Sony a9 'real-time tracking' update makes it the highest scoring camera in its class
We were already impressed with the Sony a9 when we reviewed it, giving it a score that put it on par with its two very capable rivals, the Nikon D5 and the Canon EOS-1DX II. In April this year, nearly two years after the camera's launch, Sony introduced a significant firmware update that largely revamped the autofocus system of the camera, adding a new 'real-time tracking' AF mode that works seamlessly with face and eye detection. Sony also updated face and eye detection algorithms by using machine learning to understand human subjects and features more accurately.
We've spent some time shooting with the updated a9 in a variety of situations, and have previously written and in-depth look into what the new AF system brings. After further testing, we've re-scored the a9 with the boosted autofocus in mind, and it brings the score up to 90% (from 89%). This makes the a9 the highest-scoring camera in its class, out-ranking the Nikon D5 and Canon EOS-1D X II.
The increased score reflects the precision of the updated a9's subject tracking system, as well as its ease-of-use that makes it valuable for nearly all types of photography. Click 'Read our review' above to jump to our full review (originally published in 2017), and read on for a description of the new real-time tracking mode, with some examples and videos of the system in use.
Real-time tracking in use
'Real-time tracking' refers to the ability of the a9 (and a6400) to understand the subject you initiated focus on, and track it in three dimensions, much like 3D Tracking on Nikon DSLRs, and the respective subject tracking modes on various mirrorless cameras. What sets the a9's system apart are both its performance (we found it to reliable enough to be useful for portrait, event, candid, sports and even landscape photography), and its ease-of-use.
To pick a target, you can simply reframe your composition to place your AF point over your subject, half-press the shutter, and real-time tracking will collect color, brightness, pattern, distance, face and eye information about your subject so it can use it to keep track of your subject.
It's robust enough that it will even, again reliably, switch in and out of Eye AF as necessary if a face or eye is detected on the subject you are tracking, as you can see in the video above.* Collectively, this means you can concentrate on the composition and the moment. There is no longer a need to focus (pun intended) on keeping your AF point over your subject, which for years has constrained composition and made it difficult to maintain focus on erratic subjects.
In practice, the system excels. While many professional sports photographers that know their sport, and can anticipate the action, have successfully used Single Point or Zone AF for years, real-time tracking can help both the amateur and the pro achieve potentially better results. First, it frees up the photographer to compose freely, as composition is no longer constrained by having to keep an AF point over the subject. But perhaps more importantly, not having to keep a fixed AF point or zone over a fast moving subject is a boon when it comes to fast, erratic subjects shot using long telephoto lenses, where framing is increasingly difficult. The sequences below were shot with the 600mm F4 GM lens at a soccer match (click on any thumbnail to launch the gallery):
And below, despite erratic motion, changing directions, and nearby similarly-dressed players, the camera tracks the original player in both instances. In the first sequence we targeted the player in red (Everton); in the second, the player in silver (Ivan). Only one or two shots in the sequence are slightly misfocused.
If you'd like to take a look at another sports sequence, click here to jump to our footnote. Away from sports and burst photography, we found the performance of Sony's 'real-time tracking' to be beneficial for even more stationary subjects, as it frees you up to try different poses and framings quickly, as we've done below.
*This video demonstrates 'real-time tracking' on the a6400, but the principle is the same on the a9.
** Another sequence of images showing the a9's real-time tracking mode following a player (Besler, in red) despite numerous distractions (click any thumbnail to launch the gallery):
Canon's mirrorless EOS R5 comes with a ton of features and capability stemming from its design inside and out. Come along with us on a guided tour of Canon's new high-end, high-megapixel camera and check it out for yourself.
Announced alongside the EOS R5, the R6 offers a lot of the same technology but in a more affordable, slightly more enthusiast-focused model. Take a closer look.
Alongside the EOS R5 and R6, Canon has announced a brace of lenses, all in the short to long telephoto range. Filling out the 'long' end are one L-series zoom, and two innovative primes.
Alongside a trio of telephoto lenses, Canon also announced a new 85mm this week. The RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is a compact, affordable alternative to the pro-oriented 85mm F1.2L.
The EOS R5 has been a long time coming – we knew it had 8K and we knew it had an AF joystick. But now that's it's here, what is it really like to use? Find out in our initial review based on hands-on time with the camera.
