Equipment

A Videographer’s Take on Sony’s a99II and the Yet to be Antiquated A-Mount

As a videographer, it’s easy to forget about Sony’s A-Mount. Still, I recognize that I owe a great deal of respect to the previous Minolta line. In its prime, Minolta developed several revolutionary functions that are often taken for granted today. Minolta’s Single Lens Reflex (SLR) technology was acquired by Sony in 2006, and the first releases under the new monicker were largely Minolta’s designs. Sony has since managed to develop the A-Mount into a unique line of cameras and lenses that are assumed by many, to inevitably flatline.

I have always been fascinated by, not only the engineering of photography and videography gear, but also the business models that supports the development of different products. While every camera manufacturer has its roots and fascinating history, there are few manufacturers whose journey into digital have been as excited or as confounding as Sony’s. Early in my career at Lensrentals, I adopted a philosophy founded solely on personal opinion, that Sony’s E-Mount standard cameras were mainly designed to be video-centric, while the A-Mount cameras were better designed for photography. At that time, Sony was frequently releasing lower-end video cameras with very high-end features, specifically an electronic viewfinder with an eye sensor in a Handycam and a full frame sensor camera with an E-Mount, despite the release of FE lenses still being a year away. At the time, Sony seemed to be at war with itself. The A-Mount cameras were built like photo cameras, but the lenses were the only Sony manufactured option for full frame sensors. In hindsight, these soft-launched trademarks allowed Sony to insidiously introduce features that would one day become benchmarks for their professional and semi-professional cameras while avoiding potentially unwanted attention from competitors. Sony wasn’t as conflicted as they seemed, rather, they were quietly developing a strategy that would allow them to converge the most usable functions for both photo and video into a compact camera, in a way the world had never experienced before. So maybe my theory about the E-Mount being for video and the A-Mount being for the photo industry was right for some period of time, or maybe Sony was merely cross-engineering features to allow themselves the ability to continue to offer new products. Whatever the reasoning behind it may be, the release of the Sony a99II late last year has completely refuted what I thought I knew about Sony’s camera lines.

Review of Sony A99II

Lensrentals’ well-varied inventory allows their photo and video technicians access to an invaluable resource. As a Video Technician, it allows me to recognize design flaws or improvements and to evaluate field usability that goes beyond the specs. With so many products out there and so many applications, I look forward to tech support calls to provide fresh perspectives on some of the less obvious ways to use our gear. Likewise, I look forward to hearing about less obvious products to apply to current utilization. It was one such inquiry into the video potential of the Sony a99II that had me suddenly intrigued by Sony’s A-Mount system that I had long discredited as a being a system designed for video use.

I took the Sony a99II home, hoping to fall in love with it. While this highly versatile camera has some impressive qualities, I didn’t find myself falling head over heels. I wanted the girthier, DSLR-style body and improved dexterity of the LCD to qualify this camera as my new go-to for gimbal work. Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself spending any less time balancing the Sony a99II, and the LCD was partially obstructed by the gimbal despite its improved range of movement.

The a99II offers internal 4k up to 30 frames per second and is capable of shooting 120 frames per second at 1920X1080. 4k resolution can be achieved in both full frame and Super 35 formats, and unless the low light performance or expanded field of view are vital to your shoot, the cropped 4k image seemed to make better use of the bit depth. The oversampling with full pixel readout and zero pixels binning cut down on moire, compared to other professional DSLRs. Internally, you are shooting 4:2:0 8-bit which has led to some reports of banding issues at higher frame rates. I personally did not experience any issues with banding, but for the professional shooter who can’t afford any digital artifacting, a clean HDMI out supports 4:2:2 uncompressed capture. Aside from recording capabilities, Sony tossed in two gratuitous video specific features that were truly the source of my interest in the Sony a99II. For the first time, S-Log and timecode syncing for multiple cameras have been made available in Sony’s A-Mount lineup.

 

As someone who frequently shoots video on the Sony a7SII, one of my biggest complaints is the lack of lens availability. Full frame lenses are required to shoot at the highest resolution, and Sony has been pretty slow to roll out attractive optical options. Though they are now producing some industry standard focal lengths, they have yet to compete with Canon’s stellar lineup. Outside of native lenses, third party manufacturers don’t seem to be interested in redesigning their lenses to accommodate the reduced flange focal distance found in the E-Mount camera bodies. So far, Sigma’s MC-11 adapter is the only effort we’ve seen any major lens manufacturer make to adapt non-Sony lenses to the native E-Mount. The A-Mount, however, already has some compatible third party lenses and the wealth of optical options almost won me over.

