Sony Alpha 9 II Review

Sony Alpha 9 II

Right. I'm late to the game with the a9 II review. This camera hit the streets over two years prior, which is a long time in camera years. The updates in the version II camera were seemingly incremental, there were higher priorities, and this review was pushed back.

With reviews of newer Sony Alpha camera models completed, including the Sony Alpha 1 and Sony Alpha 7 IV, picking up the a9 II seems a slight step back in time. Still, the Alpha 9 II is a competent, high-performing camera, ready for sports and other fast-action challenges.

Summary of Sony Alpha 9 II Features

  • Upgraded BIONZ X™ image processing engine gains maximum benefit from the sensor’s fast readout speed; processor works with front-end LSI to enhance speed in AF/AE detection, image processing, face detection and accuracy, and more
  • Upgraded dust and moisture resistant design to meet the needs of professionals in even the most challenging outdoor conditions; stronger sealing provided at all body seams as well as the battery compartment cover and media slot
  • Latest developed image-processing algorithm reduces noise in the medium-to-high sensitivity range while improving subjective resolution and image quality
  • 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization system that provides a shutter speed advantage of 5.5 steps
  • Improved grip configuration for even greater comfort and sure hold; compatible with Sony VG-C4EM Vertical Grip
  • Improved button design and feel; increased diameter and feedback of the ‘AF-ON’ button; a refined multi-selector joystick design; an exposure compensation dial lock button; and a redesigned shape and new position for the rear dial
  • Redesigned shutter mechanism to suppress even the slightest movement that can cause image blur; tested for durability in excess of 500,000 shutter cycles
  • USB Type-C™ connector that supports fast USB 3.2 Gen 1 data transfer
  • Dual media slots that are both compatible with UHS-I and UHS-II SD cards, allowing higher overall capacity and faster read/write speeds
  • Digital audio interface has been added to the camera’s Multi Interface Shoe™ (MI Shoe), enabling the new ECM-B1M Shotgun Microphone or XLR-K3M XLR Adaptor Kit to be connected directly to the MI Shoe for cleaner, clearer audio recordings

Sony Alpha 9 II Body

Sensor and Image Quality

The a9 II inherits the 24.2 megapixel stacked CMOS sensor from the a9. While 24 MP overall resolution is no longer high for a full-frame sensor, those opting for this camera are more interested in speed and performance than an ultra-high megapixel count. This camera provides easily adequate imagery for full- and double-page magazine spreads.

ModelFOVCFSensorPixel SizePixels/MegapixelsViewfinderDLA*
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm6.6µm5472 x 364820.1 .76x100%f/10.6
Canon EOS R31.0x36.0 x 24.0mm6.00µm6000 x 400024.1 .76x100%f/9.7
Canon EOS R51.0x36.0 x 24.0mm4.39µm8192 x 546445.0 .76x100%f/7.1
Canon EOS R61.0x36.0 x 24.0mm6.56µm5472 x 364820.1 .76x100%f/10.6
Sony a11.0x35.9 x 24.0mm4.2µm8640 x 576050.1 .90x100%f/6.7
Sony a9 II1.0x35.6 x 23.8mm5.9µm6000 x 400024.2 .78x100%f/9.6
Sony a91.0x35.6 x 23.8mm5.9µm6000 x 400024.2 .78x100%f/9.6
Sony a7R IV1.0x35.7 x 23.8mm3.8µm9504 x 633661.0.78x100%f/6.1
Sony Alpha 7 IV1.0x35.9 x 23.9mm5.1µm7008 x 467233.0.78x100%f/8.2
Sony a7C1.0x35.6 x 23.8mm5.9µm6000 x 400024.2 .59x100%f/9.6
* Learn more about DLA (Diffraction Limited Aperture)
View the full Sony Alpha 9 II specifications to compare additional cameras.

While it is easier to get pixel-sharp images from a low-resolution imaging sensor than from a considerably higher resolution imaging sensor, that difference resolves when images are viewed at the same output size.

The Sony Alpha 9 II resolution chart results appear similar to those from the a9. Here is that comparison.

The Sony Alpha 9 II vs. Canon EOS R3 comparison is interesting. The two cameras have similar resolution, but the Canon pipeline delivers considerably higher resolution results.

The Sony Alpha 9 II vs. Sony Alpha 1 comparison shows the newer, higher-end a1 camera's strong resolution advantage. Also, the lower-priced a7 IV shows its resolution advantage in the Sony Alpha 9 II vs. Sony Alpha 7 IV comparison.

The a9 II offers the standard, full sensor 3:2 aspect ratio along with 16:9, 4:3, and 1:1 (the a9 was limited to 3:2 and 16:9 ratios).

Since the a9 II utilizes the same imaging sensor as the a9, I struggled to justify allocating the time to test the a9 II's noise performance. In the end, I couldn't skip this one.

