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How Does the Sony a9 Perform For Wedding Photographers?

Ok….first things first…I’m a Sony sponsored Artisan of Imagery and I have an admitted bias to Sony cameras.  I am not an employee, they don’t tell me what to write or what to say and these thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

I switched to Sony though in 2014 before I was ever sponsored by them, after using mostly Canon cameras since 1986.  I saw then, and still believe, that mirrorless cameras are the future and I believe Sony is going to be the leader in a much-needed change in the industry for a variety of reasons.

 

Now that that is out of the way, here’s the TL; DNR version:  The a9 is damn near the perfect camera for wedding and event photographers, and not just sports photographers for whom the camera was initially pitched (though they will love it as well!).  

 

Frankly, it’s the camera I have been hoping for for, oh, about 35 years and Sony has created what I think will be one of the seminal cameras in the history of photography.

 

There are a few things that I think could make it absolutely perfect and I will touch on those near the end of my review.

 

So why do I think this is the perfect camera for wedding photographers?  Let me count the ways.

 

1. Silent Shooting

The thing is Silent.  Silent.  As in dead quiet.  You simply cannot hear the camera.  This is such a gift to wedding photographers who have suffered the icy stares from priests, ministers, rabbis, and the dreaded church ladies, especially when the loud of shutters of modern DSLRS would go “ker-chunk” during the ceremony (and if you think DSLRs are loud, you should have heard how loud Hasselblad's were!).  Thankfully cameras have been trying to get silent over time, but nothing has gotten to this level of absolute. dead. silence.  Until now.

The Leica, the venerable Leica rangefinder, used to be the marker for this — in fact, in the 80s it was considered the hallmark of a quiet camera good enough for being used in a court of law.  But, that camera was still not 100% silent and shooting with long lenses and at a high frame rate was nearly impossible due to the rangefinder focus (not through the lens, like the modern SLR or DSLR camera).  

Back in the day, the Leica (for me, anyway) was a very wide angle/normal lens camera while SLR cameras (pre-digital) were for longer lenses.  Eventually though, SLR cameras became the workhorse because they just allowed you to do everything from wide angles to telephotos.

But, and this is big, they were bigger than a Leica rangefinder and not as quiet.  And, as digital SLRs became the norm, they became much bigger because AF made the lenses bigger.  It was a ever-growing camera and lens line up built around a mirror that was needed back in the day to flip over from the viewfinder to exposing film.

Think of it this way: if a Leica rangefinder combined with a full frame Canon or Nikon sports DSLR, the offspring would be the bouncing baby Sony a9!

2. Fast AF & 20 FPS!

While fast AF (20 frames per second) is the much-hyped  feature for this camera, it has limited applicability for wedding photographers.  It’s already easy enough in this digital age to shoot and shoot and shoot.  Twenty fps just makes it easier to shoot even more.  

BUT, there are selected times in a wedding that having 20 fps is a real godsend because it gives me extra confidence that I will deliver the image from a very fast and fleeting part of the day.  Examples of that would be the first kiss, the processional, the recessional, bouquet and garter toss, breaking the wine glass (at a Jewish service) and the first dance.   

3. Big Buffer

In conjunction to the fast 20 fps frame rate, having a large buffer that allows you to shoot 241 RAW frames or 363 jpegs is a big advantage.  This was one of the weak links of smaller mirrorless cameras — they tended to bog down when there were a lot of images shot.  This improvement is imperative with the faster speed of the camera.

4. Dual SD slots

Had this feature come out with the a7RII, I bet even more wedding shooters would’ve adopted the system back in 2015.  And while I’ve never had an SD card go down since switching to Sony, unfortunately I know that others that have.  This will go a long way to allowing wedding shooters to breathe easier by having a back up created immediately upon shooting.  And, one of the slots is an extra fast SD card slot which works with the newer, faster cards announced with the camera.  A welcome addition for a pro grade body.

