De­liv­ers Both Power And Glory


Sony re­in­forces its pro cam­era as­pi­ra­tions with the third-gen­er­a­tion A7R mir­ror­less body which now not only de­liv­ers high res, but also high speed. There’s been a tra­di­tion in pro-level D-SLRs of hav­ing a sports model and a stu­dio model. High speed or high res­o­lu­tion. While the Nikon D850 – with a shade un­der 47 megapix­els on tap and a top shoot­ing speed of 7.0 fps (9.0 fps with the op­tional bat­tery grip) – is blur­ring the bound­aries a lit­tle bit, it’s still largely the case and Sony is adopt­ing the same strat­egy with its top-end mir­ror­less cam­eras.

The A9 is first and fore­most a sports and ac­tion cam­era – with the more rugged build that goes with this ter­ri­tory – while the A7R III is aimed squarely at users who want as much im­age qual­ity as pos­si­ble, with a 10 fps con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed thrown in for good mea­sure. What’s more, this is still with con­tin­u­ous aut­o­fo­cus­ing and ex­po­sure ad­just­ment (and re­gard­less of whether the fo­cal plane shut­ter or sen­sor shut­ter is used). If you want con­tin­u­ous live view fram­ing (i.e. with no black-outs) then the top speed drops to 8.0 fps, which is still faster than the D850 (and here the be­tween-the-frames in­ter­rup­tions are un­avoid­able). There’s not much in the pric­ing (ex­cept if you fac­tor in the D850’s fairly ex­pen­sive op­tional grip which is needed to get 9.0 fps), so this is per­haps the most di­rect con­test there’s been in the pro sec­tor be­tween mir­ror­less and D-SLR.

The A7R III in­her­its the Mark II model’s ‘Ex­mor R’ back-il­lu­mi­nated CMOS sen­sor which has an ef­fec­tive pixel count of 42.3 mil­lion, but it’s mated with an up­dated ver­sion of Sony’s ‘Bionz X’ high-speed pro­ces­sor and a new front-end LSI, which de­liver quite a few im­prove­ments in­clud­ing a higher sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio. This, in turn, de­liv­ers a dy­namic range ex­panded to a mas­sive 15 stops – this is medium for­mat cam­era ter­ri­tory – and an in­creased sen­si­tiv­ity range equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 32,000 with ex­pan­sions to ISO 50 and 102,400. As be­fore, an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter is omit­ted to op­ti­mise the res­o­lu­tion. JPEGs can be cap­tured in three sizes and three

com­pres­sion lev­els, along with the op­tion of 3:2 or 16:9 as­pect ra­tios and the smaller ‘APS-C’ for­mat (which gives an im­age size of 18 megapix­els). RAW files are now recorded with 14-bit RGB colour and the choice of un­com­pressed or com­pressed for­mats (but it drops back to 12-bit colour in the higher speed con­tin­u­ous modes). Burst depths are quoted as 76 frames with both JPEG/large/ex­tra-fine or com­pressed RAW cap­ture, and 28 frames when shoot­ing un­com­pressed RAW files. The cam­era now has dual mem­ory card slots – one ex­clu­sive to the SD for­mat and the other com­pat­i­ble with both SD and Me­moryStick Duo de­vices. As on the A9, only the for­mer is UHS-II speed com­pat­i­ble while the lat­ter is re­stricted to UHS-I. The file man­age­ment op­tions are si­mul­ta­ne­ous record­ing to both cards (ei­ther stills or video clips), split JPEG and RAW, or split stills and movie clips, copy­ing and au­to­matic over­flow.

Pump­ing Pix­els

Sony has cham­pi­oned in-body im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion since its first foray into D-SLRs (ac­tu­ally in­her­ited from Kon­ica Mi­nolta), but it wasn’t pro­vided on the first A7 bod­ies be­cause of in­ter­nal space is­sues. The A7R III has the lat­est ver­sion which pro­vides five-axis cor­rec­tion and for up to 5.5 stops. Much greater pre­ci­sion in the con­trol of the sen­sor-shift en­ables Sony to of­fer a multi-shot pixel-shift func­tion sim­i­lar to those from Olympus, Pen­tax and, most re­cently, Pana­sonic.

Sony calls its func­tion “Pixel Shift Multi Shoot­ing” and it cap­tures four im­ages – shifted by one pixel left, right, up and down – which, when com­bined, are ef­fec­tively 169.9 megapix­els in res­o­lu­tion – al­though the im­age size is still ac­tu­ally 42.4 MP – with full RGGB colour cap­tured at each pixel point. Con­se­quently, both the level of de­tail­ing and the colour re­pro­duc­tion are greatly en­hanced, but the down­side with the A7R III’s func­tion is that the four im­ages are only cap­tured as un­com­pressed RAW files and so can’t be com­bined in­cam­era. This has to be done later us­ing Sony’s new Imag­ing Edge soft­ware, which is avail­able as a free down­load. Ad­di­tion­ally, there’s no cor­rec­tion for any move­ment at all so the sub­ject has to be com­pletely sta­tion­ary (as has the cam­era). In­ter­est­ingly, though, the in­ter­val be­tween each frame can be var­ied be­tween one and 30 sec­onds – pre­sum­ably pri­mar­ily to al­low any vi­bra­tions to fully die away, but it could make for some very in­ter­est­ing ef­fects.

The A7R III is very well con­nected with a flash hot­shoe – Sony’s ‘Multi In­ter­face’ Shoe to be pre­cise – a PC flash ter­mi­nal (for the first time on an A7 se­ries model), both mi­cro USB 2.0 and Type C USB 3.1 Gen. 1 ports (the lat­ter en­abling teth­ered op­er­a­tions and in-cam­era bat­tery charg­ing), plus both a stereo au­dio in­put and out­put (3.5 mm mini­jacks). Con­nec­tiv­ity is via WiFi with NFC and Blue­tooth LE. The bat­tery is the higher-ca­pac­ity NP-FX100 2280 mAh lithium-ion pack as is used in the A9 and, con­se­quently, the A7R III can be fit­ted with the same op­tional bat­tery grip, the VG-C3EM. Sony quotes 530 shots from a sin­gle charge when us­ing the EVF which is very good in­deed. And, al­though the bat­tery pack is also phys­i­cally big­ger than pre­vi­ously, Sony has been able to keep the cam­era’s ex­ter­nal di­men­sions pretty much the same as those of the A7R II.

“Pixel Shift Multi Shoot­ing cap­tures four im­ages – shifted by one pixel left, right, up and down – which, when com­bined, are ef­fec­tively 169.9 megapix­els in res­o­lu­tion.”

The A7R III isn’t sub­stan­tially larger than the Mark II de­spite gain­ing a big­ger bat­tery pack – the same as pow­ers the A9 – and dual mem­ory card lots. A deeper hand­grip makes for more com­fort­able han­dling.

Quick Navi’ con­trol screen pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive set of dis­plays and read-outs plus di­rect ac­cess to a wide se­lec­tion of func­tions.

The mon­i­tor screen is tilt ad­justable and has a higher res­o­lu­tion than pre­vi­ously. Touchscreen con­trols are pro­vided, but lim­ited to AF point se­lec­tion and move­ment.

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