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Sony a9 III review in progress

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Sony a9 III review in progress


Product photos: Richard Butler

The Sony a9 III is the company’s latest high-speed pro sports camera. It features a Stacked CMOS sensor capable of shooting at 120 fps and able to read all its pixels out simultaneously: the long hoped-for ‘global’ shutter.

Key features

  • 24MP global shutter Stacked CMOS sensor
  • High speed shooting up to 120 fps
  • Pre-burst capture of up to 1 sec before the shutter is fully pressed
  • Shutter speeds up to 1/80,000 with flash sync across the full range
  • 9.44M dot (2048 x 1536px) OLED viewfinder with 0.9x magnification
  • 2.0M dot rear LCD with tilting cradle on a fully articulated hinge

The a9 III will be available in early 2024 at a recommended price of $6500. This is a $2000 increase over the previous iteration from 2019. A matching VG-C5 battery grip that provides space for two batteries is available for an additional $398.


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Index:


What’s new

Global shutter sensor

The big news with the a9 III is the move to a sensor that offers a global electronic shutter: reading out all its pixels simultaneously so that there’s no lag or rolling shutter effect. Such sensors have existed before (some CCD chips, for instance), but this is the first one to use a full-frame sensor in a modern mirrorless camera to deliver the full potential benefits.

The sensor delivers the camera’s two main selling points: the global shutter, which extends what the camera can offer in three specific areas, and sheer speed. As well as having no motion distortion from its capture, the a9 III is able to shoot at up to 120 frames per second.

Its fast readout also allows incredibly high speed capture, with shutter speeds that extend to 1/80,000 sec. The global readout also means it can sync with flashes all the way up to its maximum shutter speed (though the power of the flash will be reduced at the very shortest exposures and may require the timing of the flash trigger signal to be fine-tuned so that the exposure syncs with the brightest point of the flash output).

There are downsides to the sensor, though: the global shutter design works by using what is effectively a second photodiode within each pixel to act as a buffer: holding the charge generated by the exposure so it can all be read out at the same time. This reduces the effective size of the photodiode used to capture the image, reducing the amount of charge each pixel can hold before it becomes full.

This reduced capacity for charge means the pixel becomes saturated sooner, so it can tolerate less light before clipping. In turn, this means it needs to be given less exposure, which is reflected in the base ISO of 250, 1.3EV higher than typical. Giving a sensor less light instantly reduces the image quality, because light itself is noisy, and this noise is more visible, the less light you capture.

120fps shooting

The new C5 button on the front of the camera is set, by default, to activate the speed boost function for temporary access to 120 fps shooting.

The super-fast sensor readout allows the a9 III to deliver a faster shooting rate than we’ve ever seen from a sensor this large. Whereas the previous generation of Stacked CMOS sensors with progressive readout would shoot at up to 30 frames per second, the a9 III quadruples this to 120. Sony has published a list of its lenses that can operate at this full speed.

It’s a reasonable question to consider how often even the most demanding sports photographers will need to shoot at 120 frames per second, and how much more sorting and selecting work will be created by generating so many additional files.

You can lower the burst rate to whatever makes the most sense for your specific subject, but there’s also an option to temporarily jump back to a faster rate when you hold a button down, meaning you could shoot at, say, 30 fps in the buildup to what you expect to be the critical moment, then press a custom button to give a faster, more concentrated burst around the moment of interest itself.

Like the other recent high-end Sonys, the a9 III has a pair of CFexpress Type A and UHS-II SD card slots set one within the other, providing compatibility with both the widely available SD format or the faster CFexpress format. Both are still significantly slower than the CFe Type B cards adopted by most other manufacturers.

Interestingly, the a9 III continues to use Sony’s preferred CFexpress Type A cards, which have half the read/write channels of the larger Type B format. This means the a9 III has to depend that bit more heavily on its internal buffer. It has the capacity to shoot 196 uncompressed 14-bit Raw files in a burst, allowing 1.6 seconds of capture at its fastest rate. This is nearly 10GB of data, which gives some idea of the size of the camera’s buffer but also of how quickly you’d fill up your cards if you shot at full tilt in Raw.

Pre-capture

The a9 III becomes the first Sony to have a pre-capture feature: starting to buffer images when you half-press the shutter button or hold the AF-On button, then retaining up to one second’s worth of images when you fully press the shutter. You can reduce the time period to as little as 1/200 sec if you’re really confident in your ability to anticipate the crucial moment, but the pre-buffer time isn’t affected by your choice of shooting rate.

Dedicated ‘AI’ processor

The a9 III gains the ‘AI’ processor that Sony first introduced in the a7R V. This does not add any ‘intelligence’ or learning in and of itself, but is designed to process the complex subject algorithms created by machine learning for functions such as subject recognition. This should boost the camera’s subject recognition performance compared to previous generations of cameras, such as the a1, making the tracking more responsive and more robust.

8EV image stabilization

The a9 III gets the flexible tilt-and-hinge cradle we previously saw on the a7R V. It can be manipulated into all sorts of positions, for wherever you’re shooting from.

The a9 III also gains the latest image stabilization processing algorithms, helping it deliver performance that’s rated at up to 8.0EV of correction, using the CIPA standard methodology. This is an appreciable increase over the 5.5EV offered by previous generations of cameras. Unlike Canon’s system, this doesn’t depend on synchronized use of in-body and in-lens IS mechanisms, so users should see an increase in correction performance over a wide range of lenses, though the peak correction may not be so well maintained quite so well at extremely long and short focal lengths.

