Sony Alpha 9: the mirrorless for the future

The new Sony Alpha 9 promises unmatched speed, versatility and usability, thanks to its full-frame stacked CMOS sensor, with 24.2 MP. Video is 4K, with full pixel readout without pixel binning. The popular 35mm size is also available.

Sony Alpha 9: the mirrorless for the future

Right before NAB Show 2017 starts, Sony reaches the number nine on its Alpha full-frame series. It’s the most technologically advanced, innovative digital camera that Sony has ever created, the company says.

Is this the mirrorless that opens the doors to the future? The specifications are impressive and one wonders if Sony can create better after this new camera. Is it possible to offer more? The numbers are, let me say this again, impressive. As Sony says, “the new camera offers many impressive capabilities that are simply not possible with a modern digital SLR camera including high-speed, blackout-free continuous shooting at up to 20fps, 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second, a maximum shutter speed of up to 1/32,000 second and much more. These are made possible thanks to its 35mm full-frame stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor – the world’s first of its kind – which enables data speed processing at up to 20x faster than previous Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras. This unique sensor is paired with a brand new, upgraded BIONZ X processing engine and front-end LSI that maximises overall performance.”

Even if, reading in between the lines, one has to understand the conditions for some of the specifications presented, the Alpha 9 is a beast of a camera, following the idea that always seemed to be present with the number 9 models, a tradition from Minolta times.

Let’s continue to explore the information provided by Sony. The info available indicates that the speed achieved with the Alpha 9 “is combined with a focusing system that features an incredible 693 phase detection AF points. Covering approximately 93% of the frame, the focusing system ensures that even the fastest moving subjects are reliably captured and tracked across the frame.“

The new Alpha 9 also features a vibration free, fully electronic, completely silent anti-distortion shutter with absolutely no mechanical mirror or shutter noise, making it an extremely powerful photographic tool for any shooting situation that demands quiet operation. To ensure maximum usability and reliability, the camera features a new Z battery with approximately 2.2x the capacity of W batteries, as well as dual SD media card slots, including one that supports UHS-II cards. An Ethernet port (wired LAN terminal) is available as well, and there are i a wide variety of new settings, controls and customisability options that are essential for working professionals.

Record-breaking AF speed

Sony claims the Alpha 9 sets a new level in terms of speed and focusing accuracy , saying that “critical to the record-breaking speed of the new α9 is the combination of the new stacked 24.2 MPii Exmor RS image sensor, new BIONZ X processor and front end LSI.” The immense processing power from these new components allows for faster AF/AE calculation while also reducing EVF display latency. The processor and front end LSI are also responsible for the larger continuous shooting buffer, enabling photographers to shoot at a blazing 20 fps with continuous AF/AE tracking for up to 362 JPEG or 241 RAWv images.

The camera’s innovative AF system tracks complex, erratic motion with higher accuracy than ever before, with the ability to calculate AF/AE at up to 60 times per second, regardless of shutter release and frame capture. Further, when the shutter is released while shooting stills, the electronic viewfinder functions with absolutely no blackout, giving the user a seamless live view of their subject at all times. This feature truly combines all of the benefits of an electronic viewfinder with the immediacy and “in the moment” advantages that not even the finest optical viewfinders can match, and is available in all still image modes including high speed 20 fps continuous shooting.

With 693 focal plane phase detection AF points covering approximately 93% of the frame, the camera ensures improved precision and unfailing focus in scenes where focus might otherwise be difficult to achieve. The Fast Hybrid AF system – pairing the speed and excellent tracking performance of phase detection AF with the precision of contrast AF – achieves approximately 25% faster performance when compared with α7R II, ensuring all fast-moving subjects are captured.

A professional compact body

Sony’s new full-frame camera is equipped with a variety of enhanced capabilities that give it a true professional operational style.

The α9 features an all-new, high-resolution, high-luminance Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder with approximately 3,686k dots for extremely accurate, true-to-life detail reproduction. The new Tru-Finder, which is the highest resolution viewfinder Sony has ever incorporated in an α camera, features an optical design that includes a double-sided aspherical element, helping it to achieve 0.78x magnification and a level of corner to corner sharpness that is simply outstanding. The EVF also utilises a ZEISS T* Coating to greatly reduce reflections, and has a fluorine coating on the outer lens that repels dirt.

This all adds up to a luminance that is 2x higher than the XGA OLED Tru-Finder from the α7R II, creating a viewfinder image with a brightness level that is nearly identical to the actual scene being framed, ensuring the most natural shooting experience. The frame rate of the Tru-Finder is even customisable, with options to set it for 60 fps or 120 fps to best match the action.

The α9 is equipped with an innovative 5-axis image stabilisation system that provides a shutter speed advantage of 5.0 steps, ensuring the full power of the new sensor can be realised, even in challenging lighting. With a simple half press of the shutter button, the effect of the image stabilisation can be monitored in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, allowing framing and focus to be accurately checked and continually monitored.

