Sony A7 III – a new milestone of mirrorless systems
Since I’ve heard about the launch of the new full-frame mirrorless camera, the Sony A7 III I’ve giggled in pure joy, but remained a little reticent thinking it might be too good to be true. And I mean Sony A7 III comes with all the goodies from it’s bigger brothers, the Sony A9 (check my review here) and Sony A7R III, all of these in a very competitive price for what it offers.
Sony called this camera “the base model” but most probably not with the meaning of a basic camera, a starter, but a camera you can rely on, a camera that will set new standards and expectations from the next models to come. This is what I wanted to test when the Sony A7 III arrived on Romanian market and in my hands for tests. I didn’t want a quick 2-3 days hands-on review, but I’ve received it from my friends at F64 (best camera dealer in Romania) for a longer period so I could cover different situations and jobs I took for the entire period, two full weeks and some.
The camera arrived in a busy night just before my departure for the Easter Umanitara 4×4 (a humanitarian action in which a 4×4 caravan delivers unalterable goods to remote villages in Romania both Christmas and Easter). I couldn’t do the unboxing that night, being busy with preparing my departure, so I woke up early in the morning for the most “early” unboxing I’ve ever performed. It’s in Romanian, but at least you can get an idea what’s in the box (in cause you haven’t seen other uboxings yet). Or you may skip it entirely 🙂
For 2018 I’ve started a personal project called OneLens Photography in wich I’ve promissed to myself to shoot all the jobs and personal project with only one lens, the Sony Ziess Distagon 35mm f/1.4. The only exception is when testing new equipment for this blog. I had to mention this because the camera arrived in it’s kit version, with the Sony 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens. This lens I’ve tested 5 years ago when the first ever full-frame mirrorless launched, the original Sony A7 (check my review). So I didn’t spend much time with this lens on the camera, but in the end I’ve decided to give it one more chance so I’ve used it entirely for my city break to Verona because the lens is ideal for trips and holidays.
But let’s start with what you’re here for.
The Sony A7 III
I won’t go here with all the specs of the camera, but only the most important and essential ones:
- back illuminated 24Mpx CMOS sensor with IBIS (up to 5 EV steps)
- hybrid 4d Autofocus system with 693 phase detection points and 425 contast detection zones, covering up to 93% of the sensor’s surface
- autofocus possible up to – 3 EV
- AF with focus magnification, perfect for focusing even through tree’s branches (when shooting birds)
- 10 frames per second with both silent and mechanical shutter
- touchscreen and joystick for precise focus point selection
- the new NP-FZ100 battery pack which last longer than Duracell bunny
- dual SD card slots
- 4K, HDR, s-Log 2 and 3, S&Q (slow and quick)
If we look above, it’s the best breed that could come out of both A9 and A7R III (check my review here). Not “basic” at all if we look at those specs, but let’s see how it handles on field.
The focusing of Sony A7 III
I’ll start with what intrigued me most about the Sony A7 III when it was announced: the focusing system of the Sony A9, a camera I own since last autumn. Like the majority of A9 owners out there, complaining on internet, I couldn’t ask myself how could you explain those 2000€ more for the A9, when on “paper” it only has 10 frames more, better LCD and EVF, one more selector on top, PC-Sync and UTP plugs (check my clip on how to setup camera to transfer files using that). More to that, the A9 lacks the s-Log which the Sony A7 III comes with.
As an added bonus, with the camera arrived also my Sony 100-400mm GMaster lens so the first thing I’ve tried was to check this combo with birds (be careful, it causes addiction!). Setup correctly, the A7 III it’s a very good camera, able to catch in focus and track even the smallest birds, even through branches. My settings are:
- AF-C and Drive Mode set to Continuous Hi (not Hi+) for minimum viewfinder lag (A9 doesn’t have this problem)
- Focus Area – Lock-On AF: Expand Flexible Spot
- AF-On with Shutter button set to Off
- Focus with back AF-On button
- Silent Shutter
- AF in Focus Magnification: On
- C4 button configured for Focus Magnification
On short these are my settings I use most of the time. It’s like a small hack to have both AF-C and AF-S ready all the time: while you keep pressed the AF-On you are on AF-C. When you get your finger off the AF-On, the camera behaves like AF-S, keeping focus locked on last focused subject.
