The a7R III arrives as Sony's highest resolution MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) and is rivaled only by the a9 as the most-fully-featured Sony option.
With a "III" in its product name, you know that the Sony a7R III is the successor to a "II", specifically, the Sony a7R II. The "II", delivering especially great image quality, was a wildly-successful camera model for Sony, helping to launch them into the major contender category for high end cameras. The highly-anticipated Sony a7R III delivers a significant upgrade to the II, ticking many of the check boxes remaining on the a7R II need list. Many of the new and/or upgraded features are individually worth the upgrade cost.
Here are the Sony-selected highlights for this camera:
As usual for a Sony Alpha camera press release, it is footnote-dense and Sony managed to pack 8 footnote references into their 7 a7R III feature bullets:
[i] Approximately, effective
[ii] Up to 10 fps in continuous “Hi+” mode, and up to 8 fps in continuous “Hi” mode. Maximum fps will depend on camera settings
[iii] Approximately 68% of the image area in both the horizontal and vertical directions
[iv] Compared to the a7R II, according to Sony testing
[v] CIPA standards. Pitch/yaw shake only. Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA lens. Long exposure NR off
[vi] A Class 10 or higher SDHC/SDXC memory card is required for XAVC S format movie recording. UHS speed class 3 or higher is required for 100 Mbps recording
[vii] In Super 35mm mode.
Fortunately, overall, these references are rather mild.
Image quality has been the biggest driver behind the popularity of the a7R II and the Sony a7R III gets the similar ultra-high resolution 42.4 MP full-frame Exmor R CMOS imaging sensor featuring a back-illuminated, gapless on-chip lens design coupled with a BIONZ X processor. Two differences are that the III has a "new" front-end LSI (Large-Scale Integration circuit) and an "updated" BIONZ X processor.
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||1.0x||36.0 x 24.0mm||4.14µm||8688 x 5792||50.6||.71x||100%||f/6.7|
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV||1.0x||36.0 x 24.0mm||5.36µm||6720 x 4480||30.4||.71x||100%||f/8.6|
|Sony a7R III||1.0x||35.9 x 24.0mm||4.5µm||7952 x 5304||42.4||.78x||100%||f/7.2|
|Sony a7R II||1.0x||35.9 x 24.0mm||4.5µm||7952 x 5304||42.4||.78x||100%||f/7.2|
|Sony a9||1.0x||35.6 x 23.8mm||5.9µm||6000 x 4000||24.2||.78x||100%||f/9.6|
While the a7R III trails the Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R (50.6 MP) and Nikon D850 (45.7 MP) in resolution, most will find 42.4 MP of resolution very adequate (and extremely nice), especially considering the quality of those megapixels.
High on my list of a7R III testing was to look at the image quality and the site's standard noise test is always illuminating in that regard.
With the Sony a7R III noise test results from 187 different test images available, much can be discerned. The smoothly-colored Kodak color patches test chart subject combined with no noise reduction processing (key point) makes noise especially noticeable compared to detailed scenes that better-hide noise levels. As always, noise reduction processing can improve upon the noise level seen in these images, but noise reduction can be applied to images from every camera, reducing its differentiation. So, avoiding noise reduction in the comparison levels the playing field. The Sony RAW-captured noise test images utilized the "Uncompressed" RAW setting and were processed in Capture One with the Natural Clarity Method and the Sharpening Amount set to 30.
As the ISO setting increases from 100 through 800, noise levels grow. But, they remain very low, showing the impressive capabilities of a modern, moderately-high resolution full frame sensor. At ISO 1600 through ISO 3200, noise levels are noticeable, but images still retain a very high quality at these settings. By ISO 6400, images begin to show an impact from noise and by ISO 12800, images are looking somewhat rough. ISO 25600 through 51200 (ISO settings over 32000 are considered the "expanded" range) results looks very rough and ISO 102400 results are considerably worse than very rough.
How does the Sony a7R III image quality compare to the Sony a7R II? I normally expect the camera to properly auto white balance images captured under the daylight-balanced 4000w tungsten studio lights and the a7R III does, but the a7R II's AWB results were not good enough and a custom white balance was required. That the a7R III delivered a relatively neutral auto white balance was a better experience right from the start, but it should be noted that a difference in processing can account for slight color differences in this comparison. The comparison link shared loads the ISO 6400 results and the a7R III appears to have a noticeable noise advantage here. Load even lower ISO comparisons and I think you will still prefer the a7R III results. Go higher and I'm sure that you will.
Sony promises up to 15-stops of dynamic range at low ISO sensitivity for stills in the press release and the a7R II was highly regarded for its DR. One way to look at a camera's DR capabilities is to over or under-expose images and adjust them to the correct brightness in post processing.
Increase the exposure by 3 stops and pull it back by the same in Capture One to get an idea of the dynamic range available. In this comparison, the a7R III may have a slight edge over the II, but it is only slight at most. Images from both cameras have lost the color information in the brightest color blocks with the colors becoming gray. Both cameras are looking very good with this chart overexposed by two stops.
It is similarly interesting to look at underexposed images with brightness increased by the offsetting amount. In the -3 EV comparison, the a7R III turns in noticeably lower noise levels than the a7R II. The difference remains noticeable at -2 EV with the results becoming more similar at -1 EV. If I underexpose an image by even 2 stops, I feel that I failed in my job. But, it is very nice to know that underexposing when using the a7R III involves little or no noise penalty vs. selecting a higher ISO setting in the first place. Still, getting the exposure right in the first place delivers a lower noise image. A real advantage of this capability is that shadow details can be pulled out of a scene that is properly exposed and/or has a very high dynamic range.
High ISO noise reduction is always available during post processing and the a7R III also offers low and normal settings in-camera for JPG capture. Two sets of with-noise-reduction results are included in the noise tool for the a7R III. The default Standard Creative Style was utilized for these results and a set of non-noise-reduced JPG images are included for a base comparison.
