A year ago Sony released the Sony a9, which has been a revolutionary camera with it’s 20fps, 1/32,000th of a second shutter speed, improved battery life and so much more.
I did an initial review of this camera with unedited images, after my time with it at Sony’s Kando 1.0 trip in Santa Barbara, California. Since then I’ve taken this camera across the country to run it through its paces to see just how good this camera really is.
This review is going to include all the info from my initial one, but the images and all of my thoughts will be different based on all of the uses I’ve had the chance to use this camera for.
Many think that this is the new line of Alpha 7 cameras, but these do not replace those in any way and is an entirely new line that’s positioned above the award winning Alpha 7 lineup.
What I think about the a9 camera
Many who are familiar with my work and my blogs know that the Sony a6000 was my go to camera for 2 years, before I went entirely full frame in early 2017. I loved that camera for it’s quality, size and the speed. Speed was something you certainly didn’t have with the a7 series cameras, but for most of my work it wasn’t a problem and why I inevitably went entirely Full Frame.
When I saw the price initially I said, oh I won’t be getting that camera... but having tried it... Wow!!! It’s INCREDIBLE!!! You have the speed of an a6000 series camera with the best features of the a7 series cameras in this a9, with even MORE features that makes this camera a beast!
693 Phase Detection and 25 Contrast Detection Points
20 fps burst rate
Built-In WiFI, Bluetooth and NFC
Dual SD Card Slots
Integrated LAN and PC Sync Terminals
ISO 204,800, Silent Electronic Shutter
This camera is a power house machine, that’s ready for any and everything. At the moment this camera sits at the top of the Sony Alpha chain of cameras, which is rightfully deserves.
It’s the Sony that certainly made those who weren’t sure about the capabilities of a Sony to think twice about the Alpha system, especially the mirrorless system.
What is the a9 good for photographing?
Since the debut of this camera I’ve read and had numerous messages from people who’ve only seen this camera for capturing fast action/sport images. My goal for this camera was to take it with me as I have my variety of a7 series cameras and see how this camera compares to those and does for all of the genre’s of photography I photograph.
Being that I’m among very few photographers who photograph in a multitude of genre’s I thought it would be a great review to include everything I photograph and share images and my thoughts from within each experience.
Are you into Weddings, Astro or Street Photography? Find a variety of genre’s below and continue reading as I share my experiences with the a9.
Sports – Fast Action - The a9 is no slouch when it comes to speed and is “THE” camera you’d want to choose for any fast action. This camera offers 20fps and a significantly high buffer rate of over 230 RAW images before buffering and even more for JPEG images. That plus the ability of photographing at 32,000th of a second gives you total control of any kind of action to where you won’t miss an image. Along with that the non blackout of the screen and focus tracking were my most used features of this camera for action use. Being in constant control and seeing what’s happening in front of you at all times when your camera is in front of you is an assuring feeling to have.
Weddings - Just as with sports, the non blackout is very useful. Having the touch screen was probably my favorite feature to have during a Wedding. I utilize the small flexible spot option most of the time and being able to just tap the focus to where I needed it for quick changes to my composition was very helpful. The improved battery is also a big plus for this camera as well.
Fashion/Lifestyle - Oddly enough having the 32,000th sec shutter speed stood out to me for this. I use a lot of fast primes and when you’re photographing during the day you can get to the max shutter speed of your camera easily. Unless you’re using an ND filter to slow your shutter for shooting at a wide open aperture, such as f/1.4 you’ll have over exposed images. The higher shutter speeds allow for that without the need of filters.
Night/Astro - Long exposures on Sony’s mean that once your image is finished you have to wait for them to finish processing. On this camera there’s no waiting at all! With the fast processing of this camera and any buffering taking place in the background you can always continue shooting while all of the finish work is being done in the background.
Street - It’s great having speed on your side for street photography and the a9 is exceptional for that. The quickness of this camera makes for getting the shot you want and keeping it moving a breeze. Sometimes you don’t want to be seen composing an image of someone and just want to get the shot and get away without notice and you’re able to do that with the a9.
Worship - This camera has quite impressive low light performance. It’s not to the level of an a7S series, but it performs better than the a7 series does (this being before the a7 III however), especially with it being capable of 204,800 ISO. It might be a very expensive choice for Worship and the a7 series certainly would be a comparable and capable choice, without the expense of this model but you do get a few extras that makes this camera a great one to have.
