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Sony announces awesome new high end full frame mirrorless camera – the Sony a9 – essentially a full frame version of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II at more than twice the price

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Today Sony announced details of its new high end full frame E-Mount mirrorless camera – the Sony A9 – and on paper it looks great!

rear

 

Check out the specs:

  • 24.2MP Full-Frame Stacked CMOS Sensor giving 20x faster data than the a7 models
  • ISO range of 100 – 51200, expandable to 50 – 204800
  • dust and moisture resistant design
  • Blackout-Free Quad VGA 3.7m-Dot OLED EVF with 23mm eye point from lens (18.5mm from frame)
  • silent electronic shutter to 1/32,000th sec
  • mechanical shutter to 1/8000th sec
  • flash sync 1/250th sec
  • 3.0″ 1.44m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
    • touch focusing on the rear LCD screen for easily selecting of and shifting focus towards a desired focus point or subject
  • Internal UHD 4K/30p XAVC S  100Mbps Video Recording with HDMI out
    • uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information, oversampling it to produce high quality 4K footage
  • full HD 1080 120p at up to 100mbps with AF Tracking
  • stereo mic
  • 20 fps Shooting with AF/AE Tracking for up to 241 RAW/ 362 JPEG images
    • 10fps continuous shootingwith AF/AE tracking even when you use A-mount lenses with a mount adapter (LA-EA3)
  • 693-Point Phase-Detection AF System with 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second and covering 93% of the image – much better than any dSLR!
    • 25% faster performance when compared with α7R II
    • Eye AF improved 30%
    • AF down to EV -3 at ISO 100
  • “5EV” 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
  • Mag. Alloy Body, Dual SD Card Slots (one for UHS-II media), Ethernet port for file transfer, b/g/n 2.4GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, stereo mic jack, stereo headphone jack
  • Sony multi-interface hotshoe
  • all-new Sony battery (model NP-FZ100) giving double the battery life of a7R II – rated at 480 shots EVF or 650 shots LCD
  • 673 g / approx. 1 lb 7.7 oz incl. battery, SD card
  • 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 63.0mm/5 x 3 7/8 x 2 1/2 inches
  • $US4500

93% coverage of PDAF

PDAF points now cover 93% of the image area – far better than dSLRs!

The feature set is very similar to the Olympus OMD E-M1 Mark II Micro Four Thirds camera but with a full frame sensor and more than double the price, and of course, much larger and more expensive lenses with less hand-holdable telephoto reach.

The main advantage of the Sony a9 over the Olympus E-M1 is the better image quality at high ISO, so it will be useful for those shooting sports in low light, but apart from that, and the potential for more shallow depth of field and improved dynamic range, the E-M1 will be far more cost effective, lighter, less burdensome and more fun.

On paper, this camera addresses many of the issues I have with the Sony A7II - but will the many ergonomic quirks be addressed?

Sony a7II issues that have been addressed on the Sony a9:

  • rear LCD is now touch screen and in addition, like the Olympus cameras can be used as touch subject to AF but seems you may not be able to do fast AF lock and shoot as with the Olympus
  • better EVF – now the best in the business?
  • silent shutter at last!
  • dedicated AF-ON button to act as back-button AF instead of having to delve into menu to turn this mode on and off
  • can link spot meter to spot focus
  • improved autoISO – can set lowest shutter speed as well as a lowest ISO
  • internal 4K video
  • 1080HD video now to 120fps instead of 60fps allowing 4-5x slo-mo
  • 20 fps burst rate in electronic shutter mode with AF-C instead of only 5fps which is still the fastest mechanical shutter speed
  • 693 PDAF points spread across 93% of screen instead of only 117 PDAF mainly located in the central region
  • faster more accurate AF-C
  • improved image stabilisation – have to wait and see – Sony suggested the a7II was 4.5 EV but in reality was more 2-3 EV, and it was said part of the issue was the physical diameter of the lens mount limiting range of movement that was possible – this could not be addressed easily one would not think!
  • dual SD card slots at last
  • better battery life – we will have to see if the 2.2x more powerful battery translates into longer life
  • zebra settings seems to have been changed to “brightness from 0-109%, set +10% and -10% range” – hopefully for a more useful zebra functionality
  • PC sync socket

A few gotchas:

