Plenty of manufacturers bill their new compact, mirrorless camera as "DSLR-killers," but very few can actually live up to that tag. We say very few because the new Sony A9 packs a sophisticated stabilization system, full-frame sensor and crazy autofocus system into its gorgeous, compact magnesium body. Still need that Canon 5D MkIV?
Sony is making some bold claims about the A9. Not only does it describe it as the "most technologically advanced, innovative digital camera" it has ever created, the press release touts the A9 as delivering a "level of imaging performance that is simply unmatched by any camera ever created – mirrorless, SLR or otherwise." Like we said, bold.
PR aside, the headline specs are very, very impressive. It'll shoot continuously at 20 fps with autofocus, and maintain that blazing pace for 241 RAW frames. What's more, there's no blackout in the electronic viewfinder, so photographers can see exactly what they're shooting during these high-speed bursts. What's more, it'll do it in near silence thanks to an electronic shutter. The camera also has a mechanical shutter, but primarily uses the electronic one. Sony says this burst capability comes courtesy of a new 24.2 megapixel full-frame Exmor RS CMOS sensor, hooked up to a new BIONZ X processing engine. The new sensor/processor combination is up to 20-times faster than the unit in previous mirrorless Sony models.
Along with the lightning burst shooting, the new A9 has a clever autofocus system capable of calculating AF/AE up to 60 times a second. It has 693 phase-detect points, which cover around 93 percent of the frame, and the company says its updated Fast Hybrid AF system is around 25 percent faster than the (already speedy) setup fitted to the A7R II. The battery in the A9 is an all-new unit, with 2.2 times the capacity of the one it replaces, and there are dual SD card slots rather than the single slot you'll find on the A7.
Beyond these capabilities, Sony says the new backlit sensor is incredibly capable in low light. The expanded ISO range starts at 50, and runs all the way to a staggering 204,800. Sure, that doesn't come close to the 409,600 managed by the A7S II, but it's significantly more than the Canon 5D MkIV can manage. Low-light performance is also aided by the new in-camera stabilization system, good for a five-step shutter speed improvement when shooting handheld.
High-definition video has emerged as one of the most important battlefields in the DSLR world recently, and the A9 is geared for serious movie making. Sony says the camera collects footage at 6K resolution, and then over-samples it to produce 4K video. It'll record HD footage at 120 FPS, too, which can be edited down to create buttery-smooth super slow-motion video.
If there's any doubt that Sony's going for the sport shooter market, let's put it to rest with this - a new 100-400mm FE f/4.5-5.6 G-Master telephoto zoom lens. Weighing in at 49.3 ounces (1.395 kg), it's among the lightest in its category. It's an electronic zoom, which can be nice and smooth for video - but in order to make it more responsive for sports and wildlife shooters, there's a torque adjustment ring that lets you choose how fast it zooms in and out.
All of this capability sounds great, but there is a problem with the A9. Actually, there are two: it's eye-wateringly expensive, and the range of Sony E-Mount lenses can't match the well-established catalogue of glass Canon and Nikon offers. Pricing will start at US$4,500 for the camera in the USA (AU$6999 in Australia), and US$2,499 for the 100-400 lens in the US (AU$3,999 in Australia). That's significantly more expensive than a Canon 5D MkIV and 100-400 zoom lens - but then, the Canon is a lot heavier, and the new Sony should outperform it on just about every metric.
Canon and Nikon have some soul searching to do if they're going to stay at the top of the pro imaging game in the coming years. Lens-bag inertia won't last forever as a sales tool.