Sony a9 Review
While the Sony a9 is marketed hard towards sports photographers, I find that FPS aside, the added features, upgrades and improvements the Sony a9 offers over the a7 series makes it a workhorse of a camera to suit a variety of photographers needs. Workhorse is a term used mostly for robust DSLR’s and something you never really associated with a mirrorless system. All that changes with the Sony a9. It’s most definitely capable of handling almost any photography assignment.
Some quick housekeeping notes:
- This review will be a rolling review. What that means is that I plan to add more thoughts and images as I use the camera more on assignment and and during travels.
- This review isn’t really about the tech specs or listing off all the specs about the camera, nor is it about pixel peeping at 100% (though I will say it’s damn good!). This is a review about how this camera suits my photography needs which is defined as a wedding, travel, lifestyle and fashion photographer. Oh and I take loads of photos of my dogs too.
- I have never shot sports and don’t seem myself shooting that any time soon.
- Images posted here are edited to my liking in PS and LR.
- It takes a lot of time and effort to make reviews so if I in anyway helped you with your decision to purchase, I would be so grateful if you used my amazon referral links gear used section. Thank you!
Gear Used in This Review
- Sony a9 Full Frame Mirrorless Camera – Buy it here
- Sony a6500 (product shots) – Buy it here
- Sony SEL85F18 85mm F1.8 FE – Buy it here
- Sony SELP18105G 18-105mm f/4 G OSS (product shots) – Buy it here
- Sony SEL55F18Z 55mm F1.8 Sonnar T FE ZA – Buy it here
- Sony SEL70200G FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS – Buy it here
- Sony SEL35F14Z Distagon T FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA – Buy it here
- Sony SEL28F20 28mm f/2 – Buy it here
- Sony SEL075UWC 21 mm f/2.8 Ultra Wide Converter Lens – Buy it here
Build & Camera Controls
The build quality of the body of the a9 feels very much like the a7R II with an unnoticeable gain in weight and grip size. With that said, that’s pretty much where the similarity ends. Everything else feels more robust in the hands, I’m assuming that has a lot to do with upgrading the buttons and dials which feel much more substantial and tactile.
The back dial is much more firm so you won’t be accidentally turning the wheel when shooting. I do wish the dial was a bit bigger because now that it’s more robust, it does take a tiny bit of effort to turn and when it’s that small, it isn’t necessarily the easiest. Of course, that’s a minor complaint because in use, it’s totally fine.
The buttons themselves aren’t as recessed as they are on the a7R II making them feel more clickable. It’s funny how such small details can really elevate a product to a more premium level. I never thought the buttons on the a7R II felt toy like, but as I go back and forth, the difference is undeniable.
User Interface & Operation Speed
The a9 takes on Sony’s new menu UI. Like I’ve said before, I never really had issues with the organization of the older menus. They’re ugly but that was about all I thought about them. That thought process has chanced now that I have a camera like the a9, where it is so feature-packed, a good menu really is key. Add to that the ability to pretty much custom assign all the buttons, the quick access menu and the customizable “My Menu” configuration, you are absolutely covered in terms of finding key functions quickly.
One of the few things I hated about the a7R II is how slow and unresponsive the camera can sometimes be. I rely a lot on photo review and zoom to make sure people’s eyes are open. For large important group portraits during a wedding, I want to make sure all eyes are open and reviewing that on the a7R II is painfully slow. The a9 is now almost instant when reviewing and really fast when zooming in.
The screen on the back LCD, while only gaining a little bump in resolution, looks more clear and crisp than it does on the a7R II. You notice it when looking at the menu. It could be also because the menu in the a7R II is the older style UI, but still, the a9 looks more crisp and clear overall. Where there is a big difference however is the EVF. It’s much more clear and crisp. It’s not even that the a7R II has a bad EVF, it’s just the a9 is better.