  • to realise the 20fps AF-C capability you will need to shoot with dedicated lenses designed and optimised for the Sony – Canon EF lenses won’t cut it, and even Sony Alpha lenses will only achieve 10fps
  • the longest focal length Sony E mount lens capable of 20fps AF-C is the new Sony 100-400mm f/4.6-5.6 and when coupled with the 1.4x converter you get 560mm f/8 so no real advantage over the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with 300mm f/4 which gets you to 600mm f/4 at 2EV better ISO and with 6.5EV IS at 18fps with AF-C, although you do get to zoom but then it is likely the zoom plus TC will result in less sharp images than the Olympus 300mm prime which is amazingly sharp.
    • the target audience for this camera – pro sports shooters – generally need 3 lenses – 16-35mm, 70-200mm and something around 400mm f/2.8 – they will not be impressed with the 100-400mm at f/5.6, and using a non-native lens means they will lose critical AF-C performance
  • if you want to shoot flash, you must use mechanical shutter and thus restricted to only 5fps burst – half what you can achieve with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II with flash and still have AF-C, but if you don’t need AF-C, the Olympus will shoot mechanical shutter at 15fps
  • the electronic shutter speed of 1/32,000th second is only available in S or M exposure modes
  • IS unlikely to be as effective as in the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no 60fps burst mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no Pro-Capture mode as with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • apparently touch AF does not trigger shutter automatically as can be configured on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • Eye AF cannot be configured to select closest eye as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no in-camera user configurable focus limiter range to ensure out of range areas are ignored as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • no long exposure timed modes as on the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II such as Live Composite
  • weathersealing unlikely to be as good as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 II
  • you will struggle to get this into a jacket pocket
  • Professional Service is unlikely to be anywhere near the level and accessibility of Canon or Nikon for major events – this is also a major factor for Olympus and the pro sports photographers

Concluding remarks:

Could this camera along with the E-M1 Mark II revolutionize pro sports photography by adding silent, faster burst rates of 20fps with continuous AF covering a much wider area of the image and with better image stabilisation?

We will not find out until real world tests are conducted.

Nikon and Canon really need to start worrying – if Sony has already leapfrogged over Nikon in full frame camera sales in the US, this camera will add impetus and could potentially make even bigger in roads in the pro dSLR market, especially now that Sigma have created an adapter which allows fast AF with Canon EF lenses, and Cactus radio TTL triggers now allow almost any flash system to be used with the Sony cameras in radio remote TTL flash mode – the barriers to change are rapidly being broken!

I expect Canikon will respond with hybrid optical/electronic viewfinders in their new dSLRs so they can move into “mirrorless” mode through the viewfinder to then offer similar features as the Sony a9 but with the option of full optical/mirror mode when the situation suits it, after all, there is no real size benefit of mirrorless cameras when in the full frame domain as the full frame lenses are so big that shrinking the camera does not make much difference. But then, they still have the issue that most of their lenses are not optimised for mirrorless shooting.

More details on the Sony main website.

Sony announce some nice new cameras and lenses and finally rid themselves of the legacy Minolta hotshoe as last!

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

There is lots of news from Sony today.

1. Sony have introduced a new ISO-standard flash hotshoe finally doing away with the crazy Minolta design which was incompatible with non-Minolta flashes even in manual mode. Users of Minolta flashes can buy a Sony adapter for use on the new cameras. This is big news for me as I have been critical of the Minolta hotshoe ever since they invented it!

2. Sony RX-1 – a very interesting full frame compact fixed lens camera without built-in viewfinder but with a 35mm f/2 optically stabilised lens with leaf shutter. At $2800 it will have a restricted audience but still may be a very attractive option for wedding photographers as a 2nd camera for those group photos outdoors, assuming the flash sync goes to 1/2000th sec which is unique outside the medium format world.

3. Sony SLT Alpha A99 dSLRthe lightest, most compact full frame dSLR and weathersealed, sensor-shift IS, with perhaps the best subject tracking AF system available – as long as your subject is in the centre and it works!!!

4. Sony NEX 6 – essentially their NEX-5R with the EVF from the NEX7 and a few extra goodies such as a PASM dial.

5. a couple of high end video cameras, one with APS-C sized sensor, the VG-30, but suprisingly, a full frame VG900 using the small NEX E-mount!

6. Three new NEX lenses to give a collapsible compact zoom, a 50mm prime and a 15-27mm ultra wide angle (in 35mm terms).

The NEX5R, NEX6 and A99 all use on-sensor phase detect sensors, but in addition, the A99 uses full time normal phase detect sensors courtesy of its fixed translucent mirror (SLT design) which does have the downside of losing 1/3rd of your light and adding an extra bit of glass in your image train.

The unfortunate problem with these phase detect sensors are that they are all closely packed to the centre of the image – so bad luck if you compose by the Rule of Thirds intersections as these lie outside the sensor area. Other than this issue, and the fact none of the Sony flashes or lenses are compatible with my gear, the RX-1 and A99 at the right price would be interesting options to me to give me additional full frame capabilities such as shallower DOF.

Nevertheless, these cameras represent another step forward into the eveolution of the digital camera and the full frame options are very interesting indeed if the image quality is realised and the price is low enough to provide a reason to change from Canon or Nikon full frame dSLRs.

I wonder how Sony are dealing with the periphery image issues created by using a full frame sensor with such a short lens flange distance as it appears they are using with the RX-1 – time will tell I guess.

Will they compliment your Micro Four Thirds system?

Assuming these are cracked up to be what the specs suggest and image quality is fantastic, how would the RX-1 or Alpha A99 compliment a compact Micro Four Thirds system?

1st the RX-1:

For a 35mm lens field of view on a Micro Four Thirds camera one could use:

  • Olympus 17mm f/2.8 pancake lens for compact, pocketable kit but lose low light and shallow DOF capability
  • Cosina Voigtlander Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95 which would give similar DOF but no autofocus and no camera-controlled aperture
  • the rumoured Olympus 17mm f/1.8 (presumably available in 2013) or the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake would mean 1.5 stops less control over shallow DOF

Thus adding the RX-1 to your kit could be very handy if shallow DOF at 35mm is important to you, or the leaf shutter which will presumably allow full flash output at any shutter speed be a boon to those wishing to over-power the sun with their flash.

