Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Excellent 24MP sensor with great noise performance for its class
  • Truly impressive autofocus for all types of photography
  • 20 fps blackout-free bursts with e-shutter, 10 fps bursts with redesigned mech. shutter
  • Mech. shutter rated to 500k shots
  • JPEG engine balances noise and detail exceptionally well
  • Enhanced ergonomics with better dial and button feel
  • Good 4K detail capture
  • Great battery life
  • Dual UHS-II card slots
  • Good customization options, including a 'My Menu'
  • Faster Wi-Fi, more robust FTP settings
  • USB type-C connection for file transfer, charging and powering the camera
  • Voice memo capability
  • Video features and performance have fallen behind the competition
  • Rear screen needs a bump in resolution
  • Touch interface is lacking
  • Menu system remains overwhelming
  • Slight interface lag persists
  • Exposure settings carry over from stills to video and back
  • Some buttons (C1 and C2) are difficult to reach, awkward to use
  • No in-camera Raw processing

When the original Sony a9 debuted three years ago, it changed our conception of what mirrorless cameras were capable of. With a full-frame sensor that could read out so fast that you could shoot blackout-free bursts at 20 fps with autofocus and shoot super-detailed 4K video, well, that was all a really big deal.

Today, the Alpha 9 Mark II finds itself released into a different full-frame landscape. With core capabilities that aren't all that different from its predecessor, the a9 II just didn't land with a huge splash at launch. While that's somewhat understandable in a market where big spec bumps drive clicks and sales, it's also a bit of a shame because the a9 Mark II is a fantastic camera to shoot with.

Processed and cropped in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 12800 | 1/1000 sec | F2.8 | Sony FE 400mm F2.8 GM

It really doesn't matter what you shoot: From well-lit portraits to marginally lit rugby matches, the a9 II's autofocus system is nearly faultless, and you hardly have to fuss with the settings beyond initial setup. A revised mechanical shutter that can fire at 10 fps (instead of 5 fps) gives photographers a viable respite from possible electronic-shutter banding from shooting under some types of artificial light. JPEG image quality continues to impress, especially at high ISO values, and Raw noise levels are improved. Combine all this with faster wireless and wired transfer speeds and you have a package that will grant working pros and enthusiasts even greater odds of 'getting the shot,' even if it doesn't set the world on fire for the greater gear-focused public.

From well-lit portraits to marginally lit rugby matches, the a9 II's autofocus is nearly faultless

The a9 II is, of course, not for everyone. Extreme speed has its costs, and in this case, Raw files from the a7 III are more flexible, and the a7R IV will get you more resolution. Both of these cameras are also less costly. The continued lack of any sort of picture profiles for log video capture is a head-scratcher, since even Sony's RX100-series compacts include them. The rear screen and its touch interface are pretty underwhelming, and we really wish the camera would just remember your exposure settings for stills and video separately so you don't need to set up custom memory banks if you're a hybrid shooter.

Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F5.6 | Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM @ 400mm

In the right hands though, the Sony a9 Mark II is a remarkably capable camera. Because of its more high-end video limitations, it may not be every hybrid stills-and-video shooter's dream, though it may just fit the bill for users looking for ready-to-publish clips of what's happening in front of them. In any case, if you lean more towards stills than video, the a9 II simply gives you the best autofocus experience, whether on the rear screen or in the viewfinder, that you can find on the market today.


Compared to...

The Sony a9 II is meant to go toe-to-toe against the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III, and it's a good match in many respects. From the users' perspective, the a9 II will offer a more consistent experience whether you're shooting through the electronic viewfinder or on the rear screen, plus it's smaller and less obtrusive (though this means that without the grip, it won't balance as well with longer lenses). The Canon offers incredible battery life, faster CFexpress media and a much deeper video feature set. In terms of image quality, it's honestly hard to choose between them – the Sony offers more resolution, but has a stronger AA filter to cancel that out, and both have good JPEG engines. In the end, though, it may come down to whether you prefer optical or electronic viewfinders – if you can, give them both a try to compare them for yourself.

Against the likes of the Nikon D5 (and the new D6, though we haven't fully tested that model yet), the Sony a9 II again looks compelling. We still think the D5's autofocus system is the best we've seen through an optical finder, but while it may compare well against the a9 II in many situations, it pales in comparison when it comes to autofocus coverage across the frame. The D5/6 likewise support faster recording media and monstrous battery life, but their video feature set and live view performance are a letdown. In the end, for DLSR purists, the D5 is a solid option (and we do think it has more pleasing color out-of-the-box), but the a9 II comes out ahead in most respects.

That leaves us with the discounted, but still-current Sony a9. We've covered the updates in some depth; basically, if the better mechanical shutter, updated ergonomics and networking features matter to you, then the a9 II is where you should look. But if you can get away with using the electronic shutter for most of your shooting, the original a9 is a fantastic option and remains a supremely capable camera that's a better value than ever.


Scoring

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Sony a9 II
Category: Professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Sony Alpha 9 Mark II comes with the best autofocus system we've seen. It's compact yet has a good-sized grip, produces great Raw and JPEG files, offers excellent battery life and solid video capture. That said, we do think its video capabilities and rear screen could be updated, and of course, this is a sports camera, so those looking for maximum resolution or dynamic range are barking up the wrong tree. But the a9 II meets and, in some cases, exceeds the capabilities of its peers and makes for a truly compelling value for sports and action photographers.
Good for
Sports, action and event photography specialists, run-and-gun video shooters that need solid out-of-camera footage and generalist photographers that want the best autofocus performance they can find.
Not so good for
Landscape and studio purists that may need more resolution or dynamic range, high-end video shooters that need more flexible files in post-production.
90%
Overall score