Sony Alpha 9 II ISO Noise Comparison

I suppose that ensuring accurate and complete testing is never a waste of time. For the a9 II Sony claims, "Latest developed image-processing algorithm reduces noise in the medium-to-high sensitivity range while improving subjective resolution and image quality", but don't expect to find real-world-noticeable noise or dynamic range improvements in an a9 to a9 II upgrade. Still, both the a9 and a9 II deliver outstanding image quality, including low noise and high dynamic range relative to their peers.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

Camera shake directly impacts image quality for both still images and movies, and Sony's 5-axis Optical In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) is a difference-maker, providing up to a 5.5-stop shutter speed advantage (up from 5.0), and the stabilized viewfinder is also quite advantageous. Lenses such as the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens and FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens have significantly increased versatility with IBIS available.

Many of Sony's lenses, including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, have image stabilization included, and in-lens stabilization can be better-tuned to the focal length in use. However, IBIS also has advantages. For example, in-lens stabilization cannot correct for rotation as IBIS can. IBIS works in coordination with in-lens OSS (Optical Steady Shot) for enhanced overall performance.

Sony Alpha 9 II Angle

File Size and Media

The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately-high amount of detail taken with the referenced camera.

Model / File Size in MB @ ISO:(MP)100200400800160032006400128002560051200102400204800
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III(20.1)24.725.225.426.026.927.828.930.331.933.735.936.3
Canon EOS R3(24.1)29.330.330.831.932.733.835.2.36.938.840.944.244.5
Canon EOS R3 CRAW(24.1)16.116.817.218.218.819.719.919.318.918.719.818.2
Canon EOS R5(45.0)51.653.153.655.657.760.163.066.470.575.179.5 
Canon EOS R6(20.1)24.124.724.925.626.427.328.429.831.433.335.535.9
Sony a1 Uncomp(50.1)102.2102.2102.1102.1102.2102.5102.4102.6103.4103.4104.4
Sony a1 Non-Lossy(50.1)64.064.765.767.169.171.674.478.280.896.093.9 
Sony a9 II(24.2)47.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.247.2
Sony a9(24.2)47.247.247.147.147.147.147.147.147.247.247.247.3
Sony a7R IV(61.0)117.0117.0117.0117.0117.0117.0117.0117.082.082.082.0 
Sony a7 IV(30.0)43.143.444.144.946.147.750.052.555.958.660.764.6
Sony a7C(24.2)47.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.247.247.2
RAW file sizes increase with 1. Resolution 2. Bit Depth (more is better/larger) 3. Detail (noise adds detail, so high ISO file sizes increase) 4. Lack of compression. Memory and disk are cheap – buy more.

Sony's non-lossy compressed RAW file format arrived after the a9 II. This means that non-lossy a9 II files are very large for this resolution. A lossy RAW format is available, providing a significant file size reduction.

Is the difference between Sony compressed RAW and uncompressed RAW noticeable? In real-life images, I had difficulty seeing any difference, even when zooming to magnifications greater than 100%.

The Sony a9 II features dual media slots supporting simultaneously (for redundancy) or sequential (for increased capacity) writing, with especially the former being valued by professionals who can afford no excuses. Both slots support the SDXC UHS-II format (one of the a9's slots is UHS-II compatible), and slot 1 is now in the logical top position.

While faster memory card formats are available, this camera's SDXC UHS-II implementation provides a solid buffer depth, and these cards are considerably less expensive than the newer alternatives.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

Camera shake directly impacts image quality for both still images and movies, and Sony's 5-axis Optical In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) is a difference-maker, providing up to a 5.5-stop shutter speed advantage, and the stabilized viewfinder is also quite advantageous. Lenses such as the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens and FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens have significantly increased versatility with IBIS available.

Many of Sony's lenses, including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens, have image stabilization included, and in-lens stabilization can be better-tuned to the focal length in use. However, IBIS is complementary to in-lens stabilization. For example, in-lens stabilization cannot correct for rotation as IBIS can. IBIS works in coordination with in-lens OSS (Optical Steady Shot) for enhanced overall performance.

Frame Rate, Buffer Depth, Shutter

One spec that a slow memory card format could hinder is the buffer depth. Still, with a 361 image JPG spec and 239 RAW file spec, the a9 II is able to capture frames continuously for a considerable duration.

Of course, if capturing frames at this camera's fastest rate, 20 fps, that duration may not be as long as you first expected. Also, note that Sony's RAW buffer size spec is based on the compressed lossy RAW file format. The spec is reduced by about 50% when using the 2x larger Uncompressed RAW file format.

