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A9III: One week in Colombia

  
 
jhapeman
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · A9III: One week in Colombia


The title is self-explanatory--I just returned from a week in Colombia with my new A9III and I thought I'd share my observations for those of you considering this camera, or just curious to learn more.

I'll start with the gear I took with me: I brought along one of my A1's, my 600GM and the new 300GM. I also had access to a 400GM while there but chose not to use it at all. I had both the 1.4x and 2x TC's with me as I use both of them often. The purpose of my trip was bird photography, and it was a pretty intense week chasing a lot of birds in the central Andes around Manizales and Pereira. I'll preface this by saying that when I left on the trip I thought I would have to force myself to use my A9III because I really, really like the pixels of the A1. I'm a pixel-whore, I'll admit. Surprisingly, I found myself forcing myself to use the A1. I won't dwell on ergonomics as I mentioned it in one of my earlier posts on the A9III, but I will reiterate here that its just a more comfortable camera to use than any of the other Sonys I've had before it.

The biggest reason I found myself grabbing the A9III was the superior AF. This is not just the AI chip either; it just performs better overall, and this was especially noticeable in low light. A lot of the best birding is happening early in the morning and/or in the jungle where the light is never great, even in the middle of the day. The A9III was superior both at subject acquisition--no doubt aided by AI chip and algorithms--but also in general AF speed. Once a subject was found, it nailed it fast, and this was particularly noticeable when using the TC's, where the A1 can get quite sluggish, especially with the 2x TC. One area where the AI technology no doubt helped was in nailing the focus on the eye of the bird, and a visible increase of the number of in-focus shots in any given sequence of photos. I typically shoot the A1 at 20-30fps and especially in low light I will notice the focus drift around a bit so that the eye isn't always locked in focus. With the A9III, even at 60fps, virtually 100% of any sequence would have the AF locked on the bird's eye.

One insight I had while there was that the pixel count really didn't matter to me as much as I thought it would. Generally speaking I am always striving to get as close as possible to the subject so I can fill the frame as much as possible without having to crop. Under those conditions the reduction on megapixels is really not terribly noticeable except when zooming in on the image at 200% or more. When I make prints they are rarely larger than 48x36" and I am quite confident it would be difficult to choose which camera they were taken with, at least to the typical person viewing an image. Where the lower pixel count does matter is the edge cases where I can't get close enough and need to crop, but those turn out to be the exception as generally if an image is worth taking and keeping I will make any and all efforts possible to get in as close as I can.

Noise and dynamic range were also considerations that I had some concern about before the trip began. After using it for a while, I am pretty comfortable with saying that the noise isn't really that different than the A1, and the bench testing that's been done with the camera also shows that this is pretty much the case. The larger grain size of the noise, however, can be issue at higher ISOs with fine detail if you are not as close to the subject as possible where it manifests itself as a loss of fine detail. I found that up to and including ISO 6400 I felt the images were great; at 12,800 I had to nail the exposure or the images don't stand up as well to post processing. Again, this is less of an issue than I might have guessed; I generally try to keep the ISO low no matter camera I used. Analyzing the images I took, only 7.6% were at ISO 8000-12800--virtually identical to the percentage I shoot in that range on average on the A1. As for dynamic range, that one stop lower DR vs. the A1 *can* be noticeable at the higher ISOs, where either the blacks will block up or the whites will blow out if you miss the exposure.

When it came to the frames per secondóthe real area the A9III stands outóthat came into play in two ways. First, I found that most of the time I was happy to shoot at 60fps in short bursts, similar to how I shoot the A1 in 30fps most of the time. The advantage is that more frames means that you are more likely to ďcatch the momentĒ when shooting, although it comes with the disadvantage of having to slog through a lot of shots later. Second, and most obvious, is that the 120 fps really opens up the ability to catch moments you canít even imagineóitís kind of a new way of seeing the world, like a slo-mo movie. I had a great time shooing hummingbirds in flight as they came to visit flowers or interacted with each other. Going through those images it was amazing to see the things that happen in the blink of an eye that would otherwise be missed.

