So here we are again on my second follow up review and thoughts on the Sony A9 cameras which are at the time of writing this still the Sony flagship (or rather most expensive) mirror-less model in their range. I was aiming to get this review out 12 months after the first, but having a seriously busy wedding season delayed things just a little.
So it’s a one year and couple of months review.
As before, this followup is primarily based on shooting weddings and for photography, not videography.
So how are things going with these? Well, in a nut shell, still very very well.
I’m ‘gradually’ moving away from acting like a DSLR owner now. No longer do I need to see the screen blank out or hear the shutter (which for one wedding this year – where I had to shoot from the hip – and silently, proved its weight in gold). I still look through the view finder though. Being far sighted it remains easier to do this than to use the LCD screen as I’d need to keep popping my specs on and off.
The screen does flip out though and you can touch focus / eye focus with it so it’s quite easy to get above your subject (especially when you’re a little short like me) to get the overhead shots!
I’m shooting more than ever too. Having the silent electronic shutter means it’s easier to keep your finger on the shutter for just the right moment, although it does take longer in the culling stage during the editing process and obviously goes through more memory cards. I now keep a 128gb card in slot two and use smaller cards in slot one. I now leave the camera on slow continuous shutter mode. (Slot two for owners of other well known brands of full frame mirror-less cameras, is the slot you can use as a ‘backup’).
The camera has the ability to set up different shooting profiles. I use one for my standard video settings and one for night time off camera flash shooting where I want specific settings in place. Switching to these shooing profile means I don’t need to even think about it.
Interesting how I don’t need the gear now I used to use. The light meter hasn’t come out of my bag all year – a couple of test shots (about the time it takes to take a meter reading) and I’m set up. I don’t now use a tripod either. 10th of a second shooting with stability in the lens and camera is amazing, quick and portable!
Now I’m fully used to the workings of the camera I’ve made some adjustments to the custom buttons. Although everything can be accessed from the menus (and does it have a plethora of menus) I’ve got things like shutter mode, ISO (settings and auto) on a specific button just to speed up the shooting. I’ve also got ‘my menu’ set up for quick access functions that I may use once or twice during a shoot.
Eye focus continues to amaze me and works in situations where I wouldn’t expect it to. That’s not to say it doesn’t get it wrong occasionally though – it focused on a portrait on the wall at my last wedding. But nailing focus on a bride walking down the aisle is remarkable.
ISO performance is round about on par with my D750’s and although I do apply a little noise reduction it’s only on images around ISO 4000 and above. I regularly shoot up to ISO 6400 now without needing to worry about the results. Correct exposure rules apply though – even at high ISO if you get your exposure right, the results are perfectly usable.
The dynamic range is pretty good, with shooting ‘what you see’ I’m never caught out apart from the most taxing situations which would cause issue to all cameras. Last week was a point in question. Bride in a white dress, groom in a dark suit and one bright shard of light going straight across the bride from the sun during the ceremony. Thankfully I was in a civil ceremony where I could resort to a little fill flash and altered exposure to compensate as needed.
I’ve settled on my choice of focus setting too. There is a huge number of different options to suit all shooting styles but for me it’s flexible medium spot focusing in continuous focus mode. I’ve never as yet been in a situation where I’ve needed to switch to single point (although as with all cameras it can be easier in very dim lighting conditions where you’re using flash with focus assist).
My lens choices haven’t changed much. The Sony 85mm f1.8 is an absolute bargain. Light weight and very sharp. The 24-70mm F2.8 GMaster though is probably the best (and if I’m honest most expensive and heavy) lens I’ve ever owned. It’s sharp at the corners wide open – Sony really did get it right with this. I have just recently sold my 70-200 f4 lens though. It’s a fine lens but it’s just not getting the use and will be replaced with a Sigma 135mm f1.8 ART lens the first chance I get. Other than that, the 35mm f1.4 is sat collecting dust as I don’t use it (but keep it as backup) and for macro use I have two cheap lens tubes which do a fine job when paired with my 85mm.
Speaking of lenses though, for anyone thinking about going mirror-less due to the weight – cameras yes, lens, on the whole, no. That 24-70 is a solid chunk of glass and I’ve been told the 135mm ART lens is the weight of a small baby!
As for lens support, Sigma and Tamron are both now supporting E-mount and the number of own brand Sony lenses is increasing all the time so there should be a solution to suit everyone.
So to ‘banding’. In the 60+ weddings shot with this now, I’ve still not had any issues with banding on the A9’s. I’ve seen flickering – just once through the view finder but nothing transpired on the image.
To the negatives. That focus point colour is annoying – grey. It’s not a good colour to see where your focus point is especially when you can pretty much focus anywhere on what you can see through the viewfinder.
I’ve also noticed whilst white balance handling on the whole is excellent it does tend to make tungsten lighting a touch warm and I end up reducing yellow a fraction in post production to get the balance right.
What you see is what you shoot is great, but for anyone thinking of purchasing these cameras you need to take it out in a bright day and get a handle on how bright the EVF is and tweak this / highlight monitoring to ensure your exposures are accurate when back in post production.
My hands are quite small and the camera fits them fine although I suspect photographers with larger hands may find things a little fiddly especially with button placement.
Finally that sensor needs a little more care than a DSLR as it’s always exposed when changing lens. However in the time I’ve had the cameras I’ve not yet sent them back to Sony for my free sensor clean. A rocket blower on the lenses and cameras at the end of each wedding and it seems to be keeping the dust bunnies at bay.
So, is it the perfect camera? No, of course not but for me it ticks more boxes than my previous cameras did – eye focusing, electronic shutter, silent shooting to name a few.