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Sony DSLR-A900 Preview

Pre-Photokina: Nearly 18 months after it first appeared as a prototype at trade shows, Sony has announced its eagerly anticipated flagship digital SLR, the Alpha 900 – finally giving Minolta/Konica Minolta users a full frame option. Featuring the 24.6 MP CMOS sensor announced in January, the Alpha 900 offers several enticing features, including sensor-shift image stabilization, a super 100% coverage viewfinder and the same high resolution screen as the Alpha 700 (the new model also inherits most of the 700′s features, menus and external controls). We’ve had an Alpha 900 for a few days now, just enough time to produce a detailed hands-on preview and a quick gallery of sample images.

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Sony Unveils First Full-Frame Alpha DSLR Model

SAN DIEGO, Sept. 9, 2008 – Sony is introducing its full-frame α (alpha) DSLR-A900 camera, aimed at serious photo enthusiasts looking for traditional SLR performance with the added benefits of digital photography.

It is designed to deliver ultra-fine picture quality with the world’s highest resolution, 24.6-megapixel, 35 mm full-frame CMOS sensor and fast image processing with a new dual BIONZ® processing engines. The camera is also the first to have a body-integrated image stabilization system for a full-frame sensor with Sony’s SteadyShot® Inside anti-shake system.

One look at the camera’s distinctive pentaprism and nostalgic body design will evoke its full-frame optical performance. It features a bright, clear optical viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage that would impress even film photography loyalists.

“The α (alpha) DSLR-A900 introduction solidifies Sony’s position as a leading camera manufacturer that can meet the demands of serious enthusiasts,” said Phil Lubell, director of digital camera marketing at Sony Electronics. “It represents the best in sensor and image processing technologies and offers enhanced functions, performance and reliability so photographers can push their creativity to the limit.”

Ultra-Fine Images As The Human Eye Perceives Them
The camera’s Exmor™ CMOS sensor delivers the photographic expressive power of wide angles and perspective that only a 35 mm full-frame sensor can offer, and is designed to take advantage of the resolving power of high-precision α (alpha) lenses. Its high pixel count and large size provide enhanced image detail and a wider dynamic range for natural color reproduction and subtle tonal gradations.

The sensor is produced using proprietary Sony planarization technologies to ensure an ultra-flat surface across the entire imaging area. Instead of a single analog/digital convertor, the sensor uses over 6,000 on-chip, column-parallel A/D converters to convert analog signals to noise-resistant digital signals at the earliest possible stage. The result is reduced noise and high-speed transfer of data.

Image processing gets a boost in speed and power from the application of two BIONZ image processing engines. Large amounts of data captured by the 24.6-megapixel sensor can be quickly processed to achieve a fast shooting response. Additionally, this dual BIONZ processing system applies advanced noise reduction algorithms producing images of exceptional quality and detail, especially at high ISO sensitivities.

World’s First Anti-Shake System for a Full-Frame Sensor
The camera’s newly-developed, body-integrated SteadyShot Inside unit achieves an anti-shake effect equivalent to shutter speeds faster by 2.5 to 4 stops. This new unit provides stabilization for Sony, Minolta and Konica-Minolta wide angle, large-aperture lenses, which is difficult for lens-integrated systems.

State-of-the Art Optical Performance and Responsiveness

The ultra-bright viewfinder with 100% field of view coverage and 0.74x magnification enables accurate framing and preview. It features a high-power condenser lens, an eyepiece with high reflective-index glass, and a multi-layer, anti-reflective coating on every optical surface to deliver its extraordinarily bright and accurate view.

Additionally, the focusing screen is user-replaceable, with additional L-type (grid pattern) and M-type (super spherical acute matte) screens sold separately.

The camera’s newly-developed autofocus system consists of nine wide-area sensors with 10 assist points for improved tracking of moving subjects. A center dual cross sensor comprised of two horizontal and two vertical line sensors as well as a dedicated f/2.8 sensor are included to achieve greater precision, especially when using fast-aperture lenses.

It also offers high-speed continuous shooting of 24.6 megapixel images at five frames per second. A newly-designed mirror box features a unique parallel-link mirror mechanism that moves on two horizontal axes to accommodate both 100% viewfinder coverage and the body-integrated image stabilization system without increasing the camera’s size. The mirror box also has a new moving magnet actuator, a high-powered coreless motor for a faster shutter charge, and a magnet catcher to minimize mirror bounce and light refraction within the box.
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Versatility to Unleash Creative Possibilities
The model’s innovative intelligent preview function takes the guesswork out of setting up a shot and the hassle of taking multiple shots to achieve a desired effect.

