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Sony A9 ready to compete with Canon, Nikon in professional imaging space

Create: 04/23/2017 - 09:46
Sony A9

HIGHLIGHTS

  • New stacked 24.2-MP CMOS sensor
  • Mechanical and electronic shutters with top frame rate of 20 shots per second
  • New battery that doubles the capacity of earlier models

Sony has officially put Canon and Nikon on notice. The Sony A9 full-frame mirrorless camera takes a big leap forward in terms of professional features and price.

There are many things about the A9 that will appeal to photographers, but its US$4,499.99 price certainly will give pause to some buyers. At this price level, it is priced competitively against the Canon EOS-1DX and Nikon D5. For the professional photographer, price and features are just one of many considerations with product support being a major factor in deciding which system is eventually purchased.

How does Sony justify the A9’s lofty price?

A look at this model’s specifications explain why Sony decided not to make this the next A7 model.

NEW, FASTER IMAGING SENSOR

The A9 uses a new 24.2-MP full-frame CMOS sensor with an ISO range of 100-51,200. That can be extended upward to 204,800. While that’s less than other cameras, it’s doubtful that you’ll need an ISO above 204,800.

However, this is a stacked sensor, which means that the sensor has multiple layers. The backside illuminated sensor passes information to integrated memory, which feeds that data to a high-speed signal processing circuit. The image information is then transfered to the BIONZ X image-processing engine. Sony says certain parts of this process are 20 times faster than image processing of the A7 II, which lacks the intermediate layers.

Sony’s promotional video explains the workings of the stacked sensor.

All of this results in a camera that can shoot at up to 20 frames per second with autofocus and autoexposure enabled for each image when using the electronic shutter. Sony says the camera is able to make tiny adjustments to focus and exposure up to 60 times per second.

MECHANICAL, ELECTRONIC SHUTTERS

The A9 has both mechanical and electronic shutters, which is nothing new for mirrorless cameras, although it is something that DSLRs lack. This is the first time that Sony has offered mechanical and electronic shutters in its mirrorless E-mount bodies.

When using the electronic shutter, Sony says there is no viewfinder blackout amd minimal display lag, which means that as the scene changes in front of you, the camera’s dispay is able to keep up. This is vital for many types of professional photography in which the main subject is moving, such as when covering sports, nature or fashion.

The mechanical shutter has a range of 30 seconds to 1/8,000 plus B, while the electronic shutter’s top speed is 1/32,000. Another benefit of the electronic shutter is that it emits no sound, making the camera very quiet, which can be important when shooting in certain situations, such as inside a church or photographing a sleeping baby. Because it isn’t a DSLR, there is no mirror slap. The only sounds would be focus and the opening and closing of the lens’ aperture blades.

The body has five-axis image stablization, which can work in conjunction with lenses that have their own stabilization.

The A9 uses a hybrid contrast- and phase-detection system tied to an Exmor RS CMOS sensor. There are 693 phase-detection AF points and 25 contrast-detection AF points covering 93% of the image.

DUAL MEMORY CARD SLOTS

RAW and JPG images, as well as video, are saved to full-size SD, Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo or Memory Stick Micro cards. The A9 has two memory card slots, which can be configured for redundant or sequential storage. As well, the camera also can copy files from one memory card to the other. It also is possible to save videos to one card and still images to the other. The lower slot supports the faster UHS II cards.

RAW images can be processed with Capture One Express, which can be downloaded for free from PhaseOne’s website at https://www.phaseone.com/en/Products/Software/Capture-One-for-Sony/Sony-....

The 4K video is recorded by oversampling approximately 6K of information. Sony says the high speed of the new sensor reduces the rolling shutter effect. 4K and Full HD video use the XAVC S format, which allows for high bitrates of up to 100 Mbps for 4K video and 50 Mbps for Full HD. The 100 Mbps includes recording at 120 frames per second for Full HD for slow-motion capture.

There are microphone and headphone jacks.

The camera has both an OLED electronic viewfinder and a tilting 3.0-inch LCD monitor. The EVF is described as being “Quad VGA” with Zeiss T* anti-reflection coating and a 120 frames per second refresh rate.

The LCD monitor is touch-enabled and allows for the selection of focus points. It has an upward tilt of 107° and downward tilt of 41°.

The A9 has no built-in flash. None of the A7 cameras have an integrated flash, either.

In addition to a hot shoe, there is a flash synchronization terminal on the side of the camera. The mechanical shutter must be used when shooting with flash. The shutter’s flash synch speed is 1/250.

Photos and video can be trasnferred to a computer or mobile device via WiFi or NFC. The A9 also has a LAN terminal for high-speed FTP transfer of files. Secure encrypted transfer via FTPS is supported.

There also are connections for HDMI and a multi-purpose Micro-USB, which can be used to connect to a computer, charge the battery in the camera, connect to Sony’s remote control kit or other purposes.

The A9 has dust and moisture sealing around key points, including port covers. Certain joints use a tongue-and-groove design to further shield them from dut and moisture.

NEW LARGER-CAPACITY BATTERY

One of the frequent complaints about the A7 cameras is battery power or lack of it. Sony has addressed this with a new NP-FZ100 battery, which it says should provide enough power for 480 still photos when using the viewfinder. Sony says that is double the number of shots of the Sony A7R Mark II, which is powered by the NP-FW50 that has been used in nearly all of its E-mount bodies.

For comparsion, the NP-FW50 battery is rated at 1,020 mAh, while the new NP-FZ100 is more than double that at 2,280 mAh.

Sony has a new optional grip (VG-C3EM) that holds two of these batteries. Note that this grip isn’t being marked as compatible with A7 cameras, which have their own grip.

Sony also is offering a small grip (GP-X1EM) that makes the body’s hand grip slightly longer. This grip fits the A9, as well as the Mark II versions of the A7 cameras (see the photos below).

The Sony A9 is 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5 inches (126.9 x 95.6 x 63.0mm) and weighs nearly 24 ounces (673 grams). Its physical dimensions are nearly identical to the A7 cameras and weighs between two and four ounces more than A7, depending on the model being used for comparison.

The A9 is expected to begin shipping in late May 2017.

About the Author

Mike Elek is a longtime journalist and was one of the original editors for The Wall Street Journal Online. He also has worked as a reporter and editor in Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Vineland, N.J.; Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; New York City; and Hong Kong. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran. He shoots with film and digital cameras.