Sleepless Over Sony's a9: what is it really, and for whom?

Yes, the a9 is sick-fast, arguably sickest-fastest general purpose camera out there. But I actually lost sleep after shooting with it for a full day, wondering “why this camera, why now, and for whom?”  

The rise of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras is incontrovertible, part and parcel of the equally incontrovertible fall of DSLRs. You don’t need to take my word for it – CIPA has been publishing shipment volumes and values for years, and the last half dozen have been truly horrifying if you’re a camera manufacturer.

Still, Canon and Nikon continue to dominate the world of professional sports photography and photojournalism, relegating mirrorless ILC’s -- even as accomplished as Sony’s a7 series -- to the status of “consumer” or maybe, grudgingly, “prosumer” gear in the eyes of many pros.

With the a9, Sony is laying down the gauntlet. “You DSLR manufacturers offer 14fps? You have big bright optical finders to capture the decisive moment?” “Fuggedaboudit. Your shooters miss the decisive moment every single time because your mirror blocks it. Our mirrorless a9 shoots 20fps with NO blackout, has in-body-image stabilization, 4K video quality and assists you can’t touch (hold that thought), is smaller, lighter, quieter – and costs thousands less ($4,448 vs. $5,999 for the Canon 1DX II and $6,497 for the Nikon D5).

“Suck on that.”

I think Sony is being very clear.  The a9 isn’t trying to be everything to everyone. It isn’t trying to be the one hybrid camera you’ll ever need. It’s Sony’s attempt to dethrone the king and queen of sports photography, throwing in some great video capability that the current royals can’t match – just in case.

And both sports shooters and photojournalists under deadline aren’t going to futz around with log or 10-bit 4:2:2.

As a life-long Canon shooter until just three year ago, it seems to me Sony just may have a point.  And – in the a9 – that point is a sharp stake through the heart of the last bastion of top-end DSLRs.

Or not, because no camera is perfect and the big boys have a decades-long headstart in things like ergonomics and customer support.

We can’t release photos and footage until after NAB, so in the meantime check out the video below to show and tell what we can. Frankly, I’m not the one who should be losing sleep over the a9. But there are more than a handful of execs in Tokyo who might be.