And finally I was able to have this camera for a run! I say finally because to make a Sony A9 review you need, first of all, the camera and there is such a hype that Sony is providing it in dribs and drabs.
In true honesty this website is more about travel photography and the hype around the Sony A9 is more about sport photography.
So why did I want to review the Alpha A9?
Surely because action and sport events are part of travel photography. A trip in Mongolia, for example, should include the Naadam Festival, a multi-day local sport event typical of this country. If you visit Tuscany in summer you should not miss a game of “Calcio Fiorentino”, a no-rules football game over 1,000 years old.
Think to the famous photo of the Pacu Jawi bull race, by Wei Seng Chen, one of the most amazing events in Asia and surely to add in your bucket list if you visit West Sumatra, in Indonesia. Local traditions are part of any trip and I see a thin line here between action, sport and travel photography.
This is not however the only reason. I have started my photography life shooting cycling events, from the Australian 4,000km Variety ride to the Tour De France. In few events, like the Variety, I was cycling myself and transporting my Nikon gear on a pannier (I lost 8kg weight in that ride!). I was gobsmacked when I read about the A9. Such a tiny body with such a powerful processing speed!
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By the way, how did I get the Sony A9 for a review?
I could say because of my huge audience however only a few would believe that, and mostly family members LOL. I was actually lucky enough to win a competition run by Michaels Camera, a store in Melbourne over 100 years old. As a prize I was invited to the Australian official A9 presentation and I had the camera for few days. I was not asked to write anything or post any Instagram photo. Basically no pressure, fantastic.
But I definitely wanted to write my personal review on this camera, which is not based on graphs or lab tests (there are other sites for that), but more on feelings, personal tests and experience. I wanted to really check first hand if I should add this camera to the best cameras for travelling or I should leave the Sony a7R II which I reviewed last year.
Is the Sony A9 the ultimate camera you, and I, should buy?
Read on for the full story, my final thoughts and the final answer.
Sony A9 review highlight: AF-C
I start with what, in my opinion, it is the most impressing feature of Sony A9:
The continuous Auto Focus (AF-C) speed and its predictability system.
The A9 was built for speed, it’s the new Ferrari in the Sony stable. Technically speaking, the camera has a brand new ‘stacked’ CMOS Exmor sensor (full frame at 24.2MP) and a the state of the art processing engine called BIONZ X.
You may watch the Sony video below for more technical info however what it really means is that the Alpha A9 makes 60 AF/AE tracking calculations/second, be sure your subject will be almost always in focus
I originally planned to go to a hockey match however, after calling the event manager I was told I could not take professional cameras without going through a series of accreditation (I had no time for that). I changed my plan and I went to an amazing skate park in front of St.Kilda beach, in Melbourne.
The light was challenging. Part of the park was under a beautiful sunset however most of it (inside the pipe) was in the shade. A great dynamic range.
This camera is made for action photography, you will find two new drive and focus control dials on the top left. No need to go through menus or pre-assigned buttons.
When shooting sport and action activities I usually go for AF-C (you may read more here about the different focusing techniques). My Sony experience was just exceptional and this is why:
- live tracking of the focus points on the moving subject (you see live on the EVF what will be in focus)
- predictable tracking of the focus points. I have noticed that even when the skater was hidden by the skatepark ramp for few milliseconds the focus points would not “panic” but instead almost wait for the subject to be visible again and follow it
- even during shutter release, the tracking would continue without interruptions
- the accuracy of the subject in focus was outstanding, which means more useful photos with the sharp subject
Only yesterday a video came to my attention where you can see the difference in autofocus accuracy between the Sony A9 and a “Flagship DSLR” (Canon 1DxII??). The video is in Spanish however just skip to the 3:35 minute and you can watch the test without the need of any language skill .
What does this all mean?
To my eyes it means that photographing action or sport events will be much easier with this camera, you will be more likely to have the perfect shot.
If you are travelling and you like to visit local sport events, or tournaments, as part of your trip then the A9 is a great camera to have, especially considering how light it is compared to any full frame camera.
If this is not the first time you read a Sony Alpha A9 review then you may be already fully aware of the 20 frame per seconds capability in continuous shooting.
This is absolutely great however I was even more impressed by features as:
- great buffer of over 10 seconds when shooting in RAW and much more when shooting JPG (I tried it as a test and I got bored to wait for the buffer to be full)
- blackout-free shooting so that you can see through the EVF during shutter release, something not possible with the Sony A7R. With the DSLR this is usually not a problem because the viewfinder is optical
- silent shooting (electronic shutter) and I may add…finally!! There are lots of sports and events where silence is important and you can definitely hear the continuous shooting of a DSLR.