ModelFPSMax JPGMax RAWShutter LagVF Blackout
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III16/20>1000>100029-55msn/a
Canon EOS R312/3054015020-76ms0ms
Canon EOS R512/2035087/18050msn/a
Canon EOS R612/201,000+240 n/a
Canon EOS R2.2-810034/4750msn/a
Canon EOS RP4Full50/Full55msn/a
Sony a110/3040023820-42ms0ms
Sony a9 II10/2036123920-33ms0ms
Sony a910/2036224120-33ms0ms
Sony a7R IV10686820msn/a
Sony a7R III10762820msn/a
Sony a7R II5242320msn/a
Sony a7 IV10Unlimited1,000+  
Sony a7 III104016320ms 
Sony a7C10213+115+20ms 
View the full Sony Alpha 9 II specifications to compare additional cameras.

Photographers chasing perfection cannot have a too-fast frame rate, and the 20 fps frame rate is an outstanding a9 II feature.

While the 20 fps rate, also an a9 capability, is a headlining feature, a footnote is required. Achieving 20 fps requires selecting the JPG or compressed RAW file format, only the electronic shutter is supported, and only specific lenses are supported.

Let's take a quick tangent. What are the advantages and disadvantages of an electronic shutter?

Let's start with the positives. With no mechanical shutter being used, there are no moving parts, shutter failure is not possible, there is no shutter vibration to be concerned with, faster shutter speeds are possible (up to 1/32000 in this case), and the camera can be operated in absolutely silent full stealth mode. Wildlife and event photographers should take careful note of that last benefit.

The a9 II allows the electronic shutter or mechanical shutter to be specifically selected, or the camera can automatically select between those options.

A huge advantage enjoyed by the original a9 over previous electronic shutter models is that there is almost no perceptible viewfinder blackout at fast shutter speeds. While the blackout is still noticeable at slow shutter speeds, photographing action is when blackout becomes a big issue, and action is typically photographed with fast shutter speeds. Even high-speed subjects can easily be tracked in this viewfinder.

The downsides of an electronic shutter are primarily related to the current technology line-by-line reading of the imaging sensor. Fast subject or camera movement can result in an angular-shifted image with vertically straight lines becoming slanted (with the camera in horizontal orientation). It is not hard to create an example showing this effect. Simply quickly pan the camera across a scene with a vertical line extending the frame height while taking a photo with the camera in horizontal orientation.

An issue relating to a fast-moving camera or subject goes against the purpose of a pro sports and action camera. But, it should be understood that the second curtain of a mechanical shutter chasing the first curtain can produce the same effect. However, the difference between mechanical shutter and electronic shutter performance in this regard has historically been quite big. The original a9 changed this game. While mechanical shutters remain advantaged in this regard, the a9's electronic shutter significantly closed the gap between the two, and I did not notice the electronic shutter angulation effect in use.

Another electronic shutter issue to be aware of is that certain light pulsing can influence the results, potentially creating banding. I have not yet encountered this issue with the a9 or a9 II.

An upgrade for the a9 II is that the electronic shutter is compatible with flash. Sometimes experience teaches compatibility, and photographing the noise test for this camera taught that the electronic shutter is not compatible with ISO 51200 and higher.

If the compressed RAW file format and electronic shutter work for you, the 20 fps high-speed drive mode awaits your use, promising to capture the perfect moment of fast action.

The a9's max continuous mechanical shutter frame rate was a low, especially for a sports camera, 5 fps. The a9 II doubles this rate to a respectable 10 fps, with modestly subdued sound and seemingly shortened shutter lag.

With a freshly-formatted fast SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB 300MB/s UHS-II SDXC Memory Card loaded and the Sony A9 II set to uncompressed RAW, electronic shutter, high-speed drive mode, ISO 100, a 1/32000 shutter speed, a wide-open aperture, manual focus (no focus lock delay), the buffer filled after the camera captured 130 images. There are very few applications where this performance would not be adequate. Additional frames are captured with still good frequency after the buffer is filled.

Switch to the slower 10 fps mechanical shutter (and 1/8000 sec), and the buffer fills with after 170 images are captured.

A performance-related consideration is that writing the full buffer to the card takes a very long about-26 seconds with the referenced SDXC card. While you may not be capturing buffer-filling bursts most of the time, you need to understand that writing to the card takes a noticeable amount of time. While already-written images can be reviewed during the buffer-write process (a nice feature), the still-buffered images are not available for review, and some camera menu options are inaccessible. If shooting a long burst of action photos and needing to quickly check how the last images look or change a menu setting, this camera may leave you wanting.

A (minor-for-most) memory card performance-related issue to mention is the memory card format time. Sony creates a database while formatting memory cards, and the entire format process is long, taking about 9 seconds to format a 32GB UHS-II SDXC card. While 9 seconds is not a terribly long timespan, it seems quite long when inserting a not-preformatted memory card while action is happening (and not in keeping with our impatient culture). You will likely want to format your Sony-destined memory cards during shoot preparation, not during a shoot.