Expand Flexible Spot helps you put your focus point on a bird which rests on a branch and the second it flies it will start tracking the bird (as long as you keep pressed the AF-On button). This is the hardest part, to learn the signs of a bird getting ready to take away and to estimate which way it will go. This is where I still have to learn a lot, but the camera performed excellent when I could keep with it and the birds :).
Below is a sequence of 4 consecutive shots, cropped closer and closer so you could see the level of details and the precise focusing while tracking the bird in flight.
Of course there are plenty of situations when the bird is hidden between the branches of a tree and the camera will miss focus, or choose a branch in front to focus on. This happens mostly when the bird keeps still, because, similar to the A9, if a subject moves in the scene, the focus will pick it immediately. This is where my last two recommended settings comes into play: AF in Focus Magnification. Pressing the C4, the camera will zoom into the live view image (you can even set it up how much to zoom in) and then a cross will come in the middle of the image (be careful that it won’t work in AF-C, you need to change to DMF or AF-S). You’ll be then able to autofocus very precisely. If you press the centre wheel button, you’ll get more zoom and an almost “to the pixel” focusing.
The only situation I found when the Sony A7 III can’t keep pace with the A9 is when the birds flies straight towards the camera. This is where the 60 exposure and focus measurements per second of the A9 at 20 fps comes into play, compared to the “only” 20 per second of the A7 III. This is just to be a little peaky and find justification for the Sony A9.
Let’s leave the birds alone and get to humans
This is where the Sony A7 III is at home and “screams”: this is what I’m made for! Sony never called the A9 a camera made for events (call that wedding photography). On the contrary, they’ve presented and launched the A7 III as a perfect camera for the wedding photographer: amazing focus even in low light, big framerate both with silent and mechanical shutter which means flash sync even at 10 fps, dual slot, 24 Mpx (the A7R III with its 42 Mpx is too much for some wedding photographers, especially those more into photojournalist style than fashion and posing), anti-flicker and not lastly the amazingly Eye-AF!
It is so fast and precise it still boggles me most of the time how it is performing. With every camera generation, Sony improved it. On the A7 III it works that well it gets the eye even when the subject is far away from the photographer, or it looks down, to the side or it’s hidden behind a veil, window with reflections or it wears sunglasses.
It works even with what may look like a face, abstract paintings or masks. Everyone expects it to work with pets too, but not in this iteration
How well does the sensor of Sony A7 III perform?
So to ask directly, how good is its Dynamic Range? It is very good from what I’ve discovered in the time I had with the camera. Sony says it covers aprox. 15 EV steps.
I wish I’ve shot all my photos JPEG+RAW but knowing that will take a while until software developers will support the A7 III in their RAW editors (LR or in my case Capture One), I’ve switched to JPEG XFine most of the time and wrong I was! Not that the out of the camera jpegs are not good, but there is always more info to recover in a RAW file.
And by wrong I don’t mean there is yet support for the RAWs of A7 III in LR or Capture One (at the time of this article), but I forgot about the newly announced app suite from Sony called Imaging Edge: Viewer, Edit and Remote. It’s slow as a snail even on the high-end rigs, but it supports the Sony A7 III since it was announced on the market.
So from the files I’ve got in both jpeg and RAW I’ve selected a few to do this “compare”: Jpeg straight from the camera (OOC), equivalent RAW file saved to JPEG no editing, and the same RAW edited for maximum recovery from Shadow and highlights. Let’s see:
Talking about sensor performance, you’ve surely asked: how does the Sony A7 III perform at different ISO values? I usually don’t like boring ISO tests with same image shot at different values. I prefer instead to test the camera in Auto-ISO and observe the results. This way I get an idea what is my ISO range I can work on. For this I give you one example I shot while being on a friends farm shooting for birds outside. I was near a barn watching little birds stealing food from the chickens outside and when I looked inside I saw this beautiful Hen being transferred in other place. No time to change anything on camera, just turned around and shoot in the almost completely dark barn interior. Auto-ISO did it’s magic and went up to ISO 12.800:
Or here, two ISO 10.000 images:
After this prolonged test I’m convinced I will have no issue shooting Auto-ISO up to 12.800 or even 25.600 if situation calls for it. And so you won’t say I’m not a good guy, here is your ISO sequence you’ve been waiting for 🙂
How is Sony A7 III on video?
