Sony A9 Field Test Part III

Blazing up the trail to Mt. Whitney

by Brent Durand | Posted

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/11, 1/320s, ISO 100, 12mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.
Introduction

The Sony A9 arrived on the scene this past April, offering pro shooters a blazing fast, versatile, full frame mirrorless camera. The A9 is built around an all-new, full-frame backside-illuminated 24.2MP stacked CMOS sensor, which places the photodiodes closer to the surface of the sensor. This design, combined with its uniquely integral memory, enables the lighting-quick burst shooting and very deep buffers that make this camera stand out to action shooters. The A9 is capable of shooting 20fps with no blackout and 60 autofocus and exposure calculations per second. Additionally, the backside-illuminated design allows more light to reach each pixel, which (in theory at least) produces better image quality and high-ISO performance.

I recently had a chance to shoot the A9 in some fun conditions while hiking California's iconic Mt. Whitney. Needless to say, I was excited to take the A9 on the hike with the new Sony FE 12-24 F4 G ultra-wide zoom lens. Here are a few thoughts from the field...

Build Quality, Ergonomics and Ease of Use

To me, the Sony A9 feels just like a DSLR even though it is a much smaller body. A deep grip makes it easy to hold, even with gloves, and the intuitive control layout helps you quickly change settings to match shooting conditions.

Four different custom buttons allow you to configure the camera to quickly access the settings you use the most. For example, the A9 features 5-axis image stabilization (Steady Shot), so instead of digging through the menu to turn this on and off, I simply assigned it to the C3 button. After that it's just two button presses to turn IS on and off. The Fn button, also, is really useful for accessing settings you haven't assigned to custom buttons.

This customization is really important for shooters who need to quickly access the settings they use the most, whether shooting sports, weddings or wildlife. The only control and ergonomic issues I had after initial setup stemmed from my Canon habits or from trying to find items in the Sony menu.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/8, 1/1250s, ISO 80, 12mm (+1 EV in Lightroom)
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.
20FPS Burst with AF Tracking

I just had to try this out! As advertised, the burst is insanely fast. With a DSLR, you see the mirror blackout in between each frame, whereas with the mirrorless Sony A9 the picture doesn't black out. It doesn't even flutter. This helped to keep precise composition through the sequences. The autofocus, set to AF-C and Zone Focus Area, had no problem tracking my walking subject.

Note that burst shooting at 20fps requires a UHS-II SDXC memory card; I used a Sony 64GB card with 300 MB/s write speed. The A9 lets you shoot multiple bursts, and if you press the playback button you'll see an icon displaying the camera's status in writing to the card and clearing the buffer.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony A9 20fps Burst Sequence
5-Axis Image Stabilization

Sony's 5-axis image stabilization is a great feature for those scenes without much movement and where you don't want to bump the ISO up. It proved useful in capturing the image below, where a 1/30s shutter speed might have introduced camera shake.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/22, 1/30s, ISO 320, 12mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.
Image Quality and Dynamic Range

Dynamic range, color tonality and overall image quality are the main reasons many of us shoot full frame. The Sony A9 easily handled the challenges of shooting on the trail, combining the best features of sports/action photography with full frame image quality at the pixel level. In one word, the A9 is versatile. Below is a small collection of shots that show off the A9's ability to produce high quality images in a variety of shooting conditions.

For a more technical analysis of image quality be sure to read our earlier in-depth Sony A9 Field Test Part II. For more of my images shot with the A9, check out my Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G Lens Field Test.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/4, 10s, ISO 6400, 18mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 800, 24mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/18, 1/60s, ISO 100, 12mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/4, 10s, ISO 6400, 12mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/11, 1/320s, ISO 320, 13mm (Minor white balance adjustment in Lightroom)
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.
Battery Life

I was worried about battery life on the 2-day Mt. Whitney trip, where temperatures where to drop to freezing. Sony introduced new, larger batteries for this model, and the A9 battery life blew away my expectations. I packed three batteries as well as a battery charger, and ended up using just one battery for the entire trip. Very solid. I have only myself to blame for carrying that extra weight up the hill!

Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder

No matter how many 10s of hours I log with Sony cameras, the picture I see on the electronic viewfinder has always felt "off" compared to the scene reflected off a mirror of a DSLR, but using the A9's 3686k dot electronic viewfinder was the first time I could really feel how an image would look once loaded on the computer. I used the viewfinder to shoot and to review images and while it's still not the same shooting experience, I think this makes the DSLR-to-mirrorless transition easier for those who have felt the same.

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G lens, f/11, 1/640s, ISO 320, 24mm
Note: This image has been edited. Please click for original.

Sony A9 Field Test Part III Summary

The Sony A9 is a sweet camera. I didn't use it for video and cannot speak about those features, media quality, or even reported overheating issues, but I can say that I'm really impressed with the body and photo features. The price not cheap, but then again, this camera is marketed to pros who would otherwise be looking towards the Canon 1D X Mk II or Nikon D5. The A9 proved insanely fast and capable in capturing the limited action I saw, while also sensitive in soft landscape light -- a versatile camera that I'd be stoked to take into the field again.

 



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