Sony's aa9 II: Great value for professional photographers

Launched in 2017, the aa9 is Sony's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera that is targeted at professional, action and sports photographers.

Now its successor, the aa9 II, is here.

It retains many key specs of the aa9, including the 24.2-megapixel Exmor RS stacked-design image sensor, the 3.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF), the 1.44-million-dot rear touchscreen LCD, a shooting speed of up to 20 frames per second (fps), and 693 phase-detection and 425 contrast-detection auto-focusing (AF) points.

The stacked-design image sensor has the processing circuit and integral memory located just behind its pixel area to deliver data to the Bionz X image processor and sustain its fast processing speeds.

While the aa9 II might have the same image processor, it is said to have been upgraded to improve the camera's AF speed, face detection, EVF response time and subject tracking.

Shooting speed has also improved. While both cameras have the same shooting speed of up to 20fps, this applies only when using the electronic shutter.

With the aa9, shooting speed is reduced to 5fps when using the mechanical shutter. With the aa9 II, it is reduced to only 10fps.

The mechanical shutter reduces rolling shutter distortions, while the electronic shutter has the advantage of silent operation.

Design-wise, thea a9 II looks similar to its predecessor, but there are slight changes.

It has a slightly more pronounced grip and thicker buttons, and the exposure compensation dial - sited on its top right corner - now has a locking button to prevent accidental movement. Its rear AF joystick has a more knurled texture for better grip.

Overall, the aa9 II improves upon its predecessor's superb handling.

  • FOR

    •Swift operation

    •Excellent image quality

    •Super-fast shooting speed

    •Long battery life


    •Relatively expensive

    •No CFexpress card slot


    PRICE: $6,299 (body only)

    IMAGE SENSOR: 24.2-megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS

    SCREEN: 3-inch tiltable touchscreen LCD with 1,440,000 dots; electronic viewfinder with 3,686,400 dots

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 50 to 204,800

    SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 20 frames per second

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi, Near Field Communication and Ethernet

    WEIGHT: 678g (body only, with battery and memory card)


    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4.5/5


    BATTERY LIFE: 4.5/5


    OVERALL: 4.5/5

In addition, both its memory slots support the faster UHS-II format, unlike the aa9, which has only one slot supporting it.

And, instead of its predecessor's use of the micro-USB port for charging, the aa9 II has a USB-C port for faster charging and quicker image transfer.

However, with the Olympics taking place this year, I feel Sony should instead have supported the ultra-fast CFexpress cards to cater to news and sports photographers.

For instance, Canon's newly announced EOS 1D X Mark II flagship DSLR camera has two CFexpress card slots.

I tested the aa9 II with Sony's FE 24-70mm f/4 GM lens, though a 300mm telephoto lens is probably what I need to really test this camera's mettle in sports and wildlife photography.

Still, the aa9 II is very quick. It takes 1.5 seconds for both start-up and shut-down operations, compared with the usual two seconds for most mirrorless cameras.

Using a UHS-II SD card with a writing speed rated at 299MB per second, it shot 243 RAW images in 16.1 seconds before the buffer ran out. This is amazing, as many DSLR cameras cannot match this performance.

In bright sunlight, AF was instantaneous. Even in dim lighting conditions, the camera took only 0.5 seconds to secure its focus with the help of the AF assist light.

The image quality is excellent. Images are sharp and have great dynamic range, with plenty of detail even in darker areas.

Noise performance is equally impressive. There were very few noise artefacts even at ISO 6,400. At ISO 12,800, noise artefacts were more evident, but the detail loss was minimal.

Even photos taken at ISO 25,600 are good enough for small prints and Web use, as I found out when photographing stray cats in my neighbourhood at night using that ISO setting.

But I would not recommend anything at ISO 51,200 and above, as the detail loss will be obvious and you will also see discolouration.

Battery life is slightly better than its predecessor's. The aa9 II is rated at 690 still images compared to its predecessor's 650.

In my tests, the aa9 II was able to shoot around 680 still images before the battery went flat, while most mirrorless cameras usually manage around 350.

Perhaps the only downer is its price. At $6,299 for the body alone, the a9 II represents a much more hefty investment compared to its aa7-series cousins.

But the aa9 II is targeted at the professionals, who will find the camera to be great value for money.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline 'Great value for professional photographers'. Subscribe