5. Better Color

This camera has great color right out of the camera and I love the look of the jpegs.  They seem more vibrant, the skin tones seem more pleasing and it appears that Sony tweaks their color science with every launch.  What this means for me is that the jpegs created while shooting RAW+jpeg are very good and the RAW files are superb as well.  There is a new setting on this camera called Priority Set in Auto White Balance which adjusts the AWB by either biasing off the Ambient light or from White light.  This seems to give a more vivid and accurate representation of the scene in Auto White Balance.

6. Improved Eye AF and Improved 5 axis IBIS

One of the most amazing features of the Sony cameras is Eye AF especially for portrait shooters.  This camera improves that feature because of the significant upgrade in processor speed.  Even when shooting fast action, the Eye AF works and works well.  Face detection seems to be improved as well.  5 axis  IBIS is even steadier and it seems almost like the camera is on a gimbal when shooting.  Making waist level stills or waist level video shooting easier is the way that Sony tweaked the proximity sensor so now the EVF stays on once any part of it is pulled away from the camera body.  This makes low profile street shooting or discreet video shooting even easier.  

But the proof is in the shooting and I was able to shoot a wedding as a third shooter for my friend (and fellow Sony user) Jim Kennedy at a Hindu/Jewish wedding he was commissioned for in late May (right after the camera came out). It was like shooting two weddings in one!!  I used two a9 cameras for the event and four lenses:  24-70 f2.8 Zeiss A mount (with LA-EA3 adaptor), 70-200 f2.8 G Master, 35 f1.4 FE Zeiss, and the 85mm f1.4 G Master. 

The camera was an absolute joy to use because the autofocus was so accurate, the speed during those fleeting special moments in a wedding was so helpful, but I have to say the best part of the experience was the fact that the camera was totally silent during both ceremonies.  

It was like shooting video in that the guests simply could not hear my camera make a sound.  I believe that this will soon become a huge benefit and selling feature for not only wedding photographers, but people such as Photographers on Movie Sets, Golf Photographers, the White House — any photographer  who needs to keep a quiet and low profile.  

In many ways, it was perhaps the easiest wedding photography experience that I have had because I had so much certainty on exposure (from the Live View of Settings Effects on in the EVF), precision of auto focus, and knowing that my camera was not drawing undue attention due to noise.  Simply an astounding photographic experience.

Here is a video slideshow of my favorite images from the day (about a 12-hour event and the cameras performed exceptionally well without any overheating issues and good life out of the batteries).

Here is a gallery of the still images from the day which started (for me) around 10:30 am, went through the afternoon and into the evening.  

 

How can this camera be improved?

For news photographers, the FTP has to be configured to work better for newspaper and agency workflow.  For a wedding photographer such as me, that is not an issue.  My main issue is that this camera is super niched in its categorization.  

Certainly it is a fine news gathering and sports capturing camera.  But it’s also an amazing camera for the wedding and portrait crowd.  Those two market sectors are huge and continue to be viable and sustainable business models.   Not without their struggles of course, but they certainly seem to be more resilient than the news photography and sports photography game.

Those sectors of photojournalism have suffered terribly in the past 15 years — sports photography just ain’t what it used to be.  Smaller newspaper staffs, more consolidation of agencies such as what Getty has done, and the loss of staff photographer positions at the venerable Sports Illustrated have made sports photography a shrinking marketplace.  Sure, it’s sexier and more appealing than the wedding and portrait space, but when you have sports photographic agencies paying pitiful and ungodly low amounts for a sports assignments, it’s no wonder that this sector of the market has cratered.

Conversely, wedding and portrait shooters have a bigger marketplace and while those sectors have suffered some since the 2008 recession there are still photographers making significant incomes in these spaces.  

Pricing too needs to be lower.  While $4498 is a “bargain” compared to the $6k prices of the 1DX II or the Nikon D5 — it begs the question as to who is buying those cameras?  Many journalists are getting those cameras as part of their equipment from their employer.  But I know very few in the wedding and portrait space that use these cameras.  Aside from cost, size is also a factor that is prohibitive with those oversized DSLRs.  The a9 is a tiny camera in comparison but really punches far above its weight class.

Were Sony to price this camera in say the $3500-$3999 range, it would give them a market position that would say that this camera performs like a 1DX II but is priced like a 5d IV!  I think many photographers who want to jump would be more inclined to do so, were this camera to come in at the price of the 5D IV.  

