I just finished guiding my most exciting and productive Natural Habitat Borneo Expedition to date. The wildlife sightings, weather and great group of travelers made this trip perfection in every respect. This was the first time I used my new Sony A9 mirrorless camera as well, and it, well, blew my mind. I am so in love with this amazing machine. It is the perfect camera and Ill try to explain why. Researching cameras on the web for me is often confusing- I dont know who the authors are or their motivation for the review (fake news?) and most of them are so mired in high tech jargon that I dont understand. What I want is to read what someone I trust writes in simple terms, so here is that for you guys.
I was exposed to the Sony A9 through some clients and pro photographer Chris Dodds this summer who assured me that I must invest in one. Most of my guide photographer colleagues such as Drew Hamilton and Justin Gibson had gone mirrorless 3 years ago, but I was stubborn, loved my canon 7D and decided to wait until some better lenses came onto the market. This summer when I saw the Sony 100-400 gm lens I fell in love, and at the same time my canon gear was starting to really show signs of wear and tear and I knew my gal would fail any day. I have to say I put my gear through total hell- from 40 below zero nights in the Canadian North photographing aurora to the steamy dripping rainforests of Borneo to the salt, sand and volcanic ash of the Alaska Peninsula. You don’t want to come back in your next life as my camera, and if you do, you better be tough as nails. I also need a fast autofocus, fast shutter speed, high ISO tolerance for dark jungle night photography, and capability for video. The A9 blew away all of these requirements and also has so many more strengths.
ISO– The A9 can shoot over 200k ISO. I can basically shoot an image in pitch darkness. Sure there is noise, but I shot much of the trip in very low light conditions at 2000-10000 ISO and was very pleased with the results. The very manageable noise was easily eliminated in lightroom. I had much much more noise at 1250 ISO with my 7D than at 4000 with the A9.
2x converter– I was so disappointed with my canon 1.4 because you lost light obviously, and the pictures were soft. I saw basically no loss of quality using the sony 2x, maybe because you never have to calibrate the lens on these cameras…. I shot often handholding at 800 mm and results were awesome.
Autofocus– I love everything about it. It is amazingly lightning fast, and I have autofocus points across the entire field of view which for me is huge! There are 4 “stop autofocus” buttons on the lens! Thats ingenious! So if I want to stay locked into something I can press it as I am holding the lens. I never could use the back button autofocus button on the canon because my thumb is always devoted to focus point selector toggle. Using that button can be handy to stop autofocus in a situation with lots of branches ect in the way, but again, my thumb is always on the autofocus selection toggle! Whatever- putting the stop autofocus buttons on the lens is brilliant for those times Im trying to stay locked onto an animal in the branches of a tree.
Speed– The A9 can shoot 20 frames per second. That is incredible when Im trying to get that split second shot of a bird taking off or anything high speed. Speed is key with action photography.
Image Stabilizer– Its some kind of amazing system in the camera body. I dont know what this means- “5-axis sensor-shift stabilization claims 5 stops improvement.” but i can tell you its amazing. The old rule that you should shoot at least 1/focal length when handholding is now obsolete. I shot tack sharp at 1/60th of second at 800 mm- think about that for a second….
Controls– The buttons are super easy to figure out and well set up, and now I can make all my adjustments on the menu through the viewfinder! no more trying to see the LCD screen to change something in bad light, or having to stop taking images to change the ISO. You just have to see it to believe it.
Battery– I had heard these mirrorless rigs have poor battery life. Its not as good as my 7d, but its impressive. Considering what the camera is doing, Im stunned how long the batteries last. The batteries also charge amazingly fast.
Durability– So far so good. It is weather sealed and has solid metal body. Electronic shutter causes no wear and tear. I guess ill have to answer this question in a few years.
Shutter Noise– Oh I detested how loud my 7d was. When I am guiding the sounds of cameras blazing can get disruptive to my group and the wildlife. The electronic shutter is completely silent. I love it. There is also no vibration as in a traditional mechanical shutters.
Note– these pix are cropped to 640 for this blog, a fraction of the actual resolution.
so yup I’m happy with the A9. Only downside was the cost- total bill for the body lens and 2x was 8,000 US, but now that I see what I got I dont feel bad. Next post will be some samples of the out of this universe video capabilities….
Keep exploring! Brad