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The Sony A99ii | Pro Sports Photographer Davey Wilson Pits It Against The D5 & 1DX Mark II

January 26th 2017 12:42 PM

Davey Wilson is a talented award-winning photographer primarily known for documenting compelling rugby or cycling stories and high-profile commercial works. Even more interesting, Davey just happens to be a long-time Sony user who recently put Sony’s new A-Mount flagship, the A99ii, through the paces.

As you’d expect, Davey is as busy as any in-demand photographer who’s found their niche, but scheduling aside, he happily gave us 30 minutes to get his insights from a working sports photographers perspective, where he addresses and gives his take on the direct questions we all want answers to on things like AF speed, buffer, comparisons to the Nikon D5 and Canon 1DX Mark II, and more.

Q. What made you stick with Sony’s A-Mount even as they waited nearly 5 years to release a successor to the original A99?

A. After being pleasantly surprised with Sony’s a77II SLT camera, an excellent, lightweight, low-cost sports option, I anxiously awaited a Sony full frame follow-up to Sony’s A99 – which was plagued with poor AF coverage & speed which, while comparable to similar priced cameras, felt substandard compared to Sony’s own lower cost SLT camera offerings. I didn’t want to jump back to Canon for the 1Dx Mark II because after shooting with Electronic Viewfinder I don’t know if I can ever go back to an optical viewfinder. For me, it’s just too many advantages to ignore.

Q. You mentioned some shortcomings with the original A99. Do you feel the A99ii has addressed those issues?

A. The A99ii is what Sony SLT cameras should have been from the start. Sony not only solved the A99’s shortcomings, they improved it to an extent where it matches or exceeds the best offerings from Nikon or Canon. All this while still retaining the advantages of an electronic viewfinder, in a compact very ergonomic SLR body.

Q. So what’s in your bag?

A. Because I’m documenting fast paced sports reportage along with capturing lifestyle, and portrait work I have to be ready for any and everything.

My bag includes…
Sony A99ii (x 2)
Sony 300mm F2.8 G SSM II
Sony 70-200mm F2.8 G SSM II
Zeiss 85mm F1.4 ZA
Zeiss 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM
Zeiss 24-70mm F1.4 ZA SSM II
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Art

Q. Tell me about this shoot you brought with you? How did the Sony A99II handle the rigors of a professional work day of Davey Wilson?

A. Earlier in January, I had the opportunity to capture lifestyle, action and portrait photography for [Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team] with Sony’s A99ii in California. Speed and logistics make cycling one of the more challenging and rewarding sports to shoot, so I thought this would be the perfect assignment to break in the new camera in a real world setting.

My first day with Axeon HB started at a yoga session with team partner, Lululemon Athletica, near the hotel. I only had my two A99ii bodies with attached Zeiss 24-70/2.8 Z2 and 70-200/2.8 G2, so I had to start out shooting at ISO 3200 to get a fast enough shutter speed – even wide open at F2.8. The cameras performed exceptionally well & images turned out detailed & relatively clear! Considering the tiny bit of light loss with SLT cameras, this was a welcome surprise! Additionally, since Yoga is slow-moving, I turned Face Detection on and let the A99 II AF system do its thing, and the tracking wide open was impressive.

Later that day, the team and I fell under torrential downpour. While I had rain gear in the van, I hadn’t had a chance to put over my cameras yet, and had to keep shooting or else I’d miss behind-the-scenes content of the athletes in the rain. The A99II build quality definitely feels solid, and Sony says their cameras are built with seals for dust & moisture resistance, tohugh they don’t guarantee them to be weatherproof. Regardless, Sony’s sealing methods worked great! Even as I got completely soaked, both of my A99II’s and Sony lenses handled the rain like champs and allowed me to keep shooting without issue!

Back at the hotel, I set up lights for team portraits. While I can’t post any of these images yet as they’re under embargo, I will say the face detection tracking is so good I didn’t even mess with the Eye-AF function. Between athletes, staff & sponsor VIPs, I shot 30 people across hundreds of frames and there wasn’t a single focus miss. Every image was focused razor sharp on the subjects’ eyes. Sure, for a static portrait session, you don’t even necessarily need AF to get the same results, but for this session, we had both serious and fun takes which were shot while the subjects were continually in motion.

