Sony A9 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A9|
(35.6mm x 23.8mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 204,800|
|Shutter:||1/32000 - 30 seconds|
5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5 in.
(127 x 96 x 63 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A9 specifications|
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Sony A9 Review -- Now Shooting!
To learn more about the Sony A9's design and feature set,
click here to jump to our overview!
Sony A9 Gallery Images
High-speed sports shooting straight from NYC
by William Brawley | Posted 04/27/2015
FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 32mm, f/5.6, 1/1250s, ISO 6400
IR publisher Dave Etchells and I had an opportunity to shoot with the all-new Sony A9 following the big press conference announcing the camera in New York City last week. We've now be given the green light to publish full-resolution, real-world images (both RAWs and JPEGs) from this new flagship Alpha camera. Better still, we're told these are final image quality, so this is it! To get our initial take on the camera with some important shooting notes, read on below, but if you simply want to cut to the chase, jump on over to our Sony A9 Gallery Page for a full bevy of sample images.
Given the A9's reported pro-level chops when it comes to autofocus, particularly continuous AF, as well as its super-quick 20 frames per second burst shooting capabilities, it was no surprise that Sony organized a variety of high-speed sporting events for us to photograph. The morning session consisted of both ice hockey and figure skating, while the afternoon shooting took place in a massive track and field training facility hosting a variety of Olympic-style sports, such as running (50m dash, baton relay, etc), pole vaulting and triple jump, as well as cheerleading, table tennis and taekwondo.
Needless to say, given its speed, both Dave and I shot a massive amounts of frames with the A9. I managed just shy of 4000 RAW+JPEG frames on a single 128GB UHS-II memory card, while Dave dumped his card at mid-day, freeing up even more space, and finally capturing nearly 7,000 total images in the end. And as we recently discussed, a single Sony A9 battery had enough juice to last each of us the entire day! If you want to hear more about our experience with the Sony A9, please have a listen to our brand-new Imaging Resource Podcast. Both Dave Etchells and I sit down with hosts Jaron Schneider and Karaminder Ghuman to chat about all things A9!
FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM: 113mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 1600, +0.3EV
FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 36mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 3200, +0.7EV
FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM: 200mm, f/2.8, 1/1250s, ISO 1600, +0.3EV
The A9's 20fps burst is scary-fast!
The Sony A9 can indeed fire off shots extremely quickly. The 20fps burst is, frankly, a little scary. Coupled with the nearly silent electronic shutter (or the completely silent Silent Shooting mode) you can fire off frame after frame in practically no time! We're still waiting on getting our review copy of the Sony A9 into the lab, so our full assessment is forthcoming, but from the shooting we've done so far, the buffer performance is also very good. Sony claims the camera can handle over 240 raws until the buffer fills, but I, personally, never reached that amount since the action I witnessed all happened so quickly. I think my longest continuous sequence was somewhere around 70+ frames -- which is a ton of shots in and of itself.
This animation demonstrates the impressive burst sequence capabilities of the A9.
To download the video of this animation, please click here.
Sony A9's AF performance is so far very solid with only a few missteps
As for autofocus performance, no final judgments yet, as we need to spend more time with the camera, but so far things look very impressive. For the vast majority of shots, the A9 nailed the focus. Only rarely did the camera lose focus during a long burst, and in my experience, it never completely lost focus of a subject (i.e. losing the subject and shifting focus to the far-off background). I even experienced a few sequences where I had to deal with a big obstruction. For example, in the sequence animation shown below, I was tracking a hockey player, only to eventually have my view blocked by another player. But once my subject passed by out from behind the obstruction, the camera soon regained focus on my intended subject.
Occasional (rare) hiccups
Dave had a couple of sequences (out of many dozens he shot that day) where the camera did just lose it entirely; in one, the camera showed it was tracking a runner in a 50-meter dash from the very beginning, but was actually focusing halfway up the track, and didn't start actually tracking until the runner arrived at that point. In another, it started tracking a group of runners just fine, but then jumped to the background when they were a third of a way down the track, and stayed there.
