First look: 5 things we love about Sony's new A9

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Sony's new mirrorless A9 is aimed at the most demanding segment in photography – professional sports and wildlife photographers.

On paper at least the full-frame mirrorless A9 looks to be up to the task, boasting a spec sheet that would indicate it is faster, lighter and in some ways smarter than the DSLR competition. Key specs include a 20-frame-per-second maximum shooting speed, 693 AF points covering 93 per cent of the frame, built-in five-axis stabilisation, and a unique blackout-free electronic viewfinder.

Whether or not tha A9 ends up making inroads into pro sports and wildlife only time will tell. Sony not only has to convince pro photographers that its system is good enough; it also needs to mount an argument that it's worth leaving the Canon and Nikon systems most pros have spent years and many tens of thousands dollars buying into.

DSLR killer, or not, there's plenty to like about this camera. Here are some of our favourite features.

1. It's fast

There are plenty of quick cameras around but no full-frame camera is as fast as the mirrorless A9. Its top shooting speed of 20fps (frames per second) is only a few frames shy of video capture rates – but each frame is a full-size, 24.2-megapixel still image. How does that compare to the competition? Canon and Nikon's flagship sports cameras, the EOS 1DX Mk II and D5, top out at 16 and 14fps respectively. The A9's buffer is good for 362 JPEG images or 241 Raw files.

This is what one second of shooting looks like on the A9.
This is what one second of shooting looks like on the A9.

2. It's sharp

While the A9's continuous shooting speed has grabbed the most headlines, the camera's hybrid AF system is its most impressive feature. Sony says the processor can make 60 focus and exposure calculations per second, even while it's shooting at the camera's maximum frame rate. In our tests, shooting mixed martial arts fighters and parkour performers, the AF system was almost perfect. Of the thousands of images we shot, only a few dropped focus. The A9 uses 693 phase-detection AF points which cover 93 per cent of the frame – we reckon that's enough!

Sony Alpha A9, FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM lens, 1/1000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000.
Sony Alpha A9, FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM lens, 1/1000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000.

3. No blackout

When you take a photo with a conventional DSLR, the mirror lifts up to clear the path between the lens and sensor and temporarily causes the viewfinder to black out. You hardly notice it unless you're shooting in continuous mode, where blackouts create a flickering effect. Thanks to the A9's electronic shutter, there's no blackout at all giving you a clear view of the scene and making it easier to track the subject – even when you're shooting at 20fps.

4. It's silent (if you want)

You don't get the familiar shutter sound when you shoot with the A9 which can be a little disconcerting at first. You can set it to make an artificial shutter noise if you want (useful when you want to show people what 20 frames a second sounds like), but for discrete shooting situations such as wildlife, weddings and street photography, the option to shoot noiselessly is mostly a bonus.

5. It's small

Sony has managed to squeeze the features of a pro sports camera into a body that's about the same size as an A7 and less than half the weight of the Canon 1DX Mk II and Nikon D5. The lenses are smaller and lighter than comparable SLR lenses too, which means a full kit won't be quite as hard on your back.

Sony Alpha A9, FE24-70mm f2.8 GM @ 24mm, 1/1000s @ f/2.8, ISO 1000.

6. It's not cheap

Before you get too excited it's worth mentioning that the A9 body on its own will set you back $7,000. If you'd like a nice piece of glass to go with it, say, the G Master 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 GM OSS, that will be another $4000. It's not expensive compared to Canon and Nikon's flagship DSLRs but it's going to be out of reach of most people who don't make a living from photography.


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