In the morning, the team performed what’s called an FTP test in which the athletes are tested to see how much work they can perform in an hour. The directors held it like a Time Trial – racing team athletes against each other. Typically, some of the most challenging action to track on any camera is fast-moving forward motion while the photographer is stationary, but A99II locked onto the athletes with confidence & precision. Images weren’t just decently in focus, but razor sharp & with rich detail throughout. Typically on Sony’s AF system, (dubbed “4DAF“), for these scenarios you want to be on AF Area: Zone with AF responsiveness (stickiness) set to 1 or 2 (low). Since A99 II only recently shipped, I haven’t been able to program all the modes into the Memory yet, but was amazed that “Lock-on AF: Expand Flexible Spot” mode (which I use for most everything else except landscapes) worked beautifully, tracking forward motion even with the AF responsiveness set to 4 & 5 (high) and simplified my workflow

Furthermore, regarding the buffer, I confirmed 60 frames shooting cRAW using the latest version SanDisk ExtremePro SDXC UHS-I / Class 10 / U3 / V30, but I never shoot 60 frames straight while shooting sports. It’s usually a burst of 4 to 12 at most. Would I like to have a larger or unlimited buffer? Of course. Hopefully, Sony can move up to processor to support USB 3 interface & UHS-II in the next generation, but it’s really difficult to be very disappointed with the performance here as I wasn’t held up by the buffer even once!

After the FTP test, the team proceeded on a long ride around Malibu. I got to drive ahead on a climb, and this the part where the A99ii left my jaw on the ground. The resolution of the A99ii really helps take those distance shots to another level. Cycling is such a beautiful sport to shoot, but you know how it is, the best sports cameras previously have been low resolution / high speed. The combination of high resolution and high speed in A99ii really helps take those distance sports shots to another level. Action photos have never looked so good, and the 42-megapixel resolution really shines!

Q. 42 megapixels to many of us feels like a bit of overkill for action, sports, and reportage photography. Do you find the high resolution and handling all that data more of boon or a drag for your work?

A. A year ago, I didn’t necessarily think I would necessarily need the additional resolution, but A99ii has proven me wrong every day I’ve worked with it so far. For me, more resolution has come to mean more cropping flexibility with clients, greater flexibility in print output, and a far richer, detailed image – even when downsized for websites or Instagram posts. Sony made good on improving ISO performance as I find the new backlit sensor to be competitive with the best lower megapixel models from other brands from 100 and beyond 6400.

Q. How about the autofocus performance. Sony has made some bold claims about the A99ii. How did it work out for you in the real world?

A. The AF performance was the most impressive surprise of the Sony A99ii, it performs exactly the way you’d expect a high-end sports camera to perform – confident & accurate. Less shooting, less culling, and less editing, while delivering better output overall is how I’d rate how much of an upgrade the A99ii has been for me. In terms of AF accuracy and speed, the A99ii is most definitely in the same league as the Canon 1Dx Mark II and Nikon D5.

[RELATED: Sony A99II vs Nikon D810 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark IV]

Q. Thanks for giving SLR Lounge a real world review of the Sony A99II. These images are impressive and we appreciate your client allowing us to display the work for our readers.

A. Anytime, Marlon, I hope Sony continues what they are doing with the A99ii in future models. It has proven to be a remarkable tool that gets the job done with ease.

Conclusion

The Sony A99ii has been a camera we’ve been excited about since PhotoPlus last fall. On paper, it’s a veritable powerful taking the best of mirrorless and DSLR’s and compressing those features into a compact SLR-style body. It’s not perfect, no camera is, but it’s nice to see a company like Sony listening to its longtime users and delivering a high-resolution performance driven camera that actually appears to be as advertised.

The calm before the storm. Joe cools down before the next match.

