Gear Review: Sony A9
A small body that packs a punch, it gives me the same excitement I felt the first time I picked up a D750 — but in even better, and unique ways. While other mirrorless cameras have had positive aspects, none have truly felt like a complete camera for my personal and professional use. The Sony A9 changes that; with its amazing EVF, literally silent electronic shutter, gorgeous colors straight out of camera, amongst other amazing aspects, this camera excites me and allows me to create stronger images for my clients. Add in the fact that the size makes it a winner for personal use, and this camera might just be exactly what I've been missing, and never realized it. This camera spoils me with its virtually endless ways to customize the experience to my needs, and the results are stellar. Want to read more in-depth? Scroll on for my personal opinions on some of the elements I find to be key to my work, and see if the Sony A9 might be the camera for you!
DISCLAIMER: I purchased, without discount, all equipment discussed below. My opinions are solely mine, and I am in no way affiliated with Sony. I make no money off of the links below; I simply link to make your life easier if/when you go on the hunt for the gear yourself!
Coming from two Nikon flagship cameras, the D5, holding a Sony A9 for the first time (and sometimes still) feels extremely odd. Not because it's a bad build, but because it's so extremely lightweight and small. And it's one of the things that makes me love this camera. Its discreet form makes me much less obnoxious, and its weight makes my body much happier at the end of a long reception. Comparatively to the D5, I do miss the built-in grip of the D5, and the depth of the grip is shallower on the A9 than the D5, which shouldn't be any surprise. Despite these differences, I find the A9 extremely comfortable to handle, and many times, much easier to wield. I can see people with larger hands possibly wishing for a deeper grip, but for most folks, I think the grip will be sufficient.
Build-wise, while small, when you hold the A9, you know you're holding a sufficient little camera. It's built tough, and anyone who knows me, knows I have a penchant for putting my gear through the wringer in an absurdly quick fashion. With Sony stepping up to the plate and weather-sealing the A9, I feel confident jumping into any situation with the A9 (within reason, folks!) and not being afraid. I'm known to put myself and my gear into compromising situations, and having the confidence that it can stand up to the elements is key. I've hopped in steam rooms, the rain, and extremely cold weather thus far with the A9 with no issues at all. While no camera is ever impervious to all elements, I do not fear for the A9 as I go throughout a wedding day, no matter what I toss its way.
When it comes to button layout, this is where the A9 was, at first, slightly confusing, but once I set up the custom buttons, made the A9 an absolute dream. Almost every button on A9 is customizable, allowing me to make the A9 as similar to the D5 as I'd like it to be. That being said, I find myself wishing the D5 felt as intuitive as the A9 does in my hands now that it's been set to my tastes. For me, I've set the front wheel to Shutter Speed, the back wheel to aperture, the C1 button to White Balance (though many, many times the auto WB is spot on, which is fantastic, I still enjoy the option to switch to Kelvin, depending on the circumstances), the C2 button to ISO, C3 to Face Detection (an interesting feature of the A9, by the way), C4 to Shutter Type (Electronic is my standard, but when you switch to flash, you must go to mechanical). I've also set a few of the other buttons, for quick, practical features, such as the left button to Send to Smartphone (wifi transfer is SO clutch if you want to win favor with a wedding party after getting a "safe" group shot they love, and allowing them instant Instagram access and what not), the down button to APS-C/Super 35mm when I find myself needing a little more reach and I don't have the correct lens on (we've all been there before!), and the AEL Button to AF/MF Control Hold, for those Brenizer Method images I love to create. There are many, MANY options for each of these buttons, but these are the elements I find myself drawn to and using the most, so your mileage may vary, depending on your needs.
