Filipino Documentary Photographer

Sony A9III Real World Field Test in the Philippines

Hi! I’m Martin San Diego, a documentary photographer from the Philippines. My work is photo-based longform storytelling.

I’ve been using Sony Alpha cameras since 2016; my first was the A7R2. It was sharper and faster than my Nikon DSLRs (D750, D600) then, but it had quirks. I later got (and sold after extensive use) an A7III. My current lineup includes the Sony A9, the A7R3, a bunch of Sony FE lenses, and one Voigtlander lens. They’ve been with me in, around, and outside the Philippines.

Every generation of Sony’s mirrorless cameras lead a leap in imaging technology, but there has always been quirks, albeit negligible in most cases.

And now, in 2024, here we are with the A9 Mark 3 or A9III. It simply is camera perfection.

Sony Philippines asked me to test the one A9III unit we have in the country (as of my testing), and be part of the camera’s launch, which happened last week, February 15th.

I was curious. I already own the first generation A9. What could this new flagship camera possibly bring to the table, when Sony’s existing cameras are already so great?

I decided to give myself an assignment: Take the camera outside for a week and document life I can find along the Marikina River. Follow the stream from San Mateo, to Quezon City, to Marikina City.

What was there to see? Well, I found life — Football lessons, a giant slide, farmers, dirt jumpers, skaters, and lots of birds. I had plenty of things to shoot with the A9 Mark 3, to test its capabilities.

Before we proceed, I just wanna say: this camera will never fail you, and this camera simply inspires so much confidence.

Futsal by the river (Dynamic Range)
In the San Mateo stretch of the Marikina River, I found this group of high school students teaching younger kids futsal. They’re from Nangka High School. On weekends and holidays, they play a few rounds here by the river.

They are almost always backlit by the afternoon setting sun. A nice starter to see the A9III’s dynamic range performance.

Sony FE 35mm 1.4 G-Master
Sony FE 50mm 1.2 G-Master

Harvest by the river (Dynamic Range, Color Depth)
In QC, near Loyola Grand Villas, I was able to talk to Mang Gregorio, and his family of farmers who were harvesting kamote by the river. During the rainy season, when the water is high, sediment and soil build up by the river banks. There, farmers plant different crops in dry season.

I took some individual portraits, and the family in action. The sun was beautifully setting behind them. The A9III showed promising dynamic range right here.

Sony FE 50mm 1.2 G-Master

*You, probably by now*:

Birds by the river (Pre-Capture, 120 FPS, Autofocus Tracking)
Also just outside Loyola Grand Villas, we get a glimpse of what the A9 Mark 3 can really do… because there were birds!

I do not have the patience for birding, but luckily I had the 200-600mm with me. So I sat by the river and waited for birds to fly by. I gave myself one hour.

Okay… normal bird photos. Any camera can do that, right?

But wait, there’s more.

I had the pre-capture feature turned on, and the burst rate set to 120 frames per second.

Since this was my first time actually birding, I did not have the foresight for what the birds would do. So when a bird entered the frame, I just pressed the shutter and followed its flight.

The A9III tracked the birds with its AI autofocus across hundreds of frames. Only the Sony A9III can do that.

Sony FE 200-600mm 5.6-6.3 G OSS

Giant slide (Dynamic Range, Color Depth)
Across the river, on the side of Marikina City. I noticed this segment of the river wall where kids slide every late afternoon.

I tried it myself. With the A9III of course.

Sony FE 35mm 1.4 G-Master
Sony FE 50mm 1.2 G-Master

Skateboards by the river (Pre-Capture, 120 FPS, Autofocus Tracking, Dynamic Range, Color Depth)
Further down the stream, I met a group of young skaters at the Marikina river park. They said they go here every afternoon, after class.

They were in a partly-shaded area, so it was a nice opportunity to see dynamic range and autofocus tracking performance.

The A9 Mark 3’s autofocus nailed my subject every time.

Okay… usual skate photos. Any camera can do that, right?

But wait, there’s more.

See how the A9III tracks the subjects across hundreds of frames flawlessly? Only the Sony A9III can do that.

Sony FE 35mm 1.4 G-Master
Sony FE 135mm 1.8 G-Master

Dirt Jumps by the river (Pre-Capture, 120 FPS, Autofocus Tracking, Dynamic Range, Color Depth)

Across the river again, I met a group of high-flying dirt jumpers. They come from all over Metro Manila and gather here on weekends with their BMX and Mountain bikes.

Same with the farmer from earlier, these guys dig the washed up soil at side of the river to make ramps.

Here we can see the speed of the A9 Mark 3 really shining. Autofocus just gets a lock every time.

They perform summersaults and a bunch of other tricks with their bikes.

Sometimes they make mistakes, which turn out beautiful in the camera.

Okay… usual dirt jumping photos. Any camera can do that, right?

But wait, there’s more.

The last sequence is amazing. The Sony A9III tracks the dirt jumper’s face even when his hands go over it. Only the Sony A9III can do that.

Sony FE 35mm 1.4 G-Master
Sony FE 50mm 1.2 G-Master
Sony FE 135mm 1.8 G-Master

Test environment (Durability and Reliability)
One of barriers that keep professionals from shifting to mirrorless or Sony Alpha cameras is this misconception that they are fragile. But in my experience, they actually last longer than DSLRs. Electronic shutter essentially gives us longevity.

I didn’t tell the guys at Sony, but this is how I tested the A9 Mark 3 with the G-Master lenses: I rode my bike for a total of over 200 kilometers, on and off road with the camera.

If it survived my bike, it can definitely survive your car or your backpack.

The mechanical shutter of the past limited our cameras’ potential speed. And while the electronic shutter opened worlds because of its silence, it also introduced rolling shutter to photographers. The Sony A9III solves all this with the introduction of the Global Shutter.

The Global Shutter is amazing, but the array of features it enables is what excites me more as a documentary photographer and journalist. The power required for Global Shutter to function is the same power that will give you faultless autofocus tracking, the ability to go 120 frames per second, and the deep buffer that enables pre-capture.

The Sony A9III feels great in the hands. Yes, because of the improved ergonomics, but also because it inspires so much confidence. You just know it’s gonna get a focus lock. You just know it’s gonna have a deep buffer. You just know there’s speed and reliability when you need it.

With all this, the Sony A9III aims to take luck out of the equation.

Has it? That is for you to decide when you get your hands on one.

But one thing’s for sure: missed shots are now a thing of the past.

Published February 19, 2024
All images, except the selfie, were taken with the Sony A9III. Raw files processed in Adobe Lightroom.

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