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The Alpha 900 arrives

TODAY Sony’s Alpha 900 was unveiled to European journalists at a press conference held in the Caledonian Hilton Hotel, in the very heart of historic Edinburgh shadowed by the Castle and looking out over the west end of Princes Street gardens. The price for the body only will be £2,100 inc VAT from Sony Style Europe and the camera will be delivered in October – SonyStyle begin taking orders on September 10th.

Sony chose the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field (September 9th, 1513) for the launch conference and the anniversary of the last battle fought between England and Scotland as two nations (Pinkie Cleugh, near Edinburgh, September 10th 1547) for their field trip… the English press were made most welcome!

Duncan McEwan, Scottish regional organiser for the Photoworld Club and a regular contributor to the magazine, played a key role in the launch as one of the European beta testers who has been using the camera over the summer period.

Duncan has used the A900 with the 24-70mm and 70-200mm SSM only, and tells me that his main interest was to see whether it did what he wanted – not to compare it with the A100, A700 or any other camera!

The Alpha 900 is built in a body not much larger than the now-classic Dynax 7D or the A700, and inherits more from the philosophy of the Dynax 7D. It seems to be, in every way, the promised Dynax 9D which never appeared but with a sensor Sony has advertised as ‘exclusive’. Since Nikon has not launched the putative D3X does this mean it will NOT use the Sony 24.6 megapixel CMOS full-frame sensor?

To take the data from this large sensor – which has a dual readout mode – the Alpha 900 includes dual BIONZ processors. Learning from the feedback given about the Alpha 700 with its aggressive noise reduction, Sony has made this an option not a mandatory process. It can be turned off. In the A700, it was thought that the powerful Apical IRIDIX DRO+ system might boost noise so much that NR was essential – but DRO+ was always disabled at high ISOs.

Sony must have reconsidered their approach, as one week before releasing the Alpha 900, they had finalised the new version 4 firmware for the Alpha 700 which finally ended almost a year of ‘smudging’ (remember what they used to call Fleet Street pressmen?). At the conference it was confirmed that the official release of the new firmware would be September 10th.

The dual BIONZ processors allow a CF card to record 24.6 megapixel images at 5 frames per second, matching the Canon EOS 1Ds MkII (21 megapixels) in speed. The camera uses the processors in turn, always intelligently picking the one which is free sooner.

They are backed up by a substantial 100-JPEG, 13-RAW buffer which permits a unique new function in the 900, ‘Intelligent Preview’. This is an adjustable preview image which can be fine-tuned and have its settings auto-copied before shooting another shot and saving to card. Colour, tone, density and sharpness can be adjusted using the raw image which is always captured at some stage in the processing pipeline – even a JPEG-only save option demands that a raw image exists, temporarily.

Intelligent Preview freezes that raw image, allows its histogram to be examined, and makes it available for adjustment.

The Alpha 900 features an unexpected 100% viewfinder – an engineering feat, given the mobile nature of the Super Steady Shot stabilisation which must park the sensor with 100% accuracy to validate a 100% finder. Since many DSLRs don’t even have properly aligned horizons, Sony must have improved QC in a quantum leap to achieve this.

The secret turns out to be a set of adjustments for the screen position – it can be skewed and moved around to line up exactly with the sensor. This is done at the factory. So, even if the sensor placement is subject to the same errors as every other DSLR, the viewfinder can be fine-tuned to match it and get that critical 100 per cent accuracy.

The finder has a 0.74X factor, making it the second largest apparent view of any current DSLR. It also features a viewfinder eyepiece blind for maximum accuracy of tripod exposures. It is a remarkable finder, with unrivalled brightness and clarity (it uses a true condensor lens and large prism). The viewing screens are user interchangeable.

New lenses including the 70-400mm f4-5.6 G SSM and the 16-35mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss SSM give the Alpha 900 an immediately achievable unbroken range, using only three lenses, from 16mm to 400mm with f2.8 to 70mm and a common 77mm filter fit throughout.

