With the Sony a7R III, Sony has been able to triple their battery life and reduce overheating issues, while also offering almost 400 autofocus points through contrast and phase detection. On top of that, it has the best low light performance in its class (outside of its little brother, the a7S II).
Sony started the alpha 7R line in 2013 with the 36.4 Megapixel (MP) full frame a7R. The a7R only shot HD, as was typical at that time. In 2015 the a7R II ushered in a slew of new features like a 42MP full frame sensor, the ability to shoot UHD 4K and S-Log and in-body 5-axis image stabilization. These new features made it a must-have for users who wanted high resolution photos and a formidable video camera. However, the a7R II had two major flaws. The first was its battery life-- at about an hour per battery, and the second is its predisposition to overheat.
New to the a7R III
If you look at video shot from the a7R II and a7R III next to each other, it’s likely you won’t be able to tell the difference between the two. After all, they both have the same 42MP full frame sensor. The big features on the a7R III are for the user, not the viewer.
Starting with its 399-point autofocus (AF) system that combines contrast and phase detection, this is a clever solution to the weaknesses of each type of AF. Contrast AF is slow, whereas phase detection is fast. On the flipside, contrast AF is more accurate than phase detection. Combine the two and you have each supporting the other. Later in the review, we’ll tell you about how it was to use and what settings we found worked best.
The a7R III can shoot up to 120 frames per second (fps) in HD and up to 30 fps UHD 4K using the full width of the sensor. It is also able to shoot in super 35 cropped mode that gives a focal length multiplier of 1.5x, but it decreases the resolution to 18MP. We tested the low light performance of the a7R III in both full frame and super 35 mode. The results are in the testing section of this review.
Regardless of whether your lens has image stabilization, or as Sony calls it, Steadyshot, the camera will either use its internal stabilization or that of the lens, whichever performs better.
Continued in the a7R III is the 5-axis image stabilization up to five and a half stops. Regardless of whether your lens has image stabilization, or as Sony calls it, Steadyshot, the camera will either use its internal stabilization or that of the lens, whichever performs better. We’re not talking about yielding all axises either; it will still use the internal stabilization for the axis not bettered by the lens.
When Shooting Stills
Because the a7R III is a photo-first camera, we would be remiss if we didn't talk about its photo features. In fact, this is the definition of a hybrid shooter’s camera. We say this because it's worth the money even considered only as a video camera, let alone as a stellar photo camera, too. We were on a press event with Sony in Sedona Arizona for the a7R III, where we were in the minority as a video shooter. This is the first camera we have experienced where the photographers were filling up their SD cards faster than video shooters. The a7R III can shoot uncompressed RAW and JPG simultaneously for up to 10 frames per second. We saw file sizes as large as a 86 MB per RAW frame and up to 33 MB per JPG. That’s so much image data. At that rate you are capturing almost 1.2 GB of data every second. The data rate when shooting video is only 12.5 MB (100 Mb) per second. When we first crunched those numbers, it was concerning because that’s much more data than the memory card can handle at once. With the camera’s built-in buffer, however, you are able to shoot that much. When shooting uncompressed RAW and JPG continuously at 10 frame per second, we were able to capture 36 pictures in a row before needing to wait for the data to buffer to the card.
The second notable feature for photographers is Pixel Shift Multi Shooting. This is another clever way of using existing tech to get more out of your image. Pixel Shift Multi Shooting is simply taking four RAW pictures, one after another and putting them together. There are two pictures taken for the green pixels, one for red and one for blue. This combination is designed to give greater detail. There are a few drawbacks to this technology as it currently is. The first is that there is a minimum of one second between image capture. This means that if you are capturing anything that moves, it’s likely not going to be a good subject for pixel shifting. The second is that the pictures are not combined in camera, so you will need to use Sony’s program Imaging Edge to preview and to combine the images.
The last drawback is that the files are not identified as different when you are looking at the pictures in your SD card. Unlike the way Sony separates video and still images, pixel shift multi shooting doesn't have a unique place that it’s stored. Additionally, their extension is the same as other RAW files, so unless you know the image number you shot, it will create a headache when choosing what images to combine. We experienced this because we wanted to compare a single RAW image with the ones shot in pixel shifting. The pictures were framed and exposed exactly the same, so we had to remember to capture the single RAW first in order to identify the following four as the ones we would use to combine.
A Few Other Features
This review would be incomplete if we didn't talk about these last few features of the a7R III. Starting with its 3.69m-Dot Tru-Finder OLED EVF. Remember, this is a mirrorless camera, so it won’t have a viewfinder pentaprism. Instead, it uses another screen to give you EVF preview. This is one reason battery life can be an issue for mirrorless cameras. The rear monitor, the one that as a video shooter you might use more often, is a 3-inch 1.44m-dot tilting touchscreen LCD. Just like past Sony alpha cameras, we would like it to be fully articulating, but tilting is better than no movement at all. A feature that we liked when shooting video outside, under the sun, is the daylight setting that gets the screen bright enough to see. There are now two SD card slots on the a7R III. However only one is SDXC II. The other is only SDXC. Because of that, the high data rates can only be captured in one of the slots. The body is a bit larger than its predecessor. This could be a part of the fix for overheating, but it also makes room for a bigger battery and two card slots. Additionally, likely because of the dual slot door, Sony choose to change the record button location. Regardless of why, we like the new location near the EVF. The location on the a7R II is hard to get to if you are feeling around for it. The last feature, a new battery, is likely another key to resolving any overheating issues.