The α9 also offers an Ethernet port (wired LAN terminal), allowing convenient transfer of still image files to a specified FTP server at high speeds, making it an ideal choice for studio photography, high-profile news and sporting events and more. In addition, there is a sync terminal, enabling external flash units and cables to be connected directly for convenient flash sync.

New features for fast operation

Sony’s new α9 has several new and updated focus functions that support faster, easier focusing in a variety of situations. The camera features a multi-selector joystick on the back of the camera, allowing shooters to easily shift focus within the frame by pressing the multi-selector in any direction up, down, left or right when shooting in Zone, Flexible Spot or Expanded Flexible Spot focus area modes. The new model also offers touch focusing on the rear LCD screen for easy selection of, and shifting focus towards a desired focus point or subject.

New for Sony E-mount cameras, the α9 includes the addition of separate drive mode and focus mode dials, plus a new “AF ON” button that can be pressed to activate autofocus directly when shooting still images or movies.

Additional new capabilities include the “AF Area Registration”, which allows frequently used focus areas to be memorised and recalled via custom button assignments. There is also the ability to assign specific settings (exposure, shutter speed, drive mode, etc) to a custom button to be instantly recalled when needed. The camera can memorise and automatically recall the last focus point used in a vertical or horizontal orientation, instantly switching back to it when that specific orientation is used again.

For enhanced customisation, a “My Menu” feature is available, allowing up to 30 menu items to be registered in a custom menu for instant recall when needed.

Double battery life and memory

The innovative α9 camera features an all-new Sony battery (model NP-FZ100) with 2.2x the capacity of previous Sony full-frame models, allowing for much longer shooting performance.

Based on extensive customer feedback, the new camera offers two separate media card slots, including one for UHS-II media. The same data can simultaneously be recorded to both cards, or the user can choose to separate RAW / JPEG or still images / movies. Movies can also simultaneously be recorded to two cards for backup and more efficient data management.

High Sensitivity and Wide Dynamic Range

The unique design of the α9 image sensor represents the pinnacle of Sony device technology. The 24.2 MPii full-frame stacked CMOS sensor is back-illuminated, allowing it to capture maximum light and produce outstanding, true-to-life image quality. The sensor also enables the diverse ISO range of 100 – 51200, expandable to 50 – 204800 , ensuring optimum image quality with minimum noise at all settings.

The enhanced BIONZ X processor plays a large part in image quality as well, as it helps to minimise noise in the higher sensitivity range while also reducing the need to limit ISO sensitivity in situations where the highest quality image is required.

The new α9 also supports uncompressed 14-bit RAW, ensuring users can get the most out of the wide dynamic range of the sensor.

4K Video Capture

The new Alpha 9 is a very capable video camera as it offers 4K (3840x2160p) video recording across the full width of the full-frame image sensor. When shooting in this format, the camera uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information, oversampling it to produce high quality 4K footage with exceptional detail and depth. Recording is also available in the popular Super 35mm size.

Additionally, the camera can record Full HD at 120 fps at up to 100 Mbps, which allows footage to be reviewed and eventually edited into 4x or 5x slow motion video files in Full HD resolution with AF tracking.

Sony has released a variety of new accessories to compliment the new α9, including:

  • NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Battery: High-capacity battery with approximately 2.2x the capacity of the NP-FW50 W-series battery. Supports InfoLITHIUM technology, which makes it possible to view the remaining battery power as both a percentage display and five step icon on the camera’s LCD screen.
  • VG-C3EM Vertical Grip: Provides same operation, handling and design as α9, doubles battery life and allows USB battery-charging via the camera body.
  • NPA-MQZ1K Multi-Battery Adaptor Kit: External multi-battery adaptor kit capable of functioning as an external power supply for four Z series batteries and as a quick charger. Kit comes with two packs of NP-FZ100 rechargeable batteries.
  • GP-X1EM Grip Extension: Grip extender with same look, feel and design as α9. Enables more solid hold on camera.
  • FDA-EP18 Eyepiece Cup: Eye piece cup with locking mechanism
  • BC-QZ1 Battery Charger: Quick-charging battery charger. Charges one new Z series battery in approximately 2.5 hours.
  • PCK-LG1 Screen Protect Glass Sheet: Hard, shatterproof glass screen protector with anti-stain coating to prevent fingerprints. Compatible with touch operation and tilting LCD screen

Pricing and Availability

The α9 interchangeable lens camera will start shipping from June 2017 priced at approximately $4,500.


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Jose Antunes

I am a writer and photographer living on the West Coast of Portugal, a place I tend to call the Atlantic Realm. An area of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches overlooking the sea, a coastal area sitting between the Atlantic Ocean waves and hills and forests with some of the most magical palaces, castles and prehistorical sites for you to visit and photograph. Little hamlets, vast fields, inviting you to a contemplative state of mind. That’s where I live, and the landscape surely makes you what you are.

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