Sony A7R III Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Sony A7R Mark III's JPEG image quality to its predecessor, the A7R Mark II, as well as to its A-mount sibling, the Sony A99 Mark II. We've also compared the A7R III to a couple of high-resolution DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, namely the Canon 5DS R and Nikon D850, as well as to Fuji's GFX 50S for a comparison to a current-generation medium-format camera. We've also included a single-shot to Pixel-Shift mode comparison at base ISO.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Sony A7R III, Sony A7R II, Sony A99 II, Canon 5DS R, Fuji GFX and Nikon D850 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Sony A7R III to any camera we've ever tested!

Sony A7R III vs Sony A7R II at Base ISO

Sony A7R III at ISO 100
Sony A7R II at ISO 100

Here we compare the A7R III to its predecessor, the A7R II, which uses the same back-illuminated 42.4-megapixel full-frame sensor but with improved circuitry and processing. As you can see, the A7R III images appear a little crisper and more contrasty overall, and fine detail is rendered better in the mosaic crop and in our troublesome red-leaf swatch. Both show minimal sharpening artifacts but unsurprisingly, both also show some aliasing in the form of moiré patterns. Color is also improved from the Mark III, with slightly higher saturation in reds and yellows and less of a yellow to green shift.

Sony A7R III vs Sony A99 II at Base ISO

Sony A7R III at ISO 100
Sony A99 II at ISO 100

Here we compare the mirrorless E-mount A7R Mark III to its A-mount sibling with the same resolution, the A99 Mark II SLT camera. At base ISO, detail, sharpness and aliasing appear nearly identical, however the A7R III does exhibit improved color over the older A99 II.

Sony A7R III vs Canon 5DS R at Base ISO

Sony A7R III at ISO 100
Canon 5DS R at ISO 100

With 50 megapixels and no optical low-pass filter like all these cameras, the Canon 5DS R does best the Sony A7R III in terms of resolution on paper. And as you'd expect, at base sensitivity the Canon DSLR does indeed resolve a bit more detail than its mirrorless Sony rival. The A7R III image does however appear crisper with higher contrast, and detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch appears much better defined. Colors are more vibrant from the Sony as well, though Canon's are still slightly more accurate overall. (Note that the 5DS R was shot with Fine Detail Picture Style, and thus shows improved rendering of fine detail along with less obvious sharpening halos than the default Standard Picture Style, but with lower contrast and higher apparent noise.)

Sony A7R III vs Fujifilm GFX at Base ISO

Sony A7R III at ISO 100
Fujifilm GFX at ISO 100

The 51-megapixel medium format Fuji GFX 50S readily out-resolves Sony's 42-megapixel full-frame A7R III mirrorless, though when framed vertically like this, the 4:3 aspect ratio Fuji has a larger advantage over the 3:2 Sony in terms of resolving power than their relative pixel counts would imply. The Fuji exhibits lower chroma noise in the shadows, but the Sony does a better job at reproducing the offset printing coloration in the mosaic crop. Sharpening halos are practically nonexistent from the Sony, but they aren't very obtrusive from the GFX. Both cameras produce aliasing artifacts but the difference in resolution happens to make moiré patterns more visible from the Sony in our red-leaf swatch. The A7R III renders much higher contrast in our red-leaf swatch than the GFX 50S , however overall color is warmer and more accurate from the Fuji.

Sony A7R III vs Nikon D850 at Base ISO

Sony A7R III at ISO 100
Nikon D850 at ISO 64

Here we compare the 45.7-megapixel Nikon D850 to the 42.4-megapixel Sony A7R III. Although the D850 has slightly higher resolution, both resolve very similar amounts of detail and produce very crisp images, however the Sony image contains fewer sharpening halos due to its more sophisticated sharpening algorithm. Contrast is noticeably higher from the Sony in our tricky red-leaf swatch as well. Both produce good color, however the Nikon's is a bit warmer overall.

