Sony a9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, @ f7.1, 1/2500s, iso 200.
For this winter touring season I had planned, just like last year, to write a trip report after each tour. Tomorrow the third tour of the season will start and I still have not written anything, neither I have managed to upload a single image to the social media. It is not because I lack the motivation, but just have not been able to do so. After the first trip I just didn’t have enough time to edit my pictures and after the second trip I got a quite aggressive inflammation in the tendons in my right hand. I couldn’t even hold a piece of paper anymore. Luckily the medication is doing its job and things are getting better now. Instead of going into detail about the two tours, I will stick for now with my findings from using the Sony gear. I will write two separate tour reports later. For those who missed my blog with my first impression about the Sony gear, you can find it here.
The first tour went to the Lyngen Alps (Troms county) and Senja, to photograph landscapes, northern light and whales. The second tour went to Dovrefjell, to photograph musk-oxen. During both tours I have only photographed with the following gear;
-Sony a9 body
-Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6
-Sony 200mm f2.8
-Sony 24-70mm f2.8
-Canon 17-40mm f4
-Samyang 14mm f2.8
-Sigma Canon to Sony converter mount
As you can see I have not used any of my Canon cameras. I had my Canon 1DX with me on the first tour, just in case I would need it. But never had the need to use it. Since I didn’t have a Sony wide angle lens, I used my Canon fitted lenses in combination with the Sigma Canon to Sony converter mount.
During both tours the temperature was always below freezing during the photo sessions. Because batteries last much shorter in the cold, I asked Sony for extra batteries. In total I have 6 batteries for the Sony a9 body. To be honest, I was a bit afraid that this would not be enough, since I have read many negative things about battery usage from the mirrorless cameras. These batteries from Sony are a new type and are supposed to last longer than the previous models. And they do!!! On the first tour, which covered 6 full photo days, I used 4.5 batteries in total. Taking into account that I shot all the landscapes and northern light on live view, I find this quite an achievement! However, I’m even more surprised by the battery life during the musk-ox trip. We were outside for 3 days, I took 2350 pictures (yes I know… this is a lot!!! I will come back to that in a bit.), and the camera used exactly 3 full batteries. My guests were photographing with the mirrorless systems of Olympus and they used about 3 batteries per day!
Being used to photograph with Canon, it of course takes some time to get used to the position of the buttons, functions of the buttons and the menu of the Sony camera. But it is a much easier switch than to Nikon. There are quite some similarities between Sony and Canon, so I guess I Nikon user would struggle more to get used to a Sony than a Canon user. I do notice that I more often accidentally press some button when working with the Sony, compared to when working with Canon. Especially the large turning wheel on the back of the Sony camera can be a pain in the bud. With gloves on it is virtually impossible to turn it a full round with accidentally pressing it too hard and activating one of the other functions. But then again, the joystick on the Canon 1DX body has the same problem. When moving around the focus point with this joystick, I often accidentally press it and the focus point returns to the center. This problem I didn’t have with the joystick on the Sony.
One button which really messed with me, is the “focus hold” button on the 100-400mm lens. One of these buttons is located exactly there where I support the lens when hand holding it. The first time I accidentally pressed it, I thought that the autofocus had stopped working. But suddenly it worked again. This happened a few times before I found out that I was accidentally pressing this button. In the menu you can change the function of this button and also turn in off, which I ended up doing.
The first time I looked through it, I hated it. But now I’m quite happy with it. Especially because I can see the exposure histogram before taking the picture. This comes in very handy for photographing wildlife, when you don’t want to take your eye from the viewfinder for a second. You don’t need to take a test picture anymore to check the exposure histogram, you just adjust the exposure accordingly to the histogram in the viewfinder, while keeping the focus on the animal. Also the option to view back the images through the viewfinder instead of on the back-screen, comes in handy when the light is bad to look at the back-screen.
The only thing which really annoys me, is the sensor at the viewfinder which activates and de-activates the viewfinder. It seems to me that this sensor is too sensitive. During the boat trip to the whales, I got a drop of water on this sensor. As result, it refused to show the pictures or menu on the back-screen. This problem occurred another 50 times when I photographed the musk-oxen during a snowstorm. As soon as a snowflake would land on this sensor, I could only view my pictures and the menu through the viewfinder. Also my own shade sometimes triggered this sensor to only show the images and menu through the viewfinder. After taking the camera out of my shade, the image or menu popped up on the back screen again.
Photographing at night / northern light
Here Sony is absolutely a game changer for me! The camera is incredibly light sensitive, which means that you can see much more details of the landscape on the live view screen. It is so bright that even the northern light, which is not or barely visible to the naked eye, is visible on the screen. Before I used to make a test picture, to see if there was any northern light in the sky. Now I just start up the camera and can directly see if there is any northern light or not. This makes composing the pictures so much easier and faster! With my Canon bodies I always have to make some test shots until I got the composition right. Because it is not easy to see the landscape line through the viewfinder at night. With the Sony a9 this was no problem at al. So no more test picture!
