I have held off writing about cameras. You see, although a camera is important, ultimately what is behind the camera is the most important thing. A camera is a tool – just as a hammer to a joiner or a scalpel to a surgeon. However, tools in the right hands can create something quite beautiful.
So, why write now?
Well you see, something has happened that I finally feel is worth writing about.
As a Canon user, I have long loved my relationship with the 5D MKIII and laterally, the 5D MKIV. They are solid work horses that can take a beating, produce great results and ergonomically fit the hand well. Add to the body some quality glass from Canon and you have a great relationship. For years, these cameras and lenses and have provided me with quality images. Where they perfect? No, I struggle to find anything that is perfect but without a doubt they were great and if you look around, you will see the 5D is the workhorse of many a professional.
However, if you work in the mountains, particularly with runners, and you have a need to follow the action on foot. The Canon 5D is not the lightest of friends, stick a 70-200 f2.8 on it and you go weight training at the same time as shooting. So, I have always looked for something light and fast that will allow me to run, take great shots and not compromise on quality.
It’s fair to say I have wasted plenty of money looking for such a camera…
Then 18-months ago I came across the Sony A7 (mark 2 version). I was aware of the compromises this camera would bring but I took the plunge. With the Zeiss 35mm f2.8 it was the best ‘running’ camera I had ever used. Light, solid and great images. Plus, it was full-frame, a real bonus!
I continued using the Canon’s and ran with the Sony when required.
Then Sony announced the A7RII with a whopping sensor, faster focusing, silent operation, more frames per second and yes, I was reaching for the credit card.
This camera was a pivotal point. I started to use it more and more and then in December 2016 I packed my Canons away and decided to work solely with the A7RII and decide if I could make the shift to pure Sony shooting. The A7 with the wonderful Zeiss 35mm f2.8 is a great running combination.
You may be asking why was I hesitant?
The answer is simple. The Sony A7 is mirrorless, therefore it can be smaller and lighter, however, mirrorless cameras have ‘blackout’ when shooting. Therefore, following runners and capturing them is an art. I must admit, I did learn this art and was happy! The other issue with the A7RII was that the images were so large (over 80mb each in Raw) that the camera could only manage to read 7 or so images in one burst to the memory card and then you had to wait. Another issue when shooting sport. Again, I worked around it but at times I did feel I was compromising.
In 2017, I had used Sony 100%. The only exception coming for two night shoots, one in Transgrancanaria and the other a tower race in Paris. Why? Quite simply I have an expensive flash set-up for my Canons that I don’t have for the Sony. I also photographed The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica with my Canon 5D MKIV.
The big test came at Marathon des Sables. I took the Sony’s and they were brilliant. I was sold.
May arrived and my Sony world was blown with the announcement of the A9.
I read the specs, looked at the set-up of the camera, held a test one and I knew there and then that this was the reason, no question, to make a full conversion to Sony.
I jumped in head first and sold my Sony A7MKII and I sold two 5D MKIII’s and retained the MKIV and my Sony A7RII’s
The A9 was ordered and arrived just a couple of weeks ago.
I can hear a big gasp from photographers out there, wow, this is a big step. Darn right it is! Especially when you look at the price of the A9 – yes, it’s a whopping 4500.00 pounds!
Let’s be clear from the off, the A9 is (in my opinion) the most highly specced camera on the market with performance to match.
Unlike the A7RII, the A9 offers an image size almost half at 24.2mp. There is a reason for that, the A9 camera wants to be fast. It has a stacked Exmor RS image sensor which is mind-blowing.
Why is this mind-blowing? Well imagine pressing the shutter on the camera and then being able to take over 200-images without the camera stopping… yep, high-quality, DRAM memory and Brion X image processing and this camera is designed to take on (and exceed) the best of what Canon or Nikon have to offer.
Image data is sent through the sensor instead of around it which is give or take 20x faster. This equates to 241 raw images and approximately 360 jpeg images continuous shooting. If you shoot fast action sport, this is beyond any other camera and in many ways, even beyond what I thought possible. To clarify here, I don’t need THAT for running imagery but you never know…
Another key feature of the A9, or should I say, another two key features is blackout free shooting and an incredible ability to shoot, if required, 20 frames per second. This is the deal breaker for sports photographers and will without doubt start getting Pro’s to turn their heads. The A9 has a QUAD VGA Tru-Finder and therefore you can follow action, live, in the viewfinder, without missing a thing, just like Canon, Nikon or other DSLR’s. Add to this the ability to shoot in 4 different speeds of frame capture – single, Low (5fps), Med (10fps) or High (20fps) and you have a dream combination for action. Note – frames per second reduce if shooting in uncompressed Raw. For example, in high, it reduces to 12 instead of 20. No big deal! The camera uses an electronic shutter for this and it’s wonderfully noise free. You can set to mechanical shutter too and for example, if using flash or if one needs long exposures, mechanical is required.
Well, look through a DSLR and you will usually see some little boxes – these are focus points. The more you spend on the camera, the more focus points you usually get. In a 5D for example it’s over 60 – that is great huh? Actually no. It’s always a problem in sports as one always feel compromised on where one places the focus point. How did Sony get around this? Well they pretty much made the ‘whole’ frame available for focusing with 693 focus points – that is insane and brilliant! No more compromising, no more cropping. I can pretty much use the whole of the frame and place my subject within the composition, exactly where I want it.
Yes, 93% (arguably this is 100% as you’d never go to the edges) of the frame is available and add to that super-fast AF – the camera makes 60 AF/AE calculations per second. In a nutshell, the AF is stupendous and there is also some other great add-one like the enhanced eye-AF. For most Pros though, good fast AF in a moveable small focus point is what we require – the A9 gives you this with bells on.