Sony A7R III vs Sony A7R II at ISO 1600

Sony A7R III at ISO 1600
Sony A7R II at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, both siblings produce similar noise levels, however the Mark III holds onto more detail in some areas such as our tricky red-leaf swatch, indicating a change in Sony's area-specific noise reduction algorithm. Where the Mark II blurs away most of the fine thread pattern as if noise, the Mark III holds onto much more of the thread pattern. However the Mark III produces some unwanted artifacts in the form of very dark or black individual or small groups of pixels, which results in a somewhat "peppered" effect. Chroma noise in the shadows is higher from the Mark III as are noise reduction artifacts in flatter areas, producing a slightly more "crystalline" noise pattern in our textured background. Color continues to be better from the newer model.

Sony A7R III vs Sony A99 II at ISO 1600

Sony A7R III at ISO 1600
Sony A99 II at ISO 1600

The A7R III produces a slightly crisper image than the A99 II here at ISO 1600, though the A-mount sibling holds onto more fine detail in the red-leaf pattern, while producing fewer noise reduction artifacts. Color remains better from the A7R III.

Sony A7R III vs Canon 5DS R at ISO 1600

Sony A7R III at ISO 1600
Canon 5DS R at ISO 1600

The Canon 5DS R still captures marginally better detail at ISO 1600, but it produces a noisier image. The Sony image is cleaner, crisper and with more "pop", however its noise reduction processing generates slightly unnatural artifacts in flatter areas while the Canon's noise "grain" is more consistent and film-like. The Sony's rendering of the red-leaf pattern appears sharper and more detailed while the Canon's is soft and blurred, however the Canon didn't produce those objectionable dark pixels. Colors continue to be more saturated from the Sony.

Sony A7R III vs Fujifilm GFX at ISO 1600

Sony A7R III at ISO 1600
Fujifilm GFX at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, the Fuji GFX continues to easily out-resolve the Sony A7R III as expected. Both show similar levels of luminance noise however the Fuji's grain pattern is a bit more regular and film-like, and it leaves behind much lower chroma noise. The Sony still shows much higher contrast in our tricky red-leaf swatch along with more obvious moiré patterns, however the Fuji's low-contrast rendering doesn't suffer from the Sony's peppered look.

Sony A7R III vs Nikon D850 at ISO 1600

Sony A7R III at ISO 1600
Nikon D850 at ISO 1600

A tough call here. The Nikon D850 image is softer with fine detail that appears slightly smeared, yet it contains more obvious sharpening halos around high-contrast edges. But the Nikon's low-contrast edges are better defined (ie., the bottle edge), luma noise looks more natural and film-like, chroma noise is lower, there's no peppered effect in the red-leaf fabric, and colors are warmer than the Sony A7R III.

Sony A7R III vs Sony A7R II at ISO 3200

Sony A7R III at ISO 3200
Sony A7R II at ISO 3200

Again, the Mark III image is a bit sharper and more detailed though noise reduction and sharpening artifacts are a little more evident. Detail in the leaves of our troublesome red-leaf swatch is a bit better from the Mark II as remnants of the fine thread pattern interfere with the leaf pattern from the Mark III, however the unwanted black pixels seen at ISO 1600 are all but gone. Color is still more pleasing from the Mark III.

Sony A7R III vs Sony A99 II at ISO 3200

Sony A7R III at ISO 3200
Sony A99 II at ISO 3200

Here at ISO 3200, luma noise is a little higher from A99 II but it also appears a bit more consistent and natural-looking in flatter areas. Chroma noise reduction is lower from the A7R III allowing it to hold onto more coloration in our mosaic crop, yet it's the A99 II that holds onto a bit more detail in our red-leaf swatch. Color continues to be better from the A7R III.

Sony A7R III vs Canon 5DS R at ISO 3200

Sony A7R III at ISO 3200
Canon 5DS R at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, the Sony A7R III produces a much cleaner, more contrasty image than the Canon, though the 5DS R's noise "grain" remains more consistent and natural-looking in flatter areas. However the Sony does a better job at rendering fine detail than the Canon in most areas, including in the red-leaf fabric, while the Canon's anti-noise processing blurs and smudges fine detail while struggling to keep higher noise levels in check.

