The Sony a9 Is a Sports Camera Without Sports Lenses

The Sony a9 Is a Sports Camera Without Sports Lenses

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. 

Don't get me wrong; this is an amazing camera.

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.

But this is a really amazing camera.

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.

Give me one of these and I'll drink the Sony Kool-Aid.

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.

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85 Comments

Adrian Pocea's picture

There is so much more to consider here than the lenses. First of all, with the Canikon bodies we KNOW and have real cases of cameras lasting for over 1 million shutters. With Sony we don't. Then again,if you would switch, who would you sell your Canon to? You paid 6k for the 1dx2, why would anyone pay you a decent price for yours used, or your lenses, when, by the same logic, they could buy a new, cheaper, A9? So your Canon, by your logic, would go to junk value, making you lose a ton of money. Then you forgot to mention the PRICE of those beautiful G Master lenses,most of them around 2500 dollars. For Canon you can get now excellent Sigma -Tamron for half the price. And, last but not least, YOU DON'T NEED MORE THAN 1DX2 OR 5DIV CAN DO FOR YOU. They can do more than you can master. Why would you switch? Just because other camera exists? Thise money would be way better spent on travel, so you can get astounding photography

Alex Cooke's picture

Sure there is. But my point is that without the basic catalog of lenses, we can't begin to talk about deeper nuances. And plenty of people would buy my 1D X II; as I said, it's a great camera and it holds its market value just fine because not everyone shares the same balance of preference and needs I do. And sure, you can get third party lenses; you can also get them on Sony. And I'm not sure why you're so adamant about what I personally need. Anyone who shoots fast action or sports will always appreciate a faster frame rate. It honestly doesn't make sense to say the money would be better spent on travel. That's what you personally would do, and that's fine. My preference is growing a passion for technology and tools that are most canonical to what I do, and besides, I did the math, and I could switch for a net of zero, so there's no "travel money" anyway.

Adrian Pocea's picture

"You" was a generic type of name for any 1dx2 user, or 5div for that matter. My point was maybe not well made enough. We live in a camera craze, a buying spiral that seems very likely to end up in a blow, a burst, like the real estate did in 2008. Since the last three years only, manufacturers of all kind came up with some astounding cameras, from the Oly em1ii to Fuji Xt2, to Canon 1dx2 and 5div, to Nikon D5 and D500(already having the lengendary D810 and the amazing D750), Pana with Gh5 , G85, Gx85, Sony with A6300 A6500 , A7r2, A99ii, A9 now, i got tired of writing. They ALL provide 99 percent of what most people, including enthusiasts (which are the bulk of the market) would ever need. This is starting to become disturbing from my view, we all say that this is good for us, the competition gives us better and better tools, fact is i see less and less great photography on the specialized sites, like 500px.
As for me, i have Canon 5div and a Gh5 now, with the right lenses, covering me from 16mm to 600 full frame equivalent, i personally don't need anything else for the years to come, maybe to travel more myself, to be in good shape, and maybe, maybe some more glass

Alex Cooke's picture

I agree with you on that; I'm not a case of G.A.S., don't get me wrong. Could I make a living with what I have now? Absolutely. If I can't do it with that equipment, I need to find a new job. This more about distinguishing between the best of the best, saying "hey, yes I can get the job done with this. But why not try this and see if it makes my job two percent easier or gets me maybe an extra shot or two." If you do that without falling into the G.A.S. trap of thinking you have to have it, I don't see anything wrong with it.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Alex... "basic catalogue of lenses"? We all have clear view into Sony's current E-mount lens lineup so I don't need to recite it - so to say that it doesn't have "basic catalogue" is simply false. Every single "basic" focal length is already covered with many overlaps of various flavors from Sony to Zeiss to numerous other manufacturers, all the way from fisheye to 400mm as of this morning. All in native mount. Now, there's NOTHING basic about 300, 400, 500mm + primes. These sell by the dozens, not by the thousands. Those lenses are as niche as niche is.

