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a9

Sony has released a9, a new high-performance mirrorless camera. As the top model of Sony mirrorless camera, a9 supports 20 fps high-speed continuous shooting mode free from blackout by adopting a new 35mm stacked-memory full frame image sensor with 24.2 mega pixels and thereby greatly improving the speed of electronic front curtain shutter.

Also, the camera boasts high performance that exceeds the limit of SLR camera by providing 4D focus based on 693 phase-detection AF points, 5-axis SteadyShot, touch LCD, and 4K video recording.

Feature

24.2 mega pixel DRAM-stacked back-illuminated 35mm full frame CMOS senor and BIONZ XTM processor

Sony a9 is loaded with 24.2 mega pixel 35mmExmor RS CMOS image sensor and BIONZ X processor/Front-End LSI chipset. Exmor RS CMOS image sensor characteristically enables high-speed processing of more data than previous image sensors by separating pixel layer and circuit layer and applying internal memory to the circuit layer. And with BIONZ X processor and Front-End LSI chipset, the camera demonstrates highly excellent performance in general data processing such as operation and processing speed, buffer processing speed, and memory writing.

Blackout-free shooting

SLR cameras inevitably experience blackout in shooting pictures due to the mode of shutter and mirror operation. Free from blackout, a9's electronic viewfinder allows the user to take pictures while checking a subject with viewfinder even when tracking a fast moving one, and shows a soft screen even in continuous shooting mode as the screen is played back in 60 fps.

693-point focal-plane phase-detection AF & 20-fps ultrahigh-speed continuous shooting

Sony a9 has an AF system which runs a hybrid operation of 693 phase-detection AF points and 25 contrast-detection AF points. Sony a9 has an AF system which runs a hybrid operation of 693 phase-detection AF points and 25 contrast-detection AF points. Equipped with AF points that cover 93% of image area, the camera registers a very excellent ability to detect the margins, and as it AF/AE tracks a subject at a very high speed of 60 times a second, enables accurate prediction even when shooting at a moving subject. Moreover, with its electronic shutter demonstrating an ultrahigh-speed continuous shooting of up to 20 fps, the camera can't miss a decisive moment.

5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE

Equipped with 5-axis SteadyShot which performs 5-step correction, a9 provides correction on the five axes of pitch / yaw / roll / Y for up-down motion / X for left-right motion. Therefore, both photo and video can get stable results regardless of lens used.

Super 35mm 4K ultrahigh-quality Movie Recording available

a9 supports 4K Movie Recording with XAVC-S codec, and can get a video of an excellent picture quality, as its 24p Movie Recording can get full pixel read-out Super 35mm 4K video which does not use Pixel Binning.

Design

Performance

Hand Grip

With a compact appearance for a high-performance flagship mirrorless camera, a9 boasts such an excellent portability that you can shoot pictures by holding it with one hand. While most of the interface placed on the right side, top right has Mode Dial for deciding drive mode and AF mode, so you should handle the camera with both hands. Protrusion delivers an enhanced grip, and the adoption of rubber ensures an excellent attachment when the camera is grabbed. Touch screen enables the user to get a focus by touching the screen.

Weight

The net body weight is about 590g (including Hot Shoe Cover), while the weight that includes 2 memories and battery is about 680g. It has a very light weight for a high-end camera that is equipped with 20-fps high-speed continuous shooting and powerful AF.

Internal/External Structure

a9 adopts a light and sturdy magnesium alloy for inner frame, top, front, and back covers and grip, and the integrated design for grip and front cover delivers solid durability. The metal mount ensures stability even when a large and heavy lens is loaded.And the design, which ensures dust and moisture resistance by sealing buttons, dial, and major parts inside, protects the camera from dust and moisture.

* Dust and moisture resistance is applied not only to the camera but also its accessories like battery grip and flash.