Landscapes/Nature/Architecture/Cityscapes - There’s not a feature that really stands out for these and I feel the experience would be the same on this camera as any of the others. The only thing I can think of is the battery life. The new Z batteries make for photographing out in the field a lot more pleasant, with batteries that do well in different climates and lasts a lot longer.
Favorite lenses for the Sony a9
Sony FE 12-24mm G f/4 (Amazon) - This is one of the BRAND NEW lenses Sony announced during our retreat. This is the widest lens Sony has ever produced for their Full Frame cameras and it’s certainly one that’s VERY welcomed! There’s no barrel distortion on this lens, something that was absolutely incredible to me! (Read my full review on this lens here)
Carl ZEISS FE 35mm f/1.4 (Amazon) - This was such a great fast prime to use with the a9. Amazing image quality and a lens that takes advantage of the speed of the camera for some great images from the pairing. (Read my full review on this lens here)
Carl ZEISS Loxia FE 35mm f/2 (Amazon) - Wow! This lens offers some amazing quality, as you’d expect from a ZEISS and quite a sweet option for those who love manual focus lenses.
Carl ZEISS FE 55mm f/1.8 (Amazon) - Most of the Fashion shoot images I took during the retreat were with this lens. It’s one of the most incredible lenses I own and made for some amazing portraits! (Read my full review on this lens here)
Carl ZEISS Otus 55mm f/1.4 ZE (Amazon) - This lens is a Canon mount lens, that I had a chance to use with the new a9 and it was just as impressive as any other ZEISS lens. What makes the Otus line so amazing is that this line of lenses are no compromise to anything and offers the best image quality you can get from a lens!
Sony FE 100mm G Master f/2.8 STF (Amazon) - This is a new lens from Sony, that I got to try out as well. The bokeh you capture with this is just stunning and certainly something you don’t obtain everyday from other prime lenses. It was quite an adjustment for me, as I rarely photograph beyond 100mm, but the time I did spend with this lens was time well spent.
Features of the Sony a9?
There’s so much to this camera that I’m going to pick out things that are either my favorite or things people really want to know about this camera. Anything else that I think would be great here in the future I’ll update this review with.
Silent Shutter/Electronic Shutter - This has been in the Sony a7s series and Sony a7r II cameras, but the a9 does it differently! This camera does not have rolling shutter when using this mode and it now has it’s own menu in the camera (not just the on/off toggle in the a7r II & 7s and a6500 camera models). The default for this will be silent, but if you prefer the shutter sound you can switch back to mechanical shutter. There’s also no vibration and the shutter speed can reach 1/32,000th of a second. During my time with the camera with flash you will have to switch to the mechanical shutter. This is also the case for certain light conditions as well. Why is that? This camera doesn’t have the rolling shutter issue of the a7 models, but it can happen when you’re dealing with lights or sources of lights that have a high frequency/speed that goes beyond what the camera is able to process in the silent mode. It’s quite hard to describe vs showing so maybe one day I can actually show visually what I mean about this more clearly.
20fps and High Buffer Rate - This camera does 20fps with up to 241 RAW images and 362 JPEG images, before buffering.
Screen Blackout - With all the cameras to date there would be a blackout of the screen when taking a photo. The a9 features no camera blackout, which means you’ll never be left without a live image of whatever scene you’re photographing. I ran into not being sure if I was taking a photo or not, because the camera is completely silent with no screen blackout - this can be adjusted by using a shutter sound to signify a photo being taken or a visual display on the display.
4K Video Capture - This camera offers full pixel readout without any pixel binning, collecting 6K date and oversampling it to produce 4K video, while recording across the full width of the full frame image sensor.
Image quality - A brand new 24MP Stacked Full Frame CMOS sensor is added to the Alpha line for the first time and provides amazing image quality and improved low light performance over the a7 II. It’s also 20x faster than the Sony a7 series.
Battery Life - A NEW Z series battery is introduced, which adds 2.2 times the battery life of the W series battery in all of the other Mirrorless cameras to date. This battery is not interchangeable with any other Alpha E-Mount camera however. This battery is rated at almost 500 shots, as I actually took well into the 1000s on ONE single battery charge! That’s a VAST improvement of any of the a7 series of cameras.