A visual example is always beneficial for understanding the speed of a specific frame rate, and when testing the a9, I went searching for speed. So a visit to the PA Sprint Car Speedweek finale at the local dirt track seemed appropriate. Drag your mouse over the labels under the following image for a visual look at the 20 fps rate using a 410 sprint car cornering at over 100 mph (160 km/h) as the subject (again, Sony a9 images).

Sony a9 20 fps Frame Rate Example

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12

That is an impressive number of angles on a single car in a single pass.

There are few applications where faster panning is required than auto racing photographed from the infield fence, and this is a scenario where the electronic shutter readout could cause the angulation issue described above. That effect is surely in these images, but it is hard to notice. If I had not told you about the issue, you likely would not have noticed it, and even after being made aware, you may still not see it.

The only downsides to the high frame rate are the space the files consume on media and the time it takes to transfer, pare down and process the images. Dealing with over 6000 images captured in 3 hours at the aforementioned race, with most of the event time spent waiting between race events, was quite daunting. When 20 fps is too fast, the a9 offers Mid and Lo continuous shooting modes for 10 fps and 5 fps shooting, respectively, with an electronic shutter.

A short shutter lag is an important attribute of a camera, especially one designed for pro use. I have not seen a Sony-sourced spec for this, but the a9 II seems responsive.

Autofocus

The a9 II inherits the a9's AF system, along "with newly optimized algorithms".

That a camera delivers fast and precise autofocus is paramount for most professional uses, and especially so for sports and wildlife photography, where do-overs are seldom possible. Therefore, if the camera does not perform the AF task extremely well, it will not be chosen for these uses. To that end, the a9 II features 693 phase-detection AF points on the image sensor. While 693 is a big number, perhaps even more beneficial is that those AF points cover approximately 93% of the image area, as shown in the Sony illustration below.

Sony a9 AF Point Coverage

Often, especially when photographing wildlife, I find myself needing a slightly wider focal length or longer subject distance than otherwise required just to be able to keep a focus point positioned on the subject. This camera nearly eliminates this issue, and higher-quality images result.

Sony claims that 60 AF/AE calculations are being made each second, especially relevant while shooting in continuous mode. "The BIONZ X processor and a front-end LSI deliver higher performance in a number of critical areas including autofocus speed and precision, face detection speed and precision, and EVF display response." [Sony]

The Sony A9 II's Focus Area options are Flexible Spot (S, M, or L point size selectable), Expand Flexible Spot (uses focus points around the spot as a secondary priority area for focusing), Center, Zone (9 selectable large AF areas) and Wide (all points active). AF point/area selection can be made using the joystick or, if using the rear LCD for live view, touching the LCD will select the focus point, overriding the AF area to Flexible Spot until the cancel icon is tapped. Furthermore, the rear LCD can be used for touch-and-drag AF point or area positioning during viewfinder use.

AF parameters can be further configured, including Priority Set in AF-C (priority for AF vs shutter release in continuous focus), AF tracking sensitivity, and orientation-sensitive AF point and area selection.

The a9 II focuses in extremely low light levels (rated to EV -3 – 20 with an f/2 lens). As usual, focus speed suffers in low light, but the task is usually accomplished if a subject with sufficient contrast is selected.

As now expected from a Sony Alpha camera, focus accuracy is superb.

While this camera focuses fast, the speed of AF-S single focus lock is somewhat slow due to the camera defocusing the lens prior to focusing. Even if the subject was already in focus, the lens is adjusted to a shorter focus distance and then back to the distance it started.

In AF-C continuous focus mode, the a9 II gives up the focus hunting practice, and the result is noticeably-faster focus acquisition.

Video

Sony has been praised by many in the video industry for including high-end video features in their mirrorless full-frame cameras. The Sony a9 and a9 II continue this trend with features such as:

  • Full-frame (no crop) video capture at 4K, 24/25p (1.24x crop when set to 30p)
  • Up to 4K video output simultaneously to micro HDMI and memory card
  • XAVC S format, H.264 compression with uncompressed Linear PCM Audio
  • 3.5mm headphone/mic jacks, micro HDMI
  • Built-in stereo microphone

Available formats and framerates are as follows:

XAVC S 4K [3840 x 2160px]: 30/25/24p at 60 or 100 Mbps
XAVC S HD [1920 x 1080px]: 120/100p at 60 or 100 Mbps, 60/50/30/25/24p at 50 Mbps
AVCHD [1920 x 1080]: 60/50i at 17 or 24 Mbps, 60/50p at 28 Mbps, 24/25p at 17 or 24 Mbps
MP4 [1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720]:60/50p at 28 Mbps, 30/25p at 6 or 16 Mbps

The value of being able to record 4K video at 60 fps cannot be understated, even if your typical output is only Full HD 1080p. The additional resolution captured in 4K recording is substantial. The illustration below demonstrates the difference between Full HD and 4K resolutions.

