Sony A9 Camera Pre-Review

Sony A9 Camera Pre-Review

Written by: Matthew J. Sullivan

 

Specifications   |   ISO Test   |   Final Thoughts

The Sony mirrorless cameras have always intrigued me, and in fact I owned the Sony A6000 for a while before deciding to make the switch back to a DSLR. With each body Sony has released, I’ve given them all a long and hard look but ultimately have not seriously been tempted back.

However, when the A9 was announced I could not wait to get my hands on it. A camera with beautiful sensor, a beautiful EVF, 20 fps, insanely fast autofocus, great low light performance, 4k video, and (finally) two card slots? What isn’t tempting about that?!

Unfortunately, at the time of this test, no underwater housings are available (The Nauticam and Ikelite are coming),so for now, I put the camera through a few paces on land. Seeing as the major selling points of this camera are its speed and AF I borrowed a friend’s dog and photographed him in a number of settings.

One of the most difficult things for a camera to do is to track and keep in focus, objects that are moving at speed towards the camera. I had my buddy Charlie run towards me.

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 100, f4, 1/1250th

 

The first thing I noticed besides the ludicrous 20fps is that the AF locks on almost instantaneously, then loses focus as the object starts to move, picks it back up for a few frames, then loses it again. So with Charlie, while he was stationary, the camera locked on. Then we’d call him towards me. The A9 would shoot crisply the first few images, lose a few, and then lock back on again. However when Charlie got close to me, the A9 could not keep up and anytime he got really close, none of his body was in focus. This may also be a result of using the Sony 90mm Macro (a notoriously slow focusing lens, despite being pretty snappy on the a9) and a fast moving animal. For underwater shooters, animals that would be moving quickly towards the photographer (i.e. dolphins, sharks, sailfish, etc.) would be better photographed with a wider lens meaning keeping focus on the subject would be far easier than with a macro lens. I will say shooting 20fps, chances are you will get shots in focus at some point no matter what.

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 100, f4, 1/2000th

 

The images that I took which are in focus look fantastic. The 24mpx sensor pulls a lot of detail and at low ISO, even playing with simple jpeg files; the Dynamic Range is impressive as is the tonal range. The uncompressed raw files should be very nice.

 

Specifications:

  • Fullframe 24.2MP stacked CMOS sensor with integral memory
  • BIONZ X processing engine
  • Continuous shooting up to 20fps with AE/AF tracking
  • 693 point widearea phase detection AF 5axis image stabilization (up to 5 stops)
  • 4K video recording with no pixelbinning (oversampling at 6K fullpixel readout)
  • ISO 100  51200 (mechanical shutter), ISO 100  25600 (electronic shutter)
  • Viewfinder: 1.3cm electronic 3686kdot QuadVGA OLED TruFinder
  • Dual SD card slots. (lower slot UHSII)
  • Sony Emount lens compatibility (Recommendations Sony 90mm Macro, 1635mm f4 or f2.8)
  • Dimensions (WxHxD): 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm / 5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches
  • Weight (with battery & SD card): 673g / 1lb 7.7 oz

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ISO Test:

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 100, f4.5, 1/8th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 400, f4.5, 1/8th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 800, f4.5, 1/30th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 1600, f4.5, 1/30th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 3200, f4.5, 1/60th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 6400 f4.5, 1/80th

 

Sony A9, Sony 90mm Macro, ISO 10000, f4.5, 1/125th

 

All of the ISO tests above were shot with the Sony 90mm Macro Lens on autofocus in a room lit only through the windows. The A9 had no problem locking focus quickly in these conditions. While admittedly the subject wasn't moving, a big complaint of the 90 macro previously is how slow focusing it is especially in low light. In my brief time with the combo, that did not seem to be the case. When this camera gets show underwater will obviously be the real test with both this lens and others.

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Final Thoughts:

Realistically, I am not sure how often underwater photographers will be shooting at ISO 10,000, but the option to have it there and for the photos to be useful for most applications is nice. This means if you are shooting big animals, you can set your ISO to ISO auto, essentially forget about it, and not worry about it ruining images. Remember, all these photos were shot as jpg and no noise reduction applied at all.

One thing I absolutely loved was the new joystick. This means in Manual Focus Point Mode you can change the autofocus points with the joystick anywhere you want in the frame. And with the 693 autofocus points, the coverage is essentially to the edges of the frame, an unusual commodity on a full frame sensor.

A concern in previous iterations of A7 series cameras has been the awful battery life which can be worrisome for underwater photographers since we have no way to change battery underwater. The A9 is rated for 650 shots but I blew through 500 shooting at 20fps over the course of about 45 minutes and the battery dropped only slightly, from 67% to 65%. Now while I would still not say the battery life is on the level of the high end DSLRs, it has certainly improved and perhaps should not be as big an issue as previous generations. We will see how a typical three dive day goes in terms of battery life, once housings become available.

The Sony A9 should be a beast for underwater photography, both for macro and wide angle and I cannot wait for housings to be released. The 24 megapixel sensor produces beautiful, highly detailed images without the hard drive crushing file size of a Nikon D810, Canon 5dsr, or Sony A7RII. The incredible speed will be quite useful for shooting big/fast animals especially using natural light with the nice high ISO capabilities of the camera. 

I am very much looking forward to being able to use this camera underwater. I think it will really shine for photographing fast action, but it should hold its own against any other body for all around underwater shooting.

 
 
2017/05/31
 
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