I recently had the opportunity to evaluate the Sony a9 at two Texas Stars ice hockey games. The first game was more for orientation. In the second game I used the camera for the warm-ups and the last three minutes of play. I couldn’t risk using an unfamiliar camera for more than that, given this was a paid engagement with very tight deadlines. Included are a few of the images from that game.
I believe ice hockey is the most difficult sport to photography. It is very fair to say that I gave the camera a good outing.
Good sports photography is all about speed. This includes the speed of the action, the speed of the image capture and the speed processing. Overall the camera performed much better than I expected:
1. The light sensitivity was excellent. I estimate the a9 is one to two f/stops more light sensitive than the Canon 1DX, based on the differences in f/stops at the same ISO and shutter speed settings.
2. The clarity was excellent when using the Sony lenses and the color was more vibrant than the 1DX.
3. Autofocus was sharp when using the Sony lenses. I only used the center focus, but there were many autofocus alternative I didn’t have time to experiment with.
4. Battery life with the pistol grip was better than I expect and equivalent to the 1DX.
I was not satisfied with the use of the Canon 300mm f/2.8 prime on the a9 using the Sigma adapter. Images that should have been tack-sharp were not. This is more a function of mixing and matching different brands of equipment versus a statement on the a9 capabilities.
There are a couple enhancements that Sony might consider that are unique to sports photography:
1. The dial on the camera that sets the shutter speed and exposure compensation can’t be locked. I wore the camera on a harness and the dial kept changing positions when it touched my side. I lost a great many images due to unintended changes in exposure settings. I don’t think the use of gaffer tape would entirely solve the problem because these dials extend slightly from the body of the camera.
2. I found the “protect images” function difficult to use. It is imbedded in the menu and couldn’t be added to a personalized menu nor can a button be reprogramed for a short cut. It also took several “clicks” to open and close the function. This function must be quickly and easily assessible to flag the keeper images between the action moments in the game. Fewer than 10% of the images taken are keepers, and you can’t lose time screening images while at the computer.
3. The camera body isn’t as sturdy as the 1DX. This is a non-issue in the studio, but a camera used in sports photography can get bang around and exposed to some splash, no matter how careful you are. This camera, and the lenses, weren’t as rugged nor tightly sealed as the Canon. I found an after-market protective case on-line, so this must be an acknowledged issue.
4. The a9 does not a microphone to record comments for use with individual photos captions.
5. The eye piece does not detach from the camera body. A detachable eye piece is important when using rain sleeves. During wet weather the eye piece is removed, the rain sleeve is placed around the camera and lens to cover all surfaces (except for the eye piece and the lens opening), and the eye piece is re-attached to lock the sleeve in place. A velcro strap holds the sleeve in place around the lens opening.
Overall, I was very impressed with the Sony a9. Canon has to really step-up its 1DX sensor functionality or it will be eclipsed by Sony.
Andy Nietupski (email@example.com)