The Sniping Begins...

As I noted in my talk at Creative Photo Academy last week, the Sony fans are nitpicking at the edges of things, trying hard to position the Z9 as inferior to the A1. Here are some samples of the areas being argued about (with my comments):

  • EVF resolution (9.44m vs 3.69m) — apparently people claiming superiority haven't used an A1 at a high frame rate: set for best performance, the A1 drops its resolution in continuous photography. I personally find the current Nikon viewfinders better than the those on my Sony bodies—with the exception of using Continuous H (Extended)—but your mileage may vary. Yes, it would be nice to have a more detailed view when composing landscapes like the A1, but the Sony displays (both of them) are less bright than the Nikon ones, too. I'll argue nit for nit here (pardon the pun).
  • EVF refresh rate (240Hz vs 60Hz) — ditto the previous answer: the Sony drops to a lower refresh rate in continuous photography when set for performance. The Sony EVF also has this tendency to skip frames or repeat frames in order to keep the no blackout going. I don’t find that to be bothersome, but the Nikon viewfinder should be “smoother” if it doesn’t drop/duplicate frames as promised.
  • Image buffer size (155 vs 40) — This is one of those "I'll quote the numbers that reflect my choice best" things. But let's go with what is known at the moment. 155 at 30 fps is about five seconds on the A1. 81—the actual number of lossless compressed from a Delkin Black card—is about four seconds on the Z9. But, oops, set High Efficiency* and that Nikon number jumps to 1137 images, with no apparent visual loss. Hmm. I've used the A1 quite a bit, and have no buffer issues with it. In just the limited test Mark was able to do for me with the Z9, I'll have no issues with the Z9 buffer.
  • Maximum fps (30 vs 20) —  This is just for the stills capability of the camera. Let's see, if you want to quote numbers at me, let me quote you this one: you can extract 33mp frames from the 8K video stream on the camera. The camera can record for up to 125 minutes at 8K. So going back to the buffer, the Z9's actual buffer is essentially infinite at 33mp. Oops. I quote that number for a reason: as I approach video speeds—e.g. 30 fps—I start thinking about using video capabilities as opposed to still. Why? Because of the file size issues that start to pile up. Particularly on the Sony, whose file sizes tend to be larger than the Nikon ones. But the other issue no one wants to talk about is post processing workflow when you take so many images (e.g. multiple second bursts at 20/30 fps). You may recall that doing that on the original Sony A9 I tested generated 128GB of files in just over one quarter of a football game. I learned very quickly to use high speed bursts more carefully. While the new High Efficiency raw formats of the Z9 look really good, I might just leave my Z9 set to Lossless Compressed just to keep me from running up thousands of frames in the buffer ;~).
  • Maximum flash sync speed (1/400 vs 1/200) — here we have a reference to full power flash that's a little naive (the Sony number is only for mechanical shutter). One reason why Nikon limits full power flash to the 1/200 or 1/250 marks is that some of their Speedlights' full power operation aligns with that shutter speed. To my knowledge, Sony doesn't publish that spec on their flash units. But both the Sony and Nikon cameras and flash units support High-Speed flash sync out to 1/8000. So the base flash sync speed turns out to be better in only a smaller range of situations than you think.  
  • Weight and size differences — Yes, size and weight are clearly a Sony advantage in comparing a stock A1 and Z9, though body build and sealing is almost certainly a Nikon advantage. Of course, when I stick a 500mm PF on my Nikon… Okay, let’s not go there. Instead, let me just say that I don’t think Sony or Nikon has the right final solution here: most of us want both things—a small, light version of the camera, and a heftier, breakproof version with a built-in vertical grip. It’s the old D3/D700 story. We want it both ways, not just one way. Yes, add-on grips are one possible solution, but I’ve tried them for almost 20 years now, and with abuse they almost all fail me in some way in the field.
  • Sony has superior autofocus — those asserting this haven’t used a Z9, and I suspect many asserting this haven’t even used a Sony A1 or Nikon Z6 II. At this point, there aren't enough people who've used both cameras in enough situations to say which, if any, is worse than the other. I think some of the folk gushing over the Z9’s focus need to look a little closer at their images, too. Even with the best autofocus system, it takes some work to get it to work best for any situation. What we have in this assertion is "when I run out of numbers based things I can point to I'll make something up."
  • Z9’s "lack of a manual shutter for tricky situations" — That was an exact quote of one assertion. Uh, what are those "tricky situations"? Nikon has been very clear, and the early data and imagery supports it: the Z9 electronic shutter works almost exactly like a mechanical shutter. Indeed, you couldn't do things like High Speed sync flash if the electronic shutter did operate differently.
  • Nikon has fewer lenses than Sony — I'm starting to see this as a dog whistle statement, particularly given how well the F-mount lenses work on the Z's. I'm not at all unhappy with the currently announced Nikon lens set: it's been very well selected, well made, and there's not a dud in the bunch they’ve delivered so far. I look at the lens assortment a little differently: is there a job I’d contemplate on a Nikon Z9 for which I don’t have a lens option? No, not really. I’m already using my PC-E and telephoto exotics on my Z’s without any issues. Are there lenses I want to use on my Sony A1 that aren’t made? Not really, I’m mounting some Nikon lenses on my Sony A1 via an adapter ;~).  

Overall, I don’t get the need to claim A is better than B, particularly when B hasn’t shipped yet and A is typically out of stock everywhere. Claims of superiority or inferiority are mostly reflecting the insecurities of the poster. 

So let me say this: the Sony A1 is a great camera. I expect the Nikon Z9 to be, too. I’d probably be happy with either. I don’t need either to “win.” 

Underlying most of the Sony fan angst is this: if Nikon produces perfectly fine products for the Nikon user base, it becomes more difficult for Sony to find new users. The real angst here is that Nikon has righted their ship and Sony’s clear sailing is over. But angst is the wrong response. Competition between Canon, Nikon, and Sony will do nothing more than make all three companies produce better products.

We’ll probably be having this same discussion about the Sony A1 Mark II and the Nikon Z9 II (and Canon R1). As I’ve suggested for decades now, it’s generally best to stay in a brand and just be a little patient when they’re leap-frogged by another. 

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