The Sony a9 is a great camera.
We have been anticipating an update to the Sony full-frame mirrorless line for a while now. When the a9 was announced, the feature list impressed us and prompted us to preorder it.
- Stacked back-illuminated 24mp full-frame sensor.
- Silent shutter mode and electronic front curtain shutter.
- Blackout-free shooting in silent shutter mode, with vibration-free electronic shutter.
- High-speed continuous shooting at up to 20fps.
- SteadyShot 5-axis in-body stabilization.
- Mechanical shutter ISO 100-51200, expandable to ISO 50-204800; electronic shutter ISO 100-25600.
- AF/AE calculations up to 60 times/sec.
- 693 AF points — covers approximately 93% of the image area, rated to -3 EV sensitivity.
- Continuous eye autofocus, which automatically detects and tracks an eye of a moving person, even if the face is turned at an angle or partially obscured.
- 4k video recording at 30fps and full HD video recording at 120fps, with Super 35mm mode and clean HDMI output.
- Electronic viewfinder with 3686k dots, 0.78x magnification, 120fps, and 100% coverage.
- Articulating touch-enabled LCD screen that tilts both up and down.
- Joystick on the body to quickly change autofocus point.
- Minimum shutter speed for auto ISO, with options to change how the camera responds to changes in lighting.
- 1/32000th sec. electronic shutter, 1/8000th sec. mechanical shutter, 1/250th sec. flash sync speed.
- Small and compact body size for its class of camera, despite being a bit larger and weighing more than other Sony FF mirrorless cameras.
- Dual card slots and ethernet port for professional use.
It’s a slightly disorienting experience to have absolutely no shutter sound, and no idea when a photo is being taken of you. This did end up resulting in more candid and natural expressions, because I resorted back to my non-posed self more frequently. This was caught by the 12fps and was amusing to look through, as if watching a stop motion animation.
We use our Sony mirrorless cameras with the Peak Design Slide, which is wider, and the Leash, which is slimmer. These straps distribute the weight comfortably and are useful for changing the length of the straps and changing between carry positions quickly.
Reviewing photos and zooming in is much faster than previous Sony mirrorless full-frame cameras. The speed of operation overall feels smooth.
The autofocus is extremely responsive. We aren’t sports shooters. Our primary use for fast autofocus is catching our running children and for portrait sessions where we’re rapidly moving between scenes, but the a9 is definitely a step above the a7RII and the enthusiast-class DSLRs we’ve used in the past.
The a9 is able to autofocus at much darker conditions than what we tested the a7RII to be capable of, so that it only starts to not be able to focus when the light conditions are metering 256000 ISO f1.8 and 1/10th or 1/5th of a second shutter. At 256000 ISO f1.8 and 1/25th it can still AF-C with eye detect.
Continuous eye autofocus on the a9 appears to be slightly faster and more effective than the already-good implementation on the a7RII. From our quick tests, the a9 will detect a face with a focus point over an eye when the face is smaller in the frame than the a7RII can detect. The a9 also will more reliably switch to face detection if it cannot find an eye.
The camera appears to open up to focus, with the result that it focuses very quickly while stopped down even to f14 in AF-C.
This same behavior applies to using a flash. With setting effects off and in very low light, stopped down to f8 at ISO 100, the camera acquires focus quickly in AF-C and the picture is clearly focused well. When the ambient light level is very low, AF-S will work better.
Sony has an official a9 Focus Setting Guide that has been very helpful. We usually use the recommended default settings:
Focus Mode: AF-C
Focus Area: Flexible Spot: M
Priority Set in AF-C: Balanced Emphasis
AF Track Sens: 5 (High)
Swt. V/H AF Area: AF Point Only
For landscapes where 24mp is sufficient, the a9 seems like it will do an adequate job. The images hold up well with pushed highlights and shadows. All of the shots taken on the a9 in this post were with the silent shutter.
Our typical shooting style involves shooting backlit sunsets, sun stars and environmental portraits. We push highlights and shadows a fair amount in post-processing, and so dynamic range is important to us. The a9 held up well in this regard, but it isn’t quite as good as the a7RII.
The noise performance is also quite good, and with a little luminance noise reduction, the photos hold up well to close inspection.
We did notice some pattern noise in the shadows in heavily backlit scenes with strong veiling flare. It was only visible to us at 100% with clarity turned up. It is similar to what we’ve seen in other Sony cameras. If this is as bad as it gets, it is probably not a problem, though it would be nice if it is something that can be addressed via firmware.
The dynamic range and ISO performance of the a9 are very adequate compared to the a7RII, though obviously 24mp vs. 42mp gives a7RII the edge in resolution and image quality.
The ergonomics of the camera are good for Charles’s medium-sized hands. He had no trouble using the standard controls while operating the camera one-handed, and he found the shutter to be responsive, possibly even preferable to the a7RII which he loves.
With the a7RII he had to use a bottom bracket to comfortably fit his pinkie on the camera body. With the a9 he does not need the bottom bracket because the body is just enough bigger and the grip is slightly deeper, so he was able to grip it fine, although just barely.
Wearing thick gloves would also likely make the camera more difficult to operate one-handed. However, with another hand to support the weight of the camera and lens, it is possible to hold the camera in a way that is comfortable and still has good access to all of the controls, which seem to be spaced well enough to handle larger hands and/or gloves.
With the addition of the Sony VG-C3EM vertical grip, there is a lot more room for gripping. The grip also makes shooting in portrait orientation much more comfortable, with an extra shutter and additional custom buttons.
Overall the a9 feels easy to use since we are already familiar with the a7RII and the Sony ecosystem. It adds features to our toolkit which will allow us to grow into the types of shooting conditions that would be challenging for the a7RII.
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