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Review: The New Sony A9 Is A Mirrorless Monster

It’ll make you a better photographer—one frame at a time.

I want this Sony A9 ($4,498) to meet a horrible death. Something violent, like tumbling down the side of a mountain straight into a crevasse, or something poetic, like dropping 20 feet off the side of a boat into the ocean, then gliding gracefully another 12,000 feet, past a whale or two, its internal spaces steadily crushed by the pressure, to its final resting place with all the albino sea critters, where it will stay forever.

Think I’m not a fan? Quite the opposite. I want this camera to meet a miserable demise because it’ll mean, in some small way, I’ve at least attempted to live up to this tool’s potential. After all, that’s what a camera is, a tool, not a snowflake. If I gin up the $4,500 necessary to purchase the A9 body alone — and then another $2,200 for the indisputably mandatory 24-70mm f/2.8 G-Master lens — I’ll do it because nothing else can get me the results I’m hoping for, and you can bet your sweet bacon I’m not going to walk around with it in some prissy leather sheath. Nor will there be a lens cap anywhere to be found. Instead, this camera — my Holy Grail — will be carried like a military firearm, locked, loaded, and ready at a moment’s notice. It’ll be out and on me, swinging around, not squirreled away in a padded case.

The A9 is a ballerina in a commando’s body.

If I’m doing my job right, an A9 in my possession, just like my current weapon of choice, the Sony A7RII ($2,698), will be subject to considerable peril despite its toe-curling upfront cost — trust me, I have to dig deep to afford my gear — and it will rack up the battle scars to prove it. Indeed, if I can’t have a death like that for the A9, I’ll settle for retiring it to a shelf when it finally can no longer withstand my abuse, with a thousand tiny, shiny silver divots in its black-anodized magnesium-alloy frame. Those silver scars in anodized metal — as you’ll find in the instrument panel of any workhorse aircraft — are the secret Morse code of a life of adventure. You can keep your lightweight plastic housings. I’ll carry the extra weight of the metal just to rack up the dents and dings, leaving a trail of microscopic black metal flakes around the world. Hopefully, each one will have been traded for a single fantastic image.

Specs: Sony Alpha A9

Lens Mount: E-mount
Sensor: 42MP, 35mm full frame, Exmor R CMOS
Exposure: up to 1/32,000

Buy Now: $4,498 (Body Only)

As for why I’m willing to subject this fine, expensive instrument to such wanton abuse — well, the answer is in the engineering. Cameras like this — professional grade, designed for active, high-intensity environments as much as precision studio work — are made with a degree of mayhem in mind. They’re hardened, even though they produce results that can be as delicate as, well, a snowflake.

The A9 is precisely that. Its hyper-sensitive 24 megapixel full-frame sensor generates terrific low-light images, with lush colors and crisp detail, while its advanced processing allows withering 24 frame-per-second shooting with full autofocus tracking. It can be programmed to identify human eyes and lock focus on them—in photography, if the eye is out of focus, the shot is useless — yet fire off shots at 1/32,000 of a second to freeze time. Its mirrorless design lets you take pictures in absolute silence, so as not to disturb your human or animal subject or reveal your shooting if you’re trying to be stealthy, and it does this without ever blacking out the view in as your shooting. (I.e., no more flicker while you’re burning off those 20 fps action shots.) In short, the A9 is a ballerina in a commando’s body.

Frankly, I wouldn’t want to let either of those two down. I’ve been shooting with a borrowed A9 for a few weeks, and have been steadily blown away by the results. I now feel compelled to tap the camera’s enhanced functionality as much as possible, so in that respect the camera is essentially forcing me to be a better shooter. It has the bandwidth for world-class results, even if I’m still acquiring the skills to achieve them myself.

Soon, the camera will go back to Sony, and I’ll have to make a decision. My A7RII remains an astounding product — and in fact, its 42 MP sensor remains far more versatile in terms of dialing in your edits after the shoot. (The A9 has fewer megapixels in order to achieve the higher framerate.) But while it will continue to serve, the A9 offers another layer of potential that simply can’t be beaten anywhere else. So I suspect one day soon I’ll upgrade, and perhaps my own A9 will tremble in my presence as much as I tremble before it.

Buy Now: $4,498

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