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a99 features - comments by Matthias

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    Posted: 10 October 2012 at 00:40
ADMIN NOTE

This thread is opened by moving posts from discussions found
here since the quality of the post is worth a separate thread


Originally posted by Jonas A-R Jonas A-R wrote:

Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:

Nevertheless, the camera unfortunately still lacks some of the no-nonsense (and in no way esotheric) key functions I absolutely want in my camera - and three of them are hardware-based, therefore, although it would have been technically trivial to address two of them, no chance to fix them with firmware-updates.

I am curious: what are the key functions missing in the a99 (and a900)?

Unfortuntely, I don't have the time to go into better details right now, but to give you an overview, the three show-stopper hardware issues for me are as follows (and two of them are not new and would have been easy to address):

- missing strap-eyelet on the right bottom side of the grip-piece of the camera (as found there on the Dynax 9) in order to mount a hand-strap without utilizing pseudo-solutions such as the STP-GB1AM, which I tried, but found completely impractical and insecure to use. For one, I don't want to mount/unmount the camera's hand strap all the time when mounting / unmounting the vertical grip (which has its own hand strap for vertical work). Second, in order to offer a secure hold when holding several kilogram of equipment (medium-large lens plus control grip or macro bracket with several flashes) mounted on the camera (during events or while hiking or climbing), the low fix-point of the hand strap must be located at the bottom of the grip-piece below the upper right eyelet, not near the middle of the camera (as with the STP-GB1AM). Otherwise the camera will easily glide out of the hand when the hand becomes sweaty or the fingers need to relax for a moment. This simply cannot happen with the hand strap on the Dynax 9.

- missing built-in flash (as in the Dynax 9 and Dynax 7). This was one of the major issues for why the DSLR-A900 flopped in the marketplace, and still Sony did not address this in the SLT-A99 - a major mistake IMHO. Some people assume that a built-in flash is "unprofessional" and cannot withstand heavy use, but I assume they haven't seen the built-in flash of the Dynax 9 yet, which "hides" in a stainless steel compartment and can withstand years of heavy (ab)use with ease. An after-thought like the HVL-F20AM is not a solution, as it is too filigrane to withstand heavy use and it is larger than necessary (a built-in flash works on the camera batteries and does not require separate ones). Also, it takes time to mount and unmount the flash, while a built-in flash can be activated and deactivated in a fraction of a second. There was enough room for a built-in flash in the DSLR-A900 and there is even more space in the SLT-A99, still Sony didn't address it.

- I absolutely don't want a SLT mirror in the optical path (as it causes ca. 30% of the light to be "lost" (0.5 EV) and slightly degrades the image quality), so the camera would have to work in one of two modes, optical viewfinder mode as in a classical DSLR, or mirrorless with on-sensor-phase-detection and contrast AF (or manual focus).
I would have accepted a high-quality hybrid viewfinder, where an electronic image would be projected into the glass prism while the mirror is in the "up"-position, and I would equally well have accepted an optional EVF which could be mounted on the MI hotshoe in order to have the best of both worlds and switch between them in a second (just as Michael Reichmann described it in his recent article - after all, this idea is not new, but has been suggested and discussed for years).
However, for a camera without any optical viewfinder at all, the electronic viewfinder would need to be much better than it is at present - I won't go into details here, but I am very disappointed with the SLT-A99's EVF performance (which I tried, of course).
I understand, that someone, who is coming from APS-C-format cameras will experience a significant improvement in many aspects, but I'm coming from high-end optical viewfinders like in the Dynax 9 and DSLR-A900, and I simply don't accept anything significantly less good in a newer camera, and in particular not at this price point. It would be no progress for me then.
Just to avoid any misunderstandings, please note that I am not anti-EVF at all, there are even some future technologies I proposed to Sony (way beyond the scope here), which are impossible to achieve with OVFs, but we are not talking about cameras in five years, but a camera introduced today.
IMO, Sony's move to EVFs was too early and is much too extreme - they should at least have left a "DSLR-A900 Mk II" in the portfolio, just to keep those, who don't find current EVF solutions satisfactory, happy - many of them have already or will now leave our system, which is a very bad thing, as these users were / are typically the most experienced photographers, who could otherwise "work" as multiplicators to "advertise" our mount. Instead, Sony unnecessarily put it all on one card and delivered a camera which is nice and all but does not even remotely deserve a "99" designation (that is, "as close to perfection as possible"). A rather short-sighted move, if you ask me, and I am worried that their strategy will fail again (and they will once more draw the wrong conclusions).

