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DxOMark Sony A9 Review Finally Clarifies Where The A9’s Sensor Ranks, & It’s Important

By Kishore Sawh on June 16th 2017

DxOMark has released their Sony A9 sensor review, and what this effectively does is remove any doubt that the A9 plays at the level of the flagship performance cameras from Nikon and Canon, and in many instances, bests them. It also pulls into focus which many had been questioning since the first images from A9s were released, about how the camera’s sensor actually stood up in terms of dynamic range, low light ISO (and low ISO), color, etcetera – all of which have been questioned and even criticized by some reviewers.

Some other notable reviewers somewhat infamously said of the A9 that it had “less dynamic range,” and “Studio analysis confirms limited dynamic range”. That wording is a bit broad and the articles didn’t really make clear, or, arguably, make fair/consistent clarifications what it was being compared to, or why. Less than what? Limited compared to what, and why compare those?

Most of these comparisons were pitting the A9 against the a7RII’s sensor rather than that of the D5 and 1DX Mark II, and that’s a bit curious. It’s curious because when  reviewing and critiquing the D5 and 1DX Mark II there isn’t really criticism of the fact the sensors in those cameras take a big hit in DR compared to other cameras from those brands. For example, the D5 was praised and its sensor falls far short of the D810, but that wasn’t a negative talking point for the D5 in the same way as it was for the A9. So while it’s natural to want to compare it to the A7Rii, it’s hard to speak negatively of the A9 in those terms and not of the other flagships which suffer the same when compared to other sensors from their brands.


It would appear that this distinction is an important one to address because, when seeing titles with wordings like that above, with terms like ‘less dynamic range’ and ‘limited,’ it may come across (as it has for some) that performance of the A9 is somewhat hindered, when in fact, for its class, it’s not. It warrants understanding what it’s all in relation to. Now, with DxOMark’s scores we have a clear picture of this, that really, ‘less’ and ‘limited’ only refer to how it stacks up against a different type of camera (a7RII) – and at low ISOs at that – and it beats its actual competition overall. Oh, and not just regarding dynamic range, but color depth as well…

The Sony a9’s sensor ranks as one of the best we’ve tested at base ISO, with consistently good scores for dynamic range and color depth, and exceptional results for noise. At those crucial mid to high ISO sensitivities for action photographers, image quality is also excellent and on par with flagship Nikon and Canon sports DSLRs.

For the very best image quality, the a7R II offers better results for color, as well as almost twice the sensor resolution, but it isn’t a sports camera and can’t compete for performance against the A9, so they’re intended for different markets. – DxOMark

Keep in mind too that it also has higher resolution than the D5 or 1DX Mark II, but we’ll get into that in my final take on the A9 to come shortly…

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jacob Jexmark

    “For the very best image quality, the a7R II offers better results for color, as well as almost twice the sensor resolution, but it isn’t a sports camera and can’t compete for performance against the a9, so they’re intended for different markets. – DxOMark

    *cough* The A9 will never be a sports camera until Sony have the lenses to back it up. 

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  2. adam sanford

    And because sensors and AF points and fps are the most important things in a camera, that’s why we expect the A9 to take over the flagship sports/reportage segment just like the A7R II did in its segm—

    …oh.  Wait a minute.

    For Sony, it’s all about balancing the books in areas *other* than sensors/fps/4k/etc.

    Good side of the ledger:  World class sensors + loads of tech (IBIS, 4K, etc.) + great small rigs for the size-constrained (travelers,

    Iffy side of the ledger:  Lenses are getting there but their best are plutonium priced focus-by-wire designs

    Radioactively bad side of the ledger:  Reliability, service, 3rd party accessory ecosystem and ergonomics — in particular a grip not stout enough and too close to the mount to comfortably shoot f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 primes all day.  In short:  all the stuff they never fixed from the beginning of their A7 adventure.

    Excited for Sony to succeed, I am, but they keep stepping on the gas with sensors and tech and continue to drive right past basic usability considerations.

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    • Marlon Richardson

      Iffy side of the ledger:  Lenses are getting there but their best are plutonium priced focus-by-wire designs.

      – I challenge you to find any reviewer of Sony’s GM, G, and Zeiss branded lenses that rate them poorly. Outside of very long primes, for E-Mount, Sony has it’s bases well covered for the pro market compared to Nikon and Canon. 

