Home / Cameras / Camera / Sony Alpha A900 Digital SLR / Sony Alpha A900 digital SLR

Sony Alpha A900 Digital SLR - Sony Alpha A900 digital SLR

By Cliff Smith



  • Recommended by TR
Sony Alpha A900 Digital SLR


Our Score:


The A900 has so many features that I don't have room here to cover more than the highlights without this review turning into a sales brochure, but I really must make special mention of the viewfinder. Other reviewers have raved about it, and I find myself in complete agreement. I've been using the A900 a lot over the past few weeks, and going back to my own Alpha A100 is like watching TV after a night out at an IMAX cinema. The viewfinder uses a high-quality optical glass pentaprism and has 100 percent frame view. It also has dioptre adjustment, a flip-up shutter to prevent light entry on long exposures, a large well-cushioned surround and a proximity sensor that turns off the monitor when the camera is raised to your eye. The designers have had to do some clever mechanics with the larger-than-normal reflex mirror to get it to fit inside the body, but the result is unquestionably one of the best viewfinders I've ever used.

Like the EOS 5D MkII the A900 has no built-in flash. It has a hot-shoe for mounting an external flashgun, but it's worth remembering that Sony uses Minolta's old hot-shoe mount, which is a different shape to the ones used by every other camera manufacturer, so if you have a third-party flash you'll need an adaptor to use it on this camera. Also included is a wireless flash trigger which is compatible with Sony's accessory F36, F42, F56 and F58 flashguns.

One of Sony's stand-out features is the Dynamic Range Optimiser, first introduced on the A100, and considerably refined over the past few years. The DRO system automatically adjusts the tone curve of the image in high-contrast situations to help retain shadow detail and avoid burned-out highlights. The DRO on the A900 is the most sophisticated version yet, with two automatic settings and an advanced manual option that offers five levels of adjustment. There are many similarly-named systems on other manufacturer's cameras, but in my experience Sony's is generally the most effective. Shooting in my usual dimly-lit car park the higher manual settings produced a result that matched closely to the naked-eye appearance without adversely affecting picture quality, while in real-world high-contrast shots the automatic settings produced outstanding dynamic range comparable to high-quality slide film. The A900 has by far the best dynamic range response of any digital SLR that I've yet seen.

Sony's other key feature is the Super Steady Shot sensor-shift image stabilisation system. Sony inherited this technology from Minolta, and has included it on all the other Alpha system DSLRs as well as some of its compact cameras. However the big full-frame sensor is much heavier and consequently harder to move around than and APS-C sensor, which might have caused some technical problems, but these seem to have been overcome, because the IS system works very well, allowing shake-free hand-held shooting at 1/15th of a second with the 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens, and around 1/200th of a second with the 500mm f/8 reflex lens that I was also testing.

One slight problem I did encounter with the big 500mm lens was a significant amount of mirror vibration, camera shake caused by that big reflex mirror moving up and down. The A900 has a mirror-up feature on the two-second self timer, and this combined with a cable release provided a solution to this problem. The A900 also comes with an infrared remote control as standard.

Tony Walker

June 20, 2009, 12:20 am

Can you not bittorrent the files?


June 20, 2009, 12:53 am

Good review :)

I have seen a few wedding snappers adopting these Sony's...for some reason or another. However I have to say that as a snapper myself, I find Sony's cameras ergonomically challenged and lacking in most areas where Canon and Nikon excel. Plus - they are VERY ugly cameras!

At the end of the day the camera is more or less irrelevant in all but the most specific of tasks, especially when they get to this spec level and image size / quality...it's ALL about glass. And Sony just don't have anywhere near the critical mass of lenses required to seriously challenge the big players, yet. But their continued involvement with Zeiss means they are on to good things.

Another point is the Noise of the Sony ain't too hot above 800 iso compared to say a 5D MK2 / D700 / D3 / D3x. Sony need to work on this.

Maybe in another 5 years they might be a consideration for some pro-snappers, in the mean time they are a serious contender for non-pro use and can only get better. One to keep an eye on :)


June 20, 2009, 4:08 am

I wondered where Cliff had run off to!


June 20, 2009, 2:07 pm

As an ex Nikon D2x owner and now a Sony A900 owner I do not find the A900 ergonomically challenged. In fact using the Fn button and the joystick to change the most used parameters is quick and easy. The only thing I miss is a decent histogram. I found the review to be well balanced and accurate. I always shoot RAW so do not use DRO, I believe that unless you shoot RAW you are missing a lot of the A900's capabilities.

