This article has been a long time in coming!
In the early 1980s I was a teenager, and I saved like crazy to buy my very first SLR, the Canon AE-1. As a teen, the only thing I really needed to know about the camera was that it was advertised heavily on New York Yankee baseball games. Those advertising dollars pulled me in as a kid. For 37 years I continued as a Canon shooter. I invested in the lens system, and then upgraded bit by bit. Eventually, when it was time for the switch to digital, I just moved right on in to the Canon system. I started with the original Rebel, then a 30D, then a 50D, 70D, 7D Mark II, 5D Mark III and lastly a 5D Mark IV. And the lenses.... so many lenses!
I have always had a very level head about the quality of various camera companies. Yes, sometimes Nikon pulled ahead of Canon. Sometimes Canon pulled ahead... and sometimes they both seemed to flounder. But I always stayed steady, and just focused on creating the best images that I could pithing the Canon ecosystem.
For the vast majority of that 37 years, I was purely a hobbyist photographer. In 2014, I formed a business, and began charging for my services. I'm not entirely sure that's a necessary bit of information, but it might be helpful in explaining the reasoning why I did eventually decide to make a change. My business focus is on portraiture, weddings and performing arts photography.
A few years ago, the buzz around the Sony mirrorless cameras started to gather momentum. Nobody in the photography world was able to escape it! At least in my own sphere of photography friends, it seemed to really capture the attention of landscape photographers. As I stood by and watched the Sony releases come fast and furious, and the quality and rave reviews spread throughout the photography world, I figured I could wait for Canon to move to mirrorless, and then make my move. Eventually Canon released their first mirrorless, and then their second - both had single card slots, and they just weren't "pro" gear.
Fast forward to February, 2019, and I took a position at a local camera shop as Director of Education. While I have been deeply entrenched in the photography blogging world, and writing for websites, and working with my own gear, I never had worked at a camera store. The greatest advantage there is that you can check out everything! I had been so drawn to the Sony mirrorless system, but before I actually shot with it, I didn't realize just exactly HOW amazing it would be. When I first took hold of an a9, I realized that there was a LOT of differences between that and the incredibly familiar Canon layout. First and foremost was the way you have a front and back dial to adjust shutter speed and aperture. I tried just figuring it out, but I actually gave up and asked the Sony rep. He took a minute to show me how to make the adjustments, and how to use the Function button, and then I was off and running. I shot the a9 about an hour that day, and my decision was made.
My biggest concern with making the transition was always the investment in lenses. Buying a camera body is one thing. Buying an entire array of lenses is a completely different level of financial investment. My biggest decision after buying the a9 was to figure out that lens situation. There are adapters to use Canon lenses with the Sony, but they aren't exactly cheap. I decided that for myself, the best option would be to simply sell off all of my Canon lenses and bodies, and pour that money into lenses. Financially it worked better than I would have initially thought. Great lenses hold their value, and my glass was all in VERY good condition. The investment in great quality lenses paid off greatly when I sold them all. I decided that I would start with four Sony lenses:
G-Master 85 1.4
I shoot surf photography during the summers, and enjoy some wildlife and bird photography while hiking with my wife, so that explains the 100-400. The others were my favorite go-to lenses for weddings and portraits. I had all four of those lenses in their Canon L versions. I also had a fisheye, and 100 macro and a 16-35, which I have not yet replaced. In all likelihood I won't replace the macro lens anytime soon. I got some extension tubes, and I can use my existing lenses for ring shots, and any other dabbling in macro that I want to do. I will admit, I do miss the fisheye and the wide angle lens. Those will both be on my shopping list, but I have enough of a range right now to shoot weddings, portraits and performing arts.
So at this point, I have been shooting the Sony a9 with the four lenses listed above, for about five months. I have shot four weddings with this gear, as well as a bunch of portrait sessions, several concerts/recitals, and some other projects. I don't necessarily consider myself an advanced veteran of the Sony system, but I have enough time logged in that I feel my observations and impressions are based on a very solid experience, rather than just an initial impression.