A photo posted by DAVEY WILSON (@daveywilson) on

About Davey Wilson:
Davey Wilson is a photographer capturing sports stories that foster social media communities & build brands. Whether shooting ASAP Rocky & ASAP Mob to launch their new clothing line or documenting U.S. Soccer’s biggest fans in Kansas to promote the latest deodorant from Degree during the World Cup, Wilson displays an unstoppable work ethic, a relentless passion for the moment, an expressive vocabulary with color & light, and a gift for finding something extraordinary in the ordinary.  Most recently, Wilson served as official team photographer for Axeon Cycling Team & USA Hawks (National Rugby League team) — two contrasting sports which showcase his uncanny ability to capture raw emotion & help grow a following for whomever he photographs. Find him on Instagram here and his site.

Marlon is a South Florida-based wedding and portrait photographer, writer, and interactive designer. Involved in photography since the 90’s, his background began with repairing film cameras from a master Vietnam veteran, followed by years of assisting professional photographers then before starting his own business in 2006. Marlon at his heart is a tinkerer that has love for and adept in every medium of photography.

When not working Marlon is all about spending time with his wife, Naomi and two boys, Taze and Brassaï.

http://www.marlonrichardson.com

Comments [23]

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  1. Dmitry Vasilenko

    Davey,
    Can the Sigma 35mm Art uses a focal plane phase detection AF sensor positioned in wide range or just uses only 79 dedicated phase detection AF points at maximum? I mean is Sigma 35mm Art Hybrid Phase Detection AF compatible?
    Sony give us list (http://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/www/support/ilc/focus/ilca-99m2/en/af_s.html), but there are only Sony lenses.
    Thx for answer.

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    • Davey Wilson

      Dmitry, as I understand it, profiles for lenses must be programmed into the camera so the OSPDAF sensor and lens can “talk”, so until Sigma and Tamron give Sony all the AF profiles for their glass, we are limited to 79-points.

      This being said, the 79-point AF works great in and of itself and the Sigma 35/1.4 Art is an awesome lens to use on A99II for its sharpness. That image in the article of pro cyclist, Christopher Blevins, kissing the front tire was shot with the Sigma 35/1.4 Art.

      However, for the fastest possible AF-tracking and greatest accuracy I recommend Sony’s latest A-mount SSM glass.

      I’ve found AF with the Sony 300/2.8 G SSM II on A99II to be bullet proof, and I believe it to be among the finest glass Sony offers. I’ve also had amazing results with the 70-200/2.8 G SSM II, 24-70/2.8 ZA SSM II, 16-35/2.8 ZA SSM II & 50/1.4 ZA SSM.

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  2. Cameron Reynolds

    I am a current A99/ A7 shooter and sometimes have access to an A7Rii. I shoot weddings, portraits, and products as well as video. I have never been satisfied with the AF performance or the buffer of my kit and feel it is time to upgrade. I mostly have A-Mount Minolta and Sigma glass. Do you think its worth upgrading to the A99ii or replacing all the glass and investing more heavily into the newer FE-Mount glass with an A7Rii or iii by the time I can upgrade? Any thoughts are appreciated!

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    • Davey Wilson

      I would get an A99II, and make that your work horse, and supplement with the A7 when you don’t need the bulk. However, you might want to update some of your A-mount glass to their Mark II variants if you haven’t already. That way you can take full advantage of the new AF system and have better performance on E-mount with the same glass!

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    • Black Z Eddie

      Cameron, does it mis-focus or hunts? If mis-focuses, have you tried AF Micro Adjust on those bodies?

      You probably don’t need to replace all your A-Mount glass to FE-Mounts. Consider Sony adapters LA-EA3 and/or LE-EA4. I have both since I have I have silent and screw drive type lenses.

      I typically shoot with my Sigma 35 f1.4 (Art) + LAEA3 + A7RII and Sigma 85 f1.4 (non-Art) + LAEA3 + A7II. Once in a while, bring out my Sony/Zeiss 135 f1.8 + LAEA4.

      My point being you may not need to spend tons of money (right away) unless you want to. :) Between your A99 and A7, you have versatility.

