Sony listens. This company really does. And you can see evidence of that in its release of the Alpha a9 II, an important update to the flagship mirrorless camera that adds improved connectivity options that should appeal to professional sports photographers and photojournalists. While the main 24.2MP full-frame Exmor RS stacked full-frame CMOS sensor may be the same as its predecessor, an updated BIONZ X processor and front-end LSI enable a multitude of new functions that should allow pros to do their jobs faster and more effectively while enjoying the class-leading feature set that set the original model apart from the competition.
Improved Processing and Speed
A new BIONZ X and front-end LSI were required to add new functionality to Sony’s flagship mirrorless, and should result in faster, more precise autofocus and improved EVF display response times. This should result in more accurate tracking when subjects are moving fast or erratically—sounds like a solid change for professional sports photographers. The Fast Hybrid AF system uses a 693-point phase-detect array with 93% coverage to track subjects and should perform extremely well in all conditions, much like its predecessor.
Now, you can select the focus frame color and will be able to move the frame while the shutter is half-pressed in AF-C mode. Another significant improvement to usability comes in the form of AF tracking when shooting at f/16 when in Focus Priority mode and the option to focus with opened aperture just before exposure, for improved performance in low-light conditions. The a9 II also, unsurprisingly, supports the latest Real-time AF Tracking mode that helps maintain focus on fast-moving subjects and will include Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals.
Another speed-focused tweak comes to continuous shooting. While the a9 II still maxes out at an incredible 20 fps and still boasts no blackout, the mechanical shutter’s speed has been doubled to 10 fps and benefits from anti-flicker detection to ensure clean, bright exposures in less-than-ideal environments.
Better Build and Connectivity
For many, the most important changes have come to the design and connectivity options, both of which have been upgraded to fit the special demands of professionals in fast-moving situations. The overall build is similar to that of the just-announced a7R IV, including superior weather sealing.
You can see this on the redesigned battery and media slot covers, the redesigned lens lock button, and additional cushioning around the mount. Dials, buttons, and the joystick have all been improved for added comfort and reliability and a lock has been added to the exposure-compensation dial. The shutter itself has been enhanced, and is now rated to 500,000 exposures, with the in-body stabilization system getting a bump, to 5.5 stops. As for the EVF and rear LCD, these remain unchanged at 3.68m-dot for the OLED EVF, though now with a 120 fps refresh rate, and a 3.0" 1.44m-dot tilting touchscreen.
The real meat of this announcement is in connectivity, with plenty of changes being made to improve workflows. First, it’s worth mentioning that both SD card slots now support UHS-II for faster write speeds at all times. The a9 II gains the USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C connector, as well, for hassle-free connection to your computer. For those looking for advanced networking, the Ethernet port gets a serious boost to a 1000BASE-T speed for exceptionally fast image transfer and remote operation. Additionally, wireless now offers a 5 GHz band in addition to the standard 2.4 GHz option for less interference and faster speeds.
Automatic Voice-to-Text Conversion
To make the most of these faster speeds, the accompanying apps have been updated to match. For the wired LAN, the Remote Camera Tool app now has minimized release time lag and live view delays in addition to support for remote SD card formatting, FTP server switching, and changes to the still image storage destination. Imaging Edge Remote for desktop now supports the a9 II for PC Remote shooting via the Wi-Fi connection or tethered by the wired USB Type-C port. Improved data transfer control now makes it possible to transfer files from an SD card over Wi-Fi using the Imaging Edge Mobile app even when the camera is powered off. The Transfer & Tagging add-on app can send FTP setting parameters from your mobile device to the camera, offers automatic data upload to an FTP server with attached metadata, and can perform automatic voice-to-text conversion.
Automatic voice-to-text conversion leads us to the next new function: Voice Memos. This function should help photographers who need to send images as quickly as possible to editors back in the office, using the a9 II’s new FTP capabilities. Snap a photo and then quickly record up to 60 seconds to go along with the photo, ideally describing the situation for editors to grab and caption the image for publication. These .wav audio files can be attached to files and played when the images are reviewed. Using the Transfer & Tagging add-on on a smartphone, you can automatically or manually convert this audio into text to be embedded in the image’s metadata.
The Additional Functions
Last, but not least, comes video. The a9 II is familiar to anyone who used the a9, with UHD 4K recording at up to 30 fps. It benefits from full-sensor readout for sharper images and, now, it can support Real-time Eye AF during video. A nice addition comes from an upgraded Multi Interface Shoe that supports digital audio transmission from compatible devices, such as the ECM-B1M Microphone and XLR-K3M XLR Adapter. Interval Shooting was added, too, although Picture Profiles have been left out since the a9 II is focused more on high-end photography applications where speed is critical.
An improved processor gives users greater efficiency, allowing a bit longer battery life on this model when using the current NP-FZ100 Battery Pack. This will now provide up to 500 shots on a single charge when using the EVF or 690 with the rear LCD. Of course, you can always add to the battery life by using the VG-C4EM Battery Grip or NPA-MQZ1K Multi Battery Adapter.
Menu changes are always appreciated and here we see a great deal more customization. Users can now separate Fn button customization into Stills and Movie settings for even better control schemes. Also, you can now save your user settings to both the camera and SD cards. This makes it easy to create custom configurations for different settings and work with multiple cameras, especially if some are rentals for a specific job.
Overall, the a9 II is a very important release for Sony, especially with the upcoming sporting events that will take place in Tokyo next year. The improvements are substantial and critical for professional photographers who need the ultimate in speed for both their cameras and their workflow. New networking functions and remote control will make the a9 II a viable option for dedicated shooters.
Take a deeper dive into the new features and functions Sony loaded into the pro-focused a9 II. Optimized with enhanced connectivity and reliability, the a9 II looks like it will be a workhorse for sports photography and photojournalism.
Check out the full conversation with Mike Bubolo from Sony to find out what else Sony packed into this new camera.