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.
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.
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.
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.