The first takeaway here is that Sony is applying too much sharpening by default (see the halos?). Also illustrated is that even the JPG image being created with noise reduction turned off appears to have some noise reduction applied. Noise reduction can make a huge difference in the results, but not all of it is positive. Noise reduction is destructive to fine details and must be applied carefully for optimal results. The same applies to sharpening and a stronger amount of sharpening may be needed when noise reduction strength is increased, which then bodes well for Sony's default over-sharpening.
A very interesting new Sony a7R III feature directly related to image quality is Pixel Shift Multi Shooting.
With the Pixel Shift Multi Shooting feature enabled, the camera rapidly captures four images (Uncompressed RAW format and silent mode are automatically selected) to be composited together during post processing. The big deal is that the sensor is shifted one pixel between each image capture, resulting in the pixels moving in a square pattern. Since each pixel on the Bayer sensor (no high-pass filter is present) is filtered to capture either red, green or blue light (only), the shift allows each pixel in the final composited image (it retains the native 42.4 MP resolution) to have input from a pixel-well filtered for each color (and green gets double coverage).
This is a great concept, but not one without downsides. The first and perhaps biggest downside is that both the camera and subject must remain motionless while the four images are captured. Essentially, this means tripod-based shooting and moving subjects cannot be accommodated – even heat waves will prevent optimal results.
Another downside is that, as of review time, only Sony's Imaging Edge software supports the processing of the files captured using this feature. While Imaging Edge was introduced alongside of the a7R III and it has a great-sounding name, it seems to primarily be Sony's Image Data Converter with a new name and skin. This software is kludgy to use (to be very kind) and very slow – it took roughly 20 minutes to apply a set of saved-to-file image quality settings to 44 RAW images and I'm using a fast laptop with an SSD. Imaging Edge is not smart enough to know which images should be composited (even though it labels these files as 01/04 and so on), so you need to manually select (only) the proper 4 images prior to choosing the menu option to begin the compositing process. Select only one image for processing and the results are extremely grainy. More than four images are also selectable for this process, but only one final image is created. One Pixel Shift Multi Shoot Composite Image takes a reasonable about-30 seconds to create.
I'll share some examples of this process and will discuss the results below.
In the 100% 1-4 results, the 4 base images are shown and the image can be seen shifting, rather-precisely, one pixel. Also quite visible in these examples is some false color (a notable attribute of a7R III images). The Pixel Shift result is impressively free of false color and, at first glance, it appears extremely sharp and detailed.
However, especially apparent in the 700% crops is that very significant over-sharpening is being applied to the composited image. There are no bright white pixels in the source files, but there are many of them in the PS result. The RAW files used in this example are set to a very low sharpness setting of -85 (out of a possible lowest setting of -100).
Two additional Pixel Shift attributes are increased graininess and decreased saturation. The color blocks in the 100% examples show these aspects most readily. I should note that Imaging Edge applies a rather strong amount of saturation by default.
The site's noise tool includes a set of Pixel Shift results. The standard noise tool results are processed in Capture One and different RAW processors produce different results from the same RAW files. Thus, a set of Imaging Edge-processed standard noise test results are additionally presented in the noise tool. These results can be used for an accurate Pixel Shift comparison. Note that the Imaging edge-processed color chart results show a vertical line of artifacts in all test images (look between the "t" and "r" in the word "Control".
In the noise test results, we again see heavy over-sharpening (see the bright edges around the color blocks?), increased graininess and decreased saturation. Another benefit of multi-sampled images is that noise can be reduced and Sony capitalizes on that opportunity. The noise reduction appears quite dramatic. However, if meeting the Pixel Shift requirements of a still subject photographed from a tripod, a longer exposure can simply be used instead of a high ISO setting, negating at least much of that advantage. High ISO Pixel Shift images are low in noise, but they will challenge your tolerance level for grain.
The difference made by the Pixel Shift capture and processing is dramatic. However, some of the magic being used by Sony includes over-sharpening and that's not cool. While this technology has a great deal of potential, the current implementation of the compositing algorithm destroys image details and falls far short of its potential. I anxiously await better software technology to be developed. And, hopefully that technology will be implemented in Capture One, Lightroom, and/or Photoshop.
Interesting to me is that I asked Canon for a pixel shift feature back in 2014 (see: "Ultra-High Resolution Via Multiple Shots"), but Sony has obviously preempted Canon with that technology. I requested a higher resolution final image to be created from the shifted sensor vs. Sony's decision to enhance the existing resolution. It seems that Sony could shift the sensor 1/2 pixel in each direction to easily implement the enhanced resolution model as well. Perhaps that option could be made available via firmware and software upgrades?
Overall, the Sony a7R III produces excellent image quality. Showing a significant upgrade over the already-excellent a7R II, the a7R III is certain to impress you in this regard and only few competitors remain at this level.
Camera shake directly impacts image quality for both still images and movies and Sony's 5-axis Optical In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) is a difference-maker. Many of Sony's lenses, including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens have image stabilization included and in-lens stabilization can be better-tuned to the focal length being used, but not all lenses have this feature. Lenses like the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens have greater versatility with IBIS available and this camera has that. Also, IBIS can work in conjunction with OSS (in-lens Optical Steady Shot) for an enhanced overall performance.
As hinted earlier, Sony offers the "Compressed" and "Uncompressed" 14-bit RAW file format options. Because of the TIFF-like file structure (RAW converters create 16-bit TIFF files from Sony RAW files extremely quickly), Sony RAW files remain consistently-sized throughout the ISO range. Regardless of the ISO setting used, the a7R III uncompressed RAW files weigh in at a massive 81.9 MB with the compressed RAWs weighing about half as much, each being about 41.0 MB.
