Reviewed in the United States on June 3, 2017
I'm a professional photographer who has used Canon my whole career. I had been eyeing Sony for awhile due to my intrigue on their technology, and the fact that a few of my friends and colleagues had started shooting with their products, and raved about them. Up until the a9 though, Sony just didn't offer the "complete package" of what I needed. This review is biased to me and my needs, but hopefully you can find it helpful anyway. BTW, this is my first Sony camera, so pardon me if I bring up things that have already been introduced in previous Sony models.
Why I bought the a9:
- Autofocus. This camera focuses extremely well. The face recognition, eye focus, and 93% sensor coverage are game changers. I like to shoot in both portrait and landscape mode, but switching on my Canon required a quick scramble to change focus points to make sure the client's face was in focus. That's now a thing of the past.
- Ergonomics. One of the big knocks against Sony is their bodies are small and cramped on your hands. This may be true to some extent, but with the a9 this is practically a problem of the past. Sony released their GP-X1EM Grip Extension for those with larger hands (like myself). If you don't have a battery grip, or don't feel like working with the extra size and weight, the GP-X1EM is perfect. Just a side note, the a9 is pretty comfortable in the hand even without the grip, but I prefer it.
- Flip out screen. I have been wanting a flip out screen on a professional Canon camera for years, but Canon just doesn't get the memo sometimes. A flip out screen is paramount for getting creative bride and groom shots, shooting up high on the dance floor, and just generally getting more creative shots than you otherwise could get.
- Battery life. This was the biggest issue with Sony mirrorless cameras in the past. Rest assured it has been fixed with the a9. Sure, you won't get 1DX type run times out of your battery, but you can easily shoot for hours on a single charge.
- Low light. Light light autofocus works well. Eye focus still works even in very dim situations. ISO performance is quite well. Shooting even up around 10-12,000ISO the noise is usable (in my opinion of course). Dynamic Range in shadowed areas is not quite as good as the A7RII, but still better than a lot of the competition.
- User friendly. The menus have been improved, and almost everything feels "right" when you get it out of the box. Most settings can be changed on the fly without even having to take your eye away from the viewfinder. You will not find a quicker camera to change settings on in my opinion.
- Electronic View Finder. This is a pro for me, but may be a con for you. Not everyone likes EVFs, but it took me no time to get used to it, and I love it now. Knowing what your image will look like before you take it is a dream come true. Not to mention they updated the EVF on this camera to make it even better than the a7RII.
- Top control dials. Sony added an extra double control dial on the top left of the camera that allows you to change things like burst mode and single to continuous autofocus. This may not sound like a big deal but it makes changing settings WAY FASTER
- Silent Shooting. Completely silent shooting with basically no distortion or banding. Perfect for a wedding and event photographer. No more "CLICK CLICK CLICK" constantly of the shutter.
- No black out viewfinder. You always see exactly what your subject is doing. As long as you're in electronic shutter mode.
-Dual card slots. Not having dual card slots was a deal breaker on previous Sony models, so I'm very happy Sony included that.
- Small form factor. This is not that big of a deal to me, but having a smaller, lighter camera that I can use is nice. I feel much more likely to take this around in my day to day life and use it. I don't take my 5D Mark III around because it's big, heavy, and I feel either like a tourist or everyone is staring at me. The professional lenses are just as big as common DSLR lenses, but they also offer great small lenses that you can use as well (Sony / Zeiss 35mm f2.8, Sony 28mm f2, etc)
-Touch to focus display. I never thought I needed a touch screen on a camera. Now that I have one I can't go back. Touching wherever I want to focus is just so easy.
- Customization. Practically any button on this camera can be customized to what you want. Even the focus lock button on Sony lenses can be customized. Right out of the box I think it was set up pretty well, but I did enjoy that I could map the back wheel to aperture like it is on my Canon.
- Joystick. This is a feature I was waiting for on Sony, and I know I'm not the only one.
- Adaptable lenses. With a metabones, Sigma, or other adapters you can use your Canon, Nikon, Sony A-Mount, or other brand lenses on the a9 with autofocus. This is not a feature I use, but I know many people who love it.
Other little nice things that don't need expanding on: wifi, NFC, Charging at the camera, Slow motion video on the top dial. I'm sure there are more things I'm forgetting.
This camera has been met with limited (but loud) criticism from certain people on the interwebs, so I would like to address some of the common complaints here:
-Overheating. This has been blown WAY out of proportion in my opinion. I have not heard any reports of cameras shutting down due to overheating. There have been some a9 cameras (mine included) that when left dormant in hot direct sunlight (85 degrees or above usually) they do show a heat warning symbol after about 20-30 minutes. I would like to assure you that this has only ever happened when I left the camera out in the sun without using it for an extended period of time, and that the camera has continued to function fine for extended periods of time (no shutdown due to heat) after the warning popped up. I have never seen the warning when I am walking around shooting images, but only when it's left in the sun to "bake". The camera cools extremely quickly when taken out of the direct sunlight. I have even talked to Sony support about this and they are working on a fix. ***UPDATE***. A few weeks after the a9 was released, Sony put out a firmware update that raised the overheating warning temperature. Since then I have not heard any complaints about the overheating warning, and still no reports of cameras shutting down do to overheating.
- Banding. Let's be clear. Every electronic shutter will have banding. But the a9 has gone a long way to negate banding in most situations. On some LED lights, banding can still be seen, but I've not yet seen a light that created banding on my a9 that did not also create banding on my Canon 5D Mark III, which has a mechanical shutter only. Basically what I'm saying is banding is very rare, and if you see banding with the a9, you most likely will see banding on those same lights with any full frame camera.
The Sony a9 is truly an amazing camera, and if you have the money I would highly recommend you get one. It's got great image quality, almost unreal autofocus, and has fixed many of the issues Sony cameras have had in the past. However, it is not for everyone. If you are shooting landscapes or other things that need a ton of high detail, I would recommend the Sony a7RII or the Canon 5DS-R. They will be much slower and not have as many features as the a9, but they will have the resolution you need for that type of work. If you can't afford the a9, but want a Sony camera, I would suggest looking into the Sony a99II. It's an A-Mount camera with a slightly larger body, but it produces stunning images with very fast autofocus.
Good luck and happy shooting!