Sony A7R III Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R III|
(35.9mm x 24.0mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 32,000|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 102,400|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 30 sec|
5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
(127 x 96 x 74 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A7R III specifications|
A7R III Summary
The Sony A7R III sees improvements in pretty much every area: physical design features, image quality, speed and performance, as well as video recording capabilities and battery life. The A7R III remains a top-notch camera for pixel-peepers, capturing images with stunning detail and dynamic range, but thanks to inheriting performance and AF improvements from the A9, the camera's also fast and nimble enough for sports and action. The A7R III fixes lots of the shortcomings of the previous two models to become an all-around extremely versatile camera for all types of photographers and video creators.Pros
Fantastic image quality; Improved dynamic range over its predecessor; Very good high ISO performance; Much improved real-world AF performance; Class-leading burst rates, even with RAW; Improved 5-axis in-body image stabilization; Better 4K video quality; 1080/120fps video; Dual card slots; Significantly better battery life.Cons
Expensive; Menus still confusing; UHS-II support only on one card slot; No optical low-pass filter means greater risk of moire; No built-in flash; Buffer clearing still slow despite UHS-II support.Price and availability
Priced at about US$3,200 or CA$4,000 body-only, the A7R III began shipping in the North American market at the end of November 2017.Imaging Resource rating
5.0 out of 5.0
Sony A7R Mark III Review
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Does weather-sealing matter? Watch our test and decide for yourself.
Read more of our "Water Torture Test" by clicking here.
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The Sony A7R III flagship combines high megapixel count with incredible speed and accuracy
When the A9 was announced, many of us were counting the days until Sony announced an updated high-megapixel camera that integrated the outstanding autofocus features of that camera. Well we didn’t have to wait long, and Sony really is trying to impress with their latest flagship, the A7R Mark III.
The A7R Mark III is a 42.4 effective megapixel full-frame camera powered by an Exmor R sensor. Astute readers may notice that the sensor seems to be the same one found in the A7R II.
They would be correct. It is the same sensor. But it’s much, much improved by the technology surrounding it.
Back in 2015 when the A7R II was announced, camera technology was not where it is today. Much has improved, and the A7R III may have a familiar form factor and sensor, but the similarities end there.
For the impatient: A quick summary of A7R III improvements over the A7R II
The A7R Mark III is the new 42.4 megapixel flagship model in Sony's A7 line. For readers wanting just a quick rundown of what's changed since the A7R II, here's a brief bullet-point list of the major changes:
- Revised imaging pipeline designed to improve image quality
- An additional stop of dynamic range (from 14 stops to 15 stops)
- Wider native ISO range
- Faster AF, with 425 CDAF points compared to 25
- Improved IBIS (5.5 stops versus 4.5)
- Multi-shot pixel-shift function
- Full width 4K video up to 30 fps
- Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) support for HDR video
- Full HD video now up to 120 fps
- 10 frames per second continuous shooting, up from 5 fps
- 1.44M-dot WhiteMagic LCD
- Touchscreen with focus point control and new autofocus point joystick
- AF On button
- Higher-res 3.69M-dot Quad VGA OLED EVF
- Improved battery life with bigger battery
- Dual card slots with one UHS-II slot
- USB-C (USB 3.1 Gen 1) port (in addition to multi/micro USB)
- Bluetooth added
- Flash sync terminal
What’s old is new again
The Exmor R sensor is capable of an ISO range of 100 to 32,000 (expandable to 50 and 102,400) and 14-bit RAW image recording. It is also capable of 15-stops of dynamic range, a full stop above its predecessor. It is curious that the same sensor would get more dynamic range in this camera, but it has to do with the surrounding technology. The physical circuit has been redesigned to lower the noise floor and increase the signal to noise ratio. The result is a sensor that is being truly maximized to its potential.
The A7R III has no optical low pass filter, includes five-axis in-body image stabilization, shoots 4K video with full use of the 35mm sensor (while also offering a super 35 crop that is user-selectable), can shoot 76 JPEGs or compressed RAW images in its buffer (28 uncompressed), and the intelligent autofocus operates at fully twice the speed of its predecessor, even during maximum-speed continuous shooting.