Dual Card Slots, The Joystick and a New Dial
Yes! Dual slots! I have never had a memory card go bad on me, but I have heard countless stories of other photographers loosing images or paying for a third party to recover them, some even with just no luck. Just because it hasn’t happened to me doesn’t mean I don’t often think about it during a shoot. Thankfully, my mind is more at easy and I’m able to have a backup card. I’ve also run into companies that wouldn’t hire me unless I was using a camera with dual slots.
The only gripe I have with the dual slots is the set up. For something like shooting Raw to slot 1 (faster slot) and JPEG to slot 2, it’s a bit confusing as you have to set the record media to slot 2 in order for the JPEGs to be stored there. Yea it’s weird and seems backwards. One of the only times I’ve ever actually had to read a camera manual.
The new dial on the top left is a nice addition. Allowing for quick access to drive modes and AF modes. I do wish the locking button for that dial had an on and off switch. It would be nice to change those on the fly without first pressing in a button.
And finally! The joystick! Why it took them so long to add an AF joystick is beyond me. I, along with many other photographers, find that a joystick is the quickest and most convenient way to change your AF point while composing your shots.
“But it doesn’t have the resolution and dynamic range of the a7R II…” Is what I kept telling myself to keep me from investing in the a9. It’s also what a lot of people are saying in reviews and forum posts and probably for the same reason. But in all honestly, aside from the dimensions of the file itself, it’s pretty hard to distinguish an a7R II file vs an a9 file unless you zoom in at 100%. But honestly, I sometimes can’t even tell when I’m working with an a6500 file.
So if you have those reservations, you can put them to rest. The resolution is just fine and the dynamic range is plentiful. You can also be assured that the a9’s high ISO is really good. Some of the wedding images below show how it tough lighting (backlit, combination of harsh light and shadows, mix lighting, etc.), the a9 is capable of producing fantastic results with a lot of room to push and pull shadows and highlights.
I am a super amateur videographer so I won’t go in depth about the quality or lack of S-Log. What I have read is that apparently the a9 downsamples 6k footage to 4k which makes the quality really awesome. They’ve also heavily reduced rolling shutter during quick panning. Nice!… But like I said, I’m just barely starting to get into video so I definitely don’t have much knowledge about this.
Features: Crazy AF, Eye AF, FPS, Silent Shooting, No Black Out ETC. ETC.
The camera packs so meany features, it’s kind of insane.
Let’s first talk about the AF system. It’s BANANAS. It’s so quick. That’s all there is to it. And even better then being fast is, it’s freakin’ accurate. I thought the a7R II was accurate but the a9 just brings it to another level. Where the a9 really excels is when your subject is walking towards you. The a7R II was lucky at best grabbing an in focus image of someone walking relatively quick towards you. The a9 handles it much better.
Eye AF has been game changing for portraits and it just got better on the a9. It tracks your eye flawlessly. I mean, the ability to shoot at f/1.4 and be confident that your subjects eye will be in focus is just crazy.
I also love the fact that your AF selection changes whether you’re shooting in landscape or portrait mode. This I something that is super useful when dealing with portraits.
Then there’s the 20 FPS. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll use it much, maybe just key moments at a wedding or cool action shots while traveling. I’m sure some of you are wondering why I’d buy an a9 if I don’t need the 20 FPS, but that’s just part of why this camera is amazing. Besides, when I got the a7R II, I said I didn’t need the resolution but here I am, holding onto the camera specifically for resolution.
09/05/17 Update: Wow. 20 FPS is DOPE. Yea, didn’t think it would be of much use to me but being able to shoot away as the bride walks down, during a sparklers send off, or even just while they’re dancing the night away at the reception has been a much welcome addition. Having that speed allows you to get that perfect shot. Was I able to get the shot before? Yea, I think there was always at least one shot good enough. But now, it’s more like 10 shots to choose from which in my opinion really takes away that margin of error.
Silent shooting and no black out with the electronic shutter. It’s kind of weird, but awesome! In the two weeks I’ve owned the a9, I’ve already gotten use to the no black out, it’s pretty epic. However, I still have yet to get use to silent shooting and don’t think I ever will get use to it. I am excited though that I can use it during ceremonies at quiet churches and even more excited I can be super discreet while I travel. Other than that, I need the sound. Also, rolling shutter has been greatly improved when using the electronic shutter.
