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Sony A7R III Snap Verdict
While it has the same pixel count as its predecessor, the 42.4Mp Sony Alpha A7R III makes some major enhancements on the camera it replaces. As well as improve handling, there’s faster shooting, more decisive focusing and better image quality. Consequently, the Sony A7R III is a phenomenal camera. It’s serious competition for DSLRs like the Nikon D850.
For Sony A7R III
- High-quality full-frame 42Mp sensor
- 10fps continuous shooting
- Silent shutter possible at 10fps
Against Sony A7R III
- Limited use made of the touch-screen
- Complex menu that could still be better arranged
- Only one SD slot is UHS-II compliant
What is the Sony A7R III?
Announced on the 25th October 2017, the Sony Alpha 7R III (widely known as the A7R III) is a full-frame compact system or mirrorless system camera with the Sony FE lens mount. With 42.4 million effective pixels, it has the equal highest resolution of the Sony A7-series. That’s the same pixel count as its predecessor, the Sony A7R II.
The Sony A7R III is aimed at enthusiast and professional photographers. Its high resolution gives it particular appeal to landscape, still-life and commercial photographers.
Sensor and Processor
The 42.4Mp Sony A7R II has been very popular, especially with landscape photographers who want a comparatively small and light camera. Now, a little over two years after the A7R II’s announcement, Sony has unveiled the A7R III.
Like the A7R II, the A7R III has a back-illuminated Exmor R sensor with 42.4 million effective pixels. This has a gapless microlens design to boost light sensitivity and dynamic range.
Unlike the Mark II, the A7R III’s sensor has a front-end LSI. This, together with the enhanced BIONZ X processing engine, delivers a 1.8x increase in processing speed and a range of performance enhancements. Notably, Sony claims a low sensitivity (ISO) dynamic range of up to 15-stops.
There’s also a new Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode that shifts the sensor by 1-pixel distance between shots as four images are captured. These files can then be combined into one image made up from 169.6Mp worth of data using Sony’s new Imaging Edge software. The end result is a 42.4Mp file with greater detail and better tonal gradation.
More good news for anyone with low-light shooting tendencies is that the Bionz X processing engine has been enhanced. This enables more complex noise reduction algorithms to be applied so that there’s a claimed 1-stop reduction the level of noise in images.
As a consequence, Sony has given the A7R III a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100 – 32,000. There are also expansion settings that take the range to ISO 50 – 102400.
When I tested the A7R II, I found that I could shoot music bands in low light and quite fast moving subjects. However, my hit rate wasn’t as good as I can get with a DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark III.
Sony has improved upon the A7R II’s AF system for the A7R III. For instance, the number of contrast detection points has also been vastly increased to 425. However, the number of phase detection focus points on the sensor the same as on the A7R II’s (399).
As I mentioned earlier, the sensor has a front-end LSI. This helps double the readout speed, which is good news for focusing. In fact, Sony says that the A7R III can focus around at about twice the speed of the A7R II in low light. That’s music to my ears.
In addition, Sony says it has made the A7R III’s Eye AF twice as effective at detecting and tracking eyes. It even works with moving subjects.
Thanks to the enhanced processing engine and on-chip LSI, Sony has been able to double the continuous shooting rate of the A7R II for the A7R III. This means it’s possible to shoot at up to 10fps (frames per second) with the new camera. If you want a live view of the scene, however, you’ll have to drop to 8fps.
It’s possible to shoot up to 76 jpeg or compressed raw files in a single blast.
The maximum shooting rate is possible with continuous autofocusing and exposure metering. Consequently, the A7R III is an attractive option for sport and action photography.
Furthermore, the electronic shutter means that the 10fps shooting rate can be used completely silently. This opens up the range of shooting opportunities. Wedding photographers can shoot in the church without fear of ruining the moment. Portrait photographers can capture candid images more easily and sports photographers can photograph golf swings and tennis serves without being ejected from the tournament.
I found the A7R II’s image stabilisation (IS) system very good. In fact, when I was using the FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS lens at the 200mm point, I was able to get around 1/3 to 1/2 of my images sharp at 1/15 sec (that’s at 100% on-screen). Since then the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has come along and raised the bar considerably. I’ve been able to shoot perfectly sharp images to 2 or 3-second exposures with it when using a wide-angle lens.
Sony is claiming 5.5EV shutter speed compensation for the A7R III. That’s the difference between a 1/500 sec exposure and 1/10sec.
Viewfinder and Screen
Sony has given the A7R III the same 0.5-inch type OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the A9. This means there are 3,686,400 dots at work. According to Sony, the EVF is twice as bright as the A7R II’s.
