I recently wrote about my expectations regarding the Sony a9 being the documentary wedding photographer’s dream camera. I’d like to revisit some of those thoughts after using the a9 for a wedding last weekend. My setup included two a9 camera bodies — one paired with the Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA and the second body paired with the Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. But first, I’d like to pause here for a minute and thank the awesome people at Horn Photo (my local camera shop) for calling me as soon as the camera arrived at their shop and Sony Rep Dave Rhodes for letting me test drive the 85mm G-Master (I only owned the 35mm at that point). I loved using the 85mm so much that after returning it the next day, I got one for myself. Now, back to that Sony a9…
Did my expectations match reality?
- The a9 is as responsive as advertised. Focusing is ridiculously snappy and consistently hits the mark. (It reminds of when I used to shoot a slower Canon 5D and a super-responsive 1DmkII and the difference between the two; that’s how much more responsive the a9 is compared to the a7 series). Continuous Eye-AF coupled with the fast focusing system is a dream combination. Eye-AF works so effectively and is incredibly useful. It doesn’t feel like just some spec that Sony added to the a9 so you can show it off to your friends at a party. The speed at which the a9 responds is worth the price difference between the a7 and a9 series and I am not exaggerating. During my shoot, I used a combination of point-selected continuous AF and continuous Eye-AF. It really was a joy to use.
- The electronic viewfinder is fantastic! I didn’t norice any lag between the action and what I saw on the viewfinder. Shooting without the viewfinder blacking out feels like the future and I’ll never want to go back to a regular mechanical shutter. Although I’ve had to during a portrait shoot where I used off-camera lighting. When I switched the a9 back to a mechanical shutter, it felt like I had gone back in time (and not in an awesome Back to the Future kind of way).
- 20 frames per second is definitely overkill for 99% of what I do, but I will probably use it for a few key moments of super-fast action — it’s already come in handy a couple of times. For me, this is not what drew me to the camera anyways. I do feel more secure thinking that I can turn up the turbo when I need it.
- The larger battery is pricey, but it does last a lot longer. For the first day of shooting with the a9, I had two family portrait shoots and a video interview. I got it all done with one charge (I would have had to use at least 2 batteries in the past with an a7II). The next day I shot a wedding and I switched batteries in the middle of the day out of habit. For a wedding, I didn’t want to take a chance anyway, so I played it safe. I checked after the wedding and added up the remaining charge from the two batteries. It totaled over 100%. So I assume that I could have gone with one charge for the entire 7-hour wedding day. I will have to continue to shoot more before I can make a better judgement of how the new battery works in real situations.
- The new menu system is a huge improvement. I love the new custom user menu which I missed so much after switching from Canon. The entire universe has been clamoring for Sony to add a custom folder to store menu options. They did that and the world is a better place because of it.
What surprised me about the a9
- I was excited that Sony added a joystick to the a9, and now that I have actually used it, I had forgotten how effective it is in real use. So much so that I will feel a bit handicapped if I ever have to use an a7 series body. And what’s even better is that I can use the touchscreen to select my focus point. Admittedly, I didn’t even realize the touchscreen function existed until after a week of using the a9 (I simply overlooked that in the announcement). I’ve found that you can’t select the focus point this way unless you’re using the LCD screen to shoot via live view. I couldn’t get it to work when using the EVF, so if anyone out there knows how to change that, please message me.
- The insanely fast frame rate is just that — INSANE. It is so easy to shoot a burst of 60 shots without even noticing it, especially when the silent shutter is activated. I found myself using single shot mode for portraits, low burst for documentary work, and medium burst mode for faster movement. But in a couple of settings, I was able to crank it up to high-burst when I needed to capture super-fast action — like for newborn portraits 😉
- The silent shutter is surreal. It even felt uncomfortable, so I switched the shutter audio on. I think it’s because my brain is so accustomed to the viewfinder blackout and the shutter sound of my previous cameras. Without the shutter sound, I felt anxious about not being sure if i got the shot (which is weird because i can see that I nailed it — there is no viewfinder blackout after all). I guess I’m just not used to it just yet. There is a small speaker from where the digital sounds emit and I’ve found that I can hold the camera in a way that the speaker is covered. This seems to dampen the sound almost completely, but gives me enough of an audible feedback for shot confirmation. I assume that with more use, I will get used to only seeing the visible flash inside the optical viewfinder and shoot completely silent.
- Did you know that you can start recording movies with the shutter button now? I didn’t know this until I played around with the custom key settings. For me, this is an even better placement than the newly positioned movie record button. I think this will be one of my favorite revisions to the ergonomics once I start shooting more video with the a9.
- I love all the new dials and additional custom buttons, but I did find the lock button on the focus mode dial hard to get used to. I almost wished the lock button was not there. This will make it easier to switch focusing modes. I shall wait and see; maybe as I continue to use it, I’ll find some benefits of having a dial lock button.
Would I recommend the a9 to a wedding & portrait photographer?
I recently told someone that the biggest difference between the a7 series cameras and the a9 is this one word — “responsiveness”. Even though it was my first time using it, I felt like I had been using the a9 for a long time. It feels just like the a7 series but more refined and way more responsive, kinda like Sony leap-frogged a generation of cameras and came up with the a9. It’s that much more fun and effortless to shoot with. As far as utitlity, the a9 has exceeded my expections. Is it a professional workhorse camera? That is a question that will be answered as I finish out the wedding season. For now, I have my a9 charged up and ready to go, so bring on the next wedding!
There has been some concern among the online photography community about the a9 overheating. I just wanted to update this article to mention this subject. When I photographed this particular wedding, the outdoor weather reached a high of 82º F and I was shooting a lot under direct sunlight. One of my a9 bodies seemed pretty warm on the underside of the camera (the body with the 35mm lens), but I never got a temperature warning. By the way this was the body that I shot most of the wedding with. The other a9 body with the 85mm lens did not warm up as much. My hope is that it’s a non-issue. Thankfully, I have not run across this problem.
Thank you for reading my blog! I can’t do what I do without my wonderful clients and the excellent photography community in Fresno and ourlocal camera shop. To them, I want to say thanks as well. If you live anywhere near Central California, I definitely recommend getting your gear at Horn Photo, they have a wonderful staff. Tell them I said ‘hi!’ whenever you drop by. Thanks again and happy shooting!
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