It's important to note that these extreme focus losses represented a tiny minority of the shots we captured (as noted, I never had that happen myself) but they were concerning because the camera showed focus points dancing over the subjects the whole time. While we were told that image quality was final for these samples, it's possible that the AF code wasn't final. Again, we'll know more once we can get our hands ona final production sample.
Note that this sequence was intentionally slowed down to show the point at which the player was obstructed, the camera briefly lost focus, and then re-gained it.
To download the video of this animation, please click here.
While I didn't have any any complete focus losses, I did find a few sequences where the camera successfully tracked a good number of frames of the sequence before showing a few soft images that were more often than not slightly front-focused; almost as if the tracking prediction algorithm was a bit too aggressive, jumping the gun a bit. On more than one occasion, this behavior ended up being rather frustrating, as I felt the A9 missed focus on my single favorite frame of a sequence, or the "money shot."
I mostly used Expand Flexible Spot as well as Lock-On AF: Expand Flexible Spot AF modes. Dave used the Lock-On AF: Expand Flexible Spot option for most of his morning shooting, but that set of results turned out to be marred by too-slow shutter speeds in many cases. (We found best results with 1/1,600, 1/2,000 or higher.) In the afternoon, he switched to the camera's Wide-Area AF mode, and was generally very happy with the results. (Interestingly, a Sony Tokyo staff member told him that the AF engineers described the wide-area auto mode as "very strong", seeming to suggest that it was the most sophisticated of the lot.)
FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 51mm, f/5, 1/1000s, ISO 6400
While wide-area worked very well for him in the afternoon's track & field shooting, Dave did find that it did poorly in the case of the high-jumper, having trouble tracking her against the busy background behind her, during her run-up, and then tracking her as she went over the bar. Switching to lock-on flexible spot mode worked quite a bit better for shooting her.
We never really touched another key AF setting on the camera, namely the "sensitivity" adjustment. This controls how "sticky" the AF tracking is, when an interfering object passes between the camera and the subject. Sony had the cameras set midway between the two extremes, and we wondered whether adjusting it one way or the other might have improved tracking on some of our shots. (Would setting it to the more sensitive end of the scale have helped with the few front-focus situations mentioned above?) In the case of the pole vault, Dave was sitting off to the side, right near one of the uprights. The camera had no problem most of the time, but in a couple of sequences jumped to the upright when it came in between the athlete and the camera, and then faithfully tracked the upright until it was out of the frame. Clearly, that was a situation that called for the more "sticky" end of the sensitivity range, something we would have thought of if we'd had more experience with the camera (or had been pro sports shooters, for that matter).
Face/Eye-detect all the time (in wide area mode)?
We're not sure how much it applies to other focus modes, but Dave noticed while using the wide-area auto mode that the camera really seemed to be aware of faces, even though it didn't always put a face-detect box around them in the viewfinder. Looking at sequence after sequence, it seemed that the A9 was working hard to keep the athletes' faces in focus, which seemed to translate into focus that looked good overall. In portrait shots, the camera seemed to just go for eye focus, even if you weren't explicitly telling it to. (That's an option, via a button-press prior to releasing the shutter.)
Like a lot of high-end interchangeable-lens cameras, the Sony A9 has an array of AF settings, including the aforementioned tracking sensitivity control. Also, neither of us are professional sports shooters. (Dave chimes in here, saying especially not him ;-) So your mileage may vary, especially if you're experienced in the field.
Smart autofocus: Motion-detection to find the subject
A bit of a side note on something about the A9's autofocus that we don't think we've seen before, at least not at this level: AF systems have been using image information to find subjects for a long while now; face detection has been around since the digicam era. The Sony A9 adds a new wrinkle, though, using motion within the scene to identify the subject. Waiting for the 50-meter dash to start (with the runners at the far end of the track) and with the camera in wide-area mode, Dave noticed a couple of times that the clusters of AF points displayed in the viewfinder would sometimes jump all over the place, hunting for a subject; up to the skylights, to the runners, off to the side and around again. The camera hunted until one of the runners moved, at which point it locked onto them. At that range (~50 meters away), the distance information wasn't enough to figure out that the runners were the subject, all else being equal. But even the slightest movement relative to the rest of the scene (as little as a runner shifting their weight from one side to the other), the camera immediately locked on.
