Product Reviews

Sony A9 hands on review

Well that was unexpected.

It’s a phrase we don’t say often about the camera world, but Sony surprised us in many ways with the A9’s introduction. New cameras have always focused on resolution bumps, autofocus point increases and more numbers to make your head spin. However, the Sony A9 aims to make the final step towards a completely digital camera.

Over the years, digital cameras have steadily moved away from their analog roots. replaced film with digital sensors while did away with optical viewfinders and mirrors. Now the Sony A9 wants you to forget all about mechanical shutters.

At the center of the Sony A9 is the world’s first stacked full-frame CMOS sensor designed to be the fastest imaging chip ever created. Coupled with a dramatically improved electronic viewfinder and shutter, the Sony A9 pitches itself as the ultimate sports camera that can shoot up to 20 fps bursts.

That said, you’ll have to pay dearly for all of that burst shooting performance with the Sony A9 retailing for $4,499 (about £3,520, AU$6,000).

Features

  • 24.2 MP full-frame stacked Exmor RS image sensor
  • 3,686K-dot Quad-VGA Tru-Finder with 120 fps refresh rate
  • 3.0-inch 1,440K-dot LCD screen

The key highlight of the Sony A9 is its 24.2 MP full-frame stacked Exmor RS image sensor. It’s not a resolution monster like the Sony A7r Mark II’s 42.4MP sensor, but that’s because this camera was designed for speed.

The new stacked image sensor essentially takes on the architecture of Sony’s mobile cameras. In this configuration integrated DRAM memory modules, a high-speed processing circuit and the Bionz X image processing engine are all lined up behind the image sensor. 

As Sony explains it, the Sony A9 can send imaging data through the sensor rather than around it. It’s a lot like a processor architecture in which cores can easily share information directly and quickly.

All this technical design results in a sensor that produces a 20 times faster data read out, which in turn enables the Sony A9 to shoot at 20 fps for up to 241 RAW or 362 JPEG images. The camera also uses all this power to create a blackout-free shooting experience while looking through the new 3,686K-dot Quad-VGA Tru-Finder.

The Sony A9 also brings with it improved 4K video recording that uses the full pixel readout of the entire sensor. Additionally, the camera can record Full HD at up to 120 fps and a 100 Mbps bit rate.

And last, but not least, the image processor also corrects for the jelloing distortion often created by electronic shutters. This usually occurs when the subject or shooter is moving as images are being built sequentially from top to bottom. The Sony A9 counters this effect by practically resolving photos instantly while also adding distortion correction. 

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Dual SD card slots
  • 673 grams

At first glance, the Sony A9 looks like a jumbo-sized version of the Sony A7 Mark II, but upon closer inspection there’s are many crucial additions. It’s physically larger and about a half centimeter thicker than the Sony A7 line thanks to the larger battery.

The controls have also seen a great deal of revisions. Namely if you’ve been crying for a autofocus selector on a Sony camera, your answers have finally been answered with a new joystick located just to the left of the thumb rest.

Likewise, the record video button is finally in a much more accessible place rather than hanging on the side of the thumb grip like some sort of wart. Dual SD memory card slots are finally here as well.

The Sony A7 also introduces a new control dial for switching between focusing modes just underneath the main mode dial – which, does still include a setting for ‘Intelligent Auto’…on a $4,000 camera.

Autofocus

  • 693 focal plane phase detection AF points
  • 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second
  • Enhanced Eye-AF

The Sony A9 comes with an almost absurd 693 focal plane phase detection AF points covering approximately 93% of the frame. Not only do you get full coverage, the autofocus system can make 60 tracking calculations per second.

During our quick hands on time with the camera, the Sony A9 instantly locked onto boxers and we never lost track of our intended subject even as they circled the ring. Likewise, we found tracking to be perfectly on point while following gymnasts performed their Olympics-inspired floor exercises.

Performance

  • 20 fps burst shooting
  • 241 RAW/362 JPEG buffer
  • 480-shot battery life

We’ve always been wary of using electronic shutters since rolling shutter reared its ugly head, but after using the Sony A9 we almost never want to hear that mechanical klack ever again.

The Sony A9 takes an insane number of frames with the electronic shutter on. Out of curiosity we wanted to see how it would perform with the same exact setting on a mechanical shutter and it felt like the camera was almost broken, taking half the number of frames and capturing only a portion of the action.

While we usually see burst performance take with AF tracking turned on, but the Sony A9 runs like a dream.

Better yet, thanks to Sony’s new larger batteries are rated for 480 shots, so you’ll be able to shoot roughly 2.2 times more action and for longer than the Sony A7 line ever could.

Early verdict

The Sony A9 is hands down one of the most impressive cameras we’ve ever used. If you need to shoot a tons of number of photos with unbridled speed, this seems like the camera to get.

That said, the Sony A9 is aimed at a very particular crowd of sports and journalistic shooter. Therefore it’s a bit overkill for anyone outside of its niche. But Sony has done an admirable job of producing one of the fastest and best performing cameras we’ve ever seen. 

We’ll have to do some more testing with the mirrorless full-frame camera in our review, but we really hope the promise of going with only an electronic shutter sounds as sweet as it does.

We’re also excited about the prospect of seeing the technologies integrated with the Sony A9 trickle down to the inevitable Sony A7 Mark III and Sony Alpha A6700.


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