Sony announced the Alpha 7R II on 10th June 2015 and it’s been a huge hit, drawing attention and sales from enthusiast and professional photographers alike. It’s proved especially popular with landscape photographers, including pros like Joe Cornish, who like it’s relatively small size, high resolution and wide dynamic range.
So how do you improve upon such a popular camera? Well in April 2017 Sony introduced the A9, a fast-shooting model aimed directly at pros and it seems that an A9R could be on the cards to take the A7R II’s place as the company’s highest resolution camera or to sit alongside an A7R III. I’ve been giving some thought to the likely specifications and considering the improvements I’d like to see.
The A7R II was the first camera to have a back-illuminated full-frame sensor. This enabled the 42.4Mp CMOS device to capture more light than a standard chip and keep noise levels down. Sony has developed the back-illuminated concept further with its stacked CMOS sensor design that features integral memory to boost processing speeds.
A camera’s sensor is always the most expensive component but the 24.2Mp stacked full-frame sensor in the Sony A9 is more expensive than most – not least because of the length of time it takes to produce it. Increasing the resolution for the A9R is not going to decrease the cost. Perhaps Sony will introduce the A9R with a stacked sensor with integrated memory and the A7R III with a ‘standard’ back-illuminated sensor.
When the Sony A7R II was announced it trumped the 36Mp resolution of the Nikon D810 but it was itself beaten for pixel count by the Canon 5DS and 5DS R. Subsequently Nikon has introduced the D850 which has a full-frame sensor with 45.7Mp. You can bet your bottom dollar that Sony will at least match that resolution with its next high-resolution full-frame sensor, in fact, some people are speculating that it will hit the 60Mp mark or even higher. I doubt we’ll see a resolution higher than 60Mp at this stage, I think 50-60Mp is more likely.
While the Sony A9R may not be intended for shooting sport and action, a high-resolution sensor demands a lot of processing power if you’re not going to be kept waiting for images to pop-up on the screen after capture.
On-chip memory helps speed image flow and seems a likely inclusion for the A9R.
Sony’s Bionz X processor seems a safe bet for either camera, but probably with refreshed algorithms to optimise it for high resolution still images. A powerful processor is also essential for allowing complex noise reduction algorithms.
The Sony A7R II 9 has a hybrid autofocus system with 399-phase detection points and 25 contrast detection points while the A9 has a 693-point phase detection autofocus system. But the number of points isn’t the only difference, the A9’s AF system is incredibly fast and effective while the A7R II’s is a bit more pedestrian.
The A9R doesn’t need quite the same speed as the A9, but a full phase detection system seems probable, with point coverage across much of the imaging area. This will allow landscape photographers to focus on small elements towards the edges of the frame.
Precise focusing is essential when you’re shooting with a high-resolution camera as even a slight error with the positioning of the focus will be apparent in the large image – especially when shooting with restricted depth of field.
It’s possible to shoot silently at 20fps (frames per second) with the A9, which is very useful for sports like tennis and golf. However, it’s also handy for slower subjects like weddings and portraits, when you want to shoot unnoticed to get more natural images of a relaxed subject.
The high resolution of the A9R is likely to limit the continuous shooting rate and burst depth, but silent shooting could still be a very popular feature. It needs fast readout to ensure moving subjects aren’t distorted though.
Sony gave the A9 a mini-joystick which makes setting the AF point easier than on its A7-series cameras. I expect the A9R to use the same body shell as the A9, so the joystick is a given.
The A9 has a 3-inch 1,440,000-dot touchscreen with a tilting mechanism to allow it to be tipped up through 107 degrees or down by 41 degrees and I expect the same device to appear on the A9R. Ideally, I’d like a fully articulating screen and a greater range of touch-control so you can use it to navigate the menu, but I don’t hold out much hope for that just yet in an A9-series camera.
A vari-angle screen makes shooting at high or low angles easier whether you’re shooting landscape or portrait format images and it would be a useful addition to a high-resolution camera that’s likely to be used for shooting landscapes.
Sony must be sick of hearing people ask for its menus to be streamlined. The A9’s menu is better than the A7-series cameras’ but there’s still room for improvement with related features being grouped closer together. It would also be nice to have two function menus, one for stills and one for video, so that you can access the features you use most frequently whatever you’re shooting.