Sony a7R III Review
We don’t have a fixed release cycle for Sony’s a7 series of full-frame mirrorless cameras, but the time period from the first generation to the second was two years. It’s now been two years since the a7 II series, and we are now greeted by presumably the first of three consecutive releases, the a7R III.
Launched last month, it directly follows the release of the a9, which Sony touts as not a replacement for the a7 series, but as a somewhat flagship professional mirrorless camera system. The a7R III takes some DNA from the a9 to make for a good successor to the Mark II.
We know what has changed since the last generation, but how does it stack up? Read on to find out.
Design and Construction
At first glance, the a7R III might look exactly like its predecessor. It still stays true to the design language of the a7 series, which means you will have to look closer to see what improvements have been made.
For starters, the button/dial layout has been slightly improved and updated. The buttons from the Mark II remain, but we now have a few new additions, as well as a very important repositioning.
Like on the a9, there is now a joystick (multi-selector) for adjusting the position of the focus area. AF and AE locks also get their own dedicated buttons. Although the placement of the rest of the buttons and dials at the back largely remains the same, the video record button has now been moved from the right side to the back.
Sony a-series mirrorless cameras are widely regarded for their video recording capabilities, and the updated record button placement, though a small thing, pushes this even further.
Also located at the back are the 2.95-inch articulating TFT LCD and Quad-VGA OLED Electronic Viewfinder (EVF).
Up top, the button/dial layout is also unchanged. We did notice that the shutter button itself has a better feel when pressed. It’s a more tactile press with a satisfying bump. As with the rest of the cameras in the a7 series, there is no built-in flash up top, but you do get a hot shoe mount for an external flash or other compatible accessories.
At the bottom are the usual 1/4″-20 thread and battery compartment, which houses the new NP-FZ100 battery.
As far as ports go, the a7R III retains the microphone input, headphone output, mini HDMI, and micro USB. It gains a flash sync terminal for more professional studio expandability, as well as a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port for faster transfers and tethering with a computer.
This also leaves the micro USB port free for connecting a remote trigger or even to charge the camera while the Type-C port is in use.
Instead of the usual one, the a7R III now brings dual card slots, the first of which supports UHS-II SD cards. You can have different configurations such as writing to both simultaneously, writing to the second when the first gets full, or even having separate cards for separate file types.
The a7R III is noticeably heavier than its predecessor, and is just as hefty. The magnesium alloy chassis contributes to the overall well-built and solid feel of the camera, and gives you reassurance that a single drop won’t be the end of it. That’s not to say that you should drop it, either way.
In the hands, the camera feels very comfortable to hold thanks to its smooth matte texture, comfortable rubber grips, and more ergonomic shutter and record buttons.
Display and EVF
We use an a7R II in our studio for most of our product photos and videos, so we have a clear baseline for evaluating the improvements of the a7R III’s display and EVF.
For the 2.95-inch TFT LCD display at the back, you’re getting a slightly bigger dot count, which then translates to a little more pixel density. The size of the display is the limiting factor of our ability to notice an improvement in clarity, but we can say that the a7R III’s display is slightly brighter than the Mark II’s, with slightly better contrast.
The LCD screen now also brings some touch-sensitivity, albeit limited. It would have been really nice if Sony went all the way with this and gave us full touch control, like Canon has done with their DSLRs, but for now, all you can do is touch to choose focus areas and lock-in your focus.
The menu system still has a steep learning curve for memorization, but we can say that it has been improved. Photo and video settings now have their own separate tabs, and each tab is now color-coded per category.
The EVF is where you will see a big improvement. At 3.69M dots, it has 1.29M more dots than the a7R II’s EVF, which again translates to a little more pixel density. The fact that it now has a Quad-VGA resolution, compared to the last model’s XGA, means that you’re getting about 20% more resolution, which translates to noticeably increased clarity and an overall brighter image.
You may not notice it much indoors or in low-light conditions, but having the brighter EVF really helps when shooting in bright sunlight.
For all of our testing, the lens we used was the Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master, which is a phenomenal all-around lens.
Autofocus on the a7R III is very fast and accurate, and shifting around focus points is very simple now thanks to the joystick at the back. Shooting in low-light conditions did not hinder it from working as fast as it does, and the 5-axis in-body image stabilizer made it more comfortable to shoot at relatively slower shutter speeds than usual.
The big feature that the a7R III touts is its ability to shoot a continuous 10fps burst at the full 42.4-Megapixel resolution with a 14-bit RAW output. It was definitely great to be able to do, considering some of the shots we were able to get would not have been possible without the high-speed continuous shooting, paired with the large image buffer. Throughout testing, we occupied the first SD slot with a UHS-II card, giving us an image buffer of 76 frames.
You can even use the speed of the a7R III’s continuous burst with the camera’s silent mode, which is a nice feature for wildlife, or even child/baby photographers.
The camera’s new BIONZ X image processor definitely did make general operation feel faster and more fluid. You do have to wait for a bit though, after continuously shooting, as the processor has to actually write the images to the card, but it’s not that bad if you consider that you’re getting full-resolution 14-bit RAW.
