Sony A7R III Review

January 23, 2018 | Mark Goldstein | |
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Introduction

The Sony A7R III is the company's latest professional 35mm full-frame compact system camera. It features the same back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor as its predecessor, the A7R II, with a resolution of 42.4 megapixels and no optical low pass filter, but offers a long list of significant improvements that make the new Mark III a completely different beast. Chief among these are the fastest continuous shooting speed of 10fps with full AF/AE tracking (up from 5fps on the A7R II), faster hybrid AF system with more contrast AF points and a thumb-operated AF joystick and AF On button on the rear, dual SD card slots, a much larger capacity battery (finally!), upgraded electronic viewfinder and a touchscreen LCD, 5.5 stops of image stabilisation rather than 4.5 stops, 14-bit rather than 12-bit Raw files, 4K movies with full pixel readout in the Super 35 mode, new Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode, anti-flicker mode, and an expanded dynamic range of 15 stops at low sensitivity settings. The Sony A7R III retails for around $3200 / £3200 body-only.

Ease of Use

Sony A7R III
Front of the Sony A7R III

Sony have once again resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to the third generation of the A7R camera, which at first glance looks very similar to its 18-month-old predecessor. Look more closely, though, and you'll notice some subtle but important changes that make this latest version easier to use, following the lead of the flagship A9 camera that was released last year. From the front, the A7R III has a larger hand-grip than the Mark II, principally because it now has a larger capacity battery that almost doubles the CIPA-rated battery life to 650 shots, finally addressing one of the most common complaints about Sony's mirrorless camera range. Subsequently the A7R III is slightly heavier then the Mark II, but both easier to hold and capable of lasting for a full day's shooting on one battery.

The other physical changes have been made on the rear of the camera, where Sony have added a thumb-operated joystick to set the AF point, something that several rival cameras now offer and a much more intuitive method than using the navigation pad, as on the Mark II. Accompanying this is another addition in the form of a new AF-On button, which makes it a snip to back-button focus using your thumb, rather than half-pressing the shutter button, a method that many photographers swear by. The main casualty of these changes is the loss of the A7R II's AF/MF switch, which you'll now need to set via the Function menu.

Sony A7R III
Rear of the Sony A7R III

The A7R II's awkwardly positioned one-touch movie record button, which was previously located on the corner of the rear thumb-grip, has been moved directly to the right of the viewfinder, a much better location., while the C3 button is now on the rear-left of the camera. Look under the memory card flap and you'll find not one, but two, SD card slots, although somewhat disappointingly only one of them supports the fastest UHS-II standard, a missed opportunity on such a fast shooting camera. Finally, Sony have alos added a PC Sync port and both USB-2 and USB-C / 3 ports, the latter meaning that you can power and tether the camera at the same time. We'd also have liked to have seen the A9's continuous shooting/bracketing dial, which is located to the left of the viewfinder on the A9, replicated on the A7R III.

Which brings us on to one of the major upgrades to the A7R III, its continuous shooting speed. While the Mark II was no slouch considering the 42-megapixel sensor, the new Mark III takes things to another level by offering 10fps burst shooting with Full AF/AE tracking for up to 76 JPEG / RAW images or 28 uncompressed RAW images in one high-speed burst, available with either the mechanical shutter or a completely silent electronic shutter. It can also shoot continuously at up to 8fps in live view mode, much like the A6500 camera. It wasn't so long long ago that only professional sports DSLRs like the Canon EOS 1Dx and the Nikon D5 could shoot in excess of 10fps, thanks mainly to having lower-megapixel sensors, so it's testament to Sony's engineering team that this is now possible on a high-resolution camera like the A7R III. If you need even more speed, then the 24-megapixel Sony A9 can shoot at a blistering 20fps with full-time AF, but you'll have to sacrifice 18 megapixels to get that out-and-out speed, something that most photographers don't need in most situations. For us, the A7R III currently offers the best balance of resolution and shooting speed of any camera currently on the market.

