Sony A9: Australian Review

Image: Sony

Sony's brand new A9 is the most advanced camera that the company has ever made. In a lot of ways, it's the most advanced camera ever. It's a hell of a lot of power in a relatively small and unassuming camera. It's built for the highest of high-end professionals, sports photographers with the need for speed and the need for quality. It can fire off 20 frames in a single second, before you even realise that you're pressing the shutter button.

I, however, am just some Guy With Camera; I do not deserve a camera of this quality and with this feature-set. Nonetheless, here's what I learned in my time with a $7000 camera and even more than that again in high-end lenses.

What Is It?

Image: Sony

The Sony A9 is a $6999 (body only) pro-level mirrorless digital camera. It sits at the top of Sony's full-frame A-series camera hierarchy, simultaneously dethroning the trio of A7II, A7SII and A7RII as the best, and most expensive, body that the Japanese camera-maker offers. It's a substantial leap in features from the existing line-up too -- Sony has gone all out with the upgrades in this new model. Everything from the sensor to the internal processor to the design of its buttons has been re-evaluated and iterated upon.

The centrepiece of the Sony A9 is its brand new 24-megapixel Exmor RS sensor, using a stacked CMOS layout that allows each pixel to read out its data phenomenally fast to an equally speedy and capacious buffer that then passes off data to its twin high-speed UHS-certified SD card slots (slot 1 is UHS-3, slot two is UHS-1). That sensor and buffer setup enables 20fps continuous high-speed RAW shooting for up to 200 frames, letting photographers snap 10 seconds of action photos without taking their eye from the viewfinder to wait for files to save.

And it does that without blackout, too. The A9's sensor and shutter and viewfinder are all completely electronic, and the fast refresh rate makes the OLED viewfinder look perfectly smooth all the while. Of course, it'll autofocus and auto-expose each individual photo before it captures it, because of course it does, because this camera is an absolute beast. Oh, and did I mention this camera's battery has 2.2x the capacity of the old one? You can shoot for hours with this thing.

What's It Good At?

Image: Sony

I cannot understate how cool and technically impressive it is that the Sony A9 shoots 20 frames per second (RAW plus JPEG) without -- if you want it -- any indication that you're shooting frames in the first place. The A9's shutter is electronic only (although there is a physical shutter for specific situations like studio flash work, with a 1/250sec x-sync) so there's no noise while you're doing so either. It's almost eerie that you're taking photos without any feedback of that happening. It's certainly convenient in a lot of instances, too -- camera shutters are generally obnoxious.

If you've used any of Sony's A7 series cameras, you'll appreciate the small and subtle -- but substantial in number -- upgrades in design and ergonomics that the A9 enjoys. It's better built, the buttons and dials are more precise in their haptic feedback, and the menu system's gone through a serious overhaul. It's still inscrutable to a first-timer, but it's less so -- including through the use of a quick menu that can be customised with your most-used options -- than previous models. Once you've learned it, it's every bit as powerful and versatile as the best pro-level DSLRs.

Sony's 24-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor is the heart of the new A9, and as well as enabling those stupidly high frame rates, it's able to capture images with excellent quality. You'll get better dynamic range out of the A7RII, sure, and a more versatile ISO range out of the A7SII, but the regular A7/A7II has always hit that versatile middle ground -- and the A9 continues that trend. It'll capture objectively great photos in anything but the worst lighting conditions, and its legitimately amazing autofocus also ensures that even fast action will be in crisp focus even if you're using fast, shallow-DOF lenses.

Here's what you can capture in 1.5 seconds of continuous shooting with the A9:

Here's half a second:

And here's less than half a second:

In under an hour with these subjects, I snapped nearly 2700 frames. I didn't even realise it was that many until I just checked. Like I said, this thing is a beast.

What's It Not Good At?

Image: Sony

Just about the only downside with the A9 is how phenomenally expensive it is. For the price of the A9, you could buy four A7 bodies or three A7IIs, and have $1000 left over for glass. If you want the A9's particular set of skills, you'll have to pay the price for it. It's hard to tell, really, whether the A9 is actually worth it -- what price do you put on its weather-sealing and ergonomics and continuous high-speed 24-megapixel snaps? -- and I'm hesistant to say that it's too expensive, but it's definitely... expensive.