Viewfinder

a9 is loaded with 1.3cm(0.5") Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder (electronic viewfinder) with a resolution of about 3.69 mega pixels. ZEISS T* coating minimizes diffuse reflection and viewfinder frame rate ranges from 60 fps to 120 fps, thus presenting a more comfortable screen to the user. Viewfinder about 0.78X magnification and a picture coverage of 100%. Eye sensor and diopter adjustment dial by the viewfinder automatically switches the image between the viewfinder and LCD screen and allow the user to adjust the viewfinder to the user's eye vision.

Custom button assignments allow the user to assign finder/monitor image switch. If viewfinder frame rate is set at 120 fps, picture quality is slightly lowered from 60 fps.

LCD Screen

Display uses 3.0" tilt LCD with about 1.44 mega pixels, and the back LCD tilts about 107 degrees upward and about 41 degrees downward, ensuring excellent convenience in shooting at high/low angles. The LCD, which adopts touch panel, enables the userto designate and move focus points by touching it.

* a9 is Sony's first full-frame mirrorless camera that adopts touch panel.

Information display screen

a9 displays data through back LCD and viewfinder. For data display, the user can use DISP button to choose 6 display categories (Graphic Display, Display All Info, No display Info., Histogram, Level, For Viewfinder). When "For Viewfinder" is selected among the screen display modes, you can use Fn button to quickly handle the menu displayed on the screen. For a9, the menu has gone total change, thus showing entirely different menu composition and arrangement from the previous mirrorless cameras.

Storage

a9 is Sony's first mirrorless camera that supports duel memory slots. Slot 1 is for SD, SDHC, and SDXC memories, and compatible with UHS-II, is really helpful for fast continuous shooting. Slot 2 is of a hybrid type that accommodates both Memory Stick and SD cards, and you have to choose either Memory Stick or SD cards for the slot. As far as Memory Stick goes, Duo, HG Duo, and SD may be used together with SDHC and SDXC, all of which are compatible with UHS-I.

Power

The camera uses NP-FZ100, a newly developed Lithium-ion battery. As for battery life, the company says it can shoot about 480 still images (in viewfinder mode) and about 650 still images (in viewfinder mode) when shooting proceeds by CIPA standard, but it varies if it is actual shooting for movies or if the camera is kept on wait with power on. The camera uses NP-FZ100, a newly developed Lithium-ion battery. As for battery life, the company says it can shoot about 480 still images (in viewfinder mode) and about 650 still images (in viewfinder mode) when shooting proceeds by CIPA standard, but it varies if it is actual shooting for movies or if the camera is kept on wait with power on. Mirrorless cameras, which adopt live view, characteristically consume more battery power than DSLR cameras. About NP-FW50, which was used for older cameras, a lot of users expressed regrets about its capacity, which allowed a smaller number of recordable images than DSLR cameras. With this new battery, I think, the concern over battery life will be gone.

USB charging is supported when the power is off, and even when battery grip is in use, USB charging is now possible. Also, USB power supply enables all-the-time power supply through USB while shooting goes on. However, USB charging and shooting cannot proceed at the same time. For those users who do long-time shooting for time lapse or movies, NPA-MQZ1K, a multi-battery adapter kit which holds up to four batteries, is now available, thus further upgrading the battery usage.

NPA-MQZ1K multi-battery adapter kit functions like a dummy battery, accommodates actual batteries while a battery-shaped connector is installed to the camera. As the dummy battery can work with NP-FW50 when its cover is removed, it can be used with older mirrorless cameras.

Hot shoe

Loaded with Multi Interface Shoe, the camera uses not only exclusive Sony flash but also consumer lighting devices with wireless camera flash synchronizer. And flashes which use Minolta's Auto Lock Accessory Shoe may be used through ADP-MAA, a separately sold shoe adapter. Maximum synchronization speed is 1/250sec and supports rear curtain synchronization, low synchronization, and wireless synchronization.

