The new Sony a9 camera arrived in a flurry of promises of image quality, autofocus speed and performance. When we tested the Sony a9 at the company’s media event, we found that the camera largely lived up to those promises. In my first testing of the camera, at two different sporting locations, we found that the AF was generally spot on, with the ability to track subjects at a level unprecedented in Sony’s prior offerings and on par with the competing pro systems.
While we were able to talk about the performance of the camera, the images were under embargo, so we were unable to share them. That embargo has ended, and we have created a video with our Sony a9 image samples and autofocus review. We have also created a gallery of high-resolution image samples on our Facebook page. (These images are straight out of camera, we didn’t tweak these at all, but please keep in mind that Facebook re-compresses the images, which will lower their quality.)
The video takes many of the action captures and shows them in real time and then frame-by-frame so that it’s possible to watch as the AF system tracks along with subjects. I tried the camera with subjects moving toward us, away from us, parallel to us and moving erratically, and they all tracked remarkably well.
No camera is spot-on perfect, and the a9 didn’t nail every shot. The most common cause of focus issues was with starting to track a subject just a bit late in their movement while using the flex spot point, so that I landed the focus point on an area just behind or just ahead of the subject. The first of the events, held at an ice skating rink, had both hockey players and figure skaters. The first few hundred shots (not a lot when you’re shooting at 20 fps) were during the time when I was adjusting settings, and in my sample images I can see the performance improve as I dialed in the focus modes and kicked the shutter speed up enough to freeze twirling figure skaters.
With wide area tracking the camera seemed able to lock onto subjects and only dropped focus when another object would pass in front of that subject—two hockey players passing in opposite directions, but when I used the flex spot, the camera accurately predicted the movement of the main subject and ignored the non-dominant subject.
It’s worth noting that while the ice skating rink images are super-sharp and tracking was excellent, the 70-200mm lens isn’t long enough to cover arena sports from the opposite side of the action. While Sony had several examples of the new 100-400mm F4-5.6 GM lens on hand, I didn’t have the ability to test them at the ice rink (and F5.6 wouldn’t have been shallow enough to blur the advertisements in the background). With a new camera so well targeted to sports shooters, Sony needs some long lenses, right away. At the very least the company needs a 400mm ƒ/2.8 so that a 1.5x teleconverter will still end up at 600mm and under ƒ/5.6, but 400mm, 500mm and 600mm primes would be excellent additions.
While we tested this camera with sports, I’ve been reading a lot of comments online from people who are curious as to the lack of mention of this camera for wedding photographers. I think this camera will be a great addition to a wedding shooter’s bag. I’d personally be happy shooting a wedding with an a9 and an a7RII, for the general shooting and portraits, respectively, as I’d be happy shooting with a Nikon D5 and a Nikon D810 or a Canon 1DX Mark II and a Canon 5DSR.
I think that it’s pretty typical that when a camera is announced with new features, that companies will talk about the strengths and the photographers those features will help the most. For example, Olympus talked a lot about the all-weather durability of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II; they don’t address the studio photographers who will also like the camera, but remain dry during their shoots.
While the company spent a lot of time attending to customer requests based on the a7-series and fixed many of them, we also found some areas where the Sony a9 is still lacking, so our hands-on report is a good place to start if you’re considering the system.
Web Resolution Sony a9 Image Samples
Note: WordPress re-compresses these files. For better-resolution files please look on our Facebook page.
When the shipping a9 arrives for testing, we will be putting this camera through its paces. It’s easy to be impressed with a camera during an eight-hour shoot, but I’m interested to see what issues crop up.