When Sony announced the a9 interchangeable lens camera last week, it was positioned to rival the top-of-the-line workhorses from Canon and Nikon, such as the 1Dx and the D5. Sony has really marketed their new camera as one for the sports & wildlife photographer. Being in neither one of those niche markets, I continued to track the announcement and once I looked over the features of the new a9, I was instantly interested. Being primarily a wedding & portrait photographer and cinematographer, I’d like to highlight some of the the things I believe will be useful for me in the new design.
Paradigm-shifting Shooting Experience
One of the biggest complaints from people trying to switch to switch to mirrorless cameras is that they are not as responsive as their DSLR counterparts. Currently, the a7II is still my go to camera when it comes to portrait photography and videography, but I myself have found myself using my a6000 more and more when speed and continuous autofocus is needed. With the a9, Sony boasts a top-of-the-class 20 frames per second of continuous shooting. While this in itself does not seem so useful for wedding & portrait work, in conjunction to this feature, auto-focus is calculated 60 times per second. This means the camera is tracking the subject’s focus every millisecond. This will dramatically increase the hit/miss rate for every shot when the focusing mode is on continuous mode. On top of this, there is absolutely no blackout that occurs when you press the shutter button, because this camera is designed to be shot primarily with an electronic shutter instead of a mechanical one (although there is a physical shutter available at a lower frame rate to use in certain instances, such as syncing with a flash). These three features working together coupled with the improved OLED electronic view finder sounds like a dream shooting experience, one where the lag and clunkiness of the mechanical shutter is totally taken out of the picture.
A Sum Greater Than Its Parts
Other than the great innovations included in the a9, there are some small, not-so-ground-breaking features that Sony has included. They may seem like small features, but when considered together, they will help the a9 achieve “workhorse” status. The first feature is a new and improved larger battery that claims to have at lease double the battery life of the previous generation. This is such an improvement that was long awaited. All I can say is FINALLY!
Due to popular demand, the a9 now has dual media slots which will let me create an instant backup of all the media I shoot. I could also use the 2nd slot to organize my still and video files into separate cards. This has been a feature that many pro shooters have asked for and I’m glad we don’t have to complain about it ever again.
The a9 also has a totally silent and vibration-free shutter. I didn’t hear too much hype regarding this because this feature is already present with the a7RII and the a7SII, but I think this is is so helpful in real world use. When I film wedding movies, I cringe everytime I hear the photographer’s mirror release crack like whip during an intimate moment between the bride and her father. I know there’s no way to work around that, until now that is. As a videographer, I wish all still cameras had a silent shutter. While the a9 is designed for sports & nature applications, it is starting to sound like the event photographer’s dream camera.
This All Won’t Matter If I Hate Using It
Perhaps the most important features for me are ones regarding ergonomics. For a couple of years now, I’ve tolerated many of the seemingly poor judgments that designers have made with the a7 series in exchange for the innovations Sony has brought with the mirrorless revolution. Now, Sony is making things right.
The ergonomics have been redesigned to allow for a few great changes. First, there are now two separate physical dials to change the shooting mode and the focus mode. This is a double blessing, because not only will changing these modes be faster, but we have a couple of buttons that are now freed up to be assigned for other frequently used functions. A joystick button has been added so the focus point can now be selected much faster (this used to be a chore to do). The dedicated record button is larger and has been placed to a better location. Both changes are a huge improvement ergonomically speaking. Perhaps the most useful thing for me is the inclusion of a separate menu folder so I can store my most used settings. This was by far my most used feature when I first got the 5DmkII years ago. I think these seemingly little changes adds up to a very satisfying experience for the shooter, not only for the sports & nature photographers out there, but for wedding & portrait photographers and videographers like myself.
Now, Who Will Buy It?
On paper, the a9 is not only groundbreaking, but it promises to be a responsive, well-rounded workhorse that is a joy to use. It’s not just a huge improvement over the a7 series, but it also touts many advancements that are technically impossible with a DSLR system. If this camera delivers on its promises, we might be looking back at the a9 in a few years as the camera that made many professionals switch to the mirrorless system, but those pros may come from a different market than Sony initially planned. Sports and nature photographers will need more than just a groundbreaking camera body to switch from Canon or Nikon, they will also require native lenses at least in the 300-500mm range to even get them to consider a big switch. Wedding and portrait photographers already have native FE lenses that cover the focal lengths they need (primes in the 24-135mm range and the three most used zooms: 16-35, 24-70, and 70-200). I know there are adapters that can be used to get any lens mount working on the a9, but I am stressing native lenses, because that is where you get the maximum capability out of the camera. Plus, Sony still needs to mature in the professional service department. With all this to consider, I think most of the pros that will initially buy the a9 will be the wedding & portrait photographers and the event shooters like myself. This camera is ripe for us, ready to use right out of the box.
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