A landscape photographer's thoughts on the Sony A9 - Camera House
This past week I’ve been lucky enough to trial the new Sony A9 thanks to the guys at Camera House. I haven’t had it in my hands long enough to do an in-depth review, but I am going to share my initial thoughts about the camera and how it performed - consider it a “mini” review.
It’s worth mentioning this post has been sponsored by Camera House, but my thoughts and feelings towards the Sony A9 camera will be expressed honestly.
Disclaimer number two - this post is based on real world usage from a landscape photographer, not an engineer or scientific camera reviewer.
The Sony A9 is available from Camera House for $6799. Check it out here. Yes, it's not a cheap camera by any means, but it's a strong competitor (in my opinion) to the flagship Canon and Nikon pro bodies and is far more affordable.
A few important specs:
24.2 megapixel 35mm full-frame stacked CMOS sensor
High-speed continuous shooting of up to 20fps (with AF/AE tracking)
Blackout free shooting
693-point wide-area phase-detection AF
5-axis image stabilisation with effectiveness equivalent to 5.0-stop slower shutter speed
ISO 100-51200 (expandable up to ISO 50 to ISO 204800)
Dual (SD and UHS-II) Card Slots
Weighs 673g w/ battery and memory card
Handling and Ergonomics
Having shot with the A7R for the past 3 years, the first thing I noticed when hand holding the A9 was that it just felt right. What I mean by that is, the A7 line from Sony always felt a little clumsy and ergonomically awkward whilst shooting and changing settings. The A9 on the other hand is far more comfortable to grip, feels sturdier overall and all buttons and dials fall in a naturally accessible location.
With the addition of a dedicated drive mode dial where you can access different shooting modes ie. high speed shooting, bracket exposures, self timer etc and a joy stick to control the position of your focus point instantly brought a smile to my face. It’s so much easier, and to a degree more satisfying, changing settings through hardware over software.
When I first switched to the Sony system all those years ago I was a little shocked at how quickly mirrorless cameras chew through power. If I’m on a tourism job, shooting with the A7R, I could easily drain 2 full batteries in a day. With the A9 however, it’s said to be 2.2x the battery life of the previous A7 batteries. Having shot with it this past week, I can confidently confirm those specs - it may even be better than Sony have stated. I spent a night out, in the cold, shooting astro for several hours this week and the battery level only dropped to 79%. Granted, I only shot 100 or so frames, but on the A7 line - that number would be closer to 40%. Then, on my last morning with the camera, I fired off close to 200 images and the battery hand't dropped below 80% (see surf images below). I’ve even read/heard from several sources (mainly people shooting sports) that they’ve been able to capture close to 2000 images (yep, you read that number correctly), on a single battery and still have juice leftover.
The battery on the left is the new battery for the A9, and the battery on the right is the older battery for the A7 line.
Focusing and Frame Rate
Now, this is where things might sound complicated on paper and probably don’t mean much to most of you. And before trying this camera out first hand, I definitely felt that way too.
Due to the new and extremely powerful stacked image sensor in the Sony A9, frame rates of 20fps are able to be met with continuous auto focus and auto exposure tracking (before the buffer reaches 241 RAW images). This is even faster than the Canon 1DX Mark II, which seems to be the industry standard for high speed shooting… for now. Oh and the coolest part is this is all blackout free - meaning there is no interruption of the scene through the EVF or monitor whilst shooting.
The A9 also has the most powerful focusing system I’ve personally used in any camera, ever. It has the ability to calculate AF/AE at up to 60 times per second and boasts a whopping 693 focal plane phase detection AF points, whatever that means - but 693! That covers about 93% of the frame - focus/recompose is now a thing of the past!
Like I said, this is probably gibberish to a lot of people. The kind of people who care about photographs not about tech specs (I’m one of you), but once you get this thing in your hands and randomly fire off a hundred uncompressed RAW files in 5 seconds - you’ll really start to appreciate those specs. It truly is a high speed, fast focusing beast.
This series of 8 images was taken in under half a second with A9 and Sony 70-200mm f/2.8. You can see how having such a rapid burst of frames can really help you nail that decisive moment, that would otherwise be quite difficult with a slower burst rate. The image below was from a different round of bursts that same morning - my favourite from that session.
Low Light Performance
The Sony A9 is capable of ISO's from 100-51200 and expandable to 50-204800. Whilst it doesn't quite compare with the Sony A7S II, it's still a beast in handling noise at higher ISO's. This shot below was taken at ISO 8000, something I would never have dreamed of shooting at in the past. Sure, there's still noise - but it's totally manageable and there is still a tonne of detail left in the resulting image.
Other Extremely Welcomed Features of the Sony A9
The Sony A9 now features dual card slots. This allows for mirroring of files (for redundancy) across both cards, the ability to write different file formats ie. RAW and JPEG or photos and video, to seperate cards or simply the ability to write to the second card once the first is has reached capacity.
The Sony A9 has also included a feature I’ve not personally seen before, I believe Sony’s new a6500 may also have it, correct me if I’m wrong, and that’s the Quick & Slow dial. This is more or less a dial that allows you to quickly and easily switch to shooting video either in quick motion (for easy time lapses) or slow motion up to 120fps at 1080p. Now, this isn’t necessarily ground breaking technology as cameras have been able to shoot high frame rate video for years now, but the ability to easily switch from shooting photos to shooting video in super slow motion is really appealing to a photographer like myself, who only occasionally dabbles in the art of video.
And a couple other features:
Body-integrated 5-axis image stabilisation (camera shake reduction of 5 stops)
FTP transfer via LAN terminal on the camera body (transfer still images much faster than usb)
Touchscreen (for adjusting focus point position only)
Things I loved about the Sony A9:
Great at low light (high ISO) shooting
Focus speed is incredible
High frame rate (practically impossible to miss precise moments)
Dual card slots is a nice touch
5-axis image stabilisation makes shooting hand held in low light far more achievable
Battery life is so much better than previous Sony bodies from the A7 line
Things I didn't love about the Sony A9:
Not a fully fledged touchscreen (only for focusing)
Still not fully weather-sealed
I hear a lot from photographers saying that mirrorless cameras will never be superior to a full frame professional DSLR like the Canon 1DX Mark II or the Nikon D5. I hate to knock other brands and I’m really not trying to, but the A9 shoots just as competently, if not better, as it’s “competitors” and has the form factor and exclusive features that are only found in mirrorless cameras.
Overall, Sony have really stepped up their game with the A9 in terms of feature offerings, ergonomics, insane focusing power/speed and general refined awesomeness. If there was one full frame camera to rule them all - this might just be it.
Thanks to Sony and Camera House for letting me use the Sony A9 for the past few days, it's honestly been the most enjoyable camera I've used in my short career as a photographer - it was so hard to give it back!
If you want to learn more about the Sony A9 please check out these links below :) And as usual, if you have any questions about the Sony A9, please feel free to leave them in the comments below and I'll get back to them as soon as possible!