Sony has gained its recognition in the mirrorless world since the launch of A7 and A7R in 2013. Their first full-frame mirrorless cameras took the photography world by surprise. It not only opened up new possibilities but also gave a small jolt to the DSLR shooters who rarely considered mirrorless cameras due to their smaller sensors. The launch saw a significant traction but the adoption was sluggish due to lack of options in the lenses. The A7 series has seen the launch of many models since and expanded lineup of FE (Sony Full Frame mount) lenses has helped Sony in gaining their ground among pros. However, the cameras were never priced to sell………Until now!
With the launch of A7III, sony has clarified their intentions to fight head-on with the Pro-DSLR players (Canon, Nikon) and snatch the crown for full frame photography game. Their strategy is simple – provide pro camera features at enthusiast camera pricing. Sony is selling A7III at $1899 (INR 1,64,999 MRP) (Body only) for a camera that has –
- 24.2 mp Full frame BSI EXMOR R CMOS sensor
- 693-point full area AF, Eye autofocus
- Longer battery (710 shots! on a mirrorless camera!!)
- 5-axis IBIS (in-body stabilisation)
- Standard 100 ~ 51200 ISO range (expandable to 50 ~ 204800)
- 15-stop Dynamic range
- 10 FPS (Mechanical as well as electronic shutter)
- EVF (2.36 million dot)
- Full frame 4K 24P HDR (30p with slight crop)
- 120fps FHD slow motion
- 2 card slots (1 UHS-II compliant)
- 3” Tilting LCD screen (selective touch)
- Joystick for focus selection
- WiFI, Bluetooth, USB 3.1 Type C & NFC connectivity
Now tell me that isn’t tempting. Sure it is and that is the sweet spot Sony has hit with the launch of A7III. Sure the features list does not always depict the actual performance of the camera but, if the hype from all the pro photographers has to be believed, this camera does it. Let’s get into the details of the camera
I spent a brief time with the camera and I can say that the grip and feel of the camera felt solid in hand. Neither too slim like Sony A6500 nor too big and heavy like a Nikon D5. The button placement is designed for single hand use and 3 custom buttons offer customisation for the user. All other buttons too can be customised through the menu to some degree. The edgy design of the camera did not feel like an issue but can take some time to get used to for Nikon and Canon shooters.
Sony could have chosen to add some distance between the mount and the sensor to reduce size requirements in the lenses but they chose to go with a compact body and let the lens sizes be increased. But this issue is for all the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. They are compensating for it by providing deeper grips in the subsequent models. On the A7II, the grip and the construction both gives a confidence to put larger G-master lenses on the camera.
Sony has built the camera around a newly developed 24.2 mp Full frame BSI EXMOR R CMOS sensor. The BSI sensor provides better low light performance and lower noise thanks to the new sensor construction which allows for more light to reach the sensory surface directly. The lower pixel density due to having to fit 24.2 million pixels on a full frame sensor compared to 42 million pixels of A7RIII gives it an added advantage. ISO performance is impressive as compared to A7RIII with expanded native range and usable images till 51,200. The sensor offers 15-stops of dynamic range and that is nothing short of wow. The editability in post gets a real boost due to the expanded capability of shadow/highlight recovery.
The 5-axis in-body stabilisation branded as SteadyShot, reduces shake to allow sharper photos upto additional 5-stops than without it. The IBIS on Full frame sensor in such a small body is limited but effective to a satisfactory level in photography. For movies, do not expect a gimbal replacement worthy stabilisation found in micro four third cameras like the GH5. However, put it on a compact handheld gimbal like Zhiyun Crane or DJI Ronin S and you are good to go for cinematic stabilisation.
Straight out of the Sony A9, the 693 point Phase detect + 425 point contrast detect AF system is certainly an out of the expectation in the price range of the camera but Sony did it and we are glad they did. The Phase detect points cover 93% of the image area and the good thing is that the touchscreen can be used to select AF point in addition to the joystick. The eye autofocus is a very useful feature for portrait and wedding photographers to ensure focus during complex situations. The camera does all the hard work to keep model’s eyes in focus while the photographer can concentrate on the framing and composition. Sony still lags behind Canon’s dual pixel AF in focus identification but is definitely not a deal breaker.