Why not simply use the Sony compressed RAW file setting? That seems like the logical preference, with the dramatically smaller file sizes being much-preferred. Unfortunately, unlike Canon's RAW file compression, Sony's compression algorithm is a lossy one, meaning that some image detail is not retained during compression.
Is the difference between Sony compressed RAW and uncompressed RAW noticeable? In real life images, I have difficulty seeing any difference even when zooming to magnifications much greater than 100%. But, I'm very particular about image quality and my Sony cameras are always set to capture uncompressed RAW images. And, I pay a significant storage penalty for this strategy.
The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately-high amount of detail taken with the referenced camera.
|Model / File Size in MB @ ISO:||(MP)||100||200||400||800||1600||3200||6400||12800||25600||51200||102400||204800||409600|
|Canon EOS 5Ds||(50.6)||64.7||65.7||66.9||69.2||72.5||76.6||81.6||88.1|
|Canon EOS 5Ds R||(50.6)||65.2||66.4||67.6||69.8||73.0||77.2||81.9||88.4|
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV||(30.4)||38.8||39.1||39.6||40.4||41.6||43.5||45.5||48.0||51.4||55.1||59.8|
|Sony a7R III||(42.4)||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||82.0||82.0||82.0|
|Sony a7R II||(42.4)||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8|
A big Sony a7R III advantage over the a7R II is its dual media slots. The a7R III can write files to both cards simultaneously (for redundancy) or sequentially (for increased capacity) with especially the former being valued by professionals who can afford no excuses.
I was a bit surprised to see the now-somewhat-old-standard SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and also Memory Stick Pro Duo cards being the only options supported by the performance-driven previously-released Sony a9. That the a7R III duplicates this design is less surprising, although it is also a rather high-performing model.
Memory card slot 2 supports the UHS-I SD standard while slot 1 extends compatibility to the faster UHS-II format. While I question why both slots are not UHS-II-capable, I like that I can use the same card format in both slots. Slot 2 (only) supports the Memory Stick Pro Duo standard (and this perhaps answers the question I just asked). While faster card formats are available, I like the convenience of being able to use the SD card reader built into my Dell XPS 15 laptop and that I have plenty of SDXC cards is similarly convenient.
A dramatic feature upgrade received by the a7R III is the 10 fps high speed drive rate, doubling what the a7R II is capable of. Going from 5 fps to 10 fps is significant and shifts this camera well into sports and fast action speed range. While the III's buffer depth is increased and the 5 RAW frame increase is nice, the faster frame rate means that the III does not maintain the predecessor's burst time duration.
|Model||FPS||Max JPG||Max RAW||Shutter Lag||VF Blackout|
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||5.0||31/Full||12/14||59ms||125ms|
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV||7.0||Full||17||58ms||86ms|
|Sony a7R III||10.0||76||28||20ms||n/a|
|Sony a7R II||5.0||24||23||20ms||n/a|
With a freshly-formatted fast Lexar 128GB Professional 1000x UHS-II SDXC U3 Memory Card loaded and the Sony a7R III set to "HI+" drive mode, ISO 100, a 1/8000 shutter speed, a wide open aperture and in both MF and AF-C modes, 30 uncompressed (or about 82 compressed) RAW images are captured in 3.18 seconds for a 9.12 fps rate calculation. Additional frames are then captured each .82 seconds, indicating that the a7R III takes about .8 seconds to write an uncompressed file to the card. The tested 9.12 fps is not 10 fps. I suppose that there is a chance that I missed a special setting somewhere, but the only disadvantage the manual mentions for "HI+" mode is that the subject is hard to track in the viewfinder (and it is). These little tests tend to take on a life of their own and I spent a significant amount of time on this aspect and eventually had to force myself to move on. The 9 fps rate is very fast.
In "HI" (vs. "HI+") drive mode, in both MF and AF-C modes, the buffer consistently filled with 31 uncompressed RAW images in 3.78 seconds for a 7.94 fps rate calculation. An additional frame is captured in .3 seconds after the buffer is filled and additional frames are then captured every .85 seconds.
Why would one choose the high speed drive mode over the highest speed drive? There is a reason that a "+" was used to describe the fastest mode vs. simply calling the 10 fps mode "HI" and the primary difference is in viewfinder blackout time. With the EVF (or LCD) showing the subject a higher percentage of the time, subjects are easier to track while shooting bursts at the slower frame rate. The difference is noticeable. While I could track subjects approaching straight toward the camera reasonably well in "HI+" mode, it was quite difficult to keep side-to-side moving subject in the frame. In the latter case, "HI" mode was the better choice.
A performance-related consideration is that writing the full buffer to the card takes about 30 seconds with the referenced SDXC card. While you may not be capturing buffer-filling bursts most of the time, you need to understand that writing to the card takes a noticeable amount of time. In the a7R III press release, Sony mentions: "For added convenience, while large groups of burst images are being written to the memory card, many of the cameras key functions are operable, including access to the ‘Fn’ (Function) and ‘Menu’ buttons, image playback and several other menus and parameters [xiv] including image rating and other functions that facilitate on-location image sorting." The little footnote leads to "Not all menu parameters can be edited while data is being written to the memory card". While still rather limited during the write operation, the a7R III is more accesible than the a7R II during this time.
A (minor-for-most) memory card performance-related issue to mention is the memory card format time. Sony creates a database while formatting memory cards and the entire format process is long, taking about 10 seconds to format a 128 GB UHS-II SDXC card. While the a7R III is faster than the a7R II in many respects, side-by-side testing shows that it takes about 2 seconds longer to format this card in the a7R III than with the a7R II (10 sec. vs. 8 sec.). While 10 seconds is not a terribly long timespan, it seems quite long when inserting a not-preformatted memory card when action is happening (and not in keeping with our impatient culture). You may want to format your Sony-destined memory cards during shoot preparation instead of during a shoot. Note that the cards insert label-forward in the a7R III vs. label-backward in the a7R II and also note that the memory card door does not open quite far enough for me to easily grasp the cards.
