Hands on with the A9 - A disappointment for me

Discussion in 'Sony Alpha E-Mount Cameras' started by tomO2013, Apr 24, 2017.

  1. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Hi Everybody,

    I had early access hands on with the a9 camera last Friday. I was not very impressed with the camera relative to it's price point and target sports shooter 'pro' audience.

    I've sold most of my Sony stuff and shoot Fuji and Canon predominantly now. I was invited to attend a local camera store demo last Friday. I'm not a reporter who is paid to fly over, put up in a fancy hotel, yada yada yada. I predominantly shoot weddings/lifestyle/portraiture and starting to try and get my business up off the ground. I'm like most of you guys here and my opinion is subjective and should be treated as such.
    I am not coming in here to poo poo on what is no doubt a great camera, but I felt with all the ravings going on out there somebody needed to provide a more honest/balanced perspective on the pro's and con's after a first look at the camera. Things that I feel that you should consider before deciding 'is this the camera for me'.

    Build Quality:
    I tend to feel that when you charge a premium for a product it really needs to differentiate itself by excelling more. If own an a7ii, a7rii or a7sii this will feel very similar in heft, weight but with an noticeable bigger grip. This isn't a bad thing as I feel the a7ii series are well built and have nice ergonomics - the a9 ergonomics are better for larger hands. If you found the grip on the a7ii too big, you will not like the a9.
    So remember when I saw the a7ii has good build. I saw good but not great as I had issues with the weather sealing capability and moisture damage to the hotshoe. The a9 uses the same exposed pins in the hot-shoe unfortunately. I guess this is inevitable in order to maintain flash compatibility but really I had hoped for better sealing here.
    Straight off the bat, no this camera does not feel as well built as a 1dxii. If you have compared a 1dxii or d5 with an a7rii in build then you will know what I am talking about. On the a9, the audio input flap, ethernet flap are plastic doors without rubber grommits. The Sony rep said that the seems are are tight and this is how they are managing to get their moisture resistance. Personally I like rubber grommits around doors etc.... and for the price point I feel they should have included some grommits here.
    The a9 is a well built camera with some nice advancements on the a7ii, but really I cannot help but feel that it is an enhanced a7ii with a similar level of performance jump as we saw when we moved form the a7i to the a7ii (IBIS, better body) and now to the a9 (same build and IBIS, but better viewfinder and electronic shutter capability).

    Electronic shutter / Mechanical shutter.
    The computer scientist in me had my jaw on the ground when I first read the specs. However, the devil is often in the details. The a9 looks to follow the same pattern as the a6500, a7rii, a99ii etc... and drops to 12 bit raw when you shoot electronic shutter, continuous, bracketing, HDR or anything outside of single shot mode. I confirmed with a Sony rep that the a9 uses the same continuous/electronic file format as the a99ii i.e 12bit! I know Canon and Nikon advertise 14bit file output for their continuous shooting.
    Electronic shutters (even smaller stacked BSI sensors like the RX100V which should be more immune to rolling shutter/jelo effect) present issues with banding in flickering lights and fast moving subjects (i.e. the types of things that the camera is targetted at!).
    It also carries limitations with respect to flash sync speed.
    Most often sports shooters will drop to mechanical when shooting sports in flood lit stadiums, panning cyclists etc.... the stacked BSI sensor in the a9 did not look to totally eliminate this.
    However going to mechanical shutter, the camera defaults to the same 5fps mechanical shutter as the a7ii. I also found that in mechanical shutter mode, the EVF performance dropped to a slide show. Here is a video that I made that demonstrates, you will see the slow down in the EVF at this speed:

    Please note that the shutter speed was 1/80 for this which may explain - Sony note that electronic shutter speeds of 1/125 or greater are required for blackout free electronic shutter + EVF mode. They mention nothing of mechanical + EVF. I also tried 1/250 and it wasn't much better so I reckon that this is either a firmware bug or a limitation of their shutter mechanism and readout.

