The Sony Alpha 9 II is still relevant for professional photographers or serious enthusiasts looking for an upgrade, despite rumors of the 3rd-generation Alpha 9 being released soon.
The build and design of the Alpha 9 II have some slight differences compared to the previous model, including changes to the height and layout of buttons and dials.
The screen and electric viewfinder (EVF) of the Alpha 9 II remain the same as the previous model, with touchscreen capabilities limited and the EVF consuming more battery.
Back in 2017, Sony announced the release of its latest flagship camera, the Alpha 9 (or Alpha a9 or α9). It took a few months before managing to get my hands on the review unit. Almost a year later, the brand then released the follow-up to its premium range. It’s been a long road, again, but I finally managed to get my hands on the Sony Alpha 9 II for review.
Although we are some two years behind schedule on this review, with rumours of the 3rd-generation Alpha 9 soon to be revealed, the camera is still very relevant to any professional photographer or serious enthusiast looking to purchase an upgrade. After having spent a few weeks with the A9 II, here are some of my thoughts.
Build and Design
When receiving the latest Sony Alpha 9 II unit, it didn’t strike me as any different to the previous model reviewed. As a result, I took to Google to check up on the slight differences there was in the build over the previous model. From there, I could gauge how the changes would impact my use of the device over the review period.
Starting from the front view, most of the differences lie on the left-hand side. On paper, the height of the two cameras are identical. However, this measures the length from the base to the flash mount. The body of the A9 II sits slightly higher, only just on the front view, but a lot more pronounced on the rear. Staying on the front, you’ll then notice the height of the shutter release button is also higher. It was also facing downward towards the front of the original unit with a straighter layout on the newer unit. The control dial on the front of the shutter button is also slanted upward, giving you an easier handle on it when in use. Everything else on the front remains largely the same.
Switching to the rear, you’ll also find slight changes in the layout. Starting from the left, the Custom Button 3 and Menu buttons are a bit larger, while also sitting higher up. This means the previous α9 logo has been removed to make room for this change. The “AF-ON” button is now larger and protrudes a lot more, with Multi-Selector toggle having a more textured finish. Lastly, the rear dial has seen the most change. Previously, it was only half protruding from the rear end and has now been replaced with a dial that sits on the top of the unit, exposing the whole toggle, making it easier to scroll through the options.
From the top view, the positions appear more identical to the original, with the exception of the above-mentioned rear dial. Further to this, almost all the dials now have locks in place, which prevents any erroneous toggle changes while using the device on the settings you’ve already selected. This is a nice addition, which is expanded upon from the first model.
Lastly, the left-hand side of the unit has additional changes. It still offers an Ehternet port and flash attachment, along with a number of ports. Added to the list of ports is a new Type-C connection. As mentioned previously, the rear end of the unit has an increased height and the addition of this port is one of the reasons, as none of the previously-included ports has been removed, which is great.
Overall, the design still works well. It feels comfortable in hand and works really nicely having access to a significant number of controls at your fingertips. With the addition of three customisable toggles for quick changes, you really can’t ask for much more. The Sony Alpha 9 II tinkers a lot with what went before, which is a clear indication of customer and user feedback on these respective changes.
Sony Alpha 9 II Screen and ViewFinder
With all the changes made to the design – albeit small – one would’ve expected likewise when it comes to the screen and its electric viewfinder (EVF). However, that’s not the case, as Sony has fitted the same 75mm screen and EVF – at least as far as specifications go.
The screen supports touchscreen capabilities, as well as having a tilt on the LCD, allowing you to manoeuvre it for the best viewing angles on a tricky shot. The LCD does have two settings – conventional and daylight mode. The latter is used when operating in direct sunlight, allowing the screen to brighten so you can see better.
As with the previous model, the touchscreen capabilities are limited. You can easily select a focus point while in camera mode, but the same doesn’t apply when traversing the menus or some other settings. With touchscreen support on mobile devices now well beyond the 15-year mark, I wouldn’t have expected this to still be an issue.
The EVF is a lot more complex than the LCD, providing a higher resolution with 3.68m pixels. As a result of the sharper resolution, it also draws quite a reasonable amount more when it comes to battery consumption.
If you want a more detailed analysis of the screen and EVF, you can read up on the previous Sony Alpha 9 review.