And it's important to note that we're talking about relative movement within the frame; the A9 seemed able to find moving subjects even in the face of camera movement, although we'll want to check that out further once we get a test sample of our own.Bottom line: 90+% "keepers"
In our experience, while the Sony A9's autofocus isn't perfect, we saw 90%+ "keeper" rates in most of our continuous-shooting series, and that's pretty darned good.
Using 1/4000s shutter speed to capture sharp frames, I needed to use ISO 25,600 for this sequence with the new 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens. Despite the higher ISOs, I could tell that nearly every frame of this long sequence was in sharp focus.
To download the video of this animation, please click here.
FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS: 345mm, f/5.6, 1/2500s, ISO 25,600
FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM: 138mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 5000, +0.3EV
FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM: 200mm, f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 6400, +0.3EV
Lastly, let's discuss the all-important image quality. Again, we still need to get the A9 into our lab for testing, but from these gallery images so far, the A9 offers solid image quality. Since most of the shooting was both indoors and using really fast shutter speeds, I ended up with a vast majority of images at higher ISOs, including some very high ISOs. Factor in the new 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM lens, and I was easily hitting ISO 25,600 at 400/5.6 in order to capture crisp shots of runners barreling down the track. Looking at the JPEGs, the default noise reduction is definitely apparent, especially at these tip-top ISO levels (no surprise there, really), but NR processing was also quite noticeable in lower-contrast areas like the subjects' hair or facial features, even down to around ISO 3200. Despite the NR processing, the high ISO shots look quite impressive unless you zoom all the way in for the higher ISO's.
Another thing the portrait shot above shows is how far Sony's come with their sharpening algorithms. Take a look at this full-sized crop of the woman's eye, and see just how sharp her eyelashes are, without any hint of over-sharpening halos. After years of working around camera sharpening algorithms (dialing down sharpening all the way, then using strong, tight unsharp masking in Photoshop; radius of 0.3 pixels, strength of 200-300%, for instance), we feel like we can finally trust the A9's in-camera sharpening to do a
good great job.
So far, things are looking really promising for the new Sony A9 flagship camera, especially in the critically difficult sports shooting arena. Please stay tuned for more in our Sony A9 review!
For more real-world gallery images
head over to our Sony A9 Gallery Page.
Sony A9 Review -- Overview
by Jeremy Gray
Answering the calls of the most demanding professional photographers, Sony has started a new E-mount camera series with the full-frame Sony A9. This brand-new camera combines a new, state-of-the-art image sensor with a new autofocus system and a variety of new features and improvements to their proven and popular approach to mirrorless cameras. Let's look at the features and specifications of the Sony A9.
Sony A9 Key Features
- Durable camera body that retains the compact form factor of previous full-frame E-mount bodies
- Joystick and AF-On button for enhanced autofocus control
- Higher-capacity battery
- 3-inch touchscreen display
- High-resolution, 120 frames per second electronic viewfinder with no blackout
- 5-axis in-body image stabilization
- 24.2-megapixel stacked back-illuminated full-frame CMOS sensor
- ISO 100 to 51,200, expandable to 50-204,800
- 20 frames per second continuous shooting
- UHS-II support
- 4K video with full-pixel readout
While the Sony A9 shares similar design elements with the Sony A7 series of cameras, it has a few differences that should satisfy Sony shooters. On the top deck of the camera, one of these changes are stacked, independent Drive and Focus Mode dials. No longer will you need to scroll through menus or set a custom function for switching the focus mode. Both dials are lockable as well to prevent accidental changes to settings during shooting.
