Mirrorless cameras. On paper, some of them seem perfect. They’re quick and powerful with lightweight bodies, but their main drawback has been equally light lens catalogs.
Having a variety of prime, telephoto, macro, sport and the like, all with distinctive shooting characteristics is what give lenses their charm.
However, Sony just took Nikon’s spot as number two in the full-frame camera industry — Canon holds pole position. Currently, only 24 full-frame E-mount lenses exist compared to the dozens that Canon has in each category. Still, it’s inching forward.
The Sony Alpha A9 is the first new mirrorless camera since taking their new perch. Is it really a show of maturation of the format, worth paying the premium and jumping on board? I think so.
How the Sony A9 is different than other mirrorless cameras
If you want to know what makes the A9 different compared to other mirrorless cameras, but maybe even more importantly the other, cheaper Sony Alpha cameras, then this is your section.
Five things really stand out about the A9: its no-blackout 20fps shutter, the 693 autofocus points, its port versatility and its 5-axis, 4K video stabilization. The A9 is an absolute beast, in both raw tech (full-frame 24.2MP sensor) and styling (the body is composed of a magnesium alloy).
Or as (only) I like to put it: looking through the A9 is very much like looking through the scope of a rifle.
The 20fps shutter speed and lack of blackout in the electronic viewfinder is the ultimate iteration of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). Not having blackout means your view of the scene is never interrupted by the shutter in the continuous shooting modes.
Instead, it has a quad-VGA OLED viewfinder that uses shutter indicator at each corner of the screen, sort of like a screenshot or a vignette. Or as (only) I like to put it: looking through the A9 is like looking through the scope of a rifle.
As for the shutter speed: it’s fast, that’s it. Just be sure to have UHS II class SD cards that can keep up with writing that many images, both RAWs and JPEGs, without the need to stop for processing.
Hundreds of autofocus points means you get to rely on the camera’s computer to have more precise focus on a subject in the frame of the camera. It also means you can track subjects (think action) or select a group of points, rather than just one, to keep a portion of the frame always-focused.
While overall usefulness varies on the type of shooter you are, you’ll always be paying respect to those 693 focus points.
Video on the A9 isn’t an afterthought, it’s a feature: you can shoot at 100Mbps for 4K 30p (25p)/24p recording, up to 50Mbps for full-HD 60p (50p)/30p (25p)/24p recording, or just go slow-motion at 120fps, at full HD. Because video is almost completely stabilized on the A9, you’d be comfortable shooting at crazy settings.
While the awesome video team here at TechCrunch can’t even make immediate use of a feature like 4K, because web video and compression is the bane its existence. But, even if you are shooting a short film and I am not, you can always super-sample 1080p videos by shooting them in 4K — just a thought.
The port selection on the A9 includes an Ethernet port. While it sounds crazy at first, it’s for those organizations who have to network hundreds of images at high speed. Things look normal when you look at the audio-out/mic-in ports, micro-HDMI and micro USB, as well as the dedicated port for RAW recordings.
Using the A9
I think the most gratifying point of the Sony A9: it’s hard for it to take a bad photo. Okay, it’s possible if you’re the person that buys a camera and leaves it on auto mode — shame on you — but that aside, the sensor seems to make the best of every scenario.
Shots are strong at night, during the day, for portraits, urban settings, action scenes and even video. Colors are vibrant, details are sharp, shadows have depth, RAWs have lots of 14-bit flexibility in Lightroom, while the built-in filters can completely flip those characteristics. You get the idea.
All of this great performance comes consistent with a control interface that makes you feel personally involve; there’s even a level balance in the electronic viewfinder. No more slanted photos.
Finally, the 2.95 inch (3.0-type) wide type TFT touchscreen: it’s a very crispy and vibrant 3,686,400 dot resolution. Respect.
Below are some basic scenes shot with the A9, so you can get a better idea of the quality and aesthetic. All shots were resized down for web viewing.
Very personal opinion here, but I feel the requirement of safety switches on the shooting mode, shutter mode and focus mode buttons make it way too complex to switch up basic settings, on the fly.
To make the situation weirder, because of their positions on the camera body, there’s no way you can do it all single-handedly. Or maybe, I shouldn’t complain and start using custom setting profiles.
Battery life is improved over the A7 and A7II, but the A9 won’t last you longer than 400 stills, or an evaporated battery when shooting 4K video. Buy a few (authentic) spare batteries; you’ll need them.
For nearly $6,700 you can be at the edge of the camera industry. If the A7 and A7 II series of cameras before it are any indication, the A9 is a camera that will age well. Shooters and videographers don’t have many full-frame cameras that meet each other in the middle, but the A9 is probably one of them.
If you really, really don’t think Sony’s lenses are gonna cut it, you can always buy an adapter to use Canon’s lenses, but you’ll see your continuous shooting drop down to 10fps. So, despite all the A9’s good graces, the crux of mirrorless cameras a very wide lens portfolio, is still on its way.
However, if you’re feeling brave and have at least $4500 dollars to spare on a new camera system, then I can only imagine you’ll exceed that number with fantastic photos and videos to match. It’s just what the A9 does.
Price as Reviewed: $6698 total ($4,499 body-only, $2,199 for f/2.8 24-70mm lens)