    Sensor / Video performance:
    I've no doubt this will be excellent. Sony make great sensors. We were not allowed to put in our own memory cards and these were taped shut. I asked the rep if the sensor had an AA filter. He believed so. I feel this is a good call for wedding shooters personally - I'd be prepared to sacrifice a little sharpness for reduced chance of moire/false colours.
    For video, this thing will be a beast - BUT... no color profiles or s-log. I couldn't help but feel that Sony were taking a leaf out of Canon's book here and deliberately trying to cripple/ differentiate their FS5/FS7 lineup. You want S-log, buy an A7sii or FS5/FS7. Why sony, why?
    I guess the a7ii doesn't have this capability , perhaps it will be paid upgrade like the 5d iv or original GH4... It was a glaring omission for video shooters.

    I'm told it's better. I only had 10-15 minutes with the camera but first impressions were positive and I've always found Sony's IBIS to be excellent relative to the sensor that they have to stabilize.

    Adapting lenses/Native lens support:
    Sony A-mount has a range of beautiful fast long telephoto glass - the stuff that many sports 1dxii / d5 photographers like e.g 500mm f4, 300mm 2.8. These can operate with the a9 in conjunction with the laea3 adapter at a 10fps penalty and obviously you loose weather sealing with the LAEA3 adapter. If I had to shoot football at night in a floodlit environment, the a9 would not be my weapon of choice at all.
    In native e-mount there is the new 100-400 but that is quite a slow lens for professional shoots at night. It's a daytime lens.
    At this price point and if you want fast glass and better weather sealing you are probably better served with an a99ii - where you will gain faster mechanical shutter speeds natively, better battery life and have a higher resolution sensor to crop from. Did I mention the a99ii is cheaper! With the money saved you could pick up an a6500 for video.

    First things first... the obvious....6k Canadian is huge bit of wedge. Price wise it sits between a 5div and a 1dxii.
    I keep coming back to price in almost every category or competitor that I compare the Sony to. I even mention the APSC XT2 as it's a camera that I have today and feel wants to target the same audience as the A9. The XT2 does not have IBIS which is a major disadvantage for some subject matter. It also has a proprietary sensor format that often requires going outside of lightroom to get the best from it and you don't have a touch screen. However parking the first negative and second piece of info aside (it's easier to park that aside when it's 1/3 the Canadian price of the a9) you get dual UHS2 card slots, moisture, dust and freeze-proof capability, native focal lengths from 12mm to 800mm equiv available now or 1200 equivalent with the 2x tele-convertor (still no fast long glass natively). You get faster mechanical shutter speed and better EVF performance when using mechanical. You get F-log (external for now). You get the same 1/32000 shutter speed and associated disadvantages for sport.
    Looking to the A6500, you loose the second memory card slot, but you get IBIS, probably the same level of weather sealing, touch screen capability, no joystick but it's 1/3 the price.

    If Sony had launched this camera and called it an a7iii with a price tag of 3 - 3.5k Canadian I'd have considered this a reasonable price point for the capability and feature set relative to competitors. It spiritually felt/feels to me like a refined next-gen a7ii.
    Heck when the rx100 went from regular CMOS in the mark iii to BSI stacked in the mark iv/v the price didn't almost treble! I'm aware the cost of a larger sensor for newer technology goes up - but to this extent? For my needs and looking at the competitive landscape I'd wondered if the A9 would be the camera to bring me back into the Sony camp.
    From my experience, no it won't. It's a great great camera with a gorgeous EVF. But anybody reading the hype would do well to rent one first to see if it meets their needs and real world expectations outside of spec sheet measurefests or computer science forums!.
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  2. addieleman

    addieleman Passionate amateur Subscribing Member

    Nov 13, 2012
    Ad Dieleman
    That is a real bummer, I was hoping that Sony cameras after the A7R2 would do away with this limitation. For HDR shooting I now use single-shot bracketing on the A7R2 because the continuous mode only offers 12-bits and also incurs a noise penalty, it makes a real difference. Sony doesn't hint at improved image quality, I'm curious to see how the DxO measurements will turn out. From what I've seen, AF performance and features (touch screen!) are much improved, the limited PDAF area of the A7R2 annoys the heck out of me.