Drag your mouse over the labels under the following image for a visual look at the "HI+" rate.
A short shutter lag is a very important camera attribute and this one's 20ms spec is extremely fast. However, with no sound when the front/first curtain electronic shutter is in use, it is hard to fully realize the responsiveness of this shutter. With the a9, I enabled the electronic shutter sound, but I tried in vain to find that feature on the a7R III. Of course, a beep is not going to be heard in a loud environment anyway.
It would be great if Sony could incorporate haptic feedback into the shutter release so that the precise moment of shutter actuation was realized. The click or other feedback response could not impart vibration into the camera, but ... it would be helpful to know the exact moment the shutter release was pressed far enough to take the picture.
The a7R III's front curtain electronic shutter can be turned off, with viewfinder blackout time very noticeably increasing.
With Silent Shooting enabled, this camera does not make any sound while capturing images. Complete silence is a hard sound to share on a website, so I'll trust that you can understand this camera's ability to be stealthy in that respect.
Turn Silent Shooting mode off (electronic first curtain shutter still selected) and ... I have something to share with you. Following are links to MP3 sound files of the Sony a7R III in action.
Camera sounds are recorded using a Tascam DR-07mkII Portable Digital Audio Recorder with record levels set to 50% at -12db gain and positioned 1" behind the rear LCD.
The a7R III's increased frame rate performance alone is going to be worth the upgrade from the a7R II for many. Similarly, the ability to shoot in complete silence is a huge value for quiet events such as weddings and when skitish wildlife are the subjects.
Silent shooting mode requires a full electronic shutter that comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
Let's start with the positives. With no mechanical shutter being used, there are no moving parts, shutter failure is not possible, there is no shutter vibration to be concerned with and, relevant to the just-finished discussion, the camera can be operated in absolutely silence, full stealth mode. Again, wildlife and event photographers should take careful note of that last benefit, but also remember that it becomes hard to know the precise shutter release timing. The a9 features no viewfinder blackout and one struggled to know when the pictures were being taken. The a7R III has a short blackout period, so it is easier to tell when images are captured, but it would still be nice to have better feedback in some form.
The downsides of an electronic shutter are primarily related to the current-technology line-by-line reading of the imaging sensor. Fast side-to-side subject or camera movement can (and will) result in an angular-shifted image with vertically straight lines becoming noticeably slanted (with the camera in horizontal orientation). It is not hard to create an example showing this effect. The angled line in the full-sized/reduced image below should be vertical.
Needed to be understood is that the second curtain of a mechanical shutter chasing the first curtain can produce the same effect. However, the difference between mechanical shutter (with electronic first curtain shutter) and electronic shutter performance in this regard has historically been quite big and that is again what I see with the a7R III.
Another electronic shutter issue to be aware of is that certain light pulsing can influence the results, potentially creating banding. I did not encounter this issue with the a9 or a7R III. Also be aware that the electronic shutter is not compatible with flash.
Regarding the a7R III's autofocus system, Sony states that "AF performance is improved by inheriting the AF performance used in the a9 ..." If read quickly, that may sound like Sony is implying that the a7R III has the same AF system as the a9. But, Sony MILC cameras use an imaging sensor-based AF system and these two cameras have different imaging sensors with significantly different resolutions. Thus, these AF systems cannot be exactly the same.
Certain is that Sony has utilized the latest technology and algorithms available for this camera. More specifically, the a7R III utilizes hybrid phase-detection and contrast-detection AF, featuring "399 phase-detection AF points covering approx. 68% of image area width and height plus 425 densely positioned contrast-detection AF points improve focus that might otherwise be unachievable." [Sony]
There is also a 2x improvement theme going on here. Sony indicates that the a7R III's AF response is up to approx. 2x faster (under dim lighting conditions), AF tracking is said to be improved by approx. 2x and Eye AF (tracking a subject's eyes) performance has been doubled.
Notable in the previous illustration is that the available focus points cover a very significant portion of the frame and that is a very useful feature.
The Sony a7R III's Focus Area options are Flexible Spot (S, M or L point size selectable), Expand Flexible Spot (uses focus points around the spot as a secondary priority area for focusing), Center, Zone (9 selectable large AF areas) and Wide (all points active). AF point/area selection can be done using the joystick or, if using the rear LCD for live view, touching the LCD will select the focus point, overriding the AF area to Flexible Spot until the focus cancel button (center of rear dial) is pressed. AF parameters can be further configured including Priority Set in AF-C (priority for AF vs shutter release in continuous focus), AF tracking sensitivity and orientation-sensitive AF point and area selection.
A camera of course requires a lens and the lens plays an important role in autofocus performance. For proving out the a7R III's capabilities, I selected the excellent Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lenses. Here is what I've learned.
First, the a7R III focuses in extremely low light levels (rated to EV -3 – 20 with an f/2 lens), light levels well below what my Sekonic Litemaster Pro L-478DR Light Meter functions in. As usual, focus speed suffers in low light, but the job gets done. That the EVF shows an amplified signal coming from the imaging sensor makes this camera easier to use in low light than optical viewfinder models.
In AF-S (single shot mode), a7R III AF has been quite accurate and I have a high level of trust in it. I use the small Flexible Spot most frequently in this mode and the camera very reliably focuses on what it is told to focus on. Especially impressive is this camera's face detection technology, finding and tracking a person's face around the frame. Definitely give this mode a try when appropriate.