4K vs. FHD Resolution Comparison

If outputting to 1080p, you can easily downsample the 4K video, crop the frame to provide a tighter angle of view or even pan your FHD video within the confines of the 4K captured frame. You can also mimic zooming in and out of a scene to add even more production value to your 1080p movies.

Of course, creating 4K content is the primary benefit of purchasing a 4K-capable camera. 4K video offers more than 4x Full HD resolution, allowing for beautifully sharp and detail-rich movies that will remain impressive on resolution-hungry devices.

Movies can be recorded in any shooting mode by pressing the MOVIE button located to the viewfinder's right. Optionally, the shutter button can also be programmed to start/stop movie recording when the camera is set to Movie or Slow & Quick Motion modes, although relegating the shutter button to video start/stop purposes inevitably disables focusing via the same button.

In Slow & Quick Motion mode, the camera records in XAVC S HD format and can be set to capture frame rates ranging from 1fps to 120fps in NTSC (1fps - 100fps in PAL), with the former being appropriate for speeding up slow-motion events such as flowers blooming and the latter being useful for slowing down fast action events such as an athlete scoring a goal or a bride throwing the bouquet. Note that audio is not recorded in S&Q Motion mode.

Sound is recorded via the built-in stereo microphone or an external microphone using the 3.5mm mic jack.

Various markers and masks can be displayed, with options such as gridlines and aspect ratio masks aiding in shot framing. The a9 II can be set to record 4K video in-camera (via the memory card) and/or output the video to a compatible playback monitor or recorder via the micro HDMI port.

The high-quality video capabilities of the a9 II add strongly to the overall value of this small, high-performance camera model.

Exposure/Metering System

Modern cameras are very good at determining the exposure parameters required for properly exposed images, and the a9 II ranks among the best currently available.

Light flicker avoidance technology is a significant upgrade the version II Alpha 9 received. While this feature is only available in mechanical shutter mode, it can be a game-changer when shooting under flickering lights.

Viewfinder and LCD

The camera's size is very small, but the size of the viewfinder is not. The a9 II viewfinder is larger than those in professional-grade DSLRs.

The a9 II shares the a9's viewfinder. This 0.5" (1.3 cm) electronic 3,686,400 dot (Quad-VGA) OLED EVF covers approx. 100% of the image area (before diopter correction) with approx. magnification of 0.78x and eyepoint of approx. 23mm.

This viewfinder's lack of blackout when the electronic shutter is used is a huge feature advantage over lesser camera models. The constant view of the action permits careful framing to be maintained continuously despite subject motion.

Quickly put the a9 II to your eye and, via a proximity detector, the camera switches the image display from the rear LCD to the EVF, ready for a quick capture. The information displayed is highly customizable, and with the 120fps refresh rate, I seldom see flickering. DOF preview is the default, and the background blur change can be seen as the aperture is adjusted.

The rear LCD is a tilting 2.95" (7.5cm) 1,440,000 dot TFT. While this LCD can be used for touch AF point and area selection, including via touch and drag during EVF use, that function is the limit of its touch capabilities.

Though standard upon release, the a9 II's menu system can now be referred to as an old version, with a seemingly overly-difficult structure that includes a large number of subtabs under the main tabs.

Tour of the Sony Alpha 9 II

Those familiar with Sony's typical camera layout will readily familiarize themselves with the a9 II, still featuring Sony's usual somewhat squarish design. Visually, the a9 II and a1 are nearly the same, and the a9 II does not depart far from the a7R IV, III, and other similar model layouts. Notable is that the a9 II's design inherits many ergonomic improvements seen in the a1, a7 IV, and other recently released Alpha models.

To visually compare the Sony Alpha 9 II with many other camera models, use the site's camera product image comparison tool.

Sony Alpha 9 II Back

Back of the Camera

The a9 II has the welcomed feature enhancements first seen on the a7R IV, including buttons raised higher with a raised plastic surrounding area below them. The enlarged AF-ON and zoom button is an improvement I find to be significant. The a9 II's joystick contact surface is improved.

The common rear control dial is always a great feature; however, this implementation is not my favorite. As with the a1, the edges of the control are not as grippy as I'd prefer (perhaps the surrounding plastic is raised too much), the dial presses in all directions (like a joystick) but only has four accepted press directions, and the clicks are not as reassuring as they should be.

Overall, a solid set of easy-to-find controls are provided in a mature layout on the back of the a9 II.

Sony Alpha 9 II Top

Top of the Camera

Again, the top of the a9 II is nearly identical to the top of the a1.

With the drive and focus mode selection moved to dials, this camera's design departs from the a7R IV design utilizing the rear control dial and custom buttons for this functionality. While the physical controls are faster to use, the newly selected options do not display in all viewfinder displays, making changes in the dark challenging to see.