Dual SD Card Slots - One of the biggest gripes with the a7 series was only a single card slot. Now there are two, which are capable of being a way to have a backup, write JPEG to one and RAW to the other or have it switch for when one card becomes full. One of the slots is also for use with the new UHS-II cards, which offer write speeds of 300MB/s, taking advantage of the speed of this camera.
Ports - You have wireless FTP and an ethernet port built into the camera.
New “My Menu” option - There’s now a new menu tab in the camera, where you can assign your own menu options to this quick favorites tab, making it easy to register items in a custom menu for instant recall.
Tilt LCD touch control screen - You now have the capability, as in the a6500 to now use the screen to engage focus, which is useful during video recording.
Electronic View Finder (EVF) - A new higher quality EVF, with a 60/120 FPS refresh rate and the proximity sensor under the viewfinder now is disabled when you tilt your LCD screen, which avoids the flipping of EVF to LCD screen during use.
Focusing - 693 Phase Detection Auto Focus points (almost double the Sony a7r II) now covers 93% of the sensor, with 60 AF/AE tracking calculations a second, which certainly was SUPER fast during some of the action scenes I captured during the Sony Kando retreat.
AF Area Registration - This allows for your most used focus areas to be memorized and recalled by the custom button assignments.
What’s new in the a9 camera body?
It’s a new body style, that upon looking is almost identical to the a7 series, but has a new and larger grip, a relocated movie button (THANK GOODNESS), a new mode dial on the top left of the camera (which relocates from the menu system your AF settings and your drive mode settings), The standard mode dial adds a 3rd memory recall, a new Slow & Quick option, the shutter button is slightly different (you can feel the difference immediately), the C3 button is now to the left of the menu button.
You also have the new Auto Focus joystick, which gives adjusting your focus point it’s own wheel on the camera vs being assigned to a button or the wheel of the camera like the a7 series. There’s now the AF-on button, that can be pressed to activate auto-focus directly when shooting images and videos and the switch for focusing as on the a7 series is not included on the a9.
The camera is actually MUCH lighter than the a7r II, which was apparent upon picking up the camera and using it. There’s also a new door on the camera, which houses the new ethernet port and sync terminal and the right side has a new door for the SD card slots (which also has a lock), as now you have two SD slots.
What accessories are available for the a9?
VG-C3EM Vertical Grip (Amazon) - As with the a7 series of cameras, this grip allows for extra grip and use of two batteries.
Sony Z Series Rechargeable Battery (Amazon) - This is a high capacity battery that’s 2.2 times the capacity of the W series batteries (used by all other Sony Mirrorless cameras to date).
Sony Z Series Battery Charger (Amazon) - The new charger for the Z series, which is capable of charging the battery in under 3 hours.
Multi Battery Adapter (Amazon) - This is an incredible accessory for external battery supply with your camera, which would be extremely useful for timelapse. You’re able to use four Z batteries and is also useful for charging the batteries as well.
PCK-LG1 Glass Screen Protector (Amazon) - I use glass screen protectors and this is one from Sony, that’s capable of working with the touch screen of the new a9.
Grip Extension (GP-X1EM) - This has the same look and feel as the a9 body and allows for a more solid hold on the camera.
Conclusion: Who is/isn’t this for?
If you’ve waited for the best all around Full Frame Mirrorless camera, then THIS is the camera you’d want to get. I’ve not been more impressed with a camera than this, since the Sony a6000. It’s just that good and a camera that’s suited for any shooting situation.
This camera shows that Sony is listening to it’s customers and I believe this camera brings closure to many of the concerns people had about Mirrorless, especially those from “Canon” and Nikon. I would be eager to see what camera Sony can follow up with next that tops this!
My only thing is... if your budget doesn’t allow you to purchase this camera then you’d probably pass this camera by. It’s $4,500, which is a lot for some so that’s understandable. The new Sony a7 III would be an incredible alternative to this camera. You obtain many of the great features of an a9 in a cheaper camera body (which has a few downgrades in it’s spec sheet to this camera, but many things most wouldn’t notice more than likely).