SONY A7R III

SONY GIVES ITS HIGH-RES­O­LU­TION MIRRORLESS CAM­ERA A BURST OF SPEED

Shutterbug - - Contents - By Dan Hav­lik

Sony Gives Its Highres­o­lu­tion Mirrorless Cam­era a Burst of Speed

IN MANY WAYS, the A7R II from 2015 is the cam­era that put Sony on the map for se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­phy gear. Sure, the ven­er­a­ble con­sumer elec­tron­ics brand had been pro­duc­ing high-end cam­eras and lenses for quite some time (the Sony A900 was re­leased in 2008) but it all seemed like a pre­lude to the full pho­tog­ra­phy re­al­iza­tion that was the A7R II. In­deed, that 42.4MP full-frame mirrorless cam­era re­ceived nu­mer­ous ac­co­lades from the cam­era press in 2015 (in­clud­ing a rave re­view from yours truly) and, un­doubt­edly, con­vinced more than a few dyed-in-the-wool Nikon and Canon DSLR users that Sony had fi­nally pro­duced a true, pro-level cam­era.

All of which is why I was ex­cited to test out the A7R II’S suc­ces­sor, the un­sur­pris­ingly named Sony A7R III. On face value, the new A7R III ($3,200, body only) shares some sim­i­lar­i­ties with its trail­blaz­ing pre­de­ces­sor. Both cam­eras look very sim­i­lar—blink and you’ll miss the tiny A7R III badge on the left rear shoul­der of the new model—and they use the same 42.4MP back-il­lu­mi­nated Ex­mor R CMOS sen­sor. There are, how­ever, a va­ri­ety of new things un­der the A7R III’S hood, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to shoot 10 frames per sec­ond (fps) con­tin­u­ous bursts of im­ages at full res­o­lu­tion, 4K video record­ing across the width of its full-frame sen­sor, longer bat­tery life, and a host of other fea­tures.

Let’s take a closer look at the ex­cit­ing, though not en­tirely ground­break­ing, new Sony A7R III mirrorless cam­era in the fol­low­ing re­view. CAM­ERA BUILD, LAY­OUT & HAN­DLING

As men­tioned, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween the A7R III and the II. They have the same min­i­mal­ist cam­era-with-an-at­ti­tude de­sign and fea­ture a rel­a­tively com­pact body with a com­fort­able grip. If you’re a DSLR fan and like your cam­eras hearty, ro­bust, and er­gonomic, you might find the A7R

III a lit­tle flat. While shoot­ing with the cam­era on the streets of New York City, I of­ten found the grip to be just a tad short, so that my pinkie fin­ger was left dan­gling off the bot­tom of the cam­era. This isn’t a prob­lem if you’re us­ing a small, light­weight lens such as a 35mm or 50mm prime. But with the large Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens at­tached, the combo can feel a bit un­wieldy.

This is a mat­ter of per­sonal taste though. There are many pho­tog­ra­phers out there who may find some of the A7R III’S di­rect DSLR com­peti­tors—such as the Nikon D850 or Canon 5D Mark Iv—to be too big and bulky and the 23-ounce Sony mirrorless pro cam­era to be pleas­ingly pe­tite. While the A7R III has some ba­sic mois­ture- and dust-seal­ing, it’s not wa­ter­proof, which caused me to re­frain from us­ing it to pho­to­graph a beau­ti­ful win­ter snow­storm. It prob­a­bly could’ve sur­vived the snow and freez­ing tem­per­a­tures but you never know and it was dis­ap­point­ing to have this worry with such a pricey cam­era.

Like the more ex­pen­sive and more sports-ori­ented Sony A9, the A7R III adds a multi-se­lec­tor joy­stick on back as well as a con­trol wheel and 12 but­tons. Although four but­tons and the four

“di­rec­tions” on the click­able con­trol wheel are cus­tom­iz­a­ble, the route to cus­tomiz­ing them is very dif­fi­cult to find, even with the help of the on­line 650-page help guide.

An­other DSLR vs. mirrorless cam­era ar­gu­ment con­cerns op­ti­cal viewfind­ers vs. elec­tronic viewfind­ers (EVF). I’m still not an EVF fan, even though the A7R III has a good one with 3.69 mil­lion dots of res­o­lu­tion, which is the same as the A9. The A7R III’S EVF of­fers 100% cov­er­age and the abil­ity to vi­su­al­ize cam­era ad­just­ments in real time, but I still found it hard to judge ex­po­sure, with high­lights get­ting blown out and darker ar­eas look­ing coarse and lack­ing de­tail. Con­sid­er­ing that the A7R III of­fers a pur­ported 15 stops of dy­namic range, you get no sense of that wide gamut while us­ing the EVF.