In its standard setting, the EVF has a frame rate of 60/50 fps (NTSC/PAL). This can be boosted to 120/100fps for a smoother view of moving subjects.
The screen on the back of the camera has also been borrowed from the A9. I’s a tilting 3-inch TFT LCD touchscreen with 1,440,000 dots with White Magic technology. The touch control can be used to set AF point when images are composed on-screen. And with the Touch Pad function enabled, when looking in the viewfinder.
As we’d expect from Sony, it’s possible to shoot 4K (3840 x 2160) movie. In Super 35mm format it’s possible to shoot in 5K (15MP) with oversampling for better quality 4K output.
In a move that will perplex A9 shooters, the A7R III comes with S-Log mode. This means it can output very flat footage that’s better suited for grading and multi-camera set-ups.
There’s also an HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) picture profile that results in footage that has wider dynamic range without grading.
If slow motion video is your thing, the A7R III can shoot Full-HD (1920 x 1080) footage at up to 120/100p (NTSC/PAL).
Video, even 4K, may be recorded internally to one of the two SD cards or externally to via an HDMI connection. Disappointingly, only one of the card ports is UHS-II compliant.
One common gripe about the A7R II is its battery life. Under CIPA testing conditions its NP-FW50 battery only lasts for around 290 shots when the viewfinder is in use. When the screen is used for composing images, battery life extends to 340 shots. Meanwhile, with movies in normal use, there’s a 50min life when the EVF is used. It’s a 55min life with the screen.
If you’re shooting movies continuously those figures extend to 95mins whether the viewfinder or the screen is used.
Sony has given the A7R III the same NP-FZ100 battery as the A9. This gives a life of 530 stills with the viewfinder or 650 shots with the LCD.
The normal movie recording figures are 100min with the viewfinder and 115min with the screen. And with continuous recording, 180mins with the viewfinder or 190mins with the screen. That’s a huge improvement in battery life, but heavy users are still likely to want to carry a second battery or two just in case.
Sony A7R III Key Specifications
|Camera name||Sony Alpha 7R III|
|Date announced||25th October 2017|
|Price at launch||£2,808/$3,199 (body only)|
|Sensor size||Full-frame (35.9 x 24mm)|
|Effective pixel count||42.4 million|
|Lens mount||E (FE)|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 – 32000 expanded to ISO 50 – 102400 for still images|
|Autofocus system||824-point Hybrid (399 phase detection points, 425 contrast detection points)|
|Maximum continuous shooting rate||10fps|
|Maximum video resolution||4K (3840 x 2160)|
|Storage||Dual Slot SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II compatible)|
|Viewfinder||0.5-inch type OLED with 3,686,400 dots|
|Screen||Tilting 3-inch TFT LCD touchscreen with 1.4K dots and White Magic|
|Dimensions||126.9mm x 95.6mm x 73.7mm|
|Weight||657g / 1lb 7.2 oz with battery and card|
[nextpage title=”Build & Handling” ]
Build quality and handling
While it’s smaller than a full-frame SLR, the A7R III feels nice and solidly made. Its top, front and rear covers, as well as its internal frame, are made from magnesium alloy. Sony also says that all the ‘major buttons and dials’ are sealed, which suggests that some of the smaller ones aren’t. However, it also says that there’s sealing throughout the body to ‘minimise entry of dust and moisture’. But there’s a caveat that states the camera is ‘not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture proof’, which is rather vague so I’d advise caution in heavy rain.
Sony has increased the number of screws in the lens mount to six to make it more durable – perhaps in recognition of the longer lenses that are widely anticipated.
Sony corrected one of my bugbears of the A7R II with the A9 by introducing a Multi-Selector (mini-joystick) for setting the AF point. I’m delighted to see this has also appeared on the A7R III as it makes life easier.
This has come at the loss of the AF/MF switch on the A7R II, but this decision about the type of focusing can be made via the Function menu, if not via a switch on the lens itself.
The new joystick makes it far easier to switch AF point with the camera held to your eye. It’s also useful for navigating the menu and making setting selections.
In addition to the four Custom Buttons marked C1-4, the control wheel on the back of the camera, the Multi-Selector (AKA joystick) Centre Button, three of the navigation buttons, the main Centre Button, AEL, AF-On and Focus Hold buttons are all available for customisation. This gives plenty of scope for setting up the camera to suit your shooting style. I find the default set-up pretty good, but it’s well worth experimenting.
In addition, up to three camera set-ups can be register in-camera and accessed via the mode dial. A further four can be saved to a memory card.
