Sony Alpha 9 III: the end of rolling shutter distortion?

A lot of progress in the digital imaging industry is incremental. We all remember the megapixel race that took center stage in the early years of digital photography; sensor size, autofocus performance, rapid-fire shooting, video features, and more have all had their turn as the hot feature being pushed forward bit by bit by multiple manufacturers. Rare are the releases which feature an enormous advance, and they tend to change the game forever. The global shutter sensor being introduced by Sony’s Alpha 9 III body has the potential to be one of those features.

I’ll get into greater detail below, both about what a global shutter could mean for your photography as well as the further (very impressive) specifications of this exciting new body. The α9 III won’t be in-hand until February of next year, but pre-orders are live as of this writing. This historic camera will almost certainly be in short supply: stop by a Mike’s Camera brick-and-mortar shop or click here to secure one for yourself now.

The star of the show: “that sensor, though”

So: global shutter. If you don’t know what that means, the definition might surprise you: the sensor captures data from every pixel at one moment. “Doesn’t it do that anyway?” you might wonder, but it turns out that most imaging sensors use what’s called a “rolling shutter,” in which data is captured sequentially from rows of pixels. This prevents too much simultaneous data from overwhelming the processor, but can lead to strange artifacts and distortion. For example, a misaligned flash sync will produce an image that is in parts significantly darker, or (depending on the lighting) you may find brightness and color variations within a single image; very weird results can also crop up when recording video of extremely fast-moving objects.

The Alpha 9 III‘s global shutter sensor—the world’s first in a full frame—puts an end to all that. The BIONZ XR processor has up to 8 times the processing power of the BIONZ X, and it’s more than capable of handling the entire 24.6 MP Exmor RS CMOS sensor’s exposure at one, precise moment. This is a coup for high-speed shooters of all kinds and I look forward to seeing how the art is changed is changed as a whole by this newly-available technology. I suspect that this will become a standard in the not-too-distant future.

Perks for pros

Aside from the unique intrigue of the global shutter, there’s plenty to like about the Alpha 9 III from a professional’s perspective. Continuous shooting can be cranked up to as high as 120 fps… with AF and AE… blackout-free… and a Pre-Capture option so you never miss a shot mid-shutter. The front-side custom button (C5, next to the lens mount) is set by default to a “continuous boost” feature, which can be configured to swap quickly between speeds <30 fps and >60 fps to help you nail a decisive moment without overwhelming your memory card in less critical moments.

Flash Sync with Sony flashes is effective at all speeds, including the minimum of—get this—1/80,000 of a second. Yow! Manual flash timing adjustment for extreme fine-tuning is also accessible to provide as much compatibility as possible with other flash units.

Between the incredible burst speed and super-fast shutter speeds available on the Alpha 9 III, this is the kind of camera that captures a multitude of images in a minimum amount of time. With that in mind, Sony’s developed a Composite RAW technique (accessible via free desktop software) which significantly reduces noise in your images. Samples look great—we’re looking forward to seeing the real world results with this one!

A standard ISO range of 250–25,600 (expandable to 125–51,200) ought to provide plenty of dynamic range in all lighting situations, and an in-body image stabilization system rated for 8.0 steps of compensation should pick up the slack for sharp photos at all lighting levels. Plus, the 5-axis IBIS system can be synced with the optical stabilization systems in compatible lenses for even more rock-solid shooting.

Video virtues

There’s plenty to love about the Alpha 9 III on the moving side of picture production, too. Maxing out resolution and framerate is the option to shoot in 4k 120p (!)—full-res slow motion, without cropping. It is also possible, if you don’t need quite as many frames per second, to shoot 6k oversampled 4k 60p video.

Dynamic Active Mode stabilization crops in a bit, but is 30% more effective than normal Active Mode stabilization (which is also available on this camera, of course). The α9 III is also compatible with the Breathing Compensation feature found on several Sony lenses, so you can rack focus without fear of ruining the shot.

As for color, if you’re interested in grading your footage, the Alpha 9 III offers S-Log3 recording and 10-bit 4:2:2. If you need your footage fast and want something cinematic straight out of the camera, Sony’s acclaimed S-Cinetone mode renders gorgeous skin tones, well-separated from backgrounds, with just the right level of moodiness. Regardless of the look you’d like to achieve, you can bridge the gap between production and post by loading your preferred LUT(s) to the camera, which will preview the LUT as you record the footage.

Another Sony hallmark: Real-time Recognition AF

As one might expect in a camera so focused on high-speed success, autofocus performance is a big deal here. Sony’s Real-time Recognition AF system is powered by a dedicated AI-based processing unit which is capable of analyzing a scene and recognizing abstract forms, which not only allows it to find (for example) a human, but also to predict that human’s trajectory for improved subject tracking both for still photography and video. (In more simple terms, it can tell which way someone is walking and will follow more effectively.)

The Real-time Recognition AF system can be tuned to nine different subject modes, including Human, Animal, Bird, Animal/Bird, Priority to Animal, Priority to Bird, Insect, Car/Train, and Airplane. The 759 point PDAF array offers 95.6% coverage and promises dependable, astounding accuracy.

Palpable power

The body of the Alpha 9 III is riddled with plus-points, including:

  • Ergonomic grip design providing precise handling and reduced fatigue
  • Quick-response shutter button
  • New custom button setup, including C5 next to the lens mount
  • Optional vertical grip expands intuitive usability
  • 3.2″-type 4-axis multi-angle LCD with 2.1 million dot resolution
  • 9.44 million dot OLED EVF
  • Dual media slots, both of which accept either SDXC or CFexpress Type A
  • Durable magnesium alloy chassis
  • Dust- and moisture-resistant
  • 2×2 MIMO for fast WiFi data transfer
  • WiFi usable for PC tethering, FTP, and smartphone transfers
  • Customizable quick access Fn Menu
  • Improved group display: continuous bursts displayed as a group which can be expanded
  • Dedicated voice memo microphone
  • Screen reader function

There’s a lot to attract discerning photographers and videographers here. It’s even packaged in recyclable materials! Calling it now: the Alpha 9 III is going to be huge, and you’re going to want in. Click here or visit us today to secure your pre-order!

Sample gallery

Product images

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