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Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9


Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 1

We got a chance to get our hands on the Sony alpha 9 immediately after its announcement. Our first reaction? Continuous shooting with full time live view isn’t a gimmick: you can follow the action without any interruption. 

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 2

It feels more substantially built than the existing a7 cameras, but without it becoming hefty. Sony says the a9 is ‘well sealed – especially around most buttons and dials’ for dust and moisture resistance. Whether it’s up there with the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II or Nikon D5 remains to be seen.

The camera’s grip is a little deeper than the a7 cameras, which means it’s more comfortable to hold with larger, heavier lenses such as the 24-70mm F2.8 GM.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 3

Despite the fairly radical specifications, the a9 retains the same fundamental form factor as the existing series II a7 cameras. However, as you’ll be aware if you were following the camera’s launch, just about everything inside the body shell has been revised to optimize speed.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 4

Here’s just some of the cleverness that lives inside the camera: the processing board with twin SD card slots, a 3.7m dot OLED viewfinder and a beefed-up lens mount with more screws for greater strength and durability. But the big news is the 24MP stacked CMOS sensor, mounted on a 5-axis stabilized cradle.

The 24.2MP stacked CMOS design includes memory for buffering immediately behind each pixel. This and the (comparatively) modest pixel count are key to the camera’s fast readout, which underpins the camera’s two headline features: 20 frames per second shooting and an electronic shutter with minimal rolling shutter.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 5

Although it looks a lot like an second-generation a7 series camera, the a9 features a range of improvements, many of them things that photographers (including us) have been requesting for some time.

The most obvious of these is the AF point joystick on the camera’s rear panel. This and the dedicated AF-On button will be immediately welcomed by anyone who’s shot with an existing Sony camera.

There have been changes to the elements that have been carried over too. For example, the dial on the rear plate of the camera is larger and has more noticeable ‘clicks’ as you turn it, making it far easier to use with precision. The buttons also have a more direct feel, rather than the slightly spongy sensation of the ones on the existing models.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 6

Our first impressions of the camera are that everything is that bit faster. Startup time is reduced, as is the speed at which the viewfinder panel is activated when you pull the camera up to your eye.

We’re also impressed with the new quad VGA viewfinder. Its offers a crisp, detailed view and fast enough refresh rate to follow action.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 7

Other changes include the addition of a physical control for switching between MF and the camera’s different AF modes. This, along with the ability to assign AF area modes to the camera’s custom buttons, should make the a9 as quick to operate as it is at shooting.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 8

The a9 uses a new battery. The ‘Type Z’ NP-FZ100 is about the same size as the existing batteries but offers 16.4Wh capacity, up from 7.7Wh in the older, ‘W’ type packs used in previous models. This allows the camera to achieve a rating of 650 shots per charge, based on CIPA standard tests.

As always, it’s quite common to be able to get many more shots out of a battery than the rating suggests, but the higher rating should mean the a9 will regularly be able to shoot for twice as long as most of the a7 series before needing a battery swap.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 9

The ports on the camera’s left flank are all fairly familiar: headphone, mic, USB and HDMI. What’s slightly unexpected is that, despite the camera’s speed, the USB port is only version 2, rather than the much faster USB 3.

As you can see, the doors aren’t especially substantial, which is presumably why Sony isn’t making particularly strong claims about weatherproofing.

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 10

The a9 is the first Sony to feature an Ethernet port, making clear its pitch-side intentions.

We’re surprised to see a traditional flash sync socket, for studio work. We’d expect that of Sony’s current models, the higher-resolution a7R II (which, curiously, lacks a flash sync socket) would appeal more to studio photographers. A hint perhaps that there’s a higher-resolution a9-series body on the way…

Hands on with the Sony a9 (ILCE-9)

Hands-on with the Sony Alpha a9 11

An optional VG-C3EM battery grip doubles the camera’s battery life. The grip itself holds two batteries but fills the battery compartment, meaning you end up with two batteries in total, rather than three. Still, a rating of around 1300 shots per charge with two batteries puts the a9 will into DSLR territory in terms of longevity.

What do you make of the Sony a9? Let us know in the comments.



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