Sony a9 II

Sony a9 II review

The Alpha 9 II is Sony's 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 artifacts, the older model could only muster 5 fps which is a bit uninspiring on a camera meant to specialize 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.

Key specifications:

  • 24MP full-frame stacked sensor with 93% autofocus coverage across the frame
  • 20 fps continuous shooting with full AF (electronic shutter)
  • New mechanical shutter rated to 500k shots, allows for 10 fps shooting with full AF
  • 5.5-stop (CIPA rated) 5-axis image stabilization
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots
  • 3.69M-dot OLED viewfinder (1280 x 960 pixels) with up to 120 fps update
  • 1.44M-dot rear touchscreen LCD
  • Oversampled full width UHD 4K/24p video (1.24x crop for 30p); no Log option
  • Gigabit ethernet, 5GHz Wi-Fi, 10 banks of FTP / camera settings
  • Support for voice memos
  • Battery CIPA rated to 690 shots
  • 678g (24oz)


What we like

What we don't

  • Excellent 24MP sensor with great noise performance for its class
  • Truly impressive autofocus for all types of photography
  • 20 fps blackout-free bursts with e-shutter, 10 fps bursts with redesigned mech. shutter
  • Mech. shutter rated to 500k shots
  • JPEG engine balances noise and detail exceptionally well
  • Enhanced ergonomics with better dial and button feel
  • Good 4K detail capture
  • Great battery life
  • Dual UHS-II card slots
  • Good customization options, including a 'My Menu'
  • Faster Wi-Fi, more robust FTP settings
  • USB type-C connection for file transfer, charging and powering the camera
  • Voice memo capability
  • Video features and performance have fallen behind the competition
  • Rear screen needs a bump in resolution
  • Touch interface is lacking
  • Menu system remains overwhelming
  • Slight interface lag persists
  • Exposure settings carry over from stills to video and back
  • Some buttons (C1 and C2) are difficult to reach, awkward to use
  • No in-camera Raw processing

When the original Sony a9 debuted three years ago, it changed our conception of what mirrorless cameras were capable of. With a full-frame sensor that could read out so fast that you could shoot blackout-free bursts at 20 fps with autofocus and shoot super-detailed 4K video, well, that was all a really big deal.

Today, the Alpha 9 Mark II finds itself released into a different full-frame landscape. With core capabilities that aren't all that different from its predecessor, the a9 II just didn't land with a huge splash at launch. While that's somewhat understandable in a market where big spec bumps drive clicks and sales, it's also a bit of a shame because the a9 Mark II is a fantastic camera to shoot with.

It really doesn't matter what you shoot: From well-lit portraits to marginally lit rugby matches, the a9 II's autofocus system is nearly faultless, and you hardly have to fuss with the settings beyond initial setup. A revised mechanical shutter that can fire at 10 fps (instead of 5 fps) gives photographers a viable respite from possible electronic-shutter banding from shooting under some types of artificial light. JPEG image quality continues to impress, especially at high ISO values, and Raw noise levels are improved. Combine all this with faster wireless and wired transfer speeds and you have a package that will grant working pros and enthusiasts even greater odds of 'getting the shot,' even if it doesn't set the world on fire for the greater gear-focused public.

From well-lit portraits to marginally lit rugby matches, the a9 II's autofocus is nearly faultless

The a9 II is, of course, not for everyone. Extreme speed has its costs, and in this case, Raw files from the a7 III are more flexible, and the a7R IV will get you more resolution. Both of these cameras are also less costly. The continued lack of any sort of picture profiles for log video capture is a head-scratcher, since even Sony's RX100-series compacts include them. The rear screen and its touch interface are pretty underwhelming, and we really wish the camera would just remember your exposure settings for stills and video separately so you don't need to set up custom memory banks if you're a hybrid shooter.

n the right hands though, the Sony a9 Mark II is a remarkably capable camera. Because of its more high-end video limitations, it may not be every hybrid stills-and-video shooter's dream, though it may just fit the bill for users looking for ready-to-publish clips of what's happening in front of them. In any case, if you lean more towards stills than video, the a9 II simply gives you the best autofocus experience, whether on the rear screen or in the viewfinder, that you can find on the market today.



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