Sony has certainly rippled some tides with the announcement of its a9, which we got a first look at hands-on in NYC. We've been thoroughly analyzing its capability, which you can follow in our updated First Impression Review, and if you're an a7R II owner, check out our 'what's better?' slideshow here.
But perhaps as, or more, important as all its technical capability is that the a9 comes with some serious ergonomic improvements that change everything for fast-paced shooters. Features we've been asking for a long time now. And Sony listens. Not just to us but to the requests of many of its direct users. And we can all agree direct access to certain camera features is a huge plus, as opposed to menu-diving.
So that's exactly what Sony has given us. Instant camera overrides at the press of a button. With one simple button press you can switch the camera from Aperture Priority with 1/125s minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO to Shutter Priority with 1/2000s shutter speed to freeze the action. This can allow you to instantly switch from panning shots to 'freezing the motion' shots - with one button press.
Sports/action shooters should take note, but we're particularly excited because the ability to assign different autofocus area modes plus autofocus activation (among other options) to different custom buttons, just like you can on a Nikon D5 (and to a limited degree on a Canon 1D X II), has changed the way I personally shoot. I can instantly adapt to changing scenarios, much like with the Nikon D5 here, with a simple button press - potentially rescuing shots I'd have otherwise missed diving into settings to change AF modes. Watch our video below to see the implementation on the a9:
On the a9, what allows one to quickly activate any AF mode is not just Sony's dedicated function to do so (called 'Registered AF func.' - which only recalls one AF area mode) but, instead, 'Recall Custom hold'. This function instantly overrides a number of camera settings, including: Shoot Mode, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Drive Mode, Exposure Comp., ISO, Metering Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, and AF On (whether or not to engage AF). This is very similar to Canon's 'Register/recall shooting func', but with the added benefit that there are 3 such banks, while Canon only offers 1. That means that on Canon DSLRs, you can only ever recall one set of overrides (even if you assign this function to multiple buttons, they all do the same thing). Nikon only allows certain settings to be overridden - like AF area and metering mode - but at least allows any number of buttons to be assigned arbitrarily to any AF/metering mode.
So what Sony allows via 'Recall Custom hold' is a sort of best-of-both-worlds: marrying Canon's flexibility to override multiple settings with Nikon's ability to assign any button to a number of AF/metering options, not just one particular bank. Canon's custom controls are so complex and inflexible that you can only assign a button to change and activate an AF mode via 'Metering and AF start' or 'Recall shooting func', which are themselves only available to two buttons: AF-ON and AEL. That's it. Read more about it in our 5D IV review covering all this in detail.
The Sony a9, on the other hand, simply affords you 3 banks to allow to quickly switch between 3 different commonly accessed operating modes with utmost ease. Kudos, Sony: you've one-upped Canon and Nikon - in an ergonomic regard no less.
Settings you do with override to change you check with a checkmark in the checkbox; if you don't want that particular mode to change (like Shoot mode or exposure settings if you're simply trying to change AF mode): just uncheck it.
This is a powerful feature that allows me, for example, to instantaneously switch between subject tracking AF, complete auto AF when the former fails, Eye AF for portraits, or good old center-focus-and-recompose when everything intelligent fails. All with one button press. That can be the difference between nailing the shot, and missing it.
But that's not all that's different about the a9. Memory Recall functions have been extended to be far more like the Custom modes Canon, Panasonic and Olympus allow - instantly changing most/all camera settings with one switch of the mode dial.
Memory Recall modes on Sony cameras are like 'Custom' Modes on Canon, Panasonic, and Olympus cameras - they recall many cameras functions simply by switching to that mode. Sadly, in the past, Sony's M modes have not been very comprehensive (they don't remember custom button assignments, e.g.), but the a9 remembers more settings. And while it doesn't remember button assignments - a shame since the features I wish to access in video are different than the features I wish to access in stills - it's a step in the right direction. Still, Sony really needs to introduce proper C modes that remember all camera settings - including button assignments.
Memory Recall now remembers far more features than in previous Sony cameras. Ideally, it'd remember all of them - including button customizations - so as to recall the state of a camera precisely, immediately. Sadly, this not yet the case, but the extended set of settings Memory Recall now remembers is welcome and significant. We'll outline the additional features remembered vs. the a7R II below, shortly, so stay tuned.
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