Sony A7 III Exposure
Sony A7 III Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical mean saturation levels with good hue accuracy.
Saturation. The Sony A7 III's mean default color saturation is 110.8% at base ISO or in other words, oversaturated by 10.8%. That's about average these days. As usual, dark reds and dark blues are boosted the most, but not as much as we often see. Most other colors are pushed just a bit, though yellow, light green and cyan are slightly undersaturated which isn't uncommon. Overall, saturation levels are pleasing and you can of course tweak saturation to your liking. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. The Sony A7 III did a nice job with Caucasian skin tones when using Manual white balance in the lab, with Auto white balance producing just slightly warmer results. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy-looking pinkish tint, though darker areas are nudged slightly toward orange. Still, pretty good results here. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. Like many cameras, the Sony A7 III pushes cyan toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, but most shifts are actually quite minor. The yellow toward green shift combined with its desaturation does make some yellows look slightly dingy, though, and the cyan toward blue shift is so slight that blue skies my not appear as deep blue as from other cameras. With an average "delta-C" color error of 4.83 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is slightly better than average. Hue is "what color" the color is.
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm color with default Auto white balance; Incandescent is pretty good, and Manual is very good. Better than average default exposure.
|Auto White Balance (Default)
|Auto White Balance (White Priority)
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under typical incandescent lighting, color balance was a bit too warm and orange with the default Auto white balance setting, although with the White Priority option set, color balance was pretty good, just ever-so-slightly magenta. Results with the Incandescent setting were pretty good, though slightly yellow. The Manual setting was the most neutral and accurate. The Sony A7 III required no exposure compensation here, while most cameras need +0.3 EV for this shot, so exposure accuracy was excellent here. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)
Very good handling of contrast, color, and exposure in harsh lighting.
|Manual White Balance,
The Sony A7 III performed very well in harsh simulated sunlight. +0.3 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is less than the average amount required from the cameras we've tested. Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera did a great job of holding onto bright highlights and detail in the shadows, even without the help of Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) feature. We preferred Manual white balance though, as Auto white balance produced skin tones that were a touch warmer and yellow There are some very deep shadows, however detail is quite good and noise is well-controlled. Overall, great performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.
~2,800 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, about the same from RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW
An in-camera best quality JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns up to just over 2,800 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,800 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, though some slightly odd-looking artifacts in the form of brighter line segments occurred near the resolution limit (perhaps a result of embedded PDAF pixels?). Some may argue for higher numbers, but lines begin to merge here and aliasing artifacts start to occur much earlier, at between 2,100 and 2,200 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,500 lines in both directions. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more resolution here from a RAW file, but it produced a lot more color moiré both before and past the resolution limits, as it often the case. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Excellent sharpness, with few sharpening artifacts. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.
|Excellent definition of
high-contrast elements with very low sharpening artifacts.
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Sony A7 III captures very sharp, crisp images overall, and it doesn't generate heavy sharpening haloes around edges with high contrast that we often see from other manufacturers, such as around the lines and letters of our olive oil bottle label crop (above left). Excellent results here. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows relatively mild noise suppression in the darker areas of the mannequins's hair. Only a relatively small number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, while higher contrast strands remain distinct. Excellent results here as well. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Sony A7 III produces in-camera JPEGs with sharp, crisp detail. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter, so let's have a look:
In the table above, we compare a best quality in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 via DNG Converter 9.12 with some moderate but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (300%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).
As you can see, the Adobe Camera Raw conversion does contain slightly more fine detail, though the difference is quite minor here at base ISO, and the camera produces higher contrast which give JPEGs better "pop." (You can of course dial up the contrast in ACR to match.) Noise is a bit higher with ACR's default noise reduction, though that's usually the case.
Bottom line: The Sony A7 III's JPEG engine does a great job, producing crisp, detailed images here at base ISO without introducing sharpening artifacts, however discerning users will likely still want to shoot in RAW mode to make the most out of the A7 III's excellent sensor, especially at higher ISOs.
