The Sony A9 is a full-frame, high-speed mirrorless camera that features a stacked sensor for capturing still images at a burst rate of 20fps.
Hey Ted, you’re a sports photographer
Okay – lets be clear, I’m not. But I love sports, and I love photography. So here we are.
My first experience with the Sony A9 came in June of 2018 when Sony invited me to the press event for the Sony FE 400mm f/2.8 announcement. Next thing I know, I’m in New Jersey at Red Bull stadium on the field photographing the Red Bulls play FC Dallas.
I’m standing there in a red knit plastic vest, camera on monopod with the most massive lens I’ve ever used. I’m shooting a real professional sports event. The crowd is roaring, the initial fireworks go off after the national anthem, the hair on the back of my neck is standing up and IT IS AWESOME!
It was an amazing experience and I now have an entirely new respect for what sports photographers deal with. Having an art background it was so completely different, but it was a blast.
The evening ended hanging out with Gordon Laing and photographing the New York City skyline from across the river in Hoboken. Just a couple of YouTubers with each a Sony A9 and massive lens hanging out on the river front.
All images ©Ted Forbes
Sony A9 As the Pinnacle of Mirrorless Camera Design
As I’ve said many times, a mirrorless camera is so much more than just a camera without a mirror box. Its a full data readout in real time from the camera and its about the posibilities of what both the photographer and the camera design can do.
When the A9 was announced, the main feature is its stacked-CMOS sensor configuration. What this means is you have a 24 megapixel sensor that is stacked on a second layer of memory. As the sensor is capturing light, its offloading image information onto this “integral memory” layer. This combination is able to deal the image readout at about 20 times faster than a standard CMOS sensor.
So what does that mean for photography? It opens up some pretty ridiculous possibilities for autofocus and image capture. The Sony A9 can capture images at burst speeds of 20 frames per second – full raw images. The autofocus is able to re-adjust up to 50 times a second. In fact, the autofocus is so fast that you need lenses that are built to keep up with it.
Autofocus Speed and Lenses
Just because the camera can tell the autofocus to adjust quickly, it doesn’t actually mean the lens can keep up. Over the years we’ve seen autofocus motors evolve from ring-type mechanisms with stepping motors to the newer designs with direct linear motors such as the FE 400mm f/2.8. The Sony 400mm is actually built to handle what the Sony A9 can do. And its amazing.
Practicality of the Sony A9
Shooting at burst rates of 20 frames per second is very different than anything we’ve seen before on traditional DSLR cameras. There is no blackout. The camera is using the electronic shutter to achieve this, but its a very surreal experience because there is no sound coming from the camera. You can turn on the fake shutter sound if its really bothersome, but you can get used to it. There is a black frame indicator in the viewfinder that flashes as its shooting so you get a response but its very different.
The second thing you have to get used to is your own technique. Just holding the shutter release and firing like its an automatic weapon results in a LOT of files that you will have to store and go back through later in post. You have to learn how to be selective of “decisive moments” and shoot in small bursts. Its actually a beautiful thing when you get used to it and it opens up an entire realm of possibility that we’ve never seen in photography before.
At first glance speed seems non-essential. We’ve worked for over 100 years without it, its a crutch right? This was my first thought when I heard the A9 was announced. But after actually using it, I’ve realized that this camera really is the pinnacle of technology – for right now at least. Technology will keep moving and Sony has the ball. The image quality on this camera is outstanding. You have more chances at getting the right image because of the increased speed. How would Henri Cartier-Bresson have felt about this for his idea of the decisive moment? I think he would have embraced it and showed us things that we never dreamed possible. I think this is where the talent and creative thinking of the photographer is allowed to shine through – because the technology is moving out of the way.
Yes its expensive, but this is one of the finest cameras being produced today.
• Balanced design for resolution and sensitivity
• 24.2 Megapixel Exmor RS CMOS sensor
• Bionz X Image Processor
• Native ISO: 100-51200
• Expanded ISO: 50-204800
• Hybrid phase detection/contrast detection autofocus
• 25 point contrast detection AF points
• 693 phase detection AF points
• 1/250 flash sync
• 20fps burst rate
• 5-Axis In-body Image Stabilization
• Flash Exposure Lock
• First-Curtain mechanical and electronic shutter
• Live-view and tethered capture
• Custom minimum shutter speed at auto ISO
• Flexible Spot with Lock on Autofocus
• Continuous Eye AF
• AF Sensitivity -3 ~ 20 EV
• Metering Sensitivity -3 ~ 20 EV
• 4 Custom User Buttons
• 1.4 M dot Monitor Resolution
• 3.6 M dot viewfinder resolution
• 0.78× Viewfinder Magnification
• MPEG-4, AVCHD (28 Mbit/s), XAVC S (100 Mbit/s) 4K internal video recording
• Full-pixel readout video sampling
• 120fps at 1080p
• Clean 4k HDMI output
• Power via USB while tethering
• Full magnesium alloy chassis
• Stainless steel bayonet mount
• Dimension: 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm
• Weight: 673g