Thoughts on the Sony A9
Despite being widely rumoured, Sony still managed to make quite a splash when they announced the new A9 earlier this week. The new high-end camera looks like it could be a genuine game-changer for mirrorless cameras, and could cement Sony’s place at the number 2 spot, if not push it to number 1. I have been using Sony cameras on and off for the past few years, and I was eagerly waiting to see what this new high-end Alpha might entail. The camera is exciting in and of itself, but what's more exciting is Sony’s approach to the camera market. Let me explain.
At the start of the press conference where they announced the A9, Sony did its best to explain that it wanted to see what it could do if it weren't limited by the legacy of cameras that came before it. This to me is an intriguing way to look at it. DSLRs are still essentially the same thing as previous film camera designs and are limited by the technology of that era to some extent. And while mirrorless cameras are nothing new at this point, many still have holdovers to the film camera age, and some, like Fuji, even embrace that heritage. Some people obviously like this, but Sony, always being a company that wants to push technology forward, decided to see what they could do if they threw all that legacy away. The result is pretty impressive. It can shoot a ridiculous 20frames a second, and without any mirror blackout, and shoot completely silently (apparently without rolling shutter issues, although this is to be confirmed) at that frame rate.
Sony also seems to have addressed a lot of the criticism that has bene levelled at the company for over engineering its cameras and treating them more like a consumer electronics device that a photographers tool. I have always rejected this notion, as Sony has been the leader in creating tools for broadcast videographers for years. For the A9 they actively worked with leading professional photographers to see what they wanted, and in the process, much of the issues that people claim to have wth Sony cameras have been addressed. The biggest is, of course, the battery life. Previous E-mount Sony cameras have had abysmal battery life. With the A9 they have more than doubled the battery life, and have finally added a stand alone charger with the camera. They have also created a pretty cool multi charger, which can also power the camera.
The button layouts have also been improved, and the menus now add a much needed “my menu” option, which lets you save your favourite menu items to the one place. While it’s never going to win over that segment of the market that hates Sony in the same way lots of people hate Apple for arbitrary reasons, I think any pro who is curious about this can’t help but be impressed. Of course, it’s all academic at this point, but the early hands-on reports from people seem positive. It is an expensive camera, but compared to the competition in the same space, it’s actually a good bit cheaper. On paper at least, this should be capable of matching and far exceed the capabilities of the Canon 1DX and Nikon D5. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding as it were.
The other thing that I took away from this launch was that Sony clearly sees E-mount as its premium and primary platform going forward. While they did recently release the A99II and promised that the A-mount series wasn’t going anywhere, they are clearly putting all their best engineering efforts into the E-mount series.
It’s not all positive though. I’m really disappointed that they didn’t include s-log on the camera. This seems like an arbitrary decision just for the sake of differentiating the lineup. On the one hand, I can kind of understand the decision. Sony wants to primarily sell this as a camera for sports and wildlife photographers as well as photojournalists. While most of that market may need the ability to shoot video, and the video on this should be gorgeous from the specs, and the samples they’ve posted, the target market is probably never going to shoot s-log.
Still, it seems like this should be just a matter of software, so it seems like an unnecessary limitation just for the sake of it. But I don’t know, maybe there is a technical reason for this, one that would interfere with the speed of the camera. I don’t think so though. I’m sure we will see a video oriented version of the A9 at some point soon 2. A "9 Series" version of the A7s is perhaps in the offing. There will probably be a high-resolution version at some point too. If there is enough of a backlash from this, they could probably add it through firmware anyway.
If nothing else, this release cements the argument that Mirrorless isn’t just for the amateurs and mid-level anymore. It shows that the technology has come of age and has surpassed what even the best DSLR can do. I’m sure that fans of other mirrorless formats will do their best to bash Sony or try and discredit what the A9 achieves, but In my opinion that would be a mistake. To overuse a metaphor, a rising tide raises all boats, and this will do more for the mirrorless cause if it is successful with the market it is aimed at than trying to dismiss what Sony has achieved here. It also throws down the gauntlet to Canon and Nikon. They can’t sit around anymore rehashing the same old formulae. As they have been fighting for the top spot in the DSLR market, Sony has been quietly playing a different game, and the outcome could change everything.
Well, on paper anyway.