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Sony A9 Release Date, Price and Specs

Full-frame cameras for pro sports and wildlife photographers are the last bastion where dSLRs still rule. But the Sony A9 looks like it has the chops, if not to bring their reign to an end, at least make significant inroads into the territory held by the Canon EOS-1D and Nikon D5 series models. In addition to a maximum continuous-shooting speed of 20 frames per second matched by a 693-point phase-detection autofocus system, the A9 brings in-body image stabilization, something those dSLRs lack.

Preorders start Friday, with shipments expected in May (US) and June (Europe). The body will cost $4,500, which may sound like a lot but is actually pretty reasonable. And it’s effectively a lot more expensive in the UK, where it will be £4,500; Sony Australia hasn’t provided price or availability information (though it’s definitely coming), but the US price converts to about AU$6,000.

sony-a9-16.jpg

If Sony has truly succeeded in cramming the power of a pro action dSLR into the body roughly the size of its A7 series of mirrorless cameras, that’s a big deal.


Lori Grunin/CNET

There’s a lot to unpack here.

As I see it, the A9 offers these advantages over a traditional dSLR:

Size: This one’s a no-brainer: given similar capabilities and quality, smaller is better. The E-mount lenses are substantially more compact that those for full-frame dSLRs, making the whole kit and caboodle much more manageable.

Speed: For action photography, frame rate is important but so are autofocus and autoexposure speed and accuracy, as is the speed with which the camera can write to the card. Because it uses an electronic rather than a mechanical shutter, Sony’s 20 fps outpaces its dSLR competitors. Typically Sony cameras have awful write times, and I think the A9’s crammed full of buffer memory so that you don’t notice. It can also do in-camera slow or fast motion; not nearly as extreme as the RX series, but more than the dSLRs.

Price: The A9’s body costs significantly less than the dSLRs.

Video: Shooting video with mirrorless cameras — especially the Sonys — is such a better experience than using a dSLR. You have live view with the ability to see color and exposure in the viewfinder; you can actually use the viewfinder for video!

Mirrorlessness: Canon and Nikon go to a lot of effort to keep the mirror — the “reflex” in dSLR — from thwacking up your photos. Mirror movement, typically the bounceback, causes vibrations. It also makes noise, and using the quiet settings on a dSLR frequently requires a slowdown so the mirror mechanism can gently return to position. It also contributes to the durability; one less set of moving parts to worry about. Sony didn’t provide any shutter durability specs, but it’s likely at least as good as the lower-end models, which is 500,000 cycles. Since mirrorless models can rely more on electronic shutter, the mechanical one doesn’t wear out nearly as fast.

Sensor-shift stabilization: Also a no-brainer. It works with any lens, obviating the need for extra-cost stabilization in lenses.

But the A9 has some drawbacks as well:

Price: It costs a lot less than its dSLR buddies, at least until you start loading it up with the grips and batteries to bring it up to par.

Battery life: Mirrorless cameras typically have awful battery life, and the A7 series’ is among the worst. Sony’s made a big deal about the battery in the A9, which isn’t new but is more than double the capacity of the A7x’s. Those viewfinders suck a lot of juice. But if you look at the rating for the A9, that doubling of power only translates into approximately 30 percent more shots with the viewfinder, to a subpar total of 480 shots. Even without the viewfinder it’s only 650 shots.

At 20 fps, you’ll go through that in no time. It’s true that your mileage varies significantly when it comes to battery life, but it’s just not promising. You can buy the new battery grip, which holds two batteries and in theory brings your viewfinder-shooting duration to a more reasonable 1,440. And as one of the members of its Sony Artisans program which the company trotted out for the announcement said, she’s used to carrying a bunch of batteries around anyway.

Build quality: Canon and Nikon’s bodies are built like tanks, with dust-and-weather sealing that’s been honed over time. They feel like they could survive being kicked around like a soccer ball in a monsoon. The A9 has build and sealing that’s a little better than the A7 series’. Good, but hardly in the same league.

Storage: The camera has dual card slots, which is essential, but only one of them supports fast UHS-II SD. Even if the camera doesn’t fully utilize the fast cards to speed up shooting, you definitely want them for downloading. But never fear: It still supports Memory Stick.

Lenses: As this is Sony’s first foray into pro E-mount territory, it doesn’t have nearly as many fast supertelephoto options as other systems. Sony did announce a 100-400 millimeter G Master option in conjunction with the A9, however. You can certainly use other lenses with adapters, but they’re big (see “defeats the purpose”) and you take a speed hit when you use them.

There are also lots of unknowns for the moment:

Quality: This is the first stacked-CMOS version of a full-frame sensor, so we really don’t know what to expect. Sony also won’t say whether it has an optical low-pass filter on it or not.

