Several years ago, I purchased what was my first “flagship” professional camera, my beloved Nikon D4.  I loved the D4 so much that I even sprung for a second body a little while afterwards.  I pretty much ran these cameras into the ground, they were total workhorses.  They were solidly built and I never even had an error message. However they were becoming out of date and tired.  I almost bought a Nikon D5 replace my oldest camera, however I felt the D5 would be a bit more of the same.  I knew it would be a fantastic camera, but it didn’t have some of the technology advances I was really hoping for.

When Sony announced the A9, I was really intrigued, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to make the financial leap.  Then on top of having my D4’s due for retirement, I had several lenses and a flash break in the same week.  I knew that if I wanted to make the jump to a mirrorless system, now was the time as I already needed to invest in gear.

So I ordered the A9 with their 35mm 1.4 to decide if it was the direction I wanted to move.  I was so impressed after the first wedding, that now a month later, I’ve replaced my entire Nikon kit bag and have moved over to Sony.

I’ve now shot 7 weddings with the A9 and the Sony system… so here are my thoughts:

Sony A9 ISO400 35mm f2.8 1/5000sec

EVF- Electronic View Finder 

My first reaction to holding the A9 up to my eye was “holy #@$ that viewfinder!!”

I’ve been using a DSLR for at least 10 years now, and besides playing with an X100 a few years ago, I don’t have any experience with Electronic View Finders.  But HOLY COW IS THIS VIEWFINDER AMAZING.  It made switching back to my DSLR’s feel like stepping back in time.

Electronic View Finders are the future of photography.  It’s so much quicker to be able to meter and compose shots.   It feels faster than using the camera’s light meter.

There’s no need for “chimp-ing” to the back of the camera to make sure your shot is bang on.  That in itself is a huge win for photojournalism.

Fireworks are notoriously difficult for wedding photographers to capture as they have drastically changing lighting conditions, quickly ranging from completely blackness to super bright light. With the electronic view finder, I could instantly tell when was the right moment to shoot. I found myself nailing pretty much every firework shot from this set, which is pretty much unheard of. ISO 1600 35mm f2.8 1/80sec

Auto-focus

As expected, the autofocus on this camera is amazing.  The tracking and the face recognition works great.  And the eye tracking is amazing to work with.    There’s something incredibly reassuring about having the focus being verified via the camera sensor.

Custom Buttons 

Being able to customize so many buttons on this camera is awesome.  Everyone shoots slightly different, and so being able to make the camera unique to you is a nice feature.  It also pretty much means nobody will be able to just pick up my camera and shoot with it, but that’s life.

This is my current button set-up.  I’ll probably make adjustments to it as time goes on:

C1 Face Detection

C2 “oh #@#$ things are happening!!!” custom shooting mode 

C3 Shutter Type

C4 Centre Lock on autofocus

AEL Eye AF

AF-On Back Button Focus

Left ISO Auto Min. SS

Down Button Focus Area

Focus Peeking  

I’m not sure how I ever lived without focus peaking before, and the additional verification that an image is in focus has helped my hit rate go through the roof.

I’ve also found that focus-peeking is the magic sauce when using a tilt-shift lens.  Tilt-Shifting images is now 10x quicker and has caused me to pick up this lens in places I wouldn’t before.  I’ve been keeping the tilt-shift lens now permanently attached the A7Rii (I’ll do a separate blog post on this combination soon).

Electronic Shutter 

Traditional high-end DSLR’s are limited to 1/8000 of a second shutter.  The electronic shutters now can pass this up to 1/32,000 of a second.  This is super helpful for creating an fantastic low depth of field look in super bright sunshine.

I have a personal preference to shoot a lot at lower F-Stops, and being able to do so in super bright sunlight helps me keep my style throughout the day.

ISO 200, 1/10,000 second shutter, F1.4

Silent Shooting

This is the reason why I bought this camera.  I loved D4’s, they were workhorses and super reliable but they were so loud.  Even with using the quiet shutter this camera made a lot of noise.  I wanted to be able to have a camera that I could shoot through moments without distracting what was going on.

