Sony A9 Review
With my recent switch over to Sony I thought I would share a few of my thoughts and experiences with their bodies and lenses for those looking for some comparisons and also those possibly contemplating the switch from DSLR to Mirrorless.
While a majority of my work is landscapes, I also do a fair amount of wildlife photography and always have a dedicated camera in my bag that meets those demands.
Having been a Canon shooter for the last twenty years, the last bodies I used for wildlife were the 1DX series as well as the 5D mkIV on occasion. Those were some serious workhorses and stood up well in demanding conditions. Looking forward, I knew I needed something at least on par with them.
When I first switched to Sony I picked up their a7rIII. This camera in itself is really a “do all” camera. It shoots 10fps, has amazing autofocus and its 45 megapixels can be put into crop mode for extra reach. So when adding a second body for wildlife, I was really on the fence. Should I get another a7rIII or go for the a9? In reality the a7rIII could do just about everything I need for wildlife, but I decided to bite the bullet and pay the extra $1000 at the time for the a9 to see if it was really worth it for a couple key standout features.
When unboxing the a9, the first thing I noticed was how close in appearance it was to the a7RIII. Body size is identical and design is very similar. Which is a good thing!
The one difference users will notice is a second dial up top that is used for both autofocus and frame rate selection. The other dial up top (which is the same on the a7rIII) is used for shooting modes and also custom mode selection. The back of the camera is well laid out with easy to reach buttons as well as a dedicated joystick for autofocus point selection. The memory card compartment has a nice pop open door and will take dual sd cards.
Overall I like the design. It’s compact and has a good layout. Some have complained on the ergonomics being a bit small giving the pinky finger no place to rest when gripping the camera. I can see why this might have an issue for some, but I don’t find it bothersome. I also use a Really Right Stuff L Plate on both of my bodies and that adds extra space to the bottom alleviating this issue entirely. I imagine Sony may address this in future body iterations as it’s something you continuously see brought up in reviews and online forums.
The body of the a9 is tough and seems pretty solid. It’s made of an all magnesium alloy body and for the most part is well sealed against dust and moisture. The one caveat being the bottom of the camera. Sony did leave out a fully sealed battery compartment as well as a seal on the bottom plate of the camera (more on this in a bit), leaving it more susceptible to moisture.
Sony’s EVFs are very impressive. The a9 uses a 3.9 million dot OLED with a 120fps refresh rate and frankly I think it’s the best I’ve used on any mirrorless system. This goes for both the a9 and the a7rIII as they both use the same EVF. I really don’t notice that I’m using an EVF during most shooting situations, it’s that good. One of the standout features with all mirrorless and not just with the a9, is the added bonus of being able to overlay your exposure info, histogram, view realtime exposure, focus peaking, etc…
Since switching from DSLRs I find the EVF advantages have grown on me so much that I really wouldn’t want to switch back to an optical finder.
What I like and what I don’t
The two standout features that I purchased the a9 for were its blackout free shooting through the EVF and its 20fps shooting.
It does both of these things very very well.
When shooting blackout free and using high frame rates, you are required to use the electronic shutter on the a9. In addition to blazing speeds, this also gives you complete silent shooting if you so choose. I have shutter replication sound enabled on mine most of the time, I use it just for reference though. I didn’t know if I was going to like this at first, as I’ve always been used to the familiar satisfying clunk of the shutter, but it really didn’t bother me one bit!
Tracking moving animals blackout free when shooing high frame rates is huge. It allows you to better frame and compose the animal in the scene, especially when panning.
After shooting thousands of images through the a9, I would say if you are a dedicated wildlife shooter or looking for a second body to fulfill those needs, both of these features are worth the extra cost.
Also before I forget, I should mention its autofocus system. On paper it’s slightly better than the a7rIII, but in all honesty I can’t really tell any real world difference. They’re both so darn stinking good that maybe if all I shot were sports or wildlife day in and day out then maybe I might be able to differentiate. But at this level, its spot on. Matter of fact, I really feel like it performs much better than my Canon systems did and that’s really saying something.
I’ve photographed a number of situations using multi autofocus points tracking animals through very busy situations which normally would give most systems trouble, but almost always it stays on point. Also if you like face and eye detection, the technology will leave your jaw on the ground, at least it did for me. Photographing my kids running around, the face detect never misses and enabling the eye focus, it locks on every time.
Now a couple small gripes. First the menu system. Come on Sony, lets get things organized! I won’t go into this too much as there’s a ton of critiques on this already, but it could be better arranged. It still takes me time to find my way around, definitely not a deal breaker but can be improved upon.
The other big thing I’ve heard gripes about, not just on the a9, but across their other bodies as well, is the lack of weather sealing on the bottom of the camera. Be sure to see Roger’s tear down on Lens Rentals if you want to see the innards of a Sony and also the weather sealing issue addressed in detail. Besides the omission of sealing on the bottom, the rest of the camera is tightly sealed for tough use. I don’t know why they did this, but it’s turned some photographers who routinely shoot in rough environments away from investing in Sony’s system.
Initially I had concerns about this, as I do routinely shoot in some pretty unforgiving environments.
However, I spent numerous days this summer and into fall shooting in torrential rain storms, some of the dustiest environments you can imagine and both of my Sonys came out just fine. On one trip I spent 4 days in the mountains of Montana in some serious torrential downpours using a Lenscoat Raincover just as I did with my Canon’s and not one problem.
After that experience, I’m not worried one bit. Still mindful when out, but not worried. I will say on future builds going forward, put the darn seal in!
So I’ve put the a9 through its paces, worked in the some of the usual demanding situations I’ve shot in over the past 20 years, and came out with big smiles. I really love this camera, it just feels right, especially paired with Sony’s 100-400mm. I’ve also added the additional battery grip for better handling and vertical shooting controls and it feels like a little solid brick in the hands.
In summary, if you’re looking for a fast, predictable and reliable body for sports or wildlife, the a9 delivers. Is it worth paying the extra cash above the a7rIII? I would say yes if you’re a dedicated wildlife or sports shooter who needs every last bit of help making your job easier in the field and really need those few extra features this body offers.