Well, I packed up the Sony A900 and sent it back to Alpha Lens Rental on Friday, my short week with it over.
Before I wrap up my report, it appears (based on my email) that yet more moral clarification is in order.
As I stated at the outset, my several posts about the A900 do not constitute a real review. A reviewer has certain responsibilities when writing a formal review. My predilection is for all biases, interests, situations and conditions to be laid bare, which I always take pains to do; some reviewers are not so concerned with that, preferring that it all go unsaid but (presumably) taken for granted. I don't have that much faith in my ability to transcend my subjectivity, so I spell it out. For instance, to me it's important that you should know that I own a 7D and have never shot with a Canon DSLR, that I know almost nothing about using flash, because I virtually never use it, that I sell prints…and so forth. Those are things I would want to know about a reviewer whose articles I read. Other writers prefer the "omniscient reviewer" stance, as if their photographic skills were infinite and their familiarity with every other piece of equipment on the market absolute. Not me.
Then, I would say, at a minimum, it behooves the reviewer to a) use the equipment properly, b) understand all its features and functions, c) correctly appraise its strengths and weaknesses, and d) anticipate what questions readers might want answered, and answer them. (Or at least most of them.) "D" requires that the reviewer try to understand the uses to which other people will put the device, and not just use it to do whatever it is he does and ignore every other possibility. With such a complex and formidably capable device as the A900, one week is not long enough to get a firm grasp on all that.
Finally, there is one more provisional imperative, and that is to stick to the facts. Placing a high emphasis on factual objectivity with a concomitant mistrust of subjective impression leads to a sort of laundry-list review, with all the features cataloged, enumerated, and measured. As a reader, I don't like reading that type of review, because 1) I can usually get enough of that kind of information from the manufacturer's advertising materials, 2) it bores me, and 3) it doesn't answer my most basic question, which is, what's this thing like to use?
I'll get to my final write-up about the A900 later this week, but as a teaser, I'll answer that last question now: The A900 is just a blast. As in, fun. I don't know about you, but, personally, I like taking pictures. I like using cameras. They don't have to be great cameras, either—anyone who can't slum with a toy camera or a pinhole occasionally needs to loosen up. I still have fond memories of my very first camera, a Kodak Instamatic 105, with which I did my first "body of work": way too many snaps of the battlefield at Gettysburg taken on a 7th grade trip to Washington D.C. When my cousin got a Kodak disk camera for Christmas when we were young, I asked her if I could take a few pictures with it, and ended up using all her film before the day was out. She was shocked, but it was the sort of thing I would do. Taking pictures is one of the things I do for fun.
So I'll just say this, for starters: Anyone who wouldn't enjoy using the A900 for a week needs to look around for a new hobby, if not have his head examined. The thing is stunningly good: fast, responsive, highly capable. It feels great in the hand, offers a wonderfully clear and capacious means of viewing and framing the world, and gives results so good it's almost a little spooky. It settled right down into the role of boon companion. Like a woman who's a really good date—socially adept, a good conversationalist, at ease with herself, a pleasure to be with—it makes you seem, even to yourself, a little better than you really are.
Strengths? Weaknesses? Feature set? Yeah, we can haggle, and we will…later. Now, I'd just like to bask in the residual, fast-fading twilight glow.
It would be extremely tough for me to part with three thousand simoleons for a camera that's disposable (as all digital cameras ultimately are), and there are several important ways in which the A900 might not be the ideal choice for me. But it was great fun. A great box. I miss it already.
Featured Comment by Grega: "I must say that I am starting to lose the point of DSLR reviews. I think we've gotten to the point where it doesn't matter any more. Anything is good enough. I am happy with my Nikon, but I know I'd be happy with Canon or Sony too. And I can't say I see any meaningful advantage or disadvantage of one over the other. It is just a camera. Put the ones that are in your price range on a desk and pick up the one that smiles to you."