Sony A7R III Product Features
And speaking of maximum-speed continuous shooting, that's an area that's seen a dramatic increase, with the A7R Mark III able to shoot at twice the speed of its predecessor, 10 frames/second in any combination of RAW or JPEG modes. It also borrows the A9's impressive trick of a truly live viewfinder display, at least up to 8 frames/second. Beyond 8fps, it switches to last-frame-shot viewing, but at that speed, it's not as big a factor as it would be at slower frame rates.
Sony also added a new feature called Pixel Shift Multi Shooting, which captures four pixel-shifted images containing a total of 169.6 million pixels of data (later composited on the computer rather than in-camera) to create an image with overwhelming resolution, color fidelity and texture reproduction. We've seen sensor-shift super-resolution modes like this, with the Pentax K-1 using essentially the same system, making four shifts to stack up the red, green and blue pixels on top of each other. That way, there's no interpolation needed to render the final full-color images, avoiding a significant cause of resolution loss. (Note, though, that this mode only works with the camera firmly locked down to a tripod and with completely stationary subjects.)
Bigger battery, second card slot, same body size
Sony did what they once said would not be possible if they intended to keep the same body size: changing the battery to the same battery found in the A9, and also adding a second memory card slot. And again, the camera is exactly the same size as the A7R II. The new battery is quoted to have approximately 2.2 times the capacity of its predecessor.
The A7R III takes a note from the A9, offering the same memory card layout: two SD card ports, one UHS-II and the other UHS-I. They also added relay recording (one card takes over after the first fills) out of the box. And you can now access the menus while images are being written to the card.
The viewfinder is a 3.69 million dot Quad VGA OLED TrueFinder, and the rear screen is now a 1.44 million dot WhiteMagic touchscreen LCD, offering touch to focus, selection and even rack focusing in video. Additionally, Sony added a multi-selector (joystick) to the rear of the camera.
The A7R III comes with both micro USB 2.0 and USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C ports. The USB-C and micro USB ports can power the camera while it is operating, from whichever connection is made first. The multi/micro USB connector can be used with a remote control unit or other accessory while the Type-C can be used for the aforementioned power supply as well as PC tethering. Or the camera can be powered via micro USB while shooting tethered via USB-C. Note that the power connection only runs the camera; it won't simultaneously charge the battery. The battery functions as sort of a buffer between the power source and camera, as it won't draw USB power without a battery installed. So the battery isn't charging in this mode, and may eventually run down over the course of a day's use.
Speaking of remote control, the A7R III will not feature the app support found on the A7R II, so you will have to acquire and use a remote intervalometer for time-lapse functionality.
Sony says the camera is dust and moisture resistant, but like all their cameras don't expect this to be 100% weather proofing.
The A7R III will have an optional battery grip that is the same grip as the A9, and the batteries that it takes are also the same.
Downsampled 5K for pristine 4K video footage
Sony did quite a bit to improve the visual quality of their 4K video in the A7R III. To create 4K video, it downsamples 5K footage into a crisp, 4K final video. It uses full pixel readout without binning in Super 35mm mode and has Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) support for an "instant" HDR workflow.
Sony also included their S-LOG3 format for a very wide 14-stops of dynamic range in video. Though not RAW video, this will provide flexible footage for post processing/color grading.
Sony A7R III 4K Video
The A7R III also records at 120 frames per second in 1080p full HD. Unfortunately, it has no slow motion 4K capability, as it only records in 24p and 30p. Though disappointing, it's not totally surprising given that the sensor is the same and the form factor of the body is unchanged (heat sinking again could be an issue).
The camera can capture in both full frame and Super 35, and that preference is user-selectable. Finally, as you can imagine, video autofocus should be dramatically improved thanks to the new autofocusing.
A7R III Image Sensor
As we mentioned above, the A7R III's 42.4-megapixel, full-frame BSI CMOS sensor is in fact same chip as in the Mark II, but now image processing advancements and new circuitry designs have allowed Sony to extract both higher image quality and significantly improved performance from the same 2015 sensor design.
Borrowing the image-processing chain from the A9, a redesigned BIONZ X image processor with improved circuitry has allowed Sony to lower the noise floor and increase the signal-to-noise ratio of the 42MP sensor. Not only does the A7R III, therefore, get a slight bump in native ISO range -- ISO 100 to 32,000 instead of 25,600 -- but also the dynamic range has been improved by a full stop, to 15 stops, compared to the 14 stops the A7R II offered. We're surprised by the increase in performance from the same sensor, but it seems the improved dynamic range performance has been there from the start, waiting for Sony to figure out how to unlock it, so to speak.