Lee Marshall

June 21, 2009, 4:42 am

"It would suit any advanced enthusiast or a professional who wants a lighter alternative to a D3x or EOS-1D."

I agree it would suit any advanced enthusiast, but a pro? A pro will already be tied into a system, probably either Canon or Nikon. Also I can see how this is an alternative to a D3x or a EOS 1DS but a 1D? Seriously? Your typical 1D owner uses one because of it's incredibly fast speed, top draw tracking autofocus and virtual indestructibility. 5FPS is not fast (compared to a 1D or D3) and I seriously doubt it would look virtually brand new as my 1D does with over 600,000 shots recorded.


June 21, 2009, 2:27 pm

@ Lee Marshall

Any 'pro' has to start somewhere, so they do not necessarily have to be tied into either the Canon or Nikon system. Anyone looking to turn professional *now* will look at it on even ground with the Canon and Nikon models. This is particularly the case if they are a previous KM owner with a collection of Minolta AF mount lenses.

Digital Fury

June 21, 2009, 5:26 pm

Nice to see bodies other that Canon and Nikon being reviewed - I can appreciate that. However there's no way this A900 deserves these kind of scores, unless you rate Canon's 1D series and Nikon's D3s as 11/10 or better. I use a 1D Mark III myself, and there no way any "pro" would settle for things like a 9 points (+assisted) AF system - which covers only a small part of the frame, such a bad high ISO performance or very limited weatherproofing; you can shoot in a tropical forest or a dusty savanna with a 1D (or even with the new 5D Mark II in a more limited fashion).

I'm not a pro, I don't make a living out of it, but shooting in bad lighting conditions @1600 (or worst) is often required unless you do only portraits and landscapes. The A900 @ISO 800 is already unacceptable at this price range.

Which brings me to the subject of pricing and that value rating of 9, it should actually be a 7 or 8 at best.

It's priced sky-high and I checked the price of that Sony 24-70mm f/2.8, it's several 100s of € (like 400 or 500€ more in my area) more expensive than Canon already highly acclaimed and expensive 24-70mm f/2.8 !

What's wrong with Sony?

Lee Marshall

June 21, 2009, 11:01 pm


Would have to disagree there unless they already have a very large range of Minolta equipment. Sony has nowhere near the amount of lenses, flashes and other equipment a pro uses. If a wannabe pro chooses Sony as there first pro camera they will be disappointed in the long term. Also something for the fledgling pro to consider is public/client perception. A lot of people consider Canon/Nikon to be "the" cameras which pro's use and don't consider that Sony (a general consumer electronics company) to have the appropriate experience to make pro quality cameras.


June 22, 2009, 2:22 pm

@Lee Marshall: Most of the public don't know one end of an SLR from another. Their perception is utterly meaningless. They just want good photos. Also, in terms of branded kit that works specifically with one or other brand of camera (i.e. lenses, flashes, Sony has plenty enough compared to Nikon and Canon.

I think the key argument for this not being suitable for a pro is simply that if photography is your profession you're not going to care about the cost of the camera (within reason) in which case you're likely to go for the likes of a 1D or D3x.

@Digital Fury: As Cliff points out, all other fullframe DLSRs are much more expensive than the A900. While it may not compete with those higher end models, it doesn't need to consdiering that price different.

By no means am I saying it's perfect but if you just want the best pictures for the money then it seems like a good bet.

Luis Neves

June 22, 2009, 3:27 pm

@smc8788, What you have to say about SONY lidering the Broadcast, blockbuster and all PRO analog/digital Videocameras markets? Its a matter of time to dominate the DSLR also. Anyone think it doesnt have kno-whow to do that?...

Dave B

June 22, 2009, 6:26 pm

As an old Minolta film, KM 7D and now Sony a900 user I find all of the comments on all discussion boards amusing. You will never find a cannon or Nikon owner to admit that their is even a spark of competition.Much as the american auto makers never thought anyone would prefer a Japanese car. For me the sony is more camera then I need but the menus and functions almost train you to get the most out of the camera. No I am not a pro, but really, if any manufacturer requires only a pro to use their camera they wouldn't sell many camera's would they.

Digital Fury

June 23, 2009, 12:15 pm

@Dave B , your alleged ease of use is a moot point. I don't know Nikon's that well, but even on a Canon 5D Mk II the only expertise you need to use its full-frame 21 mpx goodness, is to frame your subject correctly and press the shutter button; any "uncle bob" can use it just like that Sony.