The back of the camera has seen changes as well. There is now a dedicated AF-On button, perfect for photographers who enjoy using back-button autofocus techniques. Below the AF-On button and to the right of the display more on that in a bit is a new multi-selector joystick. This multi-selector provides direct, immediate control over autofocus points or for scrolling through images during playback. Astute readers will also note that the video record button has been moved next to the EVF, which puts it within natural reach of your thumb.
The Sony A9 includes numerous ease-of-use changes as well, some of which may not be immediately apparent but will help make the camera more user-friendly. There is a new My Menu feature. This dedicated menu allows users to store and customize up to 30 menu items for quick recall. You can also designate certain settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, AF area and more, to be recalled when holding function buttons. Regarding focus settings in particular, you can register frequently used focus area settings for future use and can use separate or identical focus areas and points for horizontal or vertical-orientation shooting. Customizability matters for many users and in total, there are 11 buttons on the A9 which can be customized and reassigned to control up to 72 different functions.
Designed to meet the exacting standards of professionals, the Sony A9 includes numerous reliability and usability improvements over the A7 series of cameras. The magnesium alloy body has dust and moisture resistance around most of its controls and buttons, allowing the camera to be used in demanding situations, although note that it is not guaranteed to be 100 percent dust and moisture proof despite its seals and tongue-and-groove joints. The A9 will be able to be used longer as well, as the new NP-FZ100 battery provides twice the life of the previous NP-FW50 battery, offering approximately 480 still frames on a single charge when using the electronic viewfinder, and 650 shots with the LCD monitor. There will also be an optional vertical battery grip available which can double battery life. There will also be a NPA-MQZ1K Multi Battery Adaptor Kit which can hold up to four batteries and act as external power source.
Looking at the side of the camera, we find dual media slots. The Sony A9 uses SD cards but one of its slots can also use a Memory Stick Duo card. Unlike previous Sony cameras, the Sony A9 now features UHS-II card support. It will be interesting to see how the buffer clearing performance improves with the UHS-II support compared to prior Sony cameras. Note that the second memory card slot only supports up to UHS-I.
There have also been changes to the E-mount itself. Sony has increased the rigidity of the mount and added a pair of screws (bringing the total to six) so that the mount will remain durable and strong when supporting heavy telephoto lenses.
Workflow is critical for photographers on strict deadlines, so Sony has included wired LAN support for FTP file transfer. Further workflow improvements include new PC remote storage options, faster startup, copyright information embedding, a flash sync terminal, the ability to have the camera automatically shut off at certain temperatures and the ability to edit the first three characters of file names.
The Sony A9 also includes wireless via Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth functionality. In addition to being able to remotely control the camera and transfer images wirelessly with PlayMemories Mobile on your smartphone, the camera can also embed location data from your phone into captured images.
With a newly-developed 5-axis optical image stabilization unit built into the body, the Sony A9 is stated to offer up to five stops of vibration reduction. And since stabilization is applied to the live view image, it helps keep your shots properly composed even when shooting in low light or using a long, heavy lens.
The Sony A9 includes a 3-inch type 1,440K-dot touchscreen LCD. This is the first pro-oriented Sony camera to include a touchscreen display and allows functionality such as Touch AF. The monitor tilts as well, a maximum of 107° upward and a maximum of 41° downward. The display includes WhiteMagic technology (white pixels in addition to red, green and blue) designed to help the display be viewable even when used in bright lighting conditions.
The Sony A9 is all about speed. Being able to capture images quickly doesn't mean much to sports shooters in particular if you don't have a good viewfinder experience. We have seen Sony give attention to viewfinder speed and performance in many of its recent cameras, but the A9 aims to take it to the next level with zero viewfinder blackout, even when shooting at 20 frames per second, and a direct viewfinder image of the subject during tracking and capture.
Looking at the viewfinder itself, it is a 0.5-inch OLED viewfinder with 3,686K dots and it operates with a 120fps refresh rate (60fps live-view refresh rate). The Tru-Finder EVF features 0.78x magnification and 100% coverage. The viewfinder also has Zeiss T* coating to reduce reflections.
