Is an 8K Sony a9 III Going to Be the Canon R5 Killer?

Is an 8K Sony a9 III Going to Be the Canon R5 Killer?

It’s little more than a year since Sony announced the launch of the Sony a9 II, but despite that, we could see its successor unveiled within a matter of weeks. Rumors suggest that the a9 III is on its way, so what does the Japanese manufacturer have lined up?

2020 was a relatively quiet year for Sony in terms of camera bodies. The a7C was perhaps not quite what people were expecting, chopping the top off the a7 III (back to $1,698, by the way), wedging a tiny EVF into the top left-hand corner, and stealing one of the card slots. Elsewhere, the long-awaited a7S III finally arrived and seems to be living up to expectations. While it’s not set the world on fire (and yes, that’s a deliberate choice of phrase) by including 8K, users have been impressed.

The Sony a7S III

The Sony a7S III.

2021 promises greater excitement in terms of stills after it emerged that two new Sony cameras recently passed their certification with the FCC. Rumor sites seem a little uncertain as to what these two cameras might be but the list of possibilities is fairly short: the a7 IV, a new RX compact camera, the a7R V, and the successor to the a9 II.

a9 Already?

An a9 III might feel a bit too soon given that the a9 II appeared as recently as October 2019. Keep in mind, however, that the a9 II felt somewhat placeholder, offering only incremental improvements over the original a9, and tying in with Sony’s determination to intensify the frequency of its releases. Fstoppers own Ryan Mense described it as a “subtle iteration,” with many of the improvements coming by way of connectivity rather than speed or quality. The a9 II kept the same 24.2-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor with its 693 autofocus points, same ISO performance, same 20-frame-per-second blackout-free burst (electronic). Even the EVF and the rear LCD were identical. Admittedly, the mechanical shutter saw a bump from 5 fps to 10 fps, and combined with anti-flicker control, the a9 II is a better option when shooting under artificial lighting.

The changes that did come were mostly on the outside with improved ergonomics and weather-sealing. Connectivity also saw some major bumps with a USB-C port, a gigabit Ethernet port, 5 Ghz WiFi, and a wealth of FTP options. This sequel was a quick "ain't broke don't fix it" refresh with the Olympics in mind.

As a result, there are two factors suggest that the a9 III might prove to be something of a beast. Firstly, after such incremental improvements in 2019, you’d expect Sony to want to deliver something significant in 2021. Secondly, the landscape has changed, largely thanks to Canon. January 2020 saw the arrival of the 1D X Mark III, a camera that was then to be largely overshadowed by the R5 and the R6. Canon’s mirrorless full-frame technology matured at a time when Sony’s release cycle was comparatively quiet.

The Canon EOS R5

The Canon EOS R5, one of the two cameras that marks the maturity of Canon's mirrorless full frame camera. But is it about to be "killed" by the Sony a9 III?

So, What Do We Know?

Sony rumors are always entertaining, typically far less reliable than the scraps that the internet sniffs out for other manufacturers. Speculation is varied but the FCC certification gives us some degree of certainty that there are announcements due in the near future.

Sony Alpha Rumors seems certain that the announcement will come during the first three months of the new year, potentially as soon as the three-day, online-only Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that kicks off on January 11 2021. This is billed as “the most influential tech event in the world,” and Sony frequently likes to make an impression. The Japanese giant has a press conference scheduled for the first day of the show between 5 pm and 5.30 pm EST, and Sony fans should probably pay close attention.

As you can imagine, thoughts on which features will be packed inside the new a9 have been fun. According to Photorumors, the a9 III will feature a larger body, a 9.44 minion-dot EVF, a brand new sensor, 8K video that doesn’t overheat, and the menu system from the a7S III — all of which will set you back just shy of six grand.

Elsewhere, Sony Alpha Rumors claims that it will be 50 megapixels, 8K 30p video, the same EVF and autofocus as the a7S III, and a price tag of around $4,999. For reference, the a9 and a9 II both went on sale initially at $4,499.

Little of this makes sense to me, especially given that a9 cameras have never been intended as video powerhouses. Furthermore, a resolution north of 36 megapixels might undermine low-light performance. It seems fairly certain that we can expect a new processor, dual-hybrid card slots, and buffer-free, blackout-free raw files at speeds beyond 20 or 25 frames per second. Sony might finally catch up with Canon and Nikon in terms of the mechanical frame rate. Jared Polin is guessing at 16 frames per second mechanical but expects a price of around $5,299.

Keep in mind here that the Canon R5 currently costs $3,899, though of course, the 1D X Mark III will set you back $6,499.

Two New a9 Cameras?

Sony fans seem intent on predicting some sort of R5 killer, but that would be a significant shift in terms of the slot that the a9 fills. That said, Sony has taken us by surprise in the past so maybe doubling the resolution and pumping out 8K video isn’t completely insane and the idea that this will be an "a9S" rather than an "a9 III" isn't entirely ridiculous. Who knows, maybe in January, we will see both? It would be a bold move but Sony might split its a9 line into a press- and sports-oriented speed monster that sits alongside an 8K behemoth that will challenge the R5. How these two would position themselves in terms of sensor resolution and pricing would be fascinating. An outlandish idea, maybe, but given the quality of Sony rumors I think we're allowed to go crazy.