The mode, exposure compensation, and drive mode dials feature lock buttons to prevent inadvertent changes. Only the exposure compensation dial features a toggling lock that retains the locked or unlocked setting when pressed – meaning that you can have your preference of locked or unlocked. The drive mode dial features solid positional clicks, but the focus mode dial clicks are slightly soft for an assured position setting.

The modes that professionals (and anyone serious about photography) have come to expect are included: M, S, A, P. Those who want to take advantage of a great camera without a learning curve (and those who need the camera to decide what settings are required in an instant) have the intelligent auto mode ready for immediate use.

Three custom mode options are again provided, ready to store your most-used settings for immediate recall. Note that the a9 II is also capable of saving and reading camera settings to/from a memory card.

S&O mode, referring to the opposites "S"low and "Q"uick, is used for Slow and Quick Motion movies. Just counter-clockwise to the S&O mode is the standard movie mode.

A pair of programmable custom buttons are again provided within convenient reach of the grip hand's index finger. These buttons are noticeably raised and are easier to find than on the a9.

The a9 II's power switch, surrounding the shutter release, is conveniently positioned, allowing the camera to be powered on with the grip hand's index finger while the camera is in hand.

The exposure compensation dial is easily accessible to the thumb and provides easy visual confirmation of the current setting.

On the a7R III, the dial on the top, referred to as the rear dial, located rearward between the mode dial and exposure compensation dial, was exposed by 3mm more than in the a7R II, making it also considerably easier to use. On the a7R IV, the dial breaks out of the camera shell, becoming fully exposed on top of the camera, where it is considerably easier to use. The a9 II also gets that optimization. This dial and the front dial have soft-click positions.

The front dial is angled upward slightly, making it easier to use than the previous designs.

Overall, the Sony Alpha a9 II provides a considerable number of controls, availing quick setting changes. Once acclimated to the Sony control positioning and feature locations, this camera is easy to use. This camera's controls have a high-quality overall feel.

Sony does not include a top LCD on the Alpha mirrorless camera models. While I like the top LCD, I don't seem to miss it when using these cameras.

Sony Alpha 9 II Left Side

Side of the Camera

Ports on the left side of the camera from the top-right, moving clockwise, are: External Microphone In / Line In (Stereo mini jack) and power in, Headphone socket (Stereo mini jack), HDMI micro connector (Type-D) out, USB Type-C (3.2 Gen 1), Multi-terminal USB (Micro), PC Sync Port, and LAN Terminal (1000BASE-T).

Sony Alpha 9 II Ports

Size of the Camera

One of the big attractions to the Sony MILCs is their small size and light weight. Small is great in many respects, but too small has a potential downside regarding the grip of a frequently-used camera.

When you want to have full control over something, you grasp it with your entire hand. You don't hold a baseball bat, tennis racket, or golf club with just your fingertips. The same is true for a camera grip. While I'm not swinging my camera in the same way as those sporting implements, I still want total control over my camera and an attached lens.

The Sony a7R II grip was too small for me. Despite its grip being about 2.5mm deeper than the II's, the a7R III grip didn't seem much improved. The a7R IV grip iteration was a significant improvement. The increased palm swell was immediately felt when picking up the camera.

The a7R IV grip extends forward noticeably farther than the a7R III grip, providing the depth needed to fill fingers, and many will find their pinky remaining on the grip vs. sliding under it. While the a7R IV's grip is much more secure and comfortable in hand, this update did not address the lens clearance issue. I've often complained about Sony's larger lenses uncomfortably impacting my first two fingers' first (non-cushioned) joints (I have medium/large hands). With the grip not being moved outward away from the lens, the a7R IV still has that issue.

The a1 grip measures an additional about-1.6mm in depth (slightly varying depending on where measured) from the a7R IV grip. While this difference is slight, the lens impact pressure difference is noticeable. I'm not ready to call the issue completely resolved, but it has significantly improved. The a9 II came before that last design change.

ModelBody DimensionsCIPA Weight
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III6.2 x 6.6 x 3.3"(158.0 x 167.6 x 82.6mm)50.8oz (1440g)
Canon EOS R35.9 x 5.6 x 3.4"(150.0 x 142.6 x 87.2mm)35.8 oz (1015g)
Canon EOS R55.5 x 3.8 x 3.5"(138.0 x 97.5 x 88.0mm)26.0 oz (738g)
Canon EOS R65.5 x 3.8 x 3.5"(138.0 x 97.5 x 88.4mm)24.0 oz (680g)
Sony a15.1 x 3.9 x 3.3"(128.9 x 96.9 x 80.8mm)23.7 oz (673g)
Sony a9 II5.1 x 3.9 x 3.1"(128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5mm)23.7 oz (673g)
Sony a95.0 x 3.8 x 2.5"(126.9 x 95.6 x 63.0mm)23.7 oz (673g)
Sony a7R IV5.2 x 3.9 x 3.2" (128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5mm)23.5 oz (665g)
Sony a7R III5.0 x 3.9 x 3.0" (126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)23.2 oz (657g)
Sony Alpha 7 IV5.2 x 3.8 x 3.1" (131.3 x 96.4 x 79.8mm)23.0 oz (650g)
Sony a7 III5.0 x 3.8 x 3.0" (126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)23.0 oz (650g)
Sony a7C4.9 x 2.8 x 2.4"(124.0 x 71.1 x 59.7mm)18.0 oz (509g)
View the full Sony a9 II specifications to compare additional cameras.

