Announcement Review : Sony a9

 The Sony a9 body

The Sony a9 body

Earlier today, Sony announced the a9 camera and the 100-400/4.5-5.6 G Master zoom lens.  While the lens definitely looks interesting and fills a needed gap in Sony's own lineup, it is the a9 that has turned the photographic world on its ear.  Let's take a look at what we saw for the first time today.

Preorders for the a9 start April 21st with first customer shipped expected to be May 25, 2017.  There is nothing like the a9 in Sony's current inventory, and the short window between announcement and delivery is indicative that Sony is playing for keeps in this space.  Contrast this no delay scenario with the recent Nikon D7500 announcement of an incremental upgrade with a three month delay until availability.

Based on the specifications, there is nothing like the a9 anywhere.  It is a full frame, mirrorless camera that beats down a number of critical issues, presuming that the Sony execs and the pros who have shot the camera are not participating in hyperbole. 

This is a 24MP professional grade magnesium alloy body, capable of burst mode shooting rates of 20fps for stills, with a zero blackout EVF, maximum shutter speed of 1/32000, completely silent shooting, incredible battery life and an unprecedented number of autofocus points.  Sound interesting?  It is.

This is Sony's own 24MP sensor fitted in a new body, built from magnesium alloy for toughness.  Images can be captured as RAW or JPEG or both.  There are two SDXC card slots with UHS-II support in slot 1.  Stills can be captured at up to 20 frames per second in burst mode.  Video is supported up to 4K at 30p with a bandwidth of 100MB/s. 

 Dual card slots, but only one is UHS-II (sad face)

Dual card slots, but only one is UHS-II (sad face)

Autofocus is of the phase detect type with a maximum of 693 AF points available.  AF works from EV-3 to EV20 in single shot or continuous mode.  Tracking mode is available in the Continuous focus setting.  Point coverage is nearly full screen.

Metering is done over 1200 points with an effective range of EV-3 to EV20.  ISO range is 100-51200 with the mechanical shutter and 100-25600 with the electronic shutter.  There are both push and pull ISOs available.  AE bracketing is available with up to 9 frames to a maximum of +-EV 5

The EVF has just under 3.7M dots with 100% coverage.  Viewfinder refresh is 60fps in normal mode, 120fps in high mode.  The viewfinder exhibits no blackout at all.  Diopter adjustment is from -4 to +3 and has 5 internal colour temperature settings.

The rear LCD is 1.4M dots on a 3 inch panel.  The LCD tilts up and down and is touch sensitive.

The shutter is an electro-mechanical type where the user chooses the operational mode.  The mechanical shutter has a speed range of 1/8000-30s plus bulb, the electronic shutter has a speed range of 1/32000-30s plus bulb.  The electronic shutter can be configured in silent mode where it is completely silent, very different from other camera's quiet modes which really aren't all that quiet.

There is in body 5 axis image stabilization with a claimed 5 stops of stabilization enhancement.

Flash synchronization is 1/250.  FEC is available +-EV3.  There is no built in flash.  The camera uses the same signalling system as existing Sony flashes so investment is preserved and it is expected that those studio systems that interact directly such as Profoto's AirTTL will also work with the system. 

Drive modes are single shot, continuous L,M,H with a max of 20fps with the electronic shutter.  There are numerous self timer options.  At time of this writing it was not clear if there was a built in intervalometer.

 Grip with exposed dual battery slots (rendered)

Grip with exposed dual battery slots (rendered)

Physical interfaces include micro USB, micro HDMI, Smart Accessory, Bluetooth, NFC, WiFi and wired Ethernet.  The camera can take a vertical grip which includes a slot for an extra battery.  In addition to built in microphones, there is a mic input and headphone output.

The battery is a brand new design more than doubling the capability of the a7 family batteries.  It is CIPA rated for 480 shots using the EVF and 650 shots using the LCD only.  The new battery is denoted the NP-FZ100.

Sony North America announced that the camera will sell for $4500USD in the United States and $6000CDNin Canada.  While I wish it would be less expensive, compared to Nikon's D5 and Canon's 1Dx Mark II, the a9 price could be construed to be a bargain.

I have not seen the camera live.  I participated in the livestream from New York, as did pretty much every other photography gear writer.  Reaction of the audience was good with applause at some features.  Less enthusiastic than I would have expected, considering the significant innovation promised for delivery in just over a month.

I'm very impressed with what Sony has announced.  It is definitely the first really professional grade mirrorless camera from the company.  We all know that Sony do incredible sensors.  I can see the high frame rate being ideal for sports and wildlife shooters.  The zero blackout EVF is the killer feature from my perspective, especially given the camera's performance.  I am disappointed that only one card slot is UHS-II compatible.  I am impressed by the significant battery life improvement but would still want the grip and second battery for sports and wildlife work.  You miss a lot scrambling to change batteries.  This one improvement gives Sony a leg up on all other mirrorless and puts them in range of the other pro cameras.  The gap remains the lens stable.  Mount converters aside, because mostly they inhale rapidly, Sony does not have the range of glass that Canon and Nikon bring to bear.  The Zeiss direct options are superb, but priced out of reach of most normal humans.  The G Master lenses are better than Sony branded glass in the past, and the Sony-Zeiss co-brands are excellent, albeit with limited coverage.  If Sigma were to build their ART and SPORT series in Sony FE mount, that would be a huge benefit for Sony shooters.  I have used the Sigma MC-11 with Sigma ART Canon mount glass on the a7IIs and it worked a charm, but I suspect that pros will want a native mount.

Sony did provide JPEGs to media from the new camera.  The images are very sharp, and to my eye, perhaps a bit too contrasty.  I look forward to Sony making RAWs available so we can see the true dynamic range and fidelity of the images from their excellent sensor.  The sensor has the same ratings as the a7II and that sensor is superb.  Coupled with this new, faster and more accurate AF this could be amazing.  I have to wait of course to get hands-on in real shooting situations to provide any real guidance, but based on the announcement today, as well as the recent data showing Sony as having taken the number two position away from Nikon, those who underestimate Sony's capability and commitment may find themselves badly surprised.