And let's not forget the tilt screen. One of the things that sold me on Nikon when I switched was the D750's tilt screen. Again, it will come as no surprise that I like to get odd angles, and many times it's simply impossible to do, or nearly impossible, without a tilt screen. When I began using the D5s, I lamented the loss of the tilt screen, and having it back with the A9 is like a breath of fresh air. I never realized how much I loved it until I lost it, and having it back is so, so wonderful. For example, on my first couples session with the A9, I utilized the tilt screen to execute the shot below, all while praying to the camera gods that a rogue wave wouldn't surge and take the camera from me 2 days after purchasing it! The angle makes the photo so much more interesting, and without the tilt screen, it would have been spraying and praying for a decent line up to accidentally happen. The A9 made this shot possible instantaneously, and kept the session moving forward. Things like this are invaluable to me, and one of the reasons I adore this camera.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how to give justice to the EVF of the Sony A9. It’s witchcraft, that’s all there is to it. Again, as many other aspects of the A9, when I first began playing with it, the EVF was disorienting, simply because I didn’t know if I could trust it. Coming from DSLRs, where while I’ve become adept at getting white balance and exposure down pretty darn quick in any situation, the EVF of the A9 makes this so immediate, it’s not even a thought anymore. I can literally SEE what my settings are doing instantly. There’s no guesswork, no test shots. It just...is. And I cannot express how much time that saves over the course of a shoot! Sure, it’s not much time to dial in settings on a DSLR, but sometimes those split seconds count, and not having to fear if you’re going to have to fix it in post is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
On top of that, the A9 makes one of my favorite times to shoot -- golden hour -- even more fun than it already was. The EVF allows me to pull off fantastic, sunlight drenched photos without guesswork, simply because I can see exactly where I'm throwing a sun flare, or how to move to position the sun to give precisely the effect I want to achieve. Again, this is absolutely possible with the D5 or any other DSLR, but it comes down to the speed and ease of this shot, which is, quite frankly, stupidly easy with the A9 and the EVF. In the image below, I was able to adjust my position exactly to get the light to pour into my lens at the exact angle I wanted it to on the first try, and because the EVF was delivering real time results, I knew what the image would look like before I ever hit the shutter.
To be fair, the EVF is only available while not using flash. When you switch to flash, you're back in the realm of DSLRs, and I'll admit, I feel sad every time I have to switch back, because I enjoy the EVF so much. It takes a moment to readjust, but any photographer worth their salt should be able to manage running without an EVF, regardless. I like to think of the EVF as a cheat, and it is a glorious one, but never allow it to let you become complacent. Understanding the why of each particular setting is crucial, and while I will absolutely use the EVF at any moment possible, I wholeheartedly encourage fellow photographers to also use the EVF as a tool to better understand light, so that when you switch into DSLRs, or utilizing flash, you'll be comfortable when you have the "blinders" back on.
Coming from Canon to Nikon, I thought the Nikon autofocus system was witchcraft. I could actually count on the D750 and D5 to hit the focus point I intended, and it was great. I still had misfires (we all do. If someone doesn't admit to this, they're kidding themselves. We all miss.), but the ratio was much, much lower. Then came this little experiment with the Sony A9. And oh, my word. This thing can not only focus in the dark, but the ridiculously quick focus makes the D750 look slow, and it many times takes the D5, depending on situations. Add in the fact that there are a silly 693 focus points -- to the Nikon D5's 55 -- and that the A9 uses these points to calculate focus 60 times per second, and you have an absolute monster of a focusing machine. The continuous focus is spot on, and when I set my son loose to test the A9's abilities, it was more than up to the task of tracking him and our French Bulldog, which is good enough for me, as most couples aren't attempting the 40 yard dash as they come down the aisle! The face recognition is about an 80% hit for me, as most of the time it's perfect, but in a crowd, many times it can get bamboozled. In my experience, I've opted to not fuss with the face recognition as much, but I could see myself attempting to tinker with it more when not in high stress environments. It's not bad by any stretch, but I prefer to completely trust my systems, and in this particular aspect, it's a near miss for me for consistently trustworthy results.
In wedding photography, moments are fleeting and of the utmost importance, and there are points of the day you just keep your camera up and hope you capture the moments as they fly by. With the A9, I was able to capture expressions and moments with so much ease, it felt like I was ahead of a curve that had been there before. The focus system is so fast, that even with a "slower" focusing lens, the system is still silly fast.
But, with the speed of the focusing, the silent shutter, and no blackout, it can be a bit of a shock to your system at first. You'll wonder if you actually got the shot, or if it's actually in focus, or if it's actually...you get the picture. And the answer is yes, you got the shot. Yes, it's in focus. And yes, this is how easy it should be to capture the moment. You just didn't realize it was possible until now.
