Innovation

Sony A9: What the latest leap in digital photography can do for businesses

Mirrorless cameras finally caught up to DSLR technology in several important areas with the launch of the A9, as Sony re-established itself as the mirrorless leader.

You may have heard the buzz about the Sony Alpha A9, which was arguably the hottest new digital camera of 2017.

In the video above, we look at the new technologies that the A9 brings to market and what it can do for professionals and businesses. We break it down into three kudos and two caveats.

1. Next-gen mirrorless technology

Sony's Alpha cameras use a different technology than market leaders Canon and Nikon. It's called mirrorless, and the main things to understand about it are that it makes for smaller, lighter gear and software powers more of the camera.

That's why many view it as the future of digital cameras, and Sony has emerged as the leading innovator in mirrorless over the past decade. The A9 is Sony's most advanced mirrorless camera to date. It builds on two of the biggest benefits of mirrorless—its silent shutter and what Sony calls its "4D autofocus."

SEE: 2017: The Year's Best Tech for Work and Play (ZDNet)

Silent shutter is the stealth bomber of cameras because it allows you to get shots of people, animals, and more by being able to take a picture without the clicking sound. Sony's advanced autofocus modes use built-in software to help you get crisp, clear shots of things, even if they're moving. But, the A9's most important feature is a move to overcome what was previously the biggest drawback of mirrorless cameras. And that brings us to number two.

2. Speed to burn

What makes this camera stand out over every other mirrorless—and compete with the top end DSLRs—is its speed. This has traditionally been a weak spot for Sony mirrorless. Even well regarded models like the a6300 and the A7S II would buffer and throw up error messages when clicking too many shots in a row.

The A9 jumps to the head of the class with an impressive 20 frames per second. That compares to the Nikon D5's 12 frames per second and the Canon 1DX Mark II's 16 frames per second. With its electronic shutter, the A9 also brings "live view" with no blackout so that you can use the combination of 20 fps, autofocus, and automatic subject tracking to capture a constant stream of images and watch them on the viewfinder just like you were watching a video.

SEE: The Sony A9: If you photograph action, you'll want it (hands-on) (CNET)

This is blowing the minds of a lot of professional photographers. Before the A9, mirrorless cameras weren't considered fast enough to keep up with high motion activities like sports, events, and weddings. The A9 not only catches up, but it now makes a case for being best in class.

3. Easier controls

One of the biggest strengths of Sony mirrorless cameras has always been the flexibility of being able to reprogram most of the buttons, since it's so software-based. But one of the biggest drawbacks has always been that the default buttons and controls are unfamiliar and sometimes difficult to learn.

The A9 adds a joystick—similar to the ones on Nikon and Canon—and a new wheel to control its powerful-but-complicated focus settings. I put the A9 in the hands of a professional Nikon shooter who has wanted to like Sony mirrorless in the past but has been frustrated by the controls. Within 5-10 minutes with the A9, she was shooting without giving much thought to the buttons. And after two days of shooting and processing images with the A9, she was very confident that she could move to it as her daily driver without missing a beat.

Photo of Sony Alpha A9

Sony A9 with battery grip and Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens. See our gallery of sample photos taken with the A9.

Caveats

Now let's talk about the caveats.

1. A few professionals have reported overheating warnings on some of the first A9s that were shipped. Sony released a firmware update to address this, but since Sony cameras have occasionally suffered from overheating issues in the past, keep an eye on this to see if it's isolated to a few lemons or if it develops into a larger issue.

2. There are always trade-offs when it comes to both photography and technology. What the A9 trades for its incredible speed is a couple other types of sensor performance. Notably, it doesn't have the wide dynamic range of the Sony A7R II or the extreme low-light capability or video prowess of the Sony A7S II. Nevertheless, the A9 still performed solidly in each of those functions in my tests.

SEE: 4 secrets: How to take professional photos with your smartphone (TechRepublic)

Final word

All in all, the Sony A9 is the most versatile mirrorless camera to ever hit the market and the first one to really compete with the top-end professional cameras from Nikon and Canon. While the A9 may give you sticker shock at $4500, it's priced aggressively compared to the Canon 1DX Mark II at $6000 and the Nikon D5 at $6500.

With its groundbreaking speed, silent shutter, intelligent autofocus, and impressive image quality, the A9 is the first mirrorless camera that can reasonably capture almost any kind of shot. And its leaps in technology enable it to more easily capture some difficult shots, especially objects in motion. Throw in its ability to shoot full-frame 4K video, and the Sony A9 gives you the power to create high quality stills and clips that can make your business stand out from the crowd.

If you'd like to see examples of photos I took with the A9, see my slideshow here on TechRepublic or take a look at my Instagram feed at @jason.hiner.

Belle of Louisville, taken by Sony A9

This photo of the Belle of Louisville is one of our sample photos of the Sony A9 in action. See the full photo gallery.

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About Jason Hiner

Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

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