Sony a9 first impressions: This imperfect world doesn't deserve a camera this good
Sony's new flagship, the powerhouse a9, has arrived at New Atlas HQ as the most highly anticipated piece of camera gear we've ever laid our hands on. It may be the most advanced camera you can currently buy; a full-frame mirrorless monster designed to prove that the days of the DSLR are numbered.
With a full review in the works, here are a few things that have blown us away in our first couple of days with it.
The burst speed is ridiculous
How fast is burst speed on the a9? Take a look. This is shooting full-size 24.2-megapixel RAW images onto a regular SanDisk 16 GB class 10 card.
… and it only stopped because I took my finger off the button. It's rated to grab about 241 frames, give or take, before you have to pause for a bit. Drop it to JPG and you're looking at 362 frames before it maxes out. Twenty frames per second is just a hair under shooting 24 fps film footage in full size RAW images. It's obscene.
Credit here must go to the new BIONZ X image processing engine and Stacked CMOS sensor, as well as a huge internal buffer memory. I honestly can't think of a situation where I'd come close to needing this amount of quick-fire photos.
What's more, since the a9 is mirrorless, there's no blackout when the shutter operates. You can follow your subject in the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and continue to autofocus as the a9 fires out RAWs like a poker machine hitting jackpot. This thing is a monster.
It's freakin' tiny
Weighing in at just 673 g (1.5 lb) with a battery and card in it, the a9 is physically tiny, particularly given that it's packing such immense firepower and one of the best full-frame sensors on the market. Here it is next to a Canon 5D Mk.III, a camera which it soundly outperforms on pretty much any metric you care to name.
That compact portability doesn't seem to come at the cost of ruggedness, either. This thing comes across as extremely solid and well built.
The autofocus is equally absurd
I remember the heady days when 61 autofocus points was a big deal. Heck, I generally leave my cameras focusing on a single center point. The Sony a9 gives you 693 points of fast phase-detect autofocus, plus 25 points of contrast detect.
That means you've got phase-detect autofocus points covering about 93 percent of your entire frame. Ludicrous. That doesn't mean they always grab the right thing – in fact, we're going to need to spend some time working out how to get the most out of it – but there's a huge list of options in the menu for us to play with, and it sure seems to grab focus quickly.
The sensor is an absolute beast
Sony's sensors have been the gold standard for some time now, powering the best of Nikon's cameras and absolutely putting Canon's efforts to shame, particularly in low light and dynamic range tests.
The stacked CMOS sensor on the a9 offers low-light performance we could only dream of as Canon shooters. For a (completely unfair) comparison, here's a Pixel XL phone camera shot of a black chair in shadow beneath a desk, just to show you the kind of light level we're dealing with:
And here's what the a9 sees:
Let's crop in, so you can see what sort of detail it's pulling, hand held, out of that gloomy darkness:
You can see every loop of fabric. Mind-blowing. And that shot's pretty much noise-free at ISO 6400, an awful long way from the a9's extended ISO limit of 204,800. Frankly, it can see far better than you or I can.
Part of the credit here has to go to the in-built five-axis image stabilization, which Sony claims gives you the equivalent sharpness of a hand-held shot taken with a five-stop faster shutter speed. And part has to go to the stunning 70-200 f/2.8 GM OSS lens Sony sent over with the camera, which adds its own stabilization and delivers truly gorgeous images.
All up, this feels like the first mirrorless camera we've played with that truly, comprehensively eats the lunch of the best DSLRs. This camera feels like it could be the one to bully the more established manufacturers off the block if they don't pull their socks up in a hurry.
With performance like this, it seems clear to me that the only advantage the DSLR still has is the satisfying "clunk" of the mirror moving. Fast action, scenery, weddings, 4K video, I'd take the compact a9 over pretty much anything else on the shelf … if it didn't cost a bomb.
You're looking at AU$6,999 worth of the best camera ever built, right there – and that's for the body alone. Add another AU$4,199 for the lens. That's in Australia - US buyers are looking at US$4,499.99 for the body and US$2,599.99 for the lens.
Pro shooters will have no problem with those prices given the extreme performance this machine offers, but it's going to sting for the rest of us. Stay tuned for more thoughts and hopefully a ton more sample images over the next week or two.
Product page: Sony a9