Sony A9 II Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A9 II|
(35.6mm x 23.8mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 204,800|
|Shutter:||1/32000 - 30 sec|
5.1 x 3.8 x 3.1 in.
(129 x 96 x 78 mm)
|Weight:||23.9 oz (678 g)|
|Full specs:||Sony A9 II specifications|
Sony A9 II Review -- First Impressions
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 10/03/2019
In the spring of 2017, Sony's Alpha mirrorless camera series courtesy photographers with a brand-new, full-frame flagship mirrorless camera, in the form of the Alpha 9. Now, with the Sony A9 II, the Japanese manufacturer returns with an even more compelling flagship model aimed at broadening its appeal in the professional market still further.
A familiar-looking camera with a laundry list of upgrades, inside and out
While the Sony A9 II looks quite similar to its predecessor, and retains its 24.2-megapixel image sensor completely unchanged, the A9 II nevertheless brings with it a lengthy laundry-list of new features. There are changes to the exterior body design, controls and user interface -- including improved weather sealing -- as well as improving the imaging pipeline beyond the sensor.
And on top of those tweaks, Sony has further honed both autofocus and image stabilization, changed the A9 II's shutter mechanism, and improved viewfinder responsiveness. The company has also added even more connectivity options, upped the speed of the secondary storage slot and improved battery life.
And that's just a very quick overview of some of the most significant changes from the already Dave's Pick-worthy A9. There are loads of more minor changes in other areas, too, plus a raft of updated apps that extend the new model's capabilities even further.
The Sony A9 II's handgrip and controls have been improved since the last generation
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's take a closer look at the new changes, starting on the outside of the A9 II's redesigned body. The most immediately-obvious change is a reprofiled hand grip for better comfort up front, while on the top deck, the exposure compensation dial now has a lock button at its center to prevent accidental changes, much like those of the exposure and drive mode dials.
On the back panel you'll find that the rear control dial no longer protrudes from the back of the camera. That's because it, too, not sits atop the camera instead. And near its former location, there are more generous AF-On button and AF point selection joystick controls, with the former differentiated from other buttons by its size, and the latter now strongly textured both for easier location by touch, and a better grip in use.
There's also better weather-sealing, and an audio-compatible Multi Interface shoe
What's less obvious is that the Sony A9 II's body is now better weather-sealed than was its predecessor. Specifically, Sony tells us that dust and moisture resistance has been improved courtesy of a more generous seal around the lens mount, a redesigned lens lock button, and a change to double-sliding covers instead of hinged ones for the battery and flash card compartments. According to the company, these changes bring weather sealing up to the same level as the Alpha 7R Mark IV.
And just as invisible is the updated multi interface hot shoe. It still has a row of tiny contacts hidden at the front of the shoe, allowing it to be used for accessories other than strobes, but the range of compatible accessories has been increased with the addition of support for digital audio accessories on the updated shoe.
An updated processor promises to bring improved image quality
On the inside, there's an important change to the A9 II's imaging pipeline, even if its 24.2-megapixel, full-frame stacked CMOS image sensor is exactly the same as that in the original A9. The changes are an updated, higher-performance variant of Sony's BIONZ X-branded image processor and the LSI chip which assists it. Together, Sony tells us that these changes will bring both improved high ISO image quality, and better color as well. And the A9 II now also offers 4:3 and 1:1 still image aspect ratio options, in addition to native 3:2 and 16:9.
Sensitivity ranges from a minimum of ISO 100 to a maximum of ISO 51,200, expandable to encompass the range from ISO 50 to 204,800 if desired, unchanged from the A9.
Faster, more accurate autofocus and tracking and a raft of related improvements
Autofocus is another area of the Sony A9 II which has received plenty of love. Sony has updated its autofocus algorithms for faster and more accurate focusing, firstly. The company also tells us to expect better face detection speed and accuracy, and more accurate tracking, especially for fast and erratically-moving subjects. As well as using color, distance and face detection information for tracking, the A9 II will also take into account both patterns and the locations of detected eyes in determining how to track subjects.
As well as these algorithmic improvements, the 693-point phase-detection AF system in the Sony A9 Mark II, which covers a generous 93% of the image frame, can also now track to f/16 in focus priority mode with certain lenses, just as does the A9 with updated firmware. And it can also fine-tune autofocus with an open aperture right before the moment of exposure, for better AF accuracy with a shallow depth of field.
There's also real-time eye autofocus support during movie capture, Sony's touch pad AF function now performs 1.5 times faster than before, and you can even move the selected focus point during continuous autofocus operation without first needing to lift your finger off the shutter button.
The new shutter mechanism is faster and better vibration-damped
Sony has also replaced the mechanical shutter mechanism in the A9 II. The new shutter has a 500,000-cycle rated lifetime, and now offers double the performance of that in the original A9, allowing a maximum burst rate of up to 10 frames per second. As in the A9, you can instead opt for an electronic shutter, and if you do you'll double the capture rate again to a maximum of 20 fps. (And both of these figures include continuous autofocus tracking between frames, as well.)
Interestingly, buffer depths have changed, but only slightly. Sony claims the A9 II's buffer is capable of 361 JPEGs (any quality), 239 compressed raw, 226 compressed raw+JPEG, 131 uncompressed raw or 120 uncompressed raw+JPEG frames. (The A9 was rated at 362, 241, 222, 128 and 118 respectively.)