After pressing the depth of field preview button, the camera “grabs” a RAW preview image which is processed and displayed on the LCD screen. You can then fine tune white balance, determine the best level and effect of dynamic range optimization, adjust exposure compensation and check histogram data, all before you actually take the picture. Preview images are not recorded on the camera’s memory card, thus saving capacity.

Other key features aimed to expand creative options include the Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) with five levels of user-selectable correction as well as DRO bracketing for enhanced scene analysis and graduation optimization. EV bracketing with ±2EV range makes it easy to create high dynamic range composite images.

Thirteen creative styles can be selected to enhance images and then fine-tuned by customizing contrast, sharpness, zone matching and other parameters, while 3 user-programmable memories provide instant access to as many as 26 different mode settings.

Powerful RAW file processing control is put in the photographer’s hands with the included Image Data Converter SR3 software that delivers faster file processing speeds, easy adjustment of image parameters, Dynamic Range Optimization and a new Peripheral Illumination function that compensates for corner light fall off.

With the camera’s HDMI output and Photo TV HD mode, your creative output can be enjoyed on a compatible HD television. This mode brings the look of actual printed photography to the television, by fine-tuning such image parameters as sharpness, gradation and color.

Comfort in Your Hands
Its construction features rugged, lightweight magnesium alloy with moisture-resistant, rubber seals for buttons and dials, an anti-static coating to prevent dust adherence to the imager, and a high-endurance shutter rated for more than 100,000 release cycles.

It has a 3-inch, Xtra Fine LCD screen (921K) makes it possible to check focus and image quality with accuracy. It incorporates an easy-to-see display with a quick navigation menu to easily access common functions without interrupting your creative flow. A backlit LCD panel sits on top of the camera and displays key settings.

System Expansion with New Accessories
The A900 camera will be accompanied with an array of accessories like the recently-announced Sony HVL-F58AM flash unit with its innovative Quick Shift Bounce system, powerful performance with a guide number of 58, and wireless auto flash ratio control.

The Sony® VG-C90AM vertical grip offers the same ease of operation when shooting vertically as horizontally, with its button layout and low-position shutter-release button. It also houses two InfoLITHIUM® batteries (sold separately) for longer shooting and playback.

The DSLR-A900 body will be available in November for about $3,000 along with related accessories.

In the cut-throat digital camera market it’s increasingly unusual for products to be shown in prototype form or announced more than a matter of weeks before they hit the stores. There’s several reasons for the manufacturers’ habit of playing their cards so close to their chests, not least that they can’t afford to harm sales of the models they’ve already released. Sony, the newest ‘new kid’ on the DLSR block, has no such worries, this being its first proper ‘high end’ DSLR. In fact, if anything the pressure was on the company to show it was committed to becoming a major SLR system player and that it wasn’t going to squander Minolta’s long legacy in this market after picking up the assets Konica Minolta shed when it pulled out of the photography market. Thus we saw the first prototype of the Alpha 900 – Sony’s flagship full frame digital SLR – back in early 2007 (it appeared behind glass at trade shows such as PMA in March 07), and information has been trickling out ever since; most significantly with the announcement in January of this year of a 35mm full frame CMOS sensor.

And so when Sony finally showed the finished Alpha 900 to us back in the late summer there were few surprises at the basic specification or the appearance of the camera. As we started to dig a little deeper, pore over the fine print and actually use the Alpha 900 we were, however, increasingly surprised – and almost always pleasantly so – at some of the decisions made by Sony’s engineers when designing its flagship SLR.

The success of the Alpha 900 amongst the Minolta, Konica Minolta and Sony faithful seems assured; at a launch price of just shy of $3000 it offers a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ and there is undoubtedly a significant number of Minolta film SLR users who’ve been waiting years for a full frame digital body on which to use their existing lenses. The challenge for Sony, however, is to generate some interest from people without an existing investment in the Minolta (or subsequent Alpha) system. And on paper the Alpha 900 looks promising – and we’re already impressed with the build, handling and viewfinder, so let’s find out how well the latest addition to the small but growing ‘full frame club’ performs.

