Sony has announced two major firmware updates for the a9 alongside updates for the a7R III and a7 III. The a9 updates add a range of features, including improved tracking in both stills and video, as well as extending Eye AF to animals, something Sony teased at Photokina back in September. The a7R III and a7 III will also gain the improved Eye-AF and animal Eye AF, as well as time-lapse capabilities.

The a9 firmware will be coming in two waves: version 5.0 will be available in March while version 6.0 is slated for 'summer.' Firmware version 3.0 for the a7 III and a7R III will arrive in April.

Sony a9 improvements

The nitty gritty of the the a9 updates center on autofocus and usability improvements. Interestingly, there's no mention of adding Log capability to the a9's video, which is a shame, given it has such fast readout and minimal rolling shutter.

Firmware version 5.0 will bring about a new 'Real-time Tracking mode,' which uses Sony's latest subject recognition algorithm.

The updated 'Real-time Tracking' mode adds consideration of eye detection and pattern recognition to the color, distance and and face detection that was previously being used.

The tracking mode lets you specify a subject and it'll prioritize their eye, switching to face detection if it loses the eye and treating them as a generic subject to track if they, for instance, turn their head away from the camera. This is likely to be especially useful in video mode, whether previous iterations of face detection could jump to a different face if your intended subject turned away.

Real-time Eye-AF

A real-time Eye AF mode, which will come to the a9, a7 III and a7R III, lets you focus on eyes without pressing a second button and lets you specify in advance which eye (left, right or closest) you want the camera to focus on. But more importantly, on the a9 and a6400, 'real-time tracking' will seamlessly transition between Eye AF, Face Detect, and general subject tracking to ensure focus remains on the subject you intended, no matter how different it looks to the camera as it moves around. That means that whether or not your subject faces the camera or not, the camera will always focus on it, and immediately switch to Eye AF as necessary if your subject looks back at the camera. This benefits many types of photography, from candid portraiture to wedding/events to toddler photography, sports, and more. Have a look at this sequence below where the camera keeps our model in focus whether or not she's looking at the camera:

Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo
The tracking mode lets you specify a subject and it'll prioritize their eye, switching to face detection if it loses the eye and treating them as a generic subject to track if they, for instance, turn their head away from the camera. Click on the images and follow the entire sequence to see how the camera focuses on the subject no matter where she walks to in the frame.

Animal Eye AF

The Eye AF feature has been expanded to be able to recognize animals' eyes, which Sony says will help both wildlife shooters and photographers taking images of their own pets. Knowing that the camera will focus on eyes means the photographer can concentrate on composition, rather than focus.

Sony says both this mode and the subject recognition aspect of full-time tracking are based on 'AI,' which we're taking to mean they're based on machine learning (training an algorithm to recognize a subject by showing it lots of images). The company branded the capability 'Speed x AI.'

You'll have to wait until firmware version 6.0 for the animal Eye AF mode, on the a9, though

The full list of changes to the a9's firmware

As well as the AF improvements, the two a9 firmware updates promise more than 20 updates. These include the addition of a screen allowing you to see which buttons are mapped to offer which function.

Press Release

Sony Announces α9 Camera Upgrade Through Major Firmware Updates

New Firmware Releases will Deliver Enhanced Autofocus Performance and New Functionality for Sony’s Acclaimed Full-frame Camera

SAN DIEGO — Jan. 15, 2019 — Sony Electronics Inc. today announced a major upgrade to its α9 mirrorless camera that will be available via a firmware updates.

Sony’s revolutionary α9 camera will receive several major enhancements to its award-winning autofocus (AF) performance and image quality, as well as receive a variety of new features that are designed to improve the overall workflow for professional photographers. In addition, new firmware updates for α7R III and α7 III will be available that update these cameras with the latest enhancements including Real-time Eye AF performance and add interval recording capacities.

“These new firmware upgrades demonstrate the strong commitment that Sony has to our customers,” said Neal Manowitz, vice president of Imaging Solutions at Sony Electronics. “Their voice is critical to everything we do, and being able to provide our customers with new capabilities is a source of great pride for Sony.”

