My 3 days with Sony a9 and recap of the Sony Kando Trip in Santa Barbara

posted in Camera Review

My 3 days with Sony a9 and recap of the Sony Kando Trip in Santa Barbara

This week you probably ran across hundreds of Instagram accounts with tags #sonykandotrip. Sony organized an epic 3 day getaway for its Artisans and Alpha Collective and created a playground like no other for us to try out any cameras and any lenses we wanted. I shot with Sony a9 for all those days and here are my thoughts on the camera, new lenses that I haven’t shot with before, and Kando trip recap. Lightroom doesn’t support Sony a9 yet, so all the shots here are wifi transferred to my phone and edited with the VSCO app on my phone.

Quick Intro About the Kando Trip

The drive to Santa Barbara was alright, I rarely complain about LA traffic. After a quick stop at REI where I got some essentials – warm sweater and a nano puff Patagonia jacket – I had 20 more minutes to go till El Capitan Campground where I’d be spending the next 3 days. I am no camper, but the idea of glamping was pretty attractive. That’s a very hipster concept and I wanted to try out what this means in real life.

After a quick check in at the welcome Sony stand, I headed to drop my bags and explore the campground. The main tent was the best place to start – that’s where thousands of dollars in camera bodies and lenses were stored for us to use. On the long desk there were black bags with our names, like the gift bags you get on your birthdays with something useless inside. This time, however, inside was something we all wish we got for any holiday: it was a Sony a9 body, a 64GB Lexas 2000x card, and an extra Z battery with charger.

I picked up a 24-70 F2.8 G Master lens and went out to Instagram all this. I lost my addiction to social media a bit, but this was a super exciting moment for me.

I went to shoot for a bit, to see how the camera handles low light, autofocus, and all the great features we read about on every single photo website in the last few weeks. After saying hello to my fellow Artisans and a few people I knew from the Collective, I was pumped to start the next day with a meditation session and then all day long shoots on multiple sets that were built for us.

At dinner that first evening, Matt Parnell from Sony said something that I’ll probably never forget. He said this trip and everything they’ve done to put this together is their investment in us – their ambassadors and biggest supporters. This trip easily passed $200K I think. There were about 150 of us there. Sony designers and engineers flew in from Tokyo and US offices to spend time with us. So you do the math. I seriously felt pretty loved and humbled.

We stayed in nice cabins and every day was planned out with multiple activities from surf, meditation, yoga, to shoot sets that you could tweak however you wanted as long as none of the other 100 photographers next to you don’t mind. Everyone had a blast and there were not limits to how much everyone could request additional set elements, wardrobe changes, etc.


We had a few brainstorming sessions about camera features we wish for, lenses we want, thoughts on and how to make the site better. We all mentioned that we want 16-35 F2.8 and something ultra wide, like 12-24mm. Guess what, the next day these were announced to the world and we had about 20 of each lens to borrow and shoot with, literally seconds after they were announced to the world. Epic move, Sony!

What Sony a9 camera is like

Remember how Canon 5D Mark II or 6D used to feel in your hands? It’s been a long time for me, I switched to Sony about 3 years ago. But when I first picked up Sony a9, that was the initial impression. You have a workhorse that can do unreal things. It’s super fast, phenomenal for shooting action, no blackouts, 2 card slots (they’re different, which I found out only in a few days – one slot is faster), improved ergonomics of controls, and the new high-capacity battery. Let me talk about each of these in more details.

I’m not the most technical person when it comes to camera equipment. There are certain features in the cameras that I use all the time, but I can’t answer every question about every single feature and menu item. So what I’m saying is very much filtered through what and how I normally shoot and what’s important for me personally.

We had 2 main sets that we could shoot at: skate park and a Palm Springs style trailer set with multiple models. I headed over to the skate park to see how the focus and 20fps work in real life. It’s all good to read about specs on websites, but to try this out myself was exciting. For the most part, it almost feels like you’re shooting a video. There are no blackouts, meaning you always see what you shot with no delays. Zero delays. Zero buffering blackouts. Amazing. I literally filled up my 64GB card in about 40 minutes. After that, I switched back to single shot mode and went to the trailer set to slow down a bit.

The impression I got is that this camera is faster than I am. Usually, you have to wait for something to happen in the camera body to keep shooting, here there is no limit and you almost get this “can you keep up with me?” attitude from the camera. Strange feeling since I’m never the one to request a slower pace, ever.

Having two card slots will be a big advantage to anyone who shoots sports, events, weddings, and anything that requires hours and hours of shooting or super action packed events. I had a few problems with my existing cards and a9, but just had to reformat them and everything was fine after that. The bottom slot supports SDXC II format. Top one is for the standard SDXC. I got to shoot with Lexar 64GB Professional 2000x UHS-II SDXC card. It was super fast, but I’d definitely get a 128GB card if I was buying one.