C2PA authentication

Although not present at launch, Sony says it plans to add C2PA authentication to the a9 III. This is a cryptographic metadata standard developed by a range of software makers, camera makers and large media organizations that will provide a secure record of the file’s provenance and edit history, allowing media organizations to know that the images they are receiving can be traced back to a specific camera and haven’t been inappropriately manipulated.


How it compares

With its high shooting speed and pro-friendly features, the a9 III’s closest competitors are the pro sports bodies from Canon and Nikon, as well as Sony’s own a1. This is an exclusive group, not only in the sense of commanding a significant price but also in that they have professional support networks established to ensure working pros have the most possible ‘up’ time. While other cameras promise fast shooting and capable autofocus, these are the models that the most demanding professionals rely on.

Sony a9 III Sony a1 Canon EOS R3 Nikon Z9
MSRP $6500 $6500 $6000 $5500
Pixel count 24MP 50MP 24MP 46MP
Sensor type Stacked CMOS
(Global shutter)
Stacked CMOS Stacked CMOS Stacked CMOS
Max burst rate 120fps 30fps 30 fps
196 fps** (AE/AF fixed)
30fps (JPEG)
20fps (Raw)
120fps (11MP JPEG)
Pre-capture? Up to 1 sec JPEG only
IS rating (CIPA) Up to 8.0 EV Up to 5.5EV Up to 8.0 EV Up to 6.0EV
Base ISO 250 100 100 64
Max ISO 51200 102400 204800 102400
Max shutter speed 1/80,000 1/32,000
1/8000 mech
1/64,000***
1/8000 mech
1/32,000
Flash sync 1/80,000 1/400 1/250 EFCS
1/200 Mech
1/180 Elec
1/250
Viewfinder
res / size / eyepoint
9.44M dots
0.9x
25mm
9.44M dots
0.9x
25mm
5.76M dots
0.76x
23mm
3.69M dots
0.8x
23mm
Refresh rate Std: 120 fps
High: 240 fps
Std: 60 fps
High: 120 fps
H+: 240 fps*
Power save: 60 fps
Smooth: 120 fps
Std: 60 fps
High: 120 fps
Rear screen 2.0M dots fully articulated on tilt cradle 1.44M dots fully articulated 4.15M dots fully articulating 2.1M dots, two-way tilt
Max video res 4K up to 120p MOV 8K/30 UHD MOV 6K/60 DCI Raw
4K/120 DCI/UHD MOV
8K/60 Raw
8K/30 DCI MOV
Media 2x CFexpress Type A / UHS II SD 2x CFexpress Type A / UHS II SD 1 CFe Type B
1 UHS II SDq
2x CFe Type B / XQD
USB 10Gbps 10Gbps 10Gbps 5Gbps
CIPA Battery life (LCD / EVF) 530 / 400 530 / 430 860 / 620 740 / 700
Weight 702g 737g 822g 1340g
Dimensions 136 x 97 x 83 mm 129 x 97 x 81 mm 150 x 143 x 87 mm 149 x 150 x 91 mm

**Viewfinder res and display size are reduced
**AF and AE locked, in bursts of up to 50 images.
***Whole stop increments only between 1/16,000 and 1/64,000

The a9 III stands out, even from the other manufacturer’s pro-grade cameras, in offering 120 fps shooting as a standard mode, with full AF and Raw capture, whereas Canon’s R3 locks AF and AE at the first exposure (rarely ideal for the kinds of action shooting that require high speed bursts) and the Nikon outputs significantly reduced resolution JPEGs.

Like the EOS R3, the a9 III opts for speed over resolution, meaning it can’t deliver the 8K footage that the a1 and Z9 can. Also, any users hoping for Raw video will need to buy an external recorder, rather than being able to capture this in-camera, as you can on the Canon and Nikon.

The biggest apparent shortcoming is the relatively low battery life of the a9 III, as it’s a single grip camera and hence lacks the space for the larger batteries included in the Canon and Nikon. Adding the BG-C5 battery grip adds space for a second battery, as well as providing duplicate portrait orientation controls.


Body and handling

Although the company’s a7, a9 and a1 models all look similar, each generation has seen the control layout reworked and details such as the handgrip tweaked. The a9 III sees a larger than typical re-working of Sony’s ergonomics.

The grip is a little deeper, with a more prominent dent for the forefinger to rest in, but more significantly, the shutter button is placed on a surface that angles forward rather than sitting in the same plane as the camera’s top plate. This means you don’t have to rotate your hand or stretch your finger quite so far to reach the shutter. In turn, the custom buttons on the camera’s top plate have been extended upwards so that they’re still accessible from this less stretched position.

It’s a relatively small adjustment but enough that you’ll notice it after several hours of shooting. Given the a9 III’s target audience, it’s hard not to make assumptions that this change has been made in response to Sony’s tie-up with the Associated Press, giving the company more feedback from a large pool of working pros.

Beyond this, the body is pretty familiar from the previous generation of cameras, with most of the control points and custom buttons existing in the same places. The main exception to this is that the a9 III gains a fifth custom button, on its front panel. By default, this is used for the ‘speed boost’ function, but this can be modified.

The a9 III has the same 9.44M dot (2048 x 1536px) OLED viewfinder that first appeared in the Sony a7R V. The optics in front of the panel give an impressive 0.9x magnification, meaning it’s very large to look at, and the fast sensor means its full resolution is used even when refreshing at 120fps. There’s a 240fps mode if you need an even more frequent update of what’s going on in the scene, but this runs at a reduced resolution. The viewfinder shows no blackout at all when shooting images.

