Demonstrating why it is a leader in the ever-evolving photographic industry, Sony has announced its latest full-frame mirrorless camera, the Alpha a9 Mirrorless Digital Camera. With improvements aimed directly at the professional and advanced enthusiast photographer, Sony has updated the now familiar compact E-mount form factor of the a7 series with a new sensor, faster burst-shooting capability, blackout-free electronic viewfinder, dual card slots, and other enhancements that will make this a camera of choice for sports, wildlife, action, and even news photographers.
Today’s announcement event, which was live-blogged by the B&H Explora team, gave some folks a chance to shoot what Sony is calling the “most technologically advanced, innovative digital camera we have ever created.” I think it will be difficult to argue that claim when you read the camera’s specs, below. For starters, it offers the world’s first 24.2MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor. The stacked structure of Exmor RS sensor is designed specifically for high-speed shooting and, along with its enhanced BIONZ X image-processor, provides readout speed that is 20x faster than that of the a7 II. Signal processing speed is increased due to the separation of the pixel layer and the circuit layer of the sensor, and an integral memory is implemented to temporarily store the large amount of data produced. Specifically, these developments have improved the autofocus speed and precision, face detection speed and precision, and the electronic viewfinder response of the new camera.
For the photographer who requires fast burst shooting, the a9 offers continuous shooting of 20 fps with uninterrupted viewing and AF/AE tracking. A larger buffer allows up to 241 compressed RAW images or 362 JPEG images to be captured in one continuous burst. An incredible breakthrough, blackout-free shooting provides an uninterrupted view of your subject with a 60 fps live-view refresh rate. During burst shooting, the camera continues to make autofocus and auto-exposure calculations—up to 60 per second, depending on camera settings—to ensure that your moving subject remains properly exposed and in focus. Additionally, 693 phase detection AF points covering 93% of the frame track even the most erratic and fastest-moving subjects across the frame. This fast Hybrid AF system, pairing the speed and tracking performance of phase detection AF with the precision of contrast AF, achieves approximately 25% faster performance when compared with a7R II.
The new sensor and processor system provide an ISO range of 100 – 51200 (expandable to 50 – 204800), ensuring optimal image quality with minimal noise in low light, and at fast speeds. The new camera also supports uncompressed 14-bit RAW, ensuring users can get the most out of the wide dynamic range of the sensor. 4K (3840x2160p) video recording across the full width of the full-frame image sensor is supported and, when shooting in this format, the camera uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information, oversampling it to produce high-quality 4K footage with exceptional detail and depth. Recording is also available in the popular Super 35mm size and the camera can record Full HD at 120 fps at up to 100 Mbps.
Other updates critical to the working photographer include a completely silent and vibration-free electronic shutter with speeds up to 1/32,000 second, a new battery system that provides 2.2x the capacity of previous a7 series batteries, dual SD card slots with one that supports UHS-II cards, and an Ethernet port for transfer of still image files to a specified FTP server at high speeds. Built-in Wi-Fi is supported, and a sync terminal allows external flash units and cables to be connected directly for convenient flash sync.
The build of the a9 will be familiar to anyone who has worked with the a7 series, but improvements designed to enhance operating speed while maintaining a compact form factor are clear. A multi-selector joystick on the back of the camera allows shooters to shift focus easily within the frame, as does touch focus on the rear LCD. The a9 also includes the addition of separate drive mode and focus mode dials, plus a new “AF ON” button that can be pressed to activate autofocus directly when shooting still images or movies. New custom settings let you customize focus point usage, as well as exposure, shutter speed and drive modes. A “My Menu” feature allows up to 30 menu items to be registered and recalled instantly.
A 5-axis image stabilization system provides shutter speed compensation up to 5.0 steps. A half-press of the shutter button displays the effect of the image stabilization in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, allowing framing and focus to be accurately checked and continually monitored.
An all-new, high-resolution, high-luminance Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder monitor with approximately 3,686k dots displays true-to-life, detailed reproduction. The new Tru-Finder, which is the highest resolution viewfinder Sony has ever incorporated into an a-series camera, features a double-sided aspherical element, helping it to achieve 0.78x magnification and corner-to-corner sharpness. The frame rate of the Tru-Finder is even customizable, with options to set it for 60 fps or 120 fps to best match the action. The EVF also utilizes a ZEISS T* Coating to reduce reflections greatly, and has a fluorine coating on the outer lens that repels dirt. A new 3.0" 1.44m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD is also incorporated.
A robust magnesium-alloy body maintains the lightweight and compact form important to the success of the a7 series and the camera body is weather-sealed at all major buttons and dials for use in inclement conditions. The dimensions and weight are comparable to the second-generation a7 series cameras.
Important optional accessories have also been announced in conjunction with the a9, including the VG-C3EM Vertical Grip, which houses two batteries and enables re-charging without removing the batteries. Also, the NPA-MQZ1K Multi Battery Adapter functions as an external power supply for four NP-FZ100 batteries and as a quick charger. With this highly touted announcement aimed squarely at sports and other professional photographers who have been reluctant to give up high-speed performance for a more compact build, do you think that the Sony a9 will offer enough to pull these shooters into the world of mirrorless photography?