The shutter in the A900 is oversized to accommodate the SSS movement of the sensor, yet still achieves a range of 30 seconds to 1/8,000th with flash synchronisation up to 1/250th (SSS disabled, 1/200th with SSS) without using HSS burst-mode flash. With HSS, faster speeds can be used though with reduced power.

A top plate LCD behaves quite differently to the crammed LCDs of existing competitors, which use tiny symbols and text because every function is visible at once. Like the Function based Quick Navi, which hands the rear screen over to adjusting a single parameter, the top LCD changes to reflect the operation in hand asnd displays simple large info. The text always remains big enough to see with or without specs, for most users.

The viewfinder has marking for the APS-C zone as well as 16:9 and the camera will auto-sense DT (smaller coverage digital) lenses when fitted. All the AF markings are within the smaller 10.1 megapixel cropped area, and the sensor is a new enhanced type using AF Metering Assist cells.

The ISO range is 100-6400 with no expansion to 12,800. There is a function to adjust lens AF by individual lenses, to cope with back and front focus. Current Sony lenses should work out of the box as the camera contains information for these.

The battery is the same as all other Alphas (bar the A100 which will also accept it, but came with a non-compatible battery) and they have somehow squeezed 850 shots from it in place of just 750 for the A700, by improved efficiency. The internals of the body are 20% lighter than the A700, the shell is all magnesium alloy, and the weight is just 850g – not a brick by any means!

More details will follow when we return from the press launch which started at 2.30pm – when this article went live!

– DK


14 comments to The Alpha 900 arrives

  • It does look as if the early noise issues may be due to the JPG engine…better be ready for those mega size raw files! Below you will find some decent high ISO conversions, as well as some sweet Sony japan low ISO samples:

    http://www.photoclubalpha.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=829&start=15#p4781

    -Sonolta

  • a900 noise discussion is here:

    http://www.photoclubalpha.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=32&t=829&start=15

    Why would Sony release a watercolor maker again! They finally learned 1 year later with the a700 and finally gave us v4. Doh!

    One day you may be able to say the flagship is as good as the a700 at high ISO…but that day is not hear yet, and I will look forward to your samples when that day finally arrives.

    It’s time to bust out the low light cat hair samples, DK…you shoot a900 ISO1600 and I will shoot the a700 and we will see which one paints watercolors and which one does not.

    -Sonolta

  • “First, the firmware is not final release and they expect to improve high ISO. At the moment it is slightly better than the A700 due to 5.9µm pixels instead of 5.5µm pixels.”

    Before you write stuff like that, you need to come into your own forums, or LOOK at the samples again! Let’s talk real world, please!

    The a900 is smudging hair like nobodies business at 1600…and the camera is clearly no match for the a700 at high ISO.

    It’s pretty clear you ignored the image samples when you made that statement, DK.

    Just look at these images and compare them to ISO 1600 a700 v4…It’s no match as the a700 wins hands down.

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA900/AA900A5.HTM

    Better bring that new a900 firmware soon!

    -Sonolta

  • alexramos

    Thank you…

  • These are 70-400 max apertures:

    70mm-85mm: f/4.0
    85mm-150mm: f/4.5
    150mm-250mm: f/5.0
    250mm-400mm: f/5.6

  • admin

    The Intelligent Preview is a small image capture which can be manipulated rapidly, and the parameters automatically transferred to settings for subsequent shots until changed again.

    We were told absolutely definitely that the cameras were pre-production, that the engineers were not happy to have them used, and the firmware was not final. We were told to put a notice to this effect with all sample images.

    David

  • alexramos

    Could you say if the new 70-400mm is a f/4 from 70 to 200mm??

    A France photography magazine in its new edition said that a900 has better image quality to until ISO 1600 than D3/D700 and similar to 1Ds MIII to 3200 and 6400, but the image in many online review are different. Could they have not the definitive firmware in their a900??

    The Imtelligent Preview is through the 24MPx CMOS or AF sensor??

