Mirrorless cameras have long been relegated to the kids’ table at family get-togethers, but Sony’s latest offering has even professional photographers taking notice.
This unassuming camera packs a full-frame stacked CMOS sensor into its svelte chassis and captures blazingly fast photo bursts without making a sound. It seems about time that we compare the Sony A9 versus the Nikon D850 and see if this new kid on the block can live up to the hype.
Nikon’s more traditional DSLR is an incredibly capable camera that will also save you a lot of cash—but can the A9 perform well enough to overcome the deficit?
Nikon D850 Advantages
- Less mechanical shutter lag (.08 sec vs .22)
- More lens options
- Starts up a second faster (.2 sec vs 1.2)
- Much longer battery life when shooting stills (~1200 more photos)
- Less expensive
- Better color depth and dynamic range
- Higher resolution screen
The full-frame D850 wows with its lightning-fast startup and practically nonexistent shutter lag. This less expensive option is a more traditional single-lens reflex camera, and though it is larger and heavier, this extra heft feels right at home in your hand.
The D850’s 46-megapixel sensor is an absolute powerhouse, outperforming the Sony A9 slightly in color depth and dynamic range while providing you with nearly 22 more megapixels of resolution.
Its built-in tilting touchscreen also features a 63% higher resolution than the A9, and you can use its touchscreen capabilities to browse menus and adjust exposure settings. On the A9, you are limited to adjusting the focal point.
The D850 features illuminated buttons as well, further increasing its UI advantage over Sony’s offering.
It also has a few nifty capabilities that give it a leg up over its competitor. The D850 is capable of bracketing not only exposure but focus as well, allowing you to take multiple photos with a shifting focal point.
It can also capture and create 4K time lapses in-camera, and even gives you the ability to produce 8K versions, though if you elect to use the higher resolution you must put together the images yourself.
The D850 provides a much longer battery life when shooting stills, rated at 1840 shots by Nikon as compared to the A9’s 650.
As a traditional DSLR, the Nikon has the additional benefit of a wider range of lenses available for the D850. It is also capable of using autofocus when a teleconverter is attached.
Perhaps best of all for those on a budget — this camera rings in at around $1200 less than the Sony A9.
Nikon D850 Disadvantages
- Lack of anti-aliasing filter can lead to moiré
- Larger and heavier
- Lackluster video mode
- Slower continuous shooting
- Sloppy Live View AF
The D850 has proven its merit when it comes to taking photographs, but its video capabilities are a little less appealing.
The D850 shoots beautiful 4K footage but, despite its hefty price tag, lacks any sort of impactful punch autofocus offering in Live View. You will find yourself switching to manual focus for any shot that features a moving subject — after you tire of waiting for the autofocus to readjust constantly.
Focus peaking is also not an option when shooting 4K footage, making your task of manually focusing that much harder.
Sony also claims that its battery life is around 70 minutes when shooting video, 35 shorter than that of the A9.
The D850 also lacks built-in image stabilization. For all the emphasis that it feels like Nikon wants to place on their newer DSLRs’ video capabilities, they still lag behind many of Sony and Panasonic’s cameras.
Compared to the Sony A9, the D850 is an absolute behemoth, though not notably larger than any other comparable full frame DSLR. Sony’s mirrorless camera is a much more appealing option for carrying around town or hauling up to a mountaintop vista.
Like the A9, the D850 lacks a built-in flash of any sort. Taking off the pop-up flash removes a weak point from the camera and improves weather sealing, but that means you’ll always need to have a speedlight on hand to fill in shadows on a sunny day.
As a final note, the D850 actually scored worse in low-light conditions than did its predecessor, the D810. Noise is better controlled, but it seems to pay for this improvement with a lack of sharpness at higher ISO stops.
Its performance in this department is still very impressive, but slightly less so when you consider its predecessor or its Sony-branded competitor.
Sony A9 Advantages
- Far smaller and lighter
- Incredible low-light performance
- Built-in image stabilization
- Longer battery life when shooting video
- On-sensor phase detect AF
- Far faster continuous shooting (20 fps vs 7/9)
- Faster shutter speed options (1/32000 vs 1/8000)
The mirrorless Sony A9 is a wedding photographer’s dream come true. It features dual card slots for the uneasy, shoots continuously to speeds where it’s basically just capturing video (up to 20 fps!), and features impressive internal stabilization to boot.
Best of all, the A9 features a completely silent electronic shutter that seems to be entirely distortion free. You can fire off pictures like a machine gun without making a single sound.
The A9’s image buffer is nearly twice as big as the 200-JPEG buffer that the Nikon offers.
Its on-sensor phase detect AF works very quickly—faster than the D850’s Live View options—and features modes such as Eye AF, where the focus will lock onto a subject’s eyes and follow them as long as they don’t turn away from the camera. It won’t always pick the right pair of eyes from a crowd, but with a defined subject it feels like cheating.
It is no surprise that the A9’s autofocus is so quick despite always being in Live View—this camera features a whopping 540 more autofocus points than does the D850.
The A9’s low-light performance is phenomenal, rivaling both Nikon and Canon’s flagship models. This superb performance combined with an available shutter speed stop of 1/32000, which is better than the D850’s minimum speed of 1/8000.
This means you can shoot f/1.4 regardless of the light levels.
It can also go all the way to ISO 204800, whereas the D8500 will only reach to 102400. Realistically, you’ll never print anything shot at that end of the range, but ISO 25600 is definitely usable after some noise reduction in post, and even 51200 doesn’t look beyond saving.
When it comes to video, the A9 can shoot for around 100 minutes, compared to the D850’s 70. The in-camera image stabilization also helps greatly if you find yourself shooting freehand or without a stabilized lens.
The sensor-shift stabilization also levels the playing field a bit between these two cameras. The Nikon may have more lenses available overall, but the A9 can snap clearer low-light photos and more stable footage from any lens.
Sony A9 Disadvantages
- No top deck display
- Anti-aliasing filter slightly reduces sharpness and detail
- Lacks grip ergonomics
- Noisy dials and small controls
- Mirrorless, no true viewfinder
While I absolutely love this camera, I do have a few issues with its design.
The A9’s slim size is offset a bit by its frustrating lack of ergonomics. It doesn’t feel as solid in your hand, and you’ll have to be a bit more mindful about dropping it than with the D850, where the differences between the smaller camera and the tried-and-true DSLR handgrip are readily apparent.
It also doesn’t have the best control layout that I’ve ever seen. The dials are a tad noisy, and the buttons are too small for my liking, even with my tiny hands.
Sony’s menu system is a bit frightening to behold, with thirty-six different categories to slog through on your search for that one option that might not be grouped where you assume it is. If you recall, you are also incapable of browsing them using the touchscreen.
Only one of the two SD card slots supports UHS-II speeds, but the other is stuck at UHS-I. This makes sense if you’re using it purely as a backup, though.
The worst blow of all: you need to take the A9 out of e-shutter mode to use any kind of flash, and when you do that this blazing fast Ferrari is replaced instead with a mild-mannered Ford Pinto (still, a really nice Ford Pinto).
You can only take 5 fps bursts in this mode, and hearing the shutter again will be jarring once you’ve grown to love the silence that this posh camera affords you.
There is more shutter lag than on the D850 when in mechanical shutter mode.
I could not be more excited to see mirrorless camera options finally coming into their own. The price jump between the D850 and the A9 is a sizable one, but the A9 is an absolute gem that seems perfect for high-speed photography, landscape work, or just carrying around city streets at night and catching that perfect neon-lit moment.Back to Top