Sony A7R III
Top of the Sony A7R III

As well as shooting speed, the new A7R III is also much faster in other ways. The older version took forever to startup, prompting many users to just leave it on all the time in sleep mode, which didn't really combine well with the short battery life. Thankfully the Mark III starts-up almost instantly and is ready for shooting in less than a second, and its general operating performance feels a lot snappier too. The auto-focusing speed has also been improved, another key criticism of the A7R II, with Sony claiming that it's 2x as fast at locking on to your subject, 2x as fast at tracking a moving subject, and 2x as fast at recognising and focusing on an eye using the dedicated Eye AF mode, ideal for shooting portraits, all at light levels down to -3EV. Using the two cameras side-by-side, we noticed a big difference between them in all of these areas, so if you ever had any issues with the previous model (and lots of people did), the new A7R III certainly addresses them and more.

The 399-point focal plane phase-detection AF system on the A7R III works very well with non-native lenses, including both Sony A-mount lenses when they are mounted on the camera using an LA-EA3 or LA-EA1 mount adapter, and a wide variety of third-party lenses via a suitable adapter. We tested the A7R III with a large number of Canon lenses using Metabones and Sigma adapters, and remarkably AF speeds were often the same as using the lens mounted on a Canon DSLR. Note that Eye AF is also now available with non-native lenses, something that the Mark II didn't support.

Sony A7R III
Tilting LCD Screen

The Sony A7R III once again features in-body 5-axis image stabilization, but now offers an improved 5.5-stops of compensation versus the 4.5 stops of its predecessor, ensuring parity with most of its principal rivals. The in-body system ensures that the A7R III can stabilize all kinds of lenses, not just those with the Sony FE designation, although third party lenses without any electronic contacts only benefit from three axes of compensation, and you need to manually input which focal length you’re using.

The brand new Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode captures four consecutive frames which are shifted up, down, left and right by one pixel each, which can then be combined into a single image using Sony's new Imaging Edge software, resulting in a more detailed image with better tonal gradation. Note that it doesn't work with moving subjects, though, and the camera needs to be perfectly still too, limiting its usefulness somewhat. We also found the Imaging Edge software to be very slow at combining the Pixel Shift images, and generally non-intutive, so hopefully the mainstream Raw conversion programs will add support for this feature sooner rather than later.

The A7R III features a much better electronic viewfinder, now using a Quad-VGA Tru-Finder OLED unit with approximately 3,686k dots that is twice as bright, quicker to startup and and runs at 120fps. The LCD screen on the rear has also been improved, offering the same specification as on the flagship A9 camera. It's the same 3-inch size and tilts in the same way as on the A7R II, but is now also touch sensitive, which can be used for some elements of operation, including operating the auto-focus whilst looking through the EVF, a feature that we've seen on several other high-end mirrorless cameras recently. Unfortunately Sony have stopped short of offering a full touchscreen experience - somewhat inexplicably, you can't use the menu system in this way, press the on-screen icons, or even scroll through images during playback, a la smartphones.

Sony A7R III
The Sony A7R III In-hand

The Sony A7R III can shoot and record 4K video in multiple formats, including full-frame and now the Super 35mm formats across the entire width of the image sensor without any pixel binning. It can output uncompressed UHD 4K, 3840 x 2160 pixel video (30p/24p/25p) at a 4:2:2 color depth without down-sampling to either the inserted memory card or over HDMI to compatible third party recorders. A new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) mode is available that supports an Instant HDR workflow, while both S-Log2 and S-Log3 are available for increased colour grading flexibility. The A7R III supports the XAVC S format, which is based on the professional XAVC codec, and can record Full HD at 120fps at up to 100Mbps, which allows footage to be edited into 4x or 5x slow-motion files, with a new S&Q mode (Slow and Quick motion) on the shooting dial providing selectable frame rates ranging from 1fps to 120fps.

Press the Menu button on the back of the camera and a number of shooting and set up folders appear on screen, with white text on a black background aiding visibility. The A7R III uses the same newly revised menu system as the A6500 and A9, which is clearer and easier to navigate than on the previous A7 cameras, although still frustratingly difficult to navigate though, with no less than 35 different screens of options. As denoted by symbols on the side of the camera, the Sony A7R III is wi-fi and NFC capable, and it also now offers location data acquisition via a Bluetooth connection to a compatible mobile device.

Overall, although the two cameras look similar, the Sony A7R III is much improved when compared to the A7R II, both in terms of handling, performance and feature-set. Now let's take a look at its image quality...