I’ve run into several instances of difficult vicars not allowing photography for being distracting, this camera helps me get around this.  It’s perfect for the moments leading up to a wedding where someone is feeling their nervousness, or shooting through an emotional moment without extra distraction.

My favourite thing is to be able to shoot through a moment and take as many frames I need without the guests being any the wiser.  I’ve also really enjoyed how peaceful and quiet the wedding day feels.  Maybe that’s my own perspective, as I was the one that was closest to the clicking all day.

My initial intention was to shoot the whole wedding with the silent shutter, however I may need to change back and forth, as there are just some times that people expect to her a camera go *click*.

Emma walking up to Henley-on-Thames Town Hall on her way to be married. I love how natural everyone looks in this photo, which was taken with the electronic silent shutter. ISO 200 35mm F2.2 1/1600sec

 

Being able to grab a quick frame without interrupting the moment is the reason I wanted this camera so badly. ISO200, f2.0, 1/6400

Battery life 

I can get about 4-6 hours and about 1500-2000 shots on a battery.  I’ve found that I’ve changed the battery once in the middle of the day and then it’ll be almost empty again towards the end of the day.  The batteries also recharge super quick, so if you need to have a quick refresh, you could probably have it charged in about 30 minutes.

Dynamic Range 

I’m sure there will be more scientific reviews of this camera that can show the Dynamic Range better with numbers.  However, what’s interesting is I feel like the dynamic range for this camera is slightly less relevant as your exposure is much more likely to be bang on.

This image was underexposed to keep the highlights in the sunset, and the foregrounds brought up in post.  As you can see, the image still feels very clean.

Size Reduction  

I didn’t buy this camera for it’s size, and I’d be perfectly fine if it was a bit bigger.   But if technology allows the camera to be smaller without compromising on it’s features, that’s fine by me.  I have noticed that my camera backpack when I head out to engagement sessions feels a bit more comfortable.

I have super small hands, so for me the camera feels really comfortable and easy to use.

Going from using two D4’s, I was use to how people reacted to me with them.  I frequently had comments like “wow, your camera’s are bigger than you are!”.  I thought that maybe people might like at me a little funny now that I’m toting around smaller mirrorless, but I haven’t found that to be the case at all.   Guests who don’t take any interest in photography don’t really notice a difference.

 

The size difference between the Nikon D4 and the Sony A9

The size difference between Nikon D750 vs the Sony A9

However, the biggest benefit is the ease of “reaching into moments”, that would be more difficult with larger cameras.  I’ve found myself more naturally moving the camera in higher and lower positions just because it’s physically easier to do so.  I can reach it around more corners and grab shots that I would of found physically difficult to do before.

The ceremony space for Hannah and Howard’s Wedding was a bit awkward to photograph. Being able to extend this camera out a bit easier lets me reach the camera into more unconventional space that I wouldn’t have been able to do before. ISO200 35mm F2.2 1/500sec

Banding Reduction 

I’ve also recently purchased an A7rii as well and I’ve noticed the banding to be considerably worse on the A7rii than on the A9.  I have seen a very small bit of banding when completely surrounded by some LED lights, but Sony has made leaps and bounds in the reduction in banding issues with the A9’s.  They still exist, and I’m going to make it a general rule of thumb to just turn on the mechanical shutter when working with artificial lighting.  This is slightly annoying as one of the places I was hoping to use the silent shooting is during speeches, but those most always happen indoors with crap lighting.

And now onto the Downsides: 

The Menu System 

The menu system and the words they use to describe features and settings doesn’t feel intuitive me yet.  I’m glad they developed the custom menu, because otherwise their menu system would be a total downside.

The SD Cards and their two card system 

One of the things I find the most annoying with this camera is that it will only shoot with both card slots full.   It’s a little trick with with wedding photographers, that if we happen to fill up one card while we’re in the middle of shooting a quick moment, we’ll eject the full card and keep shooting on the second card until we have a spare second to change both cards.  With this camera though, you can’t do that.  Both cards have to be in the camera at the same time.