Paired with the viewfinder is a hybrid shutter mechanism. The mechanical shutter has been refined and offers lower vibration than previous mechanical shutters. Further, the shutter is rated for 500,000 cycles. The silent, zero-vibration electronic shutter offers shutter speeds up to 1/32,000s and is said to offer minimal distortion. The mechanical shutter tops out at 1/8,000s, but both can shoot with shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds. The mechanical shutter also offers a bulb setting. Further, flash sync speed is 1/250s.
Sony A9 Shooting Features
The Sony A9 is the first full-frame camera to utilize a Sony Exmor RS back-illuminated image sensor with a stacked structure. This stacked design is engineered to offer faster readout. In fact, Sony states that the new sensor is 20 times faster than their previous front-illuminated CMOS image sensor found in the A7 II. The pixel layer of the image sensor sits on top of a separate pixel layer which has a high-speed signal processing circuit and integral memory which both sit above the Bionz X image processing engine, which itself includes a new front-end LSI to reduce noise while improving image detail over a wider ISO range.
The 24.2-megapixel Exmor RS CMOS sensor can capture uncompressed or compressed 14-bit RAW images across a wide ISO range of 50 to 204,800, although the native ISO range is 100 to 51,200. Sony is claiming 14-stop dynamic range from the new sensor. Further, the sensor includes a charge protection coating on its optical filter and an image sensor shift mechanism to help keep dust off the sensor.
With a 1200-zone evaluative metering sensor, the Exmor RS CMOS sensor-based metering system of the Sony A9 has a working range of -3 EV to 20 EV. The metering modes include Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot (standard and large options are available), Entire Screen Average and Highlight. Exposure compensation is available for +/-5 EV in 1/3 and 1/2 EV steps. Users can also set a standard exposure value of +/-1 EV in 1/6 stop increments which can be set independently for each metering mode.
Regarding spot metering, the A9 can link either a standard or large spot metering area to flexible or expanded spot focus areas. The highlight metering mode helps prevent blown highlights by detecting the brightest area in the frame and the average mode is designed to provide consistent exposure even when changing composition.
The Sony A9 offers more customization to Auto ISO. You can set the shutter speed above which the ISO changes when the camera is set to P or A shooting modes. You can specify a low ISO Auto limit for minimizing motion blur when shooting a moving subject as well.
The Sony A9 uses Sony's latest hybrid 4D Focus autofocus system. This autofocus system includes 693 phase-detection points which cover 93% of the image area. In addition to these 693 PDAF points, there are also 25 contrast-detection autofocus points. The end result is a hybrid autofocus system which Sony claims is 25% faster than the autofocus system in the Sony A7R II.
Autofocus isn't solely about speed, however, as accuracy, low-light performance and modes matter too. The Sony A9 includes enhanced Eye AF, providing approximately 30 percent better eye accuracy compared to the Sony A7 II. Face detection has seen improvement. Low light autofocus is rated down to -3 EV, which while not rated for as low light as some professional DSLR cameras, is still very low. The A9 offers an expand flexible spot mode, designed for moving subjects, which can automatically shift focus to one of eight adjacent autofocus points when tracking a subject.
For users with A-mount lenses, it is worth pointing out that the A9 is designed to work well with adapted A-mount lenses as well. Granted, continuous autofocus tops out at 10 frames per second with A-mount lenses mounted, but that should still prove plenty fast for many users.
Photographers looking for extra reach and using the A9 in APS-C mode (either with a full-frame lens or an APS-C lens) will still be able to utilize many autofocus points. When shooting with a full-frame lens in the APS-C format (10 megapixels), the A9 can use 299 phase-detection autofocus points. When using an APS-C lens, the number drops to 221 PDAF points and 25 contrast-detect AF points.
