Sony Alpha 9 III review

Split-second sorcery

₹ 5,29,990

(Body only)

No other brand can claim Sony’s level of expertise in fabricating imaging sensors for cameras with several firsts under its belt like back-side illuminated (BSI CMOS) and stacked CMOS sensors. The Sony Alpha 9 III (α9 III) boasts a global shutter, the next level of innovation in digital camera sensors, which promises black-out-free images, incredible burst shooting speeds without rolling shutter effect, and an autofocus system that can keep up with this speed. But is this 24-megapixel Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera body worth the asking price of Rs. 5,29,990?

Sony Alpha 9 III review: Design, build and ergonomics

Sony A9 III front

The Alpha 9 III might look similar to the earlier Full-Frame Alpha models, but there are some significant refinements in ergonomics and functionality. Let’s start from the top. The top layout, though similar to the Alpha 9 II and the more recent Alpha 1 flagship, replaces the dedicated exposure compensation dial with a custom dial with a toggle switch to lock and unlock. The drive mode dial has an additional H+ setting. There is a secondary dial for focus mode below the drive mode dial and another one for Still/Video/S&Q mode selection, both of which have hold-to-release lock buttons. The mode dial and drive mode dial too have similar locks on top to prevent accidental operation, clearly defining the high-pressure, quick-reaction genres this camera is designed and destined to serve.

Coming to the rear, the biggest change is in the LCD itself. This combines the tilting platforms and the fully articulated hinges we have seen so far. The display housing has a fully articulated hinge perched laterally on a tilting platform, giving it freedom along four axes. There are a total of five custom buttons, two at the top, two at the rear and one at the front. In addition to these marked buttons, you can reprogram most buttons and dials with custom functions, depending on your use.

The Alpha 9 II offers a thick, but deep grip with a groove for the index finger, making it easy to hold and operate. The body balanced well with the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens Sony supplied with it. Like all professional cameras, the Alpha 9 III is crafted to withstand all the punishments a camera is expected to endure on the toughest terrains and situations like festivals and photojournalism. It offers a robust magnesium alloy body with a dust and moisture-resistant design with silicone rubber gaskets around buttons and cushioning around the lens mount and other areas. In addition to these, there’s a shading curtain that closes on power off to protect the sensor from dust while changing lenses.

Sony Alpha 9 III review: Display, EVF and menu

The Alpha 9 III’s 3.2-inch TFT Touch Panel offers 2,095,104 dots. The 4-axis motion allows 180-degree swivel, 270-degree rotation, 98-degree upward tilt and 40-degree downward tilt. The display is crisp and clear and proved quite responsive. It provides five display modes with an electronic level, live histogram and a wealth of crucial shooting parameters. The camera is equipped with a 9.44 million-dot Quad-XGA (2048 x 1536) OLED electronic viewfinder with a 41-degree field-of-view and 25 mm high eyepoint. The EVF offers three frame rate options up to 240fps. The finder was bright and appeared to better an optical viewfinder in clarity and response. We didn’t notice any perceptible lag during continuous shooting. Understandably, the menu runs quite deep with the features neatly arranged under intuitive heads.

Sony Alpha 9 III review: Key features

The Alpha 9 III features the world's first full-frame stacked CMOS imaging sensor with a global shutter system. Though earlier CCD (Charge Coupled Device, not the coffee shop around the corner) sensors used this type of sensor, the later CMOS sensors used a rolling shutter that records images sequentially from top to bottom, one row at a time. Sony, with their complex stacking architecture, has been able to fabricate an ADC (Analog to Digital Converter) layer behind the main photodiode array so that the output from each photodiode is captured simultaneously. This newly developed 24.6MP Exmor RS image sensor thus eliminates distortions including rolling shutter effect and blackouts during high-speed capture.

The sensor facilitates high-speed shooting and the Alpha 9 III can shoot continuous bursts up to 120 frames per second with autofocus and auto-exposure subject tracking at full resolution. The shutter can synchronise with flash at all shutter speeds and thus eliminate flash banding when you use compatible Sony flashguns, and the Alpha 9 III offers shutter speeds up to 1/80000 seconds in single-frame shooting mode (up to 1/6000  seconds in continuous shooting). There’s an interesting continuous speed shooting boost function for those split-second moments when you need to switch to continuous shooting. You can assign this to a shortcut button (front button by default) and make the switch on the fly.

The device offers pre-capture, which, when enabled, records the moments before the shutter is released and it can be set from 0.005 to 1 second. This takes care of the slight delay between the action and our response, thereby preserving split-second action moments. The camera is equipped with a BIONZ XR image processor, capable of processing images in real-time even at 120fps continuous shooting. The Alpha 9 III can capture 14-bit RAW images and there is an option of composite RAW shooting with 4, 8, 16, or 32 frames selectable. These images can then be merged using Sony's Imaging Edge Desktop application for full-resolution images with low noise.

