Sony A9 Review | Nonetheless the Digicam to Beat

“Greater than a camera, the A9 stays the top of images tech.”

Professionals

  • 20 fps steady taking pictures
  • No-blackout viewfinder
  • 693-point AF system
  • Nice picture high quality
  • Sturdy 4K video high quality

Cons

  • Inscrutable menu system
  • Battery life nonetheless lags behind DSLRs

With an MSRP of $4,500, the A9 is Sony’s most costly mirrorless camera, and in addition the perfect one for many who wish to seize quick motion. Full of a 24.2-megapixel full-frame sensor, the A9 grabs as much as 20 frames per second (fps) and has a world-class autofocus system for maintaining with transferring topics. On prime of this high-quality basis is blackout-free taking pictures, which implies you possibly can effortlessly observe your topic within the viewfinder because the digital shutter (silently) clicks away, a feat no different camera can carry out.

It’s a specialist’s camera, to make certain, one constructed to win over skilled sports activities photographers from the likes of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and Nikon D5. However the place these DSLRs have gained bulk within the type an built-in vertical battery grip, the A9 maintains the svelte profile of Sony’s Alpha line of mirrorless cameras, with primarily the identical dimensions because the base-level A7 III that prices lower than half as a lot. A battery grip is optionally available for many who have to the additional runtime or higher ergonomics. This implies you get pro-level energy (and worth), however in a type issue that may scale to satisfy your wants.

However no camera is full with out lenses, and Sony’s E-mount hasn’t all the time had a wide variety of lengthy glass, most popular by sports activities and wildlife photographers. Happily, that’s beginning to change, and Sony even has a 400mm f/2.8 prime now, a $12,000 behemoth of a lens that’s a go-to focal size for a lot of sporting occasions. All of this provides as much as a mirrorless system that has grown very competent for professional sports activities and motion shooters.

Design and Usability

The Sony A9 seems fairly acquainted to anybody who’s seen, examine, or dealt with an Alpha-series mirrorless camera. With the lens off, the black-bodied interchangeable lens camera is a compact 5 x 4 x 2.5 inches and weighs 24 ounces with the battery. The physique has built-in 5-axis picture stabilization, serving to hold each stills and movies regular.

Daven Mathies/Digital Tendencies

The A9 does provide one notable exterior distinction from A7 cameras: a layer-cake dial on the left shoulder for setting drive mode and focus mode. It is a welcome addition, addressing considered one of our continued complaints with the Alpha collection in regards to the lack of direct entry management. You’ll additionally discover 4 customized keys — two on prime, two on again — so setting this camera as much as work the way in which you need it to shouldn’t be too laborious.

The important thing options on the again are the 3-inch tilting LCD touchscreen with an honest 1.44 million pixels and a 0.5-inch OLED digital viewfinder (EVF) with 3.7 million pixels. There are better-quality screens on the market, however the EVF is superb. Awkwardly nestled simply to backside proper of the EVF is the film file button. Should you discover it laborious to succeed in, you possibly can all the time reassign the operate to a customized key.

Associated

Stadium sports activities photographers can be very happy to search out an Ethernet jack in-built, along with USB and HDMI connections. Twin SD card slots reside on the other facet, which you will want in the event you plan to really make the most of that 20 fps burst fee. For greatest efficiency, use the quickest velocity and highest capability SD playing cards you possibly can afford. Wi-fi connectivity choices embrace Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth (for location, date, and time stamps when paired with a telephone) can be found to share pictures.

Battery life has taken a big leap ahead for Sony (though, now surpassed by the newer A7 III) and is rated for 480 pictures with the EVF or 650 with the LCD. Whereas excessive for mirrorless, these numbers are nonetheless removed from what knowledgeable DSLR can do because of its low-power optical viewfinder. Sony’s twin battery grip triples battery life, so severe shooters might wish to think about investing in it.

Efficiency

When the A9 launched, we have been handled to preproduction a unit at a particular press even and actually loved utilizing the camera for quite a lot of sports activities. Now a yr later, armed with a closing manufacturing mannequin, we’re happy to report than the sheen hasn’t worn off. The A9 is as partaking and entertaining as ever, and stays one of the vital spectacular cameras we’ve ever used.

