So as a long term Nikon user who went to the dark side this year (no not Canon, not THAT dark side), I thought after putting my new cameras through their paces, it was time to do a comparison specifically for wedding photographers on why the Sony A9 is such a good camera when compared to the Nikon D750 (which is the mantra of affordable Nikon full frame wedding cameras, minus the seemingly continuous recalls). I’ve shot Nikon professionally now for nine years with the D700 (wonderful cameras) and D3S (again fabulous but heavy) and the D600 (yes, lets not really discuss mirror oil and poor low light focusing).
Now I want to clarify one thing here before I go on. I really REALLY loved my Nikons. My D750’s have been a fantastic workhorse for me for the last three years (I’m talking about the D750’s specifically) and I’d completely dismissed all this talk about mirror-less cameras. You know, the ‘It’s not a real professional camera’, ‘the performance is not up to spec’ etc. Yes…… all that!!!
So why the change? Well I’ve been asked more and more for video this year and while the Nikons can shoot video they aren’t 4k and in my opinion a little heavy without any in-body stability. Plus they were coming up to change time at 100k actuations, so I thought I’d have a look around and there was no point going for something that didn’t shoot 4k.
I’m not a ‘gear head’ by any means (although my wife will tell you otherwise) and I stumbled upon a review of the A9 purely by accident – and it impressed me from what I read. So I delved a little further, read about other mirror-less brands – Olympus, Fuji etc and asked other pro wedding photographers who’d made the switch – not one of them said it wasn’t a good move!
After weighing up the pros and cons and the finances (and how much I could get for one of my kidneys) I made the switch. I sold some of my Nikon kit to MPB, some on eBay and some on a popular photography forum. I also imported my A9’s from Panamoz. Yes, they are grey imports but having purchased from them before I’ve always been very impressed with their customer service. The 70-200 I purchased was second hand but looked ‘as new’ just a few hundred cheaper (there isn’t much second hand full frame kit around as yet for the Sony E mount).
So what did I get?
- Two Sony A9’s,
- A Sony 85mm f1.8,
- A Sony 35mm f1.4 Distagon,
- A Sony 24-70 f2.8 GMaster,
- A Sony 70-200 f4 G,
- Spare batteries and two Godox speedlights.
- Extension tubes for Macro
So after a whole three days waiting for delivery from Panamoz from Hong Kong, my packages arrived. First impressions – aren’t these cameras small? They feel solid (which is re-assuring) and very well put together and they are weather sealed – although I’ve not put them to a wet test!
It was a huge change going from working with a tool I knew inside and out for so many years, knowing where everything was, how good the metering was and the general capabilities of the camera to a completely new alien system.
Now for those of you (who are like me) that don’t read manuals – read the manual, or at very least jump on YouTube and learn about what each of the items in the (lets be honest) bewildering menu system does. There is option after option available here, the most complex I found being all the different focus options that are available. You really will need to spend some time with this and practice to makes sure it works for you. For me, after taking them on holiday and trying them out, I kept the settings pretty much the same as my Nikons – single spot, continuous focus, but there really are lots of options to look into here depending on your shooting style. The one thing that did amaze me – 693 focus points, Yup, you read that correctly and I’m not kidding you when I say these go nearly to the edge of the frame (I believe they cover 93% of the frame). No more focus / recompose here. If I want to place a bride and groom at the bottom of the frame and have a picture of nearly all sky I can do that! It has a wonderful little joystick on the back too to help shifting the focus square around all those points.
The speed of the focusing is another aspect of this camera where it really excels and this is where it’s really opened up and helped me improve my photography. Once you get used to the focus tracking, being able to get the camera to lock on to a bride walking down the aisle, in a back-lit situation, shooting on an 85mm, at f2 and it nails EVERY shot in focus you’ll start to see just what a powerful camera you are using. The eye tracking on this is nothing short of phenomenal and the speed of focus is the best I’ve ever used. Shots where I’ve thought I’ve not nailed it, I actually have!
The number of ‘keepers’ has really increased and I’m actually shooting slightly less. Well, ok I lie, I say I am, but I’m actually shooting slightly more because with the electronic shutter which is silent (which I leave on slow continuous and not silent but more on that later) I’m getting more ‘moment’ shots – no wear and tear on a shutter!
The focusing is not without a caveat though and so far I’ve only found one. The focus point can be moved about with the joystick on the rear of the camera and it’s great but it only illuminates once you lock focus. Sadly when you raise your camera to your eye, it takes a few moments on busier scenes (such as groups) to locate where the focus point is to be able to move it around. A quick tap of the joystick puts it in the central position but I still find it mildly annoying and as any wedding photographer will know, you’ve not got time to mess around. As it’s an EVF I can’t see it being beyond the realms of possibility to change the colour of this in a firmware update.