The new shutter mechanism is also said to have reduced vibration, thanks to a couple of changes. Firstly, it now has a coreless motor design. There are also now dampers attaching the shutter mechanism to the chassis, to help it transmitting vibrations to the rest of the camera body.
More effective image stabilization and a more responsive viewfinder, too
And the improvements continue in other areas. For one thing, Sony now says its in-camera image stabilization system has been improved courtesy of updated algorithms. This, the company tells us, will net another half-stop worth of correction for an overall 5.5-stop corrective strength, to CIPA testing standards. (The Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA lens was used for this testing, incidentally, and the system only corrects for pitch and yaw at this maximum strength.) The improvement applies not just to stills, but also to movie capture, even when shooting with adapted A-mount lenses.
Sony also tells us that the electronic viewfinder is now more responsive than before, although it hasn't given us any indication of the scope of that improvement. The EVF is still based around a 0.51-inch, 1280 x 960 pixel (3,686,400 dot) Organic LED panel and operates at either 60 or 120 frames per second. It has manufacturer-rated 100% coverage, 0.78x magnification, a -4 to +3 diopter adjustment and an eyepoint of 23mm from the eyepiece lens.
Automatic flicker correction, a new interval timer and faster second-slot storage
The A9 II has also gained some interesting new software features, including an anti-flicker function which, when active, can automatically correct for flicker from artificial light sources, and then correct for color and exposure variance both within individual images, and across multiple frames in a burst.
There's also a new interval timer function, although we don't yet have specifics as to its operation.
Oh, and the A9 II's secondary SD card slot now supports high-speed UHS-II SD cards, just as did the primary slot in the original A9. As a result, Sony's proprietary Memory Stick Duo cards are no longer supported by the camera.
Big improvements for both wired and wireless connectivity, too
Connectivity, too, has been significantly improved in the Sony A9 II on a variety of fronts.
For one thing, there's a new 1000BASE-T gigabit Ethernet port for super-high speed data transfer, as well as a new 5GHz radio for faster and more reliable transfers in locations where the existing 2.4GHz band is too cluttered. (5GHz radios have shorter range than do 2.4GHz ones, and are more easily blocked by walls and the like, but because of that tend to suffer less from interference caused by other devices on the same band.)
Interestingly, however, the 5GHz radio seems to be used only for Wi-Fi version 5 (aka 802.11ac), even though the Wi-Fi version 4 standard (aka 802.11n) technically allows use of either 2.4 or 5GHz bands. Wi-Fi versions 1 and 3 (aka 802.11b and 802.11g) are also supported.
And pros will be pleased to hear that both wired and wireless communications types are capable of background FTP transfer, so they can keep shooting while their creations transfer in the background. Up to 10 sets of FTP settings can be stored on an SD card for recall in-camera, and Sony's Imaging Edge Mobile app can store and configure as many as 20 sets of FTP settings.
Like its predecessor, the A9 Mark II still includes NFC and Bluetooth 4.1 connectivity.
A choice of two different USB standards on one camera
Like the A7R IV, A7R III and A7 III, the A9 II now offers a choice of two different USB ports, each of them supporting different standards.
There's a USB 3.2 Gen-1 compatible port using a reversible USB Type-C connector, a standard that was also previously known as USB 3.1 Gen-1 and USB 3.0. (Think the USB Implementers Forum needs to get its act together with respect to its horrendously confusing naming schema? So do we.)
Be that as it may, alongside that new USB 3.0 / 3.1 port, there's also a Micro-B USB connector supporting the earlier, lower-speed USB 2.0 standard. For the fastest data transfer and tethering, then, you'll obviously want to use the USB-C connector, instead.
A small but worthwhile improvement to battery life, regardless of how you shoot
Battery life has been improved somewhat as well. The Sony A9 II should now manage a CIPA-rated maximum of 690 frames using the LCD monitor, or 500 with the electronic viewfinder using the same NP-FZ100 battery pack. That compares to ratings of 650 frames with the LCD or 480 with the EVF on the A9, so arm's length shooters will see a more noticeable 6% improvement, while viewfinder shooters -- which we'd imagine will be the majority of A9 II users -- will see an even more modest 4% improvement. Battery life can be roughly doubled using Sony's optional VG-C4EM vertical battery grip with two NP-FZ100 batteries installed.
Plenty of smaller operational tweaks, as well
Sony has also made a fair few other improvements, both to the A9 II's operation and to the selection of apps with which it can work in concert. For one thing, there's a new 60-second voice memo function which records in .WAV format, and which can be automatically transcribed for you via Sony's Transfer & Tagging smartphone app. The same app can also handle IPTC metadata tagging for you.
There's also new support for background data transfers to mobile devices even when the camera is switched off, and if you shoot both movies and stills, you'll be pleased to hear that you can now configure customizable controls on the camera body differently for either recording type.
Sony has also updated its Remote Camera Tool to version 2.1, which now supports remote SD card formatting and FTP server switching, and also allows you to change the storage destination for still images remotely. In addition, the company tells us that both shutter and live view lag for the app have been reduced, although it doesn't provide specifics as to the scope of the change.
Sony A9 Mark II pricing and availability
List pricing for the Sony A9 II is expected to be in the region of US$4,500 body-only. Shipments in the US market are expected to start from November 2019.
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