The Sony A7R III is a laughably brilliant camera, and one of the very best on the market. It is not only the most well-rounded mirrorless camera you can buy today but one of the best cameras out there right now.
What is the Sony A7R III?
Sony Alpha 7R III is the latest high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless camera. It offers spectacular well-rounded specifications, with a 42.4MP sensor, 10fps continuous shooting, a hybrid AF system that employs 399 phase-detection points covering approximately 68% of the frame, and 4K video recording. It costs $2798 body-only.
Touching the camera for the first time felt great. It had a nice weight and sturdiness to it. Yet, still light enough to make it a nice walk around camera. As far as appearances go, Sony is living up to the hype. It’s a great looking camera in size, design, and feel. But we all know appearances only go so far.
There are beautiful cameras out there but disappoint when shooting with them. And there are some real clunkers that are actually amazing cameras. It’s pretty awesome when a camera company can create something that embodies both. Of course, we’ve seen one thing terribly similar recently, with the Nikon D850 earning high praise as the best DSLR we’ve reviewed to date.
SONY A7R III VS NIKON D850
You might expect the full-frame sensor models from Nikon and Sony to match in terms of the number of megapixels because Sony makes sensors for Nikon. However, that is somewhat more complicated than you would initially expect, because the Nikon D850 has about 10% more pixels than the Sony A7R III. That’s not a difference that you will see in practice. The choice of a good lens will have much more influence, especially in the corners. But it does indicate that Nikon sails its own course, with its own unique designs for sensors. There are also slight differences in image quality, which we will discuss in a subsequent article.
The most eye-catching differences between the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R III are the size and weight of the camera. In both cases, you get more Nikon than Sony for your money; the D850 is bigger and heavier. The optical viewfinder of the Nikon D850 is obviously different from the electronic viewfinder of the Sony A7R III. In the dark, you usually benefit from an electronic viewfinder, because it can brighten the image. In the pitch dark, you have little left with an optical viewfinder, but the signal-to-noise ratio of the electronic viewfinder is ultimately so bad that you don’t want to use the electronic viewfinder anymore. If it’s that dark, no AF module will focus anyway. (The A7R III still focuses at -4EV.) However, with a full moon or the Northern Lights, you still have enough light in the middle of the night to determine your composition.
- Phenomenal image quality in almost any situation
- Extremely fast and responsive
- Compact, lightweight design with well-placed controls
- Superb electronic viewfinder
- In-body image stabilization gives sharper images with any lens
- AF area is invisible when moved using the joystick
- The rear screen only tilts up or down
- Handgrip too close to the lens for shooting with gloves
- Review Price: $2798
- 42.4MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor
- 10fps continuous shooting
- Hybrid AF with 399 phase-detection points
- ISO 100-32,000, ISO 50-102,400 expanded
- 5.5-stop in-body IS
- 4K video recording
Sony A7R III Review– Features
Sony has employed the same wonderful 42.4MP back-illuminated full-frame sensor as the A7R II, with on-chip phase detection for autofocus. However, it’s now been teamed up with the latest Bionx X processor and front-end LSI, bringing a slightly extended standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-32,000, expandable to ISO 50-102,400. The camera is said to offer absolutely 15 stops of dynamic range at ISO 100, which can be recorded into its 14-bit RAW files even throughout continuous or silent shooting.
Speaking of which, the A7R III is substantially faster than the previous model, capable of shooting at 10 frames per second (rather than 5), or 8 fps with a live view between frames. It also has a significantly larger buffer, which means it can shoot 28 uncompressed RAW files in a single burst, or alternatively 76 compressed RAW or JPEG files. This counts as a rare combination of resolution and speed, surpassed only by Sony’s own Alpha 99 II electronic-viewfinder DSLR. A new shutter unit guarantees low vibration, and is rated for 500,000 cycles; a silent fully-electronic shutter is also available for those occasions when you want to shoot as discreetly as possible.
Autofocus uses a hybrid system covering most of the image area, with 399 phase-detection and 425 contrast-detection points, a considerable increase in the 25 CDAF points in the A7R II. Sony says that it’s incorporated the autofocus algorithms it developed for the Alpha 9, promising a ‘quantum leap’ in AF performance, with 2x faster focusing alongside big improvements in focus tracking and Eye-AF performance.