Along with the focus system with native lenses, I've been extremely excited about the possibilities of utilizing my Nikon lenses with the Sony A9, thanks to lens adaptors. I have been using an inexpensive, manual focus lens adaptor I purchased on Amazon to test out the A9 capabilities, and I have been blown away by the focus peaking system on the A9, making manual focusing a breeze. While the focusing on the D5 is fantastic, I find that with the focus peaking of the A9, I've rediscovered how much I enjoy different lenses, simply by using them manually with this lens adapter. In the future I'm looking into purchasing an adapter that allows autofocus to remain functional, and when I do, I'll be sure to update this area with my thoughts.
There isn't too much I can expound on this, other than it's a killer camera. I love the files from the A9, and even straight out of camera, colors are rich, noise is minimal, and size is great. They're not nearly the size of heavy hitters such as the D810, but are extremely comparative to the D5 regarding size. While the D5 still beats the A9 in regards to overall high ISO ability, the A9 holds its own, and I'm not afraid to push files to 6400, or even further when necessity calls. I've delivered up to ISO 10,000 confidently, though I would prefer to stay lower than that whenever possible.
As a side note, I've found that I don't need to push ISO as hard as I do on the D5, simply because I am able to hand hold the A9 to a much, MUCH lower shutter speed than I've ever been able to do with any Nikon or Canon camera. I have twitchy hands, and knowing this, I keep my shutter speeds faster than need be most of the time, to assure no shake in my images. With the A9, I can confidently hand hold all the way to 1/40 without fear, when the job necessitates, because the camera body itself is stabilized -- not the lenses. To some that may not sound impressive, but for myself, it's certainly a huge leap. With the ability to drop the shutter speed that low when the opportunity strikes, I can keep the ISO lower than on my Nikon cameras. It's a fantastic addition to my wheelhouse, and one element I hadn't expected, but have thoroughly enjoyed with this camera.
All of that to say, the files are fantastic. You certainly won't have an issue with quality of files, and your range is well beyond any concerning situations you may incur.
AWESOME THINGS I NEVER REALIZED I WAS MISSING
THE SILENT SHUTTER. Oh, the silent shutter. People talk about quiet shutters in DSLRs. There's quiet mode, and we all know some DSLRs have quieter shutters than others. For instance, the D5 sounds like a machine gun going off when in a silent ceremony, and there’s no silent mode in the world that will save you from that. I've accepted it, and I attempt to be as unobtrusive as humanly possible, but let's be honest, people hear the shutter sometimes. The A9, in electronic shutter, is LITERALLY silent. No sound. At all. When people told me about this, I assumed they meant it was really, exceptionally quiet. No. There is nothing. And, as with other aspects of the A9, it was disorienting at first, but now it's absolutely the first and foremost element that has made me decide to invest in a second A9. Yes, you heard that right. I'm buying a second A9 to allow myself to dual shoot, singularly because of my experience during ceremonies and intimate moments. I have had situations where the silent shutter allowed me in spaces and into moments that with the D5, left me still on the outside, either because the client noticed me, or because I was simply concerned of being a bother. With the A9, I've been able to dive into moments, be inches away from a crying father who has just seen his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time, and he never even realized I was there. Why? Because I was utterly silent, got in, got out, and kept shooting. I've been able to move around a Catholic ceremony with much less issue, simply because the shutter clicks did not give me away. I've shot group prayers without disturbing the sanctity of the moment, because I was noiseless. This single element of the A9 cannot be overstated. I feel that I can be a better photographer for my clients with this camera, simply because I feel more confident to stay in the moments my clients give me, because I know I won't be a distraction while doing so. To me, that is worth its weight in gold, and why I am switching to using the A9s exclusively during intimate moments and ceremonies.
