First Impressions: Sony A9 II (They Made It Better Than the Original)

The newly announced Sony A9 II improves upon the original flagship with ergonomic changes and a brand new BIONZ X Image Processor.

At the beginning of the month, Sony announced the next iteration of its top tier A9 flagship, the A9 II. The most noticeable changes Sony has made to the A9 II are physical and with the body itself. These include the more pronounced handgrip, the improved buttons on the rear of the camera, and improvements made to the various dials on top of the camera body. While the Sony A9 II retains the same stacked 24.2MP BSI sensor as the original A9, it is now paired with an upgraded BIONZ X image processor. This leads to even faster AF/AE performance and accuracy. As expected, Real-time Eye AF, Real-time Eye AF for animals, and Real-Time Eye AF for video recording are supported. We expect Sony to introduce further improvements down the line with future firmware upgrades. The A9 II’s autofocus system can now track subjects continuously even when shooting at apertures larger than f16. When shooting continuously, the Sony A9 II is capable of capturing images at up to 20 fps when using the electronic shutter, or 10 fps with the mechanical shutter (twice that of the original A9). Both SD card slots are UHS-II compatible as well, which will surely help minimize the amount of time images are stuck in the buffer waiting to be written.

Gear Used

We tested the Sony A9 II with the 85mm f1.4 G Master and the 200-600mm f5.6-6.3 G OSS.

 

Tech Specs

Highlighted tech specs for the Sony A9 II taken from Adorama’s product page.

  • 24.2MP Full-Frame Exmor RS CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor & Front-End LSI
  • 693-Point Phase-Detection AF System
  • Up to 20 fps Shooting, ISO 100-204800
  • Configuration: Body Only
  • In-Body Stabilization: 5-Axis Optical
  • Max Video Quality: 4K 30fps
  • Resolution: 24 MP
  • Sensor Size: Full Frame Camera
  • Viewfinder: Built-In Viewfinder
  • Wifi: Wi-Fi: Yes

 

Ergonomics

 

At a glance, the Sony A9 II looks remarkably similar to the original A9 introduced in 2017. When looking at the front of the A9 II’s body, the most noticeable change is the more robust handgrip. Aside from the larger grip, the only button you’ll find on the front face of the A9 II is the lens release button.

Much of the controls for the Sony A9 II reside on top of the camera. The Front Dial is located near where your pointing finger naturally rests when holding the A9 II’s grip. The Shutter Release is integrated into the On/Off switch and is located above the core of the handgrip. To the left of the Hot Shoe, you’ll find the lockable Drive Mode Dial stacked on top of the Focus Mode Dial. Moving towards the right, you’ll find the lockable Mode Dial, a pair of customizable buttons, a raised Rear Dial (inherited from the A7R IV), and the lockable Exposure Compensation Dial.

The layout on the back of the A9 II is basically identical to its predecessor and features additional elements borrowed from the A7R IV. Like we’ve seen on the A7R IV, the buttons on the rear of the A9 II feel much less spongy when pressed, and the improved joystick design we loved on the A7R IV was brought over to the A9 II as well!

Like the A9 before it, the A9 II features a wealth of connectivity options. The Headphone jack, Microphone jack, Micro HDMI, USB-C port, Micro USB port, LAN terminal, and Flash Sync port are all located on the left side of the camera body.

On the opposite side of the A9 II is where you’ll find the larger handgrip we first saw Sony introduce in the A7R IV. A pair of UHS-II SD card slots are located on the rear of the grip, underneath a double sliding door mechanism. Just like in the A7R IV, the top slot is now Slot 1, unlike in earlier versions where the bottom slot was Slot 1.

 

Build Quality

While the Sony A9 II looks remarkably similar to its predecessor, it inherits the beefed-up handgrip first introduced with the A7R IV. This addresses a common complaint many photographers have made about earlier Sony camera bodies. The improved weather sealing is also brought over from the A7R IV, giving the A9 II improved dust and moisture resistance over the original A9. Having only spent a few hours shooting in the wild with the Sony A9 II during a sunny morning/afternoon, we will need to spend more time with the camera in less than ideal weather conditions to really put the improved weather resistance to the test. So far, the Sony A9 II is shaping up to be the most robust Full Frame Mirrorless camera Sony has released. Keep an eye out for our upcoming full review to see how it fares after we’ve run it through a gauntlet of real-world situations.

 

Autofocus

While we only got to spend a few hours shooting with the Sony A9 II, the autofocus system was blazing fast. When Sony first released its version five firmware for the original A9, we took the camera to the Bronx Zoo to photograph fast-moving Inca Terns and test the camera’s improved autofocus performance. Naturally, this felt like an appropriate test to repeat on the A9 II. When shooting the same fast-moving Inca Terns at the Bronx Zoo’s Sea Bird Aviary, the A9 II was able to acquire focus quickly and more consistently than the original A9 running version 5 firmware. We will need to put the A9 II through more thorough testing once we call in a review unit, but the A9 II’s autofocus feels quite promising so far.

 

Image Quality

While the Sony A9 II sample unit provided to us was a final production unit running version 1.0 firmware, camera profiles for the A9 II are not yet available for Capture One or Adobe Lightroom. As such, all sample images seen within this First Impressions article are straight out-of-camera JPEGs. As a matter of ethics, none of the sample images seen within this First Impressions article have been cropped, edited, or retouched so that you may judge the quality of the images produced by this camera for yourself.

 

First Impressions

Like the original A9, the Sony A9 II is a beast of a camera. It takes the already industry-leading autofocus performance from the original A9 and cranks it up to 11. By combining the already excellent sensor in the original A9 with an upgraded BIONZ X image processor and placing them within the body of an A7R IV, Sony’s made the A9 II a much more comfortable camera to use. Unless you’re a photojournalist or a professional sports shooter, chances are the A9 II is more camera than you’ll ever need. The Sony A9 II is a camera made for professionals, and it’s got the price tag to match, with an MSRP of US $4,500.

We look forward to evaluating the Sony A9 II more comprehensively once review units are available. Please stay tuned for our upcoming full review. You can pre-order the Sony A9 II from Adorama.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.