First… a little background.
When I first began shooting professionally, Canon was my equipment of choice. I began to slowly amass cameras and lenses while trying to figure out what best suit my still evolving style often by renting equipment to see which lenses I liked before I bought them. After a couple of years and numerous weddings and events it occurred to me that why I was satisfied with the images that were being produced, I never really made a conscious decision between Canon and Nikon.
Not being one to simply buy a piece of equipment because someone else uses it, I began to take inventory of the photographers whose work I really liked, and whose images really spoke to me and the one constant thread through all of them were that they had been Nikon shooters. Maybe there was a difference?
So I decided that I would rent an entire Nikon system for a few days to learn the controls and during the next weekend I would shoot both my current Canon equipment and the rented Nikon equipment side by side to compare results – make an educated decision as it were.
That weekend rolled around and from the first few images I knew I had stumbled across something big. The Nikon images were significantly more appealing to my eye and I had found a much richer dynamic range and color tone. I switched two days later.
Fast forward quite a few years, still quite happy with my Nikon equipment having collected a nice complement of lenses and the top camera bodies made by Nikon, I began hearing rumblings about a new tech that was much more advanced than anything Canon or Nikon was offering.
To be honest, the new cameras seemed to be more associated with your hipster photographers and I casually wrote them off as just some new gimmick or fad and didn’t pay them much mind. My Nikon cameras were producing great images so why bother looking?
I then began to see more and more reports about them and larger and larger gatherings at their booths at trade shows. They were no longer only the camera of the tragically hip but began to infiltrate mainstream photographers. Could the hype actually be real? Could they really be that different?
In the Spring/Summer of 2018 I had been hired again by a choral concert production company out of Manhattan, NY to capture a couple of their shows on the east coast. This time I found myself at the Kennedy Center and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for three shows where I would be the sole photographer documenting the event. With my trusty Nikons in hand I headed off to D.C. not knowing what I would soon learn.
I had photographed the Kennedy Center before and I knew that I would be stationed in one of the areas by the sound man where I would have to shoot the entire concert. Shooting at 400mm this wouldn’t pose a problem and things went great. The issue came up when the date for event at the National Cathedral came around.
I’ve you’ve never had the pleasure to visit the National Cathedral you haven’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate the acoustics inside this beautiful structure. The perfect location for a choral concert. So I unpacked my trusty Nikon D5 and fired off a test shot.
I might as well have thrown a brick against the wall when that shutter went off. I was mortified. There was no way I was going to be able to photograph the event there using this camera which was the top of Nikon’s food chain priced at well over $6,000. I had to reluctantly pack it back up and grab a much older Nikon D810 body, which while not quite was substantially less obtrusive during the event.
During my drive back to the hotel and the following drive back to Raleigh, NC the next day, I began to remember rumors of this new camera system that was promised to be significantly more quiet. I spent the next few days watching every video I could get my hands on and talking to everyone I could that could offer experience with the system and what it could bring to the table. I had slowly found myself caught up in the Sony mirrorless camera hype.
I found myself getting my hands on what would be Sony’s flagship camera, the Sony A9, to test it out and to see if there was really any difference. Not only did I quickly discover in that instant that the hype wasn’t just hype, but I actually felt a little stupid for writing them off without actually looking into them all this time.
Here are three things right off the top that changed my mind about Sony vs Canon & Nikon that made me jump ship once again.
Both the Canon and Nikon systems offer a quite mode in some of their cameras where the camera isn’t quite as loud when you press the shutter. I actually found, in the case of Nikon at least, that while the sound wasn’t as loud, the sound was actually drawn out more which was worse to me.
On the Sony A9, the camera isn’t just quiet, it’s 100% silent. Zip. Nadda. No sound at all.
This is amazing for capturing candid images during weddings and especially during wedding ceremonies. In fact, much to my embarrassment, the first time I took it to a wedding, I started the day with some bridal party photos of the groom. My heart sank as I snapped the first image and nothing happened. Did I break it already? Are they this unreliable? Nope. The photographer was an idiot.
It was working perfectly fine and it was writing the images to the memory card as it was supposed to. Just because there was no noise and all and no tactile feedback of feeling the mechanical shutter click in the camera they way I did in my Nikon D5, I thought it wasn’t working. Trust me, it’s way funnier now than it was as that moment.
I’ve since photographed other orchestra concerts with the camera and having the ability to be 100% silent is absolutely amazing.
ADVANCED FOCUSING FEATURES
All of your major camera companies offer a multitude of focus settings but I have never seen anything that compares with what the A9 can do. In fact, not even close.
The two big features that just blew my mind was the eye AF and the face detection/face recognition. The later feature, face recognition, I’m fairly certain may actually be some manner of witchcraft so please continue reading at your own risk.
Let’s start with eye AF. As with most pro-level cameras, the Sony A9 will let you select a spot to focus on. Where the Sony pulls away from the pack is that once the camera finds a face, with a simple button press (which can be assigned to a number of buttons on the camera or even the Sony lenses themselves), the camera will lock on and track the eye closest to camera on that face.
It is also extremely accurate tracking a moving object using this method even using f-stops as wide as f/1.4. If the face turns away from the camera, the moment it sees the eye again it will re-acquire it and lock back on. This opens up lots of additional ways to shoot moments without fear of missing a shot.
Now if that doesn’t sound Disney-esque magical enough, grab your soceror’s hat and let’s look at face recognition.
Cameras have been using face detection for awhile now to locate what it believes to be a face in a scene and focus there. Where Sony jumps ahead is that you can train your camera to learn individual faces so that when there is a group of people it will know exactly which face is most important to you. You can even teach it a pecking order so if one person isn’t available in the frame, it will move on to the next and so forth.
As a wedding photographer, there’s only about a thousand decisions I need to make during the day of the wedding and little changes to my camera that would make certain situations better.
The Sony A9 has a stunning number of buttons and dials on the camera body that you can assign to one of dozens of different options. Want to quickly change white balance? Done. Want to quickly switch to crop mode for that extra little reach? Not a problem.
With all the advancements that camera makers put into cameras, it’s often the little things like this that are really needed so each person can customize the camera to how they work and not how Nikon or Canon think you should work.
There’s actually a lot of things that I haven’t covered here that make the Sony A9 the reason to jump ship from your current system.
Did I mention that you can shoot 20 frames a second completely silent?
Did I mention that you can shoot up to 1/32,000 of a second?
Did I mention that image stabilization is built right into the camera body?
Did I mention that a A9 costs $4,498 while the comparable Nikon runs $6,495 and Canon $5,499?