The Sony A9 is out to put pressure on the Canon and Nikon DSLR competition. We compare the specs with the A7RII and A7SII to see just how good it is and why you would buy one.
Sony has come a long way in a relatively short space of time when it comes to photography. For anyone who wants amazing full-frame image quality in a small, mirrorless package, the A7 cameras are in a league of their own.
But now there is a new kid on the block and one that is the range-topping snapper we had all hoped for. Though some rumours about its specs were overblown or inaccurate (or perhaps being saved for an A9R), the A9 is anything but disappointing.
It is actually a hugely powerful system that – if it can walk the walk as well as it can talk the talk – will make it even harder to want to lug a DSLR around. Unless, of course, you have a bazillion Canon or Nikon lenses in your collection.
Sony A9 vs A7RII vs A7SII: Design and ergonomics
The Sony A9 may look similar on its own, but side by side with the A7RII and the slight size increase of the A9 becomes apparent. It is, in fact, half a centimetre thicker (blame the new ‘Z’ battery) and has a joystick for easier control.
Weighing 673g, the magnesium alloy body of the A9 is 33g heavier than the A7RII and 36g heavier than the A7SII. The A9 is fully weather sealed, according to Sony, unlike its A7 siblings although both can take a bit of drizzle.
The display of the Sony A9 is articulated but unable to swivel around for selfie and vlogging-type photography. To be fair, a camera of this cost for selfies would be serious overkill.
All cameras feature five-axis stabilisation, which means you can use any lens and enjoy the ability to take photos in low-light conditions without a tripod and counteract hand shake.
In the case of the A9, however, the five-axis image stabilisation is classified as a five-stop compensation, compared to the A7RII’s 4.5 stop classification. That means the A9 offers a half-stop advantage, which may or may not be noticeable in the real world.
Both the A7RII and A7SII benefitted from a change to the overall design compared with their predecessors, including a grip increase in size to make them easier to hold, moving the shutter release forward and adjusting the type dial.
Unique design features of the A9 include two new control dials to the left of the viewfinder and the video record button is more accessible. It also gets two SD card slots (to combat memory card failure), which professional photographers will appreciate, and touchscreen focus.
Sony has given the A9 a superior electronic viewfinder (EVF), too, which has a 1,280×960 Quad VGA resolution (3,686k dots) and 120fps refresh rate to increase detail and reduce latency, respectively.
The luminance level is said to be two times higher than the A7RII, which offers 2,360k dots from its OLED panel, so it should be easier to see.
The main point to take away is that the Sony A9 is still light compared with a comparable DSLR, but it is bulkier than the latest generation A7 cameras.
Not that bulk is much of an issue if you plan to use a hefty zoom lens such as the Sony G Master 24-70mm f2.8 or 70-200mm f2.8. At that point you are almost back to DSLR levels of space-taking.
Sony A9 vs A7RII vs A7SII: Sensor and specs
The Sony A9 is focussed on action photography, which is where the A7 cameras typically lag behind the DSLR competition although skill can overcome autofocus issues. This is why it has a 24.2-megapixel sensor, compared with the A7RII’s 42.4 megapixels.
The 24.2-megapixel sensor is of the 35mm full-frame stacked CMOS mirrorless variety, coupled with a new Bionz X processor that is said to be considerably faster than anything before it. Up to 20 per cent faster, to quote Sony.
Factor in a whopping 693 on-sensor phase detection points for autofocus, covering 93 per cent of the frame, maximum shutter speed of 1/32,000 and five-axis image stabilisation and you can see why the A9 will offer seriously fast and accurate action photography potential.
It is said to be better in low-light conditions, too, where some of the A7 cameras can struggle. This is because of ‘Precision AF’ down to EV-3 at ISO 100.
The slowest to autofocus will be the A7SII because it only has a 169-point Fast Intelligent AF system, but it is still faster than the older A7S and its 144 AF points.
The A7RII’s full-frame Exmor R BSI CMOS, meanwhile, has a more impressive 399 phase detection points to play with that cover 45 per cent of the sensor. It’s a snappy system most of the time, especially with native lenses.