Since considered one of A9’s claims to fame is its excessive velocity, we set off for an area racetrack to see how nicely the camera may sustain with thoroughbreds. Sadly, Sony’s 400mm f/2.8 wasn’t out there for this review. Nonetheless eager to get as near the motion as we may, we matched the 70-200mm f/2.8 G Grasp lens with a 2x teleconverter and — voila! — we had our 400mm (albeit, with a slower efficient aperture of f/5.6).

Sony A9Daven Mathies/Digital Tendencies

Together with this zoom — which we really feel is considered one of Sony’s greatest lenses — we had an 85mm f/1.4 prime, a 1.4x teleconverter, and the twin battery grip.

The sensor within the A9 achieves its excessive velocity because of a “stacked” design, technology first launched within the Cyber-shot RX100 IV and RX10 II cameras. The A9 marks the primary time a stacked sensor has appeared in a full-frame sensor. Along with the brand new Bionz X picture processor, the A9 delivers efficiency we haven’t seen earlier than in mirrorless and DSLR cameras.

Working with the brand new Bionz X picture processor, the stacked sensor can output 20 fps RAW repeatedly — as much as a staggering 362 pictures earlier than slowing down. As compared, Canon’s 1D-X Mark II can deal with as much as 14 fps and Nikon’s D5 goes as much as 12 fps. The A9’s quick clip is thanks partly to an digital shutter, which implies there’s no bodily shutter curtain — not to mention a DSLR’s mirror — to maneuver out of the way in which between frames. The electron shutter may attain shutter speeds of 1/32,000, 4 occasions quicker than the quickest mechanical shutters.

The stacked sensor can output 20 fps repeatedly — as much as a staggering 362 RAW images.

In fact, maintaining with that velocity requires a robust autofocus system. The A9 options 693 phase-detection AF factors together with 25 contrast-detect factors. The phase-detection factors cowl 93-percent of the body, and that broad protection means and elevated density ought to translate to extra correct outcomes. And sure, steady autofocus is out there at 20 fps.

In January 2019, Sony unveiled a significant replace to the A9’s AF system with the addition of Actual-time Eye-AF and Actual-time Monitoring coming by way of firmware. Actual-time Eye AF refines the already glorious Eye-AF discovered in lots of Sony cameras. It could actually now routinely detect a topic’s eyes with out the person having to press a button, and customers can select between the appropriate, left, or closest eye. Actual-time Monitoring, a characteristic constructed into the brand new A6400, makes use of a brand new algorithm based mostly on deep studying for object recognition. It additionally processes colour, topic distance (depth), sample (brightness), in addition to spatial (distance) data to supply considerably improved AF monitoring efficiency. Mixed, these two new options will hold focus locked on a human topic even when the particular person turns away from the camera.

We briefly used a beta model of the brand new firmware, model 5.0, and might attest to its enhanced capabilities. It made a very good camera even higher. Firmware 5.0 can be out there in March 2019, whereas firmware 6.0 — which expands Eye-AF to incorporate help for non-human eyes — will arrive later this summer time.

Throughout our preliminary hands-on session with the A9, a standout characteristic was the blackout-free show. With each camera made earlier than the A9, even mirrorless cameras working in electronic-shutter modes, the display will momentarily flip black when the image is taken. So, as your topic moved, you needed to predict the place it could go. Now, high-end cameras have all the time minimized viewfinder blackout in order to make this course of simpler, however the A9 has completely no blackout in any respect. You may blitz alongside at 20 fps and nonetheless observe your goal as if watching a film. This was nice even with comparatively predicable movement, akin to in our horse racing state of affairs.

In fact, you received’t all the time want 20 frames per second, even for sports activities. The A9 consists of choices for Low, Medium, and Excessive steady taking pictures (5, 10, and 20 fps, respectively) so you possibly can decide the velocity you want. Wanting to check its limits, we naturally shot within the Excessive setting, though we did restrict ourselves to Additional Fantastic JPEGs, apprehensive that taking pictures that many RAWs would have eaten up an excessive amount of house on our reminiscence playing cards.

Talking of horses, the A9 did a terrific job capturing them on the hoof. Though we’re hardly race observe photographers, by setting the camera to AF-C and burst to Excessive, we received a ton of keepers. The largest problem goes by means of a whole lot of images in a while the pc. As you progress by means of them on the monitor, it’s like watching a 24MP slow-motion film. Very cool, sure, but additionally considerably daunting.