The AI processing unit offers real-time recognition AF with enhanced Human, Animal, Bird, Insect, Car/Train and Aeroplane recognition. The system uses 759 phase-detection AF points as part of its Fast Hybrid AF system. The camera offers 5-axis in-body image stabilisation, and this time, it has been improved to provide 8 stops of shutter speed advantage, which can be further enhanced with compatible lenses with optical image stabilisation.

The Alpha 9 III can record 4K (3840 x 2160) movies in either the full-frame or Super 35 mm format up to 120p with full-pixel readout and 6K oversampling. The camera includes Sony’s S-Cinetone picture profile to get tones consistent with their Cinema Line devices. Video creators can use other features like focus breathing compensation, dynamic active mode stabilisation and auto framing for better video production.

The camera features two identical memory card slots that accept CFexpress Type A and SD cards (UHS-I and UHS-II). It is powered by an NP-FZ100 rechargeable battery pack. The camera houses a full array of ports including Micro USB, USB Type-C (USB 3.2), Sync terminal, HDMI connector (Type-A), Multi Interface Shoe, Mic terminal, and Headphone terminal. Wireless connectivity is ensured by Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO and Bluetooth Ver. 5.0.

Sony Alpha 9 III review: Performance

Sony shipped our review unit along with the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens and 160GB CF Express Type A memory card, and the combination impressed us thoroughly with the balance in weight and image quality. We received the camera around Holi season, which gave us ample opportunities to experience the capabilities of global shutter at the full 120 fps. Every frame was tack sharp with the AF system latching onto the main subject without any trouble, and the metering system backing it up with consistent exposures throughout the burst session.

Image quality is a given for such professional cameras, and the Alpha 9 III reproduced colours without any cast in daylight both in auto white balance and daylight preset. However, we found the system slightly over-compensating in shade depending on the ambient colour temperature.

Out-of-the-box JPEGs were comparatively clean and at 100 percent size, the images showed perfectly acceptable noise up to ISO 3200, with the acceptability going up to ISO 12,800 when viewed at 50 percent size. Even ISO 25,600 could be used in a crunch for lower magnifications. One commendable feat of the camera is that the images remained sharp throughout the ISO range with good detail even with normal levels of noise reduction. The device also kept chrominance noise to almost negligible levels.

Of course, noise seems to be the least of concern for most professional photographers with advanced AI algorithms taking care of it without the imperfections of the old ‘pre-AI’ algorithms. We tried the latest AI noise reduction feature in Adobe Camera RAW and found that even the boosted ISO 51,200 could get you absolutely noise-free results if you have the patience to sit through the AI processing session.

Another impressive feature is the ISO invariance, which allows you to shoot at a lower ISO without bothering about correct exposures and then opening it up in post-processing. The camera returned an image with noise comparable to ISO 12,800 after opening up the RAW file in Adobe Camera RAW. The camera captured shadow details like a true expert, but we observed highlight clipping in images. Hence you would do well to expose for highlights if there are important highlight areas in your frame.

Was our experience completely on the positive side? If you are a wildlife or sports photographer, you may have the urge to shoot in Hi+ (120 fps) mode all the time, and the silent or near-silent shutter doesn’t help. But at that rate, your memory card fills fast and sifting through thousands of images could be a frustrating affair. Also, consider the time taken for image transfer. So it would be wise to assign a shortcut button to ‘continuous speed shooting boost’ function and switch on demand. Since the camera continuously hunts for focus and exposure changes, the supplied battery drains quite fast. So you may consider the optional VG-C5 vertical grip, which can house two NP-FZ100 batteries.


The Alpha 9 III retails at a price that is comparable to the Alpha 1, which has been considered the ultimate in the Alpha line of Full Frame cameras. Though the Alpha 9 III adopts many features and design elements from the Alpha 1, both cameras are made for different purposes. While the Alpha 1 caters to those who crave those high-res, detailed images and 8K videos, the Alpha 9 III is made for speed and action, providing everything that a wildlife, avian or sports photographer needs on the field. And in this assigned role, the camera doesn’t disappoint a bit. Just make sure that you carry tonnes of storage, batteries, and a fast backup device.

Stuff Says

This camera is built for split-second moments on the field, and it delivers with flair.
Good stuff
Bad stuff
  1. 120 fps burst shooting

  1. Quick AF and metering

  1. 4-axis display

  1. Weather-sealed body

  1. ISO invariant sensor

  1. Ample custom buttons

  1. Battery drains fast

  1. Expensive

Effective pixels: Approx. 24.6 million
Sensor type: 35 mm full frame (35.6 x 23.8 mm), Exmor RS CMOS sensor
Movie quality: up to 4K (3840 x 2160), 119.88p
Memory card: Dual SD (UHS-I/II compliant) / CFexpress Type A slots
ISO sensitivity: ISO 250–25600 (expandable to ISO 125–51200)
Electronic viewfinder: 0.64-inch, 9.4 million-dot Quad-XGA OLED
Monitor: 3.2-inch type, 2.1 million-dot TFT touch panel
Shutter speed: 30 to 1/80000 sec, Bulb
Drive Speed (max.): Hi+: 120fps
Weight: Approx. 617 g
Dimensions (W x H x D): Approx. 136.1 x 96.9 x 82.9 mm