Sony’s Alpha 9 Proves its Mettle

Sony Alpha 9 Front

Sony has launched the Alpha 9 (also referred as A9) Full frame mirrorless camera, and it promises many improvements over the previous Alpha models. The camera features a new stacked CMOS sensor and offers an industry-leading 20 frames per second continuous shooting speed.

Pros

Cons

  • Blackout-free shooting
  • 20 fps high-speed shooting
  • 5-axis image stabilisation
  • Great images
  • Improved Battery Life
  • EVF is far from perfect
  • Interface is complicated

Design

The Alpha 9 has is quite similar in design to other Alpha-series cameras, albeit a little thicker. The body is weather-sealed with a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis. The device has a larger capacity battery. The Alpha 9 has a new drive mode dial, which was absent in Alpha 7 series. The dials have lock buttons which prevents accidental operation. The memory card slots have a sliding lock.

Handling

The camera has a rubber grip, which offers a secure hold. For the lens that we paired with the camera, the grip offered excellent balance. However, heavy lenses could prove difficult to hold.

There are four custom buttons that help to make your task easier. The screen can be tilted up and down. The viewfinder showed some jitter, but the images on the LCD looked crisp and clear. The camera weighs 673 g with battery and card and measures 126.9 x 95.6 x 63.0 mm (W x H x D).

Sensor and Processor

The A9 uses a 24.2-megapixel full frame (35.6 x 23.8 mm) Exmor RS back-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor. The sensor features an integrated DRAM module, which acts as a temporary storage and hence enhances buffer capacity. This enables 20-times faster readout according to Sony. A powerful BIONZ X image processing engine facilitates fast and efficient signal processing. The camera features image sensor shift stabilisation, which compensates for shake along 5 axes and also provides up to 5 stops of shutter speed advantage.

Shutter

Sony has incorporated a dual shutter mechanism in the A9. You can switch between the mechanical and electronic shutter or allow the camera to make the decision. The electronic shutter also provides silent shooting, and this is completely silent, unlike some other cameras that call it quiet shutter, which is not completely silent. The mechanical shutter allows shutter speeds from 30 to 1/8000 sec with Bulb mode. The electronic shutter provides up to 1/32,000 sec shutter speed. Flash synchronises at 1/250 seconds or lower speeds.

Display and Interface

The viewfinder is a 0.5-inch Quad-VGA OLED with 3,686,400 dots. The camera uses a 3.0-inch, 14,40,000-dot Touch TFT as monitor. Zebra and Peaking MF functions are available. The device is compatible with Sony’s PlayMemories Camera Apps, which let you control the camera and transfer images.

The interface includes PC connection (Mass-storage, MTP, PC remote), Multi/Micro USB Terminal, NFC, One-touch remote, One-touch sharing, Wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), Bluetooth, HDMI micro connector (Type-D), BRAVIA Sync, PhotoTV HD, 4K movie output/4K still image playback, Mic Terminal, DC IN Terminal, Sync Terminal, Headphone Terminal, Vertical Grip Connector, PC Remote and LAN Terminal. The camera is powered by one NP-FZ100 rechargeable battery pack.

Focus

The camera uses Fast Hybrid AF employing phase-detection and contrast-detection methods. It makes use of 693 phase-detection AF points for fast and accurate tracking. Focus modes include AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), DMF (Direct Manual Focus) and Manual Focus. Focus Area options include Wide, 25 points (contrast-detection AF), Zone, Centre, Flexible Spot (S/M/L), Expanded Flexible Spot and Lock-on AF ( Wide, Zone, Centre, Flexible Spot (S/M/L), Expanded Flexible Spot). The built-in AF illuminator has a range of approximately 0.3 to 3.0 m. Focus was fast, though a slight reduction in contrast caused the system to hunt.

Metering

The Alpha 9 meters the scene using 1200-zone evaluative metering. Metering modes available are Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, Spot, Spot Standard/Large, Entire Screen Avg., and Highlight. Exposure can be compensated up to +/-5.0 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. Exposure bracketing can be either Continuous or Single with 3, 5, or 9 frames selectable. The camera exhibited great dynamic range. It preserved highlight and shadow details in Raw images.

Sensitivity and White Balance

Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 51,200 with the mechanical shutter (expandable from ISO 50 to ISO 204,800), while in the electronic shutter mode, it ranges from ISO 100 to 25,600 (expandable from 50). The Alpha 9 kept the chrominance noise very much under control, though we could see luminance noise. Even ISO 204800 could be used after we reduced noise with Topaz Denoise.

Auto White Balance reproduced true colours.

Still Image Features

Still images are recorded in JPEG or Raw (ARW) format at maximum dimensions of 6000 x 4000 pixels. There is an option to capture both formats simultaneously. JPEG offers compression options of Extra fine, Fine and Standard. Raw images can be recorded in 14-bit and uncompressed formats. Creative Styles offered are Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn leaves, Black & White, Sepia and Style Box. Drive modes include Single, Continuous (Hi, Mid, Lo selectable), Self-timer, Self-timer (Cont.), Bracket: Single, Bracket: Cont., White Balance bracket and DRO bracket. The camera provides a maximum continuous speed of approximately 20 fps when electronic shutter is used, while the mechanical shutter provides up to 5fps. In continuous mode, you can record a maximum burst of 362 JPEG Extra fine, 241 Raw, or 222 Raw + JPEG images. Self-timer can be set to 10, 5 or 2 second.

Video

Videos are recorded in XAVC S, AVCHD or MP4 format. The camera can record videos up to 4K (3840 x 2160) resolution in 30p, 24p or 30p frame rate.

Flash

Flash modes include Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync., Rear Sync., Red-eye reduction, Wireless and Hi-speed sync. The camera is compatible with a Sony α system flash and provides wireless control through light signal and radio signal.

Storage

The Alpha 9 has dual memory card slots. While one accepts a SD card including SDHC and SDXC formats (UHS-I/II compliant), the other can accept either an SD card or a Memory Stick Duo (PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo included). The card slots can be configured to simultaneously record stills, movies or both, sort and separately record Raw and JPEG, sort and separately record stills and movies or use the second card to save a copy of the first card as backup.

Value for Money

The Sony Alpha 9 retails at an MRP of Rs.329,990 (body only). This is certainly quite high for this camera if you take a look at the competing brands.

Our Verdict

The Alpha 9 is a great performer in terms of image quality and speed. The silent shutter and 5-axis image stabilisation helps too. Battery life, which has been the bane of Sony Alpha series, has been resolved with a double-capacity battery. It is yet to be seen how Sony justifies the pricing.

Our Rating

Design: (4.0 / 5)
Handling: (3.5 / 5)
Image Quality: (4.5 / 5)
Display: (3.0 / 5)
Advanced Features: (4.5 / 5)
Value for Money: (3.0 / 5)
Average: (3.8 / 5)


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