Sony has been doing a great job developing lenses over the past few years. They now offer just about every major focal length with similar maximum aperture to Nikon and Canon. We tested the a7R III with four different lenses. The first we used during the review is the lens they announced with the a7R III, the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS. Because the low light performance is better than any other brand’s camera, f/4 isn't difficult to use for video shooting. The next two lenses are the combo to kill for, the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM and the FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS. Between these two, you have a huge focal range and a constant f/2.8 across the full throw. Regardless of your focal length, you can keep the same exposure. The last lens we used is the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. this lens is the portrait king. All of the pictures we took with this lens have a wonderful bokeh, and because of the space compression you get at 85mm, facial features look great.
Like any other mirrorless camera, getting dust on the sensor is an issue when swapping between lenses. Consider investing in a blower bulb and sensor brush for cleaning. With mirrorless cameras it’s not a question of if but when you will need to clean off your sensor.
One our favorite features on Sony alpha cameras is their ability to reassign all buttons and dials to anything else. This gives a shooter the ability to make every button count, so you can have fast access to all of the things you need. Moreover, you can create a custom menu for all of those secondary things that you won't assign to a button, but don't want to labor over to find in the menu. Like all other Sony cameras, the menus are large. With the a7R III, there are two tabs that are labeled with a camera. The first are the photo controls and the second is for video. This makes finding video or photo specific controls much faster, but we hope next time that they don't just use the same icon for both and make one of them look a bit different.
We love the new location of the record button. After using a camera for a long time, you’ll get muscle memory for where the buttons are, but until then, or if you use different cameras often, locating the buttons often goes by the braille method. Sony does have a work around for if you don't like the record button location: assign it to another button.
Because we have been teasing at it, now let’s look at how the a7R III did on our formal tests. We tested its battery life, low light performance, rolling shutter, moire and autofocus. The new battery offers three hours of life. That’s three times that of the a7R II. Because the a7R II also had overheating issues, a longer battery life would mean nothing if it stopped working after 45 minutes because it got too hot. Luckily for Sony, that's not the case. During testing, we got three hours of life from a single battery. It was outside in mixed shade in 72 degree sunny weather and other than going through a couple of SD cards and having to make sure to start recording again every 30 minutes, there were no issues. In use, shooting outside in sunny Arizona, never considering the heat or how long it was on, we had no heat issues at all. Shooting all day, we didn’t even go through one battery. Back in the studio, we shot a video from start to finish with the a7R III and had no issues, malfunctions or need to worry about having multiple batteries. Still, we’d recommend having at least two batteries, just because it’s good to be prepared.
Its low light performance is in line with the a7R II and the a6500. No matter if you shoot in super 35 mode or full frame, the low light performance doesn’t change. All the way up to and including ISO 6400, there isn’t any noise to be concerned with. Going a step higher to ISO 12800 is where noise reduction is required to get a picture void of dancing noise. By ISO 25600 there is too much distracting fixed pattern noise to use in a professional quality product.
There’s no more rolling shutter than with the a7R II. There is some rolling shutter, however, and if you pan too fast, you will get flexible straight lines. However, with some thought about panning speed, any drawbacks from the rolling shutter can be worked around. The moire isn’t anything to be concerned with, and if you are a photographer and are concerned about it, use Pixel Shift Multi Shooting and any moire will be resolved.
The autofocus in the a7R III is very usable for video shooters. Although it’s not a great practice to use it as a default, it is good enough to help in situations where pulling manual focus is difficult or impossible. The two settings we found to be best for video shooting is face tracking with lock on AF. To test this, we walked about 45 feet moving toward the camera around the frame. The result was perfect focus on the face of the subject. The only drawback we experienced when in this setting is, if the face went out of the frame, when it re-entered it was not in focus and it took a few seconds to find what to focus on again. The best video autofocus in photo-first interchangeable lens cameras is in the Canon 1DX mark II, but the a7R III is a close second. To a shooter that avoids AF like the plague, I’d use it when feeling lazy or in a difficult situation.
Both Canon and Nikon offer a full frame camera at the same price point as the a7R III. We’re going to look at the Canon 5D Mark IV and the Nikon D850 and how they compare to the a7R III. But we don’t want to stop there-- if you are going to buy lenses and are ok with a smaller sensor, we are also going to talk about the Panasonic GH5 too.