The speed of AF-S single focus lock, however, is somewhat slow. While the camera drives focusing at a fast speed, the camera always defocuses the lens prior to focusing. Even if the subject was already in focus, the lens is adjusted to a shorter focus distance and then back to where it started. That defocusing adds a slight delay and it can be problematic in some situations when focusing and capturing an image immediately is needed.
Compared to the a7R II, the III does focus a bit faster, though I have not yet found the 2x faster scenario.
In AF-C continuous focus mode, the a7R III gives up the focus hunting practice and the result is faster focus acquisition. I primarily utilized runners and the FE 70-200 for this testing and the approaching-a-thousand results were decent. Again, performing especially impressively was the face recognition mode. With all AF points active, the camera would track a face around the screen as it approached with an even better accurate focus rate.
As mentioned, this camera's AF system is configurable and it is impossible to test all possible scenarios and all possible AF settings. Certain is that the a7R III has benefitted from Sony's latest developments in MILC AF technology.
Sony MILCs have been praised by many in the video industry for including high-end video features in their mirrorless full frame cameras. The Sony a7R III has inherited all of the great video features found in its predecessor, including the following:
In addition to the features listed above, the a7R III received a couple of video-specific upgrades not found in the a7R II:
Available formats and framerates are as follows:
XAVC S 4K [3840 x 2160px]: 30/25/24p at 60 or 100 Mbps
XAVC S HD [1920 x 1080px]: 120/100p at 60 or 100 Mbps, 60/50/30/25/24p at 50 Mbps
AVCHD [1920 x 1080]: 60/50i at 17 or 24 Mbps, 60/50p at 28 Mbps, 24/25p at 17 or 24 Mbps
MP4 [1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720]:60/50p at 28 Mbps, 30/25p at 6 or 16 Mbps
The additional resolution captured in 4K recording is substantial. The illustration below demonstrates the difference between Full HD and 4K resolutions.
If outputting to 1080p, you can easily downsample the 4K video, crop the frame to provide a tighter angle of view, or even pan your FHD video within the confines of the 4K captured frame. You can also mimic zooming in and out of a scene to add even more production value to your 1080p movies.
Of course, creating 4K content is the primary benefit of purchasing a 4K-capable camera. 4K video offers more than 4x the resolution of Full HD, allowing for beautifully sharp and detail rich movies that will remain impressive on resolution-hungry devices. On my studio monitor, the difference is substantial.
Movies can be recorded in any shooting mode by pressing the MOVIE button located to the right of the viewfinder. Optionally, the shutter button can also be programmed to start/stop movie recording when the camera is set to Movie or Slow & Quick Motion modes, although relegating the shutter button to video start/stop purposes inevitably disables focusing via the same button.
In Slow & Quick Motion mode, the camera records in XAVC S HD format and can be set to capture frame rates ranging from 1fps to 120fps in NTSC (1fps - 100fps in PAL), with the former being appropriate for speeding up slow motion events such as flowers blooming and the latter being useful for slowing down fast action events such as an athlete scoring a goal or a bride throwing the bouquet. Note that audio is not recorded in S&Q Motion mode.
And on the subject of audio, sound is recorded via the built-in, good quality, stereo microphone or alternately an external microphone using the 3.5mm mic jack.
Various markers and masks can be displayed, with options such as gridlines and aspect ratio masks aiding in shot framing. The a7R III can be set to record 4K video in-camera (via the memory card) and output the video to the microHDMI (to a compatible playback monitor or recorder), or alternately only output the video to the microHDMI.
SteadyShot (IBIS) is available for enabling more stable video to be recorded, increasing video production quality.
The Sony a7R III performs well from an autofocus perspective in video mode. Focus distance transitions happen accurately and at a nice rate (not too fast, not too slow) at the default settings. Especially nice is being able to touch the LCD to change AF points during video recording.
In 4k mode, the a7R III's rolling shutter effects are rather noticeable when panning, but they are very mild in HD resolution recording.
The high quality video capabilities of the a7R III adds strongly to the overall value of this small, high-resolution camera model.
Per Sony, we know that: "An advanced 1200-zone evaluative exposure metering sensor delivers consistent and accurate results using multi-segment, center-weighted, or spot metering modes." Also nice is that "When the Focus Area parameter is set to Flexible Spot or Expand Flexible Spot the metering spot location can be linked to the focus area so that the optimum metering point is maintained automatically. Two spot sizes are available to match a wide range of subjects."
I have found the a7R III and the other Sony MILCs I've used to deliver good image brightness when using the auto exposure feature.
A new-for-Sony feature found on the a7R III is flickering light sensitivity along with shutter timing technology designed to avoid this very serious issue. Canon has had anti-flicker technology for years and it is a game-changer when shooting under many types of artificial lights. Here is a demonstration of light flicker effects:
For these images, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens was used at 70mm with the shutter set to 1/500 second, a realistic setting for indoor action sports (long exposures avoid the flicker issue). The subject of these images was a white wall and every other frame from a 10 fps burst was selected. Both brightness and white balance are affected by the dim cycle of the lighting and correcting even one of these affected images is very challenging and time consuming.
I have some fluorescent lights in my basement that have proven to be reliable test subjects for my Canon cameras and figured that they would serve equally well for testing Sony cameras. Unfortunately, the image above shows the results with the anti-flicker feature enabled. I tried "HI" and single frame shooting with no difference. Apparently my (very typical) fluorescent tubes are not compatible or I haven't figured out some nuance to make this feature work (it shouldn't be that hard). The a7R III can detect (only) 100 Hz and 120 Hz flicker. Sony notes that continuous shooting speed may decrease when anti-flicker is enabled and this makes sense as the camera pauses to miss the dim cycle of the lights. Anti-flicker cannot be enabled during silent shooting.
