Sony A9 Video Features, Specs & Analysis

by Jaron Schneider | Posted

Sony A9 Video Speeds & Feeds

In terms of video, let's talk a bit about what the Sony A9 offers. The A9 offers video recording in multiple formats:

  • 3840 x 2160p at 24, 25, 30 fps (100 Mbps XAVC S)
  • 3840 x 2160p at 24, 25, 30 fps (60 Mbps XAVC S)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 100, 120 fps (100 Mbps XAVC S)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 100, 120 fps (60 Mbps XAVC S)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 24, 25, 30, 50, 60 fps (50 Mbps XAVC S)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 50, 60 fps (28 Mbps AVCHD)
  • 1920 x 1080i at 50, 60 fps (24 Mbps AVCHD)
  • 1920 x 1080i at 50, 60 fps (17 Mbps AVCHD)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 24, 25 fps (24 Mbps AVCHD)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 24, 25 fps (17 Mbps AVCHD)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 50, 60 fps (28 Mbps MP4)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 25, 30 fps (16 Mbps MP4)
  • 1280 x 720p at 25, 30 fps (6 Mbps MP4)

The Sony A9 offers both NTSC- and PAL-specific video frame rates in addition to the cinema-friendly 24 frames per second (23.976fps). (30p and 60p are actually 29.97 and 59.94 frames per second, respectively, to be precise.)

In addition, Slow and Quick Motion frame rates are available at 1920 x 1080p for up to a 60x quick motion effect and up to a 5x slow motion effect (50 Mps; sound is not recorded):

  • NTSC capture options: 1fps, 2fps, 4fps, 8fps, 15fps, 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
  • NTSC playback options: 24fps, 30fps, 60fps
  • PAL capture options: 1fps, 2fps, 3fps, 6fps, 12fps, 25fps, 50fps, 100fps
  • PAL playback options: 25fps, 50fps

That's a lot of options, but you'll notice there is no 4Kp60, which is a bit disappointing, though not unexpected. The A9 was not marketed as a strong video camera, as it's use case is most certainly more geared towards action-oriented photographers.

But that isn't to say there aren't interesting tidbits and inclusions regarding the Sony A9's video worth looking at.

Sony A9 Video Quality

All video clips, both in 4K and 1080p, look really, really good. As I've come to expect from Sony, the pure image quality, color rendition and dynamic range are very good, the weakest of these being video dynamic range in the case of the A9. In post, you can get some details out of shadows, but if you push too hard, you can expect to see a lot of noise.

Starting as low as ISO 6400, I start to notice image quality degradation and sharpness falloff. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but if combined with clips taken at lower ISOs, the contrast in quality would be noticeable. Beyond that, my true ceiling of use would be ISO 12,800. The high level of noise and lack of sharpness is very visible here, and I would not recommend using ISOs this high unless quality of footage is secondary to what is being captured.

Sony A9 Video Features Review
Full HD (1920 x 1080), 30p, H.264
Download Original (1.72GB MP4)

The Sony A9 records audio in XAVC S:LPCM 2-channel, AVCHD in Dolby Digital (AC-3) 2-channel and Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, and in MP4 with MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2-channel.

It should also be noted that Sony did not include their S-LOG profile on the A9, which is somewhat strange given that they include it on so many other cameras, like the A7S and even something like the RX100. They do have a "Neutral" creative style, which is close to LOG, and that is where you'll want to be if you want to get the most out of the dynamic range of the A9.

Odd cropping for 4K@ 30p

The Sony A9, however, does something I have never seen in any camera before: it will crop in at 4Kp30. There is no crop difference between 1080p and 4K in 24p, but with 4K at 30p (in both 100Mbps and 60Mbps settings), the A9 crops in noticeably by about 1.2x. It is the only video format that has a crop, and it's extremely unusual to see any difference between 24p and 30p in video of the same quality level. This is highly irregular. As such, I don't recommend shooting in 4Kp30 to avoid that crop. For a visual on what the crop looks like, you can see it in the video examples provided with this review -- see video above or the video framegrabs below:

Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image
Sony A9 Review -- Gallery Image

The A9 also offers three levels of slow motion at 1080p, and all three of them, quality-wise, look great. Sharpness, quality and color rendition are all very well preserved, and though clips won't look as sharp or as clean as the A9's 4K footage, it's much better than most 1080p available in DSLRs, and the slow motion will prove extremely useful for those looking to diversify their video portfolio.