Like its predecessor, the A7R III includes 5-axis in-body image stabilization that works with practically any lens. But thanks due to improved algorithms, it now promises blur-free hand-held shooting at shutter speeds 5.5 stops slower than would otherwise be possible.
According to Sony, this is the most effective image stabilization system yet employed by a full-frame camera. In a very welcome addition, the A7R III uses the same uprated NP-FZ100 battery as the Alpha 9, offering over twice the capacity of the old NP-FW50. It’s fixed for 650 shots using the LCD, or 530 with the EVF, according to CIPA standard testing. The A7R III also gains twin SD card slots, one of which is of the faster UHS-II type, and can automatically switch between them when one fills up. The NP-FZ100 battery is given for 650 shots using the LCD, or 530 with the EVF.
Sony has also added a couple of features that are completely new to the A7R III. Alongside the traditional Micro-USB port, there’s a high-speed USB-C, which allows tethered operation via Sony’s new free Imaging Edge software. Alternatively, you can charge the camera through one USB port while using a cable release with the other.
In a much-requested addition, it’s now possible to protect images in-camera during playback or assign them to star ratings that are recognized by Adobe Lightroom and Bridge. Another neat touch is that bursts of images can be grouped in playback, making it quicker to browse through your day’s shooting. I’ve found these features to be particularly useful. The two SD slots are behind one door, with the lower one being fast UHS-II.
Wi-Fi is built-in for connection to a smartphone or tablet, using Sony’s free PlayMemories Mobile app for Android and iOS. This qualify full remote control of the camera, complete with a live view display. Sony also makes it particularly easy to transfer images from the camera to your device, simply by pressing the Fn button on the camera’s back during playback. You can also geotag your pictures as you shoot using your phone’s GPS, via the newly-added Bluetooth connection.
However, a few features are missing compared to what I’d expect at this price. For instance, there’s no in-camera raw conversion, which just about each different complete currently offers. Nor is there a built-in intervalometer, and with Sony having abandoned its downloadable PlayMemories camera apps, no option to add one. So if you want to shoot time-lapse, you’ll have to make use of an old-fashioned remote release or a third-party solution such as the Cascable 3 Wi-Fi app. This is disappointing for a $2698 camera.
Sony A7R III Review – Viewfinder and screen
Like the A9, the A7R III employs a large, high-resolution 3.69-million-dot EVF, which provides a bright, detailed view that’s as large as any full-frame DSLR’s. Depending on your preferences, it can be set to either 60fps or 120fps display modes, with the latter promising more fluid motion at the expense of increased viewing artifacts such as moiré or jaggies. You can choose to overlay a wide range of additional information, but in one of Sony’s on-going failings, it’s not possible to see a live histogram and electronic levels simultaneously. Even so, the EVF is so good that I used it for the mast majority of the images I shot.
On the back, the LCD has been upgraded to 1.44-million dots, with Whitemagic technology for improved brightness. It’s additionally touch-sensitive for setting the main target purpose and examining enlarged pictures in playback. Sadly tho’, Sony has insisted on sticking with its relatively inflexible tilt-only design. This has the advantage of being terribly compact and not intrusive with connective ports, but it becomes useless the moment you switch the camera to portrait format. I’d have most popular to ascertain a dual-axis tilt or fully-articulated style, as on different top-end mirrorless cameras.
Sony A7R III – Autofocus
Like other mirrorless models, the A7R III uses the main image sensor for autofocus, employing a combination of phase and contrast detection. This has a number of advantages compared to DSLRs; the focus area covers a much wider area of the frame, and there’s no need to program in micro-adjustments for each of your lenses to fine-tune accuracy. As a result, it’s much easier to get consistently sharp images.
As usual from Sony, you get a set of focus area modes to choose from. In Wide mode, the camera will endeavor to identify the subject wherever it may be in the frame, while Zone restricts it to smaller areas. In Flexible Spot mode you can position the focus point manually almost anywhere in the frame; with Expand Flexible Spot, surrounding focus points are used to assist the camera in focus. For shooting portraits, Sony has included its spectacular Eye AF mode, which detects and focuses specifically on your subject’s nearer eye. This works remarkably well, acquiring correct focus with ease even when you’re shooting off-center subjects with fast lenses, where DSLRs tend to struggle.
