Living with the best Sony Camera, the Sony A99ii - A year in review
Let me start by saying I am no blogger, article writer and anything like that. I am just a poor and humble wedding photographer scraping together a living in Cheshire, England! Any thoughts or opinions are my own and you are welcome to agree or disagree with them! Read on to find out my thoughts and tips after shooting weddings for a year with the Sony A99ii. Having spent all of 2016 shooting exclusively Nikon cameras, the Nikon D750, I stumbled across the launch of the full frame Sony A99ii. There was and still is a huge debate over what Sony camera is best, the huge debate of A Mount vs E mount. But the Sony Alpha a99 mark 2 looked on paper to be a complete game changer for Sony. It took me 2 or 3 months of contemplation but I finally decided I was going to order two A99 mark ii bodies. At the time the cameras were in extremely short supply following the earthquake in Japan which destroyed the Sony factory. It took me several days to track down the last few remaining cameras in Europe. As expected they were quite a bit above retail value but that didn't bother me. I knew if these were half as good in real life as on paper, then these would be the cameras I grow old with. It took what seemed like months for them to arrive, in reality it was only a few days! But if you are impatient like I am, nothing can arrive fast enough! I quickly unboxed the cameras, like a 5 year old at Christmas with packaging flying everywhere! I quickly had a huge smile on my face as I held the new Sony camera in my hands for the first time. I still remember my first thought almost a year later. It was "Wow this camera fits my hands perfectly!". This is a big thumbs up to Sony for producing a brilliant piece of ergonomics. The very first thing I noticed when entering the menu system was Sony choice of joystick on the A99ii. This did take me a while to get used to and I have to admit, even 1 year on and about 80,000 shutters later, it still sometimes takes me a few attempts to get to the menu item I want! This is most likely a personal thing to me though, I have spoken to other users and they seem to have no issues. The correct use of the joystick is to put your thumb on top and move it in the direction you want. This is designed to stop you accidentally moving the joystick when shooting (although I have found I can still accidentally knock the joystick during shoots!). I have to say I do much prefer the choice of directional pad on the Nikon D750 over the Sony A99 ii joystick, but this is just personal preference. I went about setting up the custom buttons and settings for my shooting style, which you can see later on in the article.
Larger than expected battery life
As with other A mount cameras, the Sony alpha a99 mark ii uses the NP-FM500H battery. Sony advertise the battery life of the A99ii as lasting for approx 390 shots using the viewfinder and 490 shots using the LCD. This is massively understated. I have so far photographed 39 weddings this year and I am around 40,000 shutters on each body. I have never managed to get less than 1000 shots per battery. I usually shoot 12fps for bride etc walking down the aisle and also for the confetti shots. The rest of the time I would estimate I shoot 75% using the LCD and 25% using the EVF. So as you can see in the real world, the battery life is more than sufficient for shooting weddings.
I should mention I also use the VG-C77AM battery grip which allows you to use two batteries. This is more than sufficient for a full days wedding. I regularly shoot 12 hour days and still have around 40% battery left at the end. So if you are being put off by the short battery life quoted by Sony don't be, they are massively under estimating it.
Pro tip - if you are after a battery grip check round all the local game exchanges and 2nd hand shops or the used section of local camera stores. I managed to pick up two genuine Sony VG-C77AM battery grips for just £55 each and both had two genuine Sony batteries inside! Bonus!
Shot with the Sony A99ii + Zeiss 24mm F2 (sal24F20Z) @ ISO 400 , F7.1
Crop of the above image, the sensor on the A99ii allows you to crop into your images and retain amazing detail
The A99ii uses the same 42.4mp sensor as in the A7Rii but with a few tweaks. The image quality is outstanding. At ISO 6400 (which is the highest I have needed to shoot in even the darkest of churches in the North of England!) the image quality is amazing. I have been very impressed with the high iso performance overall. Having made the switch over from the Nikon D750 which itself is an amazing wedding camera, I can honestly say I am much more impressed with the A99 Mk2. I regularly find myself shooting outdoors on a bright sunny day at ISO 400. Why not ISO 100? Well to be perfectly honest I cant see the different between ISO 100 and 400 images and neither can my customers. The difference is so minor that you can safely ignore it and who would want to shoot at 1/200 when you could shoot at 1/800 for example and get extra crispy shots?
The 42.4mp sensor really does allow you to crop right into images and still retain amazing details. Take a look a this ring shot for example.
Shot with the Sony A99ii + Zeiss 24mm F2 @ ISO 100 F4.5
Crop of the above images the Sony A99 ii retains so much detail
Auto Focus and Subject Tracking
Being just a wedding photographer, I can not tell you too much about how the camera performs shooting sports or BIF. I can tell you about weddings though! The A99ii tracks people perfectly that are walking down the aisle directly towards you. It is also very happy photographing children as they run around playing during the wedding day. Extreme lowlight autofocus ie very dark reception rooms can be a little challenge. I have found when the camera won't lock on to a subject (I use face detection ALL the time!), pressing the Eye AF button for whatever reason results in an instant lock. I am not sure why this is, maybe other readers can explain this to me? This is more likely user "error" than the cameras fault though. My cameras settings stay on AF-C centre group all day long. I no longer use the AF-S focus mode, which of course means in lowlight I don't get any AF assist from my awesome Godox TT685s flashes. Which I guess gives kudos to the Sony A99ii that it can perform so well without any help from AF assist lamps.
