Sony A9 Wedding Review – 6 Months On
This is one of those blog posts that probably won’t appeal to everyone, it’s aimed at camera nerds like me who enjoy boring other cameras nerds with chat about their kit! There you are, you have been warned! If you fall asleep whilst reading this page then it’s your own fault!
So it’s been a few months since the Sony A9 landed on my doorstep. I jotted down my initial thoughts after a handful of summer weddings and posted them on the blog back in September but I wanted to update my experience after using the new system during the challenging lighting conditions of the autumn/winter wedding season.
Do I still love the A9? Oh, hell yeah!
In my last post I chatted about the Eye-Autofocus functionality and how it’s changed the way I shoot. It’s one of the two major game changing pieces of technology I’ve encountered since I switched from Nikon. Eye-AF is just so bloody accurate and more importantly it’s consistent. There’s no point having this functionality if it only works 90% of the time; if it was too erratic then I would be reverting back to the methods I used with a DSLR and that would defeat the object of changing to a mirrorless system. As a wedding photographer you have to trust your kit and you need it to nail focus 100% of the time at critical moments (the bride’s entrance, the exit, confetti shower, etc). The A9 does this without any fuss.
Here’s a little selection from Stephanie and David’s confetti walk when the petals were really flying! I’m fairly confident that if I was shooting this scene using autofocus at f2 on my Nikon it would have probably prioritised focus on the petals, then hunted for the face and then found the petals again. These pics probably would have been binned, but the A9/Zeiss combo nailed eye focus each time.
Here is the cropped version of the shot above showing how the auto focus has found Stephanie’s eye even whilst walking through the confetti. That’s pretty impressive considering I’m shooting at f2 through a bunch of petals and we’re all moving!
As I mentioned previously, this particular piece of tech allows me to spend more time thinking about composition and worry less about focusing on the face. The knock on affect is that I no longer take a burst of identical ‘security’ shots during the more candid parts of each wedding.
The positive consequence of this is that I’ve reduced the time I spend culling and editing. I’m no longer sifting through multiple similar frames and pixel peeping in Lightroom to identify the most usable shot. This is simply because I can put my trust in the A9 to get it right first time.
When it comes to reviewing a shot, I don’t even have to take the camera away from my face as I can instantly review the shot through the EVF (including the ability to zoom in to validate the quality/sharpness of the subject).
On the subject of the EVF (electronic view finder), the ability to review your shot by looking through the eye piece on bright sunny days is a huge bonus. When I was shooting portraits or group photos in bright sunlight on a DSLR I would be dashing to a shady area, cup my hand around the LCD and squint at the screen to see what I’ve just shot, then dash back into position. With mirrorless, I just look through the EVF and review my shot there and then, regardless of weather conditions!
I’m also falling more in love with the colours that the A9 and Zeiss lenses are pumping out of the camera. I know a lot is said about Canon’s skin tones, but I just adore the output from the Sony’s. I predominately opted for the Zeiss Batis primes over the GM versions because of their light weight and quick focussing capabilities; I was aware of a much discussed “Batis look” but I didn’t really appreciate this until I started using the system more thoroughly and noticed how well it worked with my existing LR presets. Sharpness on the eye is bang on (wherever it appears on the frame) even when the aperture is wide open. The out of focus areas are just so smooth. As you can see from the shots above, the Batis may only stop down to f1.8 but the bokeh is still bloody gorgeous!
Whilst on the subject of lenses, it’s worth noting just how well the Batis range handles chromatic aberration. When I say handles it, I mean it simply doesn’t exist, even when the aperture is wide open! Here’s a shot from Sarah and Tom’s wedding using the 85mm 1.8 at f2. The crop underneath it shows the tips of the trees against the sky, not a hint of fringing in the out of focus areas, that’s pretty impressive!
So then, the point of this updated blog post was to see how well the A9 dealt with a dark and chilly UK winter wedding season! Could it focus on faces in low light environments and would I still be able to push the ISO as I did with my D750. Well the answer is a resounding yes!
On my D750, when the light was poor I was reluctant to drop the shutter speed to below 1/160th and I would limit the ISO to never breach 6,400. On the A9 I’m more than happy to let the ISO ride up to 12,800 (if it ever really wanted to go that far!). This allows me to set my minimum shutter speed to 1/250th even in poor lighting conditions. A quick shutter + in camera stabilisation + in lens image stabilisation = less risk of blur with those adhoc candid shots. This ultimately achieves the result of more ‘keepers’! Boom!
