With the A9, Sony is no longer just firing warning shots at Canon and Nikon

by Jaron Schneider

posted Friday, April 21, 2017 at 10:10 AM EDT

 
 

For the past several years, Sony's rise had been bookended by quibbles that allowed the personified Canikon to sleep at night. Sure, the advancements in her rival were... impressive, but at least there was the battery life, the overheating, the lack of weather sealing, and the literal hit-or-miss autofocus problems that would set her mind at ease.

"I may not be as advanced in every way like I once was," she mumbled to herself as she admired her aging figure in the mirror, looking past the flaws and the dress that fit far less well than it once did. "But I've still got it! That young pup isn't going to force this diva out just yet."

Five years ago, the warning signs were there. Canikon found their once packed halls of suitors suddenly less full, their praises coming in more muted tones, and the wails of laughter and excitement emanating from the adjacent room hung heavy in the air. But she ignored it, or tried to. She was still number one, baby, and that was the way it was always going to be. Why would it be different? She had always been there. There was no reason to believe anything would ever change that.

But there will be no more easy sleeping, no more self-deluded claims of unchallenged life "at the top." Sony, never content to be just another girl in the room, has made her move. The tipping point has been passed, and there is no going back. 

When I see this story play out, I can't help but draw allusions to Jessica Lange's character through the first several successful seasons of American Horror Story. Especially in "Coven," the representation of youth and innovation overtaking age and experience is excellently done (though hardly an original idea, the execution is undeniably on point). Despite her best attempts at retaining power, Lange's character always loses to a mixture of personal failures and the rise of something unexpected and new around her. The same can be said of both Canon and Nikon in the face of the greatest challenge to their superiority since each other: the Sony A9. They've spent so long battling each other and becoming complacent in each other's strengths and weaknesses that their reaction to the real threat has been both too slow and too little. 

The Sony A9 is absolutely a statement about not only of what Sony is capable, but their intentions in the marketplace as well. They want to be number one, and the A9 shows that they not only be capable of taking it, but that they might deserve it.

In our early testing of the A9 in New York, we have found Sony's new camera to be everything it possibly could be, and perhaps more. Battery life issues, a giant thorn in Sony's side and what I normally point to as the first major issue with their cameras, appears to be solved. We shot somewhere around 7,000 photos and some video coming together to create over 200 gigabytes of footage over the course of the day, and we only used one battery (we ended at 1% remaining in the charge). Not only is the battery 2.2 times the capacity of the previous ones, Sony's new processing circuitry uses less power despite being much faster.

Weather-sealing on the camera appears to be enhanced, and the A9 absolutely needs it for what it is best suited to capture. 

 
 

But what about that promised amazing autofocus? When we first heard them complimenting it, many rolled their eyes. Yes, we had heard that before, and been rather unimpressed. Sure, the autofocus of their previous cameras was good... for a mirrorless. But compared to the high-speed accuracy of a DSLR, there was still much work to be done.

No longer. 

It appears that Sony has finally cracked the autofocus equation for mirrorless, delivering an absolutely stunning product that far exceeds expectations. The general consensus on the floor with those holding the cameras: Canon and Nikon have every reason to be worried now. We will know more as we continue to test the camera ahead of our full review, but as of right now we have never been more impressed with autofocus from Sony. Is it perfect? Hard to say. Probably not, as few things are. But one thing is absolutely and abundantly clear: this thing can track.

We have only begun to scratch the surface of what makes this camera amazing, and that's just in what it does better than the A7 series. New features like the completely blackout-free high-speed shooting at 20 frames per second was something we didn't even realize we wanted, and yet now that it's a thing... it's going to be hard to not see blackout in every competitor camera. The buffer can handle that continuous shooting for a staggering 362 consecutive JPEGs, or 241 raw frames, before slowing. The silent shutter means truly silent, ridiculously fast shooting, giving photographers access to environments they previously could not shoot. The possibilities of this device continue to stack, and the excitement is hard to contain. 

As we sit here and evaluate the possibilities, we can't help but think on how quickly Sony has made adjustments to their cameras. Each new iteration of product is leaps and bounds better than their last, and they do it every year. They are setting a new standard of expectations in the camera body world that are unlikely to be matched by their competitors. Every time Sony does a product reveal like this, it adds to what Canon and Nikon will have to do to garner even a fraction of the accolades. With each passing year, Sony is making it harder and harder to be satisfied with what the competition is doing. 

You could say that the past several years of Sony full frame bodies have been a series of warning shots across the bow of the established Canon and Nikon. Nothing had yet firmly hit, but the shells from Sony continued to come closer and closer to their intended target. Canon and Nikon have thrived for years selling their sports cameras, with both brands equally represented among the throngs of shooters at the likes of the Olympics and the World Cup. Until now, no one else belonged there. But those warning shots are long gone, and Sony's bombardment has started to hit the center of mass. Is it enough to sink the battleship? It's too early to say, but to ignore the decks now damaged and on fire would be... unwise.