Image: Sony

I ran into a problem I wasn't expecting with the A9 when I was shooting with it. The combination of super high frame rate shooting and no viewfinder blackout makes it so easy to capture more photos than you know what to do with. A9 Culling those 24-megapixel frames in-camera with the A9 is a pain. Sony has included the option to enable a few visual markers when you're shooting continuously, which should help ease trigger-happy photographers into the world of blasting through 20 JPEGs and RAWs in a single second.

If anything, the variety and range of features built into the A9 is intimidating. Do you want eye-tracking autofocus, or is Flexible Spot continuous depth-tracking autofocus enough for you? Do you need to shoot at 20fps, or is 10fps enough? Do you want to save RAWs to one card and JPGs to the other, or are you happy filling up one SD slot before the other? This camera is overkill in so many ways, and that's awesome, but it also leaves you feeling like you've barely cracked the surface of its capabilities no matter what you do.

Should You Buy It?

Image: Sony

The potential market for the $6999 Sony A9 in Australia is going to be small, there's no getting around that. It's a $7000 piece of photographic hardware that definitely requires some equally high-end glass. That's a huge investment even for a professional photographer that needs the A9's stupidly fast high-frame-rate shooting, and a huger investment still for any photographer that isn't already in Sony's lens ecosystem.

And that's entirely possible, too, given the fact that the A9 strikes deep at the heart of pro-level digital SLR's traditional strengths. It's a sports shooting monster, and in a lot of ways it's far superior to a DSLR for any task you could throw at it, thanks to the complete lack of viewfinder blackout while you're shooting. Just about the only problem is dealing with the huge number of frames you can capture.

If you've got the cash, then there's hardly any tangible downside to the Sony A9. Its battery life is phenomenal, it's incredibly well built and has a comprehensive suite of lenses and accessories, and it also shoots some amazing quality images. I didn't want to give it back when my time with it was up. I can't afford or justify one for myself, but I'll be incredibly jealous of anyone else that can.


Comments

    Did they invite you to an expo where you could shoot those scenes or are they someone else's photos? Either way they look pro.... but of course they do when the lighting is setup by a professional :)

    Agreed on all points, amazing camera but that $$$ factor means it's not even a consideration for the common shlub like myself. For camera porn I'll keep that Fuji GFX medium format bookmarked. Just a mere 10k for the body only.......

    Last edited 05/06/17 12:50 pm

      Sony put on a morning at the UFC gym in Sydney and I got the chance to flex my photographic muscles for a bit :)

    best thing i ever did was put down my digital camera & pickup a film body.. believe it or not; but it's actually cheaper to shoot film (mainly because you don't have to consistantly shell out cash for new bodies).. & film photography still requires a level of skill; so personally it's much nicer to be challenged.

      & film photography still requires a level of skill
      As does digital photography.

      true, digital cameras can add a level of skill. But the best thing I ever did was put down my film body and pickup a digital camera. It made taking photos enjoyable again, and made me a better photographer because I could instantly see the impact of exposure, aperture and composition right away and learn from it.

      As for being cheaper to use film, no one has to "consistently shell out cash for new bodies". You can purchase amazingly great digital cameras for hundreds these days which will last you years.

      Great you enjoy shooting film... just don't assume you're more skilled than anyone who chooses to use a digital camera.

      Apples and Oranges but I like that it's working out for you

    From a $$$ this goes up against the Canon 5D + Nikon equivalent. When you factor that in it is considerably cheaper than they are!

    Comparing it to the A7s then yes it is expensive but i beleive this is being targeted toward the "Prosumer" with sports photagraphy the focus.

    What glass did they give you to shoot with?

      I had access to pretty much anything I wanted, but most of these were shot on the 24-70, 85 1.4, or 70-200.

    The A9 is a fantastic camera - its quite possibly the only camera one would ever need..... for a looong time.
    I don't (yet) own one, and although I hope I do one day, the price right now just does not justify what I would potentially use it for.

    Interestingly, I still take better pics with my 12 Year Old 30D & L-Glass then a number of people I know that use 5DS Cameras with similar lenses.

    Too expensive compared with prosumer high end cameras. A Nikon D7xxx gives similar results...and magazine photography ends mostly at 6 to 12 MP. Yes, the D5 is similar: far too much for professionals (citing Ken Rockwell: most pros need to watch the penny) and amateurs. A simple AF camera weather sealed with interchangeable optics in a rugged body would be great. Even with lesser than 24 MP. For a reasonable price.

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