Body, handling and controls

Key takeaways:

  • Greater degree of direct dial control, compared to more 'modal' operation of competing sports cameras
  • Menus are still convoluted, but customization options are strong
  • Deeper grip increases comfort with larger lenses
  • Screen is low-res and has limited touch functionality, but it does tilt
  • Bigger, better buttons and dials are easier to operate with your eye to the finder than the original a9
  • Solid battery life

Overall

The Sony a9 II looks almost exactly like a Sony a7R IV but with additional dials on the left shoulder for direct control of your drive and autofocus modes. This makes the a9 II one of the best-handling full-frame Sony cameras yet.

As stated on the previous page, the larger grip, autofocus control points and generally longer button travel make the camera much easier to operate with your eye to the finder, or if you're wearing gloves during a colder shoot. It's only fractionally larger and heaver than its predecessor, but it still comes in at less than half the weight of Nikon's D5 or Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III. Despite that, it feels solid, and overall we find it a pleasant camera to hold and use. If you gravitate towards larger lenses, though, you may want to add a battery grip for better balancing (which admittedly offsets the weight / size differential from its immediate peers).

The a9 II is somewhat unusual among sports cameras in that it offers physical mode and exposure compensation dials; most competitors have you hit a button and turn a dial to change modes. Whether you prefer this to a more modal approach is likely to be a personal choice, and it's worth noting that the mode dial is a 'press-and-turn' affair while the exposure compensation dial has a press-to-toggle lock-out. This is a logical choice for users that aren't switching their modes very often, but if you're frequently going from stills to video and back, it can be a bit of a pain.

User-interface and customization

We still detect a noticeable 'hiccup' between the moment you press a button and when the camera responds. It's something we've been noticing for years, and though each new Sony camera improves it a bit, the overall impression is still a lack of 'immediacy' which will bother some users more than others.

We're not really fans of Sony's menu system, though the company has been improving it. There are simply a lot of options and a lot of pages to wade through. The good news is that, once you get the camera set up to your liking, you may find that you don't need to dive into them all that often.

An exception to this, especially for hybrid stills and video shooters, is the 'Func. of Touch Operation' option, available in the Camera 2 top tab, and page 10: Custom Operation 2 menu. This option allows you to choose 'touch to track', which lets you tap on a subject to track it around the frame. Its default action is 'Touch Focus,' meaning you use the touchscreen to use your focus area. You can't assign this option to toggle with a custom button, but you can add it to the customizable My Menu for faster access.

This option, seen here on an a6400 but present on the a9 II as well, lets you choose whether you want to use the touchscreen to move your AF area around by tapping or dragging on the screen, or have a tap on the screen initiate tracking on that chosen subject.

One last note for video shooters: the camera carries over exposure settings between its video and PASM modes. This means you may find yourself needing to adjust your shutter speed by a huge amount, if you're shooting fast action stills at 1/1000 sec, but then want 1/50 sec to shoot 24p video. You can overcome this by setting up custom mode banks (1, 2, 3 on the mode dial), but that's an extra step that we don't think should be necessary.

On the flip side of all of this, overall customization is excellent. Fully 11 buttons can be customized with over 100 options; the on-screen Fn Menu of 12 slots can be customized as well with 54 options, and you can separate your choices between stills and video. You can save all of this to an SD card, which is great for users with multiple camera bodies, or if you're checking out an a9 II from a press pool and want it immediately set up to your liking.

Viewfinder and screen

Among electronic viewfinders these days, the a9 II's 3.69M-dot unit is solid without being outstanding, though it offers a great refresh rate and of course black-out free shooting if you use the camera's electronic shutter.

The 1.44M-dot rear screen is starting to look a little dated, both in terms of resolution and touch functionality compared to its peers. All you can really do with the touchscreen is place your AF point or initiate AF tracking on a subject, and it's still not terribly responsive. On the other hand, the screen tilts, which makes it easier to shoot from high or low angles (provided you're shooting in landscape orientation), and some users may prefer this to the fixed screen on competitors' models.

Auto ISO

The a9 II's Auto ISO implementation is the same as other Sony full-frame cameras, which means it's solid. You can specify minimum and maximum ISO values and a minimum shutter speed threshold, which can be set to 'auto.' This defaults to a shutter speed of '1/focal length,' but you can bias this faster or slower depending on your needs.

You can also use Auto ISO in manual mode for both stills and video, allowing you to set your desired shutter speed and aperture, and let the camera control what you view as your scene's target brightness with ISO.

Battery and storage

The a9 II uses the same FP-Z100 battery as its predecessor and recent a7-series models. It's rated to around 690 shots using the rear LCD and 500 shots using the EVF, but as always, this depends on your usage (we tend to get double CIPA figures in general shooting and still more when shooting bursts). We'd expect no issue getting thousands of shots if you're mostly shooting 20 fps bursts with the silent shutter for, say, a team sports match.

Lastly, the a9 II can charge or be powered over either its Micro USB 2.0 or USB Type C connectors.