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a9

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

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

Feature

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

The Sony a9 is loaded with a 24.2-megapixel 35 mm Exmor 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 the pixel layer and circuit layer and applying internal memory to the circuit layer. And with the BIONZ X processor and Front-End LSI chipset, the camera demonstrates 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 when 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 the viewfinder even when tracking a fast-moving one, and shows a soft screen even in continuous shooting mode as the screen is played back at 60fps.

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 the image area, the camera is excellent at detecting margins, and since 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 ultra-high-speed continuous shooting at up to 20fps, the camera won'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 achieve stable results regardless of the lens used.

Super 35 mm 4K Ultra-High-Quality Movie Recording Available

a9 supports 4K Movie Recording with XAVC-S codec, and can produce videos with excellent picture quality, since its 24p Movie Recording can get full pixel read-out Super 35 mm 4K video that does not use Pixel Binning.

Design

Performance

Hand Grip

With a compact appearance for a high-performance flagship mirrorless camera, a9 boasts such excellent portability that you can shoot pictures by holding it with one hand. While most of the interface is placed on the right side, the top-right has a Mode Dial for deciding drive mode and AF mode, so you should handle the camera with both hands. The protrusion delivers enhanced grip, and the use of rubber reduces the risk of slipping when picking up the camera. The touch screen means the user can set the focus by touching the screen.

Weight

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

Internal/External Structure

a9 has a light, sturdy magnesium alloy in its 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, 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 equipped with a 1.3 cm (0.5") Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder (electronic viewfinder) with a resolution of about 3.69 megapixels. ZEISS T* coating minimizes diffuse reflection, and the viewfinder frame rate ranges from 60fps to 120fps, thus presenting a more comfortable screen to the user. The viewfinder provides 0.78X magnification and 100% picture coverage. The eye sensor and diopter adjustment dial by the viewfinder automatically switches the image between the viewfinder and LCD screen, allowing the user to adjust the viewfinder to the user's eyesight.

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

LCD Screen

The display uses a 3.0" tilt LCD screen with 1.44 megapixels, and the back LCD tilts 107 degrees upward and 41 degrees downward, ensuring excellent convenience in shooting at high/low angles. The LCD includes a touch panel, which means the user can designate and move focus points by touching it.

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

Information Display Screen

a9 displays data through the back LCD and viewfinder. For data display, the user can use the DISP button to choose six display categories (Graphic Display, Display All Info, No display Info., Histogram, Level, For Viewfinder). When "For Viewfinder" is selected from the screen display modes, you can use the Fn button to quickly navigate the menu displayed on the screen. The menu has been completely redesigned for the a9, providing an entirely different menu composition and arrangement from previous mirrorless cameras.

Storage

a9 is Sony's first mirrorless camera that supports dual memory slots. Slot 1 is for SD, SDHC, and SDXC memories, and, being compatible with UHS-II, it is really helpful for fast continuous shooting. Slot 2 is a hybrid type that accommodates both memory sticks and SD cards, and you can choose either memory sticks or SD cards for the slot. Duo, HG Duo, and SD memory sticks can 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. In terms of battery life, the company says it can shoot about 480 still images (in viewfinder mode) and about 650 still images (in LCD mode) when shooting according to CIPA standards, but it varies if shooting for movies or if the camera is kept with power on. The camera uses NP-FZ100, a newly developed lithium-ion battery. In terms of battery life, the company says it can shoot about 480 still images (in viewfinder mode) and about 650 still images (in LCD mode) when shooting according to CIPA standards, but it varies if shooting for movies or if the camera is kept with power on. Mirrorless cameras, which use live view, characteristically consume more battery power than DSLR cameras. NP-FW50, which was used for older cameras, was criticized by a lot of users for 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 power is off, and even when the battery grip is in use, USB charging is now possible. The USB power supply also enables constant power supply through USB while shooting. However, USB charging and shooting cannot happen at the same time. For users who do long-time shooting for timelapse 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 and 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

The Multi-Interface Shoe means the camera does not just have to use exclusive Sony flashes, but also consumer lighting devices with a wireless camera flash synchronizer. Flashes that use Minolta's Auto-Lock Accessory Shoe can be used with ADP-MAA, a separately sold shoe adapter. The maximum synchronization speed is 1/250 sec and rear curtain synchronization, low synchronization, and wireless synchronization are supported.