The most noteworthy and heavily discussed improvement is the autofocus system. Despite it being the most advanced autofocus system we had seen Sony produce when the Sony a99II was announced, it has done little to compete with the likes of Canon, regarding market performance. The Canon 5D Mark IV’s touch screen focus capabilities seem like something out of Sony’s wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the Sony a99II has no touch screen option and a pretty lousy joystick to boot. Another drawback for video users is that your autofocus options are limited when shooting in video mode. Program Auto allows the user to take advantage of the autofocus but at the sacrifice of other image customization options. Fortunately, in Program Auto, you are still able to apply profiles, which are essentially glorified Instagram filters. It isn’t the ideal solution for a professional videographer, but at the very least it proves that Sony keeps video shooters in mind when designing new features.

 

I can see the appeal here for professional photographers though. For anyone shooting weddings or concerts stills who may also want some occasional video clips, I think the a99II is a reliable option. However, I don’t anticipate many videographers accepting the compromises found in the Sony a99II when the DSLR for video market is already highly saturated. After all of my tests and research, I am still confused by one design choice. Why pack all of these features into an A-Mount camera?

Review of Sony A99II

There has been a lot of speculation regarding the future of Sony’s A-Mount camera systems. The legacy mount served as Sony’s launchpad into the world of digital imaging but to date, has yet to garner the attention and profits of competitor’s DSLRs. Out of the nearly 30 camera models manufactured in the A-Mount standard, all but four have been discontinued at the time of this writing. In 2010, Sony released a record high of seven A-Mount camera models, geared toward shooters ranging from entry-level to midrange experience. That same year, Sony released its first E-Mount camcorder. The number of A-Mount cameras in production has been dwindling ever since. In fact, since the premiere of the a7 line, Sony has only offered one new A-Mount camera model release a year, with the Sony a99II being only the second A-Mount camera geared toward professional use since 2012. So why has this SLR pioneer mounting system failed to gain popularity in the U.S. market and why does Sony continue to engineer new products for it?

Let’s start with popularity: Maybe it was Minolta’s $126 million loss to Honeywell over a patent lawsuit, maybe it was poorly planned product execution when the culture of shooting started rapidly changing at the turn of the millennium. On paper, Minolta’s accomplishments read like those of an innovative heavy hitter. Unfortunately, while Minolta focused on engineering features like anti-shake, the sensor-based two-axis image stabilization, multi-mode SLRs, and early in-camera autofocus motors, it failed to maintain timely releases of products suited for the professional market. Nikon and Canon recognized the opportunity outside of film and were steadfast in taking advantage of the quickly-evolving digital market. Professionals preferring the less expensive and more accessible digital medium quickly became Nikon or Canon devotees. Even with Minolta’s breakthroughs, their failure to cater to the new demographic was a blow they couldn’t afford. In 2003, Minolta merged with Konica and by 2006, the company announced its plans to sell its camera division to focus their efforts and resources on the numerous other technology divisions under the Konica Minolta umbrella.

That leads us to the next question: With E-Mount’s success, why hasn’t Sony given up on the A-Mount despite its austerity laden history? The answer is easy. Sony paid for the technology when they took over Konica Minolta’s camera division. Sony took on a team of Minolta’s engineers and has been establishing their brand in the digital market ever since. As recent as 2016, Sony was forecasting growth in the popularity of the A-Mount and is currently the number two manufacturer of interchangeable lens cameras in the U. S. market. While Sony may be limiting batch sizes of A-Mount cameras, the opportunity to engineer sensor technology in different mounts allows them a unique technical bench to work from and is a distinctly Sony pursuit. So, is the A-Mount dead? Not yet.

 

Author: Ally Aycock

My name is Ally and I am a Senior Video Technician at Lens Rentals. I’m a freelance veteran in almost every production department and a total gear nerd. When I’m not producing or directing commercials and music videos, I like to take advantage of my free time by oversharing pictures of my dog on Instagram.

Posted in Equipment
  • livingonenergydrinks

    Your correct, I later found the setting. Camera is lot more usable now. Still wish they had 60P though : )

  • joel richards

    full-frame video is possible. check your settings. 4k 60p however is not.

  • livingonenergydrinks

    I have had my a99ii for about a month now. the AF is much improved especially in low light. But I don’t think its using the full sensor for Video. When I am taking photos the view is wide, when I switch to video mode it only grabs the pixels from the center of the sensor, resulting in a cropped view. This sucks as scenes which I previously viewed in photo view, and wanted to get video of are thrown off due to this glitch. Sony should have used the entire sensor area for video, plus they should have supported 60fps video in 4K. Also It would be nice if sony could have built in features to post photos live to social media / FTP. I would have been willing to pay an extra $1k if both those features were built into this camera. My other grip is Sony should have kept 1 battery in the body when adding the vertical grip, giving you access to 3 batteries like on the a99. I am worried that 2 batteries won’t be enough for some of my all day events.