This brings me to the final and perhaps to me one of the most important new features of the camera which is the configurable pre-capture. Depending on the frame rate I would set this to 0.5s to 0.2s. I actually just permanently left pre-capture turned on and paired with the fast AF and AI AF it was a game-changer for fast moving birds. Many times Iíll have a fraction of a second to swing the camera to a bird and try to fire off the shot I want. With the A1 Iíll often end up with nothing in the image, or a blurred bird in the moment of flying or hopping away. With the A9III I ended up with a lot more successful shots from those moments, where pre-capture caught 2-3 frames of the bird that I would have totally missed with the A1. Because you can blow out the buffer fast at 120fps, I would shorten the pre-capture to 0.2s when shooting at that frame rate.

One other observation that surprised me: the A9III seems to be way more power-efficient than the A1. I took my nephew with me on the trip and we were typically shooting side by side all day. Most days I could get through 10 hours of shooting (not continuously of course) and shoot somewhere around 12,000 images without exhausting the pair of batteries in my A9III, while he would go through almost two pairs of batteries in his A1 in the same time. Iíve mentioned this before, but the A9IIIís new grip and/or the camera itself will now drain the two batteries equally vs. draining one first and then the other. If you put in one battery with a greater charge than the other, it will drain that one until both batteries are at a near equal charge, and then they will both draw down to zero near-simultaneously.

The IS is very, very good. I am routinely able to handhold the A9III and 600GM at shutters speeds about 2-4 stops slower than before. This is very helpful for keeping the ISO low but it also just means more in-focus shots overall without and motion blur.

With regard to exposure and white balance, the A9III is definitely superior as well. I had to tweak how I expose a tiny bit to accommodate the slight difference in DR, but once I got that dialed in I got a lot more shots that were perfect SOOC and didnít requite much if any adjustment. The AWB is much better in low lightówhile the A1 is fine in daylight, when it gets dim it seems to shift quite a bit towards magenta. The A9IIIís AWB was superb, and typically required no adjustment at all in post-processing. It most definitely does not have that magenta shift at higher ISOs/lower light.

At the end of the day, photography is about getting the shot. The combination of faster overall AF speed, better tracking and subject acquisition due to the AI chip and the pre-capture meant that I just got a lot more shots that I just would have missed with the A1. I still really want all of those features in an A1 II and really hope we donít have to wait too long for that. I have started to wonder if the new A1 will also have a global shutter, which is why we didnít see it released at the same time at the A9III. While I know some have speculated that was to prevent any cannibalization of A1 sales, that doesnít really seem to have been a concern as there appear to be very few buyers of the A9III here vs. those who have just held on to their A1ís. Thatís not surprising given that like me many really want those extra pixels, and many feel like 120fps isnít really necessary. It seems to me that a A1 with a global shutter that could do 60fps would be very similar in many other ways to an A9III at 120fps in terms of pixels read out per second and buffer requirements. That noise penalty and DR penalty are quite small at this point so some extra time to perfect the global shutter technology for a higher-megapixel sensor would make sense too. Of course this is all just pure speculation!

Now for some sample images.




  ILCE-9M3    FE 600mm F4 GM OSS lens    600mm    f/4.0    1/5000s    5000 ISO    -1.3 EV  






  ILCE-9M3    FE 600mm F4 GM OSS + 1.4X Teleconverter lens    840mm    f/5.6    1/400s    1250 ISO    -0.7 EV  






  ILCE-9M3    FE 600mm F4 GM OSS + 2X Teleconverter lens    1200mm    f/8.0    1/250s    6400 ISO    0.0 EV  






  ILCE-9M3    FE 600mm F4 GM OSS + 2X Teleconverter lens    1200mm    f/8.0    1/1250s    12800 ISO    +0.7 EV  






  ILCE-9M3    FE 600mm F4 GM OSS + 1.4X Teleconverter lens    840mm    f/5.6    1/200s    1000 ISO    -1.0 EV  



Edited on Apr 03, 2024 at 03:08 PM · View previous versions



Apr 03, 2024 at 02:19 PM
GMPhotography
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Nice report as I read that it reminds of going to the A7RV from the A1. Where AF / Tracking ability and holding is much better. Now we just need 36 or more in next version.

