Sony A7S III Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A7S III|
(35.6mm x 23.8mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||80 - 102,400|
|Extended ISO:||40 - 409,600|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 30 sec|
5.1 x 3.8 x 2.7 in.
(129 x 97 x 70 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A7S III specifications|
Sony A7S III Preview -- First Impressions
by William Brawley
Preview posted: 07/28/2020
The day is finally here, Sony fans! After what seemed like ages, filled with numerous rumors and speculation on product delays, the successor to the popular Sony A7S II is here at last. Designed for outstanding video performance as well as low-light shooting, the new Sony A7S III aims to be the high-end full-frame hybrid stills and video camera for high-end enthusiasts and professionals looking for a high-quality full-frame 4K video camera in a compact form factor.
The long-awaited Sony A7S III, like its predecessors, serves as the more video-centric model of the full-frame Alpha series, and sports not only a more specialized image sensor with just 12MP of resolution but also some unique video-friendly design features, such as a fully articulated LCD touchscreen (finally) and an insanely high-res EVF. Plus, the internal design of the camera is said to be optimized for improved heat dissipation, allowing for extended video recording time, even in high-res and high-speed video modes.
Interestingly, unlike some other competing full-frame mirrorless cameras, such as the Canon R5 with its 8K video capabilities or the Panasonic S1H with 6K recording, the new Sony A7S III is sticking with "just" 4K video. Of course, Sony has video cameras capable of shooting in 8K (CineAlta F65) and 6K (VENICE), but for the market and the form factor in which the A7S III sits, Sony wants to make the best possible 4K-shooting full-frame mirrorless camera in terms of quality and reliability. According to Sony, the A7S III is "purpose-built" for 4K video, from the sensor design to the thermal properties. Instead of chasing specs or charging into what feels like a new megapixel race, Sony focused their efforts for the A7S III into making the best, most versatile 4K camera.
Of course, the A7S III also shoots stills, and the camera appears quite capable in that regard as well. The camera's low-resolution sensor allows for excellent low-light shooting and high ISO performance and expansive dynamic. The A7S III also offers high-performance autofocus features, deep buffer depths and improved color reproduction, among other features.
Let's dive on in to get the full rundown of the eagerly anticipated Sony A7S III...
Key Features & Specs
- New 12MP full-frame Exmor R image sensor with back-illuminated structure
- New BIONZ XR image processor
- ISO range: 80-102,400 (native); Expanded: 40-409,600
- 15+ stops of dynamic range in movie shooting (S-Log3)
- 10fps burst with C-AF, with up to 1000 RAW+JPEG buffer
- 759 phase-detect AF points with Real-time Eye AF (human & animal)
- 4K video up to 120fps with full pixel readout and no pixel binning
- Full HD up to 240fps
- 4:2:1 10-bit available in all recording modes
- 3 video formats, including new XAVS-S I All-Intra with up to 600Mbps Bitrate
- 4Kp60 16-bit RAW video out via HDMI Type A port
- Dual multi-format card slots: CFexpress Type A + UHS-II
- 9.44 mil-dot QXGA EVF
- Articulated, vari-angle LCD touchscreen
- Redesigned menus, with full touch functionality
- Dust- and moisture-resistant construction
- New anti-dust system for improved sensor dust removal
- Price: $3,499.99 USD and $4,799.99 CAD
- Availability: September 2020
Design & Handling
From an initial glance you'd be hard-pressed to tell the new A7S III apart from Sony's other latest-generation Alpha 7 series cameras. Unsurprisingly, the A7S III follows the same overall design, size, build and control layout as the rest of Sony's full-frame Alpha cameras. The camera features the same sleek, chiseled styling as the A7R IV and A7 III models and the deep, contoured handgrip. The layout of the controls and buttons, too, are nearly identical, with easy-to-reach front and rear control dials, a large joystick control and a rear-facing multi-directional scroll wheel as well as locking PASM mode and exposure compensation dials.
One notable modification on the A7S III, however, is the relocation of the movie record button to the top of the camera. Replacing, or at least taking over the default functionality of the "C1" custom function button seen on the other A7/R-series cameras, the revised movie record button is, arguably, in a much more convenient location given this model's focus on video shooting; it puts it right within easy reach of your index finger. It's a very pleasing upgrade, too, compared to the small, easy-to-bump movie record button on the A7S II, which was located on the outer side of the rear thumb grip area.
