Sony A9 Wedding Photography Review
Everyone and their dog appears to be writing Sony A9 wedding reviews. I didn’t want to be left out, so here’s my take on Sony’s new flagship camera!
Firstly, this isn’t a tech review, I don’t really understand half the wobbly graphs and diagrams that flood the internet when new kit is released. This is purely how I got on during my first month shooting with the new set up. When I get a bit more time I will do some more detailed reviews.
I’ve been a wedding photographer for nearly seven years. During that time I’ve only ever shot with Nikon bodies; the last three years with D750’s coupled with a combination of Nikkor and Sigma glass. I’m a HUGE fan of the D750, it’s a phenomenal camera and has served me incredibly well since I picked up my first pair of bodies in 2014. Its low light performance was excellent, the dynamic range was superb both providing me with that little extra comfort when shooting in really challenging lighting conditions. It was far more compact than the bulky D800‘s that I’d been using before.
I refresh my kit every 18 months or so and my second pair of D750’s would have been coming up for a replacement at the end of the 2017 wedding season. Despite loving these cameras I was hoping the rumours of a new silent mirrorless Nikon system were true. As a documentary wedding photographer, the capability of shooting in complete silence was a big thing for me, not just for the ceremonies where clicks can be frowned upon by officials, but also during bridal prep and the speeches where silence is golden. Sadly, the rumours surrounding a pro-grade mirrorless Nikon system started to fade over the summer months, whilst the positive feedback surrounding the new Sony A9 continued to grow apace! Review after review after review kept lauding Sony’s new camera.
The geek within me got a little jittery so I headed over to Clifton Cameras to see what all the hype was about. I picked up the A9 mounted with the Sony 35mm 1.4 and started whizzing it around the shop; that was it, I was blown away! I mean, I was really gob smacked! The autofocusing system was just insane. The shutter really was completely silent. The Eye-Autofocus was scarily accurate. The sharpness of the eye in the resulting images was fantastic. The 20 frames per second capture rate was just ridiculous (with no screen blackout). The huge buffer was in a different league to the cameras I’d used previously. The white balance seemed to nail the light conditions perfectly. All in such a small package. It’s the first time I’ve picked up a camera and actually got excited at the thought of using its technology in a real world wedding environment.
That was it, I was hooked. I returned home and immediately placed an order for two Sony A9’s, the Sony 35mm 1.4 Distagon, the 85mm 1.8 Zeiss Batis, the 135mm 2.8 Zeiss Batis and shortly afterwards the 18mm 2.8 Zeiss Batis. I also picked up a couple of Godox TT685S flashguns! Now it was time to put this kit to the test!
Luckily, Santa Claus (in the guise of a DPD driver) arrived just in time for the Lakefest music festival that I was scheduled to photograph. A perfect opportunity to test the oodles of configuration settings, focussing options and the overall performance of the camera/lenses away from the pressure of a wedding.
Within the first handful of shots I was utterly blown away with the accuracy of the focussing. Some of the musicians were jumping around the stage in really poor lighting conditions but the focus locked on and happily tracked their movement (I used Lock On Flexible Spot M to start with). I then tried the Eye-Autofocus; again it perfectly tracked the musicians as they moved around the stage.
The performance of the camera is one thing, the quality of the output is another. If the RAW files that the A9 produces are cruddy in post processing then all that tech becomes a bit pointless. Well, for me, I was once again blown away by the images. The sharpness, the colours, the contrast, the bokeh, the dynamic range…everything looked awesome! Noise management was fantastic, I was letting the ISO ride up to 12,800 in Auto ISO mode if it needed to. Even shots at this level were looking great when I zoomed in.
The festival also staged a BMX competition that provided me with the perfect opportunity to test the focus tracking, high speed shutter and buffer. I literally took hundred of test shots! I really wouldn’t want to bore you with all of them, but here’s a short sequence of images as the A9 tracks the rider spinning through the air and landing successfully. Sadly you can’t see it in this thumbnail collection, but the I guarantee that the rider is pin sharp in each of these images!
After three days of shooting at the festival I knew what my best configurations would be to photograph a wedding. However, when I actually started documenting the weddings, particularly bridal prep, I realised the technology could really help me maintain an even more unobtrusive approach. Take this test shot of Abi for example; I literally walked past her with the camera at hip height, I pressed the Eye-AF button and fired a few shots. I didn’t look at the screen or viewfinder until I was on the other side of the room and yet the camera absolutely nailed the focus on Abi’s eye!
Staying on the subject of Eye-AF, the functionality within the A9 allows you to put the human emphasis on composition and let the technology worry about the focussing. For example, in the test image below I framed Marc between two guests and asked the camera to focus on the eye. It did it, even though he’s turning to one side! I didn’t have to focus and recompose or move a focus point around with the directional buttons.
The same applies to Laura’s shot below. As always, the initial starting point of focus is in the centre of the frame, but by clicking the Eye-AF button it immediately (and automatically) shifts to find her eye hidden in the hairstylist’s bent arm! No need to focus and recompose! Crazy!
Switching to a completely new system also required the need to invest in new glass to compliment the camera (kerching!). Believe me, a LOT of research went into finding the lenses that would best suit the way I shoot. I wanted to return to a completely prime set up and after much deliberation I opted for the 18, 35, 85 and 135 focal lengths. I love the Zeiss Batis line up; beautiful colours, a lovely subtle contrast, not even a hint of chromatic aberration even when wide open and they’re incredibly quick to latch on to (and track) subjects. The lens/camera combinations are so light too; my D750 with the Sigma ART 85 was 1,885 grammes compared to 1,125 grammes for the Sony/Zeiss equivalent! You definitely appreciate that after shooting a 12 hour wedding!
There are some things that I miss from previous cameras. There’s no way of knowing what your current exposure settings are without looking at the back of the screen. With the D750 you could simply look at the top LCD or with other compact cameras you can look at the dials. Whilst I’ve not actually missed a shot, there’s a slight delay when the camera wakes up from sleeping (less than a second, but it’s noticeable). Reports of the terrible battery life on the mirrorless cameras were a worry but the Sony appear to have resolved the power issues with the A9 and although I can get through an entire wedding with only one battery change I do miss being able to shoot a whole gig without being conscious of the little percentage value in the top right had corner of the screen!
So what do I think of the Sony A9 after one month? Awesome. Absolutely awesome. Although targetted at sports photographers, the flagship Sony feels like the ultimate wedding camera. The weight, the size, the focussing accuracy, the dynamic range (in the shadows AND highlights), the ergonomics, the white balance calculation (especially when dealing with nasty tungsten lighting), the huge buffer (for aisle walks, confetti showers, bouquet toss, etc), the crazy 20fps if you were to ever need it, the perfect number of megapixels (and the resulting file size) all make this camera an absolute bloody dream to use! For me, it’s actually left me feeling really annoyed and downright disappointed that my beloved Nikon developers haven’t come anywhere near to producing a camera as technologically advanced as the A9.
Finally, Oli seems to like having his photo taken with the A9, so that’s the biggest thumbs up it can get!
Sony A9 Wedding – This was a review by Rob Tarren.