While I liked that the three-inch mon­i­tor on back has touch­screen func­tion­al­ity, you can only use it for still pho­tog­ra­phy, and it’s only for mov­ing the fo­cus point: the ac­tual fo­cus­ing is done with the shut­ter but­ton (or AF-ON but­ton). The mon­i­tor can be tilted up and down to help with im­age com­po­si­tion but it can’t be swiveled.

FEA­TURES & PER­FOR­MANCE

As pre­vi­ously men­tioned, the Sony A7R III uses the same 42.4MP sen­sor as its three-year-old pre­de­ces­sor. How­ever, the phys­i­cal de­sign of the cir­cuitry in the A7R III has com­pletely changed, giv­ing the new cam­era, ac­cord­ing to Sony, the same “imag­ing pipe­line” as the pricier A9, but nearly double the res­o­lu­tion and more dy­namic range.

The Sony A7R III can shoot at 10 fps ei­ther with the Me­chan­i­cal Shut­ter or in Silent Shoot­ing mode at full aut­o­fo­cus/ au­to­ex­po­sure track­ing, which should help wildlife pho­tog­ra­phers, for ex­am­ple, cap­ture wary an­i­mals with­out the sound of a noisy shut­ter clack­ing away. (The A7R III’S pre­de­ces­sor could shoot only 5 fps at full res­o­lu­tion.) The A7R III’S burst speed drops slightly when shoot­ing Raw to 9 fps, ac­cord­ing to our tests. The A7R III’S buf­fer size when shoot­ing JPEGS in our test­ing was 81 im­ages in a row be­fore the cam­era would slow down to catch up. When shoot­ing un­com­pressed Raw im­ages, the buf­fer size drops to 28 frames.

The Sony A7R III’S aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem has 399 phase-de­tec­tion AF points cov­er­ing 68% of the im­age area, ac­cord­ing to Sony. There are also 425 con­trast-de­tec­tion AF points and it has an ap­prox­i­mately two times more ef­fec­tive Eye AF sys­tem, which helps the cam­era fo­cus in on a hu­man’s eyes for sharper por­trait pho­tog­ra­phy. The A7R III is pow­ered by Sony’s BIONZ X pro­ces­sor, which boosts the cam­era’s pro­cess­ing speed by ap­prox­i­mately 1.8 times com­pared to the A7R II.

The BIONZ X pro­ces­sor also en­ables the cam­era to shoot lower noise im­ages across the ISO range of 100-32,000 (ex­pand­able to ISO 50-102,400 for still im­ages) while of­fer­ing its 15-stop Dy­namic Range (DR) at “low sen­si­tiv­ity set­tings,” Sony has said. I’ll dis­cuss the cam­era’s re­solv­ing power and this Sony claim of 15 stops of DR in the Im­age Qual­ity sec­tion be­low.

In terms of speed and per­for­mance, the A7R III is markedly faster than the pre­vi­ous model, which made a big dif­fer­ence when pho­tograph­ing ac­tion. I cap­tured sev­eral of the im­ages in­cluded in this story at a stu­dio shoot with dancers and per­form­ers lit by rapid-fire blasts from Pro­foto strobes. Dur­ing the stu­dio shoot, the cam­era was of­ten so fast it ac­tu­ally out­paced the strobe light­ing, which is im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing that Pro­foto strobes are among the swiftest on the mar­ket.

The Sony A7R III has a faster start-up time than its pre­de­ces­sor (0.9 sec­onds to 2.5 sec­onds) and aut­o­fo­cus lock in bright light took only 0.24 sec­onds with a shut­ter re­lease lag of 0.05 sec­onds. Aut­o­fo­cus in low light took only a smidgen longer (0.27 sec­onds), which was faster than the 0.45 sec­onds of the A7R II.

One in­ter­est­ing fea­ture of­fered by the A7R III is Pixel Shift Multi Shoot­ing, which lets you com­bine four Raw im­ages into one very large im­age on a com­puter (not in cam­era), although the del­i­cacy of this op­er­a­tion means it’s de­signed only for sub­jects that are still, such as land­scapes in calm weather. IM­AGE QUAL­ITY

The Sony A7R III’S im­age qual­ity has im­proved over the A7R II but not dra­mat­i­cally. This is ac­tu­ally a tes­ta­ment to the A7R II, which pro­duced some of the best im­age qual­ity we had ever seen from a full-frame cam­era at the time of its re­lease.

Ac­cord­ing to Im­age En­gi­neer­ing, the Tipa-af­fil­i­ated lab that helps us with test­ing cam­eras, the A7R III pro­duces im­ages with ex­cel­lent res­o­lu­tion and co­pi­ous amounts of de­tail, per­form­ing slightly bet­ter than its pre­de­ces­sor in this re­gard. The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the two mod­els is that the A7R III main­tained its res­o­lu­tion and de­tail at higher ISOS, with no vis­i­ble degra­da­tion at ISO 3200. This proved true in my real-world test­ing, such as in the im­age of the band play­ing at a club, which was shot at ISO 3200 and was sur­pris­ingly crisp and de­tailed de­spite the chal­leng­ing light­ing.