I would love to see a dynamic range closer to the a7RII and the a7SII.  The a9 is very good in this regard (check out the latest DxO reporting on this) and would love to see it even better.

On the video side of things, I hope Sony will upgrade firmware so that there is S-Log and Cinema Profiles.  By not releasing them it seems odd, despite the fact that the camera is aimed at still shooters given that every virtually every current Sony mirrorless camera (including the point and shoot RX100V) do include it.  The video I have shot is superb nonetheless and with the improved IBIS it is even more stable when hand holding.  I think this will further expand the market for the camera by upgrading the video through firmware.

This camera is, without a doubt, the camera that I dreamed Sony would make when I switched from DSLRs back in 2014 and I’m so glad that they did.  Now I just need to get two of them!

All images shot with Sony a9, Raw + jpeg.  Initially edited in Photo Mechanic, RAW files processed in Adobe Lightroom CC and then finished using Alien Skin Exposure X.  

Thank you to Mona & Ben and their families for allowing me to document their special day and a huge thank you to Jim Kennedy for allowing me to be a third shooter for him at his wedding which gave me a real world test of the performance of the Sony a9!  

Video Project: Austin Brotman's SCI Scholars Charity

 

I wanted to share with you a recent project — a video project —  that I did for a long-time portrait client.  I have been photographing their family for years and in June of 2015 the family experienced a horrific accident.

While on a Florida vacation, their oldest son Austin broke his neck in a diving accident and he became paralyzed from the neck down.

Now, almost two years since the accident and Austin is living his life and is an inspiration for so many. Recently he earned a PERFECT score (36 out of 36) on the ACT test!!  One tenth of 1% of the students (2 million students take it annually) taking that test ace it.  

Even while he was in the first two months of his recovery, Austin was also in the midst of taking five AP courses over that summer.  

This video was created to help them raise money for Austin’s rehabilitation hospital in Denver, CO.  He saw a need for high school students with Spinal Cord Injuries to get technology like computers, etc. to help keep them in school.  It’s a very worthy charity and I am extremely proud to create this video for them and help.  If you would like to support Austin’s efforts, please go here:

 http://support.craighospital.org/site/TR/Events/General?px=1030015&pg=personal&fr_id=1050

 

 

New Think Tank Streetwalker Pro Roller and Turnstyle v2 Sling Bags

Our friends at Think Tank Photo have just released a new rolling backpack as part of its classic StreetWalker series, as well as upgraded all three of the backpacks in that series. 

Now with the StreetWalker V2.0 series, you get new features such as increased depth for modern DSLR systems, and dedicated pockets for both tablets and smartphones. 

The new rolling backpack’s harness system allows you to roll the bag or carry it on your back in comfort.

The new Think Tank Streetwalker Pro Roller

The new Think Tank Streetwalker Pro Roller

This is the perfect bag for when you need both wheels and a backpack -- which happens often in my world (for example, at the airport, I love rollers, but for an outdoor, beach wedding, having a backpack is really nice).

(To order that roller using my affiliate link please click this line:)

In addition, they’ve upgraded their popular TurnStyle sling bags. 

Ideal grab-and-go bag for a casual day of shooting with a DSLR or Mirrorless system and lenses, wear a body-conforming TurnStyle bag as either a sling bag or beltpack to move and shoot freely.

The new Think Tank Turnstyle v2 Sling Bag.

The new Think Tank Turnstyle v2 Sling Bag.

The new Turnstyles feature a tuck-away stabilizer strap and are available in two new colors: Charcoal and Blue Indigo. 

To order this new bag, using my affiliate link, please click on this line:

Don’t forget that because of my relationship with Think Tank when you click on these links you will receive free gear and free shipping!

Ask Paul: What would you recommend for getting started with video?

Getting started with Video with Sony cameras.png

I enjoy hearing from colleagues and friends about Sony and am starting to get more and more inquiries not only about the Sony a9 camera but also, video.

As a photographer who has made most of his living with the frozen (still) image for nearly 3 decades, I'm starting to add more video to my mix this year and I couldn't be more excited about it.

