Not so long ago, the world of sports photography was blindsided by the announcement of Sony A9:
-ISO 2 billion
-Focuses like the eye of Sauron
-Will be your boyfriend or girlfriend depending on the day of the week
But as usual, the reviews on the internet were conducted by morons who’s experience in sports photography rivals that of my 2 year old daughter’s reading skills.
Since I’ve been shooting sports for more than 3 days, I thought I give it a go.
Couple of days ago, I received an email from Sony UK. They have already loaned me a Sony A7RMk2 and they wanted me to check out the A9. “Nein” was not in the cards, because what better to gain more followers and more Patreon pledgers than testing out the A9 in person and writing a review about it. ;)
Since some of you are young enough to be brought up on Youtube video reviews, I can assure you that you won’t find a video review here. Therefore, if you want the nitty gritty details of the A9, it’s time for a Ritalin and Adderall cocktail.
Before we get to the main dish, let’s start with the boring, but critical element of an expensive camera. If I am not mistaken, all of Sony’s professional grade cameras look like the Canon 5D series or the Nikon’s D700 series. Basically, they’ve cut the bottom off to make it lighter and consequently dealt with a shitty battery. More on the battery later. The A9 I used had a battery grip, which made it more balanced. But if I was to replace the D5 or the 1DMk2, I want this camera to be lighter. But then I’d have to give up on the battery grip. Low and behold, Sony had an answer to my conundrum: a non battery grip. Good job Sony.
Next the buttons and dials. To toggle between the shooting modes, you need to depress the centre button and turn the wheel. This sucks balls. At least with the D5, I can modify the buttons so that it’s easier to switch between modes. The A9’s AF-On button and the shutter release are where they should be and are of a comfortable size. Since the body is smaller than the pro grade Canon or Nikon, the buttons and dials are all squished together in a tight place. This could have resulted in the unintentional pushing and turning, but that didn’t happen. The layout is logical and the addition of the Canon like scrolling wheel is a definite plus.
The battery on the loaner A7RMk2 reminded me of the battery on the Nikon D4. Undeniably bad. So I wasn’t expecting much out of the A9 on this aspect. When I concluded my testing, I went to bum a cigarette off a Japanese guy who happened to be a higher up in Sony. He told me that the battery is much improved and that you will be able to get 4000 images with 20% battery to spare. But what was unclear is that if that is the result of the battery grip. If that’s so, an approximate 2500 images with a single battery is nothing to write home about. This is unconfirmed, so you’ll need to find another review with a proper battery test.
Evil view finder was underwhelming. Apparently this EVF does 120fps, but there is a noticeable lag when moving the camera vigorously. In sports where vigorous camera movement is a must, this is a deal breaker. Had it came equipped with an optical viewfinder, I think this camera is good enough to challenge the likes of Canon and Nikon. The rep told me that they are working on a 240fps EVF.
But what is beautiful is the lack of black out while releasing the shutter. Unlike a DSLR, you can pretty much see everything while you’ve got your finger to the metal. Once you realise the advantage of shooting without losing sight of your subject, you’ll never be able to sleep with your feet towards Sony HQ. This is the biggest strength of a mirrorless camera and it works tremendously well while shooting sports.
Another advantage of the EVF is that you can see what you’ve shot in the viewfinder. Your eyes no longer need to leave the viewfinder whilst reviewing images. Sounds gimmicky, but it’s a convenient feature I wish were on DSLRs.
Now we are getting to the good part. At the testing site, I was astonished to see that the other photographers were shooting images of the local football lads clad in Sony football unis kicking a ball. No running. Just kicking and shooting. Any camera or even an iphone can shoot action going East-West. One of the biggest challenge for an AF is how well it acquires and locks a subject coming towards you. So I told a them to run towards me at full speed. On a separate test, I asked them to dribble towards me before taking a shot at the goal. I was impressed, not with their footballing skills, but the performance of the AF. A9’s AF is as good as the D5 in daylight. I’m saying this because I only got to shoot the A9 under the scorching sun of RheinEnergieStadion. You cannot truly test an AF during the day. You have to do it when you can barely see the pitch, because the flood lights were built in the 80’s. What I found amazing is that the A9 currently does not have a native super telephoto lens. The 300mm 2.8 I used was an A mount. A9 is an E mount. Therefore you need an adapter to make it work. Mind you, when using an adapter with this camera, it will only allow you to shoot at maximum 10fps. If you have ever used a teleconverter, you know you are making a deal with the AF devil when inserting something between the lens and the camera. Therefore once Sony releases a native E mount big lenses, the A9 could focus even better. But since they don’t have one at this moment, it’s a moot point.
I have no idea. Please check out another blog regarding this issue.
The rep told me that the only E mount lens they have at the moment is the 100-400mm. Which is, for a lack of better words, stupid. If this camera was built as a sports / wildlife photography, then they should have released it with at least one big prime lens. It is akin to X Box One X getting a release with only one native game. Forza. Very sad!
In conclusion, I cannot recommend this camera to a sports photographer who wants to replace their Nikon or Canon. The lack of big E mount telephoto lens and the lag in EVF being the main reasons. If the next iteration of A9 fixed the EVF lag and released a competent selection of telephotos, we could be looking at a new dawn of sports photography. But until then, give me some time to learn more about sports photography.
PS: The goalkeeper shots are definitely my mistake. Not the A9’s. And no lock was turned off. The photos are straight jps from the A9 compressed by Photomechanic to “1” in order to make it light. So please ignore the image quality and use for its focusing capabilities.
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