The rear screen is a 2M dot panel that’s arranged on a tilting cradle that is itself hinged at the side, providing a wide range of movement and adjustment.

The a9 III uses the same NP-FZ100 battery as all the most recent full-frame cameras have. It’s a well-sized 16.4Wh unit that powers the camera to a rating of 530 shots per charge, using the rear LCD according to CIPA standard tests. This drops to 400 shots per charge if you use the viewfinder. These are strong numbers compared to most cameras but some way behind those of its pro sports peers, which typically have a twin-grip body with space for a much larger battery.

Battery life can be increased significantly through the addition of the optional VG-C5 vertical grip. This adds the space for a second FZ100 and more than doubles the battery life, as Sony has developed a system for treating the two batteries as a single large power source.

It’s also worth noting that the CIPA standard tests are even less reflective of the behavior of pro sports cameras than they are elsewhere. Bursts of images use much less power than the individual shot shoot-and-review process that standard testing assumes. As such, a rating of 400 shots per charge for a camera that shoots at 120 frames per second should not be taken to mean that the battery will only last for 3.3 seconds of holding the shutter down. This is nowhere close to being true.


Image quality

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

We’ve looked at the a9 III’s image quality and have found that its performance is up to a stop behind those of contemporary full-frame cameras. Essentially the halving of the photodiode size halves the amount of light the sensor can tolerate. This raises the base ISO, limiting the maximum image quality the camera can deliver (ie: comparing base ISO to base ISO).

The added complexity of the sensor’s design also means that it isn’t able to offer a second low-noise readout path as has become common in dual conversion gain sensors that dominate the market. This sees up to a stop noise penalty, relative to its full-frame peers.

All of that said, a lot of sports shooting doesn’t necessarily happen at ISO 100, so being limited to ISO 250 or higher needn’t be a major issue. Likewise, even a one-stop increase in noise at high ISO isn’t likely to be a deal-breaking difference, especially if the a9 III’s global shutter and incredibly rapid burst rates mean that it can get a shot that its rivals simply miss.

So, while the a9 III’s sensor tech may not make as much sense in other cameras, for the high-speed users it’s designed for, these aren’t necessarily a significant drawback.


Initial impressions

Only time in the hands of a large number of pro photographers will test how much value 120 fps capture with no risk of banding is, but historically faster has proven to be better, even when the current level of performance has let people get results.

We now have a full production spec a9 III but want to put it through its paces at some sporting events before drawing any firm conclusions about its overall performance, so these comments should still considered be initial impressions.

The arrival of global shutter is a significant advance for the industry, and provides a recognizable benefit in specific circumstances, specifically: high-speed flash sync, avoidance of banding with high-frequency displays and zero rolling shutter distortion for movies and very fast movement. However this capability comes at a cost, with the a9 III not being able to match the best image quality of its rivals.

The question is: do the camera’s strengths outweigh this cost for the types of shooting it’s designed for? The a9 III is a specialized camera designed for very specific types of shooting, not an all-rounder that might be used for landscape work, just as often as wildlife and sports. As a sports camera, speed is of the essence, and working at elevated ISOs is the norm. Likewise, the need for very broad dynamic range to be exploited during Raw processing isn’t likely to be a priority for many of its users.

The provision of a LAN socket and full-sized HDMI port show that Sony wants the camera to fit readily into professional workflows, and the camera will ultimately succeed or fail on that basis.

This isn’t to make excuses, just to put it in context. The a9 III offers capabilities for high speed capture far beyond those of its rivals, but at the cost of being a less flexible camera. Which may prove to be an acceptable, or even entirely reasonable, trade-off for sports pros, if it transpires that the ability to shoot at 120 fps around the critical moment, or to avoid any distracting ad-board flicker prove suitably valuable.

These caveats mean that the a9 III’s advances need to be seen in context: global shutter probably shouldn’t be assumed to be the future toward which all cameras are heading. For now the trade-offs mean it only makes sense for some photographers: those for which it’s designed. And those trade-offs would have more significant impact in smaller sensors, so we’re not suddenly dreaming of APS-C or Four Thirds sensors that utilize this particular technology.

Judged for what it is, though, the a9 III looks to be a very powerful addition to the market, with a lot of handling and workflow changes that will make it ideal for pro sports use. This is what we’ll be testing over the coming weeks. However, that doesn’t make it the camera by which all others should be judged.


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Pre-production sample gallery

Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review); we do so in good faith, so please don’t abuse it.



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Ricoh launches Pentax 17 half-frame fixed lens film camera

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Ricoh launches Pentax 17 half-frame fixed lens film camera



Ricoh has revealed the Pentax 17, the half-frame film compact with a manual focus fixed prime lens.

The Pentax 17 has a 25mm F3.5 lens which works out at 37mm equivalent, and derives its name from the horizontal width of the 17 x 25mm frames it captures. The company says the vertical format makes it similar to images shot by smartphones.

It has a manual focus lens that can be set to one of six preset distances, from 0.25m to infinity, indicated with icons on the top of the lens. The company says the lens is based on the design of 1994’s Pentax Espio Mini and features three elements in three groups. It features a leaf shutter that gives a circular aperture shape all the way from F3.5 to F16, and gives a shutter speed range from 1/350 sec to 4 seconds, and offers a Bulb mode for longer exposures.