Mount / Shutter

The camera features a full-frame-compatible E mount, which is a metal mount that solidly fastens even large and heavy lenses. The camera has a low-vibration mechanical shutter, and its claim to durability can be trusted, as they say it has been tested for 500,000 releases. Moreover, as the camera has an 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, and when filming 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

The built-in stereo mic sits on both sides on top of the lens mount, while a mono speaker sits at the bottom-left 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 3.5 mm mic, 3.5 mm headphone, micro HDMI, and micro 5-pin USB. While charging, HDMI and USB show the status with LEDs. All interfaces are of widely used types, thus ensuring excellent convenience in charging with USB and operating microphone and headphone. With a 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, a Syn terminal jack is also included.

Control Interface

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

The old a7 series had an AF/MF & AEL switch lever on the rear grip where the user's thumb sits when grabbing the camera. The switch lever has been removed from the a9, which has a focus changing multi-selector instead that enables more convenient operation when moving the focus. Above the multi-selector, there is an AF-ON button and AEL button, while the control wheel, which now stands proud from the camera body, demonstrates improved operation.

The Function Menu Set and Custom Key allow users to set their preferred functions. The menu separates the Custom Key so keys can perform different functions in shooting and playback, thus increasing the usability of buttons.

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

Menu

The menu is divided into six menu items: Camera Settings 1, Camera Setting 2, Network, Applications, Playback, and Setup. With many photo and movie-related features added, the former Camera Settings category has now been divided into two. Camera Settings 1 mostly includes menu items for still images, whereas Camera Settings 2 includes items for movies and comprehensive menu items. With many more functions added, the menu has grown, and with the basic menu reorganized, the menu system seems more complex on the whole. Designed to allow users to register their preferred 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 the a9. And the VG-C3EM battery grip enables users to use two batteries for camera operation. Moreover, Grip Extension GP-X1EM, which is far smaller than the battery grip, greatly enhances grip, thereby delivering 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 the 35 mm full-frame mirrorless camera market with its a7 series, Sony has launched the a9 as its top-of-the-line model for mirrorless cameras.

The older a7 included an 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, the a9 is a high-performance mirrorless camera that is a far cry from the older a7 and comes with 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-megapixel, 35 mm full-frame image sensor loaded in the a9. Furthermore, the camera achieves faster processing of more data with its sensor, which applies DRAM memory while separating pixel and circuit layers. Moreover, the 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 a Fast Hybrid AF system with 693 phase-detection AF points and 25 contrast-detection AF points that cover 93% of the image area, which enables AF/AE tracking at a maximum of 60 times a second, the a9 delivers a very high performance level in tracking subjects across the entire image area. Since AF tracking works in 20fps continuous shooting in AF-C mode, the camera is perfect for tasks like sports shooting which requires fast AF response speed and continuous shooting. Equipped with low-light AF performance at the level of EV-3, the camera also focuses accurately in a dark space

For photographers, stable shooting is very important. In this regard, the a9’s electronic shutter, which enables noise-free and vibration-free shooting, has a great advantage in shooting in quiet venues, and the 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 dials added and a Multi-selector attached to the rear, the camera interface ensures faster changes in AF-related operation. Using the Multi-selector enables a free change of points when the focus moves. And the touch panel for LCD screen allows the user to move focus by touching the screen. As a touch screen is also provided for actual shooting, very fast and intuitive focusing is possible.

In terms of video-recording performance, the camera can shoot high-resolution 4K video in Super 35 mm format, and even supports 120fps high-speed video recording in Full-Ha shooting. Actual shooting delivers excellent picture quality, since video recording in Super 35 mm 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.

The viewfinder is a 1.3 cm (0.5 inch) Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder with about 3.69 megapixels, which can set the frame rate to 120fps and delivers a clear, blur-free picture. Its display is a 3.0-inch tilting LCD with touch panel, which provides good picture quality and operates at various angles.

The a9 is the first mirrorless camera with a LAN terminal, which enables still images to be transferred from the camera through its FTP transfer. This 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 called NP-FZ100. The company describes the battery life as about 480 still images (viewfinder) or about 650 images (LCD) based on 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 an external power supply, and by using the newly released NPA-MQZiK multi-battery adapter kit, it can respond to long shooting periods in uses such as time lapse or video recording, the a9 has greatly improved battery usability.

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

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