A dream camera for wedding photography
Sony has now released the Sony A9 mark 2, a follow up to this game changing camera. I thought it was a good time for a review of the original ( https://www.sony.co.uk/electronics/interchangeable-lens-cameras/ilce-9 ) to see if it still holds up after 2 years of solid use ( given that it cost over £4k on release, you’d hope so!). This Sony A9 review is written from my viewpoint as a documentary wedding photographer, based in Reading in the UK. For a few years prior to getting the A9 I’d been using the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras and they had been great. The only things I didn’t like about them were the battery life and the continuous autofocus. They were not terrible by any means, and by itself those things would not have made me switch camera brand. Sony did not market this camera as a wedding photography camera, which I find odd as it’s perfect in many ways for this type of photography.
Silent Wedding Photography
What really sold me on the A9 was the completely silent shooting. I’d moved over to the Fujis to be more discreet and have less weight to carry. The Fuji’s were certainly a lot quieter than my DSLR set up, and definitely lighter. They enabled me to mingle with the wedding guests and practice a style of wedding photography I’d discovered I loved, the documentary, candid style.
The Fuji’s were great, but they were not totally silent. Like most mirrorless cameras they had an electronic shutter mode but it is prone to distortion and banding where movement is involved. The A9 ( and it’s successor ) is still the only mirrorless camera on the market where you really don’t have to worry about that, due to it’s stacked sensor. I have seen some banding due to LED lighting in some venues, but it’s been very rare and adjusting the shutter speed has fixed the issue. Banding is an issue on all cameras, not just mirrorless. Setting your shutter speed slightly slower usually solves the problem ( 1/160 works for me most times ).
Wedding Photography can be fast paced
In e-shutter mode the A9 can shoot at a mind boggling 20fps. I almost never use this for wedding photography, but I do also shoot wildlife and sports photography on occasion so it’s nice to have. I normally use 10 frames per second when I’m shooting a wedding, and that means the incredibly deep buffer ( around 300 shots ) almost never runs out. For shots like the confetti run having that sort of speed is very nice, but speed is no good with out accuracy, which brings me on the next part, autofocus.
The autofocus on this camera was amazing when I got it, then it got even better! Sony released a firmware update last year which improved an already best in class AF system to improve the tracking even more. Continuous autofocus was always a weak spot for the Fuji system. It is a lot better now than it used to be, but it in no way matches this camera. The eye detection was something I dismissed as a marketing gimmick , until I used it in my wedding photography, at which point it blew my mind, in a good way. You can track a bride’s eye as she is covered in confetti moving towards you. You can track her eye as she moves down a dark church towards you. with the latest firmware you can track her dog’s eye as it runs around after her at the wedding!
It really is incredible and feels like cheating, especially as you can do all this at 20 frames a second if you want to, completely silently. For a documentary wedding photographer like me this has been a game changer. I leave the AF on continuous now for pretty much everything, as that enables eye and face detection. It simply doesn’t work in AF-S, and the AF-S is actually not great, the total opposite of the Fujis. It does make life easier at weddings though, as I don’t have to switch between modes like I did on the Fujis.
The shot below is a good example of the autofocus. It was very dim light but I looked up, saw Alice coming down the stairs, pointed the A9 at her and face detection instantly grabbed focus on her. I got the shot without even looking at the screen.
You are losing a little bit of dynamic range to the A7 line due to the unique sensor, but I find the image quality to be excellent and your clients will not be able to tell the difference. I find shadow recovery very good especially. The dynamic range of most modern cameras is more than sufficient for wedding photography, the Fujis were excellent in this regard as well, despite being crop sensor cameras. They were not as good as the A9 however, which gives really punchy, sharp images when paired with good lenses.
The not so good bits
No camera is perfect, so what are the negatives of the Sony A9? Well, the mechanical shutter isn’t great, and it’s one of the areas they have worked on for the A9 II. It can only manage 5 frames a second, which is still decent and as fast as I need for strobe work, but it feels clunky. If you are using flash or strobes you cannot use the e-shutter, and the responsiveness of the mechanical shutter has been criticised. It has improved with firmware though, and I don’t find it any worse than my Fuji system was, but if you are coming from a DSLR, you don’t get that instant response you do from something like a D810, especially with a flashgun in the hotshoe. I have used flash plenty of times with the A9 though and it’s certainly not a deal breaker. 90% of the time I’m using the silent e-shutter anyway. I do tend to migrate over to my A7R3 for studio work though.
Other than that, the only other issue is the focussing square being grey and hard to see, but that just got fixed in a firmware update! Battery life is best in class for mirrorless cameras, though still not up to DSLR standards. I use the A9 with a grip and 2 batteries and it gets through a wedding day without me swapping batteries. A typical wedding day would be 3000 images captured for me. My style of wedding photography is not really run and gun, but with the A9 it’s hard not to take too many shots and almost none are out of focus.
If you don’t want to splash out on an A9, there are plenty of other viable options out there. The Sony A73 is considerably cheaper, sports the same resolution and has brilliant low light AF. However, it’s electronic shutter is, like other mirrorless cameras, prone to distortion when subjects are moving quickly. On the plus side, it does have better dynamic range than the A9. It’s a great wedding camera and would make a wonderful companion camera to an A9, because you don’t want to be shooting weddings on only one camera.
If you are on more of a budget, the Fuji cameras have come on leaps and bounds and I still have a soft spot for them. They are more fun to use and their eye/face autofocus has massively improved in recent bodies. The latest cameras focus down to -6 EV which is pretty awesome. Continuous autofocus is more than adequate for weddings, though not quite up to Sony A9 standards. The prime lenses are smaller and almost all are excellent. You do lose a stop of low light performance compared to the Sony full frame cameras though. The soon to be announced Fuji XT-4 looks like it will be killer hybrid video/stills camera for weddings.
Overall this is the best wedding camera on the market in my opinion, for documentary wedding photographers like myself in particular. I wouldn’t go to a wedding without it! Here are a few more wedding images from the Sony A9.
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions on using the A9 for wedding photography just drop me an email at this link: https://www.croshawphotography.com/contact/