  • Tom Cass

    The reason you think the joystick is lousy is because you’re using it incorrectly. At first hated it as well but when I I learned from Gary Friedman’s Blog that you have to put your finger or thumb on top and not the side I learned it is actually excellent.

  • Carleton Foxx

    That’s a great way to do it too. Even just a dog or a cat will do for an audience. But in the end all that really matters, and what you will be remembered for long after you are gone (to another job, not dead) is the information you provided and it’s pretty solid, so keep writing.

  • Ally Aycock

    Thank you.

  • Ally Aycock

    Thank you for your kindness.

  • Ally Aycock

    Thank you for that.

  • Ally Aycock
  • Ally Aycock

    It’s an awesome camera. Anyone who shoots video and stills for weddings should give the a99II a shot.

  • Ally Aycock

    I typically read an article aloud to any willing party to help identify rough verbiage. Unfortunately, a strong storm knocked out power to most of Memphis and its suburbs (where I live and LR is located) the Saturday before Memorial Day, for the majority of Memorial Day weekend. The article was posted before I had a chance to review what I wrote. I’m not one to make excuses though, I’m taking note and promise more sophisticated content moving forward.

  • Ally Aycock

    I have not but I will certainly investigate.

  • Color Crush

    The a99II calls for a bit of creativity. Remove the SLT mirror (it can use the on-sensor AF system of the a7RII), adapt Zeiss Nikon F glass using the Leitax mount, and there’s not an E-Mount camera made that can touch the a99II. Leave the SLT inside and it will out-focus any E-mount camera in low-light. If you pull it out of the box, it may not meet your needs and E-mount will seem like a better option. E-mount glass is expensive and is on track to get even more expensive with the A9 series, and it will continue to struggle with low-light AF because of focusing with a stopped-down aperture. If you need excellent low-light and quick AF, high mechanical shutter FPS for stills, and clean 4K, the a99II is the best camera Sony makes right now.

  • bdbender4

    Oh, I just like to think of it as Ally having her own writing style. And she is addressing a topic I have wondered idly about out of general interest (being a Canon and Fuji user). Maybe Sony does have a coherent plan, instead of what appears to be riding through town on horseback shooting noisily in all directions.

    Hey Ally, have you seen the YouTube video “Dog Mom”? It’s a hoot.

  • Carleton Foxx

    Well doctor, I agree with your diagnosis, but not your prescription. Speaking as a writer who has written millions of words over the last 30 years and as an editor who has worked with dozens of beginning writers, I would argue that what this young woman needs is someone like you as a mentor.
    But not a mentor who snarls like Lou Grant and throws stories back, but a mentor who sits down at a table in a quiet place with the manuscript, a pencil, and a cup of tea to go over her stories line by line and teach her how to switch off her writing mind and examine her story the way a typical reader would.
    In other words, it all comes back to you—only you can make the world in which you wish to live.

  • Shane Castle

    Hmm, aside from using ‘lead’ instead of ‘led’ (a frequent homonym error), most of the writing seems to be in weird usage forms rather than actual errors in syntax – odd use of commas and other punctuation, mostly, word misuse, and a somewhat prolix mode of expression. But yes, most editors would have thrown the copy back and said “Write something that makes sense. What are ‘native lenses’? Do you mean to say that Sony made a better AF system or not? Was it in fact better? Is that just your opinion, or is it shared by others? Why didn’t Sony make a touchscreen? What do you mean by ‘austerity’? Did you look the word up?”

    And I feel that it is possible to find your own mistakes, as long as you are capable of seeing them as mistakes. In the heat of typing, almost anything can happen, and if you don’t let it sit for a bit and then reread then you must rely on an editor, and risk being jeered at, or worse – having your copy published with errors intact.

    And remember: What is it that I want to say? Did I succeed? Sometimes, when faced with a daunting writing task, I’d sit down and make a rough outline, like many of us had to do in high school English classes. I remember back then thinking that it was garbage and busy-work, but much later in life I found that it really helped when writing documents and papers that I really wanted others to pay attention to and learn from.

  • Carleton Foxx

    No one can find all the mistakes in their own work—it’s scientifically impossible. So, here’s a chance for you to volunteer for a good cause. Offer to proof Ms. Aycock’s next piece for the website—it’s an opportunity to strike a blow for freedom and bring grammar back to our small corner of the internetses.

  • DV

    If one doesn’t mind manual focusing, the a99ii is a perfectly cromulent video camera.

    There’s still plenty of Minolta-isms (which were absorbed into Sony-isms) even in E-mount cameras, if you know where to look.

  • SUQSID

    Interesting article marred by so many grammatical errors as well as misinformation.

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