A lot of things are set to happen in 2020. It's a presidential election year here in the US (actually it's a presidential election year in lots of countries), Japan is hoping to establish a moon base*, and the UK will definitely, very likely, maybe have left the EU by the time Jan 1 rolls around. My money is on the moon base being ready long before the current British government gets its act together but we'll see.

In addition to the aforementioned lunar exploits, Japan is also gearing up for the 2020 Olympic Games, to be held next year in late summer, here on Earth. We've yet to find out which countries will go home with the most gold medals (although knowing how hot Japan gets in late July I don't fancy Team GB's chances) but we do know that every jump that is jumped, every leap that is leapt, every shot that is put (putted?) and every hamstring that is torn will be captured by banks of television and stills cameras.

For this reason, Olympic years are big years for the camera industry. Traditionally, Canon and Nikon maintain a huge presence at these kinds of events, complete with large support staff, professional service centers, and stockrooms chock-full of cameras and lenses ready to be put into action by professional photographers from all over the world. Typically, we also see both companies announcing major new professional cameras either early in an Olympic year, or late the year before. Beijing 2008 saw photographers shooting with the Nikon D3 and Canon EOS-1D III, at London 2012 it was the then-new D4 and the EOS-1D X, and so on.

When the a9 was released about two and a half years ago, it was clear that Sony had its sights set on professional users

Sony is still learning how to be a 'pro' stills camera brand, but the company is moving extremely quickly. Sony has invested a lot in recent years in professional support, and these days has a large Pro Service presence at many major sporting events. When the a9 was released about two and a half years ago, it was clear that Sony had its sights set on professional users, and the expansion of professional support since then (as well as the release of some seriously impressive telephoto lenses) is further evidence that its leadership is very serious indeed about joining Canon and Nikon on the sidelines.

The new a9 II is, in effect, Sony's 2020 Olympic camera. Announced fairly quietly today, without the usual Sony fanfare, the a9 II is a camera that the average DPReview reader will probably neither need nor buy. And Sony knows it. The upgrades compared to the a9 (which will continue in the lineup) are, for the most part, targeted at a small segment of the professional photographer user base. And even more specifically, towards photographers that shoot major sporting events.

A ten times increase in data transfer speed over LAN, the addition of 5GHz wireless connectivity, and the option to wirelessly send files from the camera when it's turned off are valuable features for those times when you're running around trying to send huge numbers of files to a remote editing station, but very few people ever need to actually do that. Likewise the ability to save up to ten sets of FTP settings to an SD card, or add 60-second voice memos to photographs, which can then be converted to text and appended automatically to EXIF using an app. Very cool, but not essential for most use-cases.

As an everyday machine for taking photographs, the a9 II is almost - but not quite - identical to the a9. Inside you'll find the same 24MP full-frame sensor, the same autofocus system, albeit improved, the same 3.7 million-dot OLED viewfinder and broadly the same core feature set.

There are a few useful refinements though, some of which are courtesy of the new Bionz X processor: autofocus speed and precision have been improved, likewise face detection, and EVF responsiveness. A new mechanical shutter with a rated lifespan of 500,000 cycles brings faster mechanical shutter shooting (now up to 10fps), and the a9 II benefits from the ergonomic tweaks and improved weather-sealing introduced in the a7R IV. Image stabilization performance has also been slightly increased, from 5EV in the a9 to 5.5EV, and battery life has increased by around 6% (CIPA).

The a9 II's video feature set is virtually unchanged over the a9, and shares its limitations (for some reason there's still no Log option), but Sony has added real-time tracking.

Thanks to a series of firmware updates, the a9 is as competitive now as it ever was

You know what I think, but what's your opinion? Should you buy one? After all, even if you're just an amateur sports photographer, the increase in continuous shooting rate in mechanical shutter mode might make a big difference (specifically if the venue/s you shoot in use LED lighting or advertising panels) and the beefed-up weather-sealing could be essential for some situations.

For most people reading this article though, I suspect that the additions in the a9 II will prove to be of little or no interest compared to the original a9 which has been on the market for more than two years. Thanks to a series of firmware updates, the a9 is as competitive now as it ever was, and with the a9 II now at the top of the lineup, the older model is likely to get more affordable over the next few months.

Meanwhile, Sony can get the a9 II into the hands of the people that really need it - the pro sports shooters gearing up for next summer's major sporting events. On the moon, or wherever.


* Yes, I know the cited article is from almost a decade ago, and since then the target date for Japan's lunar base has been pushed back by at least a few years, but I'll level with you - I was looking for a quick way to set up a cheap Brexit gag.