In terms of exterior physical design features, the Sony A7S III provides two major upgrades and usability improvements compared to the previous generation model. Firstly, the rear LCD gets a significant and much-welcomed revamp. The A7S III finally gets an articulated vari-angle LCD screen, with full front-facing capabilities, a first for a Sony full-frame Alpha camera. Given the video-centric nature of this model, an articulated screen is a notable usability improvement for video shooters. Not only is it easier to maneuver the screen for visibility while shooting in tight situations or on tripods, but it also allows for much easier self-recording and handheld video recording.
Another significant upgrade for the A7S III is its electronic viewfinder. Sony cameras already have a reputation for fantastic EVFs, particularly the latest A7R IV with its 0.78x 5.76M-dot OLED viewfinder. However, the A7S III goes above and beyond, not only with EVF resolution but also with the size and magnification factor. The A7S III's EVF now sports the world's highest-resolution EVF display at a whopping 9.44-million dots and offers an impressively large 0.9x magnification factor, putting it among the top, if not the top, in terms of EVF magnification in mirrorless cameras. The EVF also features a wide 41-degree field of view and a 25mm eyepoint. (The field of view can be narrowed to 35 degrees and the eyepoint increased to 35mm for those wearing glasses.)
While the exterior of the camera undergoes only a few minor, but notable, improvements, the "inside" of the A7S III has undergone a radical redesign. And by "inside," we mean the menu system. The system of Sony Alpha cameras have long been criticized for being confusing to navigate and to find what you're looking for quickly. Plus, despite adding touchscreens to some recent models, the menu system and the Quick Menu still lacked touch functionality.
The A7S III changes all that. The menu's graphical interface is entirely new, with main categories arranged vertically with section icons placed along the left side of the screen. Furthermore, the UI is designed to allow you to see within two levels as you scroll through them; as you highlight or select one sub-category item, you can immediately see all of the related options or settings for that sub-category. Additionally, the camera offers separate or dedicated menus for stills and movie mode that switch depending on what mode you are in, and the entire menu system -- including the Quick Menu -- is now fully touch-compatible (though you can still navigate using the physical buttons if you want).
The heart of the new Sony A7S III is its new 12MP sensor and next-generation image processor. The new model maintains the same 12-megapixel resolution as the previous two models, but there was little need to change that spec, as the sensor resolution allows for full pixel readout for 4K video without pixel binning. (4K capture is not quite native pixel-for-pixel, as 12MP is 4240 x 2832 while 4K UHD is 3840 x 2160.) Additionally, the large 35mm sensor area combined with a resolution of just 12MP allows for a very large pixel size (relatively), allowing for excellent light-gathering performance and impressive low-light/high ISO performance thanks to the larger signal-to-noise ratio.
While the straight-up sensor resolution remains unchanged, pretty much everything else about the sensor is different or new. The A7S III now uses an Exmor R CMOS sensor, meaning it's now a back-illuminated sensor, also known as a backside-illuminated sensor or BSI -- whereas the A7S and A7S II used a standard non-BSI "Exmor" CMOS sensor. The BSI sensor design of the Exmor R allows for placing the photodiodes closer to the top surface of the sensor, with the circuitry moved below. The wiring layer of the sensor is now moved out of the way of the incoming light, allowing for improved light-gathering performance on the sensor -- another factor in the A7S III's low-light and higher ISO performance.
Furthermore, Sony also claims that the 12MP BSI sensor in the A7S III is designed for faster readout performance, with approximately 2x the readout speed of the A7S II's sensor. Though the readout speed is likely not as fast as that from the stacked BSI CMOS sensors inside the A9 and A9 II, the faster-performing readout speed of the A7S III's sensor should help with high frame rate video recording, AF speeds as well as helping to minimize rolling shutter -- for both stills when using the electronic shutter and with video recording.
Paired with the updated sensor is Sony's latest-generation image processor, the BIONZ XR. Following the BIONZ X, the new BIONZ XR processing engine is technically comprised of two separate components (though Sony didn't expand on how many cores are involved or if it's a full-on dual-processor arrangement) and the BIONZ XR is said to offer 8x more processing power than the previous BIONZ X engine. In use, the BIONZ XR processor minimizes latency to speed up image and video processing. It also distributes the processing tasks required for real-time image processing, interface, network and file management, which should result in better responsiveness.
Sony also says the new processor helps improve color reproduction and provide more natural tonal gradations with its image processing. Furthermore, the faster processor system allows for faster AF/AE as well as face and eye detection, high-speed data processing for video, faster EVF live view display and allows for high write speeds to the camera's memory cards.
Although the Sony A7S III feels primarily designed for video, the camera is, nonetheless, an Alpha-series camera with the ergonomics of a still photography camera. As such, like its predecessors, the A7S III is still fairly well stocked with photo features, despite its rather modest image resolution. For those needing a camera with top-notch low-light and higher ISO imaging performance and who don't necessarily need files cram-jammed with megapixels, the A7S III can be a stellar photo tool.
