Once upon a time, there was just one company making full-frame mirrorless cameras. These days, the market is starting to feel a little crowded, but with plenty of time to tweak its designs, Sony remains king for now.
And sitting top of the pile is the veritable A9. Announced almost 18 months ago, this professional grade full-framer has yet to be surpassed by any other new models, and still commands a pretty penny asking price.
But, if you want the ultimate camera for sports, wildlife and action photography, as well as a pretty solid all-rounder, it could well be the one for you. As well as the 24.2 megapixel full-frame Exmor RS CMOS sensor, there’s a tilting screen, two card slots, a 693-point focusing system, image stabilisation, a high resolution viewfinder and much more to tempt you to part with your cash.
Sony A9 review: Design and Handling
Sony’s A9 sticks very close to the design book for its other range, the A7 (now available in several different variants). That means you get a pretty small body - it’s much much smaller than its DSLR counterparts, while it remains smaller than Nikon and Canon’s mirrorless full-framers recently announced too.
It’s replete with a good set of customisable buttons and dials, but they’re also a little on the small side which can render them a little fiddly.
A joystick on the back of the camera is extremely useful for altering the focus point, especially when you’ve got the camera held up to your eye - quickly reach for the joystick with your thumb to make the relevant movements across the frame.
While the body of the A9 is small, owing to, well, physics, the full-frame lenses you attach to it really aren’t. So while that means that cameras like the A9, and the complete A7 range, are great when you’re using smaller lenses - heavier and longer lenses that you might expect to use for wildlife and sports tend to make the camera feel a little unbalanced.
To help get around that, you might want to invest in the additional battery grip for the A9 which squares things off and gives a more satisfying feel overall.
As this is a mirrorless camera, the viewfinder is electronic. You can forget about any cliched criticisms about how much you prefer optical viewfinders when you’re using devices such as found on the A9.
It’s got 3.69 million dots and has a magnification of 0.78x and provides a deliciously clear view of the scene in front of you. It’s also great when you’re shooting at 20fps as Sony’s clever engineers have made it such that you don’t get any viewfinder blackout, giving you a good view of the scene unfolding in front of you.
Sony A9 review: Features
You pay a lot for the privilege of owning the A9, but boy do you get a lot for your money.
The 20fps shooting speed is probably the headline feature, especially given that you can fire off those shots completely silently, making it perfectly for wildlife and some sporting scenarios.
Battery life is one area that mirrorless cameras still can’t really compete with DSLRs, with an official battery rating of 480 shots. It’s quite likely you’d get more than that out of the A9 in real-world shooting, but it’s definitely worth packing another battery in your bag if you’re intending to do a lot of shooting in any given period.
Sony’s had a good amount of time to come up with a serious range of lenses for its full-frame mirrorless models, and as such, you should find that almost every situation is catered for.
There’s even been recent additions, such as the 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens which is squarely aimed at A9 wildlife and sports shooters - be warned that it’ll set you back £10,500 though.
The A9’s 1.4-million dot 3-inch screen flips up, making it useful for composing from slightly awkward angles - but is less useful for video and portrait-format images. It’s also touch-sensitive, giving you the option to set the autofocus point and so on quickly and easily.
Sony A9 review: Performance
At the time of its launch, the Sony A9 wowed a lot of photographers for its fantastic power and ability, and even 18 months later, it’s still a hugely impressive performer.
The 693-point AF system is one of the finest on the market, and when coupled with the 20fps shooting makes it almost impossible to miss a moving target.
That doesn’t make it a one-trick pony though, as it’s a also very capable at a wide range of other subjects, including landscapes and portraits thanks to an impressive dynamic range, excellent colour rendition and well-balanced exposures.
Sony A9 review: image samples
Sony A9 review: Verdict
The Sony A9 is quite probably the best camera on the market today across all types and categories. It offers a fantastic set of specifications which make it ideal for professionals and advanced enthusiasts - especially those that love to photograph moving subjects.
That said, if your favourite photographic topics are more likely to stay still, you’ll probably baulk at the high price the A9 commands - in which case, taking a look at the very capable, but much more affordable Sony A7 III is an extremely worthy alternative.