On Camera and Off Camera Flash 

I would say that the Nikon flash system is considerably more developed then the Sony’s.  I’ve purchased the Sony’s Flagship Flash, the HVL-F60M, and I would still say the Nikon SB-910 is still considerably better and responds quicker.

My biggest beef thusfar with the Sony A9 is the lack of the the infraredAF assist beam support.  (If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, It’s a little red light the beam that comes off an external flash that helps the camera focus in dark situations. )  It’s incredibly helpful for being able to focus and aim the camera when photographing a dance floor.  The auto-focus assist beam was secret sauce for dance floor images, being able to quickly nab a dance move or a moment by just pointing that little red light.

The sony does well focusing in low light situations, but I wouldn’t say it’s better than a D750 or D4 with an autofocus assist beam.  I’m going to do considerably more testing here to find a solution that works for me, but overall my first impression with this camera is that it’s not as responsive as the nikons with flash and off camera flash.

ISO800 35mm F1.4 1/160sec with Sony HVL-F60M Flash bounced.

I have found that if there are a lot of DJ/Dancing lights swirling around the room, the camera struggles a bit more, however that would probably be the case with most cameras.  I will do an update blog post when I find a flash setup that I think works a bit better with the Sony system.

Here’s a couple little dancing photo moments was taken with natural light with the Sony A9:

Sony A9, ISO 1600 35mm f1.4 1/160sec

Another natural light dancing shot to test low light autofocus. ISO 1600 35mm F1.4 1/640sec

The verdict: 

This is the future of photography, plain and simple.  The sony has a few places that it still needs to improve a bit, but at their current rate of product development, I’m sure it’s not far away.  After shooting with the sony’s, my what was once a top of a the line DSLR felt tiresome and out of date.  Overall, my hit rate with this camera is considerably higher than it was with the Nikons, and I’m happy that I invested in a system that I feel like I can continue to grow with.

I’ve spent over 10 years being invested in the Nikon System, and I’m sad to see many of my nikon lenses go.  I honestly wish Nikon had made this camera to save on switching costs, but I’m glad that there’s a company out there that seems to be pushing the limits and carving out a new niche in cameras.  The mirror box really isn’t needed anymore, and it’s time that professional photography moved forward.

With this camera, It’s not really about the size, but it is about all of the perks that come along with mirrorless cameras.  I’m excited about the perks and I’m excited to see what this camera has in store for me and my clients.

 

Want to see more photos? Here are a few more shots from the Sony A9:

ISO200 35mm F2.0 1/400sec

ISO 640 35mm F2.5 1/10,000sec

ISO 320 35mm F2.2 1/1,250 sec

ISO 320 35mm F3.2 1/500 sec

ISO200 35mm F2.0 1/400

ISO100 35mm F1.4 1/640sec

ISO250 35mm F1.4 1/320 sec

ISO200 35mm F8 1/200sec

ISO200 35mm F2.2 1/500sec

ISO200 35mm F3.5 1/5000

ISO100 35mm F1.8 1/320 sec

IS0100 35mm f1.4 1/800sec

ISO3200 35mm F1.4 1/2000sec

ISO200 35mm F2.8 1/16,000sec

ISO400 35mm F1.6 1/8,000sec

ISO800 35mm F3.2 1/1,000 sec

As I shoot with this camera more, I’m going to keep updating this post with example images from the A9.  So if you’re interested to see more, check back soon!

 

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Catherine and Michael decided they wanted to elope in London.  They dreamed of a small, destination wedding, and they wanted to get married in a fantastic location with loads of character and architecture.  They found that Tower Bridge was the perfect London location for a small destination wedding.  You can get married in one of the towers and even go up to very top, over looking London, for photos.

On top of their wedding ceremony, we decided to do a longer couples photo shoot around several iconic London Landmarks to make the best use of their London Destination Wedding.   It was so much fun to show them my favourite places in London and I really appreciate the amount of effort they put into making their photos memorable.