    I'm not the targeted audience for the A9, being an amateur not covering sports, events or weddings, though better AF performance for street photography is always welcome. I'm pretty sure that at least part of the advances in viewfinder and autofocus will trickle down to an A7R2 successor, we'll see. I'm just hoping they will keep something in the range with the A7 Mark II series form factor, I hate this trend of cameras putting on weight and size.
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  3. SamSS

    SamSS TalkEmount Veteran

    Oct 11, 2014
    Heck! You've hit a nail to the head and I thought I was the only who had those feelings.
    I've never had a proud feeling of owning Sony's E-mount cameras. Especially about its ruggedness and quality feel in the hand. They do well to certain price point for what it is.
    Though, I do give it to Sony's technologically advancement over the years. The attraction of price admission for the original a7, a7ii were right on. I thought the a7rII price was a bit overboard and here it is a $4500 a9. Enough said and I think you know what I meant. :) 
    PS. IMO, it's unbelieable that a6500 costs $1400.
  4. serhan

    serhan TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 27, 2011
  5. fractal

    fractal TalkEmount Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 17, 2014
    Southeastern PA

    Thanks for the honest review. I believe however that the A9 does shoot 14 bit Raw in 20fps continuous.

    Sony is taking straight aim at Canon and Nikon’s Professional sports photography market with the new Alpha a9 Mirrorless. It shoots 20fps full frame at 24.2 Megapixels RAW 14 bit up to a maximum 241 raw frames or 12 seconds before writing to the card. This is not only impressive but world class leading. Furthermore the camera is able to do it with full AF using a new 693 point system and without frame blackout in the viewfinder.

    Sony Alpha a9 Mirrorless Has Full HD at 120fps! - Hi Speed Cameras

    What were you impressions of the auto focus?

    Your comments regarding indoor lighting are interesting as Sony claims to have solved that problem.
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  6. WestOkid

    WestOkid TalkEmount All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 25, 2014
    New Jersey, USA
    Chris I would be hesitant to go by a quote from a review site that may have simply had the same access as Tom. For example, this site is down the middle of the 2 extremes and claims a slow down to 12FPS for 14 bit raw
    The 10 Main Differences Between the Sony A9 and A7s mark II

    I checked the Sony site and there is no where do they claim 14bit @ @20FPS. Keep in mind that the whole 12bit thing was always something Sony kept close to the vest and only through deep digging was it uncovered. I would think that if this was completely solved, they would scream from the mountain tops, not leave it to ambiguity as demonstrated by the 3 distinctly different claims in this thread. We shall see.
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  7. fractal

    fractal TalkEmount Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Jun 17, 2014
    Southeastern PA
    Good advise. A number of sites have stated 14bits at 20fps but when you look at the press release you find this...

    "The immense processing power from these new components allows for faster AF/AE calculation while also reducing EVF display latency. The processor and front end LSI are also responsible for the larger continuous shooting buffer, enabling photographers to shoot at a blazing 20 fps4 with continuous AF/AE tracking for up to 362 JPEG6 or 241 RAW5 images."

    and then this footnote referring to the 241 RAW images...

    “Hi” continuous shooting mode, compressed RAW, UHS-II memory card. Sony tests.

    It looks like it IS 12bit at 20fps.

    The real tests should also answer the indoor lighting question.

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  8. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    There's nothing in those statements from Sony suggesting it either way. Compressed RAW just reduces the file size but could still be 14 Bit.
    I think we need to wait for the camera to be tested before anything can be verified.
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  9. WestOkid

    WestOkid TalkEmount All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 25, 2014
    New Jersey, USA
    I agree, we need to wait.

