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Will I switch from DSLR to Mirrorless? My first photoshoot experience with the Sony a9

As you might already know, I am seriously thinking about changing my DSLR gear in favor of mirrorless. Because it would require a very important investment — perhaps one of the biggest I could make as a photographer — I want to feel 100% confident about my decision. For review purposes, I’ve been loaned two camera bodies: The new micro four-thirds Olympus OM-D E-M1X and the full-frame Sony a9. This article reviews my first photoshoot experience with the latter.

Our first date

Cloudy sky, soft light coming through the window, this was the perfect afternoon for our first activity. I asked two aerial artists friends to come by and work their magic. I shot most of the photographs backlit — as you can see from the picture below. It would’ve been challenging with my Nikon D750 as the focus sometimes searches too much in those conditions. The a9 never failed to lock on once.

But then …

Sony a9 and 55mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 1600

Could you be a little hyperactive, Mr. A?

Within a few minutes of shooting, I realized the camera’s autofocus (AF) setting was waaaaaaaay too responsive for my needs. It was literally all over the place. I would press the AF button and the focus wouldn’t stay where I wanted it to be. It caught me off guard and I became a little irritated. Couldn’t you just lock on where I asked you explicitly, Mr. A? A few minutes later, with a call to the right person and a little education, I found which settings suited best my needs.

Is too much of a good thing possible?

Twenty frames per second. That’s a hell lot of pictures in a tiny short amount of time. I shot something like 600 pictures before I even knew it (or heard them being taken for that matter). It is extremely easy to take too many of them. The shutter is so efficient, I barely pressed on it and it was already bursting like there was no tomorrow. I wasn’t even noticing even because 1) I didn’t experience any blackouts in the viewfinder and 2) it was completely silent. Very different from my DSLR habits. Again, it all came down to learning my way to a new workflow and getting used to a different technology than the one I was used to.

Sony a9 and 55mm f/1.8 lens at f/2.5, 1/800s, ISO 1600

Then we danced

I felt like slowing things down for my dancer shooting so I slowed the shutter speed to 1/40s. I wanted to see the athlete moving without it being too blurry. Here, we can see how she was lifting her right leg to create a circle in front of her (I apologize to all the dancers reading this, I have no idea the name of what she’s doing). It came out really well — thanks to the image stabilization offering five stops of vibration reduction.

Sony a9 + 55mm f/1.8 at f/2.8, 1/40s, ISO 100

This next one is my personal favorite of the day. I love how graceful she is: Her long hair flowing in the air, the expression and the light on her face. It’s very dynamic and also very soft. As I wanted to freeze the motion back again, I sped the shutter up to 1/1000th of a second.

Sony a9 and 55mm f/1.8 lens at f/1.8, 1/1000s, ISO 1250

Nifty 50

If you are wondering why all the pictures were taken at 55mm, it’s plain simple. Sony’s rep asked me which lens I’d like to have with the loaned body. Well, he learned as you’ll learn: I’m a sucker for primes. I am used to taking pictures 75% of the time with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. He got me the amazing Sony Zeiss Sonnar 55mm f/1.8 to pair with it.

I’ve been blown away by the quality of the image, the fast autofocus, the sharpness and the gorgeous colors straight off the camera. Auto White Balance is the best I’ve ever experienced (call me lazy I don’t care, I’m always on AWB). It literally saved me half the time in post-production — I’m not even kidding.

Honestly … how long can you last?

These photoshoots lasted for about 3.5 hours (from which I got around 1700 frames). It used 85% battery life. This was one of my main concerns when I started considering mirrorless cameras. Well, I can tell you, it ain’t anymore with the a9.

A second date allowed

I’ve been extremely pleased with my first experience and am actively scheduling new photoshoots with different sports. I have yet to put to the test the newly released 5.0 firmware and I can’t wait to see what the extremely promising real-time tracking autofocus that has in store.

If you are facing the same choice I am and you haven’t read my two previous articles, “Are you considering switching your DSLR to a mirrorless? I am” and “Will I switch from DSLR to Mirrorless? First hands on the Sony a9 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1X,” you might enjoy reading them as well. I am sharing my fears and hopes about completely switching to DSLR gear to mirrorless. On my upcoming article, I’ll share the story of my first date with Mr. X (aka Olympus OM-D E-M1X) at an Olympic Weightlifting meet. I’ll keep you updated with my appreciations. Stay tuned!

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