The a7R III still retains the full frame 42.4MP Back-Illuminated CMOS sensor from the Mark II, but gets an updated BIONZ X image processor. Photos are very sharp, detailed, and colors were great even with the default color profile.
Dynamic range is very wide, thanks to the 15-stops the image processor gives. Even at high ISO’s, the camera was still able to produce images that are detailed, even in the shadows.
Since the a7R III features in-body 5-axis image stabilization, it’s able to have a feature called ‘Pixel Shift’, which captures four full-resolution images then composites them into a single huge image. With finer details, greater color accuracy, and artifacts reduced to a minimum, it’s good for things like still life photography or archival photography.
The camera and subject need to be completely still for this to work, so don’t expect to be shooting portraits with Pixel Shift. Needless to say, the amount of detail you’re able to achieve with this is amazing. In the first image, you will find that the red is more vibrant, and the weave of the fabric wrapping paper is very clear, as opposed to being muddy in the second image.
Video recording maxes out at 4K 30fps, same as the Mark II. Perhaps 4K 60fps will come with the a7s III? Video is definitely more the forte of the a7S cameras, but it’s still safe to say that the a7R III too, excels in this category, even if its low-light capabilities are not up to the standards of its a7S brethren. Check out our sample videos below. All the clips shown were shot in 4K, using the SLog 3 gamma curve, which we then applied basic color correction and grading using Adobe Premiere’s Lumetri Color panel.
The a7R III is definitely a very good camera for video, boasting great detail and dynamic range. It’s also worth noting that it was a very refreshing experience to shoot videos now that the record button is in a more ergonomic place at the back.
With built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth, you are able to use the PlayMemories app on your phone to get full manual control of the camera, preview images, and use your phone as a monitor.
There is little delay when you aren’t recording video, though the app isn’t as intuitive to use as something like Canon’s Camera Connect app.
Using the USB 3.1 Type-C port, you can tether the a7R III to a computer and run the Imaging Edge Software Suite, where you can also remotely control the camera, view your shots, and edit them.
The software is still young and definitely still needs some work. It was almost impossible to use on my laptop since it didn’t scale properly to the screen.
We used the Remote portion of Imaging Edge to do our Pixel Shift shots due to the fact that the software can automatically combine the images for you.
The a7R III uses the relatively new NP-FZ100 Lithium-ion battery pack, which is only used by one other camera, that being the a9. It has a capacity of 2,290mAh, twice as much as the NP-FW50 battery that the previous generations use. Sony officially rates it at 530 shots.
Even when shooting RAW photos and 4K video with the LCD and EVF set to full brightness, it was able to last us quite a long time. Your mileage will definitely vary, but in our experience, we were able to go on a full day shooting around the city on a single full charge. Our usage comprised of shooting more than 100 RAW photos, about 15 minutes of 4K video, and having the LCD and EVF at full brightness.
The Sony a7R III definitely shines at the top tier of the full-frame camera market. Since it follows the release of the a9, Sony has surely strengthened their hold in the category.
It’s not an incremental upgrade from its predecessor, like what we see with some other products, but it even improves on everything that was great about the a7R II. It further shows how the Sony a7 series is best-in-class in packing so much camera power into a compact form factor. The a7R III does so much for the user, allowing them to just focus on the moment that they’re looking to capture.
Who is it for? Well, those people already know who they are. This is definitely a camera aimed at professionals that would benefit from its high-speed, high-resolution, and silent shooting capabilities. If you’re also into video though, we can still recommend the a7R III, even if the a7S cameras are superior in that category.
At Php179,999 for just the body, it’s definitely a hefty investment, but should you take the plunge, you’ll find that it’s worth every centavo.
Sony a7R III specs:
35mm full-frame 42.4MP Back-Illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor
BIONZ X Image Processor
Phase detect AF w/ 399 AF points
Contrast-detect AF w/ 425 AF points
5-axis image stabilization
15-stops dynamic range
ISO 50 – 102,400
30 sec. – 1/8000 sec. shutter speed
10fps continuous drive
Optional External Flash via Hot shoe
3.69M-dot Quad-VGA OLED Electronic Viewfinder
0.78x Magnification, 100% coverage
2.95-inch articulating 1.44M-dot TFT LCD
4K video recording at 30/25/24fps
1080p video recording at 24/60/120fps
MPEG-4, AVCHD, XAVC-S video formats
Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type-C)
SD / SDHC / SDXC
RAW + JPEG file format
NP-FZ100 Lithium-Ion battery, rated for 530 shots
126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm
What we liked about it:
- Compact, well-built body
- Multi-selector joystick
- Vastly improved record button placement
- Dual card slots with UHS-II support
- Addition of a USB 3.1 Type-C port without getting rid of microUSB
- Ridiculously fast autofocus and burst shooting
- Ability to shoot continuous/silent
- Pixel Shift
- Great dynamic range
- In-body 5-axis image stabilization
- Long battery life
- Bright EVF
- Very detailed 4K video
What we didn’t:
- Lack of full touchscreen capability
- Lackluster proprietary software (PlayMemories, Imaging Edge)
The Sony a7R III is priced at Php179,999 and is available at Sony stores.