There have been times the silent shutter has thrown off clients initially, simply because they're used to hearing the shutter clicks from other photographers in the past, and not hearing one can be an odd sensation for many. How do you act, if you can't hear if the camera is going off? However, this concern is usually assuaged with a joke, and I have witnessed countless couples and wedding parties suddenly become infinitely easier to photograph, simply because they aren't sure if I'm photographing them or not, which allows much more natural interactions to occur. No one feels as if they're on display, and I become an afterthought. When people hear a shutter click, I generally notice that at first, they pause. Being photographed is an awkward experience for many people, and part of my job as a wedding photographer is to make that awkwardness disappear. While my clients may be comfortable with me when I arrive on the wedding day, most of the time I haven't met their friends and family until the day of the wedding. I'm an unknown entity, and sometimes my cameras can be a distraction. With the silent shutter, that disappears. When people aren't sure whether they're being photographed, it's easier for them to forget about me, and it becomes a much quicker dive into truly capturing the day, and the concern of being photographed disappears. Call it a psychological thing, if you will, but I'm telling you, the silent shutter is the best thing I have experienced in my career thus far.
One thing that the A9 also did by happy accident was completely overhaul my flash system, which has been my Achilles heel in one form or another for the better part of 3 years. Spoiler alert -- I *LOVE* implementing flash in all aspects of my day, as creative as the situation allows. It's something I enjoy doing, and creating a different scenario by utilizing the MagMod and Interfit systems is a staple of my work. For me to keep the A9, I *had* to be able to use flash -- and I had to have it work simultaneously with both my Nikon D5 and the Sony A9. Sounds like a unicorn of a dream, right, being able to control two separate platforms with one set of transmitters? That's what I thought, too...until I discovered, thanks to a few amazing colleagues, that the Godox V860II Speedlights, used in conjunction with the Godox X1-T transmitters for Nikon and Sony, allow me to use both my Nikon cameras and my Sony A9 simultaneously. This makes life extremely easy...and honestly, easier than it was when I was using the Nikon SB5000s. I have continually struggled to find a flash system that has met my needs, and with the Godox system, I've found a flash that is insanely powerful, has built in receivers (thank you, Godox, for alleviating unnecessary equipment from my bag!), I can control the off camera flashes from the transmitter on my camera, AND I can add a flash into the hotshoe on the transmitter to continue using OCF, as well a filling subjects in the middle of a busy dance floor. These flashes are fantastic, and when I'm able to use them simultaneously with both platforms, that's a dream. With the A9 fast to focus, especially coupled with the 28mm f/2, this system makes a wonderful combination for reception dance parties. I never realized what I was missing when I wasn't aware of this beautiful system, but now that I've had it, there's no way I could go back.
One thing I will note, however, is the lightning fast speed that spoils me with every aspect of the EVF and natural light, does not completely translate when using flash. When you switch to mechanical shutter and implement flash, the system does feel a bit slower, a little less intuitive. I haven’t decided if that’s because it genuinely spoils me while not using flash, or if it does slow down. Even then, though I feel the response times are on par with the D750, and there really isn’t anything to be concerned about. It’s just the A9 is so, so, ridiculously fast while in electronic mode, that a minor slow down does feel odd, but it’s no slower than any DSLR, and I’m okay with that tradeoff.
Battery life. If I had to gripe about one thing, it would most certainly be this. Granted, coming from a D5, where I shoot roughly 5-7K shots per wedding on one battery, and never even blink at battery life, this was going to be a fall from grace. There is simply no comparison between the D5, or even the D750, with the A9. It really, honestly, stinks. I've changed batteries before ceremonies to be on the safe side, because they were hovering around the 20% mark. Because of this, I highly recommend investing in the Sony Multi Battery Adaptor Kit. It's not cheap, and after picking up the camera and your lenses, you'll probably question the investment, but trust me, this camera chews through batteries like no one's business. The kit comes with two additional batteries, and I also picked up one more battery, giving me four batteries in total. The most I've used in one wedding is three, but I always err on the side of caution, and one can never have too many batteries. I've adapted to keeping an additional battery on my person at all times, ready to swap when the meter gets uncomfortably close to the end. I also bring a single battery charger to every wedding as well, just in case, to charge batteries on the fly if need be.