I got an inquiry from a photographer who is primarily a wedding and portrait shooter and, with his permission, I'm sharing this email and response because I think it's really an issue that many starting out deal with.  ENJOY!

Q: Hey there, Paul! This time, it’s MY turn to ask you some questions.

Well, it’s really ONE question, but please bear with me.

We have been seriously considering adding video to our skill set. In so many ways, I feel like I waited too long.

So we’re now trying to refocus our efforts.

I don’t know if it will work, but we’re wiling to explore. Long story made short: As you know, I’ve already been invested in the Micro Four Thirds system with Olympus.

However, video is merely a hobby for Olympus, and they’ve admitted as much.

One of the most popular cameras for video is the Panasonic camera, a GH4 or a GH5, which would also allow me to use my current investment of Olympus glass. HOWEVER, it seems the Panasonic GH5 has some serious issues with autofocus, and a number of reviewers are complaining about it or simply tolerating it and saying “For video I use manual focus anyway.”

So if you were looking to recommend a camera to produce video clips for an experienced primarily stills photographer, what would you recommend? I’d be glad to have your honest opinion about it. Notice, I have NOT defined a budget. I’m merely interested in the tool that will serve me well, and I can decide budget from there. Thanks for your input! No rush. I don’t have any cash burning a hole in my pocket. LOL! Thanks! again.

And here's my reply

(TL;DNR - get the Sony a6500, and 16-50 kit lens to start or, get the 18-105 Sony with it's power zoom -- perfect for video.  Then add a full frame camera like the a7SII, the a7RII or the new a9 and get the ability to shoot full frame video).

Thanks so much for your note.  Those are some great questions.  And I will try to give you what I think is the best answer.

So you know I’m a Sony guy so I’m not going to sugar coat it.  I think they have the best view of the future going forward from both the standpoint of stills and video.

In fact, if you go back to my Sony switch You Tube back in 2014, you’ll see that — ironically enough — my first choice for switching to Sony wasn’t stills, it was video (and still is).

I do believe that video is going to be figuring into our futures — even us still shooters — because that is the way the world is evolving.  If you watch little ones, and I watch my kids and how they consume information on the web and they 1) love video and 2) easily go back and forth from stills to video — on an iPhone or an iPad it’s a swipe or a button press.  That is the future and video is going to be omnipresent.

I see this in many ways just as profound a shift — actually MORE of a shift — than when we went from film to digital.  This will impact not only our tools but the mindset with which we work.  It’s exciting and I am embracing my inner Spielberg as I move forward.  In fact I’m having more fun with it (despite the long learning curve to learn Premiere (but I’m getting there!) as I try to gain my footing on a somewhat rocky earth as the business changes.

In 2012 I was looking to update my gear since my Canon 5dm2 was getting long in the tooth as were the v1 zooms and I wanted to look at everything.  And I did.  Everything (well almost everything but enough to make what I feel was the best decision for me).

Babysteps, babysteps...

First came Samsung.  

I was given an early camera (which was BAD) but it came with an 85 mm f1.4 lens (which was INSANELY great) and while the EVF was slow, the camera was primitive, I had a sense that this was where the future was going.  Good thing I didn’t go in that brand direction because Samsung eventually bailed on their attempt, but still it was a great place to start.

Then I tried Olympus, Panasonic (GH2, GH3 — before the GH4), early Fuji (I had an XE-1 and some glass) but none of them ever really made me think that I could give up DSLR 100% of the time.  I just never loved the look I was getting from M4/3 though I know many love them.  (As an aside, the GH5 is a great camera with some awesome specs — I will address that a bit more later….suffice it to say they raised the bar for the standard offerings for a small compact video/stills hybrid camera).

Doing DSLR with video was always a huge PITA for me.  I just didn’t like using it and having to put a viewfinder on the back of the monitor on the camera just seemed like such a compromise.  

Working with the Sony cameras, I use the tilting monitor on the back of the camera, add an external monitor (I haven’t yet done that but am looking at the new 5” monitor from Small HD, Atomos, or the Sony 5” monitor, or look through the EVF just like I would look through it if I were to be taking stills.  To have that many options really works for me…especially as I move to video coming from my ingrained habits of shooting stills.

