Sony A7R III Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Fairly typical saturation levels with improved hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
50
100
200
400
800
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click on a link for a larger version.

Saturation. The Sony A7R III's mean default color saturation is 112.2% at base ISO or in other words, oversaturated by 12.2%. That's fairly typical these days, just a touch higher than average. Mean saturation remains quite stable across up to ISO 1600, after which is begins to gradually drop as sensitivity rises to a minimum of 107.6% at maximum ISO which is still vibrant for such a high sensitivity. Reds, orange, dark blues and dark green are boosted the most but not overly so. Most other colors are pushed just a bit, though cyan, light yellow and light green are slightly undersaturated however not as muted as from the predecessor. Overall, saturation levels are quite vibrant and pleasing to our eyes, 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 A7R III does very well with Caucasian skin tones with improved rendering compared to the A7R II. Flesh tones have a healthy-looking pinkish tint with less of a nudge toward orange or yellow resulting in a more pleasing, natural look. Nice. 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 A7R III shifts cyan toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, but hue shifts are quite minor. (The cyan to blue shift is actually fairly minor and very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors. The minor yellow to green shift combined with its slight desaturation is much improved over the A7R II which produced somewhat dingy-looking yellows.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 4.54 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is now above average, with accuracy only varying slightly at higher ISOs. A nice improvement over the Mark II. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm cast with Auto white balance; Incandescent is pretty good, and Manual is quite good. Less than average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is too warm and orange with the Auto white balance setting, though results here are slightly better than average. Results with the Incandescent setting are quite good and only slightly warm. Results with the Manual setting are quite accurate and improved over its predecessor with much more pleasing skin tones and more neutral colors. The Sony A7R III required no exposure compensation here, while +0.3 EV is about average for this shot. (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.)

Outdoors, daylight
Excellent color, contrast and exposure.

Manual White Balance,
0 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Sony A7R III performed extremely well. No exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is much better than the +0.7 EV average among the cameras we've tested and a slight improvement over the A7R II which required +0.3 EV. Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but despite the bright appearance, the camera blew few highlights and did a great job of holding onto detail in both the shadows and bright highlights, even without the help of DRO. We preferred Manual color balance for our "Portrait" shot, though Auto white balance produced very similar results. Default exposure is very good in our Far-field shot with almost no highlights blown and excellent shadow detail, however there are some dark shadows that can be a little noisy and discolored at the lowest levels. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has very good color. Overall, great performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
~3,700 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, about the same from RAW files.

Strong detail to
~3,700 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW

An in-camera JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns up to just over 3,700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction and to about 3,700 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, though some minor aliasing can be seen starting as low as 3,000 to 3,100 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the 4,000 line limit of our chart in both directions, and the Mark III did a very good job at suppressing false colors; noticeably better than the Mark II. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more resolution here from matching RAW files, but it produced a lot more color moiré and false colors at and above the limits of resolution. 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Remarkable detail and sharpness, with very 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 A7R III captures incredibly sharp, crisp and detailed images overall, and it doesn't generate heavy sharpening halos around edges with high contrast that we often see around the lines and letters of our bottle label crop (above left) from other brands. The A7R III's RAW images don't need a lot of sharpening because of the lack of an optical low pass filter, but Sony really has done an excellent job with the A7R III's JPEG processing with minor improvements compared to it predecessor. 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 fairly mild noise suppression in the darker areas of the mannequin's hair. A number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, though higher contrast strands are distinct, though as you can see some suffer from the "jaggies" and other aliasing artifacts as a result of the sensor having no anti-aliasing filter. Still, outstanding results here. 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 A7R III produces in-camera JPEGs with incredible amounts of crisp detail. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter, so let's have a look at base ISO:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an 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 using default noise reduction with some moderate but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (200%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, the Adobe Camera Raw conversion renders a touch more fine detail than the camera, while higher contrast and saturation makes the in-camera image pop a bit more, but the ACR conversion also reveals a bit more luminance noise in flat areas. You can always turn up the luminance noise reduction (default of zero was used here), though noise levels are already quite low. Also note the moiré patterns in the red-leaf pattern in both images which seem to be a bit more obvious in the camera JPEG.

Bottom line: Although Adobe Camera Raw is able to extract a little more fine detail and produce perhaps a slightly more natural-looking image, there's really very little to complain about the Sony A7R III's JPEG engine here. It provides a great balance of fine, crisp detail, low noise, and low sharpening artifacts straight out of the camera.

ISO & Noise Performance
Excellent high ISO performance for the resolution.

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 32,000 ISO 51,200
ISO 102,400

The Sony A7R III's JPEG images are quite clean and extremely detailed at ISOs 50 though 400, with very little image degradation, and image quality drops in a nice, very gradual manner up to about ISO 3200. ISO 6400 produces a more noticeable drop in image quality with higher luma noise and stronger blurring from noise reduction, however fine detail is still quite good, and chroma noise remains very low. ISO 12,800 shows more luminance noise though it's fine-grained, detail is still pretty good, however chroma noise in the form of subtle yellow and magenta blotching starts to become visible. ISO 25,600 is significantly noisier with noticeable noise reduction artifacts and chroma blotching, however fine detail is fair. The maximum native ISO of 32,000 is of course a bit noisier, but still offers a fair amount of detail. Image quality drops rapidly above ISO 32,000, with images that are very grainy with strong chroma blotching.

