REVIEW: Getting hands-on with the Sony A9 for stills
6 May 2018 | Category: Stills
Sony’s top-of-the-line mirrorless model, the A9, has been causing quite a stir among professionals and amateurs alike since it was first launched in the summer of 2017. Although Sony has been making full-frame mirrorless cameras for some time, it is the A9 which has truly made professionals stop and think about their current set-up, giving Nikon and Canon a run for their money.
Its headline feature is of most appeal to sports and wildlife photographers – it can shoot silently at 20fps, with a buffer which can facilitate 241 raw shots. This incredibly impressive feat can be achieved all whilst maintaining continuous autofocus and without incurring any blackout in the viewfinder.
Other specifications of the A9 include a 24.2 full-frame Exmor RS CMOS sensor, a 3-inch tilting 1.4 million dot LCD screen, two card slots, a 693-point hybrid autofocusing system and 5-axis image stabilisation.
It’s a pretty expensive camera to buy – which makes it one of the most perfect cameras to hire to see if you like it before buying one. Whether you just need it for a one-off sports or wildlife event, or you’re thinking about whether you want to make the leap from another camera system, spending a few days getting to know the A9 is a worthy investment.
You may be worried that the A9 is a bit of a one-trick pony, and that excelling at fast action photography may mean that it struggles in other areas. It’s true that Sony has cameras which are arguably better suited to low-light, or subjects which require high resolutions, but the A9 is no slouch either… Read on to find out how it copes in a variety of different shooting situations.
Sony A9 Handling
The A9 uses a very similar design to Sony’s range of A7 models, with the body itself pretty small considering it houses a full-frame sensor. Certainly, comparing the body of the A9 to its DSLR equivalents, the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DX Mark II leaves you with a very different size proposition. However it’s worth remembering that, on the whole, Sony E-Mount lenses aren’t anywhere near as small or light as some of the other mirrorless systems on the market.
In fact, the A9, when coupled with some of Sony’s larger E-mount lenses can feel a little front heavy. If you’re planning to use it with longer focal lengths, it’s worth also looking into the VG-C3EM grip to balance things out a little more – this will also give you a longer battery life, too.
The A9 is durable, with a textured coating and weather resistance. This gives you good scope for using it in a variety of different conditions, including inclement weather (just try to avoid throwing it into the sea, please).
A good degree of dials and buttons can be found spread across the A9’s body. On the top of the camera you’ve got a mode dial, a drive mode dial and an exposure compensation dial. There’s also a switch for choosing between the different autofocus modes. On the mode dial you’ll find space for up to three groups of custom settings, which are incredibly useful for anybody who finds themselves regularly switching between certain scenarios (such as indoors and outdoors). There are also two individual customisable buttons on the top of the camera which can be set to control specific functions of your choosing.
The back of the camera has a joystick which you can use to move the AF point, and is particularly easy to use when holding the camera up to your eye. A type of quick menu can be easily reached by pressing the ‘Fn’ button, which can also be customised to suit your particular shooting style.
Sony’s excellent 0.5-inch electronic viewfinder, which boasts 3.69m-dots and 0.78x magnification really comes into its own when shooting at 20fps. You’ll notice no visible blackout, allowing you to keep an eye on where your subject is as it moves through the frame. It’s also good for more general shooting too, allowing you to get a good view of the scene and view in real time, and see how changes you make to settings will affect your final image.
Sony A9 Performance and Image Quality
Much has been made about the A9’s capabilities when it comes to sports and wildlife photography. Without doubt, the A9 is one of the best cameras currently on the market to help you get the best shots of this nature.
Autofocusing is extremely swift and reliable, and it’s quite incredible to watch tracking focus move across the frame if you select lock-on AF while shooting in AF-C mode. Having the ability to shoot at 20fps with a fantastic buffer of 241 raw shots should leave you with very little margin for error – it seems unlikely that you would need to shoot for 12 solid seconds to catch the moment, but it could be helpful for sports photographers looking to catch the definitive shot.
But what about other subjects? Luckily, the A9 handles these with ease too – and although you might be better placed to go for the A7R III if your sole intention is to shoot landscapes or portraits, the A9 does a great job with these too. Dynamic range is excellent, with plenty of scope for pulling out highlights and shadows in post-production, while detail is well maintained throughout the native sensitivity range.
The A9 has an official battery life rating of 480 shots. While it’s true you’re likely to get more from it in the ‘real world’, it doesn’t compare particularly well with the likes of the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DX Mark II – which is why it’s worth adding extra batteries (and/or the battery grip) to your basket to be on the safe side.
Sony A9 Conclusion
It’s worth considering the A9 for so much more than action photography – although it is undoubtedly superb in this area, it’s also a fantastic all-rounder.
We’re hopeful that more lenses will be announced for Sony’s full-frame range soon, making it even more appealing for a range of different subjects.