What you need to know about the Sony A9
Sony has created quite a stir with its latest full-frame launch. The Sony A9 is a professional level camera, which, on paper at least, takes on – and in many areas, beats some of – the best professional DSLRs currently on the market.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the key specifications of the new camera to see exactly what it can offer you – as well as having a look at how other cameras on the market stack up against it. The Sony A9 directly competes with models sitting at the top of Canon and Nikon’s range, so we’ll be using the Canon EOS 1DX Mark II and the Nikon D5 to compare against, where appropriate.
Sensor and processor
The Sony A9 utilises the world’s first full-frame stacked sensor design. What that means in basic terms is that the 24.2 megapixel device is super-fast, allowing for very quick readout speeds – this facilitates extraordinary shooting speeds up to 20fps and makes the camera ideal for shooting sports and action, or indeed, anything which is fast-moving. There’s also a Bionz X processor and new front-end LSI chip, which facilitates a fast frame rate for the electronic viewfinder and allows for 20fps to take place without the screen or viewfinder blacking out between shots.
A seriously impressive autofocusing system is found on the Sony A9: you have a huge 93% coverage across the frame, thanks to its 693 AF point system. Every second, the camera focuses up to 60 times, giving you confidence that focusing will always be super accurate. Tracking focus benefits from the same technology – again, making it the ideal camera for sports and action. You can also take advantage of Eye AF, which is now even quicker than the version found in Sony A7 cameras, thanks to the new technology found inside the A9.
By contrast, the competitors for this camera don’t come close (on paper). The Nikon D5, for example, has a 153-point AF system, while the Canon 1DX Mark II has a 61-point system.
Having inbuilt stabilisation in the body of the camera makes the A9 able to deal with tricky subjects and helps to produce sharper shots. There’s 5-axis image stabilisation onboard the A9, which gives you a 5-stop shutter speed advantage. By contrast, neither the Canon 1DX Mark II or the Nikon D5 offer image stabilisation within the camera body itself, instead relying on OIS found in lenses.
One of the most interesting features from a professional photographer’s point of view is the A9’s electronic shutter capability. This means that not only can you shoot at super-fast speeds of up to 1/32000, you can also shoot silently. That makes it possible to capture scenes in places where professionals might not have been welcome before – for example, some sporting events where silence is required, or a quiet church foR wedding ceremonies. A mechanical shutter is also available which facilitates longer shutter speeds.
Both the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DX Mark II, with their conventional DSLR designs, offer only mechanical shutters. This means that although ‘quiet’ modes are available, silence is impossible and the quickest speed you can shoot at is 1/8000.
Sony A9: frame rate
The Sony A9’s fast frame rate of 20fps is one of its key headline features. Being able to capture this many frames per second, at full resolution, is a dream for sports, nature, action and wildlife photographers. Not only that, but the fact that it is blackout free means you can easily follow and track subjects with ease. The camera’s buffer gives you an impressive 241 raw shots, or 362 jpeg images before it starts to slow down – an impressive performance that should ensure you capture the definitive moment. To compare this performance to other cameras for this type of consumer, the Nikon D5 has a maximum frame rate of 14fps, while the Canon 1DX II can shoot at up to 16fps.
Most professional level cameras feature a fixed screen. But one which tilts, such as the 1440k-dot LCD device on the Sony A9, can be incredibly useful for composing your shots from awkward angles, and is also often appreciated by videographers. The A9’s screen is also touch-sensitive, meaning you can use it for setting the AF point if you like.
Controls and Design
Sony has designed the A9 to be particularly appealing to professional photographers, as well as advanced enthusiasts. That means adjusting the body to include some direct control that hasn’t been seen before in Sony’s range. For example, there’s a new joystick for moving the AF point, which is particularly useful when shooting through the viewfinder if you want to make quick changes. There’s also a range of other dials and buttons which make for a great hands-on experience. This includes a drive mode dial, an AF mode dial, and an AF-On Button.
In terms of other design features of the A9, there are some other very appealing features. Dual card slots are available, with one being compatible with the ultra-fast UHS-II format – ide al for your high speed action photography. There’s also an ethernet port for high speed transfer, as well as a sync port for flash lighting. The complicated menu design of the A7 cameras has also been revamped to bring the A9 in line with the more streamlined A6500, making it much easier to navigate.
4K is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, so it’s no surprise to see the A9 fully equipped when it comes to video capability. Not only do you have 4K video recording, but you can also enjoy full pixel readout with pixel binning. Full HD video recording is also available and opens up a world of other opportunities, including shooting in slow motion.
Sony has done a lot of work to improve the battery life of its Sony Alpha cameras. In this case, the new battery offers twice the performance of previous full-frame mirrorless models, boasting around 480 shots per charge. It’s also possible to buy an additional grip, which adds extra battery power (as well as offering extra controls for you to use). It’s still recommended that you buy an extra battery to pack in your bag for the A9 – especially if you’re likely to be shooting all day long, or, if you’re shooting intensively. On the plus side, you can charge the A9 via USB, making it quick to plug in to boost power, and you don’t need to carry a large battery charger around with you.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Sony A9 has an electronic viewfinder. If you’re a professional photographer shuddering at the thought of using anything but an optical finder, bear in mind the benefits of an electronic one. The device found on the A9 features the highest ever resolution of any Sony camera to date, with 3,680k-dots. It’s also physically large and bright, making it easy to compose your images. Any changes you make to settings are displayed in real-time, while your shot can be displayed in preview in the viewfinder, saving you having to remove the camera from your eye to check whether you’ve got the shot.
Sony’s lens range for its full-frame mirrorless cameras is getting stronger and stronger as time goes on. Alongside the announcement of the A9, we also saw a new 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master lens, which would be a perfect companion for the A9 for long-range shooting. Not only that, but there’s also recently been an announcement for two wide-angle zoom lenses, which are ideal for landscapes and a number of other subjects: a 12-24mm f/4 G lens, and a 16-35mm f/2.8 G Master Lens. These lenses, which are designated as ‘G Master’, have been designed with superior optical performance and sharpness in mind. Alongside these new lenses, there’s a full range of primes and zooms to cover just about every eventually.
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