Sony A7R III vs Fujifilm GFX at ISO 3200

Sony A7R III at ISO 3200
Fujifilm GFX at ISO 3200

Again, the Fuji GFX bests the Sony A7R III in this comparison at ISO 3200, producing a cleaner, crisper, more detailed image with lower chroma noise and fewer noise reduction artifacts. The Sony continues to produce better contrast in our troublesome red-leaf swatch, however subtle detail is more distorted than the Fuji's.

Sony A7R III vs Nikon D850 at ISO 3200

Sony A7R III at ISO 3200
Nikon D850 at ISO 3200

The Nikon D850 image is softer and less detailed here at ISO 3200, but like we saw at ISO 1600, luma noise looks more natural and film-like, chroma noise is lower, low-contrast edges are better defined, and colors are warmer than from the Sony A7R III. Overall, we'd say the Sony comes out ahead here, though it's really up to personal preference.

Sony A7R III vs. Sony A7R II, Sony A99 II, Canon 5DS R, Fujifilm GFX, Nikon D850

ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
A99 II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 64
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it too. Here, we can see the A7R III shows minor improvements over the A7R II, in both color and contrast. Performance is very similar to the Sony A99 II, but with improved color. The Canon 5DS R does resolve more detail at base ISO, but higher noise and a drop in contrast make it lag behind the rest of the pack at higher ISOs. Unsurprisingly, the Fuji GFX comes out ahead here in terms of detail. Contrast isn't quite as good, though, and sharpening halos are a little more evident than from the Sonys or Canon. The Nikon D850 produces slightly better detail and higher contrast than the Sony A7R III, however sharpening halos are the most visible in this comparison.


Sony A7R III Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting

The Sony A7R Mark III offers a new "Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting" mode in which the camera takes a series of four images while moving the sensor by one pixel location between exposures to capture full color information for each pixel. This eliminates the need to use Bayer color interpolation and demosaicing, producing an image with the same native pixel count but with greater detail and fewer artifacts. (Unlike the Olympus and Panasonic systems which make sub-pixel sensor shifts, taking eight shots and producing an image with a higher pixel count than the sensor.)

Like most implementations, the A7R III's pixel-shift mode isn't designed for moving subjects, and can't tolerate any camera movement either; it's designed for stationary shooting of still life, landscapes, architectural and other static subjects. The Sony A7R III can't combine the images in-camera like other cameras can, though. Instead, the A7R III just saves four RAW files and you can use Sony's free Image Edge software to process them into a composite JPEG (or TIFF) on a Windows or Mac PC, which we have done below in a base ISO comparison using default software and camera settings.

(You can download the four RAW images here: A7R3hSLI000100_PSM0.ARW, A7R3hSLI000100_PSM1.ARW, A7R3hSLI000100_PSM2.ARW, and A7R3hSLI000100_PSM3.ARW. Sony's software can also generate a single ARQ RAW file ("Q" for "Quad" we assume), which you can download here: A7R3hSLI000100_PSM.ARQ. It's about the same size as the four ARW files, but it's more convenient than dealing with separate files.)

Sony A7R III Single shot vs Pixel-shift mode at Base ISO

Single-Shot Image at ISO 100
Pixel-Shift Image at ISO 100

As you can see, the pixel-shift image crops on the right contain much finer and better defined detail than the single-shot images straight from the camera on the left. Also notice the moiré patterns in the red-leaf fabric and green bottle label are no longer present with pixel-shift mode. However, the default software settings used don't replicate the camera's superior sharpening as halos are quite evident in the pixel-shift shot, and noise also appears higher, exacerbated by the less sophisticated and more aggressive sharpening. You can however adjust sharpening, noise reduction and a host of other settings in Sony's software. Bottom line: The Sony A7R III's new pixel-shift mode takes the cameras's already outstanding image quality and ratchets it up a big notch, at least for static subjects taken on a sturdy tripod.