The company says its targeting a younger audience who enjoy the experience of shooting film and will appreciate the cost-savings of shooting two exposures on each 36 x 24mm frame. The 17 will also provide the certainty of a full warranty with good availability of spare parts, which second-hand cameras lack. It will come with a one year warranty and, in the US at least, the option of a second year of coverage.

The camera features magnesium alloy construction and uses a standard CR2 lithium battery to power its flash, light meter and viewfinder indicators.

The 17 will be available from late June 2024 at a cost of $499.95.

Press Release:

Ricoh announces the PENTAX 17 compact film camera

PARSIPPANY, New Jersey, June 17, 2024 — Ricoh Imaging Americas Corporation today announced the highly anticipated PENTAX 17 compact film camera. The PENTAX 17 is a half- frame camera, capturing two 17mm x 24mm pictures within a single 35mm-format (36mm x 24mm) film frame. It produces vertical-format pictures, with similar ratios to those captured by smartphones, for seamless sharing on social media after the film is developed and scans are produced by a film lab.

The popularity of film cameras has grown rapidly in recent years — especially among young photographers — because of the distinctive, somewhat nostalgic experience provided that is so different from using digital cameras. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the global film camera market is projected to be 5.2% through 2030 and a quick search of the hashtag #filmphotography on Instagram pulls up more than 42.6 million posts.

Borne out of the PENTAX Film Camera Project, a concept first announced in December of 2022, the new camera resulted from a close collaboration between Ricoh Imaging and PENTAX experts and younger engineers. The experts shared their vast knowledge and decades of experience in film and imaging technology with the current team members to design a film camera that would allow photographers to express their originality and creativity by leaving some room for manual operation, rather than making it a fully automatic camera.

| Design merges manual operation and ease of use for maximum creative expression |

The design of the PENTAX 17 was inspired by the PENTAX brand’s heritage, incorporating manual operations unique to film photography that are gaining a loyal following in today’s digital world. This includes a selectable zone-focus system, manual film winding, manual film advance lever, and exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity adjustments, each with their own dials. The classic design of the camera body was developed with high-quality materials; the top and bottom covers are made of solid, lightweight magnesium alloy and the 40.5mm filter mounting thread enables the use of a range of filters.

The PENTAX 17 features a newly-developed 25mm F3.5 lens (equivalent to a 37mm lens in the 35mm format). Further building on the PENTAX brand heritage, the lens is based on optics incorporated in the acclaimed PENTAX Espio Mini — which was marketed in 1994 —redesigned to support the half-frame format. The lens is treated with HD (High Definition) coating to optimize the clarity and sharpness of the half-frame photos. In a nod to Ricoh’s rich history in optics and photography, the designers based the lens design on the lens in the RICOH Auto Half – a best- selling half-frame model first marketed in 1962 – incorporating the angle of view and focal length to make casual, everyday picture-taking simple and flawless.

The camera’s zone-focus system is divided into six focus zones that can be selected on the zone focusing ring to capture subjects at a long distance or as close-up as 25 centimeters away in the macro zone. Its bright optical viewfinder features a bright, Albada-type frame finder to facilitate framing a scene as well as a close-up visual field compensation frame to help users more easily compose close-up images. The zone focus marks can be seen directly through the viewfinder to further support composition.

The PENTAX 17 has seven shooting modes to accommodate different applications and scenarios. It automatically adjusts exposure settings based on lighting data collected by its metering sensor. In addition to the Full Auto mode in which all exposure settings are selected by the camera, it provides six other shooting modes including: Slow-speed sync, which is useful in twilight photography; and Bulb, a long-exposure mode useful for photographing nightscapes and fireworks.

The camera supports a wide selection of ISO film speeds and features a note holder on the back cover where the end of the film package can be inserted for at-a-glance confirmation of the film in use, three strap lugs to accommodate both horizontal and vertical suspensions, and compatibility with the optional CS-205 Cable Switch for use in extended-exposure photography in Bulb mode.

| Industry support for PENTAX 17 |

“Film photography has been growing in popularity over the past decade and especially recently! The new PENTAX 17 film camera is going to kickstart an entirely new generation of film shooters,” said Philip Steblay, Cofounder of The Darkroom, an online film developing service. “This terrific new camera will add to the great pleasure and enjoyment of shooting film. The PENTAX analog functionality, film selection process and thinking more carefully about your shots will enhance the fun of photography. This, coupled with the anticipation that comes with waiting for your images to process, adds to the joy of photography. With new cameras and film coming to market the future of film photography looks bright.”

“The PENTAX 17 is a stunning camera, both in form and function,” said Kyle Depew, founder, Brooklyn Film Camera. “Its design is handsome and classic, yet it features elements that are delightfully unique and innovative. It’s amazing to see modern PENTAX engineering applied towards a new film camera. We couldn’t be more delighted.”

“The film photography community is vibrant and growing, and we are thrilled to see Ricoh Imaging recognizing this and creating new products for this market,” said Meredith Reinker, managing partner, Roberts Distributors LP. “Film photography has been growing in popularity over the last several years and supporting this community is supporting a growing industry as well as supporting the arts. We are honored to be partnering with Ricoh to make this camera available through our distribution channel of independent, local and analog-focused businesses. We look forward to watching the analog community embrace this exciting announcement as we all have a shared goal of keeping film photography alive and accessible.”

“This camera has been a reminder to have fun and not take things too seriously,” said Matt Day, photographer. “It’s fun to shoot with, it’s compact enough to carry anywhere, and double the amount of exposures makes it easier to shoot more.”