 


“Thank you so, so much for the beautiful photographs. They are quite literally everything I dreamed of and more… I wanted “big” (read: iconic) photos but a small ceremony… Your gallery immediately stood out to me. I loved all of the colour, the artistry, and the occasional goofy pictures thrown in. When I emailed you to communicate my interest and told you that I wanted pictures in front of all of the landmarks that scream London (did I mention I have an obsession with London? haha), you replied with a similarly themed shoot you had done. And that sealed the decision for me! Your photo galleries have the perfect mix of serious, playful, artistic, and elegance.

I knew going into our photoshoot that we would have great pictures based on your previous work, but what I did not know or fully appreciate was the work and dedication you put into getting the photos! Sometimes the more interesting photograph is what’s happening on the other side of the people or scene being captured, and a perfect example of that is my mental image of you laying stomach down in a mix of rain, dirt, and likely other worse things, to get the perfect shot of us in front of Big Ben. So, thank you, too, for your commitment to getting the best angle!…
With much admiration and gratitude,
Catherine and Michael”
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Amy and Oliver live in New York City, but they wanted to have their wedding in Oliver’s home country.  They wanted their wedding to reflect London and all of the fantastic things London represents. So Roast Resturant in Borough Market was the perfect location for this.  On top of the fantastic food and the views over the market, the light that flows through the venue is fantastic.  It’s one of my favourite places to photograph in London.

I really loved photographing this wedding, everything from Amy’s incredible style to seeing the warmth of two families come together despite being from different sides of an ocean.  So many of Amy’s friends and family many trip out from the United States to be a part of her wedding day and it was amazing to see the warmth.  Amy, Oliver, Roast Resturant and Borough Market will always have a special place in my heart.

 

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I met up with Melissa and Tim a few weeks ago to chat about their wedding photography and do a pre-wedding, also known as an engagement photo session with them in London.  Pre-wedding and Engagement Sessions can be an important part of the photography process.  It’s a great chance to get use to being in front of the camera, have some photos of you in your normal frocks and have a conversation about how you like to be photographed before your wedding takes place.

Melissa and Tim weren’t sure on where in London to do their photosession, so I made a suggestion for one of my favourite areas of East London that has lots of fantastic options for pretty London scenes without having a lot of tourist sites as a backdrop.

Melissa and Tim were worried they would be awkward to photograph, but that wasn’t the case at all! They super fun to photograph and I had an awesome time getting to know them ahead of their wedding.  I can’t wait to see how it all comes together!

 

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Jacynth got ready for her wedding in the home she grew up in.  Her parents still live in Newton Ferres, and I fell in love with their stunning house.  It’s on a sunny cliff overlooking the water surrounded by a beautiful garden that her parents have lovingly cared for over the years.   One of the best parts of a bride getting ready in a family home is being surrounded by so many family heirlooms, like her parents wedding photos.

The ceremony was held at their local church and then afterwards everyone headed over in a vintage bus to Shilstone House, near Ivybridge in Devon.  Shilstone House is a stunning Georgian Manor House that feel really different from many of the wedding venues that I’ve seen.  Since it’s still a family home, there’s still a lot of comfort and personality to the house. It’s perfectly situated on the Devon Hills, and there is just loads of sunlight, which is perfect for photography.

The thing that made this wedding the most fun was of course the people.   Jacynth and Dan’s friends and family are really fun people to photograph and be around.  They made shooting this wedding so easy and I spent so much time laughing.  From the “Michael Jordan” appearance to figuring out new ways to use top hat’s, they were a dream to photograph.

Thank you so much for having myself and my second shooter, Siobhan, apart of your wedding day!

The church services was held at Holy Cross Newton Ferrers. The wedding breakfast and reception was held at the beautiful Shilstone House in Devon and that incredible cake you see was made by Edible Essence (and I can promise you it tasted just as good as it looked).

 

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