Image quality

Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F4.5 | Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM @ 100mm

Key takeaways:

  • Competitive Raw noise and detail performance, plus included AA filter keeps moiré at bay
  • Great JPEG engine provides pleasing color and an excellent balance between detail and noise retention

Studio scene

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Raw

The Sony a9 II, just like the original a9, turns in good results for a 24MP sensor. It's just fractionally softer at a pixel level than the the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and Nikon D5, almost certainly due to it having a stronger anti-aliasing filter than those options. We generally find well-executed AA filters to be good things; check out the a9 II against Sony's a7 III, which doesn't have an AA filter. Although you may lose out on a bit of perceived sharpness, you have far less moiré to contend with in post-production. As light levels drop and ISO values climb, all these cameras perform similarly well in terms of noise, though the D5 remains just fractionally ahead. It's unlikely to be a noticeable difference in real-world shooting, though.

JPEG

A good JPEG engine is of paramount importance in a sports camera. You can customize these cameras' image quality settings, but they all look good out of the box with the Sony's fine details looking the best of the bunch. They likewise all exhibit generally pleasing color response, though we have to admit that we tend to prefer warmer greens, deeper reds and richer yellows of Nikon's D5 in particular. At higher ISO values, the a9 II's grain looks to our eyes a little less "digital" than its predecessor. Both Sonys generally lead the pack when it comes to balancing noise and detail retention.

We do enjoy seeing continued updates to color response in general from Sony; to our eyes, the a9 II's palette looks generally richer and warmer than the older a9, with deeper greens and cyans standing out in particular.

Inset squares are from the a9 II; the surrounding squares are from the original a9.