When it comes to image capture speed, the A9 is said to be capable of continuous shooting at up to 20 frames per second. It can take up to 241 RAW or 362 JPEGs in a row and has AF/AE tracking during the process.
The A7RII is limited to either 5fps or 2.5fps and both work with continuous autofocus and just 30 JPEGs or 23 RAW files in one sitting. It is the same story for the A7SII.
For low-light performance, the A7SII beats the A7RII but the A9 appears superior to both. The A9 offers ISO of 100 to 51,200 or extended values of 50 to 102,400 and 204,800. The A7RII offers 100 to 25,600 extended to 50 to 51,200 and 102,400. The A7SII can reach up to 409,600.
Another big improvement for the A9 is the aforementioned Z battery, which is said to offer 2.2 times the capacity of the W battery used in the A7 range. That means a lot more photos before you need to slot another battery in or recharge the one you have.
Based on the fact the A9 has a new sensor, processor and lower megapixel count, we can see it eclipsing all A7 cameras but by how much will require testing. Although the extra pixel count of the A7RII may prove more tempting for pixel-peepers or those who print out really, really big images.
Sony A9 vs A7RII vs A7SII: Video
Sony A7SII can manage full HD (1080p) recording at up to 120 frames per second, allowing you to really slow the footage down and maintain smoothness. The A7RII is limited to full HD recording at up to 60fps, with 120fps only available at 720p detail.
All cameras can record 4K video (QFHD 3,840×2,160 pixels), but where the A7SII can only manage 4K in the full-frame mode, the A7RII can also do 4K when using the useful Super 35 mode that enhances the quality.
The A9 manages 4K up to 30 frames per second so not a radical departure, except for the fact it uses oversampling to condense 6K into 4K, providing a more detail-rich image (the Sony A6300 and A6500 also do this).
Rolling shutter, a bit of a problem on the A7 cameras, is said to be much less of an issue for the A9 because of the faster processing, improving its potential as an action camera.
Sony A9 vs A7RII vs A7SII: Lens choice
The Sony A9, A7RII and A7SII all use the same E mount lenses, which means access to the lovely (and very sharp, if the DXO ratings are to go by) G Master lenses and cheaper Zeiss offerings.
With a good adapter (Metabones and Novoflex are tried and tested) you can whack on just about anything. We have used Minolta MD lenses on the A7, even a couple of Leica R classics from the 70s and 80s, and all work brilliantly if you are happy using manual focus and focus peaking.
For Canon lenses, a Metabones adapter can be used on a Sony A9, A7RII or A7SII camera with the benefit of autofocus, although it can be noticeably slower than if you had the Canon lens on a Canon camera.
A few of the ridiculously long focal lengths are missing compared with the Canon and Nikon range, but those who prefer to manual focus can use an equivalent from Tamron or other third-party lens manufacturers.
If manual focus is an issue but you need shorter focal lengths, there are some seriously capable zoom and prime lenses available and some are affordable if you can take a hit on overall image quality.
The Sigma f/1.4 ART is a particular favourite (35mm and 50mm available) and the Sony 85mm f/1.4 G Master is an absolute beast if size is a non-issue. Or you can enjoy solid results from the Vario T* f/4 24-70mm.
Sony A9 vs A7RII vs A7SII: Price and release date
The Sony A9 offers seriously advanced technology in a small-ish (with the right lens) package. It has seemingly raised the bar for what a mirrorless camera can do and given professionals and enthusiasts greater flexibility.
But there will be Sony fans who will wait on the announcement of the A7RIII and A7SIII (assuming they even exist) because the A9, as impressive as it sounds, costs £4,499. Chuck on a G Master lens and you are heading to £6,000 and over. Crikey.
That is still reasonably cheap if you look at rival equivalents and what they can do, but many people will find it hard to justify such a huge price hike (almost double) for what you get over the already excellent A7RII and A7SII.
You can pre-order the Sony A9 from Jessops. First deliveries are expected to arrive in June, 2017.