With an MSRP of $4,500 (at the moment on sale for $3,500), the A9 is Sony’s costliest mirrorless digicam, and likewise the perfect one for individuals 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 shifting topics. On high of this high-quality basis is blackout-free capturing, which implies you may effortlessly monitor your topic within the viewfinder because the digital shutter (silently) clicks away, a feat no different digicam can carry out.
It’s a specialist’s digicam, to make sure, 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 non-obligatory for individuals who have to the additional runtime or higher ergonomics. This implies you get pro-level energy (and value), however in a type issue that may scale to satisfy your wants.
However no digicam is full with out lenses, and Sony’s E-mount hasn’t all the time had a wide selection of lengthy glass, most well-liked by sports activities and wildlife photographers. Luckily, that’s beginning to change, and Sony even has a 400mm f/2.Eight 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 appears to be like fairly acquainted to anybody who’s seen, examine, or dealt with an Alpha-series mirrorless digicam. With the lens off, the black-bodied interchangeable lens digicam is a compact 5 x Four 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.
The A9 does supply 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 one in all our continued complaints with the Alpha collection concerning the lack of direct entry management. You’ll additionally discover 4 customized keys — two on high, two on again — so setting this digicam as much as work the best way you need it to shouldn’t be too onerous.
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 great. Awkwardly nestled simply to backside proper of the EVF is the film report button. If you happen to discover it onerous to succeed in, you may all the time reassign the operate to a customized key.
Stadium sports activities photographers will likely be very happy to seek out an Ethernet jack inbuilt, along with USB and HDMI connections. Twin SD card slots reside on the other aspect, which you will want if you happen to plan to truly make the most of that 20 fps burst fee. For greatest efficiency, use the quickest velocity and highest capability SD playing cards you may afford. Wi-fi connectivity choices embrace Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth (for location, date, and time stamps when paired with a cellphone) can be found to share photographs.
Battery life has taken a major bounce ahead for Sony (though, now surpassed by the newer A7 III) and is rated for 480 photographs with the EVF or 650 with the LCD. Whereas excessive for mirrorless, these numbers are nonetheless removed from what knowledgeable DSLR can do due to its low-power optical viewfinder. Sony’s twin battery grip triples battery life, so severe shooters might wish to contemplate investing in it.
When the A9 launched, we had been handled to preproduction a unit at a particular press even and actually loved utilizing the digicam for quite a lot of sports activities. Now a yr later, armed with a ultimate 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 crucial spectacular cameras we’ve ever used.
Since one in all A9’s claims to fame is its excessive velocity, we set off for an area racetrack to see how effectively the digicam might sustain with thoroughbreds. Sadly, Sony’s 400mm f/2.8 wasn’t accessible for this overview. Nonetheless eager to get as near the motion as we might, we matched the 70-200mm f/2.Eight G Grasp lens with a 2x teleconverter and — voila! — we had our 400mm (albeit, with a slower efficient aperture of f/5.6).
Together with this zoom — which we really feel is one in all Sony’s greatest lenses — we had an 85mm f/1.Four prime, a 1.4x teleconverter, and the twin battery grip.
The sensor within the A9 achieves its excessive velocity due to a “stacked” design, know-how 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 constantly — as much as a staggering 362 photographs 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 best way between frames. The electron shutter also can attain shutter speeds of 1/32,000, 4 occasions quicker than the quickest mechanical shutters.
The stacked sensor can output 20 fps constantly — as much as a staggering 362 RAW images.
In fact, maintaining with that velocity requires a strong 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 accessible at 20 fps.
Throughout our earlier hands-on periods, a standout characteristic was the blackout-free show. With each digicam made earlier than the A9, even mirrorless cameras working in electronic-shutter modes, the display screen will momentarily flip black when the image is taken. So, as your topic moved, you needed to predict the place it might 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 possibly can blitz alongside at 20 fps and nonetheless monitor your goal as if watching a film. This was nice even with comparatively predicable movement, reminiscent of in our horse racing state of affairs.
In fact, you gained’t all the time want 20 frames per second, even for sports activities. The A9 consists of choices for Low, Medium, and Excessive steady capturing (5, 10, and 20 fps, respectively) so you may decide the velocity you want. Wanting to check its limits, we naturally shot within the Excessive setting, though we did restrict ourselves to Further High-quality JPEGs, apprehensive that capturing that many RAWs would have eaten up an excessive amount of house on our reminiscence playing cards.
Talking of horses, the A9 did an important job capturing them on the hoof. Though we’re hardly race monitor photographers, by setting the digicam to AF-C and burst to Excessive, we acquired a ton of keepers. The largest problem goes by tons of of images in a while the pc. As you progress by 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 photographs, we had been impressed by the wealthy colours and zeroing in on clumps of dust 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. Total, image high quality was top-notch, however if you happen to’re after essentially the most decision or dynamic vary, you may all the time go for the 42-megapixel A7R III.
The A9 has a local ISO of 100-51,200 however could be expanded all the way down to 50 and as much as 204,800. In our checks, photographs had been stable as much as ISO 16,000, with artifacts turning into extra noticeable as we made upwards changes. Surprisingly, 204,800 is definitely usable if you happen to do some cleanups in put up processing and don’t thoughts shedding some decision.
One other cool characteristic is silent capturing. 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 faux — you may 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 constantly to let you realize you’re taking footage.
Consumer interface and video
Since it is a Sony digicam, it’s time for the compulsory rant concerning the menu system. Let’s name it inscrutable, to be charitable. It’s getting tiresome complaining about this menu format and terminology. We extremely suggest any purchaser of an A9 or different refined Sony A collection mannequin to learn the complete printed handbook accessible from the Sony web site. We hope to reside lengthy sufficient to see a whole revamping of this menu system, however it’s beginning to really feel like that’s solely turning into much less possible.
But in addition since it is 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 Tremendous35 crop modes, thanks once more to the stacked sensor know-how. 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 may report 4K/30p at 100Mbps.
What’s lacking are the superior video shade profiles, like S-Log and HLG. Apparently, Sony doesn’t see videographers gravitating towards the A9, however it’s a bit odd that these options can be found within the $2,000 A7 III, however not a $4,500 flagship. That mentioned, video high quality remains to be excellent, and with photographers having to double as videographers lately, cameras just like the A9 supply the flexibility they want. We will’t think about a marriage photographer or their shoppers being disillusioned within the shade and sharpness movement the A9 delivers.
The digicam has a one-year guarantee protecting components and labor.
Even with our squawks concerning the menu system, the Sony Alpha A9 may be very particular. For $4,500, it needs to be excellent and we’re glad to say it’s. At this value, and with options like Ethernet inbuilt, it’s focused to skilled sports activities photographers, however anybody in want of an excellent quick digicam will respect it. And whereas the 20 fps spec is a headline characteristic, the A9 does a terrific job with non-moving topics, as effectively, delivering wealthy, correct shade and greater than sufficient element for many conditions.
The A9 can be greater than only a digicam. 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 lovers 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 high burst velocity of 14 fps so the A9 is a relative cut price by comparability. For the report, 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 Could 2017 and has undergone firmware and software program upgrades; the newest in July 2018. Now discounted for the vacations by $1,000, we anticipate an A9 Mark II is on its approach, maybe with a 2019 announcement date. Our guess is Sony will certainly have a brand new flagship effectively earlier than the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (in Sony’s hometown).
Do you have to purchase it?
Most of us don’t want this digicam, but when capturing sports activities is your raison d’etre, by all means purchase it. We actually loved capturing with it and are certain you’ll too — however please learn that handbook cowl to cowl to get essentially the most out of it.