Sony A9 Initial Thoughts after 4 months

March 30, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

This camera is such a complex beast that even after 4 months of quite heavy use I don't feel qualified to give a full review, for example, I've not even gotten around to using the video on this camera yet, although I plan to very soon.

This article is probably more of interest to photographers than wedding clients, but here goes anyway!  I moved system this year from Fuji to Sony.  The main reason was autofocus performance, particularly in the area of tracking and also low light performance.  The Fuji's are fantastic, but I do find the image quality a little mushy in low light and the tracking is mediocre, at least compared to the latest Sony cameras.  It was really the A9 that prompted the switch.  Totally silent shooting with minimal rolling shutter, ridiculous frame rate and stellar AF.  I had to try this thing out and once I did, I made the switch.  Lets talk a little more detail...

Autofocus:

The AF on this camera is insanely good, especially when it comes to tracking, compared to other mirrorless cameras.  One of the main reasons for switching to this camera was to get access to this next level AF and it doesn't disappoint.  In addition to standard tracking you get best in class face detection and eye-AF.  Eye-AF has to be assigned to a particular button but it works really well and allows you to effectively track a person with the AF point sticking to the eye like glue ( not literally, that would be painful ).  Here is a walking down the aisle shot from the last wedding I shot where I used face recognition to track my subject.

I have to admit, I don't yet feel I've fully mastered the AF system on this camera, and I sometimes feel like I'm fighting against it, but for the most part it works brilliantly.  Face detection and eye-af are genuine game changers for wedding photography.  I was in a dark room full of guests recently at a lovely venue in Berkshire, the Old Bell in Hurley.  My second shooter had a Nikon D750 and was trying to capture reportage images of the guests, I was doing the same with my A9.  Now the D750 is no slouch, it is in fact a superb wedding camera, but the A9 was nailing the shots with much greater ease, mostly due to face detection.

Image Quality:

This camera uses a fairly unique sensor design that is optimised for silent shooting using the electronic shutter.  You therefore lose the extreme dynamic range of the Sony A7R3, but I have to say, the image quality is still fantastic and you get decent enough dynamic range.  I read one review where they stated the A9 could be used for landscapes "in a pinch" but that it wasn't really optimal.  I think this is a more than capable camera for landscapes, even if that isn't specifically what it is designed for, in fact it can shoot pretty much anything and give you spectacular images.  There are better cameras for landscapes, if that is your primary purpose, but the overall image quality is suitable for 99% of photographers.  It uses a 24 MP sensor, which is ideal for wedding photographers, it gives you room to crop but you don't end up with huge files to go through.  This is important for a wedding photographer, as on average I'll be shooting around 3000 images per wedding.  Below is a studio portrait from a recent workshop.  The images from this camera have a lovely tone to them that I really like, sometimes more than the A7R3 for some reason.

Zara Studio PortraitZara Studio PortraitStudio portrait of model Zara Watson

Silent Shooting:

My Fuji cameras were very quiet, before that I used DSLRS, which sound like a machine gun by comparison.  Aside from the X100 series cameras, this is the first camera I've used that is totally silent ( in electronic shutter mode ).  I now have to tell my clients in advance about this, in case they get worried that I'm not taking photos!  This feature is particularly useful during the ceremony, when I will generally get my second shooter to stand at the back ( as they mostly still use a noisy DSLR ) while I go up to the front and make no noise whatsoever.  It's also handy during bridal prep, where you are often in a relatively small area with a bunch of nervous, excited people who may not want to feel they are being photographed all the time.  I have to admit though, this camera is not as small and discreet as the X100 series, people notice me lifting the camera up and taking photos more than they ever did when I used the X100F.  As my style of shooting is very candid, this is important, but the silent shooting helps, a lot, and I can always shoot from a lower angle and use the flip screen to get my shots.

Ergonomics:

This is what has held me back from switching to Sony before, that and the high cost of the lenses.  I've tried Sony cameras before and always hated the ergonomics.  I have to say though, this latest generation are a big improvement.  Coming from the Fuji line, which has superb physical controls, I've not found the A9 bad at all, the addition of an AF joystick is great and something I'm used to from my XPro-2.  The menu system is complex, but then this is a hugely complex camera, at least you can customise every button, and there is a nifty My Menu feature where you can add your core menu features.  It takes a while to set up, but once it's done, I find it easy to use.  I love the 3 custom menu buttons on the top plate, C1,2 &3, as this lets me store three different setups for photos and video.  At the moment C1 is for silent, fast shooting ( weddings and sports ) and C1 switches to studio/strobe settings where I am using flash. 

My daughter playing football, shot with the 70-200 GM.

 Lenses:

There is a perception that many mirrorless systems, including Sony, are lacking in lenses compared to Canon and Nikon.  Technically this is true, but Sony has covered most of the bases now with their superb lenses.  They are expensive, and I think over priced.  However, the quality is fantastic and the GM lenses are easily as good as the Canon L glass, in some cases better ( more modern design and materials I guess ).  There are some very good cheap(ish) primes, the 28 f2, 85 f1.8 and 55 1.8 are all superb ( ok, the 55 is not cheap compared to most 50 mm primes ).  Then there is the 16-35 2.8, one of the finest ultra wide zooms on the planet, and the 70-200 GM 2.8, which is the best 70-200 I've used.  You can also adapt almost any lenses to use on this camera, including some lovely Minolta glass, and the Sigma lenses using the MC-11 adapter.  In most cases you can get great autofocus, though not as good as native lenses, but still pretty useable.  Sony is coming out with some longer glass, a 200-600 is apparently in the works.  Anyway, to sum it up, for most people who are not pro sports/wildlife photographers, you are covered for lenses.

High ISO performance:

In a word, superb.  Here is a shot at 12800 ISO from my last wedding.  No noise reduction applied, straight from Capture 1.  Nothing more to say really, its just incredible what today's cameras can achieve and it makes wedding photography so much easier.  There have been a number of weddings I've shot recently where I've not been able to use flash at all because a guest has epilepsy, and being able to push the ISO like this great.

 

Conclusion:

Sony marketed this camera as a sports camera, and it does line up against the 1dX and D5, but I think they missed a trick.  This is the perfect wedding camera, it's super fast, tracks incredibly well, has a very deep shot buffer, great battery life ( compared to any other mirrorless ), and has superb low light capability.  The only thing I'd like to see is a better mechanical flash ( the current one is capped at 5 fps ) and more robust weather sealing.  Other than that I'm really struggling to see how to improve this camera, particularly for wedding photographers. 

 

 

 

 


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