Since I’ve mentioned above I’ve tested the ISO behavior, let’s start with same thing, but on video.
As same as on photo, I had no issue leaving the camera set to Auto-ISO ranging from 100 to 12.800. Image quality it’s amazing even when not shooting in s-Log (2 or 3).
Speaking about log, here is a demo with and without Picture Profiles, with and without LUTs applied. Enjoy!
Since I’ve moved to mirrorless (my first camera was an a6000 and soon after the A7s) I started to take more and more video and mix it with my photos. The boundary between both mediums it’s starting to disappear and I find myself integrating into my work more and more both meanings of expression. Here are two full videos I took on two separate events I shot.
Easter 4×4 Humanitarian action – filmed on Sony A7 III
Acasa la Taraboste (Visiting Taraboste) – filmed on Sony A7 III
The second adventure was a visit to Moldavian Republic, our neighbours who have one of the best Wine Cellars in Europe. We want to Chateau Vartely to take part on the launch event of the 2015 Taraboste, an amazing red wine. I’ve tested also the capability of the Sony A7 III to record sound, borrowing a pair of wireless mic from my friend Calin Stan from ClubulFoto. This is how I looked:
Slow motion (S&Q) with Sony A7 III
Leaving apart the fact it shoots full HD at 100 fps (or 120 fps in NTSC) and you can edit it in 4x slow-motion with sound, the camera offers something more at hand: the Slow and Quick mode that you can find directly on the mode selector (which lost the locking pin as opposed to its bigger brothers, the A9 and A7R III).
I’ve used the S&Q mode exclusively for slow motion and not for quick (timelapse). I still find it mind boggling that Sony quit adding PlayMemories support for the new generation cameras, since Timelapse app was one of the most used and love app out there.
Back to S&Q you have the option to select from a dedicated menu what you want ranging from 4x slow motion to 50x quick motion. I’ve used it a lot with the A7R III too. Check it here.
The advantage to use directly S&Q instead of shooting 100p full HD is the fact that you get the slow motion result directly from camera, no edit needed. And now, luckily, you can send it directly to your phone with the Playmemories app and share it on the go. The down side is the image quality: S&Q mode in 4x slow is 16Mbps as opposed to 100p Full HD which is 100Mbps. This means not much details to recover from hi or low exposed zones, or lower quality colorisation. But still, you can get this:
I stop here with the video.
How is the kit lens of Sony A7 III?
As I said eralier, it’s the same lens launched with the first A7 back in 2003 when there were only 3 lenses available for full frame: Sony 28-70mm 3.5-5.6 OSS (this kit lens), Sony Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and Sony Zeiss 55mm f/1.8. The last two I’m still owning and using them, and the 55 it;s my favourite ever FE lens. It has its own look and feel, giving me the most pleasing results.
Most of the users which buys the kit version of a camera, usually ends with that only lens. They want a camera good for everything, especially trips and family. Since I was going to take a short trip to Verona, I said it’s the best time to give this lens another shot. It’s light and still in my opinion one of the best kit lenses out there.
What I liked most about this kit lens is it’s size and weight. It’s almost entirely made of plastic except its mount and optical elements. This means many hours with the camera hanging at your neck during your trips. Focusing is pretty fast except low light situation when it can’t match a prime or a pro-grade lens.
It is a stabilised lens (OSS) and matched to the IBIS of the Sony A7 III, it gives you up to 5 stops of exposures (5 axes stabilisation).
Wide open, the lens is corner soft, but once you go past 6.3, the issue is gone. As I said, for holidays or family photos it’s more than enough. I’ll let the images below to tell the story about our Verona trip.
At the end, a final conclusion related to the Sony A7 III
There are plenty to say or show about this amazing new camera Sony launched. It’s difficult to post it all in an article, without boring your audience. I am not sure I managed not to get you bored, but at least the beginning and the end everyone reads :).
The title of this article is based on a conclusion I draw after testing the camera.
Sony A7 III it’s here to stay!
Same as it did the little a6000 (still on sale and production), I think the A7 III will last longer. It’s a great camera, the best money can buy for it’s incredible features list. I already know a bunch of people who took the step and have changed boats because of the A7 III. More are going to come.
Enjoy photography! (and video too 🙂 )