As we zoomed in on many pictures, we have been impressed by the wealthy colours and zeroing in on clumps of grime kicked up by the horses thundering by. In between races, we visited the paddock space to seize close-ups of the horses and their handlers. General, image high quality was top-notch, however in the event you’re after essentially the most decision or dynamic vary, you possibly can all the time go for the 42-megapixel A7R III.

sony a9 sample

sony a9 sample

David Elrich/Digital Tendencies

The A9 has a local ISO of 100-51,200 however will be expanded right down to 50 and as much as 204,800. In our exams, pictures have been stable as much as ISO 16,000, with artifacts changing into extra noticeable as we made upwards changes. Surprisingly, 204,800 is definitely usable in the event you do some cleanups in submit processing and don’t thoughts dropping some decision.

One other cool characteristic is silent taking pictures. When DSLRs are rapid-firing, there’s a noticeable clack-clack-clack of the mirror and shutter. With the A9, the sound of the digital shutter is pretend — you possibly can merely flip it off if you wish to. Press the shutter and you’ll’t even inform if it’s working, however a digital grey body flashes repeatedly to let you’re taking photos.

Person interface and video

Since this can be a Sony camera, it’s time for the compulsory rant in regards to the menu system. Let’s name it inscrutable, to be charitable. It’s getting tiresome complaining about this menu structure and terminology. We extremely suggest any purchaser of an A9 or different refined Sony A collection mannequin to learn the complete printed handbook out there from the Sony web site. We hope to reside lengthy sufficient to see an entire revamping of this menu system, nevertheless it’s beginning to really feel like that’s solely changing into much less possible.

But in addition since this can be a Sony, the A9 comes with a wholesome dose of highly effective video options. 4K video with full pixel readout is feasible in each full-frame and Super35 crop modes, thanks once more to the stacked sensor technology. This helps restrict artifacts like moiré whereas delivering sharper video high quality. With a quick card and Sony’s XAVC S high-bitrate format, you possibly can file 4K/30p at 100Mbps.

What’s lacking are the superior video colour profiles, like S-Log and HLG. Apparently, Sony doesn’t see videographers gravitating towards the A9, nevertheless it’s a bit odd that these options can be found within the $2,000 A7 III, however not a $4,500 flagship. That stated, video high quality remains to be superb, and with photographers having to double as videographers as of late, cameras just like the A9 provide the flexibility they want. We will’t think about a marriage photographer or their shoppers being upset within the colour and sharpness movement the A9 delivers.

Guarantee

The camera has a one-year guarantee masking components and labor.

Our Take

Even with our squawks in regards to the menu system, the Sony Alpha A9 could be very particular. For $4,500, it ought to be excellent and we’re comfortable to say it’s. At this worth, and with options like Ethernet in-built, it’s focused to skilled sports activities photographers, however anybody in want of a brilliant quick camera will recognize it. And whereas the 20 fps spec is a headline characteristic, the A9 does a terrific job with non-moving topics, as nicely, delivering wealthy, correct colour and greater than sufficient element for many conditions.

The A9 can also be greater than only a camera. It’s an instance of what mirrorless cameras are able to, and proof that they’ll do something a DSLR can — and extra. The A9 is a forward-thinking product that, even a yr into its life, continues to impress us. Future photographers and tech fanatics will undoubtedly look again on it as a turning level within the trade.

Are there higher alternate options?

Not likely, however you’d have a tough time taking the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II DSLR away from the various sports activities photographers on the nation’s sidelines.  That 20.2MP full-frame workhorse prices $5,499 and has a prime burst velocity of 14 fps so the A9 is a relative cut price by comparability. For the file, the racetrack photographer was utilizing a 1D X.

As for mirrorless cameras, there’s actually nothing that competes with the A9.

How lengthy will it final?

The Sony Alpha A9 was launched in Might 2017 and has undergone firmware and software program upgrades — and big enhancements are deliberate for 2019. In January 2019, Sony introduced main upgrades coming in firmware variations 5.0 and 6.0; the primary, which we examined in beta, is due in March with the second arriving in summer time 2019. Along with autofocus enhancements, the brand new firmware will introduce a bunch of high quality of life enhancements.

Must you purchase it?

Most of us don’t want this camera, but when taking pictures sports activities is your raison d’etre, by all means purchase it. We actually loved taking pictures with it and are positive you’ll too — however please learn that handbook cowl to cowl to get essentially the most out of it.

Up to date with data on upcoming firmware releases, and our impressions of utilizing a beta model of firmware 5.0.

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