There are other issues as well (this list is incomplete and preliminary):

- The SLT-A99 does no longer have a full metal body, the whole front section is mostly plastics, not metal. I would have preferred a stainless V2A steel body (like Dynax 9), not magnesium alloy, which is a much less durable material. Also, the camera is much too light for my taste (a heavier body is good for steady shooting).

- The camera does not feature a 2.8 PD-AF sensor (like in the DSLR-A700, DSLR-A850, DSLR-A900, and Dynax 7) for high-precision AF measurements with lenses 1:2.8 or better. Also, it does not feature any double-crosspoint sensors, either.

- The camera does not support CF cards (or CFast or XQD), only SD cards, which are smaller in capacity and slower - and have a rather quirky interface as well.

- The camera does not support auto-switchover from a one memory card to the other, when the first card becomes full, and vice versa.

- The SLT-A99 has a comparably small picture buffer, which is easy to "overflow" in fast shooting sequences. (Not an issue for me, but for others, and hardly acceptable in a flagship model.)

- The SLT-A99 uses a USB-Mini-B jack, which has been deprecated by the USB consortium since 2007. I had expected the camera to come with a USB-Micro-B jack instead, as the USB standard explicitly recommends since five years now. Also, a camera in this price range would have been a good candidate to introduce USB 3.0 Superspeed rather than continue to use USB 2.0 Highspeed.

- The vertical grip VG-C99AM still does not support 6x AA standard batteries as alternative to InfoLithium batteries. It remains to be seen if a third-party vendor will provide a solution here.

- The camera still does not support the combination of RAW + Extra Fine JPEG

- The camera no longer supports PictBridge (as did older Minolta and Sony DSLRs).

- The camera no longer supports changing the aperture instead of the shutter speed when AEL is pressed when starting a bracketing series in M-mode (as older Minolta and Sony (D)SLRs did). This is important in order to allow flash bracketing with studio flashes and other non-dedicated flashes.

- The camera no longer supports exposure compensation in M-mode (unless in the new Auto-ISO mode). Older Sony and Minolta (D)SLRs supported exposure compensation even in M-mode.

- In movie mode, the camera does not support an optional sensor-shift Steady Shot mode in order to avoid the 1.2 crop which is required by the electronic Steady Shot. As we saw with the SLT-A33 and SLT-A55, the mechanical Steady Shot would become hot after a while, but this should still be offered as an option.

- Very limited number of EV steps / number of frames combinations in bracketing

- Still under investigation, but most probably the camera does not support the industry standard file system FAT32 on SDXC cards between 32 GB and 2 TB, only the patent-protected proprietary exFAT filesystem, which cannot be implemented in any open-source operating systems and many other systems due to lack of a license from Microsoft. Therefore, people not using Windows (or MacOS, since Apple was able to obtain a license from Microsoft) cannot use SDXC cards larger than 32 GB. There are no technical reasons not to support FAT32 on cards up to 2 TB, but Microsoft lobbyists managed to make exFAT mandantory for SDXC > 32 GB. This may not be a problem now, but it will become a very serious problem in the next couple of years, as the majority of operating systems will never be able to support exFAT. Of course, SDXC cards can be reformatted as FAT32, however, this only works around the problem if the camera will accept the SDXC when formatted as FAT32 - and most cameras (and other devices) today don't. Ideally, a camera would offer a choice to format cards > 32 GB either as exFAT (for compliancy with the SDXC card standard) or FAT32 (for compatibility with the world).

- The camera does not support charging the batteries inside the camera either via USB nor via DC-IN.

- Still under investigation, but most probably the camera, if powered through DC-IN (by AC-PW10AM), does not support automatic switchover to the camera or grip batteries when the external main power fails (as in an "UPS" solution)

- The ADP-MAA adapter is difficult to use as it does not provide any kind of quick-locking mechanism but a flimsy, small-diameter plastic ring (as on 25+ year old flashes). It does not even provide a locking pin mechanism, so, if you do not manage to fasten the ring enough, the adapter (with the flash mounted) may come off. Very bad solution which needs to be addressed soon, IMHO.