Overall, aside from the a7C, there is little size and weight difference between the Sony Alpha full-frame camera models. All are small, and all are light. Few will complain about those features, especially when carrying, either in a case or in hand, for long periods. That said, the a9 II is practically the same size and weight as the a1, the largest and heaviest camera in the lineup.

Overall, the Sony Alpha 9 II is a modestly-sized DSLR camera that feels comfortable in my hand.

Sony Alpha 9 II Right Side

Ergonomics, Build Quality, and Durability

Built on a lightweight, high-rigidity magnesium alloy chassis, the Sony Alpha 9 II is solidly built with a high-quality feel – similar to the a1. Most of the buttons, dials, and switches have nice haptic feedback, and the fun-to-use factor is very high.

Sony Alpha 1 Weather Sealing

The a9 II is dust and moisture resistant (though not waterproof). Sony claims "Upgraded dust and moisture resistant design to meet the needs of professionals in even the most challenging outdoor conditions; stronger sealing provided at all body seams as well as the battery compartment cover and media slot"

With no moving parts, the Sony Alpha 9 II's electronic shutter should last indefinitely, but the mechanical shutter also has a durability rating that few photographers will reach: 500,000 actuations. While this is the best available rating, the a9 II is not the first or only model to reach this number.

ModelShutter Durability Rating
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III500,000
Canon EOS R5500,000
Sony Alpha 1500,000
Sony a9 II500,000
Sony a7R IV500,000
Sony a7R III500,000
Sony a7R II500,000
View the full Sony Alpha 9 II specifications to compare additional cameras.

Note that the a9 II shutter remains open during power-off.

Additional Features

This camera is designed for professionals who need to get their images transmitted immediately.

"The Alpha 9 II includes a built-in 1000BASE-T Ethernet terminal, enabling gigabit communication for high-speed, stable data transfer operations. Additionally, File Transfer over SSL or TLS encryption (FTPS) is supported for increased data security and PC remote (tether) shooting performance is improved, with decreased release time lag and reduced live view screen delay when using the ‘Remote Camera Tool’ desktop application. The speed of the camera’s built-in wireless LAN functionality has also been increased, adding a stable and fast 5 GHz (IEEE 802.11ac) band, in addition to the 2.4 GHz provided in the Alpha 9. IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac standards are all supported." [Sony]

Note that a GPS feature is not built into the a1.

The "Digital audio interface has been added to the camera’s Multi Interface Shoe™ (MI Shoe), enabling the new ECM-B1M Shotgun Microphone or XLR-K3M XLR Adaptor Kit to be connected directly to the MI Shoe for cleaner, clearer audio recordings." [Sony]

Battery

The shots per battery charge spec for mirrorless cameras remains relatively low, but the specs have risen high enough to be adequate for a significant percentage of needs, especially with a spare battery along. Highly convenient is that the a9 II shares the Sony NP-FZ100 battery pack power source with many other recent Alpha series models. This relatively compact battery is rated for approx. 500 shots (viewfinder) or 690 shots (LCD monitor) (CIPA standard). Real-life experience is that battery life usually exceeds CIPA ratings and dramatically exceeds CIPA ratings when shooting in continuous modes. Otherwise, 20 fps capture could consume a full battery charge in 25 seconds of shutter release press while looking through the EVF.

Like its siblings, the a9 II's battery door is spring-loaded, but the switch on the door once again is not. Slightly annoying is that it must be manually slid into the locked position after closing the door.

The provided AC charger is a corded model (I prefer the cordless direct-plug-in style chargers). I'm also not a fan of this charger's LED going dark when the battery is fully charged. The charger light also goes out if you turn off the light switch that controls the electrical receptacle the charger is plugged into. From the charger light perspective, those two scenarios look the same, and yes, I encountered this problem in a rental house with a receptacle switch with a light, costing me about an hour of shooting in the field when the only partially charged battery drained more rapidly than expected.

Sony VG-C4EM Vertical Battery Grip

Like the a1, a7R IV, and a7 IV, the a9 II is compatible with the Sony VG-C4EM Vertical Grip.

The vertical grip provides improved handling, especially with larger lenses and especially in the vertical orientation, where it provides the same grip and controls as the built-in grip. The VG-C4EM permits the use of two NP-FZ100 batteries, doubling the number of shots per charge.