The A7R III offers 14-bit compressed and uncompressed RAW capture, in both mechanical shutter and electronic shutter/silent shooting modes. The camera does drop to 12-bit RAWs when shooting in continuous burst mode using the compressed RAW format or when Long Exposure NR is enabled. (Uncompressed RAW file format maintains the full 14-bit data depth.)
We're sure a lot of the online-forum crowd will immediately dismiss the A7R III because it uses an earlier sensor design, but the dramatically enhanced processing ability it inherited from the A9 really makes it an entirely different camera, with capabilities far beyond those of its older sibling. According to Sony, the A7R III delivers the highest picture quality of any Sony camera to date, and has the A9's improved skin tone reproduction as well. Whereas the Sony A9 was all about operational speed and sensor readout performance, the A7R III is focusing squarely on image quality.
A7R Mark III image stabilization and low-vibration shutter
Interestingly, the technical presentation we received on the A7R III devoted a lot of attention to the importance of reducing camera shake and vibration in order to realize the ultimate resolution a camera is capable of. They made the obvious point about mirrorless cameras like the A7R III not having mirror slap to contend with, as in SLR models, but they also noted that the shutter mechanism in the A7R III is an all-new design, with greatly reduced "shutter shock" vibration, thanks to a newly-designed brake mechanism that slows the shutter curtain right at the end of its travel, preventing it from slamming into the bottom of its housing. Shutter shock has long been an issue with many mirrorless cameras, perhaps related to the fact that their shutters have to close and then re-open again during normal mechanical-shutter exposure. Sony claims that the new design of the A7R III shutter will greatly reduce this. (And of course, the A7R III's entirely electronic shutter in its "silent shooting" mode will produce no vibration whatsoever.)
Finally, the A7R III has a standard sensor-shift image stabilization system built in, which is remarkable given the relatively small size of its body. The A7R II had a similar system, but technical advances in the intervening years have produced a stop more stabilization in the A7R III, to a CIPA-standard level of 5.5 stops of shake reduction. (This means, if you'd normally need to shoot at 1/125 second to avoid camera shake, you can get the same results shooting handheld at about 1/3 second, pretty amazing when you consider it.)
Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting mode
Going beyond the 42.4-megapixel resolution, and in a sense even going beyond the resolving power of the latest medium format cameras, the A7R III also introduces, for the first time in a Sony camera, pixel-shift image shooting. Dubbed "Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting," this ultra-high-res shooting mode captures four separate 42MP images, shifted from each other in 1-pixel-shifted increments. Then, on the computer (this can't be done in-camera just yet), the images can be combined for a total pixel-shifted image offering a massive 169.6-megapixels of data! By aligning and stacking up the red, green and blue pixel data from successive exposures, every pixel location has full RGB data, eliminating the need for color interpolation and de-mosaicing.
The technological achievement for the A7R III's pixel-shift mode is pretty astounding. With 42 megapixels on the sensor, the built-in sensor-shift image stabilization system needed an extreme level of accuracy in order to precisely move the sensor (one with a 3-micron pixel-pitch) in 1-pixel increments. Sony says that the positioning accuracy required was on the order of 1 micron (0.001 mm).
Like other manufacturers' implementations of pixel-shift imagery, the A7R III's mode isn't designed for moving subjects, and can't tolerate any camera movement at all; it's designed for stationary shooting of still life, landscapes, architectural and other fixed subjects. Due to the extreme precision required of the sensor positioning system, shooting in pixel-shift mode is rather slow. You can select intervals between the four shots of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15 and 30 seconds. So a complete set of 4 exposures will take anywhere from 4 to 120 seconds, depending on the interval you choose.
Sony A7R III Pixel Shift Multi Shooting
When you factor-in the mirrorless design aspects of the A7R III -- silent shooting mode, no mirror shock and in-body image stabilization -- the "Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting" mode captures some stunning images with excellent fine detail as you can see here.
A7R Mark III Autofocus
Autofocus is an area where the dramatically increased processing power inherited from the A9 made arguably the biggest difference. While A7R III has the same 399 on-sensor phase-detect AF points as the A7R II, the new camera offers vastly more contrast-detect points, going from just 25 to a whopping 425 points. Autofocus speed is said to be two times faster than the A7R II in low-light conditions, and subject tracking is also claimed to have double the performance, including offering the A9's improved Eye AF tracking mode. (Likewise twice as fast as the similar function on the A7R II.)