I find it crazy that we can't just praise the steady and meaningful progress without twenty different "buts". I mean come on, a one of a kind state of the art new camera just got release, breaking new ground, and paving the way for the future of action photography. Along with longest high end new zoom released to date. And we still make comments like "we can't begin to talk about deeper nuances"?

Alex Cooke's picture

"The basic catalog" was in the context of the article, namely sports lenses. Probably could have chosen better words for that. As I mentioned in the article when talking about the a7, they do have the basic catalog of lenses in the general sense. And I did praise be a9, pretty highly actually. My point is simply that Sony has released a camera for which the lenses dedicated to its most canonical purpose do not exist.

To which I totally agree; my basic lens is 70-200 and beyond, 300 is my bread and butter. For too long, Sony kept teasing us with "super fast autofocus" "hundreds of AF tacking points" but no lens (that I need- I shoot motorsports) to back it up.
My reason to switch was superior video, which I do occasionally trackside, and DSLR's contrast autofocus is atrocious at best.

Adrian Pocea's picture

Let's not bs anymore, i see you have a sarcastic way of expressing things, straight question: ARE YOU GONNA BUY THE CAMERA? Want a simple answer, yes or no. You , being, As a, i suppose, A7r2 owner, maybe A6500, maybe A6300, maybe 7s2, do you really need this camera? Ok, when you do, maybe you will be so kind to show me the receipt. What the hell are we talking about there, flocks and flocks of young cool vloggers were waiting for the GH5 killer, around 2 grand, with 4k60p. 10 bit, double card slot, better battery life, and here comes Sony with a camera , and says, sorry , guys, no more vlogging for you,you need to go out and shoot birds and grizzlies, you need to hike a little bit, make competition to those older guys that you see with tripods and bazookas on the side of the lakes when you go out. I can bet you 1000 dollars that A9 is gonna be the best camera never bought by anyone. It's sensor it's inferior to A7r2, and that was making the A7r2 appealing in the first place, the new medium format killer, etc, it's low light is inferior to A7s2, it's price is triple of the amazing A6500, competes into a category where shooters are very conservative and fond of their equipment(they have lenses and tripods decades old). Let's see the big picture and say that straight, at the end of the day it took Sony four years, a lot of intermediary cameras(that means money spent by their buyers) a lot of minor upgrades, to put a freaking double card slot and a decent battery into a body. And that makes big news now, while Canon and Nikon have this for a decade now

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Alright man, you are getting so worked up over nothing and in process you come across not only a bit unhinged but also quite incoherent... and let's get something out of the way really quick - I don't owe you any proof of my purchases or any other explanations, lol, come on, really???

That said, since you asked I will enteartain you with my thoughts on the topic nonetheless. Yes, I own both the A7Rii and A7Sii and pretty much all of the G, GM, Sony Zeiss, and Zeiss native glass. I don't make a secret of it in my shared images or the few photo/cinema oriented forums I frequent or my little website I recently started building. I'm a mostly a hobbyist but I do take up paid assignments when it's the right project, and I can appreciate and take advantage of high end gear. Do I need this new A9? Nope. Never said I did. That doesn't make the camera any less attractive to those who can take advantage of what it clearly offers - if you do your homework you can see all the things it can do "better" and some things it can do that no other camera today can.

I skipped the first iteration of A7xx bodies because it offered nothing of interest over my complete A-mount system at the time. People like you said it was DOA and no one would buy one. I, like many at the time, was very intrigued by smaller, capable ILC system and started to pay attention. People still bought them by thousands and thats when there were just 2 native lenses! When MK2 bodies and new lenses came out everything changed: it was a much more mature product line with IBIS, BSI, AF, resolution, 4K, Log, etc. making all the difference and I made the switch.

Fast forward just a couple of short years later Sony's E-mount system is alive and healthy beyond anyone's expectations and bridged the gap between them and the two other industry leaders (overtaken one, even, in certain markets). Now they introduce a new family with A9. A camera that is clearly a technological breakthrough. Camera that addresses what so many people have been asking for. And all you can say is that you'll "bet $1000 that it'll be the best camera never bought by anyone". Or that it's somehow supposed to be outcompeting GH5? Like, all of a sudden A7Rii/Sii/6500/RXxx cameras disappeared and no longer sufficient for logging. Dude, stop spilling this nonsense.