Autofocus accuracy: There are myriad ways to configure the autofocus, and some produce significantly better results than others. Sony has the most faith in its lock-on group autofocus, but it’s oddly more difficult to use with subjects moving quickly than traditional servo autofocus systems — you have to center the group autofocus point over the area of interest and press a button to lock it in. That’s a little harder to do with fast-moving subjects. And there’s a little lag while it catches up with where it’s supposed to be next. It remains to be seen whether the types of AF people want to use sync up with what’s optimized.

I could go on, but I won’t. Regardless of whether or not Sony manages to make a dent in the market share for pro cameras, it’s definitely injecting a much-needed bit of competition to shake up the somewhat complacent two-party race in sports photography.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Nikon D5

Sony A9

Sensor effective resolution

20 megapixel Dual-Pixel CMOS14-bit

20.8 megapixel CMOS14-bit

24.2 megapixel Exmor RS CMOS14-bit

Sensor size

36 mm x 24 mm

36 x 24 mm

35.8 x 23.8 mm

Focal-length multiplier

1.0x

1.0x

1.0x

OLPF

Yes

Yes

Unknown

Sensitivity range

ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 — ISO 51,200/ISO 409,600 (exp)

ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 — ISO 102,400/ISO 3,280,000 (exp)

ISO 50 (exp)/ ISO 100 — ISO 51,200/ ISO 204,800 (exp)

Burst shooting

14 fps unlimited JPEG/170 raw (16 fps with mirror lockup)

12 fps 200 raw (14 fps with exposure and focus fixed on the first frame, mirror locked)

20 fps (5 fps with mechanical shutter) 241 raw/362 JPEG

Viewfinder (mag/ effective mag)

Optical 100 percent coverage 0.76x/0.76x

Optical 100 percent coverage 0.72x/0.72x

OLED EVF0.5 in/1.3 cm 3.7 million dots 100 percent coverage 0.78x

Hot Shoe

Yes

Yes

Yes

Autofocus

61-pt High Density Reticular AF II21 cross-type at f5.620 cross-type at f4 and f5.620 horizontal at f5.65 dual cross-type at f2.8 and f5.661 to f8; 21 cross-type

153-point99 cross-type (15 cross-type to f8) Multi-CAM 20K

693-point phase-detection AF; 25-area contrast AF

AF sensitivity(at center point)

-3-18 EV

-4-20 EV

-3-20 EV

Shutter speed

1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

1/8,000 to 30 secs bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync (1/8,000 sec x-sync with FP shutter)

1/8,000 to 30 secs (1/32,000 with electronic shutter); bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

Shutter durability

400,000 cycles

400,000 cycles

N/A

Metering

360,000-pixel RGB+IR with 216 zones

180,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III

1,200 zones

Metering sensitivity

0-20 EV

-3-20 EV

-3-20 EV

Best video

QuickTime MOV: Motion JPEG Cinema 4K (4,096 x 2,160) 2,160/60p at 800 Mbps, 30p, 25p, 24p; H.264 1080/120p

H.264 QuickTime MOV 4K UHD/30p, 25p, 24p

XAVC S 4K 2,160/30p, 25p, 24p at 100 Mbps; 1080/120p at 100 Mbps

Audio

Mono; mic input; headphone jack

Stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Manual aperture and shutter in video

Yes

Yes

Yes

Maximum best-quality recording time

N/A

29:59 min

29:59 min

Clean HDMI out

Yes (HD)

Yes

Yes

IS

Optical

Optical

Sensor shift 5-axis

LCD

3.2 in/8.1 cm fixed touchscreen (for touch AF in video only) 1.62 m dots

3.2 in/8 cm fixed touchscreen (playback only) 2.4 million dots

3 in/7.5 cm tilting touchscreen 1.4 million dots

Memory slots

1xCF (UDMA mode 7), 1xCFast (2.0)

2xXQD or 2xCF

2xSDXC (1xUHS-II)

Wireless connection

Optional (Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E8A or WFT-E6A)

Via optional WT-6A or WT-5A adapter

Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth

Flash

No

No

No

Wireless flash

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery life (CIPA rating)

1,210 (VF), 260 (LV) (2,700 mAh)

3,780 shots (2,500 mAh)

480 shots (VF), 650 shots (LCD)(2,280 mAh)

Size (WHD)

6.2×6.6×3.3 in, 158x168x83 mm

6.3×6.3×3.7 in, 160x159x92 mm

5×3.9×2.5 in, 127x96x63 mm

Body operating weight

54 oz (est.) 1,530 g (est.)

49.7 oz 1,410 g (with XQD cards)

23.7 oz (est.) 673 g (est.)

Release date

April 2016

March 2016

May 2017

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