The Sony also comes with Image Stabilization (IS) within the camera which is such a plus and yep, it works like a dream. In low-light you get extra stops without hand-shake and that’s a plus for all. It means every lens that you add to the camera has stabilization, with Canon and Nikon, only lenses have this, not the body and they usually cost more.
The doubters will say the images are not as good. No! The Raw files are sweet, great to work with and if you are shooting with Zeiss or Sony G lenses, they are pin sharp, even at f1.8. Don’t get me started on lenses, but for those who want to know.
I am now using the Zeiss Batis range which are beyond incredible in terms of build and quality – 18mm, 25mm and 85mm. I have the Zeiss Sony 55mm f1.8 which is soooooo sharp. I have the uber expensive Sony G 70-200 f2.8 with IS and finally I have the tiny Zeiss 35mm f2.8 for when I want to run and be fast and light.
For some time, many Pros have been writing about their ‘new’ Sony’s and yes, they have been in addition to an existing system. Now, I think we will see more and more make the switch. Nikon have already lost sales to Sony and yes, Sony are now outselling them. Canon still sell the most but believe me, considering the Canon 5D MKIV was only released in September last year, the difference between the A9 and the MKIV is chalk and cheese – I have both so I know! If I was working at Canon, I would be worried – the R&D team must be pulling their hair out!
There are many other features that make the A9 my dream camera.
- Exposure compensation dial on-top of the camera, I can + and – my exposure as shooting.
- Two memory cards that will allow me to shoot Raw to one and JPEG to the other – a nice safety feature should one card fail.
- The ability to change focusing and frames per second via two dials on-top of the camera. The ability to move my focus point anywhere in the frame with a toggle on the back of the camera.
- Custom menus and so on.
Basically, this camera is awesome. Video specs I have not tested, not my thing, sorry!
Of course, nothing is perfect, so, what are the negatives re the A9?
It’s a smaller camera and therefore has less of the feel that say a 5D has. But then again, the attraction of the A9 is that it is smaller and lighter.
Sony have added an optional battery grip that beefs up the camera and a small grip that just makes holding the body a little more pleasing.
I will add neither, the small body is part of the appeal the A7 and A9 range.
This image shows the difference between the A7 and A9.
Now the Canon 5D in comparison to the A9.
Batteries have been a big concern on the A7 range and the new batteries for the A9 are considerably better and last much longer – I am happy but they don’t last as long as Canon or Nikon – you will need spares!
The A9 is a solid camera with a Magnesium Alloy body (673g), a little beefier than the A7 and it has an adjustable screen but it will not have the longevity of a 5D. The 5D is robust and solid and you can drop them – believe me, I have! The A9 will take a drop for sure, but not as many as a 5D. Of course, the simple answer is don’t drop one but as Pros will tell you, shit happens when you do this day-in and day-out.
The price is crazy, it will come down in time but this camera is not for everyone, if you are a Pro who needs the spec it may be worth it. For me, it’s a game changer.
Why do I say, ‘may be worth it?’
Well, camera gear is expensive and to replace a system is costly. You need a good reason. Also, the Sony range is still building and some compromises will be made on lenses. For example, if you need 300mm, 400mm or longer, you have no choice. So, a football photographer who sits on the sideline of a football match certainly would love the speed of the A9 but he doesn’t really have to worry about the weight as he only has to carry his gear from the car to the football pitch. Also, he needs and requires the long and fast lenses of 300, 400 and 600mm. These photographers won’t be changing! Not yet anyway.
Finally, I am already aware of other Pros who have made the change and I have spoken to and helped others discuss the changes and options.
*Alpine Exposures Jonathan Griffith wrote a blog in April 2016 discussing a shift to Sony, you can read HERE – makes perfect sense for a mountaineer to use the smaller A7 as the subject is moving slower and he as a photographer has more time to compose the shot.
*What is interesting is that all the articles by Griffith and Pattuci were before the A9 – I wonder what they say now.
As cameras go, the A9 is a game changer and why I have ultimately decided to write something about ‘kit!’
“…the Sony A9 is a huge advance in sports, news, concert, motion-picture stills and corporate shooting because it does all this at 20 frames per second, tracking autofocus and setting exposure at 60 FPS in the background, and the best part is it does this in complete and total silence. It is an unworldly experience to be motoring along at 20 FPS with full tracking exposure and autofocus, get great exposure and color in each shot, and have this happen in complete silence. It offers full autofocus over the entire frame, not just in the center of the picture like full-frame DSLRs. It’s also the first Sony mirrorless with two card slots, and has the toughest mechanical shutter of any camera ever, “tested” to 500,000 cycles! The mechanical shutter is tough, and the silent electronic shutter has no moving parts to wear out — ever! The A9 is a landmark in photography; no pro camera has ever been able to go this fast, much less do it in complete silence.” – Ken Rockwell
My thoughts above are real world thoughts and I have tried to avoid delving into the complexities of the camera, its technology and so on. However, Ken Rockwell always does a great job of this and he doesn’t mince his words. It’s fair to say Ken has always had a bias for Canon and therefore this review of the A9 provides a great insight into the camera HERE
You can view images taken recently on the Sony A9 below.
Ultra Skymarathon Madeira HERE
Scenic Trail 113k HERE
Images on the A7RII can be viewed below:
Dragons Back Race HERE
Marathon des Sables HERE
Product images are all © and are used for illustration purposes only