- The HVL-F60M no longer supports the first generation of the wireless flash protocol (with ratio support) used by all Minolta AF SLRs which support wireless flash (except for with shutter speeds < 1/60s in Wireless HSS mode). This situation hasn't changed from the HVL-F58AM, but Sony could have reintroduced support for this protocol when updating the flash. There are no technical reasons to not support it in the flash, and when cameras will reintroduce TTL-OTS in a couple of years, they could start to use this protocol again as well. Otherwise they will have to sell us yet another new flash. ;-) (I could not test compatibility in wired mode since Sony could not provide me with a ADP-AMA adapter.)

- The HVL-F60M does not provide a metal foot base.

And, of course, instead of some questionable "superior auto modes", Sony could have provided more useful stuff like:

- Live View BULB mode (see Olympus)

- Focus Trap (preset a distance and focus area), and let the camera fire the shutter automatically, when the subject runs into that area while the shutter/remote control is pressed and the camera is set to focus priority.

- Hyper program / Hyper manual (see Pentax)

- In-camera Multi exposure mode

For an older but longer and more detailed list of other missing features (mostly details) in the DSLR-A900 see:

http://www.dyxum.com/dforum/focus-speed-a900-vs-minolta-9_topic57058_post630948.html#630948

As you will see, some of these issues have been addressed in the SLT-A99, but the majority is still "open". And most of them could have been easily addressed in software.

Another quick overview (only) of features, which have been removed in Sony cameras (and to some extent reintroduced recently after world-wide protests), can be found here:

http://www.mi-fo.de/forum/index.php?showtopic=25383&view=findpost&p=252185

Greetings,

Matthias

Edited by matthiaspaul - 25 October 2012 at 13:03
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sky_walker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 09:13
Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:

- The HVL-F60M no longer supports the first generation of the wireless flash protocol (with ratio support) used by all Minolta AF SLRs which support wireless flash (except for with shutter speeds < 1/60s in Wireless HSS mode). This situation hasn't changed from the HVL-F58AM, but Sony could have reintroduced support for this protocol when updating the flash. There are no technical reasons to not support it in the flash, and when cameras will reintroduce TTL-OTS in a couple of years, they could start to use this protocol again as well. Otherwise they will have to sell us yet another new flash. ;-) (I could not test compatibility in wired mode since Sony could not provide me with a ADP-AMA adapter.)

?!

Seriously?!
WTF.... not only they didn't introduce radio triggering with multi-group control when they got a chance for that, to create a real competition for Nikon's CLS, but they also limit a functionality of the new flash comparing to the old one?
WHY?!
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Post Options Post Options   Quote matthiaspaul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 09:50
An incomplete ad-hoc list of things where Sony actually listened to us and addressed our complaints and suggestions in the SLT-A99 (compared to the SLT-A77 and DSLR-A900):

- (reintroduction of non-crippled A-mode - already with DSLR-A900 firmware 2.0, but still worth mentioning for the high impact it has)

- Finally fixed vertical grip design again, that is without that clumsy "smokestake". We now no longer need to remove the camera battery when mounting the grip, and can have up to 3 batteries in total (as with Dynax 9 and VC-9)

- re-introduction of a hot shoe with integrated power supply (although not in the form of the old 7-pin iISO variant (as on Dynax 3000i), but as new MI shoe)

- introduction of electronically more versatile hotshoe (although not in the form of the old 7-pin iISO variant, but as new MI shoe)

- re-introduction of Quick Navi

- finally introduction of Auto-ISO in M-mode (although they removed support for exposure compensation in M-mode at about the same time #-|)

- introduction of silent controller (although software still needs improvement to make this more usable)

- introduction of AF range function (which also works with older non-D-style lenses)

- *same-style* dual card slots (although IMHO "wrong" card type) with various modes to store on both cards simultanously ("RAID"), although they still missed a few cases, see my posting above

- crop 1.0 in video mode at least when switching off SteadyShot (compared to SLT-A77, which always uses crop 1.2) - still further improvable, see posting above

- introduction of flash exposure lock (FEL)

- HVL-F60M rotates display when rotated, also much better menu layout

- HVL-F60M has back-illuminated buttons

- HVL-F60M flash head now has notches to mount accessories like diffusors or - hopefully in the future - bounce reflector sets and color filters (like with older Minolta flashes)

Greetings,

Matthias


Edited by matthiaspaul - 10 October 2012 at 10:55
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Anita Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 10:17
Quick Navi?
Winter! That's the season to be young, catching snowflakes on your tongue!
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sky_walker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 10:28
Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


- introduction of electronically more versatile hotshoe (although not in the form of the old 7-pin iISO variant, but as new MI shoe)

I'm quite sure that releasing a new hotshoe that didn't brought any improvements to the flash system and isn't compatibility with... well: pretty much anything*, was one of the last things I ever wanted to see in Alpha cameras.