I am a pixel whore as well



Apr 03, 2024 at 02:32 PM
jhapeman
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · A9III: One week in Colombia


GMPhotography wrote:
Nice report as I read that it reminds of going to the A7RV from the A1. Where AF / Tracking ability and holding is much better. Now we just need 36 or more in next version.

I am a pixel whore as well


I tried doing that when the A7RV came out, but I can't go back to a blackout shutter and e-shutter won't work for birds. Between that and the paltry 10fps, it just didn't work for me, but the AI AF was that good back then, too. Hopefully when we finally see an A1 II it will be even better. I'm keeping the A1s for now just for those delicious pixels but I am starting to wonder how often I'll pick them up vs. the A9III.



Apr 03, 2024 at 02:35 PM
Lt.Deadeye
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Oh man I'd sure like to be in your shoes! Maybe one day. How'd the 300mm perform?


Apr 03, 2024 at 02:39 PM
jhapeman
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Lt.Deadeye wrote:
Oh man I'd sure like to be in your shoes! Maybe one day. How'd the 300mm perform?


It exceeded expectations with some minor quibbles about the design. I'm preparing a second post on that one.



Apr 03, 2024 at 02:41 PM
pluturi
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Really appreciate the in-depth comparison and pleasantly surprised by your conclusions about AF. Not sure I can always count on filling the frame like you have, but I shoot A1/600 f4 combo for birds also and the detail shown here is surprisingly good given the difference in pixels.


Apr 03, 2024 at 02:43 PM
GMPhotography
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Yea thats the downside part for birders

jhapeman wrote:
I tried doing that when the A7RV came out, but I can't go back to a blackout shutter and e-shutter won't work for birds. Between that and the paltry 10fps, it just didn't work for me, but the AI AF was that good back then, too. Hopefully when we finally see an A1 II it will be even better. I'm keeping the A1s for now just for those delicious pixels but I am starting to wonder how often I'll pick them up vs. the A9III.




Apr 03, 2024 at 02:53 PM
jhapeman
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · A9III: One week in Colombia


pluturi wrote:
Really appreciate the in-depth comparison and pleasantly surprised by your conclusions about AF. Not sure I can always count on filling the frame like you have, but I shoot A1/600 f4 combo for birds also and the detail shown here is surprisingly good given the difference in pixels.


My nephew and another friend with me also shoot A1's and all of us were really surprised at how well the A9III images stacked up against A1 images shot of the same birds at the same time. The difference between 24 and 51 megapixels when you are shooting with the same lens and at the same distance are surprisingly small.



Apr 03, 2024 at 03:05 PM
dclark
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Interesting report. Thanks for posting.



Apr 03, 2024 at 03:07 PM
ICee
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · A9III: One week in Colombia


I enjoyed reading your report, thanks.


Apr 03, 2024 at 03:27 PM
 


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Lotuselite
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · A9III: One week in Colombia


jhapeman wrote:
It exceeded expectations with some minor quibbles about the design. I'm preparing a second post on that one.


Looking forward to that.



Apr 03, 2024 at 09:31 PM
shac
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Thank you for taking the time - excellent report -


Apr 03, 2024 at 10:28 PM
Hoagie058
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Hmmm 🤔


Apr 03, 2024 at 11:16 PM
berimbolo
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · A9III: One week in Colombia


First shot is contest worthy


Apr 04, 2024 at 01:53 AM
k-h.a.w
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · A9III: One week in Colombia


jhapeman wrote:
The title is self-explanatory--I just returned from a week in Colombia with my new A9III and I thought I'd share my observations for those of you considering this camera, or just curious to learn more.

I'll start with the gear I took with me: I brought along one of my A1's, my 600GM and the new 300GM. I also had access to a 400GM while there but chose not to use it at all. I had both the 1.4x and 2x TC's with me as I use both of them often. The purpose of my trip was bird photography, and
...Show more

Thank you jhapeman for the report and sublime images, especially the first one.
In that particular case, if you have an entire sequence of images, it would be enticing to create a GIF animation.
With a total of 20 or 30 consecutive frames at 60 FPS hummingbirds can get into considerably different configurations.
That would be very interesting to watch.
All you would need is Photoshop in addition to your usual post-processing app.