ISO & Noise Performance
Excellent high ISO performance.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 50||ISO 100||ISO 200|
|ISO 400||ISO 800||ISO 1600|
|ISO 3200||ISO 6400||ISO 12,800|
|ISO 25,600||ISO 51,200||ISO 102,400|
The Sony A7 III's in-camera JPEG images are very clean and detailed at ISOs 50 through 800, with almost no degradation in image quality as ISOs increase within this range. ISOs 1600 through 12,800 show a nice, gradual decline in image quality, well-controlled chroma noise, and a good amount detail left at 12,800 for such a high ISO. At ISO 25,600, luma noise starts to become prominent, noise reduction artifacts are more noticeable, chroma noise becomes visible, and image quality drops off more rapidly from there, with the top two ISOs showing a lot of grain and chroma blotching.
Still, excellent high ISO performance for its class, with area-specific noise reduction that hangs onto more high-frequency detail and produces fewer artifacts around high-contrast edges than some prior Sony models.
As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We used to shoot this image at f/4, however depth of field became so shallow with larger, high-resolution sensors that it was difficult to keep important areas of this shot in focus, so we have since started shooting at f/8, the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Excellent highlight and shadow detail in harsh lighting. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|0 EV||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
Sunlight. The Sony A7 III handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the +0.3 EV exposure here, as the default 0 EV exposure is a touch dim in the face while the +0.7 EV exposure had too many blown highlights. Contrast is a little high, but shadow and highlight detail are both excellent. Despite the bright appearance, only a few highlights are blown in the mannequin's shirt and white flowers at +0.3 EV, though the red channel is clipped in some of the flowers as is often the case, as well as in specular highlights where you'd expect clipping. There are some dark shadows however they're quite clean and detailed, though very deep shadows are posterized and discolored as expected. Overall, excellent performance here.
See below for results with Dynamic Range Optimization and High Dynamic Range features enabled.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
|Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection Off
|Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection On
Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Sony A7 III has the ability to detect faces (up to 8 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked as expected in Aperture Priority at f/8, producing a brighter image than without it by reducing the shutter speed from 1/60 to 1/50s. Full Auto mode also performed better than Aperture Priority without face detection. It selected a larger aperture of f/4 while maintaining a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/160s, and automatically applied DRO (see below) to reduce overall contrast.
Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony A7 III. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only available for JPEG files.
The above thumbnails show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with +0.3 EV exposure compensation. Mouse over the links on the right to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails, increasing DRO progressively boosts shadows and midtones while leaving highlights essentially intact, though oddly Level 1 was overexposed. The Auto setting produced a much better overall exposure compared to the exposure without DRO, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A7 III's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed, one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically. Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined in-camera with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with compressed tonal range. The camera then saves a single composite image, as well as the nominally exposed image. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If the camera can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should not move or even blink, so it's not really intended for portraits. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures.
Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a pretty good job, with an effect somewhere between the 2 and 3 EV manual settings. The higher the manual setting, the more highlights were toned-down and shadows opened up, but as you can see higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results with this subject.
Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode). While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.
In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.).Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.
Here, we compare Sony A7 III dynamic range to its predecessor, the A7 Mark II, and to the Nikon D750, which is also a 24-megapixel full-frame ILC that is similarly priced.
As you can see, the Sony A7 III's peak dynamic range is similar to that of the Nikon D750 at base ISO, with the Sony just edging the Nikon out at 14.65 vs 14.53 EV, a difference that would not be discernible in real-world shots. The Sony however pulls ahead of the Nikon after ISO 200, offering up to almost a 1.25 stop advantage at higher ISOs.
The Sony A7 III offers significantly better dynamic range than the A7 II across the ISO range, with about a 1-stop advantage at base ISO, which then varies between about 0.5 stop to over 1.5 stops over the A7 II at higher ISOs.