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    • Cameron Reynolds

      @Black Z Eddie – I have a Sigma 70-200 2.8 APO DG HSM that hunts like crazy causing me to miss moments. It happens on both the A99 and A7 with an advantage to the A99. My other AF lenses include a Sony 28-75 2.8, Sigma 105 Macro, Minolta 50 1.7, Minolta 24 2.8, and a Minolta 70-210 4 Beercan. I have found that the sigmas focus slow, while the Minoltas focus fast but are not nearly as sharp. I do have the EA4 adapter and it works okay but the small center AF cluster makes it hard to be both creative and sharp on my subject without several tries. I often pull out some old Nikkor MF lenses and use peaking on the A7 just to get the shots. I also shoot video and neither of these are great for that. The A7 overheats and the A99 has lots of moire, I know the A99ii has its continuous AF issue in video mode where the Aperture is fixed at 3.5 but hope a firmware fix could help. My A99 also has a low ISO noise floor and it would be good to be able to bump it a little higher.

      I do have access to an A7Rii and my lenses are not fast focusing on it either. Ultimately trying to find a Sony camera that meets my wedding and live event photography needs in terms of AF and ISO performance. If I can get it to also work for corporate video and sports or event coverage in video mode too, all the better. Trying to figure out if upgrading my lenses to one mount or keeping two make sense.

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  3. Jacky Li

    The A99 was launched at Photokina 2012
    & A99mk2 was launched at Photokina 2016.
    How can it be 5 years ??
    The release between A99 & A99mk2 is only 4 years.
    While the release between 5Dmk3 & 5Dmk4 is 4.5 years.

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  4. adam sanford

    Also, Marlon, I’d very much like to see a review on the Zeiss 24-70mm F**1.4** ZA SSM II.

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  5. adam sanford

    Much like the A7R II, the A99 II is packed full of tech, but there are some pain points worth considering:

    1) They simply don’t have the lenses yet. They’ll get there, but Sony folks still only have fraction of CaNikon folks have access to.

    2) You won’t get 12 fps if you shoot uncompressed RAW.

    3) The pellicle mirror SLT design eats some light. I haven’t shot it yet, but I’ve read it’s about 2/3 of a stop. A traditional SLR or Mirrorless setup should be able to work at a lower ISO / capture faster shutter speeds as a result.

    That said, it’s a beast. Might be the right call for some folks.

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    • Davey Wilson

      Adam, you are incorrect.

      A99II shoots at full 42 megapixel resolution, both compressed and uncompressed RAW, at 12 FPS. It can even shoot RAW + JPEG at 12 FPS. The only thing that changes is the buffering.

      Secondly, I have shot comfortably to ISO 25,600 with A99II and did so on a campaign for a major sports brand, but I couldn’t share for this review because I’m under contract.

      With backlit sensors, SLT light loss is non-issue, but we get to enjoy the benefit of full time continuous tracking with dual AF systems and zero black outs, and full time LiveView.

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    • adam sanford

      Davey,

      1) You’ve shot the camera and I have not, but I spotted this in the manual:

      http://helpguide.sony.net/ilc/1630/v1/en/print.pdf

      Page 92 of 413: “The shooting speed during continuous shooting becomes slower when [RAW File Type] is set to [Uncompressed] in [Continuous Shooting: Hi+] mode”

      (Hi+ being 12 fps)

      I think I’m interpreting the manual correctly, so was it revised? Was there a firmware update that trumps this?

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    • adam sanford

      2) Regarding your other point about the low light performance — I have no doubt it works brilliantly. But I said that the pellicle eats some light, and it surely does.

      How do we know this? That same (or very similar) A99 II sensor in the A7R II and RX1R should test similarly, should they not?

      https://goo.gl/M3inZV

      And you’ll see the low light performance of the A99 II — despite possibly having the same sensor — underperforms the other two. That difference is about 1/2 – 2/3 of a stop.

      I’m not saying that the A99 II ISO level is insufficient — not at all — I’m just saying the SLT design limits the *potential* of the sensor — in effect, if you could flip that mirror up, you’d get A7R II and RX1R II performance.

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    • Davey Wilson

      [Davey Wilson has deleted this comment]

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    • Davey Wilson

      Adam, I can’t say I’m too concerned with theoretical differences in noise that are invisible to the naked eye and take someone in a lab coat to measure.

      Sony A-mount SLT cameras are the only cameras on the planet that pair a dedicated Phase Detection AF module with Electronic Viewfinder which presents unique advantages to sports shooters, and I’m getting incredible results out of them.

      If you’re curious about A99II’s performance, I suggest you rent an A99II from Lensrentals and try for yourself. It’s the only way to be certain.