Shooting speed and buffer
The camera is capable of shooting 10 FPS with mechanical as well as electronic shutter which should be more than enough for most shooters. Sports photographers have created stunning images with lower FPS and resolution cameras like the Nikon D3. The essential companion for the FPS is the buffer to accommodate those continuous shots. Thankfully, with A7III, the buffers fills after 177 standard JPEG images, up to 89 compressed RAW images, or up to 40 uncompressed RAW images.
Only possible complexity with the electronic shutter is the rolling shutter effect (motion distorted image of moving object). The rolling shutter effect occurs since the images are effectively being pulled out from a high-resolution video. As CMOS sensors work on a sequential linear readout principle instead of a sequential frame capture principle, the moving objects appear distorted in the final image. Too geeky? Refer the animation. The horizontal line represents sensor readout and blue line is the image being recorded of the red rotor shape. The example is for a very high speed rotor but the effect will be seen with moving objects for E.g. in photographing cars or skateboarders. But hey, use the mechanical shutter there.
Viewfinder and screen
These are the crucial components of any camera in deciding the feel of the camera. The EVF is something you cannot go back to traditional viewfinder from once you have experienced it. Though Sony has put a previous generation EFV (2.36 million dot) to the A7III, it felt fairly sharp and bright. With EVF, more resolution and more brightness is always desirable but considering the price range, we don’t want to complain. AF assist (magnified image of focus area in EVF) and focus pecking (lines highlighting focused areas) are nice features to use during manual focus. Cinematographers often use external monitors for precise colour and details eliminating the EVF disadvantage. For photographers, getting to see the actual exposure is excellent. For lower resolution, surely a future accessory should help us to upgrade the viewfinders.
Video capabilities has been the strength for Sony. The A7III can be called a pure hybrid since it excels equally in video department as in the stills. The 4K 30p with 5K oversampling with 1.2x crop and 4K 24p with 6K oversampling with no crop gives crisp results for movie production while keeping moire to the minimum. Surprisingly, the camera offers video performance of A9 and all the picture profiles found in A7R III.
The camera can shoot 120FPS slow-motion in FHD resolution in native as well as slowed 24 or 30 FPS in S & Q mode. The native 120 FPS will be better for serious shooters as it keeps the possibility to tweak speed while the footage from S & Q mode is locked to slow motion.
The focus tracking is smooth and does not hunt for subject in most situations. The subject tracking algorithms are taken from A9 and tweaked further. The camera also allows multiple tracking modes for selective area. The tracking area size can also be adjusted to small, medium and large based on the subject requirements. This is particularly helpful for movie makers who need selective control for complex compositions. Another helpful feature allows to set the speed of focus shift to get than gentle and smooth shift in focus for cinematic expression.
NP-FZ100 battery with all the optimisations pulled off by Sony makes A7III the mirrorless camera with the maximum no. of shots in one charge. Sony claims that the battery can last 710 shots with LCD and 610 with the viewfinder which is decent and should be enough for most photographers. For videographers, the camera allows 210 min of continuous recording or 125 min of intermittent recording with LCD. Those who want more juice, can go with a battery grip or external power via USB Type C or micro USB.
The connectivity options are plenty. Wifi and bluetooth along with NFC allow wireless connectivity while USB 3.1 Type-C allows easier wired connection for tethered shooting for pros. Both microphone and Headphone connectivity is available in 3.5 mm stereo minijack format for the liking of cinematographers. However, Sony chose to provide micro HDMI jack instead of a full fledged HDMI.
Go buy it. In the current market, this is the most a photographer can get for $1899 (Rs. 1,64,999). With so much demand for the model, the prices have come down by 15-20k INR depending on the retailer. The advantages of the camera overshadow the disadvantages given the price point. With Sigma and Tamron focusing on providing Native full frame E-mount lenses, the affordable glass range is expanding for the lineup. And due to EVF, focus assist and mounts/adaptors available for the most the vintage manual focus lenses, the lense camera combinations are plenty to suit all demands. Photographers switching from Nikon/Canon would have to make peace with the frustrating menu system by Sony. For the competition, it is a great challenge to fit similar features in a competitive price point at least for a year given that Canon and Nikon have not thought of mirrorless cameras seriously until A7III. Sony has hit the sweet spot.
What we like –
- The feature set at the price tag
- Image quality and capturing abilities
- Low light performance in photos and video
- Ergonomics and improved key layout
What could have been better –
- A sturdier body
- A higher resolution EVF
- Battery charger in the box
- More usability for the touchscreen