One aspect I’m not especially happy with is the mode dial lock. I wish Sony had opted for an on/off type lock so you could choose whether to use it or not, as it makes the dial a bit fiddly. As it sits on the corner of the top-plate the exposure compensation dial is probably more likely to get knocked out of position but I find it’s stiff enough to stay put in normal use.
While I’m pleased that the A7R III’s screen is touch-sensitive, I’d like to be able to use it to navigate the menu and make setting selections. Unfortunately, as on the A9, it’s not possible. I’ll hold-out for a firmware upgrade to enable menu navigation because when I interviewed Yosuke Aoki, Vice President and Head of Digital Imaging Group at Sony Europe, a few months back he hinted that this might come for the A9.
In the meantime, the touch-screen is useful for setting the AF point and zooming into images to check their sharpness – weirdly you can’t swipe between images though. What’s more, the Touch Pad functionality that allows you to set the point with your finger on the screen while you look in the viewfinder, works well – it’s nice and responsive.
As a left eye user, I find it helpful to set the screen to use its left side in Touch Pad mode so my nose doesn’t make any changes for me.
Sony’s Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder impressed in the A9 and it doesn’t disappoint in the Alpha 7R III. It gets a bit granular in low light and there’s a shimmer of noise in dark conditions, but it still allows you to assess the scene and preview the image with confidence.
The standard set-up is fine for general photography, but switching the frame rate to High makes movement smoother and a little easier to follow.
With 35 screens not including the My Menu screens, the A7R III’s menu is long and complex. On the whole, it’s logical, but as I’ve said with some other Sony cameras, I think there are a few features that could be moved to a better location. The Silent Shooting option, for example, is located on the fourth screen of the second tab (called Shutter/SteadyShot), I think it would be more sensible for this and the e-Front Curtain Shutter option to be grouped with the Drive Mode and Bracket settings, which are found on the third screen of the first tab )Shoot Mode/ Drive1).
However, given the number of customisable buttons, the fact that the My Menu screen can house up to 30 menu features in your preferred order and the existence of the Function Menu that can also be customised, once you’ve got the camera set-up to suit your requirements you shouldn’t find yourself searching around it too often.
Sony A7R III Menu Screens
[nextpage title=”Performance” ]
As the A7R III’s electronic viewfinder provides an excellent preview of the image as it will be captured, taking the exposure and white balance settings into account, there shouldn’t be many occasions when the exposure of the image is poor. However, there’s always the unexpected so it’s good to know that the A7R III’s 1200-zone Multi-metering system does a good job of assessing a scene. I found it performed well both in normal daylight conditions and at night, giving natural-looking results.
There are a few occasions when you’re likely to need to use the exposure compensation dial, I found it was required to brighten the image a little when I was photographing some kayakers on whitewater, for example. But it isn’t required in situations when you wouldn’t expect it to be.
There are three auto white balance (AWB) options available on the A7R III, Standard, Ambience and White. I found the Standard and White settings the most useful, with White being my preference in artificial light although it doesn’t neutralise all colour casts and if you’re relying on jpegs it would be advisable to set a custom white balance value.
Adjusting the images I shot at night underlines the importance of shooting raw files, the jpegs can’t cope with the extreme white balance adjustments that are required.
The Sony A7R III is capable of capturing a high level of detail, especially at the lower sensitivity (ISO) settings. And although the lower ISO settings are preferable, the results produced at ISO 25,600 and the top native setting (ISO 32,000) are very good.
As you’d expect, raw images captured at the highest native ISO values have some noise, but there’s no sign of banding and the speckling is evenly distributed. Simultaneously captured jpegs look a little softer in some areas in comparison when viewed at 100%, but they’re very acceptable. This can translate to a slight difference between the two files types at normal viewing sizes, but neither is bad.
Although I’d recommend avoiding the expansion settings if you can, if the lighting demands it, the A7R III is capable of producing pretty decent results at the highest sensitivity (ISO 102,400). The details are recognisable and the level of noise in raw files can be deemed atmospheric.
If possible, I would aim to keep sensitivity to ISO 16,000 or lower. At this setting, there’s noise visible in even-toned areas of raw files when they’re viewed at 100%, but they look great when sized to fill a 15-inch screen.
Landscape photographers are likely to be attracted by the A7R III’s relatively small size (although many of Sony’s lenses are a similar size to those designed for a DSLR) and the high level of detail it can capture. Further good news for these photographers is that the A7R III has a high dynamic range, which images have a wide range of tones and highlights don’t burn-out easily.
DXOMark measured a maximum value of 14.7EV which compares to the 14.8EV maximum with the D850. However, the D850 achieves this maximum at its ISO 32 setting, whereas the A7R III does so at its ISO 100 setting. At its ISO 100 setting the D850 has a dynamic range of 14.6EV – almost identical to the A7R III.