Me? I'm likely skipping A9 (just like I skipped A7ii) as I want higher resolution and my video features back and don't shoot action at all aside from a few airshows every year. Perfectly happy to wait for A9R/S/whatever, no rush for me. One thing is clear - the new line brings meaningful improvements and some revolutionary tech and I'll buy it whenever I fancy. In the meantime, there will be plenty of folks who will buy A9 now and be very happy.

You can carry one being upset all you want and hold on to you CaNikons... not that there's anything wrong with that ;)

>>> There is so much more to consider here than the lenses. First of all, with the Canikon bodies we KNOW and have real cases of cameras lasting for over 1 million shutters

And lots of problems too - especially with Nikon. And if this is your concern, an extended third party warranty is cheap and tax deductible.

...But if lens aren't available, then there is no point even considering how long a body will last.

Dave Melges's picture

All of my Sony bodies since 2010 have gone over 1 million exposures. And the a9 can be shot pretty much ALWAYS in electronic shutter mode, meaning the thing that always breaks doesn't.

The a9 could do FIVE MILLION exposures and no one will be surprised.

The rest of your argument all just whiny "but I'll lose money."

Yes, sometimes you take a hit moving to a better camera...at least Sony priced the a9 to soften the blow. If Canon was the only maker releasing THIS camera, with THOSE insane specs, don't doubt this for one second, it would cost more than 10 grand.

But Canon would have to figure out how to make one.....there's zero evidence they're even in the ballpark.

Sony just democratized high end shooting......guys shooting high school football will now have better cameras than guys shooting the Patriots. $1500 a pop wedding photographers will now have better cameras than $15,000 dollar a pop wedding shooters.

Keep whining, not everyone can calculate the value.

Part of the appeal of the a7 and now a9 series is the ability to use virtually any lens with a dizzying array of adaptors for virtually anything. With sports photography, some of the more esoteric focusing modes - like near eye following - that come only with native glass aren't really an issue. So use whatever big glass you want - with full electronic connections. The glass will come. As you stated, no one can compete with Sony on the sensor front.

Adrian Pocea's picture

Good luck with using adapters in the speed of a wildlife. Good luck in balancing a bazooka on that body. Good luck with 900 shutters per battery when you shoot 20 frames per second. Good luck with the camera not bricking out after 10 seconds for 45 seconds. Good luck in dropping that camera on some rocks or keeping it in the scorching heat of the desert. Good luck in general, happy buying!

Alex Cooke's picture

The 900-shot life is in normal usage. It's much higher when firing off continuous shots. Photographers have already attested to getting 2,000+ shots and still having 40 percent battery. As for balancing, that's why big lenses have a tripod foot. As for bricking out, we don't know performance yet. As for durability, it's a magnesium alloy construction, just like most pro bodies. Let's not judge something we haven't tested too much yet.

As for what Don said, the issue is AF speed. If an EF to FE adapter that maintained AF speed existed, I would switch in a heartbeat.

Adrian Pocea's picture

again, i stand up by my math, why would anybody buy from you the 1dx2 or the 5div above junk value if yourself, and expert writer and editor at Fstoppers, recommend the Sony so much to say that you would switch in a heart beat? Just in case you decide to sell your 1dx2 , i would pay you 3500 dollars for it, otherwise i will go by your advice and buy the A9 instead for 4500.

Alex Cooke's picture

Because we're (hypothetically) talking about something that's 95 percent perfect vs. 96 percent perfect. That level of nuance doesn't justify completely tanking the price of one because of the other. Your error in logic is looking at it as a first-time buyer vs. a used market. The 1DX2 holds its value because if someone is in the Canon system and wants to buy Canon, they're going to pay to stay in the system.