As mentioned, the camera's native ISO range is much wider than its sibling A7-series cameras, offering a native range of ISO 80 (a new native Low ISO For Sony Alpha cameras) up to ISO 102,400. The ISO range can be further expanded down to an impressively low ISO 40 and up to a shockingly high ISO 409,600, which is the same maximum high expanded ISO of the predecessor. Additionally, the camera is said to offer amazing dynamic range, with Sony claiming over 15 stops of dynamic range (even in video mode with S-Log3 Picture Profile).
In addition to RAW file capture, the A7S III now offers two types of processed image files, the standard 8-bit JPEGs and now 10-bit HEIF files, which should offer improved colors and tonal compared to standard JPEG files. The camera also features an updated in-camera image preset system called Creative Look. Replacing the earlier "Creative Style" system in previous cameras, the new Creative Look presets are derived from Sony's VENICE cinema camera. It allows for various image processing adjustments, such as color, sharpness, brightness and more to be tweaked in-camera. The Creative Look feature is available for both stills and video modes.
Lastly, like the predecessor, the A7S III features an in-body image stabilization system, and as one would expect, it's rated for better performance than the previous model. The A7S III's SteadyShot INSIDE system offers a claimed 5.5 stops of stabilization correction, up from the 4.5-stops offers in the A7S II. Like the previous model, the combination of powerful IBIS and excellent High ISO performance should make the A7S III a powerful camera for extreme low-light photography.
For video creators, however, powerful IBIS can be a critical feature for smooth, pleasing handheld video -- without fussing with additional gear like gimbals and other mechanical stabilizers. Beyond just the standard in-body IS system, the A7S III now offers Active Mode Image Stabilization, a stabilization technology first seen in Sony's RX-series camera and now making its debut here in a full-frame Alpha camera. Though not described purely as an "electronic image stabilization" feature, the feature works on top of the normal IBIS system, with the camera tracking movement and motion through frame analysis to further enhance the range of stabilization compensation. When using Active Mode Image Stabilization with video, there is a very slight crop in on the image, though Sony did not specify a crop factor but maintains that you don't lose full 4K resolution or quality. The end result is that Active Mode Image Stabilization should allow for improved stabilization performance when performing larger movements such as when walking.
It probably goes without saying, but if you're interested in the Sony A7S III, video is probably your top priority. Like its predecessors, the A7S III is packed to the gills with impressive video features and capabilities. As mentioned earlier, when it comes to video, the Sony A7S III focuses on 4K performance and quality, rather than going to the extreme in terms of video image resolution. The highest resolution video mode offered in the A7S III is 4K, but the camera is designed specifically for 4K and to do 4K well.
Though Sony technically missed the boat on being the first to make a full-frame mirrorless camera with 4K 60p video -- that goes to the Panasonic S1/S1R (though they shoot 4Kp60 with a crop) -- the A7S III goes beyond that, not only offering 4K at 60p with full pixel readout and no pixel binning across the full width of the image sensor, but also offering the same full pixel readout with 4K up to 120fps. The A7S III offers tons of versatility for high-resolution 4K recording, from cinematic 24p capture to excellent high-speed capture for smooth slow-motion footage without having to drop down to a lower video resolution like with many other cameras.
In addition to 4Kp120, the A7S III features Full HD video at up to 240fps and also offers 4K 16-bit RAW capture, though you need to use an external HDMI recorder as it can't record 4K RAW internally.
Further, the A7S III offers a range of recording modes and quality settings for 4K recording, including the standard XAVC S (Long GOP, using H.264 MP4 encoding) and XAVC HS (Long GOP, using H.265 HEVC encoding). The camera also features a new recording format, XAVC S-I (All-Intra, using H.264 MP4 encoding), which provides bitrates up to 600Mbps. Additionally, regardless of recording format, you have the option of using high-quality 10-bit video with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling for improved quality and color information capture allowing for improved tonal and color gradations. The camera also offers 10-bit and 8-bit 4:2:0 options.
Along with standard video recording modes, the A7S III has improved Slow & Quick recording modes, also with the ability to record in various high frame rates and quality settings, including 10-bit 4:2:2. These shooting modes provide for easier in-camera creation of slow-motion videos or timelapse-style videos.
Additional video options include support for S-Log2 and S-Log3 Picture Profiles, with a claimed 15+ stops of dynamic range for improved grading performance and flexibility in post-processing.
