It’s been a while since I tested a camera from Sony. The last professional, mirrorless Sony camera I tested was the A7RII, which is a really good camera that can do it all, except maybe fast action stuff. Then recently the Sony A9 was released and I was really eager to check it out, because this is like a wish list camera, it just ticks all the boxes of what you would want from a camera and more, a lot more.
Like most of my reviews, it is not in any way scientific, it is a real-world experience using the A9. I will not drown you with technical specs and scientific tests.
Just to give you a brief background in terms of my camera I use, I’m shooting with Fujifilm and Nikon, and I have an Olympus m4/3 on the side. Enough of me, and more about the Sony A9.
Autofocus speed and frame rates
The first thing I noticed with the A9 is the superb auto focus system. The 693 AF points with 20 fps seems like a typo on a spec sheet, but it’s not! To get a clear picture, the Canon 1Dx maxes out at 16 fps and Nikon D5 at 14 fps. To top it up, it is also equipped with 241 shot raw buffer, silent shooting, courtesy of the electronic shutter and an uninterrupted viewfinder, so there’s no blackout when you go nuts and shoot at 20 fps, oh yeah, welcome to the future. Did I mentioned the 693 AF points? The AF is accurate and quick, especially with the 24-70, 16-35 and 70-200 2.8 G lenses. The tracking works great too, I did have a chance to use it at a local drifting event and it was great. Full disclosure, I’m not a sports shooter myself but I shoot moving cars from time to time and I can tell that the system works great. I noticed a few missed focused shots when doing AF tracking and racking the zoom at the same time, but no deal-breaking stuff.
In terms of fashion shoot and editorial, it is a phenomenal performer. You can capture pretty much everything with that 20 fps and who said that 20 fps is only for sports shooting, I would disagree, I think you can take advantage of that monstrous frame rates to capture in-between poses of a fashion shoot or any outdoors shoot for that matter. I think, this would be perfect for a wedding photographer too, since the AF is bullet-proof even on low light or mixed lighting.
Dual SD Card slots
This might be an overlooked feature but for a professional shoot, a camera isn’t complete without it. I personally use it as a backup for those really high-paid or critical photo assignments. Sometimes I use it as a quick hand-off of photos for the photo editors. I make the other SD card to store small JPEGs so I can hand it over to clients and so they can let me know which files to edit. For shooting events, you can use it to continually store photos avoiding changing SD cards at that crucial moment. As for the technical aspect, the two card slots are not the same, I was told the first slot is the faster one supporting UHS II while the other one is UHS I. It didn’t bother me on my shooting workflow but it might be crucial to some. For me the only take-away is that I need to make sure that my faster card is going to the UHS II slot.
The A7 series cameras doesn’t support touch screens and to be honest, I myself prefer the touch screen. Every time I use my Olympus OMD, I always wish that my Fuji X-T2 and D810 would also have one. It is just an easy way to focus. The A9 touch functionality is limited to focusing which is really the main thing you would want for a touch screen. However, the touch function on the menu would have been great.
Build quality, design and ergonomics
The Sony A9 mirrorless camera may not receive top prize in a beauty pageant, but it’ll surely win the grand prize for the talent show hands down by a long mile! But hey, looks are purely subjective but what’s not is what this camera brings to the table. In terms of build quality, the Sony A7 and the A9 are extremely well made and if you haven’t held one before, it will take you for a surprise. Once in your hand, you will know that it is a serious premium camera and the heft of it feels like you have a camera that will outlast time.
The A9 ergonomics is much better than the A7 in my opinion. The small tweaks by Sony made a big difference. That joystick is a massive help when shooting. You can easily move the focus points around on the fly, which is great. The buttons are tactile and well placed. The camera feels premium and the handling is a lot better than most of the mirrorless cameras out there. There’s no beating the DSLR when it comes to ergonomics, especially for bigger hands, but the A9 is without a question the best handling Sony I’ve ever used. Pair it with the battery grip and I wouldn’t miss the handling of a DSLR.
Performance and user experience
So, how did it perform? Let’s put it into perspective, shall we?
The main issue with Sony A7 series is the battery. Well, let me tell you now, you have nothing to worry about. The A9 battery is close to DSLR performance, in fact when I shot over 1,200 images during the drifting event, I still had almost half of the battery charge to spare! That’s impressive.
The autofocus (AF) as mentioned is fast and accurate. It can rival high-end DSLR in terms of performance. When shooting portraits, I really enjoyed the eye detection feature, it is just phenomenal and to me, this is a feature that should be in every camera and include it with the 20 fps without black out, now that’s a game changer!
At this point, you are probably waiting for the “but”. It is quite hard to fault this camera but like any other camera, it isn’t perfect. The white balance could use some improvement, I noticed that the images are too warm sometimes. The out-of-the-camera JPEGs colors aren’t my favorite but then again, I don’t shoot JPEGs but rather shoot raw in which I do my editing, nor I had enough time to play around with the JPEG picture settings. But mind you, all these small issues can be addressed with a simple firmware upgrade.
Sony created a powerhouse of a camera here, they listened to the users of the A7 series and put all the missing bits and changes into the A9. There’s no question that this is the best Sony mirrorless yet. All the things that hunted the A7 series like the AF speed and the battery life are both answered and A9’s AF and battery life are probably the best out there. I had the camera for around two weeks and to be honest, it wasn’t enough to learn all the features, but it is enough to know that the A9 can definitely hang with the best cameras out there. If you aren’t a fan of the Sony mirrorless yet, this might change your mind.