“Many photographers were first introduced to the joys of photography using a PENTAX film camera. We’re hoping to introduce a new generation to the world of film photography with the PENTAX 17,” said Ken Curry, president, Ricoh Imaging Americas. “It is an ideal model not only for film camera enthusiasts who have enjoyed film photography for years, but also for photographers who are excited about trying film photography for the first time.”

| Pricing and Availability |

The PENTAX 17 will be available late June at www.us.ricoh-imaging.com as well as at Ricoh Imaging-authorized retail outlets nationwide for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $499.95.

| Main features |

1. Half-size format

The PENTAX 17 features the half-size format, in which two 17mm x 24mm pictures are captured within a single 35mm frame (36mm x 24mm). It also employs a manual film advance lever. When holding the camera in traditional orientation, the PENTAX 17 captures vertical-format pictures, similar to the familiar images captured by smartphones, which are commonly used today for picture-taking.

2. Manual camera operation unique to film cameras

The PENTAX 17 features a manual film-winding mechanism based on those incorporated in PENTAX-brand single-lens reflex (SLR) film cameras. The film advance lever lets the user enjoy the film winding action and a wind-up sound after every shutter release. An easy-loading system is designed to prevent film-loading errors, especially for first-time film camera users. It also features other mechanisms unique to film cameras, such as manual film rewinding operation using the rewind crank; exposure compensation via the exposure compensation dial; and ISO sensitivity setting via the ISO sensitivity dial.

3. Newly developed lens combining time-proven optics and the latest lens coating technology

The PENTAX 17 features a newly developed 25mm F3.5 lens (equivalent to a 37mm lens in the 35mm format). Based on the optics incorporated in the acclaimed PENTAX Espio Mini (marketed in 1994), it has been redesigned to fit perfectly in the half-size format. It is also treated with HD (High Definition) coating — a highly acclaimed multi-layer coating — to optimize the clarity and sharpness of half-size pictures. Using the lens used in the RICOH Auto Half (a best-selling half- size model first marketed in 1962) as a reference, the angle of view and focal length were selected to make casual, everyday picture-taking simple and flawless.

4. Zone-focus system to switch the in-focus area via simple selection of zone marks

From close-ups to long distances, the PENTAX 17’s zone-focus system can handle it all. The system is divided into six focus zones, indicated by marks that signify each zone. All the user has to do to set the camera’s focus is select the mark best suited for the subject distance on the zone focusing ring. In the Macro focus zone, the user can capture a close-up photo from approximately 25 centimeters away. The hand strap (included as a standard accessory) lets the user measure subject distance more accurately.

5. Bright optical viewfinder for real-time confirmation of a subject image

The PENTAX 17’s optical viewfinder features a bright, Albada-type frame finder that helps to facilitate framing a scene. It also comes with a close-up visual field compensation frame to help the photographer more easily compose close-up images. It is possible to check the zone marks directly through the viewfinder.

6. Seven shooting modes to accommodate different applications

The PENTAX 17 automatically adjusts exposure settings based on the lighting data collected by its metering sensor. In addition to the Full Auto mode in which all exposure settings are selected by the camera, it provides six other shooting modes, including Slow-speed sync, which is highly useful in twilight photography; and Bulb, a slow-shutter speed mode that comes in handy for photographing nightscapes and fireworks. The PENTAX 17 also features an independent exposure compensation dial, which allows the user to swiftly shift the exposure level to accommodate different types of subjects or express the user’s creative intentions.

7. High-quality body with meticulous attention to every detail

The PENTAX 17’s body has a classic design, reminiscent of traditional film cameras. The top and bottom covers are made of a solid but lightweight magnesium alloy to optimize the camera body’s rigidity. The 40.5mm filter mounting thread allows the user to mount a range of filters, which are available for purchase on the market. With meticulous attention paid to every single detail, the PENTAX 17 is designed to be a joy to own.

8. Other features

  • A wide selection of ISO film speeds (50, 100, 125, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200)
  • Note holder on the back cover, into which the end of the film package can be inserted for an at-a-glance confirmation of the film in use
  • Three strap lugs to accommodate horizontal and vertical camera suspensions, to best suit
    the user’s shooting style
  • Compatibility with the optional CS-205 Cable Switch, which comes in handy for extended-exposure photography in the Bulb shooting mode



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Nikon Z6III initial review

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Nikon Z6III initial review


Product Photos by Richard Butler

The Nikon Z6III is the company’s third-generation full-frame mirrorless camera, bringing a faster 24MP sensor that boosts the autofocus and video capabilities of this stills/video hybrid.

Key specifications

  • 24MP “Partially Stacked” CMOS sensor
  • 14fps with mech shutter, 20fps e-shutter up to 1000 Raw files
  • In-body image stabilization rated at up to 8.0 stops
  • 5.76M dot EVF with high brightness and wide color gamut
  • Fully articulated 3.2″ 2.1M dot rear screen
  • 6K/60p N-Raw video, 6K/30p ProRes Raw
  • 5.8K/60p H.265 video
  • Pre-burst capture, pixel-shift high-res mode

The Nikon Z6III will be available from late June at a price of $2500. This is a $500 increase over the previous Z6 models but brings it into line with the likes of Canon’s EOS R6 II and Sony’s a7 IV, with which it directly competes.


What’s new

24MP “Partially Stacked” CMOS sensor

Nikon’s image of the Z6III’s sensor, showing the extensive readout circuitry above and below the sensor.