Quickly put the a7R III to your eye and, via eye-detection, the camera is ready for you, nearly instantly switching the image display from the rear LCD to the EVF, ready for a quick capture. With the eye at the viewfinder, immediately noticeable is that the EVF is quite large. While the size of the camera is quite small, the size of the viewfinder is not. With one eye in the viewfinder of the a7R III and the other eye simultaneously in the Canon EOS 1D X Mark II viewfinder, it is readily apparent that the a7R III's viewfinder image is modestly larger than even this highly-respected 1-Series viewfinder.
The viewfinder size has not been increased from the a7R II, but fortunately, the quality of the EVF has been very significantly upgraded. I say "fortunately" because I was not a fan of the a7R II's EVF. The a7R III features a higher resolution 3.69M-dot Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF that is twice as bright as the predecessor's EVF. Brightness is important in part because a brighter EVF can better show contrast in a scene, competing closer to optical viewfinders in this regard. Especially in "Hi" quality mode (I didn't spend the time figuring out why not-"Hi" was even an option), this EVF is a very noticeable improvement. With a camera to each eye, the difference is quite obvious and some are going to find this feature alone worth the upgrade cost.
I will not go into a full discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of an EVF here, but the a7R III has one of the best EVFs I used.
While the a7R III's blackout period during image capture has not been eliminated, it is rather short. As typical for Sony MILCs, DOF preview is automatic with the background blur change seen as the aperture setting is changed.
Those familiar with the Sony a7R II (and other similar Sony cameras) will readily familiarize themselves with the a7R III. While the III has some very nice feature upgrades, it does not depart far from the a7R II overall. Those familiar with Canon and Nikon DSLRs should be ready for a learning curve. While not as loaded with dials and buttons as the a9, the a7R III provides good control at your fingertips and, with 4 custom buttons, plenty of customization capability is provided. That is of course good as long as you become familiar enough with the controls to remember what you've programmed them for. While the Sony a7R III (and similar models) is a bit clunky in design with plenty of sharp edges, a seasoned user is going to find it ready to get the job done.
The Sony a7R III received a noticeably-updated rear design with one particularly-substantial upgrade included.
To compare the Sony a7R III with many more camera models, use the site's camera body comparison tool.
For control and features, Sony has basically lifted the a9 rear design for re-use on the a7R III. That was a good move.
The LCD monitor continues to be the dominant back-of-the-camera feature in today's cameras and will continue to be such into the foreseeable future. This LCD is the same as featured on the a9, a tilt type 2.95" TFT with approx. 1,440,000 dots.
Update: Sony quietly introduced the Alpha a7R III revision A, model number ILCE-7RM3A, with an upgraded LCD panel featuring significantly increased resolution — 2,359,296 dots.
The tilt adjustment, ranging from approx. 107 degrees up to approx. 41 degrees down, is a very attractive feature, especially to those of us still using fixed LCDs (the benefit for fixed LCDs is their overall durability).
The image quality of the LCD is nice, though I would like the LCD surface to be less-reflective for easier use under bright conditions.
While this LCD can be used for touch AF point selection when the rear LCD is active, that function is the limit of its touch capabilities. I'll take a small tangent to mention Sony's menu system (that you will often view it on the LCD is the tie-in I claim here). I'm both spoiled and acclimated to Canon's excellent, logical menu systems, but I feel lost in Sony's seemingly overly-difficult menu system structure that includes 32 subtabs under the 5 main tabs. That a customizable "My Menu", missing on the a7R II, is now provided and customizable for up to 30 of your most-used functions is alone a huge improvement, making a substantial difference in ease of use. For example, I no longer have to navigate to the Setup Menu, sub-tab 5 just to find the constantly-used "Format" option.
At the bottom right of the camera back, we see the playback and delete/C4 (custom button 4) buttons retaining their a7R II locations. Moving up, we find the control wheel that is now raised and slightly enlarged, both very positive features/changes, though the periphery of this dial could be slightly less beveled to for easier engagement with the thumb. Gone missing from the control wheel on the a9 were the left-most icons. Those functions were moved up to a new drive mode dial on the top of the a9, but that dial remains absent on the a7R III and, thus, the a7R II's icons and their functions have been retained on the a7R III.
Replacing the switch above the programmable function button, providing quick access to 12 common functions, is the new multi-selector, a joystick. The control wheel acts as a 4-way controller and while it seems that it should have 8-way functionality, the new multi-selector is an 8-way controller and by assuming much of the other controller's functionality, diminishes the 4-way issue. The multi-selector is used for, and is especially useful for, AF point selection and this resolves a sorely-inadequate feature on the a7R II. If photographing a quickly-moving subject such as wildlife, the new joystick is a game-changer and easily makes the II-to-III upgrade worthwhile. While the new multi-selector works fine and it is a very welcomed addition to this camera, I would like it to have a slightly improved, more-significant/positive feedback click. It is especially challenging to use this controller with gloves on.
A pair of new buttons, AF-On and AEL (Auto Exposure Lock), functions displaced by the multi-selector joystick, take up residence above the multi-selector. The C3 (custom button #3) gets shifted from the right side of the viewfinder, moving to the left of the menu button on the top-left of the camera back. Showing serious attention to video needs is Sony's repositioned movie start/stop button, located just to the right of the viewfinder.
The top of the a7R III is rather similar to the a7R II and about identical to the a9 with the big exception of the missing stacked dial on the left side of the camera.
The camera product images comparison tool allows comparison of many additional camera models.
The a9's stacked dials provide easy accessibility and visual confirmation to commonly used settings and I would have welcomed them on the a7R III. Instead, the a7R III simply has a speaker in the otherwise unused space.
Skipping over the viewfinder and hot shoe, we find the ultra-common mode dial. Once again, Sony neophytes probably need to be enlightened regarding the S&O acronym. That is "S"low and "Q"uick, referring to Slow and Quick Motion movies previously mentioned. Just counter-clockwise to the S&O mode is the normal movie mode.