Speed. That is clearly the primary focus for Sony with the A9 and its specifications certainly look promising. The camera can capture up to 241 full-resolution compressed RAW images (or 362 max-quality JPEG images) at a blazing fast 20 frames per second. Not only that, but the camera is doing this with full AF/AE tracking and without viewfinder blackout. The A9 calculates AF and AE up to 60 times per second, allowing what Sony says is improved tracking of subject movement and changes in lighting conditions.
If you want to shoot RAW+JPEG or uncompressed RAW, Sonys published specifications claim 222 RAW+JPEG frames, 128 uncompressed RAW frames and 118 uncompressed RAW+JPEG image buffer depths. As always, we will need to test the camera in our lab to determine its real-world performance and its buffer clearing speeds, but the A9's improved readout speeds and UHS-II support look poised to offer solid performance gains over prior Sony cameras.
Sony A9 Video: 4K UHD video at 100Mbps
The Sony A9 records 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 resolution) video with full pixel readout and no pixel pinning. This allows the camera to condense up to 2.4 times the necessary data for 4K video into a 4K output. The camera offers clean HDMI output for both 4K and Full HD video to external recorders or monitors and the camera can simultaneously record internally and externally.
4K video can be recorded with a bit-rate up to 100Mbps and frame rate as fast as 30 frames per second in the X AVC 4K file format. Full HD video can be recorded at up to 120fps using the XAVC S HD recording format with a 100Mbps bit-rate. Regarding frame rate, the A9 records video from 1 frame per second up to 120fps in Full HD quality, allowing recording of 60x quick motion to 5x slow motion video. Slow and Quick motion effects can be previewed in camera, eschewing the need for post production.
Autofocus performance is said to be improved for video recording thanks to the new hybrid 4D Focus system. There is now a wider AF area that covers the same amount of the frame as still images and focus tracking is said to be better as well.
Sony A9 Pricing and Availability
The Sony A9 will be available starting May 25th with a price tag of about US$4,500 (CAD$6,000).
Alongside the camera, Sony introduced a variety of accessories for the Sony A9. In addition to the new NP-FZ100 battery and vertical grip and multi-battery adaptor kit mentioned earlier, Sony is releasing a GP-X1EM Grip Extension, FDA-EP18 Eyepiece Cup with locking mechanism and a shatterproof PCK-LG1 glass screen protector for the new touchscreen display.
Our take on the Sony A9: Sony puts Canon and Nikon's flagship DSLRs in its crosshairs
It's clear that Sony is aiming to bring photographers over from the venerable flagship DSLR cameras from Canon and Nikon. The A9 is not a replacement for the Sony A7 series of cameras, but is rather a new line designed to offer demanding professionals shooting speeds matching or exceeding its DSLR competition while providing state-of-the-art autofocus performance in a smaller camera body.
We need to evaluate the Sony A9 in real-world shooting situations to see how it compares to cameras such as the Canon 1DX Mark II and Nikon D5, but the Sony A9 is clearly trying to make its mark in that camera class, both in terms of its feature set and its price tag. It will be very interesting to see how it stacks up, but what we have seen so far is promising.
Hands-on with the Sony A9
A true mirrorless monster
by William Brawley | Posted 04/19/2017
The Sony A9 with FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens & battery grip.
After the press conference of Sony's surprise unveiling of their latest flagship Alpha camera, the Sony A9, I was able to get some brief hands-on time with the new camera. With various units set up around a few indoor sporting demonstrations, I was able to get a sense of just how fast and nimble this new full-frame mirrorless camera really is. Unfortunately, these demo cameras had taped-up card slots, so no sharing of any photos taken with the camera today. (But stay tuned!)
The Sony A9 is all about speed and performance
First and foremost, this camera is all about speed and performance. Thanks to its stacked sensor design, the A9 can shoot at up to 20 frames per second for over 200 frames in RAW or RAW+JPEG mode. The stacked sensor design, first seen in the 1-inch-type RX100 IV, sees the A9 now brings that tech up to full-frame. The on-board memory and signal processing handles the massive data load extremely quickly, giving you that nimble high-speed burst capability. In my brief experience with the camera thus far, let me tell you that it is indeed fast. Very fast. In a sports-shooting scenario, you can fire off bursts of shots in quick succession, or mash the shutter button for tons of frames to make sure you nail the precise moment.