Image: Nikon

The sensor at the heart of the Z6III is responsible for much of what the new camera brings. Nikon uses the term “Partially Stacked” to suggest it has some of the performance benefits of the Stacked CMOS chips it uses in its Z8 and Z9 models, but without the associated cost.

Nikon hasn’t given us precise detail but it appears the readout and analog-to-digital conversion circuitry around the edge of the chip is stacked, allowing it to be both more sophisticated and closer to the pixels themselves, delivering faster readout.

The effect result is that the camera can read out its sensor fast enough to deliver full-width 6K video at up to 60p in N-Raw mode and a flash sync speed of 1/60 sec. This means it must be able to read the entire sensor in less than 1/60 sec,

However, that maximum sync speed of 1/60th is around a quarter of the speed of true Stacked CMOS sensors and not a vast leap forward from the previous generation of sensors. It should improve AF performance and video capabilities but won’t deliver the blisteringly fast performance of the likes of the Z8.

Improved AF

Along with the faster sensor, the Z6III also gains the autofocus improvements seen in Nikon’s recent models, including 3D Tracking and subject recognition. The company says AF is up to 20% faster than it was in the Z6 II, and that the performance is comparable with the Z8 and Z9.

On top of this, the camera can focus at down to –10EV without you having to engage the Starlight AF mode (though it’s worth noting that this figure is predicated on an F1.2 lens being attached). It also gains most the subject recognition modes from the Zf, though lacks the dedicated bird detection mode that the Z8 and Z9 have recently gained.

Subject detection modes
  • People
  • Animals
  • Vehicles
  • Airplanes
  • Auto

(Dogs, cats, birds)
(Cars, motorbikes, trains, airplanes, bicycles)

These all reflect a significant improvement over the Z6 II. The 3D Tracking system resembles those on Nikon’s DSLRs: pick an AF point and the camera will follow whatever’s under that point when you hold the shutter half depressed or the AF-On button. As soon as you release it reverts to your previously chosen position. Unlike the Z6 II’s system you don’t need to press a button to cancel tracking and it doesn’t revert to the center.

But as well as this increased ease-of-use, the interface controls a much more effective and reliable tracking system that’s much less likely to lock onto the wrong thing or just lose it completely (which was not uncommon, especially in movie mode, on the preview generation of cameras). Add to this the camera’s ability to recognize a series of subjects near your chosen AF point and the Z6 III should be much quicker and easier to work with than previous mid-level Nikons.

Video

The faster sensor sees the Z6III’s video capabilities gain a significant upgrade, compared with its predecessor. It’s too soon for Nikon’s purchase of cinema camera maker RED to have played into this camera’s development, but it relieves any uncertainty around the inclusion of onboard capture of both N-Raw and ProRes Raw video formats.

All of the codecs offer both UHD 4K and a higher-resolution capture mode, all of which use the full width of the sensor. The Raw modes offer 6K or 4K capture, while the gamma-encoded modes (ProRes 422, H.265, H.264) offer 5.4K or 4K recording.

Codec Resolutions and max frame rates
N-Raw 6K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
ProRes RAW 6K/30p
UHD 4K/60p
ProRes 422 5.4K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
H.265 5.4K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
H.264 UHD 4K/30p

Like the Z8, the Z6III includes shooting aids such as waveforms, zebras and focus peaking.

The Z6III also becomes the first Nikon to accept a line-level input over its mic socket. It’s also compatible with Atomos’ AirGlu, a Bluetooth-based Timecode sync system.

Additional functions

The Z6III also gains all the other functions that have been added to Nikon cameras since the launch of the Z6 II, including pre-burst capabilities and multi-shot high resolution modes.

It also has the image stabilization system that centers its correction on your chosen AF point. This is particularly valuable if you’re focused in the corners of wide-angle shots, where the required pitch and yaw correction is significantly different from that needed at the center of the image.

In addition, like the Zf, the Z6III can use its subject recognition system even if you’re in manual focus mode. This means that engaging magnified live view will punch in on your subject’s eye, as you check focus, rather than you having to navigate around the scene to find it.

Finally, the Z6III will be compatible with a “Flexible Color” tool that will be added to Nikon’s NX Studio software, which provides an enhanced set of color tools for creating custom Picture Control color modes to install on the camera.

Cloud access

The Z6III will be the first Nikon camera to use the Nikon Imaging Cloud service. This will fulfill a series of functions. At its most basic it’ll be a service to which images can be uploaded and then sent on to other storage and social media services (rather than the camera itself having to know how to connect to multiple services).

It’ll also be a source for “Imaging Recipes,” which are camera settings intended for taking specific types of image, created with the help of Nikon’s sponsored creators. There will also be “Cloud Picture Controls” presets that can be downloaded. This service isn’t available yet, so we won’t be able to assess its usefulness until it is.


How it compares

The $500 price hike brings the Nikon directly into line with the MSRPs of its two most comparable competitors: Sony’s a7 IV and Canon’s EOS R6 II. All three cameras are highly capable stills and video machines with strong AF systems. We’ve included the more expensive Panasonic DC-S5II X here because its video capabilities and price are closer to those of the Nikon.