Thanks again for sharing your marvelous experience, K-H.



Apr 04, 2024 at 03:00 AM
octo
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · A9III: One week in Colombia


I like what you said: "At the end of the day, photography is about getting the shot."

It's true, some images are very emotional let's say, and it's all about capturing those key moments. People are way more impressed by this than by more "boring" shots with a ton of MP.

By the way, about the A1II with a global shutter: it doesn't need one to get 60fps or even 120fps. The current A1 sensor can do 250fps, so my guess is that v2 is going to reuse the A1 sensor and we'll get 60fps (or maybe 120 if Sony wants to do something crazy).



Apr 04, 2024 at 04:35 AM
jhapeman
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · A9III: One week in Colombia


octo wrote:
I like what you said: "At the end of the day, photography is about getting the shot."

It's true, some images are very emotional let's say, and it's all about capturing those key moments. People are way more impressed by this than by more "boring" shots with a ton of MP.

By the way, about the A1II with a global shutter: it doesn't need one to get 60fps or even 120fps. The current A1 sensor can do 250fps, so my guess is that v2 is going to reuse the A1 sensor and we'll get 60fps (or maybe 120 if Sony wants to
...Show more

Where do you get the information that the sensor "can do 250fps"? I'm curious about that. Regardless there's a lot more to a faster frame rate than just the sensor--there's so much else that has to happen in the processing pipeline, buffering, etc. I am on the fence on the same sensor; if that was the case I feel like they would have--or could have--just announced a Mark II back with the A9III. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if they are just waiting for the A9III to shake out in the market. If they do reuse the sensor I certainly hope they make some improvements to the noise, etc. just because there's always room to improve there or at least I'd always love to see improvements.



Apr 04, 2024 at 07:11 AM
octo
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · A9III: One week in Colombia


jhapeman wrote:
Where do you get the information that the sensor "can do 250fps"? I'm curious about that. Regardless there's a lot more to a faster frame rate than just the sensor--there's so much else that has to happen in the processing pipeline, buffering, etc. I am on the fence on the same sensor; if that was the case I feel like they would have--or could have--just announced a Mark II back with the A9III. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if they are just waiting for the A9III to shake out in the market. If they do reuse the sensor I
...Show more

From Sony's own document They published the sensor specifications early 2021.
https://image-sensors-world.blogspot.com/2021/02/isscc-2021-sony-501mp-full-frame-sensor.html

"Sony presents a 50.1Mpixel, 4.16μm-pitch, back-illuminated stacked CIS with a pipelined column-parallel kT/C noise-cancelling sample-and-hold circuit and a 14b delta-sigma ADC achieving 1.18e-rms random noise at 250fps. The design splits the pixel signal line to lower the wiring load and increase the operation speed."

Another important part is that it's using delta-sigma ADCs, which explains why the DR is so good.

Read the specs:
Frame rate: 44fps
Readout rate: 250fps @14bit

^ That's why I said "it CAN do 250fps", that's the maximum it's able to achieve. Then as you said itself, other parts are limiting the framerate, in this case no doubt it was the memory bandwidth. But since the A9iii, it has been increased, and now we know that an A1ii @60fps is doable since that's using the same bandwidth as an A9iii @120fps. (Basically a 50MP @60fps would use the same bandwidth as a 24MP @120fps).

And of course, technology keeps improving that's why 120fps is not even out of the question



Apr 04, 2024 at 08:51 AM
k-h.a.w
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Didnít Jim Kasson measure a sensor-readout-rate of 160 FPS for the A9 and 240 FPS for the A1? Anyway, thatís my recollection.

K-H.



Apr 04, 2024 at 09:42 AM
louie champan
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · A9III: One week in Colombia


Thanks for sharing such a detailed report, very interesting and informative. I'm getting a loaner next week so I've been reading this report very carefully. Excellent images.


Apr 04, 2024 at 11:22 AM
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