The biggest downside to the grip, aside from the purchase cost, is the size and weight it adds to the camera. The grip is easily removable, creating flexibility in its use. Remove the battery door via a spring-loaded switch to enable the grip to mount. As with most battery grips of this type, the removed door clips into a space provided on the side of the grip area that inserts into the battery compartment.

The VG-C4EM features magnesium alloy construction with dust and moisture resistance matching the a1. This accessory is well-built and well-matched — I have one in my kit. If I'm photographing people or wildlife, the grip is usually installed.

If two installed batteries are not sufficient for your needs, get the Sony Multi Battery Adaptor NPA-MQZ1K. It holds four.

Sony Alpha 9 II with FE 600mm Lens

Which Lens Should I Get for the Sony Alpha 9 II?

When deciding which camera brand to purchase, consider the entire accessory system available. If your needs are light, a few good lenses may be completely adequate. However, professionals with more complex needs are not as easy to satisfy. In this regard, Sony has a solid E-mount lens lineup.

What is the best lens for the Sony Alpha 9 II? The lens is a required accessory, and most will find the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens to be the best general-purpose lens available for the Sony Alpha a1. For the longer focal length needs often encountered by professionals, the Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II Lens is a great choice, and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens is an excellent option for wide-angle needs.

The site'sBest Sony Lenses page is a great starting point for the latest recommendations. The Best Sony General-Purpose Lens, Best Sony Telephoto Zoom Lens, and Best Sony Wide-Angle Lens pages feature recommendations for those top 3 lens types.

Check out our Sony Zoom Lens Reviews, and our Sony Lens Reviews for in-depth coverage of all of Sony's lenses.

Price

The Sony Alpha a9 II's high-end feature set is accompanied by the second-highest price tag seen on a Sony Alpha MILC. While the a9 II's price is high, it is considerably less than that of the a1. This camera is a feature-packed, professional-grade model, and the high price is justifiable for professional use and for use by serious amateurs charged with capturing challenging subjects.

Wrap Up

Keeping a review of the incredibly feature-laden Sony Alpha 9 II concise but complete is a difficult balance to find, and this review is not a complete description of all available features. Browse the Sony owner's manual (a link to the manual is provided at the top of this review) to learn about more a9 II camera features. Read the manual, use the camera, and repeat.

The Sony Alpha 9 II used for this review was online/retail acquired.

Alternatives

Is the a9 II the right camera for you?

For those considering the purchase or rental of the a9 II, the Sony Alpha 1 is the higher-end model to consider.

Here is the Sony a9 II Compared to the Sony Alpha 1. In this comparison, the Sony Alpha 1 differentiates itself by having:

  • Much higher resolution (50.1 MP vs. 24.2 MP)
  • Higher maximum frame rate (30 fps vs. 20 fps)
  • Larger and higher resolution EVF
  • X-Sync of 1/400 vs. 1/250
  • Flicker avoidance with electronic shutter
  • Faster readout for less rolling shutter
  • 8K movie recording
  • Darker AF working range of EV -4 vs. EV -3
  • Faster live view frame rate
  • Dual SD/CFexpress Type A slots vs. Dual SD

The a9 II advantages include:

  • Higher ISO setting available (2048000 vs. 1024000
  • Longer battery life (500 shots vs. 430 with viewfinder)
  • Considerably Lower price

If the a1 is affordable to you, I highly recommend it over the a9 II.

Sony's a9 II is an incremental update, and the older Sony a9 is likely to remain available, including in used condition, for years ahead. The a9's sole advantage will be its always lower price.

Here is the Sony a9 II vs. a9 specification comparison along with the visual comparison of these cameras.

What are the differences between the Sony Alpha 9 II and the a9? The a9 II advantages are:

  • Improved mechanical shutter featuring a 2x faster frame rate (10 fps), shorter shutter lag (minimally, perceived shorter), and quieter operation
  • Improved ergonomics
  • Anti-flicker shutter release timing featured in mechanical shutter mode (only)
  • Improved communications capabilities
  • Increased IBIS rating to 5.5 steps vs. 5
  • 3:2, 16:9, 4:3, and 1:1 aspect ratios vs. 3:2 and 16:9
  • Multi-interface Shoe
  • Dual slots supporting UHS-II memory card standard vs. one of two (dual cards write are faster, and slot 1 is now logically on top)
  • Slightly improved battery life
  • Improved communications, including a USB Type-C Terminal and support for 5GHz wireless
  • Improved sealing
  • Voice memo

As already mentioned, the a9 advantage list is short:

  • Expect the a9 to always be less expensive in new or used condition

Don't expect to notice a difference in AF performance.

Sony Alpha 9 II Front

Summary

The Sony a9 II makes a case for selection when challenging subjects and important shoots are involved. While slotting below the a1, the a9 II is a more affordable option for sports, wildlife, and event photography.

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