Dynamic range

Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 160 | 1/125 sec | F16 | Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM @ 55mm

Key takeaways:

  • The Sony a9 II's dynamic range performance is competitive with the best sports cameras we've yet tested
  • Its dynamic range is going to be improved compared to the older a9, because of that camera's odd shadow noise patterns
  • Peers show slightly better noise levels, but only with detail-reducing noise reduction

Dynamic range performance - ISO invariance

The sensor in the Sony a9 II doesn't appear to be ISO invariant as it's presumably a dual gain design; this means that, in the end, shooting at lower ISO values like 100 or 200 and then boosting them in post gives noisier results than shooting natively at ISO 6400. We test this because it gives us an insight into the sensor's read noise characteristics, which help to define dynamic range. Shooting a scene at a lower ISO value helps to keep your highlights from clipping to white and being unrecoverable, and low read noise allows you to brighten up the image in post without shadow regions becoming overly noisy and distracting.

To our eyes, we'd be comfortable shooting at ISO 800 and brightening in post, preserving around 3 EV of highlight headroom compared to shooting at ISO 6400 natively. If your shooting situation dictates that you must shoot below ISO 800, you probably should. But again, for exposures metering at ISO 800 or above, you can save some dynamic range by sticking to ISO 800 and brightening in post as necessary.

It's also worth noting that the DR falls noticeably behind the Sony a7 III, which also uses a 24MP sensor. In this case, it seems that's just the tradeoff between the shooting speed the camera is capable of and maximum dynamic range – you see this in other sports cameras, such as Nikon's D5, which has lower dynamic range than other options in Nikon's lineup.

Dynamic range performance - exposure latitude

Lifting the deepest shadows, as you would if you'd intentionally lowered your exposure to protect highlights but without clipping shadows to black, shows the Sony a9 II offering a marked improvement over the somewhat odd noise patterns (possibly due to noise reduction) of its predecessor. At the most extreme pushes, the a9 II fares well; Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III shows cleaner images, but scroll around the scene and you'll see what looks like noise reduction impacting fine detail.