Key features

24.6 MP 35mm format full-frame CMOS sensor (highest res in class)
SteadyShot INSIDE full frame image sensor shift stabilization (world first)
High Speed Dual Bionz processors
Eye-level glass Penta-prism OVF, 100% coverage, 0.74x magnification
9 point AF with 10 assist points, center dual-cross AF w/2.8 sensor
5 frames per second burst, newly developed mirror box
Intelligent Preview Function
3 User programmable custom memory modes on mode dial
Advanced Dynamic Range Optimizer (5 step selectable)
40 segment honeycomb metering
3.0″ 921K pixel Photo Quality (270 dpi) LCD display, 100% coverage
Direct HDMI output
ISO 200-3200 (ISO 100-6400 expanded range)
User interchangeable focusing screens (3 options)
CF Type I/II and MS slots, LI-ION battery, STAMINA 880 shots
Weight 850g (without battery, card, accs)
New Image Data Converter SR software (includes vignetting control)
New Vertical Grip
Supplied with wireless remote control
Magnesium Alloy body and rubber seals for dust and moisture resistance
AF micro adjustment
$2999.99 body price; available late October 2008

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Compared to Alpha 700 – key differences

As someone who has used the Alpha 700 extensively I was immediately struck by just how similar its new big brother is; the basic design and layout is almost identical, as are the user interface and the core feature set. Unlike Canon and Nikon, who tend to add further differentiation to their professional products with swathes of extra features and (especially) custom function options, Sony has gone for almost total consistency between the A700 and A900.

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Obviously there are some pretty significant differences both physically and functionally (some of which are upgrades we’d expect to see in the Alpha 700′s eventual replacement); aside from the obvious (sensor size/resolution) the key changes are:

Dual Bionz processors (A700 only has one)
Three custom modes on mode dial in place of A700′s scene modes
All magnesium alloy construction
New 9 point AF with 10 assist points for Wide AF mode
100% viewfinder coverage (A700 is 95%)
Improved noise reduction options (including ‘off’)
Improved D-Range Optimizer auto function
No grip sensor or built-in flash
Top LCD info panel
Intelligent Preview Mode
Increased pixel pitch due to improvements in sensor design

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Sony Alpha A900
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Sony Alpha A700
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Body material
• Magnesium Alloy Chassis and exterior
• Environmental seals
• Aluminum chassis
• Magnesium Alloy body shell
• high grade plastic exterior
• Environmental seals

• 35.9 x 24.0 mm CMOS sensor ‘Exmor’
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 25.7 million total pixels
• 24.6 million effective pixels
• On-chip Column A/D Conversion & NR
• 23.5 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor ‘Exmor’
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 13.05 million total pixels
• 12.25 million effective pixels
• On-chip Column A/D Conversion & NR

Dual Bionz

Crop Factor

Image sizes (3:2)
• 6048 x 4032 (24M 3:2)
• 4400 x 2936 (13M 3:2)
• 3024 x 2016 (6.1M 3:2)
• 3924 x 2656 (11M APSC)
• 2896 x 1928 (5.6M APSC)
• 1984 x 1320 (2.6M APSC)
• 4288 x 2856 (L RAW)
• 4272 x 2848 (L)
• 3104 x 2064 (M)
• 2128 x 1424 (S)

Auto Focus
• TTL CCD line sensors (9-points, center dual cross types + 10 assist sensors)
• TTL CCD line sensors (11-points, 10 lines with center dual cross sensor)

Custom modes

• Single or continuous bracketing
• 3 or 5 frames
• 0.3, 0.5 , 0.7 or 2.0 EV steps
(2.0 EV steps for 3 exposures only)
• Single or continuous bracketing
• 3 or 5 frames
• 0.3, 0.5 or 0.7 EV steps

• H: Approx 5fps max
• L: Approx 3fps max
• RAW: Up to 12 frames
• cRAW (compressed): Up to 25 frames
• RAW+JPEG: Up to 10 frames
• JPEG (XFINE): Up to 11 frames
• JPEG (STD/FINE): 285/105
• H: Approx 5fps max
• L: Approx 3fps max
• RAW: Up to 18 frames
• cRAW (compressed): Up to 25 frames
• RAW+JPEG: Up to 12 frames
• JPEG (XFINE): Up to 16 frames
• JPEG (STD/FINE): Unlimited (to card capacity)

• Optical glass pentaprism
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (interchangeable)
• Frame coverage approx 100%
• Magnification approx. 0.74x
• Eye-relief 20 mm from eyepiece, 21 mm from frame
• Eyepiece shutter
• Optical glass pentaprism
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (interchangeable)
• Frame coverage approx 95%
• Magnification approx. 0.9x
• Eye-relief 25 mm from eyepiece, 21 mm from frame

Vertical Grip
Optional vertical Grip VG-C90AM
Optional vertical Grip VG-C70AM

156 x 117 x 82 mm
141.7 x 104.8 x 79.7 mm

• No battery: 850 g
• With battery: 895 g
• No battery: 690 g
• With battery: 768 g

• Intelligent Preview mode
• New raw converter software
• AF Micro Adjustment
• Top LCD panel
• Grip sensor
• Built in flash
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