I had a cool assignment this week, to return to my boyhood home and do a little instruction on how to shoot beach volleyball on the Lakefront on Chicago's "Near North" side. A group of Sony trainers and myself welcomed about 130 Sony employees from various parts of the company to become better acquainted with the new Sony α9 camera body and 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. They came to the beach 16 at a time over a three-day period, took their shoes off, to use the gear to photograph players in action. The light out there was fantastic, the people nice, the lake water temp. cool, and the sand flew.
The thing that I can't get over, even after shooting literally a hundred thousand exposures on the α9 since January, is the speed of the thing.
Sony α9. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. 1/8,000-sec., f/2.8, 400 ISO.
To my mind there are five distinct ways the α9 is uber-fast:
1. AF Acquire Attack
While this is not in the Sony nomenclature, the α9 hits hard when you activate the back button AF-ON button. It is instantly on the subject and tracking like a &*%$ (you fill in the blank). The high-end pro cameras from Canikon are great at this feature, except for the mirror which stands in the way before each exposure. The only way the 1DXII and D5 could compete with the α9 is with their mirrors locked up, but of course, then they'd be totally blind.
Sony α9. Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master lens. 1/12,800-sec., f/2.8, 400 ISO
2. AF Tracking Sensitivity
Sony now joins Canikon by having this feature in both the Sony α99 II as well as the new α9. This allows you to control the stickiness of the AF. You can choose from five different levels of sensitivity with the extremes of never letting go of a moving target (#1 locked on), to allowing the camera to be 100% instantaneous in grabbing the next subject. I'm a big fan of the latter and not the former so my α9 stays set to #5 (most responsive) except for very rare conditions.
3. AF Tracking Speed & Accuracy
Especially when paired with the 70-200mm f/2.8 G Master or 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master, the α9 covers the subject in the viewfinder like a great NBA defensive player—all over it. Why these two lenses in particular? They each are unique in that they have two AF motors inside. Sony hasn’t done a great job touting this fact, but there is a big and powerful AF motor to move the front elements of glass in addition to a smaller motor in the rear of the lens to move the rear elements of glass as well. By moving two different groups of elements independent of each other, the G Master tele-zooms achieve scary speed that remains silky smooth even in the heat of great action as it unfolds in the α9's powerful EVF.
4. Shutter Lag Time
At a mere 30 milliseconds, the α9 can "hit" faster than any camera I've ever experienced, and it does so without making any vibration (as there is no moving mirror or moving shutter under these conditions). Even people with no experience shooting sports can achieve peak moments of action in their first time out with the α9, so much so, it would make most experienced sports shooters jealous. But when you put the A9 in the hands of a real experienced shooter of action, it's an amazing thing to feel as you just become "Bob the Nailer" as you move through your games.
5. 20 Frames Per Second
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the α9 handles 20 frames per second like a Cummins Diesel rolling down the interstate... at idle. The camera just keeps going like a champ, as long as you use the spec'd out super-fast Sony G cards designed to handle the firehose of information flowing off the stacked sensor deep within the beast. The frame rate is crazy cool, with the tradeoff being you have to edit the stuff after your shoot. All in all, the α9 is, simply put, a bad little machine. It’s ready for just about any sport you could throw at it, and with the new G Master 100-400mm lens finally shipping, it should be a fun football season for me this Fall. I can't wait!!!