Sony Alpha A9 Review: The mirrorless speed demon

Sony Alpha A9 detailed review

Sony launched the A9 in India last year, a camera that heralded the definitive evolution of the mirrorless camera. One after the other, Sony has broken the formula for reliable image quality, high resolution and impressive movie recording, and now they are entering the field of sports cameras with the A9. With the ability to shoot at up to 20 frames per second (RAW) and a focus system that the company says is perfect for wildlife and sports photographers. But does the A9 deliver on all those accounts? Let’s find out.

What’s in the box

The Sony A9 comes with a very minimal set of accessories. You will receive the new NP-FZ100 battery together with a charger. There’s also a Sony A9 strap in the box, which is a bit more premium compared to the straps you’d normally get with other Sony mirrorless cameras. There is also a lot of paperwork, such as warranty cards and a user manual.

Specifications:

Resolution: 24 Megapixel
ISO range: 100-51200 (expandable to 204800)
Image Stabilization: Sensor Shift, 5-axis
Focus points: 693
Continuous Drive: 20 fps (electronic shutter) and 5 fps (mechanical shutter)
Video: 4K@30fps, 1080p@120fps
Storage: Dual SD Cards, 1 Slot UHS Compatible
Weather sealing: Yes

Build and design

The Sony A9 was Sony’s first mirrorless camera that radically changed the design from the second-generation A7 cameras. The company added a joystick for maneuvering focal points (or zones), adding a whole new level of convenience. The dial arrangement has also been significantly improved, with the top left plate housing the riding modes and the measurement button. To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial. Both dials feature locks to prevent accidental changes. Probably one of the most noticeable changes is the position of the record button, which has been moved to the bottom right corner of the viewfinder, a place where the thumb can come quite naturally. The grip on the Sony A9 is also deeper than on previous Sony mirrorless cameras, which is good for those who have bigger hands.

A deeper grip makes using the Sony Alpha A9 much easier than its predecessors

On the right side of the handle, you’ll find a latch that, when opened, reveals the dual SD card slots. There is a rubber seal on the latch, keeping the compartment watertight. Unfortunately, Sony doesn’t really say how much weather-sealing has gone into the A9, but as it competes with the Canon 1Dx and Nikon D5, we expect the weather-sealing to be top-notch.

Overall, the build quality and ergonomics of the Sony A9 make it a much easier camera to use compared to anything Sony has released before. The new joystick and the additional rotary controls on the left make operating the camera very easy. If you want to make it even easier, you can always use the touchscreen to control the camera.

The joystick on the back makes moving the AF points a breeze

Autofocus performance

The AF system of the Sony A9 has 693 focus points thanks to a new phase detection system. The AF system provides 93 percent of the frame coverage. The focusing system makes 60AF/AE calculations per second, making it a whole 25 percent faster than the Sony A7 Mark II. The AF system can be set to function in zones of different sizes or individual AF points, which are also available in different sizes. Depending on what you’re shooting, the AF system can also be tweaked to emphasize focus speed or accuracy. You can tweak the settings to suit your needs, but for the most part, the AF system really manages to perform well. The ideal way to test the A9’s performance was to test it shooting distant subjects, so we did.

Recording Performance

Burst mode and autofocus have to work hand in hand if you want the resulting images to be useful. There’s no real benefit to having a blazing fast AF system if the camera can’t capture enough frames to account for the motion and similarly a really fast burst mode won’t do much if the AF system can capture the fast moving images cannot follow. subjects. The A9 strikes a decent balance between the two, offering a maximum burst rate of 20 fps when using the electronic shutter. The mechanical shutter unfortunately has a top speed of 5 fps. In addition, the electronic shutter allows you to shoot at up to 1/32000 of a second, but shooting at such high speeds is not recommended, especially if the subject is lit with artificial light. All this is made possible thanks to a new 24 megapixel full-frame sensor with a DRAM layer that allows a faster sensor readout.

The new 24 megapixel full-frame sensor with integrated DRAM provides the 20 fps burst mode

We tested the camera on a variety of subjects, including a dancer and yours truly on a mountain bike. The idea was to test the camera’s ability to track and capture the subjects and also measure how many out-of-focus shots we ended up with. We shot over 3,000 frames between the two conditions and walked away with about 90 percent usable frames. The camera was loaded with a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC 32GB card in slot 1 and a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC 64GB card in slot 2. Both are fast cards. It was interesting to note that after about 40 minutes of shooting at the maximum burst rate, the 32GB card was full and the camera didn’t switch to the second card. After some tinkering with the menu, it was discovered that for some reason a rollover option is missing from the camera menu.

The tracking on the camera was perfect. The sequence with our dancer friend had only 2 out of focus shots for a sequence of 20. We shot 6 such sequences and had a little variability, but all in all it was still very impressive. Likewise, the A9 manages to track the subject effectively during rapid mountain bike descents. While tracking subjects moving from left to right (or vice versa) was obviously good, we were also very impressed with the A9’s ability to track subjects moving at significant speed in the Z-axis.

Follow a dancer halfway through the flight? No problem!

Follow fast-moving action toward the camera? No problem!

Wide dynamic range and colors

AF works great even in low light

You can view the collection of image samples in our Flickr gallery.

For everyday use, the Sony A9 is frankly overkill. The Sony A9 is best suited for those who shoot sports or wildlife and need the speed to keep up with their subjects. Of course even a hobbyist could go for the A9 and we wouldn’t discourage that. This camera will last you a very long time, especially considering how Sony uses a very impressive sensor, one capable of producing clear images up to ISO 16,000.

ISO 1600

ISO 5000

ISO 10,000

ISO 16,000

bottom line

The Sony A9 is a huge step towards bridging the performance gap between the mirrorless and DSLR form factors. DSLRs like the Canon 1Dx and Nikon D5 still retain some superiority with their ability to shoot north of 12 frames per second, despite a mechanical shutter. However, the ergonomics are top notch and the button layout makes access to all essential functions a breeze. However, with a suggested retail price of Rs 3,34990, it’s hard to say that this is the best camera for everyone. However, this is the best camera for those seeking the combination of speed, accuracy and reliability in a much more portable package than the 1Dx or the D5.

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