So call me old fashioned here, but I still look through a view finder (a guest at a wedding a couple of weeks ago found it quite strange that I did this and didn’t look at the screen). It feels natural to me rather than looking at a screen (which I’d need my specs for). In bright conditions looking at a screen isn’t the best either. With the A9 being mirrorless the view finder is electronic, an ‘EVF’ to you and me. This is a revelation and I can now adjust exposure compensation and see what the final image is going to be like on the fly (rather than guesstimate as before – ok, I sometimes use a light meter – don’t all professionals? Haha). In very bright situations though I still find light gets between my eye and the view finder and can make it a little difficult to see the EVF. Only a small niggle and you can increase or decrease the EVF brightness to your liking. I’ve found that I needed to turn it down a little as my exposures were coming out a little dark (you can of course read the histogram on screen). The other great thing about the EVF is reviewing a shot. No longer do I need to look on the back of the camera, chimping and looking like a novice – I can review it through the EVF straight after I’ve taken the shot. It’s faster and more accurate (especially in bright conditions). I’ve also found the stability and vibration reduction fantastic and I can shoot a stop slower now than I could previously even on my Nikons which already had VR on my lenses.
Ergonomically I’ve found this camera a little mar-mite. I love the the small size and for my hands (I’m only small) it’s great but I can’t help thinking that for someone with large hands and a full days shooting that it could be quite uncomfortable. Coming from a Nikon I have found the controls not in the places that I’d like them. It’s not a complaint, just something to get used to (oh and the lens locks on the body the opposite way round). There is however a plethora of custom function buttons that you can pretty much assign to anything you want. (At least now I can’t switch from raw to jpg by accident like I could on the D750 – those buttons were too close together). I would have also preferred to have had an LCD window on the camera like on the D750 though so I could see at a glance (even when in standby) what the state of my memory cards are.Battery life on the A9 isn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be and generally I use one and a half batteries per wedding per camera. Obviously the EVF takes it’s toll on the battery – and they’ll set you back around £75 each but charge quite fast. Just on the power ‘thing’, I’ve not ever had an over heating warning on the camera like has been reported and I do shoot in a day on my own around 1600 or so images on an average wedding. It does get a little warm though – so an added bonus for winter shooting!
The A9 has a mechanical and electronic shutter and although I know people have had issues with banding using the electronic shutter under certain circumstances, I’ve not experienced this – you could obviously just switch to mechanical shutter which I believe overcomes this. Mine remains on electronic shutter all the time unless I’m using flash (either off or on camera). For some reason there is a limitation where you can’t use electronic shutter with flash. For me and I imagine most professionals with fast glass you use flash very little (I use it pretty much for first dance and off camera flash shots and that’s it). Whilst on the subject of flash I didn’t go the Sony route. For a little over £300 I picked up two Godox V860ii speedlights and a TTL trigger. They are very well built and proving to be very reliable. What’s more they have a battery pack – so no more AA batteries to worry about. Just plug the pack in the supplied charger. The battery is good for around 600 shots I believe but I never use them enough for it to be an issue.
With using an electronic shutter you can shoot up to 20 frames a second (five on the mechanical). I’ve never found I’ve needed to use this many (to much culling for my liking), but it is handy to shoot confetti on the medium setting which is more than enough. It can also shoot silently if you so desire, or (as I do) produce a re-assuring small click (hey, I’m old school I like to know when I’ve pressed the shutter – it’s very quiet anyway). You can also get the EVF to either blank out or not when the shutter goes (or flash up a square on the EVF) – again for me I like it to blank out. It’s what I’m used to.
So to the image quality. Well first off, the auto white balance on this seems very very accurate and gives a natural skin tone straight out of camera even in difficult circumstances. The raw files seems a little better on contrast straight out of the camera, more than the D750 ever did and in my opinion need less work than the Nikon (I’m not berating Nikon here – they are fabulous anyway – so no need to shout at me Nikon fanboys). To my eye the ISO performance isn’t perhaps on a par with the D750 but it’s very close. Where I think this does score over the D750 is in Lightroom. Noise reduction on the A9 files seem to produce a lot more pleasing results than the Nikon raw files did without too much effort. If you’ve read technical reviews of the A9 you’ll have read that the dynamic range isn’t as good as some other cameras. I’ve not noticed anything to suggest it isn’t just as good or better than anything I’ve shot with before.
So why do I think this camera is so special? It’s taken away some of the technical aspects for my shooting that I don’t really need to worry about. This allows me to be able to concentrate on the important things – the moments and the images. Not having to get a light meter out in difficult lighting conditions because I can see through the EVF what I’m going to get is fantastic. It saves me time (something you don’t have much of during a wedding). To the point that sometimes I think I’m actually cheating here by not having to be involved with some of the technicalities.
Just a final word on Sony Pro Services. It kind of remains to be seen if the quality of the service they provide is going to be up to scratch for the working professional who hasn’t got any down time. It’s currently free to join in the UK and includes two free sensor cleans a year (but you do have to meet certain criteria to join). Hopefully I’ll never need the service although I’m bound to need the sensor cleaning. It never takes me long to get a camera full of dust bunnies!
So you’ve probably guessed, for me these have been a revelation and certainly glad I made the switch. As a bonus – my back doesn’t ache quite as much now either!