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Sony a9 II review

Cameraland Sandton

The Sony Alpha 9 II is the latest high-end sports camera and is capable of silently shooting 24MP images at up to 20 frames per second with no blackout between frames. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the a9 II’s predecessor was similarly capable, but this new version brings some refinements and enhancements to make for a formidable, yet compact, option for professional sports and action photographers.

One of the most significant of updates is a new mechanical shutter mechanism that allows for 10 fps bursts: this is significant because if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t use the electronic shutter for risk of banding or other artefacts, the older model could only muster 5 fps which is a bit uninspiring on a camera meant to specialise in sports and action. Suddenly, this is a camera that will give you a solid burst rate in just about any setting, rather than being best suited for brightly lit outdoor venues.

Updated ergonomic, autofocus and other tweaks

The a9 II receives the same ergonomic updates Sony first bestowed upon its a7R IV. For starters, the grip is a bit larger and more comfortable, every button on the exterior is easier to find by feel and offers greater travel, and dials have better feedback. Sony is also promising enhanced weather-sealing on the a9 II.

A large, dedicated AF-ON button and massive, well-textured AF joystick make it easy to take control of the a9 II’s autofocus, and the AF point can now be displayed in a bright red color for easier viewing (your other option is white). Of course, you may not need to use the AF joystick all that much, as the a9 II also comes out of the box with Sony’s latest autofocus tracking technology. It’s so reliable and easy to use that you may only rarely need to move your AF point at all, or change AF settings all that often.

The a9 II also comes with a new, faster processor which, along with updated AF algorithms, promise improved autofocus speed and acquisition times (and the previous a9 was already a good performer in this respect, particularly with firmware version 5.0).

Finally, Sony claims a slightly improved in-body stabilization system that offers 1/2 EV more shake reduction than the previous a9.

Even more speed

The Alpha 9 series has always been about outright speed, and the a9 II has some welcome updates to help keep professional sports and action shooters satisfied. First up, the a9 II now makes use of dual UHS-II card slots (the previous model only had one of these).

While these cards can’t keep up with the insane speeds promised by XQD and CFexpress formats, they should be enough for most users, especially when combined with the a9 II’s deep buffer.

The a9 II also gains an updated mechanical shutter, which is rated to 500,000 actuations and is capable of 10 fps bursts (the original a9 could only manage 5 fps). This is of particular importance for photographers shooting sports indoors, as some types of lighting can still cause banding issues with the 20 fps fully electronic shutter.

Lastly, the ethernet port is now capable of gigabit speeds and the built-in Wi-Fi now supports 5GHz 802.11ac connections in addition to 2.4GHz options. The a9 II can also now store up to 10 different sets of FTP settings.

System overview

Sony’s a9 II uses the company’s latest autofocus implementation, which we’ve found to be incredibly effective and easy to use in almost any situation from family photography to pro sports. We’ve covered it in detail elsewhere, but here’s a quick refresher.

The a9 II has 693 autofocus points offering 93% coverage of the sensor. You can, of course, track subjects yourself by keeping an array of AF areas over your target, but most high-end cameras are capable of this; it’s letting the camera recognize and track a subject around the frame, thereby freeing you up to concentrate on capturing the right moment, that is the greater challenge.

As far as setup goes, we recommend keeping the camera in AF-C and using the ‘Tracking: Flexible Spot M’ focus area with face / eye priority enabled. This will allow you to place an AF area over the subject of your choosing, and the a9 II will track it tenaciously with a green box; if the subject happens to be a human, the camera will automatically transition to face and eye detection as it’s able, and if it loses the subject’s face or eye, it won’t automatically jump off to something else. It’s a powerful yet simple way of working.

In many cases, you’ll find you just don’t have to mess with your autofocus settings again, though if you’re doing animal photography, you’ll want to enable ‘animal priority’ to get the camera to most reliably lock focus on animal eyes. We’ve also been using real-time tracking for fast-action sports for a while now, and it’s truly excellent.

The Sony a9 II is available on our online website as well as in store.

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