After firing off a big burst of shots, the camera, of course, immediately begins processing and writing images to your memory card, or cards. As I've experienced before with Sony cameras, certain operations, like trying to access the menu, while the camera is writing to the card are unavailable, which is a little frustrating. The inclusion of a UHS-II card slot speeds things up dramatically in this regard, so you'll spend less time locked out of the camera. I do wish that the A9 had two UHS-II slots, but alas one slot is still UHS-I. But, hey, two card slots are better than one, so I'll take it.
It should be noted that the 20fps burst rate is available for electronic shutter only. Switching to mechanical shutter mode, the burst drops down dramatically, to just 5fps at the fastest.
Coupled with its impressive continuous shooting capabilities is the A9's super-fast hybrid autofocus system. Sporting a whopping 693 phase-detection AF points, the A9's autofocus coverage is practically the entire sensor. My initial impression is that AF performance is very good. The camera was quick and decisive to both acquire and adjust focus, and it seemed to track moving subjects very quickly. Of course, not being able to see the images on my computer, it's hard to know if the camera nailed every shot in a burst sequence, but my take is that it performed very well. Needless to say, I can't wait to try it out in the field with some tricky sports, especially difficult indoor sports like basketball.
Sony A9 Hands-On: AF & Burst Shooting
The lack of viewfinder blackout is awesome
The new EVF on the A9 is also fantastic. The A7R II, which I had by my side, already has a great-looking EVF, but the one on the A9 has an even higher resolution 3686k-dot screen, making for an even better user experience. One of the big features about the Sony A9 is the blackout-free shooting experience. In both the EVF, and on the LCD, the camera does not blackout between frames when continuously shooting with the electronic shutter.
In normal single-shot or mechanical shutter shooting modes, the EVF's refresh rate is set at 120fps, making it easy to follow moving subjects. When using the blackout-free electronic shutter-based continuous shooting mode, the viewfinder frame rate is pegged at 60 fps. That's still plenty fast, and given the cool blackout-free operation, it feels very easy and very responsive to follow and track fast-moving subjects, as well as not miss decisive moments.
The A9 is super-quiet when using the electronic shutter
Sony made a big point about how quiet the A9 is, especially highlighting Silent Shooting mode, which has been included in a number of previous Alpha mirrorless cameras, such as the A7S II and A7R II, for example. This mode, using the electronic shutter, makes shooting completely silent, which is great for photojournalist and other documentary photography work as well as wildlife photographers; key demographics for the Sony A9. But, even when not using Silent Shooting mode, the electronic shutter operation on the A9 is incredibly quiet. Now, if you switch to the mechanical shutter, then yes, you hear noticeable "ka-chunk" sounds when you fire off a shot. Given the performance advantages on the A9 when using the electronic shutter, I'd be hard-pressed to opt for the mechanical one.
The Sony A9 with FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens
Familiar A7-style body, but with nice improvements
Design-wise, the Sony A9 looks quite similar to its A7-series brethren, but there are a handful of thoughtful new additions to the A9's body design. For starters, there's now a second top-deck dial on the left side of the EVF. This dual-layer dial has a locking top dial for drive mode settings, while the bottom layer controls focusing modes. The bottom dial here is very reminiscent of the drive mode on a number of Nikon DSLRs; there's an unlock button that you press and hold with your thumb while your index finger rotates the dial via a small tab. This secondary dial is quite handy overall, as it provides a fast, physical adjustment to two very important and highly-used settings. You spend less time diving into menus and more time shooting.
Another new addition to the camera's controls is the introduction of a joystick control on the rear of the camera, taking the place of the AF/MF/AEL switch lever seen on the A7-series models (since focus mode is now up in that top-deck dial). The rather large and flat joystick control works very well to make on-the-fly focus point changes when using AF modes like Flexible Spot. The joystick control is responsive and solid, while at the same time not feeling flimsy or fiddly. In other words, I didn't feel as though I'd accidentally press it or make incorrect adjustments.
