Lens limitations keep Sony A9 from perfection though its astonishing speed is a selling point
Can a Sony camera be considered as viable alternative business tool to a Canon or a Nikon?
Its latest A9 model (£4,499) makes a decent case. The new professional camera has a supercharged engine and souped-up sensor that combine to create a candidate for the ultimate sports or wedding photographer's camera.
Having tried it out, there is some merit to Sony's claim, with one or two provisos. The biggest thing the A9 has going for it is its astonishing speed. It is capable of shooting 20 frames per second in either jpeg or raw format. It can do this in bursts of up to 241 frames (12 seconds, continuously). It also does this with no blackouts between shots.
To put this in context, nothing else on the market comes close in the arena of professional full-frame cameras.
The appeal here for sports photographers is obvious. More frames per second - at full power and resolution - means less chance that you'll miss the absolute perfect shot. (This can be a question of milliseconds).
There is a different appeal for wedding photographers and other jobbing professionals. As a mirrorless camera, the A9 works completely silently at full power.
That means stealthy, discreet shooting in a church, gallery, press conference or any other sort of occasion. This is a huge benefit: the clattering noise of a regular DSLR as its shutter works is a major drawback when trying to capture a scene without disturbing it. That shutter sound often intimidates or distracts people.
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Silent shooting isn't a new phenomenon in full frame cameras, with Sony's existing A7 line (and especially its flagship A7Rii) having made the point over the last three years. However, the A9 takes the mirrorless genre's professional application up a notch because of its speed and power. Sony says that the engine in the A9 is 20 times faster than in the A7Rii. As a result, it can autofocus 60 times per second and shoot to one thirty two thousandth of a second.
There are other nods to professional users, too. The A9 has two memory card slots (a feature long requested by working photographers) and a new joystick to guide focusing.
Crucially, its battery has twice the capacity of the A7 range's battery, another gripe that professionals had about Sony systems.
Finally, the A9 settles at 24 megapixels instead of the 42 megapixels of the A7Rii. This will make files sizes for professionals more manageable while still giving plenty of detail and resolution.
Will all of this be enough to entice working photographers away from Canon and Nikon?
Maybe, maybe not. Sony's biggest barrier is still the comparative lens ranges.
This is most glaring for sports photographers. Canon and Nikon (and umpteen other companies making lenses for those two systems) both have important lenses that Sony currently doesn't have. This includes anything over 400mm, a critical focal length that some professionals cannot do without.
For those currently shooting with Sony A7S or A7R cameras, is it worth upgrading?
For video, probably not: Sony has deliberately not provisioned the A9 with the S-log capabilities of the A7S. For stills, the A9 beats the A7Rii in the ways listed above. But it's almost twice the price (£2,000 dearer).
So it's likely that only dedicated professionals will consider it.