09/05/17 Update: I am still not use to silent shooting and I don’t think I’ll ever get use to it. I need that sound so I’ve been using it with the fake shutter noise which is perfect. I’m sure this is great for sports and nature photographers who are in a more controlled space while shooting and need to be silent (think tennis match point!).
10/24/17 Update: One HUGE advantage that I’ve realized is the ability to shoot wide open with any glass without having to use ND filters. Shooting at 1.4 at noon is pretty awesome.
This camera of course has pretty much all the features carried down from their other cameras. Stuff like IBIS (still one of the best things ever), touch screen (I have mine off because the joystick is more than capable to change focus), 4k, S&Q (slo motion capture and play) and everything else great about the latest Sony mirrorless cameras.
09/05/17 Update: I shot my first wedding with the a9 in 100F weather and thankfully, there was no heat warnings of sorts even though my camera was hot. Regarding battery life, I fired off over 2k shots with about 15% remaining after 7 hours. The only thing I really made sure to do was turn off the camera when not in use during those waiting periods.
The one thing mirrorless systems lacked in the past was the battery to power it for long periods. 300 shots or so per battery just doesn’t cut it when it comes to professional work. Though tolerable, I really disliked carrying around and switching out 6-8 batteries per wedding or while traveling. It started out as a small problem with an easy solution of carrying more batteries but years later, it just got really annoying. I’ve also find them to be unreliable in terms of gaging how much more power was left in them.
All that has now changed! WOW! When I first read that the a9 is rated 650 shots, I was already beaming with joy considering it’s more than double the battery life vs the older model. To a lot of peoples surprise, mine as well, Sony is way underestimating the power of this new battery. I think they may have also found better power management solutions which is helping elongate the battery life.
To put it into perspective, I went to Palm Springs awhile back for a couple of days. Not shooting in continuous mode, I fired off about 300 shots and 10 video clips. Again, I was using single shot because I didn’t want to inflate the amount of shots I took and really, I didn’t need to shoot 20 FPS. My LCD and EVF were both sent to manual +2 brightness, airplane mode off and I sent about 20 or so photos to my phone. Also did some normal review and zoom on photos throughout the weekend. It’s now 6 days later and I’ve fired off another 100 or so shots in the last 3 days. Nothing major, just some snaps here and there. So that’s around 400 shots. My battery level reads 57% left. What?! Crazy.
Battery woes over.
What is missing? Damn, that’s actually a pretty difficult question which is such a surprise considering every camera I’ve ever owned always had more than a few things missing in terms of what I needed/wanted. The a9 really does check a lot of things and then some. At the time of writing this, the only things I can think of is better weather sealing and higher resolution LCD. Regarding weather sealing, my a6500 has been drenched in Icelandic rain, I assume the a9 can handle even more but it would be nice to be officially rain proof. A higher resolution LCD screen might compromise battery performance so maybe we don’t want that just yet? This is definitely a section I’ll have to circle back to after more use with the a9.
Regarding overheating, I haven’t had a problem or signal so nothing to report here and I hope it stays that way.
So to conclude, the a9 is awesome. It’s not just an awesome sports camera, it’s an awesome everything camera. I am most excited about the AF system (with the better Eye AF and joystick) as well as the battery life. I know people say, “just bring extra batteries”, but looking back at traveling through a place like India, I stressed over making sure I had enough charged batteries and portable battery packs and converters to last a long day of adventure and shooting. It’s in those moments that I look back and it becomes annoying and cumbersome and something I’d rather not have to deal.
The a9 brings back some of what DSLR’s were only capable of doing. Lightning fast AF and really good battery life. It’s an exciting time to be invested in mirrorless and it can only get better from here.
And two months in shooting with the a9, I can confidently say this is indeed, a game changer.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.
More images to come!…