I was just about ready to give up on mirrorless all together and re invest in DSLR until my good friend (and fellow Sony Artisan Pat Murphy-Racey) said to me:  “I know you’re frustrated with mirrorless and you don’t want to try anything else, but please try ONE more camera.”  He suggested the newly launched Sony a6000 and the newly launched 70-200 f4 and I rented them from LensRentals.com and the rest, as they say, is history.

I knew within minutes of picking of the camera that this was indeed going to work for me…and I migrated from Canon DSLR to Sony immediately.  I also stopped any dalliances with other mirrorless systems because I believe I had found "the One" (how's that for a Matrix reference!?) that I was looking for.

Three Sensor Sizes Give Sony users a distinct advantage

One of the reason was choice:  there are three basic sensors that I can use — from 1” sensors on the RX100V, RX10II, III, to the APS-C sized sensor on the a6300 and a6500 to the full frame (35mm size) sensors on the a7RII, a7SII and now the a9.  I like having those options and in fact last night I photographed an event using only the a7SII and the a6500 and it was great.  

Start small, get your feet wet, then expand...

So my recommendation to you starting out as wanting to try the Sonys for video would be to get an a6500…I wouldn’t get an older camera because the a6500 has built in 5 axis IBIS and if you plan on shooting 4K video there is a thermal sensor override that lets you keep going with video and it works well. The a6300 which is a bit cheaper, doesn’t have the IBIS and tends to overheat when shooting 4k video. You don’t want that to happen so trust me and get the a6500.

For a lens, you can start with the little 16-50 kit lens which is actually a good little lens, but be careful with it…it isn’t super heavy duty….you could also look at the 18-105 f4 which has a power zoom and is a favorite of videographers who want to use the camera and lens on a gimbal.  And, because it’s a power zoom you won’t need to rebalance it as you zoom.

There is a 16-70 f4 Zeiss lens which is a very good lens, though it’s more of a still photography lens, meaning that as you zoom, the lens protrudes so it’s not ideal for using on a gimbal because it would mean having to rebalance.

After you get your feet wet with the a6500, then you might want to go up to a full frame sensor and then add some glass.

I love the 24-70 f2.8 GMaster, it is superb and works well in AF on the a6500…it covers Full Frame.  Then you could add an 85mm such as the 85mm f1.4

GMaster lens, the 85 1.8 Sony or the 85mm f1.8 Zeiss Batis.  All are native on the E mount cameras but full frame and cropped.  I also have a relatively inexpensive 10-18 f4 which is the perfect super wide for gimbal work and it gives you a 15-27mm equivalent on a full frame.  You could add a 70-200 then and I recommend the 2.8 because it is the best made 70-200 that I have ever used for stills.  The smoothest zoom and the most even manual focus make it so good.  I’m very happy with this lens.

New Life for Sony A Mount Glass with the a9

If you get an a9, then the world opens up even more for your needs in glass.  You can use the Sony A mount lenses (the earlier models, meant for the a99II and are the old Minolta Maxxum mount).  The new sensor of the a9, coupled with a souped up Sony LAEA3 adaptor and those lenses will track at 10 FPS.

I have a 24-70 f2.8 A Mount lens and I absolutely love it (it might even be sharper than the GMaster!) and is amazingly smooth in manual focus.  I use MF with this lens all the time for stills and video.  A superb lens and you could probably find a used one for a song. 

The other thing about the new a9 is that it should really open up the Canon glass even more using adapters such as the Sigma MC11 or a Metabones EF-E.  There are reports out that they will perform as well on the new a9 (EF glass that is) as it does natively.  Note:  I have not tried for myself, so I cannot speak to the claims personally, but I plan to try it as soon as possible.

If that was the case, it opens up the range of the Canon optics onto the Sony line and that is very cool (though Canon probably doesn’t love that news)…

Even the AF on the a6500 with the 24-70 f2.8 and the LAE3 is very very good.  I cannot wait to see what happens with the new camera and sensor.

So there you have it -- I hope you find it helpful.

Paul

 

Any follow up questions?  Please post them in the comments below!