Sony A99ii + Zeiss 24mm F2 (sal24f20Z) @ ISO 100, F5. Lit with the Godox AD600 with Godox Octabox
Recommended SD Cards
My go to SD cards for the Sony alpha a99 mark 2 are the Sandisk Extreme Pro 64gb (U3) and the Samsung PRO+ 64GB (U3). Every time I am out shooting a wedding, you will always find the Sandisk in slot 1 and the Samsung in slot 2. One thing I have learnt in my life is NEVER trust one brand exclusively. Mixing brands like this and having the camera set to backup mode, gives me that extra bit of confidence that every photographer needs. We don't want to be losing any work do we, especially not on paid assignments!
Sony A99ii + Zeiss 24mm F2 (sal24f20Z) @ ISO 1250, F5 natural light
Crop of Above image
SD Cards to avoid
So far I have only discovered one SD card that the A99ii absolutely hates, the Lexar Pro 64GB UHS-II 1000x speed (150mb/s). Fair enough the camera does not support UHS-II but these cards are backwards compatible and should work anywhere. Using this card (I have 4 of these!) in either of my A99ii bodies resulted in frequent camera lockups and black screen system errors on the camera, which could only be resolved by taking the batteries out and rebooting the camera. It took my a while to narrow down this issue but I am now ALMOST error free. FYI you can still get the black screen system error and lockups extremely easily. Just take a series of shots and quickly press the play/review button while the buffer is still clearing and you will very likely see the System Error message. Sony were made aware of this by myself almost 10 months ago now but so far have done nothing to correct it. I am sure however had this been happening on an E mount camera this would have been fixed months ago!
Sony A99ii + Venus (laowa) 15mm F4 Macro @ ISO 400, F4. moonlit with the Godox TT685S with flashdisc diffuser
Sony A99ii + Venus (laowa) 15mm F4 Macro @ ISO 1600, F - unknown! probably about F4! Bounce flash with the Godox TT685S
Crop of above image
Recommended Lenses for Weddings
I will be the first to admit I have a thing about lens sharpness. I absolutely have to get the sharpest images I can which means I mostly shoot prime lenses. The lenses I use the most are: Zeiss 24mm F2 (SAL24F20Z) Sony 70-200 F2.8 G2 (SAL70200G2) These lenses hardly ever come off during a wedding day. The 70-200 is pretty much welded onto one body and even when in my camera bag it stays attached! Some other lenses I also use when not shooting the 24mm: Sigma 35mm F1.4 ART - this is a fantastic lens for the money extremely sharp wide open. I actually used to shoot this lens all the time when using Nikon. Since switching to Sony though I have only used the lens twice in 39 weddings and only for about 30-40 frames! Each to their own though, some people love 35mm and if you are one of them, this lens works amazingly well with the A99ii. Zeiss 85mm F1.4 Planar T* (SAL85F14Z) - This is an amazing portrait lens that really does look great on the A99ii. Again I have hardly had much use of it being a wedding photographer, its unfortunately in the focal range of my 70-200 and the 70-200 does awesome portraits! Sometimes you need something a little wider for tighter interiors. Or when you have a very amazing special venue where you absolutely have to capture the entire interior. Recently I found myself in this position and opted for : Venus (Laowa) 15mm F4 Macro - This lens is just mind boggling. Not only can you shoot awesome wide angle portraits with it, you can also do awesome detail and ring shots as well as capturing all those lovely interiors. Its a little soft in the edges but for me its perfect for weddings! Those are the lenses I use and recommend, of course it all depends on your style of shooting, if you prefer the 24-70 zoom there are many options available in that area for you.
I see this question asked alot. "I have just purchased a new Sony camera, what flash should I use?". This is not really even a question of budget nowadays, even if you can afford the latest greatest Sony or Metz flash, you should buy the Godox(Flashpoint for the US readers!). I exclusively use the Godox TT685s flashes and X1 trigger system. These are extremely reliable, the price is fantastic. For around £130 you can have a TTL Flash and 2.4ghz wireless trigger which works first time, every time. No miss fires like people experience with other brands! The flashes are now also platform independent thanks to a recent update which means Nikon and Canon users can also trigger your flashes if you are running a workshop.
Sony A99ii + SAL70200G2 @ ISO5000 70mm F4 - natural light
Having spent almost a year with the Sony A99ii I can honestly say its been one of the best photography experiences of my life. Without a doubt I would say its the best Sony camera on the market. There are lots of E-mount users who will obviously disagree, especially those A9 users! Well for weddings at least why shoot in 24mp when you can do the exact same thing in glorious 42mp resolution! Hey that is an argument that can go on forever and probably will, but as an A99ii shooter I can honestly say I will never shoot anything else. If you are thinking about wedding photography or upgrading to the A99ii, you definitely won't regret your decision, they really are amazing!