One of the big topics these days is overheating and recording time limits. One of the reasons Sony stuck with 4K for the A7S III is that they wanted to make a compact yet reliable video camera with the ability to record for extended periods of time. While specifics of the camera's thermal design aren't yet known, Sony says the A7S III utilizes a new internal heat-dissipating structure -- yet remains weather-sealed to the same level as the A7R IV. The camera does not feature any fans or vents. Despite the sealed-up nature of the camera body, Sony states that the camera is rated for sustained 4K 60p recording for up to an hour (though it's likely the camera can record for much longer, depending on temperature or perhaps, more importantly, memory card capacity). The camera does support USB-C Power Delivery for uninterrupted power supply for extended recording.
When it comes to video, image quality is only one half of the equation. Audio is the other crucial part. First seen on the A7R IV, the new A7S III also now includes support for Sony's new digital multi-interface shoe. Built into the hotshoe on top of the camera, the digital connection within supports Sony's ECM-B1M digital Shotgun mic with variable audio directivity. Furthermore, the A7S III also supports multiple microphone inputs using 4-channel 24bit recording using the XLR-K3M audio adapter kit. The XLR-K3M unit, in fact, allows for up to three microphone inputs -- two XLR connections and one 3.5mm input. Using the digital multi-interface shoe, the A7S III allows for stereo audio (2ch) using a shotgun microphone as well as two additional mono XLR inputs, such as handheld microphones.
Autofocus & Speed
Another area of impressive performance is the A7S III's autofocus system, sporting the most phase-detect AF points of any Sony full-frame camera at a whopping 759 phase-detection AF points. Like other Alpha-series cameras, the A7S III features a hybrid AF system, and in addition to its massive array of PDAF points, the camera also utilizes 425 contrast-detect AF points. Autofocus coverage spans an impressive 92% of the image area both horizontally and vertically; essentially, no matter where your subject is within the frame, it'll likely be covered by autofocus.
The A7S III's autofocus system is rated down an impressive -6EV for excellent low-light focusing, which goes hand-in-hand with its low-light-centric image sensor. Furthermore, the camera supports Sony's Real-time Eye AF tracking with both human and animal eye detection.
For stills performance specs, the A7S III offers continuous shooting at up to 10fps with C-AF in either the mechanical shutter or silent (electronic) shutter mode. Buffer performance is also extremely deep, with the camera stated to capture up to 1000 uncompressed RAW+JPEG frames in continuous burst shooting.
Storage, Connectivity & Battery
Unlike the predecessor, the new A7S III finally offers dual memory card slots, though it offers an all-new storage medium than other dual-card-supporting Sony Alpha cameras. In addition to supporting two high-speed UHS-II-compatible SD card slots, the A7S II's card slots are also compatible with the higher-performance CFexpress Type A card standard. In fact, the A7S III is the world's first camera with dual CFexpress Type A slots.
The CFexpress format comes in a variety of form factors, with the "Type B" size likely the most common, using the same form factor as XQD cards. CFexpress Type A format supports a single PCIe lane with a maximum theoretical speed of 1000MBps, while the larger Type B uses two PCIe lanes with up to 2000MBps. CFexpress Type B cards are bigger and thus require larger slots inside a camera, whereas the CFexpress Type A is smaller. This allowed Sony to maintain the same body design and size while supporting two dual-format card slots -- SD cards and CFexpress Type A cards are not the same in size, however both slots in the A7S III will accept either card type.
In terms of ports and connectors, the A7S III provides a full-size HDMI Type A port, required for the high-bandwidth 16-bit 4K RAW output. The camera offers standard 3.5mm microphone and headphone jacks. Interestingly, the camera also includes both a Micro USB connection and a USB Type-C port with Power Delivery and support for the SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps (USB 3.2) standard. Additionally, given the speed of the USB-C port, Sony will offer an optional USB-C to Ethernet adapter for wired LAN support.
The A7S III also offers wireless connectivity, with support for both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi connections. Wireless PC Remote shooting is supported as well as USB tethering. FTP file transfer is also possible via wireless LAN, using the optional Ethernet adapter or via USB tethering to (compatible) smartphones.
In terms of sheer battery life, the Sony A7S III uses the same newer Z battery (NP-FZ100) like many of Sony's other modern Alpha cameras and is said to over a 60% increase in battery like over the A7S II. According to the specs, the A7S III is CIPA-rated for up to 600 still frames (with the LCD) compared to the A7S II's 370. For video, CIPA ratings state up to 95 minutes of video recording time using the LCD (whereas the A7S II sustained 60 minutes).
Pricing & Availability
The Sony A7S III will be sold body-only starting in September 2020 with a retail price of $3,499.99 USD or $4,799.99 CAD.
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