      Radioactively bad side of the ledger:  Reliability, service, 3rd party accessory ecosystem and ergonomics — in particular a grip not stout enough and too close to the mount to comfortably shoot f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 primes all day.  In short:  all the stuff they never fixed from the beginning of their A7 adventure.

      – I don’t know in the last 10 years it Nikon and Canon have had many dire issues with their pro camera’s. Nikon had to preemptively recall their D5 and D500. We also all know about the oil issues of the D600 and the sensor shading recall of the D750.   


      With Canon their previous 1d (X/C) series along with other pro models had recalls due to defective pin and/or lube issues. Also that model had serious AF issues that never got corrected. A total disaster. Then with the new 1dx camera it is a known issue that they may not operate Sigma lenses properly. I can get into other Canon models but this stuff is easy to find.    


      Sony OTH, has had comparatively low issues outside of the vibration on the first version of the a7r. All the other minor issues they may have had from model to model are fixed via a firmware update.   


      And today accessory wise everybody important is onboard with Sony except for Pocket Wizard. Sony Pro Support is also very good with overnight shipment of equipment for it’s members and very quick service repair.   


      Of course if you don’t love the ergonomics, that’s a valid reason to choose something else. But many photographers do love Sony’s ergonomics in the a7/9 line and it’s a big reason why they continue to sell more and more.  

      What Sony is doing is undeniable right now. They have a camera that spec wise either matches or exceeds it’s competitors with a better sensor in smaller, lighter, and less expensive body.   


      More importantly what else can Canon and Nikon do to improve their best cameras? With Sony in a year or so we could conceivably see them put their specs so far out from Canon and Nikon that they’d have to rethink their entire ecosystem to compete. That’s why it’s a game changer. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Marlon Richardson, Adam didn’t say that the GM / G/ Zeiss lenses were POOR, he simply said that they were plutonium-priced. Which many of them are. Their price tags put the “Canon vs Nikon price war to shame, in some cases.

      That, and yeah, pixel-for-pixel, some lenses are indeed still way better on Canon or Nikon. Though not all. I’d consider that a a wash.

      The main problem is, there’s a huge supply of options from third parties on both of the two main DSLR systems, and most of those options are extremely affordable by comparison. Sony switchers on the other hand are forced to either put up with manual focus or clunky adapted autofocus, …or forced to buy expensive native FE name-brand lenses.

      Regarding service, yeah, all brands have skeletons in their closets. I could rattle off plenty of dead horses that we’ve beaten over the years, for all three brands.

      But the issue is not that, the issue is customer service and repair / support. In that regard, Canon’s CPS and even Nikon’s NPS are leaps and bounds ahead of what Sony has previously offered. In short, if you’re a professional Sony shooter, you’re largely on your own when it comes to maintaining a professional kit and dealing with breakages or other issues.

      But, I don’t think that’s entirely Sony’s fault, I think that’s just the way electronic devices are headed these days. A Nikon or Canon P&S camera or mirrorless system is similarly “disposable”; often times the cost of repair (both time and money) is more than simply buying a new item altogether.

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    • adam sanford

      Matthew should be my publicist.  :-)

      1) Overpriced + focus-by-wire = a fail for me.  Optically they are great, but I have FBW lenses — I strongly prefer the ring USM with mechanical override.  It’s also nice to be able to frame a shot and focus with the power off, and FBW lenses won’t let you do that.

      2) CPS/NPS is what I was referring to.  No one is expecting a flaw free product in all circumstances, but a near-instant replacement as a ‘thanks for ponying up north of $3k for a rig’ is a nice perk for those in the CaNikon camp.

      Again, I’m not throwing stones at Sony so much as wondering why they continue to sharpen/improve their best aspects rather than making simple andmeaningful corrections to the gaping problems they have.  Making a slightly chunker grip with a some finger spacing between the grip and mount solves a clear and present problem.  ISO invariance and a jillion FPS don’t make this any prettier of a picture. 

      See below.  That’s a straight up failure to understand the needs of photographers — a rig purpose built to wield the most high-end glass was largely cloned from the A7 footprint, and look what that gets you (see following replies).  Sony needs to focus on user needs just a bit better.

