Comparison of Sony A9, Canon 1D X Mark II and Nikon D5
The new camera Sony A9 has brought new significant changes to the well-established market of the top reportage cameras. Thanks to its autofocus speed and the maximum 20 FPS continuous shooting, this new camera attracts attention not only of professional sports photographers and photojournalists but amateurs as well, who see its potential and significantly lower price compared to other flagships such as Canon EOS 1D X Mark II and Nikon D5.
One of the apparent benefits of the camera Sony A9 is its very reasonable price. If you buy it, you will save from $1,500 to $2,000 in comparison to its competitors. However, it may not always be beneficial if you already have a set of lenses for some system, as sometimes it's rather difficult to sell an expensive set of lenses and buy a new set instead. Especially if you have really professional lenses for 300-500mm, etc. in such a case it will take you more time to change your system, or perhaps it will be an unwise decision, especially in sparsely populated regions where you will have poor chances to sell your expensive lenses.
Mirror cameras Nikon D5 and Canon 1D X Mark II are twice as heavy as the new mirrorless Sony A9. And it's a great advantage: such weight is more convenient as while working with the camera so during its transportation. But some may say that such camera is less steady and balanced with middle and large lenses. All in all smaller weight is a significant advantage, but in particular situations, some professional photographers may consider it as a disadvantage.
As it already has been mentioned above, lenses are a crucial factor, and in some situations, it may be not beneficial for you to buy the cameras with the different system. So if comparing those cameras, such aspects should be taken into consideration. However, if we don't take it into account, the camera Sony A9 can be called the most successful one. The thing is that this mirrorless camera can be used with any lenses, that can be installed with easy-to-use mechanical or electronic adapters, and thus such lenses as Minolta A, Canon EF and some part of Nikon F lenses will work with Sony A9. Moreover, Sony A9 can also be used with rangefinder cameras' lenses ( for example Leica), besides there are adapters that allow using autofocus even with manual focus lenses. Furthermore, such adapters allow installing almost any mirror cameras' manual focus lenses and provide an opportunity to use an autofocus option.
And so some old mirror cameras' lenses can be installed on the Canon 1D X Mark II camera with the help of the mechanical adapter. An autofocus and aperture in such cameras can be adjusted only manually; this means you won’t be able to install any autofocus lenses except for those specially designed for the Canon EF mount.
And with Nikon D5 it's far more complicated. A simple mechanical adapter will not help you even if you have manual focus lenses. So you will have to either modify an old lens or choose an adapter with an optical element, that will affect the image a lens provides.
Such factors as autofocus speed, exposure auto setting time and frequency of saving shots to the memory card are quite important. Due to the fact that the readout system was revised significantly in Sony A9, the new camera allows you to take photos with the speed of 20 frames per second using an electronic shutter. The manufacturer says that the readout speed was increased by 20 times, compared to similar solutions. Thanks to that there are no rolling shutter artifacts, and they can only appear in some extreme situations, where also a mechanical curtain shatter will not work, that is installed on 1D X Mark II and D5. Sony A9 has a rather high FPS compared to other cameras, but it can't be considered as something outstanding. Although for sports photographers each additional frame may be critical.
One should understand that high FPS is not the only important factor. A camera should have a fast and convenient autofocus and, if possible, a small shutter lag. As far as this feature is concerned Sony A9 has a slight advantage: 30ms against 35 of 1D X Mark II (Nikon doesn't reveal this parameter for D5). The autofocus of Sony A9 has the largest amount of focus points that cover the major area of a shot. Moreover, a phase detection autofocus of a mirrorless camera works together with a contrast autofocus. Thus it can provide a more accurate focus and access to such modes as Face and Eye detection AF, a phase detection autofocus, on the contrary, can't do this.
For professional photojournalists, a shutter is a part that should be changed rather often. That's why its service life affects how frequent you should visit a repair shop. The Sony A9 model is equipped with an electronic shutter, that doesn't wear off its mechanical parts. Perhaps, this was the reason why the company didn't specify the service life of a shutter – it will not indicate the real service period.
The majority of cameras still have an optical image stabilization. The cameras are equipped with the stabilization systems very similar to those mirrorless cameras have. Only the products of Ricoh Pentax are quite different; they have in-camera sensor stabilization. Sony A9 is equipped with 5-axis sensor stabilization system, unlike its competitors, and also supports an optical image stabilization when using appropriate lenses.
In-camera stabilization can secure not only camera shake, but also "shutter-shock"- the shake that is caused by a mechanical shutter, or it may help to get images with higher resolution thanks to the special sensor stabilization mode, as it is implemented in Pentax K-1or Olympus E-M1 Mark II, for example. However, there are no such technologies in Sony A9. That's all right, as it's a professional camera for photojournalists and they don't usually have time to wait for the high-resolution process of shooting. Moreover, other Sony cameras have this high-resolution feature, like A99 II, for example.
If you look at the operation hours of Canon 1D X Mark II, you will see a significant difference: 1210 frames with an optical viewfinder and 260 with a LiveView mode. And this is a huge advantage of mirror cameras. Actually, they need power only when focusing and shooting. The screen and viewfinder are not switched on all the time.
However, new technologies appear, and for quite a time already we have had an opportunity to use mirrorless cameras considerably saving a battery charge. If we switch a screen off and switch on a viewfinder only when a photographer looks at it, we can increase the operation time by several times. These things have been implemented long ago in many mirrorless cameras, but CIPA testing considers a particular format of shooting, due to that in CIPA rating you can see a guaranteed number of frames, not the maximum possible. As far as Sony A9 is concerned while using a screen (it has far less resolution than a viewfinder), you can make 650 shots with one battery charge according to CIPA rating. This means that in real life the number of shots can be much more. The first testers claim that there are around thousands of shots. It looks like this problem have been solved, but Sony has demonstrated how it can overcome this problem. New A9 outspends here as the cameras A7 series had some serious troubles concerning this point.
To be completely confident you can get a battery block for two batteries, and thus increase the operation time by two times – up to 1300 shots, what is more than Canon 1D X Mark II can provide with its 1210 shots using one battery. So it can be said without hesitations that all these three cameras can make more than 1000 shots not changing their batteries.
Camera body protection
Canon and Nikon work hard to provide their cameras with the maximum protection. However, it looks like other manufacturers can also make protected cameras. Sony tries its best to create secure and protected camera bodies. A9 model has been significantly improved compared to its predecessors, but how good — time will tell. As for now, the mechanical safety of D5 and 1D X Mark II bodies is better than Sony, simply due to the larger experience of usage of these cameras in severe conditions.
As for today, there is only one indisputable fact: the sensor resolution of Sony A9 is much higher than its competitors have. However, apparently, Nikon uses Sony sensors, so it's easy to imagine that the image quality of A9 can be almost the same as of Nikon flagship. According to DxOMark rating, the 1D X Mark II has a small advantage over the D5, but its color resolution is not so high.
Camera control system
This is one of those issues, which has been mentioned at the very beginning — everyone likes its own variant, and no one wants to learn from the very beginning and get used to something new. Therefore, we assume that the camera control system is good enough, so professional photographers who are familiar with this system can do their work with ease.
The new is always for the best. It's great that people have one more variant to choose from. The positive changes will affect even those who will not choose the mirrorless Sony camera and will use Nikon or Canon. As those manufacturers should respond to the launch of A9 with new more advanced solutions, or perhaps, offer lower prices.