UPDATED: Sony a9 offers powerful pro-level customization
Sony has certainly rippled some tides with the announcement of its a9, which we got our hands-on recently at a launch event in New York. We've been thoroughly analyzing its capability, which you can follow in our updated First Impression Review, and if you're an a7R II owner, check out our comparison slideshow here.
Perhaps at least as important as its technical capabilities is that the a9 comes with some serious ergonomic improvements. These features (which we've been asking for, for a long time) could change everything for fast-paced shooters.
We can all agree direct access to certain camera features is a huge plus, as opposed to menu-diving. And that's exactly what Sony has given us. Instant camera overrides at the press of a button. With one simple button press you can switch the camera from Aperture Priority with 1/125s minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO to Shutter Priority with 1/2000s shutter speed to freeze the action. This can allow you to instantly switch from panning shots to 'freezing the motion' shots - with one button press.
Sports/action shooters should take note, but I'm particularly excited because the ability to assign different autofocus area modes plus autofocus activation (among other options) to different custom buttons, just like you can on a Nikon D5 (and to a limited degree on a Canon 1D X II), has changed the way I personally shoot.
I can instantly adapt to changing scenarios, much like with the Nikon D5 here, with a simple button press - potentially rescuing shots I'd have otherwise missed diving into settings to change AF modes. Watch our video below to see the implementation on the a9:
On the a9, what allows one to quickly activate any AF mode is not just Sony's dedicated function to do so (called 'Registered AF func.' - which only recalls one AF area mode) but, instead, 'Recall Custom hold'. This function instantly overrides a number of camera settings, including: Shoot Mode, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Drive Mode, Exposure Comp., ISO, Metering Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, and AF On (whether or not to engage AF). Choose to override or leave alone any particular parameter by checking or unchecking the box to its left (see video thumbnail above; refresh the page if you've already played the video). This is similar to Canon's 'Register/recall shooting func', but with the added benefit of 3, as opposed to Canon's 1, banks.
That means that on Canon DSLRs, you can only ever recall one set of overrides (even if you assign this function to multiple buttons, they all do the same thing). Nikon only allows certain settings to be overridden - like AF area and metering mode - but at least allows any number of buttons to be assigned arbitrarily to any AF/metering mode.
So what Sony allows via 'Recall Custom hold' is a sort of best-of-both-worlds: marrying Canon's flexibility to override multiple settings with Nikon's ability to assign any button to a number of AF/metering options, not just one particular bank. Canon's custom controls are so complex and inflexible that you can only assign a button to change and activate an AF mode via 'Metering and AF start' or 'Recall shooting func', which are themselves only available to two buttons: AF-ON and AEL. And That's it. Read more about it in our 5D IV review, which covers all this in detail.
The Sony a9, on the other hand, simply affords you 3 banks to allow to quickly switch between 3 different commonly accessed operating modes with utmost ease. Kudos, Sony: you've one-upped Canon and Nikon - in an ergonomic regard no less.
This is a powerful feature that allows me, for example, to instantaneously switch between subject tracking AF, complete auto AF when the former fails, Eye AF for portraits, or good old center-focus-and-recompose when everything intelligent fails. All with one button press. That can be the difference between nailing the shot, and missing it.
But that's not all that's different about the a9. Memory Recall functions have been extended to be far more like (yet just short of) the industry-leading Custom modes Canon, Panasonic and Olympus allow - instantly changing most/all camera settings with one switch of the mode dial.
Memory Recall now remembers far more features than in previous Sony cameras. Ideally, it'd remember all of them - including button customizations - so as to recall the state of a camera precisely and immediately (as with C modes on certain other brands). This would deal with the simple fact that the set of features one may wish button (or Fn menu) access to in video are typically different those in stills. So, while Memory Recall still isn't entirely comprehensive, the extended set of settings remembered is welcome and significant.
Below we outline the settings Memory Recall modes save on the a7R II, followed by the additional settings remembered with the a9:
|Memory Recall bank options on a7R II|
|Additional options on the a9|
During our shooting event in NYC Carey assigned 1 to Stills (M with Auto ISO, 1/1000s, wide open), 2 to 4K/24p at 1/50s, and 3 to 120 fps S&Q slowed down 5x to 24p with 1/250s shutter speed. This allowed him to quickly switch between stills, 4K, and slow-motion shooting with a quick turn of the mode dial (which remembers 3 banks). This was very helpful during the stressful shooting scenario with multiple sporting events occurring simultaneously.
We hope that in Sony's next iteration, the camera will also remember button customizations.
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