What are your expectations and what should Sony be looking to deliver? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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14 Comments

Indy Thomas's picture

Sure they will unveil a "Canon killer". Just as Canon finally silenced the "Canon is doomed" crowd the next round of click bait articles is readied to try to start that old clunker again.

Wilder Berry's picture

Ah not so fast, because Canon's r5 ii will be a Sony A9 iii "killer". And then the Sony A9 iv will be a Canon R5 ii "killer". And then Canon will fight back with the R5 iii Sony A9 iv "killer". And so on until eventually Nikon will come to the party with a weirdly quirky device made in Taiwan and a strange F0.76 27 mm lens that nobody asked for.....

Clickbait rules!

Michael Comeau's picture

Yes. All Canon R5's will explode as soon as the A9 III is released. Obviously.

Tammie Lam's picture

Can't wait to see this "9.44 minion-dot EVF". Potentially we can see a lawsuit from Universal for the use of 9.44 minions.

regan albertson's picture

asinine headline! every time F-stoppers poses this question, I am putting it on a weeklong time out. Nothing will kill Canon, Sony or Nikon, but themselves.

Daniel Lee's picture

Neither body will kill either. Sony users will continue to use their bodies, Canon users will continue to use theirs and you will continue to attempt to start flame wars between the users to get more traffic 😁

Rayann Elzein's picture

8K's not enough. I will only switch when we get 12K... This rush to 8K video modes in such small bodies is becoming insanely ridiculous.

Rafael Cavalli's picture

I work in a studio with 4 more photographers, 3 stylists and 2 makeup artists. This year we made a lot of money working with e-commerce (oakley, maxmara and their other brands, lamborghini, technogym, persol and some other small brands) and we still using 5d3 and 5dsr. It’s time to stop thinking about technical stuff and start doing some shit.

Yin Ze's picture

I have Sony a7riv and a9. D810 still makes me money as I prefer using it for lighting. I prefer to invest in better lighting than incrementally better camera.

Alex Gubariu's picture

I think first we will see the A7 IV because the it is the most selled lineup. The A9 III will be available maybe in Q3 2021, because I think that the Olympics will be canceled until 2022. A9 III will have the same megapixel count as A7 IV, a higher framerate and a higher resolution EVF. I don't think that 8k will be available becouse a full sensor readout it's more demanding in processing and battery power, and a cropped readout it is not the Sony way to do things. Maybe the next A7S IV will have 8 k.

Bjarne Solvik's picture

Best thing that could happen to me was that Canon made a more affordable camera with 24-36 Mp that would be an alternative to the anticipated A7m4. I am kind of done with green/orange skin tones now. And bad autofocus in low light. But Canon is making oddball cameras and lenses, with a high premium.

I am starting to hate the fact you have to pay for a video camera if you want a good camera to make images with. Once it was a value added, now it’s just value extracted from my pocket:)

These high resolution 4K / 8K cameras are so expensive that even if you can pay, it’s a problem to leave them in the trunk of your car or in office overnight:)

Bill Metallinos's picture

For me is very unlikely to see a so big change in the flagship of Sony to 50MP or bigger. I think Sony will slit the α9 series in two models, the α9iii and the α9s.
Right now the α9 and α9ii is a 24.2MP camera and its almost the same as Flagship camera of Canon 20.1MP and Flagship Nikon 20.8MP.
-Or the rumors is wrong and we are talking about α7RV. Yes, this the camera with the big amount of MPs and 50MP or more is the correct choice. Also is the perfect model to stand against Eos R5.
The α9 series is stands against the Eos R1 / 1Dx series

Mihael Tominšek's picture

Just saying a camera is a killer is dumb enough. While my personal opinion on pointless "mark" models is they are stupid who upgrade every mark model. Companies once tested gear internally and released only fully developed items. Today they release every design stage as mark model. They praise every mark version ar revolution, while true improvement can only be seen between models in some 10 years apart. 5 at minimum. It used to be megapixel race, than fps race, than focus point race, now it is video resolution race. I think real "killer" camera must have at least 12578 focus point, separate eyelash follow focus, 890 f-stop of DR, 17 card slots, nuclear battery for 12 years of non-stop shooting, 32k video recording, 189-gigapixel sensor, fps that fantom cameras will blush, and ISO must go to 102,4 millions. Cameras are not well equipped if not having Facebook/IG integrated right in, and are fully automated for the task: e.g. baby-born preset will know when and how to take series of images when mothers deliver, so fathers can just set camera on tripod and go home.

Alex Gubariu's picture

Maybe the new camera has a global shutter or a higher dinamic range. I'm trying to guess what the teaser image is suggesting with that motion blurr effect. 😏