Overall, though, the A7R III offers excellent high ISO performance especially considering its resolution and pixel size, with improved colors and skin tones, as well as improved detail retention at higher ISOs compared to its predecessor. 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 switched to 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. Excellent low-light performance, capable of focusing and capturing bright images in near darkness.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Sony A7R III handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above brilliantly. We preferred the default 0 EV exposure here, as the +0.3 EV exposure is a touch too bright while the +0.7 EV exposure is way too bright. Contrast is a little high, but shadow and highlight detail are both very good, with pleasing skin tones. Despite the very bright appearance, few highlights are blown in the model's shirt and face at 0 EV, though the red channel is clipped in some of the flowers as is often the case, and in specular highlights where you'd expect clipping. There are some dark shadows however they're quite clean with lots of detail, though very deep shadows are posterized and discolored as expected. Overall, excellent performance here.

For best results, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible. 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.)

Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison
DRO
Setting:


Auto
(Default)


Off

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

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 A7R 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 and histograms show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links on the right to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, increasing DRO progressively boosts shadows and midtones while leaving highlights essentially intact, though boosting shadows does make noise slightly more visible. The Auto setting did a pretty good job overall, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.

Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. The default Auto setting produced a nicely balanced exposure, despite the harsh lighting. A useful feature that works well.


Outdoor Portrait HDR Comparison
HDR
Setting:


Off
(Default)


Auto

1 EV

2 EV

3 EV

4 EV

5 EV

6 EV

High Dynamic Range. The Sony A7R 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 it 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 histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a decent job, similar to the 3 EV manual setting. 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.

Far-field HDR Comparison

Above, you can see the effect of HDR settings on our Far-field shot. Watch out for ghost images from subject movement during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in some of the shots above. It appears that the A7R III attempts to eliminate them during the merging process, but isn't always 100% successful. Also be aware that the camera has to be perfectly still as even a small amount of movement can result in blurred images as seen in some of the images above. (These were all shot on a sturdy tripod but there was a breeze, and while there was no HDR failed warning given, it appears the A7R III didn't do a good job aligning a few of the images.)

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.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. 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 the Sony A7R III's dynamic range to that of its predecessor, as well as to the Nikon D850, arguably its closest rival.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the A7R Mark III's dynamic range (orange) is higher than the Mark II's at low to medium ISOs. The A7R III's dynamic range at its base ISO setting of 100 is 14.7 EV versus 13.9 EV for the A7R II, a significant improvement if about 0.8 EV. The Mark III's lead closes at ISOs above 1600, producing essentially the same results up to 51,200, though the Mark III regains a slight lead at the highest ISO of 102,400.

The Nikon D850 offers just a slightly higher peak dynamic range of 14.8 EV at its lower base ISO of 64 though you'd be hard-pressed to a difference that small in real-world shots. At ISO settings of 100 through 800, the two rivals are neck-and-neck, however the Sony pulls ahead at higher ISOs, offering about a 0.4 to 0.8 EV advantage over the Nikon.

Bottom line: Excellent DR scores from the Sony A7R III, with improved dynamic range at lower ISOs compared to its predecessor. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A7R III for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
100

2s, f2.8

30s, f2.8

30s, f2.8
ISO
3200

1/15s, f2.8

1s, f2.8

1s, f2.8
ISO
32000

1/160s, f2.8

1/10s, f2.8

1/10s, f2.8

Low Light. The Sony A7R III performed very well in our low light tests, producing usable exposures with very low noise down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) at base ISO of 100. Noise is very low at base ISO and still fairly low at ISO 3200, however as expected, at the highest native ISO of 32,000 luma noise is a little high though quite fine-grained while chroma noise is well-controlled except with noise reduction turned down to a minimum (right-most column).

We found a few hot or bright pixels, particularly in deep shadows or when long exposure noise reduction is turned off (where you'd expect to find them), but nothing out of the ordinary. Banding in deep shadows (fixed pattern noise) is almost nonexistent and we didn't detect any issues with heat blooming.

Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance.

Low-light AF: In the lab, the Sony A7R III's autofocus system was able to focus unassisted on our legacy low-contrast target as low as -5.0 EV with an f/2.8 lens, however it was quite slow at that point and could only achieve focus about 50% of the time. At about -4.5 EV, though, it was quite reliable at achieving focus, which is excellent. With our newer high-contrast AF target, the camera could focus in even lower light, down to about -6.4 EV which is amazing. The A7R III also has an AF assist lamp, which enables it to autofocus in complete darkness as long as the subject is within 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 larger sensor and Hybrid AF, compact system cameras like the Sony A7R III tend to do better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
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.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R 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-A7R 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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