Continuing in the counter-clockwise motion, we find 3 custom modes, ready to store your most-used settings for immediate recall. I use these modes at least as much as any other modes combined. The a7R III is also capable of saving and reading camera settings to/from a memory card.
Next up are the modes that professionals (and anyone serious about photography) have come to expect: M, S, A, P. Those who just want to take advantage of a great camera without a learning curve (and those who just need the camera to decide what settings are needed in an instant) have the intelligent auto mode ready for immediate use.
A pair of programmable custom buttons are within convenient reach of the index finger on top of the camera and the shutter release, surrounded by the power switch, is located to the front. The exposure control dial is also easily accessible (to the thumb) with easy visual confirmation of the current setting. This dial is positioned closer to the side of the camera, making it more exposed and easier to turn. Less obvious is another dial, referred to as the rear dial, located rearward between the mode dial and exposure compensation dial. On the a7R III, this dial is exposed by 3mm more than in the a7R II, making it also considerably easier to use.
Once acclimated to the control positioning and feature locations, this camera is quite easy to use and a quality feel abounds, including dials that click reassuringly into positions.
Opening the port covers makes clear what features are available here.
From bottom-left and continuing clockwise, there is a PC port flash sync terminal (ready to control studio lighting), a mic port, a headphone port, an HDMI (micro) port, a SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.1 Gen 1, USB 3.2 with revision A) and USB Type-C Terminal.
Just like the a9, the right side of the camera features the NFC (Near Field Communication) touch point and a pair of memory card slots reside under the spring-loaded door released by the also-spring-loaded switch to the left. Note that the a7R II and a7R III/a9 use opposite memory card orientations. The a7R III is brand label-forward oriented, opposite of my preference as label-rearward allows me to more-quickly identify the card being inserted. As I mentioned before, the memory card door does not open quite far enough to permit my fingers to easily grasp ejected memory cards from the slots.
I usually skip the bottom of cameras in the reviews as they usually have a threaded tripod insert and a battery door. But I want to mention a small change on the bottom of the a7R III. The dimensions were changed (mostly the front edge is slightly more squared) just enough that my Kirk a7R II L-bracket does not fit properly on the III. Once again, the a7R III and a9 are similar, sharing the same Kirk L-bracket.
One of the big attractions to the Sony MILCs is their small size and light weight.
|Model||Body Dimensions||CIPA Weight|
|Canon EOS M5||4.6 x 3.5 x 2.4"||(115.6 x 89.2 x 60.6mm)||15.1 oz (427g)|
|Canon EOS Rebel SL2 / 200D||4.8 x 3.6 x 2.7"||(122.4 x 92.6 x 69.8mm)||16.0 oz (453g)|
|Canon EOS Rebel T7i / 800D||5.2 x 3.9 x 3.0"||(131.0 × 99.9 × 76.2mm)||18.8 oz (532g)|
|Canon EOS 80D||5.5 x 4.1 x 3.1"||(139.0 x 105.2 x 78.5mm)||25.8 oz (730g)|
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0"||(152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm)||32.8 oz (930g)|
|Canon EOS 5D Mark IV||5.9 x 4.6 x 3.0"||(150.7 x 116.4 X 75.9mm)||31.4 oz (890g)|
|Sony a7R III||5.0 x 3.8 x 3.0"||(126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)||23.2 oz (657g)|
|Sony a7R II||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4"||(126.9 × 95.7 x 60.3mm)||22.0 oz (625g)|
|Sony a9||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5"||(126.9 x 95.6 x 63.0mm)||23.7 oz (673g)|
Small is great in many respects, but too small has a real potential downside in regards to the grip of a frequently-used camera.
When you want to have full control over something, you grasp it with your entire hand. You don't hold a baseball bat, tennis racket or golf club with just your fingertips. The same is true for a camera grip. While I'm not swinging my camera in the same way as those sporting implements are used, I still want total control over my camera and an attached lens. The a7R III grip, like the a7R II grip, is modestly too small for my medium-sized hands. When grasping the camera in the manner needed to control a sizable lens, the first joint on two of my fingers presses into the the lens body where it flares outward. With neither my finger joint nor the lens being cushioned, a strong discomfort is felt. The calipers show that the a7R III's grip is about 2.5mm deeper than the II's, but I don't notice a difference in comfort felt. My brother picked up the a7R III with a 70-200 attached and immediately dismissed the idea of that camera being his someday.
The a9 is shown above and the experience is the same with the a7R III. While having a small camera is good for compactness reasons, a model being handheld with frequency needs a larger grip. Acquisition of the Sony VG-C3EM vertical grip should strongly be considered for this camera. This is the same grip used by the a9.
The vertical grip provides much-improved handling (it minimally gives my pinky a role) and also permits two batteries to be used, doubling the number of shots that can be captured before battery replacement. Grip features include a vertical shutter release, rear control dial and multi-selector. While this camera is much easier to operate in vertical orientation with the grip installed, the grip's rear dial falls under the pad of my thumb. This is not terribly uncomfortable, but it is not optimal either.
The biggest downside to the grip, aside from the purchase cost, is the size and weight it adds to the camera. Still, even with the grip installed, the a7R III remains smaller and lighter than the Canon and Nikon DSLR equivalents.
The VG-C3EM, shown on the a9 above, is constructed of magnesium alloy with dust and moisture resistance matching the a7R III. It is well-built and well-matched. You don't have to use it all of the time, but if it is in your kit, it will be ready for when you want it.
Just need to add room for an extra finger on the grip? Did you know that Sony has that need covered? The Sony GP-X1EM Grip Extension provides that.