Nikon Z6III Canon EOS R6 II Sony a7 IV Panasonic Lumix DC-S5II X Nikon Z6 II
MSRP $2500 $2500 $2500 $2500 $2000
Sensor type “Semi-stacked” BSI CMOS Dual Pixel AF FSI CMOS BSI CMOS BSI CMOS BSI CMOS
Resolution 24MP 24MP 33MP 24MP 24MP
Maximum shooting rate 20fps (Raw)
60fps (JPEG)
40fps (12-bit Raw or JPEG) 10 fps (lossy Raw) 30fps (e-shutter) 14fps
10fps (14-bit Raw)
Rolling shutter rate (ms) ∼14.6ms
(14-bit)
∼14.7ms
(12-bit)
∼67.6ms (14-bit) ∼51.3ms
(14-bit)
∼50.8ms (14-bit)
Video resolutions 6K (Raw)
5.4K
UHD 4K
6K (Raw over HDMI)
DCI 4K
UHD 4K
UHD 4K 6K
5.9K
5.9K (Raw over HDMI)
DCI 4K
UHD 4K
UHD 4K
Uncompressed video N-Raw
ProRes RAW
Over HDMI Over HDMI Over HDMI
Viewfinder res/ magnification/ eye-point 5.76M dot OLED/ 0.8x/
21mm

3.69M dot OLED/
0.76x/
23mm

3.68M dot OLED/ 0.78x/
23mm
3.68M dot OLED/
0.78x/
21mm
3.69M dot OLED/ 0.8x/ 21mm
Rear screen 3.2″ fully-articulated 2.1M dot 3.0″ fully articulated
1.62M dot
3.0″ fully articulated
1.04M dot
3.0″ fully articulated
1.84M dot
3.2″ tilting 2.1M dot
Image stabilization Up to 8.0EV Up to 8.0EV Up to 5.5EV Up to 5.0EV
Up to 6.5EV with Dual IS 2 lens
Up to 5.0EV
Media types 1x CFe B
1x UHS II SD
2x UHS II SD 1x CFe A / UHS II SD
1x UHS II SD
2x UHS II SD 1x CFe B
1x UHS II SD
Battery life EVF / LCD 360 / 390 320 / 580 520 / 580 370 / 370 360 / 420
Dimensions 139 x 102 x 74mm 138 x 98 x 88mm 131 x 96 x 80 mm 134 x 102 x 90mm 134 x 101 x 70mm
Weight 760g 670g 659g 740g 705g

What the table can’t capture is the subtle differences in performance between these models, which is increasingly what it comes down to, in this most competitive of classes. Our early impressions are that the Z6III matches the Canon and Sony in terms of autofocus tracking performance and usability, wheres the Panasonic lags a little and the Z6 II feels like it’s left significantly behind.

Likewise the new Nikon and the Canon stand ahead in terms of video performance, as they offer faster video capture with less rolling shutter, especially compared with the rather slow Sony. We’ll need to shoot the Nikon more to know whether it can outdo the Canon’s video AF, which isn’t the most dependable.

The stills stabilization figures do nothing to convey the smoothness of video stabilization, either, with the Panasonic doing particularly well in this regard. Increasingly, choice and availability of lenses will be the critical deciding factor for a lot of people.


Body and handling

The Z6III looks, at first glance, a lot like the existing Z6 and Z7 models, with a familiar low-height camera with significant hand grip and viewfinder hump extending from it. But if you put them side-by-side you find that the Z6III is a very different body, even if it uses the same styling cues.

It’s a larger camera than its predecessors and heavier. However, it’s much closer in size to them than it is to the Z8. It’s wider and thicker but maintains a solid, comfortable grip. The button positions are essentially unchanged, compared to the previous cameras, with twin function buttons on the front and an AF joystick on that back.

Viewfinder

The Z6III is a larger, heavier body than its predecessor, but the controls are essentially the same. The Playback and drive mode buttons have been swapped, but that’s the most significant change. There’s also a button on the top plate to illuminate the settings panel.

The Z6III becomes the first Z-series camera to move beyond the 3.69M dot panels used so far. It sees a jump to 5.76M dots but, more importantly, also gains a significant brightness boost. The panel can go as bright at 400nits and can cover the full gamut required for HLG.

You’ll need to manually push it to its brightest setting to get this full brightness but it means the camera can represent true HDR capture when shooting in HEIF mode, and generally give a viewfinder that differs less in brightness, relative to the real world.

Articulated rear screen

The Z6III becomes the first mid-range Nikon to gain a fully-articulated screen, rather than the tilting panels that the previous models have had. It’s a 3.2″ LCD panel with 2.1M dots.

The hinge is very close to the camera’s (full-sized) HDMI port and only a little in front of the mic and headphone sockets, so expect it to be a little awkward to use if you’ve got a lot of things plugged into the side of the body.

Battery

The Z6III uses the same EN-EL15c battery as its predecessor, and is rated as delivering a similar number of images. In standard mode it is rated to give 390 shots per charge if used via the rear LCD, and 360 shots through the viewfinder. Move into power saving mode and these numbers increase to 410 and 380 shots per charge, respectively.

As always, these numbers tend to significantly under-represent the number of shots most people will achieve. Getting twice the rated figure isn’t unusual, and more if you shoot a lot of images as bursts.

A battery grip with vertical controls and space for two, hot-swappable, batteries has been created. The MB-N14, which will be available in summer 2024, has been designed so that it’s backward compatible with the Z6 II and Z7 II. This grip displaces the internal battery, meaning you end up with two batteries in total. It has its own USB-C socket for charging the batteries even with the grip detached.


Initial impressions

By Richard Butler

The Z6III closely resembles the Z6 II (and Z7 II, pictured), but is slightly deeper, and has a larger top-plate settings panel.

