Sony A7R III Conclusion

A triumph of full-frame mirrorless technology

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Wow, what a camera! Sony's already wowed us with the earlier iterations of the A7R, but for the third go-around, they've managed to out-do themselves. Sony keeps what we love about the A7R series -- high-resolution image quality with excellent dynamic range and high ISO performance -- and yet introduces numerous improvements, many of which have been brought over from their flagship A9. Together, the A7R Mark III is an all-around stunning camera, one whole-heartedly deserving as our pick for 2017's Best Professional Mirrorless Camera and darn-near a tie for our Best Overall Award for Camera of the Year.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM @ 32mm, f/13, 1.6secs, ISO 50
Note: This image has been edited. Please click to view the original.

Amazing image quality & improvements despite same 42MP sensor

Looking at the specs, you'll notice the same 42.4-megapixel full-frame sensor from the A7R II sits inside the A7R III. Despite this, Sony's managed to eke out some more performance from the same silicon thanks to improved circuitry and a faster, more advanced BIONZ X image processor. In particular, Sony claims the dynamic range is improved, and this proved to be the case, especially at lower ISOs. Further, we saw improved high ISO performance as well as better hue accuracy and skin tone reproduction.

Going further on the resolution scale, the A7R III introduces a "Pixel Shift Multi Shooting" high-resolution mode thanks to its improved sensor-shift image stabilization system. It captures four pixel-shifted frames for a whopping 169-megapixels-worth of information, resulting in images with improved detail, more accurate colors and fewer artifacts. Like other cameras with similar high-res capture modes, Pixel Shift Multi Shooting is tricky to use and limited in scope -- subjects need to be perfectly still, and you have to use a tripod to get usable artifact-free results.

Overall, the image quality of the A7R III is outstanding. The camera is capable of capturing stunning images with tons of detail and resolution, making it an ideal camera for landscapes, astrophotography, architecture, portraits, weddings and more. Low ISOs are phenomenal, and high ISO performance is excellent, despite the high megapixel count and the relatively small pixel size.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM @ 26mm, f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO 100
Note: This image has been edited. Please click to view the original.

Big improvements to speed & performance make A7R III highly versatile

When it comes to speed, the A7R III breaks the mold of what is typically seen from high-resolution-centric cameras. Bringing over many of the performance improvements and faster AF features from the flagship A9, the A7R III is not only a high-res camera, but it's a pretty darn capable high-speed one as well. The A7R III captures images, even with RAW, at up to 10fps with C-AF, a big step up from the A7R II which topped-out at 5fps. Buffer depths are generous and more than double the buffer depth of the A7R II.

It's not all great, though, as we still found buffer clearing times to be frustratingly sluggish, despite the faster UHS-II SD card support (which, disappointingly, is only offered on one of the two card slots). Another disappointment is the camera's power-up time, which is still slow and much more sluggish compared to DSLRs.

AF performance also received massive improvements with the Mark III. The A9's autofocus is excellent, and the A7R III is nearly at that level. In real-world shooting, both single-shot and continuous AF performance worked extremely well. The A7R III also brings over the A9's faster Eye-AF tracking mode, which worked very well.

No new video framerates, but 4K quality is better & 120fps now at 1080p

Though the A7R III seems targeted more towards photography, the video capabilities are still very impressive and shouldn't be ignored. The A7R III doesn't offer 4K at 60fps like the Panasonic GH5 and the Canon 1DX Mark II, so you're still capped at 30fps. Nevertheless, the A7R III's 4K video quality looks fantastic and is improved over the Mark II thanks to the way it captures 5K-resolution footage and downsamples it for sharp 4K video. The camera uses the full pixel readout (no binning or line skipping) in its Super 35mm crop mode, and now also supports Hybrid Log Gamma and the S-Log3 profile for excellent dynamic range performance. HD recording is improved as well, now offering 120fps recording at 1080p instead of just 720p as with the A7R II.

Same size & shape but better controls, dual SD cards & battery life

At first glance, the A7R III doesn't look much different from its predecessor. Indeed, it's the same size as the Mark II, but there are some nice improvements to the control layout, including a very helpful joystick control as well as a touchscreen. And despite keeping the same footprint, Sony's managed to squeeze in not only dual SD card slots but also the A9's larger, much longer-lasting battery into the A7R III. Battery life, once a big Achilles heel for the A7R II, is now vastly improved, with a single battery lasting throughout the day despite heavy shooting.