However, most users will, I suspect, spend a lot of time in Flexible spot mode, setting the focus point using either the touchscreen or the joystick. With the former the camera behaves entirely sensibly, highlighting the AF area in orange so you can see where it is. But if like me you prefer to use the joystick, the focus area is drawn in a dull mid-grey that makes it essentially invisible, which defeats the point of adding that control in the first place. It’s remarkably incompetent of Sony not to have fixed this from the Alpha 9, and a serious failing if you prefer to position your AF point manually. This may sound like a minor niggle, but I found it impacted on the majority of shots I took. It’s a serious flaw and in real need of a firmware fix (which should be trivial for Sony to deliver).
This is a shame, as the autofocus is really very good indeed. It’s genuinely fast, which means that unlike with the A7R II, you don’t find yourself constantly feeling just that little bit held up by the camera. As usual, accuracy is spot on, just as long as you pay close attention to where you place the focus area. The AF also continues to work very well in low light. The camera’s impressive performance isn’t just restricted to static subjects, either – it’s also capable of keeping up with those that move. It’s perhaps not as unerringly reliable and accurate as of the Alpha 9, but it’ll usually keep your subjects acceptably sharp over the course of a burst, and works especially well in concert with Eye AF.
Sony A7R III – Video and 4K HDR
Like its predecessor, the A7R III is capable of recording 4K video, using either the full width of the sensor or a Super-35 crop. In the latter mode, it oversamples rather than pixel-bins, giving sharper, more detailed footage. Those hoping for high frame-rates in 4K will have to wait – the maximum is still 30fps – but what the A7R III does bring to the table is 4K HDR victimization Hybrid Log-Gamma, allowing high dynamic-range playback on compatible TVs, with no need for any additional processing. The camera may also simultaneously outputs low-resolution proxy footage, which simplifies editing for videographers who use low-powered mobile devices on the move.
Naturally, Full HD recording is also available at frame rates up to 120fps, while the microphone and headphone sockets are built-in for better-quality sound recording. There’s a huge array of other video-specific features available too, including zebra pattern over-exposure warnings, a customizable peaking display for manual focus, and S-Log gamma for easier color grading in post-processing. Sony has also included its S&Q (Slow and Quick) mode, allowing Full HD recording at rates from 1fps to 100fps – in effect from one-quarter-speed slow motion, up to 8x-speed quick motion.
It’s not just the video specs that are impressive: the Alpha 7R III delivers excellent quality footage that’s full of detail. The in-body image stabilization also does an excellent job of smoothing out the shakes from hand-held shooting. If you want to shoot video as well as stills, it’s an incredibly capable camera.
Sony A7R III Review – Performance
When it comes to in-the-field use, the A7R III is a clear improvement on its predecessor, which could often feel a little sluggish. Indeed it’s now a very snappy performer that simply gets on with the job with minimal fuss. Most notably, its considerably upgraded autofocus and continuous shooting abilities make it a reliable option for high-speed action work. Shooting wildlife in full resolution raw at 10 fps, I found I was able to rattle off repeated bursts practically at will, at least until I ran out of space on my UHS-II card.
Battery life is much improved over the A7R II too, with the NP-FZ100 providing sufficient juice for a fairly intensive day’s shooting. This is still a mirrorless camera, of course, so you have to learn to treat it differently to a DSLR, flicking the power switch off when you’re not using it. But it doesn’t need anywhere near the same degree of babying and obsessive power conservation as before, and I suspect most photographers will find the A7R III’s stamina to be perfectly satisfactory.
Image quality is, as we’d expect, exceptional. While Sony’s 42.4MP sensor is a few years old now, it’s still one of the best on the market, matched solely by the 45.7MP unit in the Nikon D850. It provides an exceptional mix of high resolution at low sensitivities with very low noise when the ISO is raised. Dynamic range is really astonishing, especially at ISO 100, with the ability to pull an immense amount of detail from deep shadows without excessive noise. This allows you to expose to retain highlight detail in extremely high-contrast scenes, then process the raw file to bring up the shadows.