    That said, Sony compressed has always been lossy. They never produced lossless compressed raw like Canikon, so this would be a new feature. I would think they would have highlighted it since so many people have asked for it.
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  10. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    I spoke to the Sony rep and mentioned that lossless compressed was something that they should investigate.
    I agree with you guys, it's a very nice feature on Canon, Nikon and Fuji bodies.
    I also mentioned that I'd like to have proper DNG support natively in body, but that is a personal nice to have.
    Regarding the 12bit raw - yes it's disappointing, but at the end of the day for most sports shooters capturing the image will be the most important thing so it may not matter too much if the A9 gives up a little tonal gradation to Canon/Nikon/Fuji in terms of extreme print sizes and extreme contrast scenes.
    To that end whether the A9 is picked up by sports photographers will live or die based on it's AF performance, lens lineup, battery life and aftermarket service support.
    A quick comment on the focus speed - it looked very accurate in single shot point to point but could hunt on occasion with the 70-200 GM under bad indoor lighting).
    The A7rii is not bad at all in terms of shot to shot focus performance and I'd believe Sony's claims that it is indeed 30% faster than the A7rii.
    The A9 definitely did appear to be slightly faster but it was not a huge night and day performance difference with eye-af (already good) or single shot point to point. Of more interest would be to play with the a9 in a real world sports shooting scenarios and low lighting where I would imagine the new camera should perform better.
    Actually a point to note, it was unfortunate for Sony that the Panasonic stand was very close by as Panasonic were showing off how fast their point to point focus speed was and it was truly very impressive. Their continuous performance was very impressive too, where the camera didn't look to have issue tracking stills continuous at 9fps. It was quite impressive to behold.
    Panasonic were also making the bold claim that they are the only camera available with 'broadcast quality' bitrates and log profiles at such a low price point. Ironically the GH5 provides both at significantly less cost to the A9. Hopefully they can sort out their continuous tracking performance at 24p.
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  11. SRHEdD

    SRHEdD TalkEmount Veteran

    Nov 25, 2012
    Viera, Florida, USA
    I have had such great results from my Nikon D750, also 24mp and now about $1500, that I can't imaging dropping that kind of money on an A9. There just isn't the headroom in improvement of image to justify 3x the cost. Likewise, when I pull out my A7RII it is for an assignment in which I want that large file to manipulate, and don't want to give THAT up and pay twice the price. Someone said that this camera sets up the A9R and/or A9S, but if so, they'll be $6000 each. I'm just not feeling the cost to improvement benefit here. But then, I'd not drop the difference between the D810 and D5 either. Different strokes I guess.

    My Df is begging for some love here, too. If I'm taking a headshot or portrait, I still grab the Nikon Df and 85mm 1.8.
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  12. WNG

    WNG TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 12, 2014
    Arrid Zone-A, USA
    As anticipated as the Panasonic GH5's intro was, production versions proved real-usage AF during video was disappointing. The factory admission to its crippling AF makes it a poor video body. Press releases are all fun and dandy, but it isn't until hands-on testing of production samples that really matters.
  13. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    Very true my friend.
    You should always buy not on what you hope will be fixed after a camera release but based on what you can live with at camera purchase time.
    The GH5 continuous af issues appear to be limited to continuous at 24p.
    It's a pity for such an otherwise well rounded camera that it didn't perform better here. I guess if you could shoot 60p (af continuous looks to work very well here) and are happy to batch render out to 24p in something like Sony Vegas then you're sorted but that's a horrible workaround.

    It will be interesting to see what the first guinea pigs report out on with their A9's....
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  14. Hawkman

