Which Sony A9 Feature Will Make Pros Switch?

Which Sony A9 Feature Will Make Pros Switch?

Sony’s recently announced full-frame flagship A9 is a game changer for mirrorless systems. Designed to compete directly against the Canon EOS 1D X Mark II and Nikon D5 DSLRs, Sony has seemingly solved some of the major complaints of the A7 series and mirrorless systems in general. Here are a few notable features:

20fps shooting without blackout

Very few shooters will ever need a frame rate this fast. But for those who do (e.g. sports photographers), having no blackout with continuous focusing is damn impressive. Both Nikon and Canon have mirror lockup modes, but they are both slower and don’t have the same functionality (e.g. fixed focus on the Nikon and Live View required on the Canon).

The buffer can reportedly handle over 240 shots, which is impressive to say the least, but I can’t really think of a situation where you’d need more than 10 seconds of such speed.

1/32,000s exposure

The mechanical shutter tops out at 1/8000s, but the electronic shutter can go up to 1/32,000s. Sony apparently worked in an “anti-distortion shutter” to fix the “rolling shutter/jelly” effect that affects most extant electronic shutters.

The use case is shooting wide open on a very bright day to maintain a shallow depth-of-field. It isn’t an unheard of scenario, but certainly isn’t common for most photographers.

It’s worth noting that the Sony RX100 V supports the 1/32,000s shutter, so it’s tried and true technology. Strangely, there is no high-speed flash sync option. And while you can flash sync at 1/250th with Sony equipment, Patrick Murphy-Racey says your typical pack lighting will top out at 1/160s.

Silent Shutter

Having worked with both the RX1 and Leica Q, I can’t tell you how significant having a silent shutter is. Eliminating the noise of a shutter relaxes your subject. It’s akin to taking a photo with a phone – people know you’re taking it, but there’s something less formal about it without the click.

Golf photographers and scrum photographers (e.g. White House pool photographers) are going to love this feature.

693 Phase Detection Auto-focus Points

It wasn’t so long ago that phase detection systems were a separate unit apart from the sensor. Now chip manufacturers like Sony are baking it into the sensor – reducing size and presumably response time as well. The Nikon D5 has legendary AF (fast, predictive, 3D, etc), so it will be interesting to see if Sony’s system is up to the task.

The Sony RX100 V had a mere 315 PDAF points covering 65% of the sensor, while the RX1R II had 399 PDAF points. Sony has been slowly upping the AF coverage in its cameras. It’s worth noting, however, that the RX1R II has slower focusing than the Leica Q in low light despite the fact that the Q is a contrast-based mechanism. So there’s no guarantee that more PDAF points yield faster/better focusing.

Battery Life

Battery technology has improved a lot in the past decade, but size still correlates strongly with capacity. The compact size of cameras like the A7 has historically suffered from the same problem as the iPhone – when the battery ain’t big, it goes quickly.

A bigger batter combined with a battery grip mean the A9 can handle up to 450 shots, but Brian Smith’s testing says it’s much higher – into the thousands. This would be a huge improvement over previous bodies.

Weather Sealing

Durability has been an issue with Sony in the past, and it’s one of the reasons why pros have continued to stick with the likes of Nikon and Canon. Sony is claiming the A9 is fully weather-sealed, which is a term they’ve backed off from before opting for “weather resistant.”

Tilt Screen

Although not available on the D5 or 1DX, tilt screens are available on some of Nikon/Canon’s downstream cameras. Anyone who’s ever used a tilt screen can attest to the incredible utility it provides. This is a fantastic feature as long as it doesn’t break off, and it’s easy to replace when it does.


It has been very interesting to see a slow migration of highly respected professionals to Sony over the past few years. Everyone from Michael Yamashita to Ben Lowy can be found using the systems, so it’s clear that multiple thresholds have been crossed with regards to build quality, IQ and glass availability. This includes the general fear that EVFs aren’t good enough compared to an optical viewfinder. Sony recently also displaced Nikon as the #2 camera brand for full-frame ILC systems in the US, which is both scary and a cause for celebration.

Sony also announced expanded offerings for their Pro Support program, which looks pretty good on paper. Nikon and Canon have been providing on-site support for many big events for years, and their respective Pro Services teams have, for the most part, stellar reputations and great staff. Sony will have to start doing the same to keep the pros happy.

Is the A9 new features enough to cause another wave of migrations? Do photographers really need silent shutters and 20fps? While not game changing, I would argue that these features are a slightly more than incremental, and I suspect a few photographers are going to burn holes in their pockets while some camera execs are having sleepless nights.

Update: The article was amended to clarify that Sony’s #2 position is in the US only.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 11 comments for this article
  1. David at 9:39 am

    In my experience a silent shutter makes your camera system so much more versatile. I used the Fuji X100T for a long time and I really miss the silent shutter (it’s other limitations eventually became too much). I’m in the process of upgrading at the minute and will definitely opt for a system with a silent shutter (presumably this or the Fuji X-Pro2/X-T2).

    Amazing AF is great (I am a Nikon shooter so have been spoiled there), but more and more often the need for a silent shutter outweighs the frankly ludicrous capabilities of the top level cameras.