One of the most exciting things for me was the new placement and design of the buttons and controls. Expect to see everything we’re already used to, but tweaked to work better for extensive professional use. I like the new dial on the left, I’ve got all the essential things I usually need to adjust quickly when shooting ballet – the speed of shooting and focus mode – all available immediately with no need to go into menus. New shutter button also feels great. Movie recording button is finally in the right place. And the joystick is a very welcome change as well.

On the photo above I have: Sony a6300 with 50mm Zeiss Loxia F2, brand new Sony a9 with 24-70mm F2.8 G Master, and a7RII with 24-70mm F4. We still didn’t get the rotating display, but it sounds like that this is on top of the wish list for almost every Sony shooter, so hopefully we’ll see those coming up soon. It’s very clear that every single camera line is designed for specific use. Canon has the camera lineup designed from amateur to professional. Sony designed its products to fit specific needs: low light, speed, resolution, etc. So a7s is not competing really with a7RII. Consequently, a9 is not necessarily a replacement for anything you currently have. It just depends if the features of a9 are needed in your workflow.

I forgot that feeling when you get to shoot all day and never have to swap the battery. The brand new Sony Z batteries have much bigger capacity and after a full day of shooting (with some breaks), I was still only at 26%. Never ran out of battery life on this trip. Amazing. One idea that popped up in the focus groups was to design a Z battery grip to fit all existing a7 bodies. I think this will solve all battery problems for everyone. Let’s see how quickly someone brings this to the market. Overall, battery live was a breath of fresh air compared to what we normally get. I have 10 FW-50 batteries. I don’t mind swapping for just a few Z ones.

Epic shoot sets and what I got out of them

I did a little bit of behind the scenes stuff that was shot on Sony a9 and I never transferred them to my phone. But I’ll add those to the post once there is Lightroom support for a9. Here is what I shot during my 2 days on the set. Most of this is from the first day, I wish I stayed there longer. But nonetheless, I think some of these really came out well.

Quick mention again: these were transferred to my phone via wifi and edited on my mobile via VSCO app (F2 preset, + grain, + sharpen, nothing else).

There were about 20 people working on this set and I’m sure it shows. Everything was thought out and even though I normally don’t shoot in settings like this one, it was an absolute blast. We constantly had something new to shoot as the set was so versatile. Here is everyone who was involved in putting it together:

MUA: @TheLastSinclairMUA

Men’s Grooming/Hair: @GabbyGrave_Makeup

Costume Stylists: @lucywarrenstyle @parrishworkroom

Production/Set Designer: @this_is_my_code_name

Models: @model.jessla @jacobrodneyhohueshow @genevieveabell @chopkinsla

I shot mostly with 24-70mm F2.8 G Master and 70-200mm F2.8 G Master. If I could only have 2 lenses, these would be it. Obviously, both are a pretty big financial investment, but if you shoot at least 6-8 times a month, these will pay off in no time. I have F4 for both of these focal distances and they are much smaller and lighter. But I think it will make sense to upgrade in the nearest future. Got a few nice portraits that I really like.

And always love shooting fragments and details. So here are a few of those as well. There were so many props that it almost looks like we had 5-6 separate setups when in reality it was on one medium size parking lot at the campground. We had three wolves and one zerba, all from a local conservation non-profit. So all animals were happy to be there and in no way were harmed or disrespected. Got some comments on social media about this and wanted to clarify that.

Final Thoughts on Kando Trip

One of the biggest highlights of this trip was meeting so many photographers that are legends. I got to sit down and talk to many of them, learning what I could in this short timeframe. A big highlight was saying thank you to  Chris Orwig. I learned everything I know about photo editing from him on and it was unreal to show him my work in person and tell him he taught me all I know about Lightroom editing, my main tool that I use on 100% of my shots exclusively, no photoshop. I snug a candid shot of Chris, see it below. A few more behind the scenes shots are also here, just for fun.

I left Santa Barbara feeling energized and wanting to create more. I’ve been very focused on the business side of things and running the store. This was a much-needed intervention and a reminder that I can keep creating everything in all directions. I met Guy Kawasaki, the author of The Art of The Start, one of the first books on entrepreneurship that I read in college. He asked me if his book helped. I am pretty sure it did, but I didn’t remember much of it. So I’m re-reading it now again. On one of the first pages, he says that you need to be doing, not learning. I got stuck in learning about video production and editing over the past months, buying gear and watching tutorials on YouTube, trying to fix myself and my mindset about video making. It’s very slow and difficult for me, I don’t think my mind is wired for video. So anyways, it was great to have a few interactions with him.

Sony definitely knows how to show love to people who support and promote the company. It was an unforgettable event and I liked sleeping in the wooden cabin, with minimal connection to the outside world, and really going deep inside to reflect and plan the next months and what I want to do. Sony a9 is going to be that last straw that will tip over the weights from Canon to Sony for many shooters who are still hesitant. And be sure that Sony is getting better and better at listening and crafting cameras and lenses that are forward thinking.


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