Note: Our friends at LibRaw LLC, the makers of RawDigger, FastRawViewer and LibRaw API Library now offer SonyPixelShift2DNG, a utility that quickly and easily converts Sony's pixel-shift RAW files to DNG files so that you can use popular raw converters such as Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom, Capture One and others to process the A7R III's high-res files. Download it here!


Sony A7R III Print Quality Analysis

Excellent, detail-rich print up to 30 x 40 inches all the way to ISO 1600; Pleasing 11 x 14 inch prints up to ISO 12,800; Usable 4 x 6 inch prints up to ISO 51,200.

ISOs 50 through 1600, amazingly, all look fantastic, with an incredible level of sharp, fine detail and vibrant, pleasing colors. Despite the range from extended low ISO 50 up to a mid-range ISO 1600, the level of noise remains extremely low, to the point of not impacting print quality. ISOs 400 to 1600, at each ISO step, show a very subtle increase in shadow noise, but it's such a minimal level of noise that it doesn't impact recommended print size. Within this ISO range, prints look excellent up to 30 x 40 inches, the maximum print size we test.

ISO 3200 images display more noticeable noise in shadow areas. Overall, detail is still very nice up to this large print size, but noise is having an effect, limiting print size up to a still-respectable 20 x 30 inches. For less critical applications or with careful post-processing, a 24 x 36 inch could work at this ISO.

ISO 6400 prints top-out at 13 x 19 inches. Despite the high ISO, noise is amazingly well controlled. Noise is, of course, softening some detail to a degree, but at this print size, there is still a lot of sharp, crisp detail. In fact, a 16 x 20 inch print could work for less critical applications or with careful post-processing.

ISO 12,800 images definitely show the A7R III has improved JPEG processing compared to the A7R II; lots of detail and pleasing colors. Prints at this ISO top-out at 11 x 14 inches, and there's more fine detail and less noise compared to prints of the same size from the A7R II.

ISO 25,600 prints just pass muster at 8 x 10 inches. There's still a lot of fine detail, but noise is quite visible in the shadows and its definitely reducing detail in the image overall. A 5 x 7 inch print looks very nice, however.

ISO 32,000 images, at the A7R III's new maximum native ISO, look very similar to the previous ISO in terms of detail, but with just a hint more shadow and other background noise; a bit more noise than we're comfortable with in an 8 x 10. Print size therefore maxes-out at 5 x 7 inches. An 8 x 10 might work for less critical applications, though.

ISO 51,200 prints might work for a 5 x 7 for some less critical applications, and the overall image quality is much improved compared to the A7R II, especially when it comes to more pleasing colors, but we're more comfortable calling it at 4 x 6 inches for this ISO. Images are quite noisy and pretty soft overall to consider anything larger acceptable.

ISO 102,400 images, similar to the predecessor, are simply too noisy and soft to consider usable for print-making. A 4 x 6 inch print may work for casual prints or less critical purposes, but this ISO is best avoided if you can help it.

The Sony A7R-series have displayed excellent print quality performance in the past, and the new A7R III is no exception, even making PQ improvements here over the Mark II. Despite keeping the same 42-megapixel full-frame sensor as the A7R II, the new Mark III design features updated circuitry and also uses the A9's newer BIONZ X image processor. Not only is dynamic range improved, but JPEG noise performance is also improved, the latter of which we definitely see come into play with the camera's print quality. For starters, the A7R III gives photographers the ability to create massive prints, up to 30 x 40 inches -- the largest we print for our tests -- all the way up to ISO 1600! As ISO sensitivity rises within this range, we do see very subtle increases in shadow noise, but it's so minor that it doesn't impact print sizes. Even as the ISO increases further, the A7R III displays an impressive balance of fine detail resolving power while offering very well-controlled noise. We observed larger print sizes at nearly every higher ISO level from the Mark III compared to its predecessor. The A7R III allows for a usable 8 x 10 inch print all the way up to ISO 25,600, which is thoroughly impressive. ISO 51,200 is certainly a bit on the noisy side but still provides decent image quality for an acceptable 4 x 6-inch print, while the maximum ISO 102,400 is still too noisy and soft for good prints.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

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.)


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