I do find it very strange however that Sony has priced itself out of competition. Who is this product for? amateurs with too much money to burn?

Cliff Smith

June 24, 2009, 9:16 pm

Lee Marshall - I use a Sony professionally, and you're right that some people do raise an eyebrow. However I just point out to them that Sony has made many of the world's best broadcast TV cameras for decades. You're right about the limited number of lenses currently available though, especially the Carl Zeiss T* ones. It's getting better, but they're still a long way behind Canon and Nikon in this respect.

peter 17

July 1, 2009, 10:45 pm

It would be interesting to know how the camera perfoms as a full format DSLR. That is the gap I wish to cross from my old A1 via many digitals then a sony a100. I know David Bailey only needs a tin can a needle and a bottle of silver nitrate to put anything I will ever take into the dustbin, so pro is out for me.

But is it worth the money to go to full frame?

I would be grateful if the knowledgeable users could please advise me (and I am sure many other maybes).

Also isn't stange the amount of new camera versions that are produced compared to the non digital age?


July 6, 2009, 5:52 pm


err.. the review is on how the A900 performs as a 'full format' DSLR because that is what it is. Whether it is worth it or not, for you, depends on how disappointed, or not, you are with your current set-up. If you can afford the top notch glass that Sony do make available to go with this body and like to look at 16x20 enlargements with a 10x magnifying glass from two inches then yes, it is. It won't improve your photography by itself though, like dropping you into a Brawn GP car won't instantly let you lap as fast as Jenson.


Wedding photographers are picking it up for the dynamic range, as Cliff mentions it's one of the best out there. Previous favourites amongst this hard working class of 'pros' were the also unfashionably-branded Fuji DSLR's for the same reason. Didn't use above 400ASA for this particular bread earner in film days so noise is a non-issue.

It's all about suitability, there is no one camera that does everthing perfectly. Indoor artificially lit sports events, Theatre, Rock gigs = not a Sony A900. Studio Portraiture, Product Shots, Weddings, Landscape = good tool.


September 26, 2009, 3:38 am

It's amazing how much byass there still seems to be towards Sony as a SLR Brand often by people who have never tried them. I am a Sony a700 user and was out with it recently when a man shouted across to me "Hey, is that a Canon or a Nikon you're using?" "Neither, it's a Sony" I repiled. He paused before proceding to tell me how fantastic his Canon was. I don't doubt it, but never under estimate Sony SLRs I have 2 a 700 bodies, one with their 16-105 kit lens, the other with a Sigma 50-150 ex 2.8 lens. The results are absolutely superb from both. I did a wedding recently with them and the images have great dynamic range and colour tones and sharpness too.

We all know that Canon & Nikon make fantastic cameras but beware, Sony are coming on Leaps & bounds and their market share increasing. Let's not forget also they have inherited many years of Minolta expertise. Remember the 9xi & 7xi anyone? Again, always in the shadow of Nikon & Canon but fantastic film cameras! Oh & finally, I have a comparison review of the Sony A700 vs Nikon D300 from Amatuer Photographer a while back. The Sony matched the Nikon for image quality & beat it for Dynamic Range. The biggest difference? £500!!! Enough to buy a decent lens for the Sony with the money saved!

Now I want the A900 too!!!


April 10, 2010, 9:58 pm

Nice review :)

As a sony user, i would like to recommend DXO or C1pro for raw processing.


August 15, 2010, 4:46 pm

I have them both the NIKON D700 and the SONY A900. The D700 gives better picktures under same circumstances, D700 gives way better performance in high ISO.

The A900 has better handling and I can use my old MINOLTA-optics with stabiliser. The A900 is very much easier to operate, uncomparable quicker to change from Auto-ISO to any ISO! The A900 are lighter to carry around. The rubber do not come off as it does on all the NIKONs. The F-button for changing parameters are better then the NIKON.

With the NIKON I have to carry a support, at least a monopod to get sharp picktures with my old NIKON-lenses that are better than any consumer-VR-zoom they ever produced. The NIKON is a heavy thing that stays in the trunk of my car together with all the 19 NIKON-lenses I own, while I happily walk around with my A900 and some MINOLTA-optics taking lots of nice picktures anyone can enjoy here: oveerik.net. Bless you SONY for bringing me such a nice camera!

comments powered by Disqus