But it will not be so handy if you are wanting more DOF at wide aperture such as when shooting urban shots hand held at night – in this scenario, your Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a 12mm or 17mm lens will be a much better choice.

For most, they may prefer adding the versatility of a full frame dSLR rather than being constrained by such an expensive fixed lens camera.

2nd, the SLT Alpha A99:

Now this camera could compliment Micro Four Thirds reasonably well (better if it had a compatible TTL flash – but it seems unlikely that Panasonic or Olympus will be heading into full frame dSLR territory any time soon).

It would offer 2 main features which are currently lacking in Micro Four Thirds, and thus are the main reason why one would consider a dSLR:

  • AF tracking of fast moving subjects thanks to its dual and full time phase detect AF system – although as mentioned, this only applies to subjects in the centre of the frame
  • even shallower DOF

The problem for me though is that I own lots of Canon Pro full frame lenses so jumping onto a Sony dSLR is not going to happen for me, and if I need AF of faster moving subjects then the new Olympus E-7 when it comes out would be a better fit with the Micro Four Thirds flash system but of course, it will not give full frame level of shallow DOF.

It does have several advantages over the Canon or Nikon full frame dSLRs:

  • sensor based image stabilisation so even your wide aperture prime lenses are stabilised – try shooting your 135mm f/2.0 lens with fill-in flash at 1/250th second and you will see sharpness often suffers without IS on a Canon or Nikon.
  • fixed mirror so no mirror vibrations, no mirror noise and full-time phase detect AF calculations for better subject tracking and ability to programmatically choose a focus range for AF
  • better video capabilities – such as XLR mic adapter, improved autofocus during video, live video output via HDMI
  • EVF and full time live view for seemless video / magnified live view and other capabilities
  • smaller size, lighter weight, quieter, yet still weathersealed and shutter rating of 200,000 shots

BUT, specs may not prove to be the real world advantages as they seem on paper – see what happened with the Sony SLT Alpha A55 launched in 2010. It too had this SLT fixed mirror system and offered subject tracking at 10fps but it was inaccurate and had many compromises – we will have to await testing to see how this SLT camera fairs given it has the benefit of a further 2 years of technology development to hopefully address the previous issues.

 Where to now?

Now that we are seeing more full frame cameras hitting the market and their prices fall, photographers will increasingly be thinking:

  1. if I am going to carry around a larger lens, then why bother with cropped sensor cameras such as APS-based mirrorless or dSLR cameras, I may as well get a full frame camera
  2. for most of the time when one just wants a small, compact camera with small lenses, then Micro Four Thirds is the perfect compromise on size, image quality, fun, price, versatility and ability to gain sufficiently shallow DOF.
  3. niche cameras for special applications such as the Sony RX1′s leaf shutter and x-sync to 1/2000th sec
  4. sports / wildlife camera with AF for fast moving subjects at f/8 lenses and great telephoto reach such as Olympus Four Thirds, Canon 1D Mark IV, Nikon D300s or Nikon D4 (although the last being full frame has limited telephoto reach)
  5. tough, almost indestructible, waterproof, droppable cameras for the beach, surf and kids such as the Olympus TOUGH TG-1 camera
  6. for most other casual photography where image quality is less important than the photo, a smartphone may be adequate

I can see why both Canon and Nikon have been reluctant to make APS-sized mirrorless cameras – soon we will have full frame mirrorless to address those needs.

Micro Four Thirds cameras gets a couple of new Sigma lenses and a few Panasonic converter lenses

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Panasonic announced several new converter lenses for their 14mm f/2.8 and X 14-42mm lenses:

  • DMW-GWC1 Wide Conversion Lens – converts 14mm to 11mm for use on 14mm f/2.5 and the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm
  • DMW-GTC1 Tele Conversion Lens – 2x zoom – converts 42mm to 84mm for use on the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm
  • DMW-GMC1 Macro Conversion Lens – for use on 14mm f/2.5 and the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm
  • DMW-GFC1 Fisheye Conversion Lens – for use on 14mm f/2.5 and the LUMIX G X VARIO PZ 14-42mm

Sigma have announced two new lenses for Micro Four Thirds and Sony NEX mirrorless systems:

  • Sigma 19mm f/2.8 EX DN aspherical which will give 38mm FOV on MFT and 28.5mm FOV on NEX
  • Sigma 30mm f/2.8 EX DN aspherical which will give 60mm FOV on MFT and 45mm FOV on NEX

Neither of these are particularly wide aperture but presumably Sigma is targetting high optical image quality rather than pancake size or fast aperture.

I am not sure how these will go in a market of 17mm f/2.8 pancake, 20mm f/1.7 pancake, and 25mm f/1.4 high image quality Micro Four Thirds lenses which are already available. Perhaps they are largely targetting the relatively weak Sony NEX lens line up.