Composing the image was very easy with the light sensative live view!
Sony a9, Samyang 14mm f2.8 @ f2.8, 6s, iso 2500
Scrolling through the pictures
This goes just as fast as on my Canon cameras. Until you zoom in, that is!!! As soon you have zoomed in on a picture, you can jump to the next picture with the top scrolling wheel. I only takes about 2 full seconds for the camera to react to this and it will only jump one picture at the time. So even if you scroll about 3 or 5 clicks, the camera will only jump 1 picture… 2 seconds after you stopped scrolling. For some people this might not be a problem, but to me it is! During the snowstorm I shot some bursts at 20 frames per second. I wanted to get a shot without any snowflakes in front of the eyes of the animals. After these bursts, I only want to pick one image and delete the rest of that burst. Normally this process takes a few seconds on my Canon bodies. But on the Sony it takes so long, that I just couldn’t do it in the field. This is one of the reasons why I ended up taking so many pictures. I couldn’t quickly check if I had the shot I wanted, so ended up taking some extra, just to be sure.
I hope that Sony can fix this with a software update, because this really annoys me and guess also other wildlife or sport photographers.
I was very impressed by the autofocus. The tracking is very fast, accurate and easy to use. During the snow storms it managed to pick up the musk-oxen better than I’m used to with my Canon 1DX, which quite easily locks onto the snow just in front of the animal instead of the animal. The Sony camera did a better job in finding the animal and sticking with it. But if the autofocus had locked onto the snow in front of the animal, it was more difficult to get it away from this point. I’m used to pump the focus button on the Canon cameras and then the focus will leave the point of focus and searches for a new point on a different distance. But when I pumped the focus button on the Sony, it tended to stick with the snow. I had to point the camera to a different object, focus, point back to the animal and refocus on the animal. Then the focus would find the animal again. So both Canon as Sony cameras have some difficulties when it comes to focusing during heavy snowfall. Yet, the Sony seems to stick better with the subject and doesn’t lose focus as easily as my Canon bodies.
Heavy snow fall was no problem for the Sony a9
Sony a9, Sony 100-400mm f4.5-5.6, @ f5.6, 1/500s, iso 800.
I was very pleased with the autofocus, until halfway the second day out with the musk-oxen. The autofocus started to struggle with keeping the focus on the animal, even though it was not snowing, light conditions were perfect and the animals were standing not on a long distance. Only the center focus point had no problem what so ever. But as soon as I started to use other focus points, the camera didn’t manage to keep the focus on the animal and started to hunt in some occasions. It had not done that the day before nor that morning. On the third day I had the same experience. In the morning it seemed to go well, but after having been out for an hour or 3, the camera showed the same problem. I didn’t switch lens, to see if it was caused by the lens or camera. So I still don’t know what caused the camera to do this. I will keep testing the camera in these conditions and see if this will happen again or not.
I’m more that happy with the results from the past two photo tours. I do notice that the coloring is a bit softer in the Sony camera than I’m used to with my Canon cameras. The pictures need a bit stronger push in Camera Raw to get the colors out. But what is lacks in color, it makes up for it in dynamic range and high ISO performance. It is incredible how much I can increase the exposure, shadows and blacks on the computer, without losing image quality, compared to my Canon images. The top picture on this page, is one exposure. On the RAW file the musk-ox is hidden in the shade. But by lighting up the shadows, the details in the animal appeared again. Here I have to point out that I can compare the Sony images only to my 1DX images and not to the images of the more equal 1DX mkII. When reading she specs, the Sony a9 and Canon 1DX mkII should be on the same level. So I should gain the same increase in image quality if I would switch to the 1DX mkII instead of the Sony a9.
In combination with the lenses I have used so far, the Sony a9 produces razor sharp images with a lot of detail also in the dark and bright areas.
In Camera Raw the colors can be brought back rather easily.
Sony a9, Canon 17-40mm f4, @ f13, 30s, iso 200.
Dust on the sensor
During the first trip I switched a lot between lenses, since I had only one body to work with and the subjects changed through the day. Yet, until now I had to remove only once a piece of dust from the sensor. The blow rocket did the job in a few seconds and I was ready again to shoot. With my Canon 1DX I would have had thousands of small particles on the sensor by now. So this is a huge improvement!
To sum things up for the Sony:
-Light sensitivity for night photography
-Autofocus (fast, tracking, 95% of the sensor)
-Sensor on the viewfinder is too sensative
-Scrolling through the pictures while zoomed in takes ages
-Autofocus (started to struggle after several days in the cold)
-Image quality (it is superior to the Canon 1DX which I own, but should be similar to the Canon 1DX mkII)