In addition to the joystick control, the A9 also gains a dedicated AF-ON button, which is super helpful for those who use back-button focusing. There's also a dedicated auto-exposure lock button off to the right as well.
The rest of the controls feel very similar to those on the Mark II series of A7 models, so if you're already familiar with the Sony A7, the A9 is a no brainier to pick up and use. Comfort-wise the A9 feels great in the hand and, again, very similar to the A7-series. Dials and controls feel sturdy and the grippy material around the handgrip provides a solid hold. Given its compact nature, I do find that my pinky finger doesn't quite fit on the grip when hold the camera; I often myself wrapping my little finger underneath the base of the camera. I find myself doing this with a gripless E-M1 Mark II, for example, as well. If I were shooting longer, heavier glass, such as an adapted Sony A-mount telephoto lens or even the 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens, I'd prefer the camera to be bit "taller" or simply resort to a battery grip. And given the new battery grip design for the A9, with space for a second battery, that seems like a win-win; more comfort and much longer battery life.
Sony A9 Hands-On: Battery Life
Lastly, the Sony A9 is the first full-frame Sony mirrorless model to offer touchscreen functionality. (Finally!) The implementation is fairly limited, but arguably put to use for the most appropriate function: touch-to-focus -- simply tap the screen where you want the AF point, or you can tap and drag your finger around the screen to move the AF point. You can't, however, navigate menus or interacting with on-screen displays.
Hands-on with the new 100-400mm GM lens
And speaking of longer lenses, I also had some hands-on time with the new FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS lens. For such a versatile telephoto range, the new Sony 100-400mm GM lens is incredible compact. In fact, from a distance, I often got it confused with the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 GM lens; it's that compact. Compared to other 100-400mm lenses for full-frame DSLRs, the Sony 100-400mm GM lens is indeed very compact and lightweight. On a non-gripped A9 body, it balances decently well, but I'd personally enjoy using a grip when this lens is attached.
Like the 70-200mm GM lens, the new 100-400mm sports a similar overall design, complete with a stylish white paint job. The zoom and focus rings feel very smooth. The zoom ring has adjustable tension, letting you personalize how light or stiff the zoom action is. In the full "loose" position, the zoom ring was very smooth and easy to rotate, but if you hold the lens downward it can extend on its own a bit (a.k.a. "lens creep") so make sure and either lock the zoom or adjust the tension accordingly depending on how you'll be using and carrying it.
Overall, the Sony A9 looks to be a total beast of a camera. Performance-wise, the camera is just amazingly fast, at least from my initial impressions. With the A9, Sony has taken aim at the flagship DSLRs like the Canon 1D X Mark II and Nikon D5. The Sony A9 takes what made the A7-series great, such as their excellent image quality and compact design, and kick things up a notch, a big notch, to bring the performance and speed aspects needed by professional sports, wildlife and press photographers.
Sony A9 Technical Info
A look at the tech inside Sony's mirrorless powerhouse
Although the Sony A9 looks quite similar to the A7-series at first glance, it sports a newly-designed body featuring magnesium alloy panels at front, top and rear, as well as a magnesium alloy internal frame supporting this external structure. The lens mount is also now said to be more rigid, with six screws instead of four to give it sufficient strength for use with heavy telephoto lenses.
The Sony A9 body is said to be comprehensively sealed for dust and moisture resistance, although the company doesn't specify how many seals are included in total.
Inside its weather-sealed body, the Sony A9 sports the world's first stacked 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor. The Exmor RS-branded sensor combines a high-sensitivity backside-illuminated design with on-chip memory, allowing for a claimed 20x improvement in readout speed. It also features gapless microlenses.
The sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio and an effective resolution of 24.2 megapixels from a 28.3-megapixel total resolution. Dimensions of the chip are 35.6 x 23.8mm.
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