* yes, you can release standard hotshoe flashes at 100% power with no communication between body and flash what so ever, but I don't count that as any sort of compatibility.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote matthiaspaul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 10:31
Originally posted by Sky_walker Sky_walker wrote:

Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:

- The HVL-F60M no longer supports the first generation of the wireless flash protocol (with ratio support) used by all Minolta AF SLRs which support wireless flash (except for with shutter speeds < 1/60s in Wireless HSS mode). This situation hasn't changed from the HVL-F58AM, but Sony could have reintroduced support for this protocol when updating the flash. There are no technical reasons to not support it in the flash, and when cameras will reintroduce TTL-OTS in a couple of years, they could start to use this protocol again as well. Otherwise they will have to sell us yet another new flash. ;-) (I could not test compatibility in wired mode since Sony could not provide me with a ADP-AMA adapter.)

?!

Seriously?!
WTF.... not only they didn't introduce radio triggering with multi-group control when they got a chance for that, to create a real competition for Nikon's CLS, but they also limit a functionality of the new flash comparing to the old one?
WHY?!

No. As written, I could not test wired mode, because Sony could not provide me with an ADP-AMA (bottom: iISO, top: MIS) adapter, only the ADP-MAA (bottom: MIS, top: iISO). Therefore, I don't know, if or if not Sony removed any support for older cameras with the new flash. This remains to be seen.

What I could test was wireless mode, and the HVL-F60M (like the HVL-F58AM) does not support the first generation of the wireless protocol with ratio control as it is used by all Minolta film SLRs. This has been discussed at length when the HVL-F58AM, which was the first flash to drop support for this, was introduced. Sony could have reconsidered this move and reintroduced support with the HVL-F60M in order to address corresponding complaints - but they didn't.
The flash still supports wireless HSS (that is, the second generation of the wireless protocol without ratio control) and also the new Sony third generation of the wireless protocol with ratio control, which was introduced with the HVL-F58AM.
The first generation of the wireless protocol is TTL-OTF based, whereas the second and third generations are P-TTL based. As we all know, digital cameras cannot (at present) support TTL-OTF, therefore they cannot use the first generation of the wireless protocol for technical reasons.
However, this does not apply to the flashes, which could still provide support for that protocol in order to maintain backward compatibility with older cameras as well as with potential future cameras, which will very likely reintroduce TTL-OTF as TTL-OTS in a number of years, so that digital cameras will finally get back the much more reliable and versatile flash system as it is supported by the last generation of film bodies, which - depending on modes and circumstances - support TTL-OTF, P-TTL, P-TTL-OTF and can optionally combine any of them with ADI (whereas digital cameras at present only support P-TTL with or without ADI).
Dropping support for that protocol does not have any impact for people only using current digital cameras, but it makes the newer flashes unsuitable for a wireless setup for those among us, who also work with film. And that's a pity, because there are no technical reasons not to maintain compatibility here (older flashes like the HVL-F56AM still supported it) - after all, it is just a small piece of software to include or exclude in the flash.

Greetings,

Matthias
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 11:02
Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


and I would equally well have accepted an optional EVF which could be mounted on the MI hotshoe in order to have the best of both worlds and switch between them in a second ...
... they should at least have left a "DSLR-A900 Mk II" in the portfolio ...
...Sony's move to EVFs was too early and is much too extreme...

Agree ... there was indeed enough time for an updated a900 body along with a99; i'll bet it would even outsell a99

Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


- The camera does not support auto-switchover from a one memory card to the other, when the first card becomes full, and vice versa.

I didn't know that? But that is the most essential function of two memory slots in my book. Is this 100% correct ?

Do you know if Sony has finally added IPTC custom option for author or any kind of custom copyright notice?
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Post Options Post Options   Quote nigelbrooks Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 11:49
Matthias, thank you for your hard work and observations on this.