Built on a magnesium alloy frame, the Sony a7R III has a high quality, solid feel to it – similar to the a9 and a7R II. In general, the buttons, dials and switches have nice haptic feedback, though the multi-selector leaves room for improvement.
While I haven't seen the level of weather-sealing received this camera defined, it indeed has this feature as illustrated by the Sony images below.
I didn't stress test the a7R III for wetness survivability (my insurance company has an aversion to me discovering that failure point), but understand that the bottom of this camera is poorly sealed.
Another durability concern is the mechanical shutter assembly. That Sony has tested the a7R III's shutter at over 500,000 actuations, a very considerable number of images, should be comforting to most.
New with the a7R III is a rating function, allowing a 1-5 star value to be attributed to captured still images.
Another interesting new feature available during playback is grouping display, with a single thumbnail image shown to represent a group of images captured in burst. All images in the burst can be locked or deleted as a group.
One of the major drawbacks of the Sony a7R II is the very short battery life with a meager, inadequate 290-shot rating using the NP-FW50 battery pack (viewfinder rating). Even short duration a7R II shoots can require multiple batteries (and that they drain even when not being used is especially aggravating). Addressing that shortcoming is the new Sony NP-FZ100 battery pack with about 2.2x capacity of the NP-FW50.
In the a7R III, the NP-FZ100 is rated for approx. 530 shots using the viewfinder or 650 shots using the LCD monitor. While those are still rather short battery life ratings, the difference seems much greater and I have been able to accomplish all of my needs with a single battery (I didn't shoot an all-day wedding or similar). Of course, the shooting style being used can make a dramatic difference in the number of shots obtained from a single charge. For example, the similar-battery-life-rated a9 captured 6,125 images in a 3 hour timespan at a sprint car race with 34% battery life remaining in the single battery I had with me.
With the a7R III, my first charge produced 711 shots with 8% battery life remaining for an estimated 773 image life. The second charge, with more burst shooting use, was good for 1,289 images at 9% life remaining for an estimated 1,416 shot life. Those are numbers I can live with.
The battery door is spring-loaded, but the switch is not. Slightly annoying is that it must be manually slid into the locked position after closing the door.
Unlike the NP-FW50, the NP-FZ100 is keyed to inserted in only two orientations vs. four. Unfortunately, it still fully inserts backwards (without locking into place). Fortunately, the battery contacts make the remaining mis-orientation less logical to try.
The provided AC charger is a corded model (vs. the compact direct-plug-in style I prefer).
When deciding on a camera to purchase, the entire accessory system available to that camera should be considered. If your needs are light, a few good lenses may be completely adequate. Professionals with more complicated needs are not as easy to satisfy. While Sony trails Canon and Nikon in this regard, Sony has more than the basics covered and has added considerably to their lens lineup this year.
What is the best lens for the Sony a7R III? The lens is of course one of the required accessories and most will find the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens to be the best general purpose lens available for the a7R III. For longer focal length needs often encountered by professionals, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is a great choice and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens is a great option for the wide angle needs. Watch our growing Sony Lens Reviews page for more good options.
At first glance, the a7R III's low price appears very attractive, especially compared to the Canon EOS 5Ds/5Ds R and Nikon D850. But, the entire kit price, especially including lens costs, must be evaluated. Be sure to price out an overall kit before making a price-based decision.
Of course, the Sony a7R III and the best lenses available for it are good enough to stand on their own regardless of the price consideration.
This camera has an extremely deep feature set and I can't cover everything this camera can do in a reasonably-concise review. Communications features alone include USB-C, Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity. The Sony a7R III owner's manual (linked to at the top of this page) provides a deeper look into the full capabilities of this camera, though at only 100 pages, it is not the most in-depth camera manual available. Read the manual, go use your camera, repeat.
The Sony a7R III used for this review was ordered online/retail.
Is the Sony a7R III the right camera for you? The answer to this question is going to be "yes" for a considerable volume of people. For someone considering the a7R III purchase, the most logical alternative is its predecessor, the a7R II. Check out the Sony a7R III vs. a7R II comparison to fully compare these cameras, but following are the primary differentiating factors:
Some of those line items alone will be worth the upgrade cost to many. If you are a serious photographer shooting fast action (indoor/outdoor sports, wildlife, etc.), the a7R III's better AF system, higher burst rate, larger buffer, multi-selector joystick and anti-flicker mode will easily justify the newer camera's higher price tag. Wedding photographers in particular will appreciate the peace of mind that the a7R III's dual memory card slots provide. For those shooting static subjects, such as landscapes/nightscapes, architecture, products, still life and in-studio subjects, the lower-priced Sony a7R II may prove similarly adept at capturing high-quality imagery.
After finishing the Sony a9 review, I stated "As I go back to my Sony a7R II to continue work on the Sony lens reviews, I'm left feeling in want." I was still happy with the s7R II's resolution and dynamic range, but I definitely wanted some of the a9's new and improved features. The a7R III substantially delivers those desired features.
I have had my a7R II for just over a year and going into the a7R III review, and I was thinking that I would stay with the model I had. But next to the III, the II seems old and inadequate in multiple ways and ... now it is going to be hard to accept those limitations. Update: After carefully weighing the decision for a couple of weeks, I decided that the upgrade was a no-brainer and made the purchase.
While I like the a7R III's size for storage/packing, I find the grip inadequate for significant in-the-hand use. Also, while many of this camera's new features are extremely positive, some still need some work, including the Pixel Shift and anti-flicker modes.
The fully-featured Sony a7R III delivers excellent image quality, including low noise and superb dynamic range, in a small, easy-to-take-with-you size with an EVF that is among the best available. While the a9 remains a better Sony option for some fast action sports and similar uses, the a7R III is my strong preference for most other uses and it is my most-recommended Sony camera model.
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