Sony A9 Video Autofocus

The AF on the A9 in video is superb. It's really worth taking a look specifically at the baseball clip we have and watch how smart the AF is in keeping track of a moving subject even as he moves behind another subject. It actually tracks him as he moves to different, farther-away focus points even when he's not the most prominent item in the frame anymore.

Sony A9 Autofocus Test Video
4K Ultra HD (3840 x 2160), 30p, H.264
Download Original (1.67GB MP4)

The touch screen on the A9, a first for a Sony full frame mirrorless, is quite useful for those who want to use AF in video. Like on Canon DSLRs with touch screens and the Nikon D500, for example, you can tap areas of the screen and have the camera auto adjust focus to those areas. In this regard, the Sony A9 is more akin to the feel of autofocus on a Canon DSLR with a Dual Pixel sensor or other cameras with phase-detect AF as opposed to the poor, prone-to-"hunting" Live View AF operation of the D500 that uses contrast-detect AF. That is to say, the A9 touch-to-focus autofocus is very much in line with how a human would rack focus in and out. The focus is deliberate, but not too slow. It also does not "hunt" or rack around looking for a focus point, but instead flows in and out very nicely.

Unfortunately, Sony didn't really implement the feedback of touch very well; it's a bit of a disappointment. It offers no visual or tactile feedback on where you're tapping to focus, so you're never really quite sure what the A9 thinks you're trying to focus on until it has already started to shift focus. It also does not feel particularly responsive. In multiple cases, if I am not choosing to tap directly on the center of the screen, the A9 feels like it is ignoring my commands. I found myself repeatedly tapping the screen to get some kind of response out of it, before it finally started to rack focus to where I was tapping. This sometimes was only achieved by physically moving the camera and centering that which I wanted to focus on, and re-tapping once it was centered in the frame.

Also, bizarrely, the touch operation does not extend to the menu of the A9 where it would be most useful navigating the huge number of pages. Suffice it to say, it's not the most elegant implementation of touch on a camera, but at least Sony is starting to bring it in as a feature.

Sony A9 Video Connectivity & Storage

Sony A9 Review -- Product Image

As mentioned in the field test, the A9 includes both a headphone and mic jack, which are must-haves for video shooters. There is also a micro HDMI port, which helps for those plugging in external recorders.

For the HDMI output, the A9 offers the following:

  • 3840 x 2160 (30p)
  • 3840 x 2160 (25p)
  • 3840 x 2160 (24p)
  • 1920 x 1080 (60p)
  • 1920 x 1080 (60i)
  • 1920 x 1080 (50p)
  • 1920 x 1080 (50i)
  • 1920 x 1080 (24p)
  • YCbCr 4:2:2 8-bit / RGB 8-bit

On that last bullet, note that internally the camera records in xvYCC standard color space, and x.v.Color when connected via HDMI cable. In both cases, video is compatible with TRILUMINOS Color. 4:2:2 is nice, though it's only 8-bit. This is pretty expected though, given that, as mentioned, the camera is not really designed to be a video machine. It just so happens to take good video.

The dual card slot is not fully utilized for video, unfortunately, as you cannot record proxy files when shooting video (4K to one card, 720p or other low-bitrate option to the second, for example). The A9 will record simultaneous stills, simultaneous movie files (redundantly), simultaneous recording of stills and movie files, sort JPEG/RAW, sort still/movie, and copy.

Sony A9 Video Features Summary

Overall, the video performance of the Sony A9 is excellent, with the exception of a few minor quibbles. The lack of 60p in 4K is disappointing, the ISO falloff is a bit worse than anticipated, and the feedback from using the touch screen could be improved. It is also very strange too see a crop at 4Kp30. That said, in most situations the video is outstanding, and it's a very solid choice for just about anyone below professional level, and a very solid B camera for those at that professional level already shooting with other Sony ILCs.

Pros:

  • Offers 4K Ultra HD video with clean HDMI out UHD 4:2:2 8-bit, and visual quality is excellent
  • Offers 1080p60, as well as 1080p100 and 1080p120. All three of these show little to no degradation of quality in order to achieve slow motion
  • Offers solid continuous autofocus (though see Con)
  • Good ISO performance, but with steep falloff at about ISO 10,000
  • Comes with built-in headphone jack and mic jack

Cons:

  • 4K video is cropped in by about 1.2x at 30p
  • Using touch to focus with the continuous autofocus is tricky, as there is no visual or haptic feedback on what the camera understands the user to be selecting
  • For its price and time period of its release, not seeing 4Kp60 is a bummer

 



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