Firmware Ver. 5.0 and Ver. 6.0 for α9

The upcoming firmware version 5.0 for α9 adds Sony’s newly developed Real-time Tracking mode for object tracking. This mode utilizes Sony’s latest algorithm—including Artificial Intelligence-based object recognition—and processes color, subject distance (depth), pattern (brightness) as well as spatial (distance) information to ensure that all subjects can be captured with extreme accuracy and precision. When photographing or videographing humans or animals, face and eye position information is recognized by AI and the subject’s eye is monitored in real time with extremely high tracking precision. In addition, “Tracking On” helps initiate real-time tracking at any time by simply pressing a custom-assigned button and “Touch Tracking,” which quickly activates through the touch screenii.

With this new firmware version 5.0, Sony’s acclaimed α9 camera will receive advanced “Real-time Eye AF,” the latest version of Sony’s acclaimed Eye AF technology. This exciting new capability employs AI-based object recognition to detect and process eye location data in real time, resulting in improved accuracy, speed and tracking performance of Eye AF. In all autofocus modes, the camera can automatically detect the eyes of the subject and activate Eye AF with a half press of the shutter button, and the camera will seamlessly track the eyes at all times when in AF-C mode. The new firmware will also enable photographers to select the preferred eye (left or right) of their subject as the focus point.

Other focusing capabilities that will be available with the new firmware include Touch Pad, Touch Tracking, an extended phase-detection AF aperture range that has been increased from F11 to F16, and Fast Hybrid AF for movie shooting that provides smooth, automated focusing for movies.

Image quality will also be enhanced with the new α9 firmware version 5.0, specifically in the areas of color reproduction. The camera will more accurately account for subtle changes in light for smoother, more natural tonal gradations in elements like the sky. There is a new auto white balance algorithm that gets added as well, which produces more consistently balanced images while burst shooting. Other new functions for efficient controls and data management include My Dial and Dual Slot media menu improvement, rating and protect functions.

In addition to the several new capabilities, the firmware also adds compatibility with Sony’s new Imaging Edge Mobile application - the successor to the PlayMemories Mobile™ application. The new Imaging Edge Mobile application features a ‘Transfer & Tagging add-on’ function to assist professional workflow. This allows photographers to transfer images from their camera to their smartphone during capture using the FTP transfer functionality,and adds support for including IPTC metadata on transferred images.

Version 6.0 firmware for the α9 camera will add Eye AF for animal eyesi, an exciting new feature for wildlife photographers that will enable interval shooting functionality for creating time-lapse movies.

The new system firmware update version 5.0 is scheduled for launch in March 2019, and version 6.0 is scheduled for Summer 2019.

Firmware Ver. 3.0 for α7R III and α7 III

Sony’s popular α7R III and α7 III full-frame cameras will both receive enhanced Real-time Eye AF performance with the upcoming firmware version 3.0. This will be available in AF-C mode with a simple half-press of the shutter button. Real-Time Eye AF for animals will also be available.

The cameras will also receive interval recording functionality that will allow for simple creation of time-lapse moviesvii. The new feature can be set for anywhere between 1 and 60 seconds, with a total number of shots from 1 to 9999. AE tracking sensitivity can also be adjusted to “High”, “Mid” or “Low” during interval recording, allowing for reduced changes in exposure over the shooting interval.

The new system firmware update version 3.0 is scheduled in April 2019.

A variety of exclusive stories and exciting new content related to all of Sony’s exciting announcements can be found at www.alphauniverse.com, a site built to educate and inspire all fans and customers of the Sony α brand. The new content will also be posted directly at the Sony Photo Gallery and the Sony Camera Channel on YouTube.

1. Accurate focus may not be achieved with certain subjects in certain situations
2. Function must be set via the menu beforehand
3. A successor application of PlayMemories Mobile. Existing PlayMemories Mobile users can use this by updating PlayMemories Mobile
4. Add-on mobile application for ‘Imaging Edge Mobile’. Available countries: US/Canada/UK/France/Germany/Hong Kong/China/Australia/Japan. User registration is required to use this application. Compatible with ILCE-9 with firmware update Ver.5.0 or later, ILCE-7RM3, ILCE-7M3
5. Compatible with ILCE-9 with firmware update Ver.5.0 or later
6. IPTC metadata for digital image metadata is a standard created by the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council)
7. The latest version of “Imaging Edge” ‘Viewer’ and PlayMemories Home desktop applications is required