The Canon 5D Mark IV costs 3,400 dollars. It has a 30.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor and has a DIGIC 6+ Image Processor. It can shoot up to DCI 4K Video at 30 fps however it has a 1.5 times crop factor when shooting 4K. It can be optioned with Canon Log Gamma and offers the same type of AF as the 1DX Mark II, but doesn't perform quite as well. If you have invested in Canon EF mount lenses, its likely you will need to consider this camera. EF lens mount lens owners can get adapters to shoot on a Sony E mount camera, however, the weight of the lenses is going to affect the longevity of the lens mount — a common issue with lens adapter users.
Next up is the Nikon D850 at 3,300 dollars. A superior camera to the 5D Mark IV in many ways, it has a 45.7MP FX-Format BSI CMOS Sensor with an EXPEED 5 Image Processor. It shoots up to 4K UHD at 30 fps but most of the other specs are lower than what the a7R III offers.
Last up is the Panasonic GH5 for 2,000 dollars. Its micro four-thirds image sensor is magnitudes smaller than the full frame of the a7R III. The smaller sensor is typicaly looked down on, but if you consider the price difference in lenses, they are hard to look over. A high performing zoom lens for a micro four-thirds camera is at tops $1,500 dollars. Adding to the price difference, if you buy the lenses considering the 2-times crop factor, then you can get the same usability as a larger sensor. The GH5 also has 5-axis image stabilization, log shooting and a low light performance one stop below the a7R III. The big draw for video shooters is the capability of shooting internal 4:2:2 10-bit 4K and 60 fps in UHD 4K.
Final Thoughts and Recommendations
We enjoyed using the a7R III; the images we got from it look great and Sony fixed the big issues with the prior model. The low light performance gives a shooter much more flexibility than shooting on any other camera in its category, and with the improved battery life, you can shoot without having to fret about power. If you want a high-quality still camera and want it to also shoot good video or visa versa, don’t overlook the Sony a7R III.
- Long battery life
- Feature rich
- Reassignable buttons
- Only one of the SD card slots is SDXC II
The Sony a7R III fixes the major issues of the previous model and adds a couple of new tricks. It’s a great option for videographers and photographers alike.
- Enthusiast filmmakers
- Indie filmmakers
- Social media enthusiasts
- Corporate filmmakers
- Commercial producers
- Travel videographers
Lens Mount: Sony E-Mount
Camera Format: Full-Frame
Pixels: Actual: 43.6 Megapixel, Effective: 42.4 Megapixel
Max Resolution: 7952 x 5304
Aspect Ratio: 3:2, 16:9
Sensor Type / Size: CMOS, 35.9 x 24 mm
File Formats: Still Images: JPEG, RAW; Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, XAVC S; Audio: AC3, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM (Stereo)
Bit Depth: 14-Bit
Memory Card Type: SD, SDHC, SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo, Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo
Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Way
Video Format: 3840 x 2160p at 23.98, 25, 29.97 fps (100 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080p at 100, 120 fps (100 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080p at 100, 120 fps (60 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080p at 23.98, 25, 29.97, 50, 59.94 fps (50 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080p at 50, 59.94 fps (25 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080p at 25, 29.97 fps (16 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264); 1920 x 1080i at 50, 59.94 fps (24 Mb/s AVCHD via H.264); 1920 x 1080i at 50, 59.94 fps (17 Mb/s AVCHD via H.264)
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Video Clip Length: Up to 29 Min
Audio Recording: Built-In Mic: With Video (Stereo); Optional External Mic: With Video (Stereo)
Focus Mode: Automatic (A), Continuous-Servo AF (C), Direct Manual Focus (DMF), Manual Focus (M), Single-servo AF (S)
Autofocus Points: Phase Detection: 399; Contrast Detection: 425
Viewfinder Size: 0.5"
Viewfinder Pixel Count: 3,686,400
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.78x
Diopter Adjustment: -4.0 to +3.0 m
Display Screen: 3" Rear Touchscreen Tilting LCD (1,440,000)
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100-32000 (Extended Mode: 50-102400)
Shutter: 30 - 1/8000 Second , Bulb Mode; 1/4 - 1/8000 Second in Movie Mode
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Auto, Manual, Movie, Program, Shutter Priority
Metering Range: EV -3.0 - EV 20.0
Compensation: -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 or 1/2 EV Steps)
White Balance Modes: Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Custom, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent (Cool White), Fluorescent (Daylight), Fluorescent (Warm White), Incandescent, Shade, Underwater
Buffer/Continuous Shooting: Up to 10 fps at 42.4 MP for up to 76 Frames Connectivity: 1/8" Headphone, 1/8" Microphone, HDMI D (Micro), Micro-USB, USB 3.0, USB Type-C
Wi-Fi Capable: Yes
Battery: 1 x NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 2280 mAh
Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9" / 126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm
Weight: 1.445 lb / 657 g
Chris Monlux has still not found a focal length that he likes more than 24-70mm. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.