I will keep my opinion to myself for risk of inflaming others but my 'decision' is made.
Away until August 2014 at the earliest.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sky_walker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 12:35
matthiaspaul - thanks for explaining! :) Really appreciate getting some insight into the history of it.

Kiklop - considering the spike in the sales of A900 after A99 release (it outsold A99 quite noticeably for some time, I'm not even sure if it still doesn't) - I'm quite sure that A900 mk2 with modern components (even without a video) would meet a very warm welcome amongst Sony users.
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Post Options Post Options   Quote matthiaspaul Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 12:43
Originally posted by Kiklop Kiklop wrote:

Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


- The camera does not support auto-switchover from one memory card to the other, when the first card becomes full, and vice versa.

I didn't know that? But that is the most essential function of two memory slots in my book. Is this 100% correct ?

;-) I agree with you and was scratching my head as well.

Sony photokina staff actually told me it "must work", but after some further poking on my side it became clear that this was not based on actual knowledge, but the mere assumption that it is so obvious that it should work this way... ;->

Unfortunately, there was no time left for me to actually test this myself. But fortunately a member of our forum could test it and he confirmed that the camera does not switch over to the other slot automatically. So, unless he missed some "hidden" menu option elsewhere, we can safely assume it doesn't work (with firmware 0.9 or 0.92). See:

http://www.mi-fo.de/forum/index.php?s=&showtopic=32698&view=findpost&p=291257


Do you know if Sony has finally added IPTC custom option for author or any kind of custom copyright notice?

I tried to put together an overview of the SLT-A99 menu system, but it is still very incomplete and only lists the item headers at present. However, since there is no menu item for this, I am almost certain that the SLT-A99 does not support this either (in firmware 0.9). :-(

http://www.mi-fo.de/forum/index.php?showtopic=32705 (incomplete overview of SLT-A99 menu system)

http://www.mi-fo.de/forum/index.php?showtopic=32709 (complete overview of DSLR-A900 menu system)

Greetings,

Matthias
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Post Options Post Options   Quote 5thElefant Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 12:51
Originally posted by Sky_walker Sky_walker wrote:

matthiaspaul - thanks for explaining! :) Really appreciate getting some insight into the history of it.

Kiklop - considering the spike in the sales of A900 after A99 release (it outsold A99 quite noticeably for some time, I'm not even sure if it still doesn't) - I'm quite sure that A900 mk2 with modern components (even without a video) would meet a very warm welcome amongst Sony users.

I'm surprised you can still buy an a900. But I guess one or two sales of the last remaining stock would explain it as the a99 isn't shipping yet?

Simon Nex7|A7|α900|DXO
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Post Options Post Options   Quote bharnois Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 13:32
When I became convinced that the A99 would be pretty much what it is, SLT, EVF and a couple of other things was when I bought one of the last new A900's. I expect for a small market there is currently a high demand for good ones.

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Post Options Post Options   Quote Kiklop Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 13:42
Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


Sony photokina staff actually told me it "must work", but after some further poking on my side it became clear that this was not based on actual knowledge, but the mere assumption that it is so obvious that it should work this way... ;->

When i beta tested a900 (with preproduction firmware) i was really surprised there wasn't an "overflow" option and i asked about it. I was told it will be added. As we know, that never happened and one of the possible reasons i got is some "patent issues" that i really didn't understood why would such a trivial thing violate any patent.
If this isn't implemented in a99 then it is really disappointing.   

Originally posted by matthiaspaul matthiaspaul wrote:


However, since there is no menu item for this, I am almost certain that the SLT-A99 does not support this either (in firmware 0.9). :-(

Unbelievable, this is a trivial but important thing for some photographers and as such has been implemented by all camera manufacturers in their more expensive cameras.
I really hate those "pro" vs "no pro" discussions but when it comes to copyright embedded in a raw data i can really say that a serious camera, aimed at "pro" or "semi-pro" or "advanced enthusiast" market (and again i hate this "labeling") is a must have option in my book.   
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Sky_walker Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 October 2012 at 14:18
Originally posted by 5thElefant 5thElefant wrote:


I'm surprised you can still buy an a900. But I guess one or two sales of the last remaining stock would explain it as the a99 isn't shipping yet?

Well, if one or two sales of A900 is more then the number of A99 preorders then Sony is in a deep trouble with this model.
;)
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