Earlier today, Sony released the a9, which basically reads like a dream list of specifications. It's a clear shot across the bow of Nikon's and Canon's professional bodies, but as much as I'd like to pick one up, I won't be buying it.
I'm about as heavily invested in the Canon system as a person can be, sporting the 1D X Mark II and the 5D Mark IV alongside a full complement of lenses. That's not to say I don't always have my eye on the industry and am not tempted by the likes of Sony leapfrogging the traditional development timeline and releasing drool-worthy bodies. The fact that I'm invested so heavily in Canon is a fluke, really. I bought my first Canon DSLR on Black Friday because it was the best deal, not because I knew enough to decide between that and a Nikon at the time (this was long before Sony mirrorless was a thing). Once I knew enough to know the difference, I decided I liked Canon's skin tones and system enough not to warrant switching and I continued to build my kit from there. Part of that kit includes supertelephoto prime lenses.I'm generally happy with my kit, but that's not to say I don't appreciate the allure of mirrorless. A WYSIWYG viewfinder alone would be worth it; I'm frequently shooting in environments that push my ISO to 12,800 and even 25,600, and that often means what I see through my viewfinder are variations on black and a little less black. And then there's the adaptability. Anyone at Fstoppers will tell you I'm a huge glass geek, constantly playing with anything from the big white supertelephotos to a 65mm f/0.75 (yes, you read that aperture correctly) X-ray lens I bought on eBay. The ability to adapt basically any lens to mirrorless is huge for me. And then, there's in-body stabilization. Sure, most of my lenses have stabilization built-in, but having it with all those adapted lenses would be a huge boon. There's also having better AF point coverage; I'm frequently annoyed by the limited amount of the frame covered by my AF sensor. And of course, there're Sony's strong video capabilities to consider too. I've never been someone to care that much about bulk. I get it: it's a big deal for a lot of people, but it doesn't bother me. And of course, the most alluring thing about switching to Sony? Those sensors. There's really no arguing that they produce gorgeous files at the forefront of the full-frame industry, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of that.
The Sony a9 is basically everything I could ask for in a camera and then some. It has all the benefits of mirrorless that I mentioned above. It has Sony's vaunted stacked CMOS sensor. It has dual SD slots, 5-axis in-body stabilization, full-frame 4K video with 6K oversampling, a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body, 693 phase detection AF points covering 93 percent of the frame, a 0.78x viewfinder (as opposed to 0.76x on the 1D X Mark II), a tilting LCD, a silent 1/32,000 s electronic shutter, an absolutely crazy 20-fps continuous shooting speed with a 241-shot buffer, 480-shot battery life (950 with a grip), and blackout-free shooting. And what's the best part? The price. At $4,500, it seriously undercuts both the Canon 1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5 with better specs in most areas.
But here's the heart of the issue: the a9 is not the same breed as the a7 series. The a9 spec sheet firmly places it in the 1D X Mark II and D5 realm, the sports shooters, the birders, the photojournalists. And what do they all have in common? They use some of the most extreme lenses out there: the 200mm f/2, the 400mm f/2.8, etc. Sony has yet to touch the prime supertelephoto market with the E-mount, yet they've released a camera aimed squarely at photographers for whom such lenses are practically a job requirement. It's a bit of a riddle at the moment. I wish they had gone the Fuji route and released a full complement of lenses to match the intended purpose, and perhaps those are on the way, but for now, the a9 feels a bit like a gourmet meal with no silverware to me.
Unfortunately, this means Sony has shot itself in the foot just a bit here by not including lenses appropriate for the intended purpose of the a9. When the a7 series was first starting to gain momentum, this was also one of the main complaints: Sony was putting out bodies faster than native glass to match them. They've answered this in a big way with some beautiful E-mount lenses, including a 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 85mm f/1.4, 16-35mm f/4, and more. Essentially, these lenses brought the a7 series onto the same plane as other working photographer systems. Today, they even added a 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, reaching into focal length territory they hadn't yet touched.
It's not 2013 anymore. At the beginning of the mirrorless revolution, there was no arguing that these cameras were woefully behind advanced DSLRs, but that's just not true anymore. While they're not perfect, the speed gap has closed considerably, while for certain work, mirrorless cameras are actually more accurate. Next, it was the battery life. I routinely get well above 6,000 shots on a charge with my 1D X Mark II, and while I don't need that kind of insane performance all the time, the battery life of early mirrorless cameras was simply unacceptable. Nowadays, it still lags behind DSLRs and likely always will, but the 950 shots one can get out of the new a9 with the attached grip is perfectly acceptable and should make the likes of wedding photographers breathe a modest sigh of relief. 2017 is an exciting time for mirrorless. But still, it's all about the glass.
Am I saying the a9 is a dud? Absolutely not. It's a monster of a camera that most any photographer would be thrilled to own. Wedding shooters, portraitists, and enthusiasts will all be happy to use one. I'm just not ready to make the switch myself. Not yet. Not until the glass such a body begs to be shot with appears. Sony does have my attention, however.