    Hawkman TalkEmount All-Pro

    Sep 10, 2013
    Virginia, USA
    I've seen a number of reviewers and commentators presuming or speculating about impending A9R and A9S models being released in the future. While that may be true, I'm not just sure the A7-series lineup model necessarily applies at the very high end of the market. As the headline feature of the A9 is its new BSI, stacked 24MP sensor and the silent and fast electronic shutter driven at 20fps that the sensor enables, I don't see that translating to a higher-resolution presumed A9R. Pushing 42MP frames through at anywhere close to 20fps is a much bigger task than pushing 24MP ones. And while I am not a sports, event, wedding or journalist photographer, I suspect those markets (with the possible exception of wedding) don't have much pressing call for higher resolution than 24MP can provide. I could be wrong. Instead, I would guess that higher-resolution cameras like the A7RII, D810, and 5DSR are used more for landscape and studio jobs, perhaps for wildlife, and then also by enthusiasts looking for maximum resolution and/or cropping ability. The A7RII shooters here can (and likely will) enlighten me as to whether they ever or often use high frame rate continuous shooting for stills.

    Instead, I suspect that we will see some of the A9's other new features start to show up in new "mark III" models of the A7 series whenever they start arriving. I expect the added LSI (and the resulting larger buffer) of both the A9 and A6500 to make it to all the A7 models. I expect/hope that the BSI aspect of the A7RII and A9 sensors makes it to an A7III. I wouldn't be surprised if the new Z-series battery is used in new A7 series bodies, especially if they can provide a simple shell adapter to put older W-series into and use them in the new bodies so that you can reuse old W batteries. The new placement of the movie record button ought to be a shoe-in for all new models. Likewise, a touchscreen is likely to become standard issue. The added shooting speed/AF-mode dial is another story. I call it 50/50 in or out of new A7 models... though adapting it such that the shooting speed dial becomes a video-centric selector for an A7SIII and an image-quality-centric one for an A7RIII might be cool. Dual-card slots are also 50/50, or maybe 60/40 in favor. The Ethernet port and PC Sync port of the A9 are not likely to make it to the A7 series (though I can see a PC Sync for the A7RIII for studio use and a full-size HDMI port for the A7SIII). I also doubt that the higher resolution EVF of the A9 will come down to the A7 series, at least for another generation or so.

    Again, I could be very, very wrong. But I don't think Sony will push all the good new features up to A9-series models only without showing some love to the A7 series. After all, it is the A7 series that brought them to the touted #2-in-the-US-full-frame* position in the first place.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
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  15. WNG

    WNG TalkEmount Hall of Famer

    Aug 12, 2014
    Arrid Zone-A, USA
    All the new features rolling into the A7ii replacement will bump the pricing upwards. People expect 4K, 8-10fps (mechanical shutter or software crippled electronic), LSI and improved buffer. Touch screen. Increased PDAF points. Everything the 6500 showcased.
    The Z battery can be expected on all new offerings as it will generate demand for them and recoup manufacturing investment.
    Probably no joystick. It should get a USB 3 spec version of their multi-port or USB-C port. Bluetooth in order to retrieve GPS data from your phone. Mic and phone jacks.
    Would like to see an improved EVF, and a bump in Mpixels (say 32-36). It should have dual card slots.....I hope.
    I'd put my neck on the line, and suspect all these improvements and their cost, will have Sony name the new camera the A8 instead of A7iii. The A7 line can remain, at their price point. And they can justify the price. And avoid the a6xxx situation. Also, dealers with inventory won't need to fire sale the old model.
    An A8S (ISO and full 6K with no overheat) and A8R (higher Mpixel), but with less of the A9's feature list, won't compete with the A9. And leaves the door open for even more expensive 9 series offerings.
  16. quezra

    quezra TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Aug 22, 2012
    Hey all, haven't been around here much of late, but came back to see what everyone was saying about the A9!

    Honestly, it's a camera I'll never buy not because I can't afford it but because of the opportunity cost of all the other things I could get with that extra money instead of waiting for an A7iii.

    I don't think 12-bit raw + 20 fps is a big deal though I may be biased. I just think someone who needs 14-bit raw and someone who needs 20 fps are likely to be different photographers entirely.