There is one issue with 20fps: you will end up with lots of photos in post-production. This is not a problem obviously if this is what you are after but just be aware to shoot for as long as needed. On the drive control dial you can actually select H (high), M (medium) or S (slow) continuous shooting. This may help at the beginning.
I had an interesting interview/chat with John Warkentin of Michaels Cameras last week. We both agreed how useful would be to have an intelligent software that automatically marks as “rejected” photos without the sharp subject, closed eyes etc. That would make the photographer life so much easier. An intelligent software that could be implemented in-camera or on Lightroom, for example.
The Sony A9 has a body-integrated 5-axis image stabilisation that offers, based on Sony statements, 5-stop shutter speed advantage.
How can you test this advantage? Only in a lab.
In my case I used the camera for a photo that I tried many times with different cameras but never succeeding. With 5-axis stabilisation, 20fps, 10 seconds buffer and a tilting monitor, I had a great possibility of success.
What is the subject of this photo?
I wanted to shoot my little boy (3 years old) cycling, however with some creativity. I wanted the all environment around moving and him sharp. Here below the result.
To have a successful photo I had to have his exact same speed with the camera as stable as possible on my skateboard shooting at 1/10sec. Not that easy, but with the A9 and after over 200 photos I had 4 good ones of which one from the front with his face perfectly sharp (I can’t post this photo for privacy reasons and it’s a pity).
This is a photo I did with other subjects when travelling, from car to car or scooter to scooter. The result can only be impressive in my opinion. Although not that easy to execute because there are many variables.
And more to like
Other features I liked and loved:
- dual media slots: since I have it on my Nikon I could not think about shooting professionally without them. The dual media slots are perfect for backup on the go
- long lasting battery: the Sony A7R II battery life was indeed short and this is why it was provided with two of them. The A9 battery has a much longer life (~480 photos) however it is also bigger and heavier
- better grip than the A7R, probably needed considering where you will be more likely to use this camera: busy sport or action events
- touch screen, finally, with intuitive touch focusing
- a weather sealed magnesium-alloy body which I found to be very light (673gr), similar to the 7AR II (640gr). The difference is probably in the chunkier battery for the A9.
- usual small Sony Alpha body at just 127 x 96 x 63mm
- nice dynamic range to work in post (similar to the Sony A7R II). Lots of shadows and highlights you can recover in post-production
- very low noise for high level of ISO. I shot most of my photos in the skate park after sunset at ISO 1600-2500 (see below one of it)
Is the Sony A9 a good camera for travel photography?
I would say it is a great camera for any kind of photography, quick, with a great dynamic range and works very very well at high level of ISO. It’s also small and weather sealed, just perfect for any kind of trip especially if you are attending sport or action events, or even a safari. You can actually do some amazing landscape photos, very similar to the A7R II.
There is only a small detail, the price. It is an expensive camera when compared to the A7R II but you open up a new world of photography where you need a quick autofocus beside a great 20fps continuous shooting.
It’s cheaper when compared to the Nikon D5 or the Canon 1DxII, the two flagships for sport photography. It has to be said however that the lens selection for Nikon and Canon is excellent beside a much greater battery life. They are really dedicated to professional sport photographers and probably the A9 is still not quite there, at least with the lenses.
I think that the A9 is seating in that nice price range where even amateurs and semi-professionals can think to buy it, shoot sport events on Sundays and take it with them in any trip considering the small size.
And now back to the question, is the Sony A9 the ultimate camera you, and I, should buy?
The A9 is definitely more expensive than the A7R II (around 67% more). If part of my travel would constantly include safaris and sport/local events then I would buy the A9 and I am sorted for the next 5-10 years. With the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM (used during my review) and another zoom lens in the 200-300mm I would have all I need for any kind of trips
If I rarely attend to any sport/action events during my trips I would probably go for the A7R II which can make also photos up to 42MP and cropping is not a problem, if needed.
Now, what is the price for this amazing camera?
Ethics statement: The Sony A9 camera and the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM were loaned to us by Michaels Cameras. We were not asked to write about it and, most important, we were not provided any sort of compensation. All the opinions are mine, based on many years of travel photography. In the post there are affiliate links for the US market. If you buy through these links, we will receive a tiny commission at no extra cost to you. This is how we run this website and you can support it. Thank you!