Sony A9 III impressions and comparison to A1

Sony A9 III impressions and comparison to A1

The Sony Alpha 9  II was my first Sony camera and the camera that converted me to Sony from Nikon. At its introduction,  it was way ahead of the competition and the only MLIC camera suitable for serious action including bird and wildlife photography. Here is what I wrote about that camera back then.

Sony introduced the impressive A1 in 2021, it more than doubled the pixel count on the A9 II while making it 50% faster and fitting arguably the most capable AF system for action. Many thought that was the end of A9 line of cameras.

Surprisingly Sony refreshed the A9 series earlier this year with the Alpha 9 III. Last month I spent some time with the Sony A9  III in the field, here I share my impressions of the camera.

The camera features a major of technical breakthrough in consumer cameras and that is global shutter. The camera’s 24 mega pixel full-frame sensor is read at once with almost no delay (it’s not exactly zero but close to it). This means the camera is capable of insane burst rate of 120 fps at full resolution (compressed RAW), and very fast flash  sync times for those who use a flash with  fast shutter speeds. It also adds the pre-capture buffer that continuously records images as soon as the shutter is half-pressed for a user-specified period of time. Never miss a take-off shot again!

Additionally it brings a number of ergonomic improvements and more flexibility to the AF system. It can recognize subjects such as insects, cars, trains, airplanes etc. For some of those subjects user even has the ability to prioritize which part of the subject the camera should try to focus on, for e.g. bird’s eye vs. head vs. body, or how far from the current selected AF spot it should search for such subjects.

other aspects of the camera such as the EVF, memory card interface and the battery remain identical to the A1.

In short the A9 III improves on all the aspects of the A1, but it takes a big step back in resolution. For most bird photographers the question would be whether the improvements in the A9 III are so significant that would overcome this major step backward.

Before answering this question we must realize that the A1 is not a slow camera by any standard, it still the fastest 50 mega pixel consumer camera in the market at 30 fps RAW. The AF system in the A1 is also the best in the business as I reviewed here.  In my short time with the A9 III, I did appreciate the added flexibility to the AF system, but what I did not notice was a significant improvement of the AF system in capturing BIF. Both the A1 and A9 III are excellent, and neither one has a 100% foolproof AF system, nothing has…. Any incremental improvement, if present, was not noticeable. The 120 fps can help capture some very unique frames in some very special circumstances,  but most of the time it can lead to a frustrating process of culling and deleting hundreds if not thousands of identical frames. The camera does offer a video-playback feature for choosing the keepers but it is impossible to tell if the frame is critically since you cannot zoom during the video-like playback.

The files from A9 III are sharp but they are not as rich in detail as the A1. The lack of resolution /fine detail was immediately noticeable when blowing the files up on my 32″ reference screen. Next to A1, the files look like a step back in time, to the time of 20 mega pixel DSLR’s. The files cannot handle much cropping when the subject is a bit far.

In conclusion the A9 III is very specialized tool that does exactly what it promises. It is a great camera, but it is not a good fit for my style of shooting. In 99% of cases the A1 will produce the same dynamic frames but with much richer details. For those 1% scenarios I will defiantly consider using the A9 III where possible, but for now I will keep using the A1 as my primary camera.

Time will tall what features from A9 III will make to the A1 II.

For a more in-depth analysis,  please watch the video below and remember to  subscribe to my YouTube channel!


a few images with the A9 III

Swallows, shot at 120 fps. A9 III 600GM + 2X TC (1200mm), ISO-2000 1/4000 sec. handheld

Sony A9 III, 600GM + 2X TC (1200mm). handheld processed with C1P. click on the image to enlarge. the OOF spot is a bug the swallow is trying to capture.


Static test scene

Sony A9 III vs. A1, Sony 300GM. RAW processed with identical settings in Capture 1 Pro. Click on the image to enlarge.

link to full size files here

Sony A1 with 300GM

Sony A9 III with 300GM