Why are you so angry about the a9? Buy it or don't. I'm sure without looking at the meta data you can't tell which images on Getty sports were shot with a Canon or Nikon so why get so worked up over the a9 being announced? Canon isn't suddenly going out of business. The A9 is just another tool at photographers disposal and has the potential to lower the price of the Canon/Nikon equivalents, progress can be a good thing.

Brian Dowling's picture

I'm sure they will have a battery grip as well. So, battery life shouldn't be a huge issue. I use a 1DX2 as well and the battery life on that is nothing to be proud of.

They already have it ready to go on release! This battery life stuff is hilarious. "I'll take long battery life over buying ground breaking technology anyday" is some horrible logic.
People are just bitter that they can't talk shit about Sony anymore and their Canikon hasn't put a dollar towards innovation in years.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

wow, Adrian, man... chill... it's just a new camera, not made by your beloved brand... it's going to be OK. Ok?

Your post is both ill-mannered and hypocritical. The guy has made substantive points; you are the bitter, pathetic fanboy here if you want to open that can of worms. For sports, focus speed is critical. Adapters focus accurately but slowly. This is not a complicated problem to understand...

...I'd *love* to be able to buy an A7 and uses adapters. But for what I do, the focus is too slow.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

First off... you are late to the party - my tongue in cheek comment was to the general barrage of angry comments that Mr. Pocea flooded this comment section with yesterday. It was very obvious and the rest of the people reading them got it. You didn't, that's you bad. Responding to someone by their actual name, as opposed to what you did (labeling me as "pathetic fanboy") is considered ill-mannered? Nah, but, that's exactly what you did here, in fact, you double-downed here with a layer of hypocrisy. Bye, pansy...

>>> First off... you are late to the party

That would explain why you've gone stale.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

lol, that was weak. even you know that was weak...

Alex: Again withe the devastating wit! What a fellow you are...

But sticking to the point of the article, once again:

- Sport photography need FAST focus

- Adapter focus, SLOW

- Saying using adapter for sports photography therefore NOT example of smartness!

Chris Rogers's picture

Man this is great. Watching two "grown adults" fight over a camera that neither of you own. This is pretty funny XD

Correction. I criticizing whatever his name's bad manners are in calling someone bitter for not sharing his opinion.

Of course if you're too much of a boor too appreciate why good manners matter- which of course you are - then, yes, especially if you're not terribly bright you'd think it was about the A9.

To dumb this down all the way for you - because really, I think that is needed here - responding to substantive posts about focus speed by accusing someone of being a bitter canikon fanboi rather that discussing the actual issue simply shouldn't be acceptable among grown-ups.

..And no, I don't own a Canon or a Nikon. Or even a DSLR. Or an A9. I have no interest in this you'd find comprehensible.

Chris Rogers's picture

Now you are fighting with the person you believe to be "dumb". Since you believe me to be "dumb" and "boorish" why would you waste your time fighting with me?? Seems a bit...silly doesn't it. It seems you have a bit of pride issue as well. You did a good job displaying your "higher intelligence" with your use of your vast vocabulary. That doesn't show your superiority complex at all.

I was bored and time to kill.

F
(Fairly oobvious reply, but thanks for playing.)

>>Part of the appeal of the a7 and now a9 series is the ability to use virtually any lens with a dizzying array of adaptors for virtually anything. With sports photography, some of the more esoteric focusing modes - like near eye following - that come only with native glass aren't really an issue. <<

Hello??? Do you understand *anything* about shooting sports or birds in flight? AF speed is everything. The adapters are slow. Too slow. I was thinking very hard of buying an A7 and the adapters were too slow for my use, and I'm not a sports shooter.

>>>So use whatever big glass you want - with full electronic connections. <<<

And get as many sharply focussed pictures of empty air as you want...

>>The glass will come. <<

It's wonderful that you can predict the future.

>>>As you stated, no one can compete with Sony on the sensor front.<<<

Except Fuji and Nikon and Oly, you buy Sony sensors. And then that sensor in the Leica Q is arguably better than anything Sony make....