The A7R III's phase-detect points cover approximately 47% of the sensor area, and when combined with the contrast-detect sensor areas, the total AF coverage is nearly 68% of the frame. AF sensitivity is rated as extending down to -3EV, and like the A9, the A7R III includes a touchscreen, which provides touch AF, focus point dragging and focus racking features.
For the most part, the A7R III offers many of the AF improvements we saw with the flagship A9. The sensor is, of course, different but the processing pipeline is the same. The A9 still has the edge in sheer AF performance thanks to its stacked CMOS sensor with much faster data read-out and additional PDAF points, but the A7R III looks to offer dramatic AF performance improvements compared to its predecessor model. It certainly feels like the A7R III will occupy a unique position in the marketplace, in that it offers both super-high-res image quality, and at the same time has the requisite burst-shooting and autofocus performance to handle sports and wildlife photography as well.
As mentioned earlier, the A7R III offers continuous shooting at up to 10fps with continuous AF in both mechanical and electronic shutter shooting modes. At all but the highest speeds (up to 8fps), it provides the same real-time viewfinder display as the A9 when shooting in electronic shutter mode. Interestingly, even though the viewfinder display is real time, Sony introduced very brief "blinks" of the viewfinder display so you'd be aware that you actually are shooting continuously. These don't interfere with your view of the subject, but the slight flickering is a very useful addition since without it, there's no way to tell if you're actually shooting when you hold down the shutter button in electronic-shutter mode.
At the highest speeds, the camera reverts from a real-time display to one that shows the image just captured, vs what's in front of the lens at the exact moment of exposure. At 10fps, this is a 100ms (0.1 sec) delay. It may not be all that bad, but the extent to which it'll affect your shooting will depend a good bit on your skill in shooting moving subjects. Pros seem more able to handle some amount of delay in the viewfinder display than do amateurs, although they may nonethless find it more irritating.
A7R Mark III Summary
Sony's camera technology has been advancing at an incredible rate in recent years, and the A7R Mark III is an impressive example of them leveraging advances made in one model to extend the life of other bits of their technology. In this case, they took what was already one of the best sensors on the market, combined it with advanced processor from the fastest full-frame camera (the Sony A9) to produce a new hybrid simultaneously having very high resolution and very high performance, particularly in its autofocus system. This fusion of state-of-the-art technologies along with improvements in ergonomics and battery life no doubt results in one of the best full-frame cameras on the market today.
Sony A7R III Price and Availability
Priced at about US$3,200 or CA$4,000 body-only, the A7R III began shipping in the North American market at the end of November 2017.
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Sony A7R III Field Test
A near-perfect masterpiece of a flagship
Overall, it's a masterpiece of a camera with so few flaws that it is obvious Sony listened to its user base and actively engineered a camera that would silence even its loudest critics. Though not perfect, it's the closest Sony has ever come.
Packed with Features
In addition to Sony A7R-series mainstays like 5-axis in-body image stabilization, lightweight body, no optical low-pass filter and a wide ISO range, Sony packed even more features into the Mark III without sacrificing the form factor of the camera (something they seem to care about a great deal).
Sony A7R III Hands-on Comparison
How does the new A7R III stack up against its stiffest competition?
Finally, Sony updated the software to allow access to menus even while the camera is writing to a memory card (outside of accessing Drive settings). This was a major annoyance that has also been amended.
With these adjustments, there is very little one can point to that is holding the A7R III back. With 42 megapixels firing at 10 frames per second with intelligent continuous autofocus, on paper, it looks like it is capable of far more than most cameras currently available.
Sony A7R III Image Quality Comparison
See how A7R Mark III IQ compares to the Mark II and rivals
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...
Sony A7R III Print Quality
Are our recommended print sizes any larger than the A7R II's?
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...
Sony A7R III Conclusion
A triumph of full-frame mirrorless technology
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.
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Sony ILCE-7RM3 camera body
- NP-FZ100 Lithium-ion battery
- BC-QZ1 battery charger
- Body cap
- Eyepiece cup
- Accessory shoe cap
- Cable protector
- Shoulder strap
- Warranty card
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