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 However they were becoming out of date and tired.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:
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.
You can also review images via the viewfinder rather than just on the back of the camera. I’ve found this be especially helpful when shooting in bright conditions, it’s much easier to see detail inside the view finder than on your back of camera.
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.
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
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).
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.
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*.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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!