Another thing of interest is simply how tough it was to sort out how to set my dual card slots to write RAW to one slot, and backup JPEGs to the other. Trust me, this took me days to sort out, and only after giving up, did I find the solution to this. It really should not be that difficult, as this is a standard thing for many photographers to do. To hopefully help any future frustrations of others who may want to do this, you will want to go into your Menu>Setup5>Select Rec. Media to Slot 2, then, below that, you'll want to put Recording Mode to Sort(JPEG/RAW). This will enable Slot 1 to record RAW images, and Slot 2 will be designated to JPEGs.
It does need to be stated, though, that the Sony menu system genuinely sucks. I am not a fan of the menu layout, as it feels like a labyrinth of clicks, toggles, and more clicks to get to a single item, placed where you don't feel it should be located in the first place. I've had many a FaceTime calls with friend and colleague, Chad Winstead (whose work is INCREDIBLE, and you MUST check him out!) on where to find random options when the manual just isn't helpful. So, in that regard, plan to spend a few days deciphering the madness that Sony has deemed a menu. Come on, guys, you can do better in this arena.
Depending on your philosophy on memory cards and your shooting style, you will find yourself running through them in a day. I prefer to keep my cards to a minimum, so I've switched to using SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB SDXC cards in both slots. This allows me to generally only need one card per day, though sometimes I'll swap out at the very end of a lively reception. Because of the high write speeds, I'm able to go into a continuous burst confident that I will be able to document every move, which has come in handy, particularly while working with dancers. Your mileage and shooting philosophies may vary, so take that as you will.
If you’ve made it this far, you’ve certainly earned a badge of honor, and I’m sure you’re aware of what my final verdict is going to be...
I freaking love this camera.
When I first purchased my Sony A9, I picked up two lenses: the Sony Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA, and the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8, with the intention of forcing myself to be more creative compositionally, and not lean of a bevy of lenses. However, I am a gear nerd at heart, and I love tinkering with all things photography. Since my initial purchase, I've also added the Sony 28mm f/2 lens, which is wonderful addition that I utilize in tight spaces and on the dance floor during receptions. In the future, I will also be picking up the Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8, though I will be honest, I keep holding out, in hopes that an f/2 or lower will materialize, especially at its current price point. The f/2.8 is still not wide enough for my particular tastes, and I wish Sony would step that particular lens up. I am also intrigued by the Mitakon Zhongyi Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95, and will eventually also test this lens out. That being said, at the end of the day, I still want to shoot lighter, and force myself to compose with less bulk, and if I could wind up with a 28, 35, and 135 that were all f/2 or below, I would feel utterly confident in running with two A9s throughout a wedding day. Despite a few minor gripes that are absolutely personal preference and nuanced, the A9 is one heck of a camera. It gives me everything I had hoped to find in my short run with the Fuji X-T2, and more than steps up to the plate to give my D5 a run for its money in almost every aspect I value. That’s a win for for me.
All in all, while photography is my livelihood and how I pay my bills, it is also still my passion, and my hope is to always have fun and create for my clients in every situation. When I am enjoying the process, I perform better. The Sony A9 gives me so much joy, and I simply love the creation process while using this camera. When I can produce images that are up to my expectations from my Nikon gear with a much smaller imprint, and have a blast doing it, that’s a no brainer for me. Because of all of this, I will be investing in a second Sony A9, and see myself enjoying this camera for a long, long time.
You may be wondering if I’m going to make a complete jump from Nikon to Sony. The answer is no. I am keeping my Nikon gear, and will continue to implement it in my professional work on a consistent basis. Why? Because as much as I love Sony, I still love Nikon, too. There are things that the D5 still does more to my taste, and I feel confident in what I produce with Nikon. The difference is that the Sony A9 does a few things infinitely better than what Nikon offers, and I feel the two compliment one another in ways that betters my photography throughout the day. Sony has certainly taken over for any intimate, quiet moments, and Nikon still has phenomenal glass for portraits, where the Sony simply doesn’t have reach currently. I’m a firm believer in using the best tool for the job, and sometimes that will be Sony, and others, Nikon. So, no, there will be no Nikon breakup in favor of Sony...simply, there is a coexistence between the two, and I enjoy both.
Below you’ll find some more sample images. Please feel free to drop a note or ask questions. We’re all learning together! I’d love to help, and I hope this rambling helps someone who may be on the fence. Get out there and create, my friends. Enjoy the process!