The dullest possible reaction to the Z6III would be to take a quick look and conclude it’s all about video. Because, while there are plenty of video improvements, the Z6III is also a much better stills camera than we’ve seen from the company at this level. After the rather subtle refresh of the Z6 II, the III represents a much more significant step forward.

Admittedly, the video improvements are easier to spot. Internal Raw video, a full-sized HDMI socket, that fully-articulating LCD, waveforms, full-sensor 4K and 6K/60p: these collectively move Nikon from bringing up the rear of this class to arguably leading it. It’s striking that this mainstream class of cameras now offers the kinds of capabilities you’d previously have found only in dedicated video cameras like Panasonic’s GH series.

Part of this feature set has trickled down from capabilities developed for the Z9 but a lot of it comes from the new, faster sensor. And that faster sensor is a benefit to stills shooters, too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-Rxu4mUxuM

The faster shooting rates are the most obvious sign of this, but the autofocus is also improved. The addition of 3D Tracking and Subject Recognition make the system more powerful and quicker to use, but according to Nikon the faster readout also means the Z6III will outperform the Zf, which has the same processor and interface.

But the improvements for photographers go beyond the performance boost: the higher-resolution viewfinder that can more closely match the brightness of the real world, and can better preview HDR shooting is a major benefit for photographers. Then there’s the addition of options such as pre-burst capture and the multi-shot high-res mode, for those who find them useful.

The Z6III doesn’t (at launch, anyway), have the standalone ‘Bird’ detection mode that has been added to the Z8 and Z9, but it can detect them in its Animal mode.

Nikkor Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR S with Z TC-1.4 | ISO 1250 | F7.1 | 1/640
Photo: Richard Butler

And for every photographer disappointed about the move to a fully articulating rear screen, there may be another who appreciates this as being the only camera in this class to have a top-plate settings display. Nikon has made the camera a little larger but it hasn’t spoiled the ergonomics that we’ve always rather liked.

It’s interesting to look back ten years to the launch of Nikon’s D750 DSLR, a camera that seemed to offer everything a keen enthusiast photographer would want. Image quality hasn’t improved radically since that point: we’d expect the Z6III’s high ISO performance to be a little better, as the D750 pre-dates dual-gain chips, but it won’t be a radical difference. But everything else is unrecognizably better. Modern lenses are sharper and more consistent, autofocus is quicker, more precise and easier to get the most out of, the Z6III is more compact yet will merrily outperform the D750’s pro-sports contemporary, the D4S, in speed and AF while showing less viewfinder blackout. And that’s before we even consider what happens when you press the red REC button.

It would absolutely be possible to take this photo using a Nikon D750, with enough practice and patience, but the Z6III makes it significantly easier.

Nikkor Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR S with Z TC-1.4 | ISO 450 | F8.0 | 1/500
Photo: Richard Butler

I’ll admit that, having seen how much Nikon had squeezed out of the existing sensor with the Zf, I thought the Z6 III might simply be a repackaged version of that camera, especially as Panasonic’s S5 II twins also continue to rely on that same chip. But the Z6III is much more ambitious, and something that brings Nikon into serious contention in terms of both specs and performance, in what’s probably the most competitive sector of the market.

Pre-production sample gallery

Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review); we do so in good faith, so please don’t abuse it.

All images taken using a pre-production Z6III, from which we can only publish the out-of-camera JPEGs.



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DPReview Rewind: Nikon D1, the first in-house DSLR

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DPReview Rewind: Nikon D1, the first in-house DSLR


The Nikon D1 was the first DSLR developed in-house by a camera maker and the first to generate JPEGs internally.

Photo: Phil Askey

In 1999, you could already buy an F-mount DSLR: Kodak had been selling modified Nikon SLRs since the DCS100 in 1991. But at the turn of the century, its prime offering was still a rather inelegant combination of a Nikon F5 film camera and a bolted-on digital imaging unit called the Kodak Professional DCS-620.

The camera Nikon revealed on June 15th 1999 was arguably the first ground, up digital SLR: still borrowing heavily from the F5 and F100 film models, but clearly designed as a coherent whole. Everything was crammed into a conventional two-grip professional body of the kind that’s still made today.

The D1 had a recommended retail price of $5,500, body only, meaning it cost around half as much as the DCS-620. And its APS-C CCD boasted 2.62 megapixels, to the Kodak’s 1.99MP. It was also the first DSLR to natively shoot JPEG: another feature that, for better or worse, is still recognizable.

DPReview founder Phil Askey got his hands on an early sample around three months after this announcement, but his (and the site’s) move from Singapore to London caused a significant, and understandable, delay in the review.

By the time he was able to complete his write-up, the Nikon had serious competition, not from Kodak but from Canon’s $3000 EOS D30 with its 3.2MP CMOS sensor and single grip design, and from the Fujifilm S1 Pro, which was another Frankencamera, grafted into Nikon N60/F60 body but promising 6.13MP images from its 3.07MP Super CCD sensor, at a cost of $4000.

Even before these players entered the market, Phil noted in his review that he’d spoken to Kodak employees who seemed “blasé” about the threat that the D1 represented. Quarter of a century later and Kodak’s only presence in photography is via companies licensing its name.

Even in the light of the new contenders released since its launch, DPReview considered the D1, with its “ultra-fast AF,” to be “the digital tool for professional photographers.” After we’d explained the impact of the APS-C sensor on full-frame lenses.

Read our original Nikon D1 review

Nikon D1 sample gallery



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