which Minolta users will remember fondly. Simply put, DMF allows you to manually focus after the autofocus has run. The camera has three different focus modes: wide area (which picks one of the camera's nine focus points automatically), spot (center point), and local (pick the point yourself).

While I'm saving our standard photo tests for the final review, I do have the beginnings of our sample photo gallery available for you now. The photos are from a production-level camera.

Movie Mode

Like 99% of digital SLRs, the DSLR-A900 lacks a movie mode.

Playback Mode

The DSLR-A900 has a pretty basic playback mode. It offers slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, image rotation, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 19X, and then move around in the enlarged area -- perfect for verifying focus or sharpness. You can also move from image to image -- keeping the same zoom and location -- by using the command dial.

The camera doesn't have any photo retouching or editing functions. The only thing you can do to photos is rotate them.

One feature that I do like is the ability to delete a bunch of photos at a time, instead of one or all of them. I found it helpful to be in the thumbnail view when deleting a group of photos.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but press the Custom button and you'll get a lot more, including histograms.

The DSLR-A900 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.

How Does it Compare?

Since this is a preview article, no conclusion is available.

Photo Gallery

Check out the DSLR-A900's photo quality in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have questions about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

 

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