Sony Alpha 9 II Features and Performance
Needless to say, the Sony Alpha 9 II’s main claim to fame is its tracking and auto-focus. This is beyond anything on any other camera. I tested it out on a range of source material and it can easily auto-detect a moving object as a primary target. Failing this, you can simply select it on the LCD touchscreen and then kickstart the tracking and focus from there. Moving to even further objects, it works just as well. I even tested it on the moon with some clouds or a more faded shot on a blue afternoon sky, and each time it still worked great.
One of the more prevalent moving objects to track are birds. Against the backdrop of brown face brick, it was still able to accurately pick up the house sparrow (common brown bird) and hone in on its movements and provide the best auto-focus. Having also attempted this as a manual option of the same shot, it was far trickier. Further to this, the camera also supports the eye-tracking of some larger animals. However, I wasn’t able to test this out, with birds not being the best source material for moving targets.
Thanks to its mirrorless support, the A9 II can cater for up to 20 burst shots (or 20FPS) using its electronic shutter. This allows for a much better choice when capturing those action scenes and not wanting to miss out on that one good shot as a result of slow processing or waiting for the mirror to open again once the shutter has closed on a previous image. These are vital milliseconds lost on fast-moving subject matter where the opportunity may only present itself once. This is another distinct advantage of the A9 II (and the rest of the Alpha range).
That being said, there is still the option to use a mechanical shutter on the A9. However, this is limited to about 10FPS in comparison. One would ask why it was presented as an option if electronic is better. The answer lies with some lighting conditions. In some instances, using the mechanical shutter would work better with artificial lighting, which has a specific frequency in which it emits light. This is especially true for LED, strobe or neon lights.
Having taken a few RAW and JPG shots for comparison as well, the compressed JPG files do well to match its native format. It will produce (or save) an image faster using JPG which makes it easier knowing that there isn’t a great amount of loss when processing versus RAW shots.
As with any portable device, the battery also plays a significant role in the experience. While there hasn’t been much change in this department on the updated A9 II, it is worth mentioning. The camera has a rating of 690 shots using the LCD and drops to around 500 using the EVF.
The Proof is in the Pudding
As is always the case, it doesn’t matter how much additional tech or updates you throw at it, the end result is always the best to gauge the overall performance of a camera. While I do take many random photos, it’s always easiest to do a walk around in the complex to be able to capture day and night photos of the same subject matter, to enable a breakdown comparison of its capabilities. Here are some of those images:
Thanks to its 24MP full-frame sensor, the camera delivers great shots. It features the same BSI CMOS image sensor as the previous unit, so actual images won’t differ all that much. However, the focus and tracking have been enhanced, so the accuracy of the shots will be improved on moving subject matter.
When using the JPG format for shots, it operates well within the 100-12800 ISO range. Anything beyond this and things starts to deteriorate. It’s best to switch to RAW and take the editing or processing to the software used on your PC rather than the camera itself.
The unit has improved a little on its 4K recording capabilities. This is more to do with better technological support than hardware prowess. There is also some video stabilisation at work but if you’re going to be using the camera for professional recordings, you may find it better to invest in a gimble for smoother stabilisation.
Bottom Line on the Sony Alpha 9 II
The Sony Alpha 9 II is a great camera. Although it hasn’t thrown the kitchen sink in terms of the upgrades it brought over the predecessor, there’s still a lot packed in overall. The number of small changes are staggering, bringing with it an overhauled experience, right down to how you grip the unit. On top of that, it still remains one of the best cameras for action shots thanks to its tracking, auto-focus and detection capabilities. Although you won’t often find a novice running head first into a purchase such as this, if they did, it supports the novice use in great detail thanks to its pick-up-and-use approach.
Again, this isn’t a camera notable for purchase by first-timers. With a cost of around R40,000 for the unit itself (no lenses included) it does come at a premium. That premium, however, is justifiable with the technology and hardware provided.
Sony Alpha 9
Not all cameras are created equal. The Sony Alpha 9 is a class on its own, delivering great tracking, auto-focus and enhanced features to make even the most complicated of action photography a breeze. It’s a great, multipurpose unit and even at a premium price, is well worth it.
Evan Saunders is a seasoned professional with over two decades of experience in the tech industry. With a deep passion for technology and a talent for design, Evan has made a name for himself as a skilled and innovative techie.
In addition to his love for all things tech, Evan is also a dedicated sneakerhead with an impressive collection of kicks. He is a sports enthusiast, and enjoys playing football and watching a variety of sports. When he's not keeping up with the latest games or streaming his favorite series, he enjoys indulging in his love of anime.
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