My View on the Sony A9 Mark II

It really seems like the Sony fan view of the world has just experienced a large disturbance in the Force. 

a9 v a9ii

Personally, I thought the changes to the original A9 that Sony made with the Mark II are well considered, and useful for the type of photographer that would really need such a fast/sports-oriented camera. I look forward to testing out that hypothesis. So many of the things I was complaining about at Kando 2.0 in 2018 have been dealt with it almost feels like Tanaka-san and company actually listened to me. 

The Sony forums across the Internet, though, are filled with disappointment (or more) about the A9m2. Here's my response: not every camera that is released is the one for you. If it was, then you'd be switching cameras every two weeks ;~).

Sony clearly wanted a camera that would match up well against the Canon 1DXm2 and Nikon D5. Moreover, a camera that would show off the benefits of mirrorless over the old DSLR way. That camera was the A9, launched in 2017, and originally targeted at making a big impact at the Korean Winter Olympics. 

The A9 had almost no role at those winter games. Why? Because some of the things that were important or useful to the pros shooting those games just weren't there yet. I'm not just talking about available lenses (the 400mm f/2.8 was only in prototype then). The FTP on the original A9 had issues that made it not work with some of the agency servers. The camera didn't report serial numbers in the EXIF data, which is how a lot of the agencies track their shooters. And more. Quite a few of these little "gotchas" showed up in February 2018, and most of the action images you saw from those games were again shot on the pro Canon and Nikon bodies. 

To Sony's credit, they've released firmware updates to deal with most of those bits and pieces that involved software—we're now on firmware 6.0—and if we were all headed to PyeongChang right now, the A9 would do a lot better than it did in 2018. I'd still have a tough time finding the AF-ON button with gloves on, though ;~).

The A9m2 now fixes a lot of the hardware issues that came to light since the original model first appeared, including that AF-ON button. So things bode better for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics for Sony. As I noted, I look forward to trying out the new voice-to-text capability, as that could be something that takes the traditional sports camera a step further. 

In my opinion, Sony has done the right thing: they've taken the second best sports camera on the market—I still regard the Nikon D5 as the best—and improved it in many of the things that the shooter that truly cares about this type of camera should embrace. Of course, we still don't know what the Nikon D6 and Canon 1DXm3 are going to look like, and both will appear before the next Olympics, so there may still be catch-up that Sony has to do. 

But catching up, they are. As I've written before, if I were coming out of college today and wanting to specialize in sports photography, the likely best choice for me today that doesn't bust the starting-out budget would be a Sony A9 (original model, not the Mark II). The next best alternative would be a Nikon D500.

So I don't get all the negativity on the various Sony fora across the Internet. Let me directly address the primary complaints:

  • The A9m2 should have been 36mp. This nonsense comes out of pure fandom about sensor tech and rumor mill click-baiting. "Move the bar!" they chant. (Okay, they yell in all caps. ;~) The problem is that sports photographers don't want or need that particular bar moved. Just the opposite, actually. You might note that the Canon and Nikon pro sports cameras lag the consumer/prosumer cameras in pixel count. There's a reason for that: our deadlines are amazingly tight, and every extra pixel we have to move slows us down. Moreover, the clients using our work aren't demanding more pixels, as the primary uses actually all will have them downsizing what we do send them.
  • The A9m2 is terrible news for wildlife shooters. Uh, why? Because it isn't 36mp? ;~) Sports and wildlife photography have many similarities, but also several differences. Many want more pixels on their wildlife cameras because they aren't getting close enough to the animals or don't have the right lens. Frankly, I'm perfectly happy at shooting wildlife with 24mp full frame (see today's article on dslrbodies). But a more curious fact lies in the way of this complaint: no camera maker is really making a wildlife-oriented camera. Wildlife shooters are using either sports cameras or general purpose cameras for their work, and dealing with the compromises/consequences that derive from that. I'm not sure the camera companies actually hear the wildlife photographer clearly, and that includes Canon and Nikon as well as Sony. 
  • The A9m2 should have had the A7Rm4 EVF. Uh, maybe? I'm not sure that you can drive the higher resolution EVF the same way the A9 EVF is run, and it's important that you retain that low lag, blackout-free feature in any update to the A9. There's a limit to how fast you can move the technology bar without pushing price way, way up. The EVF is one of those places.
  • The A9m2 needed better video. No, not really. Thing is, if you're shooting NCAA or pro sports, you're likely highly restricted in shooting video due to licensing rights. Moreover, the places you'd use such video don't need anything better than what the A9 can do today. Sony sells a full line of video gear, and has other models in the A7 lineup that have more emphasis on video.
  • The A9m2 is a terrible upgrade for A9 users. Really? You're spending US$4500 on a new camera every two years? You either have an infinite bank account or you're not amortizing gear very well for your business (and you'd have bought an A9 over the A7m3 because you had a business need, IMHO). I've written this for well over a decade: in the digital age: skip every other generation of camera upgrade. You'll do just fine, trust me. Your A9 didn't stop working (and the firmware upgrades make it a far better camera than it was when you bought it). You replace your camera when you need to, not because the camera maker is at the corner again with the latest batch of the drug you're addicted to.  

The primary complaints seem to center around (1) Sony didn't do enough; and (2) This isn't the camera for me. 

Yeah, that last one: if you're complaining, the A9m2 isn't the camera for you. Simple as that. For some of us, though, Sony was clearly paying attention to our complaints and took a decent-sized step in addressing them. 

Here's the real reason why you're hearing so much dissatisfaction about the A9m2, A7Rm4, A6100, and A6400 updates: Anonymous Sony fan boys are having a difficult time finding some supposedly compelling tech to rally behind and shout their claim that "Sony is the Bestest." 

Next thing you know, they'll be asking for the coach to be fired. 

Seems to me the Sony team is doing just fine. 

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