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    • adam sanford


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    • adam sanford

      …gets you *this*, and all the FPS and ISO invariance in the world won’t make your hands stop hurting in the middle of long day of shooting.  It’s a cartoonish miss of some basic user needs by Sony. 

      Once Sony gets this stuff right, *then* we might see this exodus of pro shooters to Sony.  The tech is already there, but the basic spit and polish and photo know-how is not.

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  3. Marc Williams

    Personally, I understand Donny’s perspective … we have to remember all the spec’s for the A9 are unproven over time like the Canon/Nikon Pro cameras have achieved. 

    There is no doubt that Sony has arrived on the scene in full force. I switched over before most were even considering Sony … starting with the A900 on to the A99, then A7R, and now A7R-II (which is a remarkable camera, but not an end all). 

    However, in all honesty, I cannot say that the results I’ve accomplished have made that much impact compared to previous systems. IMO, much of it is specification hype designed to continually up-sell the spec-centric technophiles. Whether those specifications are actually realized in real world is a question I’ve begun to ask myself with more caution than when I was an early adopter. People prattle on about mind boggling  improvements but I see little of it in their work. 

    I went Sony Mirror-less for two reasons: 1) the Zeiss Lenses (A900), and to lighten the load, but that entailed slower lenses to accomplish … a staple 24-70/2.8 zoom is a wash compared to the zooms from Canikon. What I didn’t bargain for was the ergonomic disaster these cameras represent … fine for gamer photogs, but not me and many other pro shooters I know. I AM getting the hang of Sony mirror-less but it has taken a while. 

    As a pure business decision, one has to weigh many factors. If your business supports such a shift to a whole new system … great!  Yet there are many other factors that can give one pause. 

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  4. Donny Cotten

    Take into account the lack of lenses issue, the overheating and other quality problems of the Sony A9 and Canon 1dx mk ii still sits far on top of this race.

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    • Paul Seiler

      I keep hearing about “overheating” in comment sections but I know a wedding photographer who has been shooting thousands of images a day with this and said it hasn’t even given him a warning once, much less actually overheated. If it overheats in video work, fine but let’s call it that and keep the genre’s separated. This is a photographer’s camera (obviously yes, for the visually ambidextrous it matters, BUT …) they make other cameras (A7S II, A7R II) that shoot 4K video with in-camera stabilization just fine and so video makers don’t necessarily need to jump ship and onto this A9. The feature improvements with this A9 are blatantly geared towards photographers and based on the few conversation I’ve had with fellow photographers that have been renting or have purchased this, no-one is talking about overheating and at least one has already posted all their Nikon gear, D5 and D750 included, to switch systems. I’ve seen a couple reviews where the Metabones adapter is focusing non-Sony-native Sigma ART series lenses even faster and more accurate than the native Sony mounts. Even if that’s a rare case, that entire lens argument is also becoming dilapidated with the combination of accurate focusing adapters and the rapid growth of the GM series. I love my Canon gear personally, but no-one should neglect or be in denial of the signs that Sony has been, and will continue to be, coming in full force.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      How do you figure, Donny? We’ve addrsssed overheating and it’s not an issue. What other quality problem, because that sounds arbitrary? How long before Sony sorts the lenses?  A year is my guess. What’s better about the Canon (for $2.5k more also) than the Sony other than unlimited buffer? AF isn’t as good (and more difficult to set up) FPS isn’t.  Video isn’t. Size. AF point distribution and number. Low light AF. Really though, I’ve shot with both and am curious what you feel is so much better about the 1DX. 

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    • Marlon Richardson

      Yeah the overheating isn’t happening. At worst Sony might be alerting users of heat build-up far too early. Here is a recent test from a reputable company.

      Donny Cotten I see you are a wedding photographer. Can you tell me what lenses Sony is missing for what you do? I also shot weddings and from where I sit, I see all my needs covered 2x-3x’s over. 

      In terms of QC, Canon has loads more QC issues that require more than a firmware update to fix. For the 5d Mark IV, look up sensor banding. For the previous 1dx(c) you had lube and oil spotting and erratic AF that Canon could never really fix. 

      In terms of performance and reliability the 1 dx Mark II is already lagging behind. With comparatively less AF points, noticeably less responsive AF, along with less effective ISO at higher ISO’s. 

      Still a great camera but it’s no where near class leading. 

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