Hands down, the thing that motivated me to make the jump to the Sony mirrorless system was the ability of silent shooting. I photograph classical musicians in performance, and that shutter click from the Canon was always a HUGE problem. I would have to wait until a very loud moment in the music to grab my shot, and so my photos tended to be constantly of "intense" emotions of the musicians. The softest, most delicate moments were off limits because I couldn't disrupt the performance. The a9 solved that problem, completely.
The Focusing System
I never felt that the focusing system of the Canon 5D Mark IV was holding me back. That is, not until I realized what I was missing! The a9 focusing system is mind-bogglingly good! The eye AF is so good, I sometimes find myself chuckling. The other thing I use constantly is the ability to register a number of faces, and making them the priority faces for shooting groups. I register all brides and grooms, the performers at concerts, whoever my main subject will be at a shoot, and the focusing system actually seeks them out very reliably. The tracking for moving objects is also remarkable. The third thing I use in the focus system is the manual focus assist. There is a DMF setting on the focus dial, which allows you to lock on with AF, but then fine tune with the manual focus zoom assist. It's awesome! As soon as you touch the focusing ring on your lens, it zooms dramatically in the viewfinder, allowing you to ensure the image is tack sharp. The a9 has 693 Phase Detect AF points covering 93% of the screen. Virtually the entire frame is a focus point!
Shooting at twenty frames per second is something that I only do occasionally. Culling images when shooting at that frame rate is a little bit crazy. At the same time, it's REALLY handy for sports shooting! When it comes to capturing a hockey puck crossing the goal, or the exact moment of a receiver catching a football, or a bat hitting a ball... nothing compares to that 20 fps. It's also great to note that you have a Low setting and Mid setting which are 5 fps and 10 fps respectively.
There are four custom buttons on the camera that you can assign to different functions. The great thing is, you can program them to have one function while shooting, and a different function while in playback.
The Fn button pulls up instant access to your top 12 menu features, instantly. It's completely customizable. You have 4 Custom buttons, plus these 12 functions, all available at the touch of a button. One of the biggest complaints I had heard about the Sony system was that the menu items were confusing or challenging. They are in fact VERY easy to customize, and access in a variety of different ways.
ISO Auto Minimum Shutter Speed
This is an awesome tool! There are several settings (Slower, Slow, Standard, Fast and Faster). The shutter speed is calculated based on the focal length of the lens as you are shooting. For example, if you have it set on "Fast," your shutter speed will always be double the speed of your focal length. The ISO will be adjusted accordingly, to make that shutter speed work. This is my favorite new tool that I was not aware of until after I owned the camera and was working through the controls.
Auto ISO in Manual Mode
The Sony a9 allows auto ISO while in manual mode. You can set the optimal aperture and shutter speed, and let the camera adjust ISO to make that exposure work (assuming it's possible.)
I don't want to over-exaggerate the problems with the ergonomics. They aren't horrible. There are a few details, though, that I think have room for improvement. Primarily, the shutter button. I'm very used to the well rounded shutter button on the Canon system, where you can gently roll your finger over to get a very subtle press. The button on the Sony is more "squared off" if that makes sense. I would love to see the shutter button receive some substantial attention as they prepare the Mark II version of this camera. In general, the whole camera tends to be 'boxy.' The size of the camera is substantially smaller than other pro bodies. I suspect folks with smaller hands are thrilled with this, and folks with bigger hands probably would prefer a slightly larger case.
Without a mirror to protect your sensor, it is much easier to get dust on the sensor while changing lenses. Changing lenses when there is wind or rain is really a bit of a challenge. As I am writing this article, I have an email out to a technician that I know, hoping that I can get a lesson on how to clean the sensor professionally, myself. I think this is would be a good idea for anyone planning to shoot mirrorless.
Fewer Missed Shots
When virtually everything you shoot is incredibly well in focus, it makes things harder to cull! This isn't actually a disadvantage, but hey... I had to try to come up with at least three!