Field Test | Sony Alpha SLT-A99 and 85mm 1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T Combo

The Sony Alpha SLT-A99 full frame camera
The Sony Alpha SLT-A99 full frame camera
The Sony Alpha SLT-A99 full frame camera

While we were in Singapore for our talks for the Sony Digital Workshops there, the people at Sony Singapore were generous enough to let us use a couple of their cameras like their Sony A77 and their current flagship full-frame camera Sony Alpha SLT-A99. It was a good opportunity to see how far Sony has come since I tested their Sony Alpha A550 years ago. The new breed of Sony Cameras incorporates their SLT (Single-Lens Translucent) Technology which uses a fixed semi-translucent mirror to remove the delay from the flipping mirror typical DSLRs have along with the other benefits of the technology. I won’t delve much into the technicality here since a lot of reviews out there already covered them but share my short stint with the Sony Alpha SLT-A99 on this while roaming around the lively street life of Singapore at night pairing the camera with the Sony 85mm f1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T on this post.

The SLT-A99 has well thought out controls and a very handy tilting and swivel LCD
The SLT-A99 has well thought out controls and a very handy tilting and swivel LCD

Sony Alpha SLT-A99 Handling

Having used to light mirrorless ILCs (interchangeable lens cameras) for years now it took me a while to get used to a DSLR-styled body again. The SLT-A99 may be heavier but the heft was a good one since the built, grip and button placements were well thought out. It uses a 2.4 Million dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder, where I can say I never missed using the Optical one with this, even in low light. They also have a nice implementation of a pull-out tilting and swiveling screen which came in pretty handy on some point.

Together at the Helix Bridge
Together at the Helix Bridge (f1.4, 1/100, ISO 1250 AWB)

The Ultra Bright 85mm f1.4 Carl Zeiss

There was a limited selection of lenses to use at that time since they were using some of them to take videos of the workshops so I had to make do with one. Since I’m a prime lens person, I chose to take with me the 85mm f1.4 prime which I’m sure would be handy for low light situations and street. It’s a very solid lens with excellent construction, surprisingly not too big for its focal length and brightness. It’s a US$1700 dollar lens so I’m not surprised when it churned out tack sharp photos and buttery-smooth bokeh.

Shooting couple at Marina Bay
Shooting couple at Marina Bay (f1.7, 1/100, ISO 4000, AWB)

Shooting Singapore

Street shooting in Singapore is a bit of a challenge, it’s not as characteristic as other parts of South East Asia because of its semi-sanitary streets, so the focus was on the people with the bright city lights as the backdrop and the little interesting details along the walk. The Sony Alpha SLT-A99 is a full frame camera with an ISO that can reach up to 25,600. It was pretty useful since I was shooting handheld most of the time. It also has a “Steady Shot” feature which is their own version of image camera stabilization. Interestingly, I brought the camera with me inside an Eagle Creek Voyager messenger bag as not to be so inconspicuous. Whenever I see some interesting subject, I would just pull it out from my side and shoot. I find the focusing decent, not really blazing fast as I would like (probably because of the low light) but it focuses where I intended to most of the time.

By the Merlion
By the Merlion (f1.7, 1/100, ISO 2500, AWB)

Image Impression

I know I only had a few days with the camera and even while I’m screaming at the large file output on the RAW and JPGs, but whenever I view them on the computer screen, I’m quite impressed with the image quality the SLT-A99 produces. The high ISO is exceptional, images at 6400 is quite usable even with a little smearing, minimum chroma noise and very good detail retained, the 12800 I would use for desperate measures. With the mixed lighting in different settings, I’m also impressed on how the Auto White Balance handled the lighting, it doesn’t always lean on the yellowish warm tint on most cameras but captures the natural light tints closely. Dynamic range is also commendable, on some situations where most camera would blowout the highlights (like the Merlion at Marina Bay) it was able to retain a good amount of detail from the highly contrasting scene. When shooting people, it produces a pleasing skin tone as well.

The Sony Alpha SLT-A99 and the 85mm f1.4 Carl Zeiss is such an exceptional combo for low light shooting, portraits and candid captures. It’s a pretty expensive combo actually with the SLT-A99 ranging to US$2800 but you really get what you paid for. If I were to go back shooting with a DSLR-styled body and money is not an issue, I would definitely go with the full-frame likes of an SLT-A99 and its camera peers. Full frame is definitely leaps ahead of APSC/M43rds sensors in terms of image quality. It was a joy to shoot with the Sony SLT-A99 for a while, it made me think of other possibilities it can dow with other lenses and sceneries.

At the Helix
At the Helix (f1.4, 1/100, ISO 3200, AWB)
Down the escalator
Down the escalator (f2, 1/100, ISO 500, AWB)
Hometown Meal
Hometown Meal (f2, 1/100, ISO 1600, AWB)
Chopsticks
Chopsticks (f2, 1/100, ISO 800, AWB)
Supertrees
Supertrees (f5.6, 1/100, ISO 800, AWB)
Song of the Sea
Song of the Sea (f1.7, 1/100, ISO 1600, AWB)
Mother and daughter (f1.7, 1/100, ISO 2500, AWB)
Mother and daughter
Directional signs
Directional signs (f1.4, 1/100, ISO 640, AWB)

View more Sony Alpha SLT-A99 photos here at my SmugMug Gallery.

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