Image quality impressions

Out-of-camera JPEG, cropped to taste.
Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM | ISO 2500 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8
Photo by Carey Rose

When we got back from Sony's press event in New York, we didn't yet have Raw support for the a9. In the meantime, though, we had literally thousands of out-of-camera JPEGs that we can use to make some preliminary image quality assessments - for the full picture, hop over to our studio scene analysis.

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No real surprises; the files from the Sony a9 look to be, on the whole, very good, as is the autofocus performance, even when shooting at the full 20 fps burst speed. Note though that continuous e-shutter shooting (anything above 5 fps) does drop the camera into 12-bit mode. Further details regarding how this will impact your images are on our Raw Dynamic Range page.

Real-world, high ISO shooting

Sony's claimed to have done some tweaking to their noise reduction algorithm, to better retain detail at higher ISO values while still keeping noise in check. That's a good thing, as the a9 is likely to be shot quite often at very high shutter speeds, and therefore, higher ISO values.

Slightly processed out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS | ISO 12800 | 1/1000 sec | F5.6
Photo by Rishi Sanyal

The above image is a good example of how effective the a9's noise reduction is. Because of the relatively slow maximum aperture of Sony's new FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 G Master lens, and because this runner was moving very quickly and we had been sticking to 1/1000 sec shutter speed to attempt to freeze motion, the ISO quickly crept into five-digit territory. Despite this, noise is well controlled overall, the colors are vibrant and the amount of detail present is impressive.

Click-through to the full image to see the camera leaving plenty of detail in the runner's forehead skin, her jersey (both in the saturated blue and red regions) and even the low contrast blonde hair on her arms. It's a reaffirmation of what we've been saying for some time: Sony's detail retention in high ISO JPEGs is second to none (quantitative tests using ISO standards verify this). We just wish out-of-camera colors were more pleasing (we had to add a good deal of magenta to this image to avoid greenish skin tones).

The great mid-to-high ISO performance is also a Godsend if you forget to change your shutter speed while taking advantage of a portrait session between events. Oops.

Out-of-camera JPEG at way too high of a shutter speed given the subject.
Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM | ISO 1250 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8
Photo by Carey Rose

Metering is also generally reliable. For shooting hockey and ice skating, we dialed in +0.7 to +1 stop of exposure compensation, set the camera's shutter speed and aperture manually and kept the ISO on auto. For shooting track and field later on in the day, we were usually able to leave exposure compensation alone. The auto white balance was occasionally troublesome at the ice rink, giving the scene a bit more of a greenish cast than we would have liked, but quickly dialing in a custom white balance would have solved that easily.

For those often using spot-metering: you can specify whether or not spot metering is linked to the AF point, or to the central region only. In fact, there are many new metering modes, including a highlight weighted one (a la Nikon) that tends to preserve highlights, along with up to 1/6 EV customizations per metering mode. We only wish Sony provided histograms based off of the Raw file, not the JPEG, but alas - we're beginning to think this is a pipe dream to expect from any manufacturer (save for Phase One).

Let's not forget sharpening: it's great. Sony's sharpening preserves small details and even emphasizes them, without overshoot (halos) typical of large radius over-sharpening from certain competitors. So all-in-all: the JPEGs are very good (just don't expect Fujifilm color), which is great news for press photographers and action shooters on a deadline.

The white balance in this image isn't terrible, but I'm looking forward to Raw support so I can do some more tweaking. Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM | ISO 1250 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8
Photo by Carey Rose

Now that we've seen how the a9 does with some real world subjects, we'll be taking it into the studio and putting it in front of our standard studio test scene.