What was sur­pris­ing were the A7R III’S dy­namic range re­sults. While the cam­era’s pur­ported 15 stops of dy­namic range has been one of its big­gest sell­ing points, we ac­tu­ally found it of­fered slightly less DR than its pre­de­ces­sor. In Im­age En­gi­neer­ing’s lab test­ing, the dy­namic range ex­hib­ited by the A7R III was widest at ISO 400 and ISO 800 (10.1 f/stops and 10.2, re­spec­tively). In com­par­i­son, the A7R II showed a dy­namic range of 10.3 at

ISO 400. At ISO 1600, the A7R III cap­tures a dy­namic range of 8.9 f/stops. That’s very good dy­namic range for a full-frame

cam­era—and more than just about any pho­tog­ra­pher will need—but not the 15 stops of DR that Sony has been tout­ing in its mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als for this cam­era.

For video, the A7R III’S 4K ca­pa­bil­ity was im­proved from the pre­vi­ous model, ac­cord­ing to Im­age En­gi­neer­ing’s tests. Video res­o­lu­tion was higher with the A7R III, and vis­ual noise was kept largely in check, though things get crunchy at higher ISOS. Dy­namic range when shoot­ing video was good (8.7 f/stops at low ISOS and 8.0 at high ISOS) and white bal­ance was solid at low ISOS (0.8), al­beit less so at high ISOS (1.6), ac­cord­ing to lab tests. In real-world test­ing, our 4K video looked gor­geous and on par to what we’ve seen from one of the A7R III’S main ri­vals, the Nikon D850, which pro­duces some of the best 4K we’ve seen from a cam­era that shoots both stills and video.

CON­CLU­SION

The new Sony A7R III might not be as ground­break­ing as its pre­de­ces­sor but it’s still one of the best cam­eras—mirrorless or oth­er­wise—we’ve ever tested. The big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween the A7R III and the pre­vi­ous model boils down to one main thing: speed. This can­not be over­stated. The A7R III can shoot 10 fps bursts of full-res­o­lu­tion im­ages, which is twice as fast as the A7R II, with a re­vamped aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem. The over­all op­er­a­tional speed of the A7R III is also quicker. All of this trans­lates into more shoot­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the new model, in­clud­ing sports and ac­tion. While the A7R III uses the same 42.4MP im­age sen­sor as the A7R II, our test­ing showed that it had more re­solv­ing power and cap­tured more de­tail when shoot­ing at higher ISOS. If there was one area where the A7R III dis­ap­pointed was its dy­namic range, which was quite good but not as wide as ad­ver­tised.

When you throw in an ex­cel­lent 4K video shoot­ing mode, im­proved bat­tery life, dual card slots (with sup­port in one slot for UHS-II type SD), and a host of other bells and whis­tles, how­ever, it’s hard to find fault with Sony’s new high-res­o­lu­tion cam­era. A7R II own­ers might not feel com­pelled to up­grade but ev­ery­one else should se­ri­ously con­sider this com­pact yet pow­er­ful mirrorless mar­vel.

The Sony A7R III had no trou­ble keep­ing up with the fast moves of this per­former who was lit by some pow­er­ful Pro­foto strobes. The A7R III’S 10 fps shoot­ing speed was so fast, in fact, that it oc­ca­sion­ally out­paced the strobes. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens; ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/200 sec­ond, 31mm.

The fast shoot­ing speed of the Sony A7R III cre­ates new im­age op­por­tu­ni­ties for a highres­o­lu­tion cam­era. In this photo, I cap­tured a per­former in an in­ter­est­ing, midair mo­ment, which wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble with­out the A7R III’S fast burst rate. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens; ISO 100, f/7.1, 1/200 sec­ond, 28mm.

The A7R III cap­tures tons of de­tail even when shoot­ing at higher ISOS, putting it a step above its pre­de­ces­sor, which uses the same sen­sor. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens; ISO 2500, f/4, 1/125 sec­ond, 105mm.

The cam­era’s tilt­ing rear LCD screen helped me frame this im­age from down low to cap­ture the dancer and the tall build­ings be­hind her. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens; ISO 100, f/4, 1/250 sec­ond, 24mm.

Even though this im­age was shot in a club with chal­leng­ing light­ing at a high ISO, the im­age ap­pears crisp with lots of de­tail thanks to the A7R III’S im­pres­sive re­solv­ing power. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens; ISO 3200, f/4.5, 1/40 sec­ond, 24mm.

« This was shot on an over­cast, post-snow­storm af­ter­noon in New York’s Cen­tral Park. The light­ing wasn’t great but the A7R III’S wide dy­namic range was able to pro­duce a good ex­po­sure in mixed out­door con­di­tions. Tech­ni­cal info: Sony A7R III, FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens; ISO 100, f/8, 1/80 sec­ond, 36mm.

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