    What I'm most excited about is that sensor inevitably making its way down into the A7iii. The main worry is how much they might skimp on the body to keep a clear distinction between the two. I would love a joystick, double SD cards, touchscreen, etc. (I'll pass on the ethernet port lol) but how many of those will make it into the entry-level model? A bigger worry would be if they were to reduce the body features the way that the D7500 lost some features from the D7200, in order to keep a clear gap with that and the D500. Sony have done this once before, gimping the A5xxx series (inheritor of the superb NEX-5 line) after the introduction of the A6xxx series which sat between the NEX-6 and NEX-7 in terms of features.
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  17. Mus Aziz

    Mus Aziz TalkEmount All-Pro

    Sep 3, 2015
    In the 15 months I've owned mine, not even once. Probably because I mostly shoot landscapes, portraits and occasionally close ups, and I'm not "trigger happy."
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  18. Kiwi Paul

    Kiwi Paul TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Feb 14, 2016
    Aberdeen, Scotland
    I think I'm the same, maybe used it once or twice just to see it work.
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  19. tomO2013

    tomO2013 TalkEmount Veteran

    Dec 11, 2014
    I suspect (but could be wrong) that declining camera sales is the reason for the bump in price and change in model name moniker to a9.
    Actually one thing that I predicted and was completely wrong on was that Sony would build the battery grip into the A9 - akin to the 1dx and D5 but obviously in a relatively smaller package.
    As it stands today, I think the A9 is it from Sony on the upper high end for the forseeable future. However in the past there have been examples of multiple cameras within the same pricing stratosphere occupying different market needs e.g. D3s and D3x (12mp and 24mp respective) to cater to both those that want super high frame rates and those that wanted super high resolution (for the time). Why Nikon did not continue down this path I'm not sure, but no doubt it was financially driven.
    I'm not so sure we will necessarily see an A9r given that we already have an a7rii and the market for a7rii and a9 are radically different. Obviously I could be very wrong on this but it is how I expect it to play out in the next 6- 9 months anyway. There have been rumors of a Sony FF high resolution sensor in the 60mp region. So possibly this is the direction that Sony may go with an a9r and leave the a7rii with the lower resolution 42mp in a lower price segment.

    On a side note - and a little disappointing too - I posted the video above to one or two well known reviewers and review sites in the hope that they could confirm what I saw as a firmware bug or an actual production limitation with the EVF in mechanical continuous mode. When I first broached the topic (gently too I might add) I was challenged quite aggressively. Instead of arguing I provided tangible video evidence to back up my hands on experience. My comment and video link were removed.
    On another site, my post with the actual video is awaiting moderation and has been in this state while newer comments are approved immediately.

    I find it quite disturbing to experience and first hand see what I've often reluctantly considered a possibility - that some reviewers are afraid to critically analyse/bite the hand that flies them to foreign cities, puts them up in hotels, etc... Ming Thein was quite vocal about this type of behaviour in the past.

    Hopefully we will see some reviews that substantiate the mechanical shutter +EVF behavior shortly as review embargos lift. It doesn't take away from the camera if you do not need to shoot within it's limitations but it's still good to know these things up front before ponying up 6k dollars!
    I'd like to see real world experiences of the electronic shutter in a non-controlled lighting situations i.e. where all the reviewers were not taken to a swimming pool or basketball arena where the manufacturer could predict the artificial continuous lighting in usage and pick the venue around it. I want to see the camera used with modern LED's and traditional flickering light sources that working peeps encounter in the real world.
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  20. dbmiller

    dbmiller TalkEmount Top Veteran

    Mar 2, 2012
    New England
    A6000 vs A7Rii, but high frame rate nonetheless.
    1. I have used it on vacation for whale watches, bald eagles and such.
    2. I have used it on waterfall shots when I don't have an ND filter, so I can do the image averaging as a pseudo ND filter.
    3. I have used it at pool halls, to try and catch a jump shot or other fast action.
    4. I have used it for group portraits, trying to catch the best shot of all participants smiles.
    5. I have used it at a baseball game, the obvious sport usage.
    #2 would be less useful with 20FPS - You're capturing shorter shutter times and aren't going to get any better results. All the others I might see an advantage to 20FPS.
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