    Combining a new version D800/D810 with a silent shutter option would make my day, but I’m not holding out much hope – I don’t even know if such a thing is technically possible with a DSLR? Or will there forever be a divsion between mirrorless and DSLR?

  2. Perrone Ford at 7:02 pm

    I have seen numerous articles about this camera and how it’s aimed at 1Dx and D5 shooters. I can’t see that at all. At least not from the specs I’ve seen. Practically all the writing so far has come from people who are not shooters of those kinds of cameras. This would make a decent replacement for my D600 though.

    As a person who shoots on pro bodies regularly and shoots them for money, I’ll say why this doesn’t work for me.

    1. It’s too small. Same problem I have with all these mirrorless cameras. I do not want to swing around a 300/2.8, 400/2.8, or 600/f4 by a “compact camera” all day. Your hand cramps up nearly immediately. Adding a grip to make it taller does NOTHING to help because the problem is that your hand needs to open up wider to prevent the problem. To understand the problem, hold a baseball in your hand for 5 minutes, then try to hold a weighted pencil with the same grip for the same amount of time. Making the pencil longer doesn’t fix the issue.

    2. As a sports shooter, I want to know REAL specs that actually matter. What’s the shutter lag? This has been a huge issue for mirrorless cameras in the past. I don’t need 20fps. I need 1 frame RIGHT NOW when I press the shutter. Maybe 2 or 3 in a quick burst. This says it has no “black out”. As a sports shooter I want that black out. That’s how I know if I timed the moment right. If I see what I wanted in the viewfinder, I’ve missed it.

    3. Tell me how this works with my PocketWizards. As a sports shooter, I need to remote trigger for baseball/softball, track and field, soccer behind the goal, basketball behind the backboard or on the floor, etc.

    4. Tell me how it shoots tethered. For my fashion work, I need that to work reliably. Preferable with Capture One.

    5. Tell me about customization. Can I set the dials to function the way *I* want them to like I can on my Nikon? Can I re-assign buttons? And why is the exposure compensation dial set to where my face will touch it when I look through the viewfinder?

    6. Does it have diopter adjustments? That’s a big deal when I am shooting with my rain covers and have to use much more eye relief. Does the viewfinder cover 100% of the sensor? Or am I going to get stuff in the edges I don’t want?

    7. All the control buttons look TINY. As does the “joystick”. Do these folks not understand that pro shooters have to work in difficult conditions? How am I going to manipulate that stuff on a football field with gloves on when it’s 25F and snowing?

    8. Why is this touchscreen? What really want’s that? The only tool I have in the field to tell whether I am getting critical focus, and you’re going to force me to run my dirty fingers all over it to change my menu settings?

    I want to like these mirrorless cameras. I’ve had a couple. Still have my Nikon 1v1. I shoot dance and orchestral performances regularly. The silent shutter is a godsend. But I wish at least ONE manufacturer would give me a full sized camera with even half these features. I don’t need a million megapixels, or 20fps. I don’t need 600AF points. I need a silent camera with a solid ISO3200 and a size I can hold for 3 hours straight without needing to eat a bottle of asprin.

    • Livin1965 at 1:02 pm

      My experience is similar with body size being too small alone. With grip this is more comfortable than my 5d3, though largest lens is 70-200 and 100-400 size range so can’t comment on feel of larger primes with that setup. Amazingly easy to hold and manipulate.

      Buttons are amazingly customizable to your liking. Diopter adjustment is a feature.

      Buttons and dials are smaller. Agree that canon size of these is easier to use and adjust. Though not so small that I feel it’s a problem. Bigger than a7r2 and noticeably more comfortable and solid.

      Touch screen is optional. Just use joystick or dial to adjust settings if you prefer. Some find it easier, though under conditions of dirty hands may be better to use alternate method of input.

  3. David Schneider at 7:58 pm

    I was taking your review seriously until the end where you said, ” Sony recently also displaced Nikon as the #2 camera brand for full-frame systems, which is both scary and a cause for celebration.” You do realize the #2 thing was for the months of January and February, 2017 only. It’s not like a year or even 6 months. If you distort that it leaves open distorting other features. But thank you for pointing out the lack of HSS.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 8:52 pm

      That was bad journalism on my part. I’ve amended the sentence to accurately reflect that the position change was in the US. I agree that two months isn’t a long period, but it is significant and probably a trend, thus that remains as is. Thanks for your input.

  4. Pingback: Check out this Canon 1DXII versus Sony A9 autofocus comparison video | sonyalpharumors
  5. Ed at 7:06 am

    I don’t truly believe Brian Smiths accurate of thousands of shots per say…even Sony does not mention that, typical Sony. What about camera roll, no one mentioned that.

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 7:17 am

      Tony Northrup said something similar. Whatever the actual number, the battery life seems to have been significantly enhanced.

  6. Koeln Bilder Baumbach at 8:50 am

    Whilst I am still unsure why this. Is Olet (electronic) the right way? o.k. this is the new way, but it photography feels indirectly – of JI and the CDM. The facts and technical details of the SONY A9 are incredible. Perhaps it is time to change the system? I will make a test.

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