(Written by Daniel. At time of writing, we are not sponsored or affiliated with Sony in any way, and this is an honest review based on our experience. As of February 2018, we’ve photographed 3 full weddings with it)
Yup, that’s all of our gear right there. Davina and I shoot with 1 Sony A9 body, each with a Sony 24-105mm lens. We made the jump from our DSLR in December 2017. The truth is we had been dreaming of switching to a mirrorless system for a few years, primarily for the ability to shoot completely silent, but never felt that there was anything capable of keeping up with the way we shoot. Enter the Sony A9.
Ah… pure silence.
The first wedding we shot with the A9 was Na’Omi + Alex, at a beautiful synagogue in Montreal. We were able to stand right under the chuppah, firing off as moments happened right in front of us. Mid-way through the ceremony, a guest started shooting with his DSLR, and the loud “click” sound was just so apparent. In that moment, we were hooked to the silence. If we weren’t discreet before, now our clients, and their guests, notice us that much less. After a few weddings, we’ve started turning the sound ON for formals & portraits, so our subjects are aware we’re actually taking photos!
This was the main paint point we found with other mirrorless systems. The focus could never keep up with the speed at which we, and our subjects, move. The Sony A9 has so many ways to focus, an entire page could be dedicated to that alone. It’s as good as everyone says. Finding the right mode & option combination boils down to the user, but no matter the setup, it’s safe to say the A9 will focus considerably faster than our Nikon D4. We did try the Nikon D5 prior to the switch, and still found the A9 to be better in that department. It’s just incredibly FAST.
We seem to have found a happy place with switching between the large focus point that moves around, and the Eye-AF + Face Detection. I would recommend playing around with the Eye-AF and Face Detection only after the first few shoots, as it’s a lot to get used to. Those two features are magical though. The Eye-AF picks up in the hardest situations, and when coupled with registered faces (yes, you can register your bride & groom’s faces, for example), will pick them out for focusing within a crowd of people. There’s a sequence of priorities the camera will follow, depending on the focus mode you’re in, so keep that in mind.
Low Light Performance
We definitely made it challenging for ourselves by picking up an F4 lens, but sticking to 1 body with 1 lens was really important to our physical health (and we do feel so much better now after a long wedding day). So while we do wish we could open to F2.8 or F2.0, the high ISO range allows us to keep a decent shutter speed at all times. We’ll commonly photograph the reception at ISO12800.
Where we did loose just a tiny bit is focusing in super low light. On the D4, we would commonly use the flash’s AF assist beam (the red crosshair light) to help pickup focus in low light, even if we disabled the flash to shoot ambient. Unfortunately mirrorless cameras aren’t capable of picking up that red beam, so the flash doesn’t even emit it. We do switch to AF-S (instead of AF-C) in darker situations, so the camera’s orange AF assist light goes off. It’s just not quite as fast, but we have learned which focusing mode works best (AF-S, medium focus point) and where to place it (high contrast point, such as where the white shirt meets a suit jacket, or the hairline), to maximize our opportunities.
The DR is just incredible. To date, we have been able to recover every highlight & shadow that might’ve seemed lost, and the files edit beautifully. No contest there!
The 24-105mm F4 lens
Switching to a 1-body setup with only 1 lens was probably the 2nd most important criteria for making a switch. Our backs & shoulders were starting to really feel the weight of carrying 2 bodies for 12 hours. Unfortunately, Nikon didn’t have anything longer than 24-70mm, and 85mm was really the minimum for us.
We come from the mindset that all you need for a wedding is a 35mm and an 85mm lens. We shot with that dual camera/lens setup for over 7 years on our Nikon cameras. Fixed lenses force you to move your feet, and think more consciously about the focal length, and the composition in the camera. So making the switch to a zoom lens was something we considered very carefully. We agreed that if we relied on our experience of shooting with fixed lenses, we wouldn’t fall into any kind of lazy habit that can come from using a zoom lens (at time of writing, so far so good!).
The HVL-F43M flash
After testing a few other flashes, we settled on this one, for it’s good power output (HVL-F60M will have more of it, but will also cost more), and fast recycle times (when coupled with good AA batteries). We mainly shoot bounce flash, only at the reception, and typically only on the dance floor, so our needs are fairly minimal. We are looking forward to trying the Profoto A1 when it becomes available for Sony mounts.
- The EVF is bright (adjustable), sharp, and easy to read. It makes you feel good when taking photos!
- The auto white balance nails it 99% of the time, making for little to no adjustments needed during post-production.
- Almost all of the buttons are fully customizable, not to mention 4 memory sets. There’s probably a thousand ways you could set up the camera, making it extremely versatile depending on what you shoot, and how you like to use your camera.
- The JPG files, with the Vivid setting, are just absolutely beautiful. We photographed our kids for 5 weeks while traveling in Oregon & California, and only used the JPGs to post on our Instagram account (@danielkudish @davinakudish)
- At home and on the road, we’ll use the Zeiss 35mm F2.8 lens, which is tiny, making this an extremely small & light setup for travel!
- The menu is extremely lengthy, and confusing at times. Setting up something as simple as the dual card slots requires several Google searches. Luckily, our friend Megan Allen had a great step-by-step to set this up!
- General getting used to it. We’ve shot over 30,000 photos on the A9, each, and can now say we’re finally getting used to it. Most of frustrations have been a result of user error, as we didn’t have a full grasp on the camera itself.
- The EVF indicator showing that a photo is being taken could be a little more obvious, but again, something we’ve gotten used to.
Pictured above is our new Stella Light. We’ve been shooting with video lighting for several years now, as we prefer the continuous (read: visible) light source it provides over an off-camera flash. The most important factors for us are that the light be dimmable & reliable, and this one definitely does that. It’s also waterproof (yup, it can go underwater, which we have yet to try), and comes with all the right accessories to control the quality of the light. After years of searching, we may have found the one!