On the whole, the camera’s automated systems do a very good job. The metering is generally very reliable in its multi-pattern mode, and it’s easy to visualize in the viewfinder when the camera will overexpose and dial in the requisite corrections. Alternatively, the highlight-metering mode may be handy in high-contrast things wherever you wish to make sure of retentive detail within the brightest regions of the frame. I’ve also found the auto white balance to be less prone to introducing odd color casts compared to previous Sony models, with the A7R III generally providing more attractive color output as a result. Indeed in my couple of weeks shooting with the camera, it’s barely put a foot wrong.
Special mention should be made of the in-body image stabilization, which is extremely effective, particularly when used in concert with Sony’s optically-stabilized lenses. But it also lets you shoot hand-held at slow shutter speeds with unstabilized lenses such as fast primes, and quite simply lets you get sharp shots over a much wider range of conditions. In the example on top of I exposed for the world around them light-weight, and was able to shoot hand-held at 1/2sec, and therefore use ISO 100. The JPEG file was nearly utterly black, but I was able to bring up lots of detail out of the shadows by processing the raw file in Capture One. Overall I believe the in-body IS is that the A7R III’s single biggest advantage over DSLRs just like the Nikon D850, and reason enough to choose it instead.
Sony A7R III Review – Image quality
Sony has used the same 42.4MP BSI CMOS sensor as we previously saw in the Alpha 7R II, and just as in that camera, it gives absolutely superb results. Not only does it provide stunning levels of detail at low sensitivities, but it also provides perfectly usable images at much higher settings than you might expect, with ISO 12,800 or even ISO 25,600 being perfectly feasible. The raw files are highly malleable too, and it’s possible to extract a lot of extra detail from deep shadows in post-processing without also bringing up excessive noise.
Sony A7R III Review – Resolution
With its 42.4MP sensor and no low-pass filter, the A7R III gives really impressive results, resolving at least 4800 l/ph before the lines of our test chart start to blur together. Some false detail is rendered at higher frequencies, which can give the impression of even higher resolution in real-world shooting, although at the risk of maze-like aliasing and false-color moiré. The camera’s spectacular noise performance also means that resolution doesn’t drop appreciably even at ISO1600. At higher ISO settings noise has an increasing impact, but even at ISO12,800, the sensor delivers at least 3,200 l/ph. Naturally, the highest settings aren’t thus nice, however, a reading of three,200 l/ph at ISO 102,800 continues to be pretty spectacular.
Why you buy Sony A7R III?
With the Alpha 7R III, Sony has done a great job of developing the A7R II design. It’s retained the same absolutely stunning image quality but added substantially faster autofocus and continuous shooting. Throw in the larger battery and improved control layout, and it feels like a camera that can handle practically anything that’s asked of it.
Indeed it’s difficult not to conclude that the Alpha 7R III is the best mirrorless camera yet made. It may not have the out-and-out speed of the Sony A9 or the sublime handling of the Fujifilm X-T2, but it’s still very quick and works very well too – certainly much better than its finicky predecessor. Alongside the Nikon D850, it’s one of the best all-rounders you’ll be able to buy.
Compared to the D850, though, the A7R III has all the usual advantages of mirrorless, including a truly accurate viewfinder preview, a more reliable and accurate autofocus system and a considerably smaller body, along with much better 4K video capability. But to me, its trump card is its in-body stabilization, which is highly effective and works with every lens. Combine this with the on-sensor AF and vibration-free mirrorless design, and it’s simply much easier to get consistently sharp shots that make full use of the sensor’s remarkable resolution and dynamic range.
Perhaps the A7R III’s main disadvantage lies in its handling; it’s very much better than its predecessors, but still has a few quirks and weaknesses. In contrast, Nikon has refined its high-end DSLR design over many generations to near-perfection on the Nikon D850. Some photographers may also find the A7R III too small for comfortable use, while Sony’s fondness for making huge lenses partially negates the camera’s size advantage.
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Of course, there are a lot of DSLR users with considerable investment in lenses who are unlikely to switch systems right now. But there is no doubt the future is mirrorless, and the Alpha 7R III emphasizes just how far ahead of the competition Sony is right now, at least in terms of the core technology. It’s an exceptionally capable camera that cements Sony’s domination of the high-end mirrorless market.