We don’t all need a camera as quick off the mark as the A9, but for photographers who demand speed in both autofocus and stills shooting, it’s being pitched as something truly special.

There are quick pro-level DSLRs like the Nikon D5 (shoots at 14fps) and Canon 1DX Mark II (16fps), but not only is the A9 apparently zippier (20fps) and cheaper, it also rocks a physically huge full-frame sensor – a trait not usually associated with speed.

Does Sony’s mirrorless flagship have the speed and refinement to make those DSLRs feel like dinosaurs? Let’s delve deeper and find out.

Features: speed and silence

The A9 is the first full-frame camera to come with a stacked CMOS sensor with built-in memory, which is a long-winded way of saying: it’s fast.

Flick the drive dial in “H” mode and the camera will rattle off stills at up to 20fps – with autofocus and exposure settings continually adjusting as you do so. That’s significantly faster than the top Nikon and Canon rivals, and makes the A9 ideal for shooting tricky, zippy subjects like sport and wildlife.

Autofocus comes courtesy of a slick hybrid system, with no fewer than 693 AF points available (covering over 90 percent of the image area); it’s both accurate and fast for the most part (although I found it slow and prone to hunting in Slow & Quick video mode), as well as allowing for plenty of flexibility in how it’s set up.

The A9 also comes with a distortion-free electronic shutter (as well as a regular mechanical shutter) which means that when you shoot stills you can do so in near-silence. Again, ideal for shooting skittish subjects, or to use in situations where the slap of a shutter might annoy people – a play or sporting event, for instance.

There’s effective 5-axis image stabilisation too, which is fully in-body. That means it works with any Sony mount lens you attach, not just those with built-in IS. It’s particularly adept at smoothing out motion when shooting handheld video.

Stills quality: crisp and natural

 

With a 24.2MP resolution, the A9’s images aren’t the most detailed around. They’re not even the most detailed in Sony’s E-mount range, in fact; if you’re after a compact system camera that prioritises resolution, Sony’s 42.4MP A7R II would be the smarter choice.

That said, they’re far from disappointing when it comes to sharpness, colour and noise (it helps to use Sony’s premium G and Zeiss lenses, which I was lucky enough to have access to). You can shoot in RAW of course, but the JPEGs straight from the camera are beautifully crisp and natural-looking.

With ISO going all the way to 204,800 and the aforementioned 5-axis stabilisation, the A9’s a very capable low light shooter, too. Bolt on a fast lens and you can shoot sharp, clean-looking images at night, no problem.

Video quality: 4K with slo-mo trickery

As with stills detail, video recording isn’t the A9’s primary focus, and the Sony A7S II comes with more pro-friendly features for moviemakers.

Even so, you can record beautifully rich, lifelike 4K clips at up to 30fps (the A9 actually records enough data for 6K video, then downsamples to 4K), or 100fps 1080p clips for smooth slo-mo playback using the Slow & Quick mode.

There are plenty of options in the menu to adjust video settings, and there are connection options for mics and headphones. So if you did want to make a whole film on this, you could easily do so.

Sony A9 verdict

Sony’s high-end mirrorless cameras continue to impress, and the A9 represents a genuine challenge to Nikon and Canon’s top-of-the-range DSLRs.

20fps stills shooting, with continuously-updating autofocus and exposure, from a full-frame lens? That’s something none of this camera’s rivals can touch at the moment.

Is this a camera for non-professionals, though? At RM21,799, it’s a tough sell – the Sony A7 series offers fantastic (albeit slightly slower) models for less, and I’d be inclined to recommend those above the A9 for the vast majority of people.

For those five percenters who shoot sport, wildlife or photojournalism and need the speed, though? The A9 is the fastest camera in town.

Tech Specs 
Sensor
24.2MP full-frame stacked CMOS
Lens mount
Sony E-mount
ISO range
50-204800
ISO range
Up to 20fps
Video modes
4K at 30fps, 1080p at 120fps
Connectivity
Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, 2 x SD card, 3.5mm mic, 3.5mm headphone, FTP, micro HDMI, micro USB
Battery life
Approx. 480 shots
Dimensions/weight
126.9x95.6x63mm/673g
Stuff says... 

Sony A9 review

The insanely fast A9 is the new king of action and sports photography
RM21,799
Good Stuff 
Incredibly fast stills shooting
5-axis image stabilisation
Solid, compact build
Good battery life
Cheaper than Canon and Nikon rivals
Slick 4x slo-mo video
Bad Stuff 
Screen won’t flip to the front
That price tag

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