Sony α9 Camera review: mirrorless cameras find their flagship of flagships
The Sony α9 isn’t just the company’s flagship mirrorless shooter for 2017, it’s the flagship for their flagship α series. Dressed to the nines with features like blackout-free, continuous shooting at 20 FPS, lightning fast autofocus and 5 axis in-body image stabilisation. It’s a little excessive - not to mention expensive. On more than a few levels, it screams overkill. However, there’s always going to be a market for those who don’t just want the right tool for the job - but the best one - no matter the cost.
There was a time where Sony’s forays into the photography world couldn’t hold water against heavyweights of the camera world. The α9 makes it fairly clear that this era is well and truly behind the company. Banished to the dustbowl of the past, even.
Hyperbole or not, this is Sony’s ultimate mirrorless camera. It’s a monster of a thing - but that doesn’t mean it’s not capable of creating gorgeous close-ups, vivid landscapes and intimate portraits.
The Sony α9 is far more than just a tick-the boxes camera. That said, it does tick an awful lot of boxes when it comes to performance. It’s got a 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor with 24.2-megapixels to its name. It offers up to 20 frames-per-second continuous shooting and boasts a maximum ISO of 512,000. It’s packing enhanced fast Hybrid AF with wide AF coverage featuring 693-point focal-plane phase-detection AF.
Beyond that, the Sony α9 also features silent-shooting, dual UHS-II SD slots, a 3-inch touchscreen, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 120 FPS OLED viewfinder with no blackout, 4K/6K video and a NP-FZ100 battery.
In terms of ports, the α9 comes armed with an Ethernet jack, flash sync port, standard headphone, microphone and mini-HDMI outputs along with a USB 2.0 port for both image and data transfer and charging.
Our testing paired up the α9 with Sony’s own G-Master FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS lens but it should work with any of Sony’s existing lens lineup, provided they use Sony’s E-Mount design. However, not all E-Mount lenses are able to make use of the α9’s maximum 20 FPS continuous shooting capabilities.
In terms of design, the Sony α9 fits snugly within the framework of what’s come before it. All the usual buttons, toggles and switches - such as the AF joystick and dedicated AF-ON and AEL buttons - are all pretty much where you'd expect them to be, regardless of whether you’ve spent much time with a Sony full-frame camera before or not. The main differences worth noting here are that the vertical rear dial is slightly larger the one found in the Alpha 7 series and that the record button for recording video content has also been moved. It’s now neatly nestled to the right of the viewfinder.
Like any flagship camera worth its salt, the Sony α9 manages a deft balance between weight and strength. At 673 grams, it’s noticeably than a lot of the competition. It’s heavy-duty but it’s not so heavy that you’ll dread having to carry it around with you (less can be said of the G-Master FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS lens).
Basically, it blends together the technical capabilities of something pro-level with stylish design of something closer to the consumer one. To great effect, no less. The camera has a great grip, buttons feel very naturally clicky and the custom function buttons peppered across the full-frame shooter add some much-needed utility via extra customizability that power users will get a lot out of. It feels good to hold in exactly the way that you’d expect something with its price-tag to do so.
Likewise, the touchscreen manages to hit the mark for both sharpness and responsiveness. It also features a hinge that adds some appreciated - albeit limited - flexibility that can you help you get the most out of the powerful autofocus that the α9 is capable of delivering on. Of course, the 120 FPS OLED viewfinder meant that I actually didn’t need to do so as much as I initially expected.
The last thing worth touching on here the general UI and menu design. This was occasionally a little intimidating but for the most part not too much of a fuss. I’ve used worse menu designs. Unfortunately, I did initially find Wi-Fi transfers to mobile to be a little bit obtuse and confusing. Obviously, if you’ve used one of Sony’s cameras and their PlayMemories app before, you’ll know the ropes. However, as a first-timer for the brand’s cameras, it definitely stuck out to me as a weak-link in the experience.
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