Mount / Shutter

The camera adopted full frame-compatible E mount, which is a metal mount that solidly fastens even large and heavy lenses. The camera has adopted low-vibration mechanical shutter, and great durability may be trusted as they say it was tested for about 500,000 releases. Moreover, as the camera adopted electronic front curtain shutter, even less shutter vibration enables convenient shooting. Loaded with quiet shooting mode, the camera ensures comfortable shooting in situations that should be noise-free such as sports events, indoor performance, a documentary about wild animals.

Body-integrated 5-axis image stabilization

a9's 5-axis SteadyShot support the correction on the five axes of pitch / yaw / roll / Y / X. It provides up to 5-stop correction. SteadyShot works not only for FE lenses but also alpha mount and other lenses, providing more stable shooting condition under any circumstances.

Built-in microphone and speaker

Built-in stereo mic takes up both sides on top of lens mount, while a mono speaker sits on the left at the bottom of the camera. By activating Audio Level, the audio level for a movie that is being recorded may be checked on display.

External interface

The left-hand side of the grip has jacks for 3.5mm mic, 3.5mm headphone, micro HDMI, and micro 5-pin USB. While charging, HDMI and USB show the status with LED. All interfaces are of those widely used types, thus ensuring excellent convenience in charging with USB and operating microphone and headphone. Especially, with LAN terminal jack available, the camera can send photo images fast to FTP servers, which facilitates its use by photo journalists and other professionals. To facilitate the use of light, Syn terminal jack is also included.

Control Interface

a9 comes with drive mode dial, mode dial, front & rear control dial, control wheel, exposure compensation dial, and many other buttons. Noticeably, drive mode and focus mode, which were provided as internal menu with older models, are now available as a 2-level dial on top left, thus ensuring more intuitive operation. Front & rear control dial and control wheel are used to adjust aperture, shutter speed etc. according to their modes, while different buttons perform the roles assigned through Custom Key and Function Menu Set.

The old a7 series had AF/MF & AEL switch lever on the rear grip where the user's thumb lies when the user grabs the camera. Switch lever is now excluded from a9, which has adopted focus changing multi-selector instead, thus enables more convenient operation when moving the focus. Above multi-selector, AF-ON button and AEL button have been placed, while control wheel, now a bit protruding, demonstrates improved operation.

Function Menu Set and Custom Key allow user to sets their desired functions as they please. The menu separates Custom Key so keys may perform different functions in shooting and playback, thus enhancing the usability of buttons.

Total four buttons are available for custom assignment, while the control wheel buttons can be changed to desired functions. Function Menu which is assigned to Fn button constitutes the core of a9 interface together with Custom Key, as it arranges 12 functions in the user's desired sequence and can handle them quickly with control dial and control wheel.

Menu

The menu is divided into the six menu items of Camera Settings 1, Camera Setting 2, Network, Applications, Playback, and Setup. With many photo and movie related features added, previously single category of Camera Settings are now divided 1 and 2. Camera Settings 1 includes mostly menu items on still images, whereas Camera Settings 2 includes items on movies and comprehensive menu items. With many more functions added, the menu increased, and with the basic menu newly organized, the menu system seems to be more complex on the whole. Designed to allow users to register their desired menu items for their handy use, My Menu has been added and revised to some degree.

Main accessory

The compatibility of accessories is no less important than the performance of the camera. HVL-F45RM flash is already available to provide wireless frequency synchronization that fits the performance and exterior balance of a9. And the battery grip VG-C3EM enables users to use two batteries for the camera operation. Moroever, Grip Extension GP-X1EM, which is far smaller than battery grip, greatly enhances grip and thereby delivers great convenience to users with large hands. Extension Grip is also compatible with a7R II, a7 II, and a7S II.

Sample Images

Critique

Having so far focused on 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera market with its a7 series, Sony has launched a9 as the top-of-the-line lineup of mirrorless cameras.