Furthermore, from their ISO 1600 settings and above, the A7R III has a dynamic range that’s around 0.4-0.5EV higher than the D850.
This wide dynamic range gives the A7R III’s files good latitude which means if you make an exposure error or underexpose to protect the highlights, the low ISO files can withstand a good degree of adjustment. I found it possible to brighten files by in excess of 3EV.
According to Sony the A7R III’s autofocus (AF) system is sensitive down to -3EV, the same as the A9. This is good, but it’s not quite as impressive a figure as the -5EV claimed for the Panasonic Lumix GH5S – although is likely to be helped by its much lower resolution of 10.2Mp.
As a DSLR, the Nikon D850 has a dedicated AF sensor and this is claimed to be sensitive down to -4EV, also trumping the A7R III.
All that said, the A7R III’s AF system copes well with low light, getting subjects sharp quickly, making it feasible to shoot indoor sports and street photography at night.
As with the Sony A9, getting the best from the A7R III’s AF system sometimes means relinquishing some of the control that photographers are used to taking. For instance, most experienced photographers natural inclination would be to opt for a small AF area that they then hold over the subject. However, in Continous AF mode, the A7R III does a great job of identifying and tracking a subject in Wide and Zone AF mode. On some occasions the active green focus points in the viewfinder my wander away from the subject when it’s motionless, but usually when it starts to move the camera locks-on quickly.
If the camera doesn’t identify the subject, or you can’t bear to give-up control the Centre, Flexible Spot and Expand Flexible Spot options all work well.
Lock-on AF mode also proves reliable but after setting the starting point for the focusing, the camera takes control, throwing a green box around the subject as it tracks it around the frame. It means you’re out of control again, but you can monitor the camera’s performance.
Pixel Shift Multi Shot mode
I will cover Pixel Shift Multi Shot mode in more depth in another post, but during my testing, I found that Sony’s Imaging Edge software is easy to use and it processes the files quickly.
The difference between standard files and Pixel Shift Multi Shot files is quite subtle, but it is apparent at normal viewing sizes as well as 100% on-screen, it could be especially beneficial for large prints or displays. The Pixel Shift Multi Shot files have a little more detail and better colour gradation, which gives them more impact.
Like other similar compositing modes, however, Pixel Shift Multi Shot mode is not suitable for use with moving subjects and the camera needs to be motionless. Consequently, this makes it unsuitable for landscapes with moving foliage unless the shutter speed can be set long enough to blur the movement consistently in each of the four exposures. If the shutter speed freezes the movement there may be multiple versions of the foliage in the final image.
The differences don’t show up very well here, but if you follow the link to our Flickr album you can browse and download images to take a proper look.
[nextpage title=”Images” ]
Here’s a selection of sample images from the Sony A7R III in a range of conditions and scenerios. Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Sony A7R III
Sony A7R III Review Sample Images
Sony Ambassador Robert Pugh has also sent us a link to some of his images from the camera. Follow this link to see his full-resolution images.
Robert Pugh A7R III Images
[nextpage title=”Verdict” ]
Although it has the same pixel count as the A7R II, the A7R III makes some significant improvements upon its predecessor. The handling is much improved by the addition of the Multi-Selector (mini-joystick) for setting the AF point. The addition of the touch-screen is also nice – it would be even better if more use could be made of it.
It also produces high-quality images with good levels of detail, excellent noise control and wide dynamic range. This combined with the improved the autofocusing system makes the A7R III a versatile camera that’s suitable for shooting sport as well as landscapes, still life and portraits.
With a launch price of £3,200/€3,500/$3199, the A7R III is in the same bracket as DSLRs like the 30Mp Canon 5D Mark IV and 45Mp Nikon D850. The D850 is its closest rival. The A7R III is certainly capable of holding its own against this competition. It’s one of the best cameras on the market at the moment.
Sony A7R III Rating
Overall Score: [usr 5 text=”false” size=20]
Features: [usr 5 text=”false”]
Build and Handling: [usr 4.5 text=”false”]
Performance: [usr 4.5 text=”false”]
Image Quality: [usr 5 text=”false”]
Should I buy the Sony A7R III?
Sony A7R II users are probably scratching their heads considering the A7R III. Although it makes some significant improvements on the older camera, if you’ve adapted to the Mark II’s handling quirks and don’t need the AF improvements, it makes sense to stick with your existing camera as it produces superb images.
If you’re weighing up the A7R III against the A7R II, the decision depends on where you live. In the US the price difference is only around $300. In the UK, however, it’s nearer £700, which makes the Mark II more attractive. But if you want the best mirrorless camera that’s on offer, then it has to be the Sony A7R III.