Video

Key takeaways:

  • The Sony a9 II has the same video features and performance as the previous a9
  • Video capture tops out at 4K/24p using the full width of the sensor, and 4K/30p with a 1.2x crop and less rolling shutter
  • Compact size and in-body stabilizer aid in 'run-and-gun' filmmaking
  • Lack of picture profiles and any sort of log capture tools is perplexing

Detail capture

Canon's latest EOS-1D X Mark III made a bunch of headlines with its updated video features, so let's take a look at how the a9 II stacks up. First of all, the a9 II handles fine detail much better than the Canon, which looks to be using larger radius sharpening.

Switch to 1080p though, and the Canon handily pulls ahead pretty much wherever you look. Switch them both into their respective 1080/120p high frame rate modes, and things appear just about even.

But it's not detail capture that tells the whole story here. This is because, despite its higher-radius sharpening (which, we must admit, can be fine-tuned), the Canon offers far more video modes than the Sony including internal capture of cinema 4K at 60 fps. You can even enable Canon Log and capture 10-bit 4:2:2 files on the 1D X III, while the Sony eschews any form of log footage. So, while you might get a bit more detail on the Sony, we find the Canon to be a better fit for those looking for maximum file flexibility for post production.

Rolling Shutter

Resolution and frame rate Shutter rate
4K/24p 23.2 ms
4K/30p (1.2x crop) 17.9 ms
FHD 60p 6.3 ms

Rolling shutter numbers for the a9 II are pretty low in 4K. You might see some slanted verticals in very fast pans, but otherwise, it won't pose much of a problem. If you're shooting full HD, you shouldn't see any rolling shutter impact at all.

Handling

Video handling is good overall, though we continue to have a quibble or two. Right off the bat, this camera's generous grip but relatively compact dimensions combine with an in-body stabilizer to make for a credible run-and-gun solution – the kind that won't have you wishing you'd done more pullups in gym class. The tilting screen, though not a fully-articulating design catering to vloggers and some videographers, does provide additional flexibility for shooting from the hip and doesn't get in the way of your audio, power or HDMI cables.

The a9 II's video record button is in a nice spot, but you can also configure the shutter button to initiate recording in video mode if you prefer.

Speaking of cables, connections are a mixed bag. Your only option for HDMI out is a mini-sized connector; these are prone to coming loose or flat-out breaking if you're not careful. On the positive side, the a9 II is compatible with Sony's latest XLR-K3M adapter which uses the multi-function hotshoe. It provides two XLR inputs and a ton of control over your sound.

As mentioned on page two, switching back and forth from PASM to video modes sees your exposure settings carry over, so you'll want to set up custom memory banks to make this switch more seamless. Lastly, if you want to use Sony's excellent tracking autofocus on the a9 II, you'll need to go to the Custom Operation 2 menu and change 'Func. of Touch Operation' from Touch Focus to Touch Tracking. This will allow you to tap the screen to initiate tracking on a subject or a person. There's no way to do so with the camera to your eye, unfortunately.

Perspective

When the original a9 came out, Sony claimed that, with its oversampled 24p footage, it offered the 'highest 4K movie image quality of any full-frame interchangeable lens camera.' And though times have changed over the past three years, the a9 and a9 II's footage continues to look impressively detailed.

But unfortunately, the competition has more than made up for any detail deficiencies. There are log video capture options, 10-bit internal capture, and so on, on cameras costing half of the a9 II's asking price. Even Sony's own pocketable RX100 VII comes with log capture for those who want to get the most dynamic range they can out of their footage. It's also not uncommon to find Raw HDMI output on more affordable cameras.

In light of this, we remain perplexed as to why Sony would – through what is certainly a software mechanism – hobble its flagship, top-tier sports camera in this way. Aside from its bulk and lack of in-body stabilization, the EOS-1D X III makes for an especially credible contender for high-end hybrid photo and video shooters with its 10-bit 4:2:2 internal footage, at up to 4K/60p with capable and dependable autofocus. And, it remembers your exposure settings as you switch back and forth, though you may find it has more rolling shutter artifacts.