The older a7 included a7R line which was optimized for high resolution, a7S line which had its strength in video-recording with high-sensitivity performance, and a7 line which was generally fair for ordinary users. In contrast, a9 is a high-performance mirrorless camera that is a far cry from the older a7 and comes with a high performance that would suffice for the news media with powerful AF performance and continuous shooting processing speed.

This is possible thanks to the brand-new 24.2 mega-pixel 35mm full-frame image sensor loaded in a9. Furthermore, the camera adopts faster processing of more data with its sensor, which applies DRAM memory while separating pixel and circuit layers. Moreover, BIONZ X processor and Front-End LSI chipset register a high data processing speed from device operation and image saving, thus enabling the user to use the camera in a more comfortable manner.

Equipped with Fast Hybrid AF system with 693 phase-detection AF points and 25 contrast-detection AF points that cover 93% of image area, which enables AF/AE tracking at maximum 60 times a second, a9 delivers a very high level performance in tracking subjects for the entire image area. As AF tracking works in 20 fps continuous shooting in AF-C mode, the camera is perfect for tasks like sports shooting which take fast AF response speed and continuous shooting. Also equipped with low-light AF performance at the level of EV-3, the camera focuses accurately in a dark space

For photographers, stable shooting is very important. In this regard, a9’s electronic shutter, which enables noise-free and vibration-free shooting, has great advantage in shooting in quiet venues, and 5-axis SteadyShot ensures stable shooting under all circumstances. As the camera uses magnesium as its main material, it delivers solid durability, while most parts are designed to be anti-dust and anti-moisture with sealing applied.

With drive and focus mode dial added and Multi-selector attached to the rear, the camera interface ensures faster change in AF related operation. Using Multi-selector enables free change of points when focus moves. And the touch panel for LCD screen allows the user to move focusing by touching the screen. As touch screen is also provided for actual shooting, very fast and intuitive focusing is possible.

As for video-recording performance, the camera can shoot high-resolution 4K video in Super 35mm format, and even supports 120 fps high-speed video-recording in Full-Ha shooting. Actual shooting delivers excellent picture quality, as video-recording in Super 35mm format uses full-pixel read-out instead of line skipping and same-speed sampling instead of Pixel Binning. Moreover, S&Q Motion, which enables slow motion and quick motion shooting, allows everyone to enjoy slow/quick motion video recording. One regret is the absence of Picture Profile.

Viewfinder is 1.3cm(0.5”) Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder with about 3.69 mega pixels, which can set frame rate to 120 fps, delivers a clear blurless picture. Its display is 3.0” tilt LCD with touch panel, which provides good picture quality and various angles.

a9 is the first mirrorless camera loaded with LAN terminal, which enables the transferring of still images from the camera to outside through its FTP transfer, which feature seems to be intended for journalists and other professionals. Wi-Fi/NFC enables wireless remote shooting and one-touch photo sharing, while Bluetooth connection with a smartphone makes it possible to get GPS data and record it in still images.

The camera uses a new battery named NP-FZ100. The company describes the battery life as about 480 still images (viewfinder) or about 650 images (LCD) by CIPA. In actual shooting performance, the camera battery demonstrated a remarkable life by shooting about 1,400 still images without continuous shooting involved. As it can use USB charging and external power supply, and by using newly released NPA-MQZiK multi-battery adapter kit, can respond to long-hour shooting such as time lapse or video-recording, a9 has its battery usability greatly improved.

Overall, a9 is Sony’s flagship mirrorless camera that boasts best performance in everything such as powerful AF tracking, high continuous shooting speed at 20 fps, low-light AG ability, data processing speed, blackout-free electronic viewfinder, measure for vibration reduction, video-recording ability, and convenient interface.

The older a7 has replaced many aspects of DSLR camera but appears rather weak as sports camera which sets great store by AF performance and continuous shooting. In contrast, a9 not just overcomes the limitations of mirrorless camera but also surpasses high-end DSLR cameras in many respects. Hence my forecast that a9 mirrorless camera will take a giant leap down the road for sports, public performances, weddings, and other public events.