  • admin

    First, the firmware is not final release and they expect to improve high ISO. At the moment it is slightly better than the A700 due to 5.9µm pixels instead of 5.5µm pixels. The crop mode can definitely be turned off for DT lenses (it is automatic, but that can be disabled) and no-one asked whether you can invoke it for FF lenses – but no faster frame rate is possible, it is still 5fps. The raw file however is cropped, so faster to transfer/process. Also, the sync speed is not 1/300th (this was doubly assured to me by an early user in Australia) but 1/200th with SS, 1/250th without – much as I suspected (I felt it might even be slower, but they have managed to keep both this and the SSS-SS performance on a part with the A700).

    The 70-400mm is awesome, I used a DO NOT USE prototype! Same for the 16-35mm, also marked DO NOT USE. The viewfinder is truly exceptional, it is 40% brighter than the A700 well as larger, and 20% brighter than any other current DSLR finder, and has zero distortion and coma aberration in the eyepiece so you really see an amazingly sharp, clear corner to corner image ‘like.no.other’. With fast lenses, it really does look brighter than the view seen by the naked eye – a psychological effect maybe, but this finder makes you want to shoot everything in sight. It makes ordinary subjects look like works of art.

    There are 30 lens registers for FF/BF correction and +/- 20 steps (20 either way) enterable. CF card and MS card can not do sequence or dual writing. The Intelligent Preview can not be saved, it is a mini-raw file of some kind to which wide adjustments can be carried out and seen on the screen – WB, override, exposure changes, contrast, colour, etc – and then when you press OK these parameters are saved for your shot, which you must then take.

    It has true mirror lock-up and all the creative styles can be applied in either AdobeRGB or sRGB – they are not just limited to sRGB as before.

    I made a sound recording of the entire conference and Shirley intends to transcribe it, either with a summary and quotes, or verbatim. Duncan’s images – he actually only had the camera for 10 days! – were just awesome. Finally, they used a real photographer and not some crummy celeb or Magnum C-lister, and they got pix which absolutely showed off the camera as a major tool for landscape, architectural and action work. The AF is much improved and the SSM on the new lenses just zips in – very fast compared to the classic 70-200mm gentle action.

    My Mac Powerbook battery went and died (total collapse) so I did not post anything after the conference, and we had a great dinner with the Red Hot Chilli Pipers (rock pipe band) as cabaret. I am not joining the field shooting trips tomorrow but senior European staff at Sony are trying to arrange for me to pick up a camera body at the end of the day when they have finished, to have for a few days to try more varied subjects than the street outside a hotel window.

    I’ll update in the morning. I have an entire 4GB new Sony fast MS Duo Pro HG card filled with pix and of course, it’s not proving easy to read – I may even need to buy a new card reader to handle it. I am having to use my A700 as a card reader – the first time I plugged a camera into a computer for a few years, I’ve always had card readers instead.

    And I don’t have the updated software needed to convert the raw files.

    David

  • paulobro

    For my taste it would’ve came with larger photodetectors, low pixel density, DX3-style. Apparently the rule stands, and I should’ve known: my taste is most always the expensive one. Darnmmit.

    Looks good nevertheless.

  • As expected, the a900 is not a high ISO dream machine according to these early IR clips:

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA900/AA900A5.HTM

    ISO series is located almost mid-page.

    -Sonolta

  • Some peeps may not like the looks of these high ISO clips:

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA900/AA900A5.HTM

    Scroll down a bit to get to the ISO series…

    -Sonolta

    http://www.sonolta.com

  • Dr.Harout

    well, like no other…

  • alexramos

    The crop mode 1.5X is possible with FF lenses through the menu?? the shoting rate grow up to crop mode??

    Can you probe the ew 70-400G??

  • What a day for A-Mounters shooters! Sony has finally given us what Mi nolta and Konica Minolta could not. So far, so interesting, it looks like Sony has a winner on it’s hands with the a900 for sure.

    Congrats Sony!

    -Sonolta

    http://www.rockriverfootball.com