Not going to lie, as a Sony shooter I was really excited to be sitting at their event in NYC the other day as they announced the α9. It was rumored to be the camera we all dreamed of, if you are a sports, action, or documentary photographer at least. And the specs most certainly put it in the flagship arena, contending with the Nikon D5 and Canon 1D X Mark II.

Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Camera
An early look at the revolutionary Sony α9 mirrorless camera.
The most important part of this camera is the sensor, no surprise there as Sony dominates the global image sensor market. It is the world’s first full-frame stacked CMOS, impressive considering previously these were only found in much smaller sizes that were better suited to cell phones than cameras. The architecture of this chip enables much faster image processing and data offload, or more simply put, its really fast. Being only 24.2MP helps ensure the fastest speeds, up to an astounding 20 fps, beyond that of any other full-frame stills camera on the market. Autofocus has been boosted to an incredible 693-point system that covers 93% of the sensor, and it is even faster now, along with more accurate. This is made possible through an enhanced implementation of the electronic shutter, which is labeled as distortion-free and thanks to faster processor it looks like it will perform much better than earlier iterations.

Of course, as we all know from the previous α7 series models, just having the best image quality and features isn’t quite enough to convince users to jump ship. That is why they made significant changes to the body as well, though they somehow managed to keep the α9 almost exactly the same size as the α7 series. It feels like a bulked up α7, and claims to be better weather-sealed. But that’s not all, it even uses a new NP-FZ100 battery with 2.2x the capacity, features two SD card slots (one of which is UHS-II), LAN and PC sync terminals, a rear joystick, and a 3.0″ 1.44m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD.

Display of Sony α9 Internals
Sony’s display of the α9’s internals, including the updated magnesium-alloy body, the more robust mount, the stacked CMOS sensor, the OLED viewfinder, and the main board.
Now, there is one thing that will still irk steadfast DSLR shooters, the electronic viewfinder. The new blackout-free quad-VGA 3.7m-dot OLED EVF is a nice upgrade from previous models. It’s still not quite as good as the one found on the Leica SL, but it does a great job. And, finally, it has UHD 4K video recording at up to 30p and Slow & Quick Motion for Full HD video at up to 120p.

So, what did they miss? Unfortunately there’s a few nagging issues I have with the α9. First, they didn’t put any log gammas or picture profiles in the camera. Why? No idea, especially since it seems to have dramatically reduced rolling shutter and full-frame 4K video recording with proper downsampling from the full 6K image. It’s going to have good video but we can’t even get the most out of it. Even the RX100 series has S-Log now, there’s no excuse the keep it out of the α9. It also doesn’t come with a battery charger per their website. I thought we were over this when the α7 II series was released. It’s a new battery too, so there’s no expectation that anyone will already have one. (UPDATE: Sony has clarified that while the battery charger was left off the spec sheet, one is in fact included with the camera.) The problem is that I’m still worried something else is missing or poorly implemented.

I really hope that the α9 turns out to be the camera we have all been waiting for, but I do have some reservations, especially with the cost. Also, due to their blatant omission of S-Log, it seems like an α9S or α9R is probably on the horizon, so it might be best to just wait it out for a bit. 

One thought on “True Professional Mirrorless: the Sony α9

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