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    • Black Z Eddie

      “1) They simply don’t have the lenses yet. They’ll get there, but Sony folks still only have fraction of CaNikon folks have access to.”

      So, what? Same ‘ol rhetoric. You don’t need a gazillion lenses to take great photos or to be able to do your job. Lens collection is like a pissing contest for some I guess. Sony has more than enough A-Mount lenses to do the job. People need to quit making excuses. Keep in mind there’s also third party lenses.

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    • adam sanford

      DW, thanks for the perspective — I appreciate the article and your comments. Sorry if I got too far in the weeds.

      BZE, I hear you, I do. I actually want to see this (and other Sony) products succeed — I’m not kidding. The better this thing does, the more my chosen company (I shoot Canon) has to step up and offer more value and innovation to compete.

      I raise the lens point as I can’t presently migrate to Sony even if I wanted to — I’d take a bath on lenses and still not even replace all the ones I own because they are not offered in A or E mount. So it’s not a dig… it’s an *ask* of Sony to lessen the pain of migration.

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    • Small Timer

      1. Sigma and Tamron make good alternatives over Sony’s native lenses actually.
      2. The a99 II can do 12fps uncompressed
      3. While it is true that SLT comes at the cost of light(1/3 stop), it remains that Sony is employing a new compensation method with the a99 II which puts it on par with the a7r II in terms of noise performance. And so the two are indistinguishable insofar as SNR goes.

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    • Holger Foysi

      Adam Sanford: when in continuous, it resorts to 12-bit ( From the manual: “However, resolution is limited to 12 bits in the following shooting modes: [ Long Exposure NR][BULB] Continuous shooting”. So no full 14 bit. For me, lens prices are too high in Germany. The 500/4 is 15000 Euros, 300/2.8 is 7700 Euros, etc. Probably due to the small market share economy of scale isn’t there compared to Canikon.

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    • Davey Wilson

      Thanks Holger for that correction! I updated my previous comment accordingly.

      Regardless, it’s an amazing feat to offer 42 MP resolution at 12 FPS. No other camera make offers high resolution at high speed.

      Also, to tell you the truth, I can’t see a visible difference between images I captured in cRAW at 12-bit in Continuous Burst or 14-bit in single shot, and I doubt you could either.

      The results have been pretty stunning across the board!

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    • adam sanford

      Holger, you are correct. I didn’t want to argue the point as I felt some forum brimstone was headed my way for such pickiness.

      I believe it defaults to 12 bit RAW at Hi+ (12 fps) but you can set it back to uncompressed 14 bit RAW at the Hi+ setting (see my prior manual reference above) but your framerate will go down.

      Few folks have tested this online, but it’s still in the neighborhood of 11 fps from what I’ve seen/read in reviews. 11 x 42 MP in uncompressed RAW is still a staggering feat worth praise. The A99 II sits in the same price point as the 5D4 and D810 and neither have anywhere near that throughput.

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    • Holger Foysi

      @Davey Wilson: I agree that 12bit isn’t a problem. It was measured by Jim Kasson on his blog by looking at the photon transfer curve, that from ISO200 on the difference between 12 and 14 bits is negligible (masked by noise). That is a region where sports shootersiv will be anyway. Using 12bit (and maybe, but I am not sure, the 11+7bit compression used in the A7 series) reduces the amount of data being transferred, making it easier at 42MP. I decided for the 5div instead, for many reasons, but have no problem acknowledging that the a99ii is a fine camera. I am happy with our A7rii, though.

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  6. Aggelos Loukatos

    What is also amazing is that this camera, released a few months ago, has the same battery as the 10yo a700, and they used the same battery for most if not all other DSLRs and SLTs.

    I actually find this amazing, since most other camera manufacturers change the battery, pretty much every iteration the come around with.

    I only wish more manufacturers would practice that.

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    • Heiko Herrmann

      Yes, that is true. Actually the only exceptions are the A100 (old battery without percentage display, however A100 can take the newer batteries), the A230/A330/A380/A290/A390 cameras (some strange battery) and the A33/35/55 (battery of E-mount cameras). The rest all is the 500 battery
      . :)

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