Sony’s Mirrorless Miracles: A9II V A7RIV

I have had the good fortune of having time to play with Sony’s top of the range mirrorless cameras while being in lockdown. The two cameras are the A9II and the A7RIV, which share a lot of the same features but are very different in the images they deliver.

The A9II is Sony’s state of the art Sports and Press camera. It shoots a 24 megapixel image with a frame rate of 20 frames per second using the electronic shutter. It manages to do so with no blackout, no mean feat for a mirrorless camera. It boasts an extended ISO range from 50 to 204,800, and shoots 4K video.

The A7IV is a completely different beast. It captures a 61 Megapixel image and can do so at 10 frames per second. It has extended ISO range from 50 to 102,400, and it also shoots video in 4K.

Mirrorless cameras are slowly taking over from their heavier and bulkier DSLR counterparts. They are lighter and less bulky due to the fact that they don’t need a mirror and prism in the camera body. But the thing that really sets them apart is the fact that instead of viewing an optical image through the viewfinder, you are looking at an electronic one.

It is essentially Live View on all the time, inside the viewfinder. This means that when shooting on manual mode, as you change the aperture and shutter speed, the image in the viewfinder gets lighter or darker. Often, you make adjustments and shoot the picture when it looks exactly how you want it, without even looking at the light meter. This also means that there is no need to chimp (looking your photos on the lcd screen) your photos after you have taken them, because you have essentially chimped them before you took them.

Where this really shines is when doing photos in really low light or even time exposures. At high ISO in low light, the image you see through the viewfinder can be brighter than it is to the naked eye. It’s a little like having built-in night vision. For time exposures it is amazing. On a DSLR shooting a 30 second time exposure would involve taking the shot, then reviewing it on the LCD screen, making adjustments, and then repeating the process until you got it right. With the Sony, it’s a matter of setting your desired long shutter speed and then adjusting your aperture or ISO until the scene looks the way you want it…and pressing the button.

Given the dynamic nature of the mirrorless, I thought that it would all go out the window when you put a flash on the camera. If you are doing a shot indoors with flash at f16 you would think that everything would be dark and hard to see. Wrong. As soon as you turn on a dedicated flash, the camera reverts back to a normal viewfinder (and this can be assigned to any button should you wish to over ride it) so you can see what you are doing.

The Sony surprised me, with a neat little trick. As soon as you take your photo with flash, the image is reviewed in the viewfinder for a split second. It happens so quickly that at first I thought I was seeing my flash hit the subject. Instantly, you can see how the flash has fallen on your subject and how the exposure is. Brilliant!

One of the fallbacks with mirrorless cameras is that due to image sensor being so close to the front of the camera (because there is no mirror), dust can get in whenever changing your lens. While I have had these cameras, Sony released a firmware update for the A9II, that closes the mechanical shutter as soon as the camera is turned off. This means that when changing a lens, instead of the sensor being exposed to the elements, you have an extra layer of dust prevention in the closed shutter.

The other major change with the sensor now being closer to the lens is that the focal point of the camera is different to its DSLR stablemates. This means that to get the most out of the system, you have to buy new glass to go along with the camera. Sony make an adapter to be able to use the old A mount lenses, but to get the full advantage of the new technology you will need the new lenses.

Thankfully there is a whole range of G Master lenses, ranging from versatile wide angle zooms (16-35mm f2.8), specialist prime lenses (85mm f1.4) to the mighty 600mm f4 to name a few in the impressive line up.

Talk to any sports photographer that uses the A9II and you will hear nothing but praise for the awesome autofocus system. The most common thread that I hear is that at the end of the game, Sony gives them more useable photos than they used to get with their big-name DSLR cameras.

Sony have listened to the people who use these cameras for a living and have changed the ergonomics of the camera with a better grip and larger, more easily accessible buttons. I used the A9IV with the vertical grip that allows an extra battery, and found it a joy to use. It feels just as good in the hand as any camera with all the buttons in the right places.

Speaking of buttons. There are 10 custom programmable function buttons on the camera and you can assign any button to do any of the functions of the camera. You can set these cameras up in any way you like and you can even save the settings to a memory card in case you switch cameras.

In a perfect world, I would have one of each of these cameras in my bag. The A9II for sports and news, and the A7RIV for when I really needed the higher resolution for commercial work or pictures to hang in a gallery.

I had a lot of fun shooting the moon with the A7RIV and the 600mm f4. Using a 2X teleconverter gave me a 1200mm. Because of it’s huge file size, if I wanted to really get close, I could use the APS-C mode which would give me an 1800mm equivalent at an impressive 26 megapixels. I could almost see Neil Armstrong’s footprints it was that clear. And with the 600mm weighing only 3 kilograms, I managed to take the photos of the moon handheld. That is incredible.

Getting your photos out of your camera and into the world couldn’t be easier. Using the Sony Imaging Edge app, you can wirelessly transmit your images to your phone or laptop, you can FTP photos directly from the camera to anywhere in the world, complete with IPTC data and captions that can be converted from voice to text either from the camera’s built in audio tagging or via the app on your phone. And for when you’re in a real hurry, you can simply tap your phone to the camera and the image being reviewed is wirelessly transferred to your phone using one touch NFC.

The photographic landscape is certainly changing. Sony is definitely setting the bar for the competition, and with the A9II, we are only on the second generation. The future for photography is shaping up to be mirrorless … and I can’t wait.

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