SONY A7 III
With its full-frame sensor, 10fps continuous shooting, powerful video features and an affordable price tag, the Sony a7 III looks like the perfect all-rounder
How does the third version of Sony’s a7 model fare when looked at as a complete package? Is it the perfect all-rounder camera, with an affordable price tag to boot?
The a7 III is the third version of Sony’s entry-level model, though the Mark III version is certainly far from basic.
The sensor shares the same 24-megapixel resolution as previous a7 models, but has a newly developed back-illuminated design with a front-end LSI and Sony’s latest BIONZ X image processor for better light-gathering power and faster data processing. What these advances mean in practical terms is an increased maximum ISO of 51,200, or 204,800 in expanded mode, and continuous shooting at up to ten frames per second, with a decent-sized buffer capacity of 177 standard JPEGs, 89 compressed RAW files or 40 uncompressed RAW images.
This puts the a7 III in proper sports camera territory, especially since it can also shoot at these speeds in complete silence, opening up a whole range of sports and scenarios where noisy cameras might normally be banned.
The a7 III’s sports credentials are enhanced by its extremely powerful autofocus system, taken straight from the range-topping a9. It offers no fewer than 693 phase-detection AF points spread across 93 per cent of the image area, and a further 425 contrast AF points over a slightly smaller area to aid focus accuracy further. It offers variable tracking sensitivity in five steps, an effective eye AF mode for people shots that now works in continuous AF mode too, and a new Expand Flexible Spot mode to keep a subject in focus even if it strays outside the focus area. You can even adjust the autofocus drive speed for movie shooting, selecting Fast, Standard or Slow.
This is a reflection of the a7 III’s formidable 4K movie capabilities. Instead of simply cropping the frame or using ‘pixel binning’ to produce its 4K video, Sony uses ‘oversampling’ instead so that video is captured at full resolution then ‘downsampled’ to 4K as it’s captured and stored, in order to deliver the highest possible quality.
The Sony a7 III can also capture high dynamic range footage with an HLG
“The a7 III’s sports credentials are enhanced by its extremely powerful autofocus system”
(Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile for an instant HDR workflow via compatible TVs and other devices. Or, for videographers who want to capture high tonal ranges for grading/editing later, the a7 III offers an S-Log3 profile for a claimed dynamic range of up to 14 stops – it’s the video equivalent of shooting RAW files. The five-axis in-body image stabilisation system is carried over from the a7 II and is now a standard fixture in all of Sony’s a7 camera bodies, and here Sony claims it gives a five-stop shutter speed advantage. Sony has also introduced a new ‘Edge’ software editing suite, consisting of three separate applications: Remote, for tethered shooting; Edit for processing RAW files; and Viewer for viewing, rating and selecting images.
The a7 III’s design and layout will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s used a
Sony a7 model before. The body is remarkably compact and neatly laid out for a full-frame camera, though this does mean it feels somewhat unbalanced when matched up with Sony’s altogether larger and bulkier lenses.
The top is pretty uncluttered, with just a main mode dial, shutter release, exposure compensation dial and C1 and C2 custom buttons. There are two further custom buttons (C3 and C4) on the back, plus a tilting touchscreen display, a four-way controller with a central OK button and a spinning control dial
around the outside and – usefully – an AF-ON button and a thumbstick for selecting the focus point.
You can also choose the focus point by tapping or dragging on the LCD display, though this is about as far as the touchscreen interaction goes. The screen also displays camera settings and modes, but these can only be changed via the menus, buttons and dials, not through direct touch-based interaction. However, given that two of this camera’s main strengths are its continuous shooting and autofocus modes, it would be better if these had their own external dials and levers. And it’s a shame that only one of the memory card slots is uHS-II compatible and not both. But Sony’s decision to upgrade the battery to its newer NP-FZ100 now gives a battery life of 710 shots on a single charge. That’s unexceptional by DSLR standards, but excellent for a mirrorless camera.
The a7 III’s performance lives up to its specifications. The autofocus system is so good that keeping moving subjects sharp is as much a test of the photographer’s framing skills as it is the camera’s AF technology. It’s not quite perfect, though. The screen display at 10fps is very slightly sluggish, and it’s easier to follow fast subjects in the 8fps Live View mode. And while the focus-tracking mode does work well if the subject movement is not too sudden, it can sometimes lose contact with more erratic subjects.
The image quality is excellent – bearing in mind that this camera has ‘only’ 24 million pixels, and fine detail rendition is bound to suffer in comparison with the 42-megapixel a7R III. Where it excels though is in its low noise, even at higher ISO settings, and great dynamic range. We didn’t quite get the 15 stops claimed by Sony at low ISO settings, but it did hold on to shadow and highlight detail very well.
Sony has managed to really hit the nail on the head with the a7 III’s specification and pricing. Some might be disappointed that the resolution stays at 24 million pixels, but let’s remember that this is Sony’s ‘entry-level’ a7. That makes its other specifications – including its advanced autofocus system, 10fps shooting and 4K video capabilities – all the more exceptional.
“Image quality is excellent – where it excels though is in its low noise, even at higher ISO settings, and great dynamic range”
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