If you enjoyed the handling and size of the A7R II, the Mark III will feel much the same in the hand. Though it'll come down to personal preferences, the relatively compact size of the A7R III can still feel a bit cramped for those with larger hands, especially if you have a big, heavy telephoto lens attached. Similarly, the smaller body can feel a bit unbalanced with these big lenses. In general, though, the grip is contoured and comfortable, and while the button layout has changed slightly, you still have tons of customization options to fit your shooting style.

Like the Mark II, the A7R III is said to have a dust- and moisture-resistant design. However, we still found it to be less sealed than some rivals. Our field tester found dust to be problematic, and in a testing scenario, we did manage to have water enter the camera body (however after a thorough drying, the camera still works). Nevertheless, the build quality still feels excellent and very solid, and the camera would likely withstand some light inclement weather, just don't push it.

On the inside of the camera, Sony has made some improvements to the software. You can now access more menu items while the camera is writing images to the memory card(s), but you're still locked out of some. The menus themselves are still very confusing with pages upon pages of options with many sub-categories. One interesting change is the lack of PlayMemories support, so the add-on apps that worked with the A7R II, for example, are no longer available. A result of that, for example, is that there is, as of now, no longer the ability to have a built-in intervalometer for doing timelapses.

Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM @ 19mm, f/8.0, 1/200sec, ISO 250
Note: This image has been edited. Please click to view the original.

A7R III Review Summary: One of the best cameras of 2017

The A7R III sees improvements in pretty much every area: physical design features, image quality, speed and performance, as well as video recording capabilities. The camera address many of the shortcomings of the Mark II, especially when it comes to speed, performance and battery life. You now not only have a compact, full-frame camera capable of capturing incredible detail, it's also nimble and speedy enough for sports and action -- a rare feat. Since its debut, the A7R-series has consistently earned high praise from us, and the Mark III is no exception. This camera offers a wonderful combination of versatility and quality. There are some drawbacks to the camera, still, but with each generation of A7R, issues feel much more minor. All in all, the Sony A7R III easily earns some top marks in our 2017 Camera of the Year Awards and, of course, gets a definite nod as a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Improved dynamic range over its predecessor
  • Somewhat better high ISO performance
  • Improved hue accuracy and skin tones in JPEGs
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Much improved real-world AF performance with very good subject tracking
  • Can autofocus in very low light
  • Class-leading burst speed up to 10 fps (8 fps with live view)
  • Generous buffer depths (more than double A7R II's)
  • Improved 5-axis in-body image stabilization (5.5 stops, up from 4.5)
  • 4K video at 30p with full pixel readout
  • Hybrid Log-Gamma and S-Log3 included
  • Full HD video up to 120p
  • Much improved battery life
  • New AF joystick and AF On button
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Added USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) port
  • New Pixel-Shift resolution mode
  • Large higher-res EVF
  • LCD is now a touchscreen
  • In-camera charging and power via USB
  • Can now shoot best quality JPEGs with RAW
  • 14-bit uncompressed RAW now supported in continuous mode and with e-shutter
  • 500K-cyle low vibration shutter mechanism
  • Menus can be accessed while buffer is clearing
  • Excellent external controls with lots of customization
  • Movie record button moved to a better location
  • Multi Interface Shoe allows for various smart accessories and adapters
  • Flash sync terminal
  • Only one card slot is UHS-II compatible
  • Buffer clearing can still be slow even with fast UHS-II cards
  • Sluggish power-up compared to DSLRs
  • Still no lossless compressed RAW option
  • No built-in intervalometer & no PlayMemories support to add this and other features
  • Native E-Mount lens selection not as good as DSLR rivals (yet)
  • In-camera HDR mode sometimes didn't detect blurred images due to slight camera movement
  • Pixel Shift Multi-Shooting requires processing on the computer for final image
  • Pixel Shift mode requires absolutely static subjects, otherwise composite images display motion artifacts
  • No 4K/60p framerate
  • Top shutter speed still 1/8000s with electronic shutter
  • Menu system still feels confusing
  • Dust- and moisture-sealing not as robust as some competing cameras
  • Small body size can feel unbalanced with larger, telephoto lenses, but battery grip or grip extension is available
  • Tilt-only LCD isn't as versatile as a tilt/swivel type
  • No built-in flash


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