On the rare occasion the ISO has reached the dizzy heights of 12,800, the output has been excellent and completely useable. Colours and details are retained, just like this shot of Razia during the speeches.
Another area I’m really pleased with is the way the camera calculates white balance. This is a very subjective area, one persons colour preference is someone else’s idea of hell! Below is an example from two different weddings at the same church. I’ve simply applied my base preset on top of each image and straightened the scene. I haven’t tweaked the white balance chosen by each camera for these examples. The one on the left was shot with my D750 and retains the usual orangey walls that we all tweak in post. The one on the right is from the A9; the processor seems to have identified the orange colours and toned them down.
Earlier on I mentioned two major game changers on the A9. The first was Eye-Autofocus and the second is silent shooting. It’s really tricky to put in to words just how this functionality compliments wedding photography, you just have to experience it in real life to appreciate the benefits. This camera was always intended to be a pro-grade sports shooter; the ability to capture a tennis player smashing his serve on Wimbledon Centre Court at 20fps in complete silence was the thought process behind Sony’s development of the A9. Two of most respected sports photographers in the business (Bob Martin and Nick Didlick) switched to the A9 last year (click here for their comments). However, in my opinion it just feels like Sony have created the ultimate wedding camera!
I think it’s fairly evident in my 2017 wedding reviews that I’m all about capturing candid images of people enjoying themselves. Being able to do this without making a peep just adds to the ‘ninja-ness’ of documentary photography (I’ve borrowed that word from Jess’ feedback on my testimonial page!).
Over the last few months I’ve noticed a click free camera has kept special moments a little less obtrusive, such as dad seeing the bride for the first time. Shooting a scene like the examples below without the interference of a clicking shutter helped keep the moment a little more natural as no one knows when I’m actually taking a picture!
Another added bonus of silent shooting is that you become the officiants new best friend! Sometimes with amusing results. Whilst photographing a ceremony at The Great Tythe Barn the registrar turned to me and checked my camera was still working as it hadn’t made a noise throughout the service, I gave him a nod and a thumbs up and he said “Wow!”. The Reverend Malc also chatted to me after a church wedding in December and commented on the fact my camera really was completely silent during his ceremony, he thought it was great!
Going back to low light shooting; I’m on a number of Sony A9 Facebook groups and every now and again I see comments from photographers finding low light dancing shots a little hit and miss. It’s certainly left me feeling a little perplexed as I find the cameras ability to lock onto a subject in poor lighting to be a hidden strong point! I do switch my focussing method to ‘centre point focussing’ for the dance floor shots and find its hit rate quite staggering, even fairly wide open at f2.8.
Another great feature is the A9’s huge buffer, I mean insanely huge! It can hold up to 240 RAW images, so you could merrily fire away at 20fps during the aisle walk, the bride and grooms exit, the confetti shower, bouquet toss, etc without fear of the camera clogging up. The added bonus is that I no longer need to buy super fast SD cards because the urgency to clear down data from the buffer is no longer there. As a result I’ve switched from Sandisk Extreme Pro’s to Sandisk 64GB Ultra’s at nearly half the price.
And finally (yay! I hear you cry!), the size and weight of the A9/Zeiss combo has been greatly appreciated by my shoulders and back over the last few months! I do smirk with amusement at some of the comments I see online from people who have never held an A9 suggesting there are no differences with the dimensions of the Sony compared to its Nikon and Canon counterparts. That may apply to certain lens setups, but as you can see from my example below there is a drastic difference between my A9 + Batis 85 against my Nikon D750 + Sigma 85!
Since I bought the A9, Sony released the 42 megapixel A7Riii. Am I tempted to give that a whirl? I have to say no. If I was a studio portrait or landscape shooter then yes, but the 24.2 megapixels on the A9 are more than enough for the way I shoot and there are reports that banding is noticeable when using the electronic shutter on the Riii, something I’ve not experienced at a wedding with the A9.
I could rattle on with even more positive points but you probably slipped into a deep sleep back on the second paragraph!
So there we have it. Those are my thoughts on the Sony A9 after several months of use! I’ve tried to think of some negative points or improvements that I believe could make this camera even better…but I’m really struggling to come up with any! Sony really have created a monster with this piece of kit!