The R6 doesn't promise quite such headline-grabbing specs as its big brother, but it still packs a punch, whether you shoot stills, video or both.
Think you've read everything there is to know about the new Canon cameras? Chris and Jordan share eight important things you may have missed from today's Canon EOS R5 and R6 announcements.
We've been shooting around with the new Canon EOS R6. Initial impressions of image quality are positive, and out-of-camera JPEGs appear similar to that of the gold award-winning Canon EOS-1D X III. Have a look for yourself.
Canon has officially released the long-awaited EOS R5, the company's top-end full-frame mirrorless camera. Featuring a new 45MP CMOS sensor, Dual Pixel AF II system, 8K video capture and 20 fps bursts, this is the RF-mount camera we've been waiting for.
Although the Canon EOS R6 doesn't have the 45MP sensor and 8K video capture of the higher-end R5, it's still an incredibly capable camera with specs that outshine similarly priced peers.
The Canon RF 100-500mm F4.5-7.1L IS USM is the company's first super-zoom lens for RF-mount. Despite a relatively slow aperture range, it's very versatile, offering five stops of stabilization, weather-sealing and compatibility with Canon's new teleconverters.
Canon's RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is an inexpensive telephoto prime lens with a minimum focus distance of just 0.35m (14") and a 0.5x magnification. When attached to the new R5 and R6, it offers a whopping eight stops of shake reduction.
Canon has announced a pair of super-telephoto fixed-aperture primes. The 600mm and 800mm use diffractive optics to keep their size and weight down. They'll also be compatible with new 1.4x and 2x RF teleconverters.
Canon has announced a new small-footprint inkjet photo printer, the imageProGraf Pro-300. it will produce prints up to 13 x 19" and it goes on sale later this month for $900. A new textured photo paper will also arrive in July.
The new compression standard is set to reduce video file sizes by half to save space and speed-up transmission, paving the way for more portable 8K footage.
Sony recently confirmed plans to launch a successor to the video-centric a7S II. We don't even know the name of the camera, but Jordan already has a feature wish list for the new 'a7S III' – and it doesn't include 8K.
The Profot B10 is the first studio flash system that can be used when shooting with an iPhone camera.
The Pixii camera is an interesting little rangefinder camera that features a 12MP APS-C sensor and lacks a rear LCD display, opting instead to pair with your mobile device, which can be used to view and transfer images.
Sirui is launching an Indiegogo campaign for a wide-angle answer to its existing 50mm F1.8 anamorphic lens. The 35mm APS-C lens will come in a Micro Four Thirds mount with adapters for other systems.
Sony has added a 12-24mm F2.8 to its top-shelf 'G Master' series of lenses. It's the widest constant F2.8 zoom currently offered for full-frame, with a hefty price tag to match: it will sell for $3000 when it ships in mid-August.
Take a look at the view from Sony's new ultra-wide F2.8 zoom – we paired it with the a7R IV for some initial shooting.
Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III is one of the best DSLRs ever made. With fast burst speeds, great video quality and impressive autofocus, the 1D X III is equal parts cinema rig and sports shooter. Find out how it fares against steep competition in our full review.
Nikon Rumors is reporting that Nikon will announce successors to its Z6 and Z7 camera systems by the end of the calendar year.
Canon says the event, set to take place at 14:00 CEST in two days on July 9, will be its 'biggest product launch yet.'
The Verge Video Director, Becca Farsace, shows how she built a custom Raspberry Pi camera with effectively zero coding knowledge over the course of just three days.
The EOS R5 has been in the works for some time, and Canon has published a handful of specifications, but there's still plenty we don't know. What are you hoping to see from Canon's forthcoming flagship camera?
Canon's CE-SAT-IB satellite camera was destroyed alongside six other satellites during Rocket Lab's ironically-named 'Pics or It Didn't Happen Mission.'
This sample gallery includes images from our recent review of the Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD zoom lens. Check out these photos to see how it performs, from wide-angle to telephoto and everything in between.
The Tamron 28-200mm F2.8-5.6 Di III RXD provides a wide zoom range in compact, weather-sealed design. Find out why it's Chris and Jordan's new favorite travel lens.
Kodak Portra 800 is a wonderful and versatile color film. And any rumors of it being discontinued, we're pleased to report, are simply untrue. That's a good thing, because it's capable of producing lovely results in all sorts of conditions.