Bottom line, excellent dynamic range for a full-frame camera, with significant improvement over its predecessor across the board. In fact, it's the best scoring 24-megapixel full-frame sensor to date. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A7 III for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
In the lab, the Sony A7 III's autofocus system was able to focus unassisted on our legacy low-contrast target down to -2.8 EV with an f/2.8 lens, which is good for the class. However the Sony A7 III was able to autofocus on our newer high-contrast target down to about -4.8 EV, which is excellent. (Sony rates the A7 III's low-light AF sensitivity at -3.0 EV but at f/2.0 which is a stop faster than the lens we test with, so it appears the A7 III does meet Sony's spec even with our low-contrast legacy target.) With the Sony A7 III's AF assist lamp enabled, the camera is able to autofocus in complete darkness if the subject is in range and has sufficient contrast.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to its hybrid AF system and large sensor, the Sony A7 III autofocuses in extremely low light, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Excellent, high-quality prints up to at least 30 x 40 inches up to ISO 800; Very good prints up to 13 x 19 inches at ISO 6400; Usable 5 x 7 inch print at ISO 51,200.
ISO 1600 prints show very well-controlled noise, although it's subtly noticeable in shadows, and there is some very slight detail loss due to noise reduction. That said, fine detail overall looks excellent and colors are nicely saturated, letting us easily print all the way up to 24 x 36 inches. With careful post-processing, 30 x 40-inch print may work at this ISO, as well.
ISO 3200 images display stronger noise, which reduces fine detail to some degree, though not by a severe amount. We're going to call it at 16 x 20 inches for this ISO. However, a 20 x 30-inch print is probably usable with careful post processing or for less critical applications.
ISO 6400 prints top-out at 13 x 19-inches. At this ISO, we begin to see more significant noise, especially in the shadows, and it definitely causes a reduction in fine detail.
ISO 12,800 images show stronger noise and detail throughout certainly takes a hit, but up to 8 x 10 inches, prints look very good with pleasing detail, contrast and colors.
ISO 25,600 prints work well up to 5 x 7 inches. Images at this high sensitivity display rather strong noise and signs of noise reduction processing, which together take a toll on fine detail.
ISO 51,200 images look quite similar to the previous ISO, and we're happy with print quality also up to 5 x 7 inches.
ISO 102,400 prints are pretty tricky. This first expanded ISO level is certainly very noisy, and there's strong noise reduction occurring here, which significantly degrades detail and overall image quality. A 4 x 6-inch print looks okay, however, and you likely could get away with it for less critical applications, but this ISO is simply too noisy for our taste to consider it acceptable for "good" printmaking.
ISO 204,800 images are, unfortunately, much too noisy and lacking in fine detail for us to consider them usable for quality prints.
Much like Sony's flagship 24MP A9 mirrorless camera, the A7 III offers fantastic results with it comes to print quality. Sporting a similar imaging pipeline to the A9, the Sony A7 III is capable of amazingly-large 30 x 40-inch prints from expanded low ISO 50 all the way up to ISO 800. The largest size we print at is 30 x 40 inches, so up to ISO 800, you're really limited by how much you want to push the resolving power of the A7 III's 24-megapixel sensor. At 30 x 40 inches there is a slight bit of pixelation if you look closely, but given the viewing distance for such large prints, you're not likely to have any issues with perceived quality. As the ISO rises, the A7 Mark III displays very well-controlled noise, which results in rather large prints despite the rising sensitivity. At ISO 6400, for example, the Sony A7 III offers a pleasing 13 x 19-inch print and even manages a usable 5 x 7-inch print all the way up to ISO 51,200. The A7 III's two expanded ISOs, however, are best avoided for prints, as they are simply too noisy to produce usable prints.
About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"
The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.
See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.
*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 III Photo Gallery .
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Alpha ILCE-A7 III with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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