First Impressions of the Sony A7R III from NYC

  By Chris Niccolls

David Schloss (from Digital Photo Pro) and I had a bet on what the latest Sony announcement would be and it looks like I came out on top!  He, along with many others prophesied a new A9 camera with a high megapixel sensor. However, Sony has just announced their latest full frame sensor camera and it is officially the Sony A7R III.

The A7 moniker is important here because Sony has essentially maintained the older A7 body style even though the A9 design brings some improvements to the table. The A7R III is lighter than its predecessor and also sports a new autofocus selector joystick which we’ve come to love, along with an AF-ON button, new viewfinder, and LCD borrowed from the A9.

Although it still uses the Sony A7R II’s 42.6 MP sensor, the A7R III will have an extra stop of dynamic range due to a better processing engine, to bring it to 15 stops in total. More importantly, the MK3 features 10FPS shooting regardless of using the mechanical or electronic silent shutter with full AF enabled. If you want live view during continuous shooting bursts, the MK3 reduces the speed to 8fps but otherwise handles sports and action adroitly with its enhanced focusing speed and now larger, almost 68% viewfinder coverage when combining phase and contrast detection AF together. An improved buffer allows 28 full 14 bit raw files in a row, or a massive 87 if 12bit raw is acceptable. On top of that, the new and improved eye detect AF from the A9 has been implemented, and is very effective at nailing the focus in portraits where it counts.

With 399 phase detect points, and 425 contrast detect points, (effective down to minus 3 EV) the Sony A7R III, can’t quite compete with the A9’s stacked CMOS chip. But, it comes pretty damn close as a sports/action camera especially when you consider its massive image size per file.

Ok, so it can focus and shoot quickly. But, what if your photographic pursuits are of the more calculated, and considered variety? You’ll be pleased to hear that the A7R III has a brand new shutter, which promises to be quiet, and with minimal shutter slap. In addition, it has a fully silent shutter much like the A9, which will eliminate shutter vibration all together at the cost of some rolling shutter, a non-issue for most landscape shots. If that’s not enough to guarantee sharp images, there is now a new pixel shift feature a la the Pentax K1, or Olympus EM5 MK2, which promises to deliver 169.9 megapixels, an amount which we have seen in print quality and tests, and which may outcompete medium format cameras in raw resolution. When you throw in an improved 5.5 stop, 5 axis stabilizer, it seems Sony is determined to enable users to get as much out of this camera’s new technology as possible.

Sony has thoughtfully improved not only the raw specs, as well as the support and back-end use of the camera with the now proven and sorely needed Z type battery from the A9. There are now two SD slots on the A7R III but only one is a UHS-II type, and two new USB ports so the camera may be powered with one, and tethered with another. Couple that with new,  raw processing/ tethering software (which Sony was admittedly hush-hush about to fully discuss at this stage), and you have yourself a good platform to process pixel shifted files, as well as rock-solid camera, tethered in the studio.  

Now, what would a new camera be without a new lens? Much criticism has been slung in Sony’s direction at their lack of lenses for both their APS-C and full frame cameras. However, this was an accurate statement in the earlier days of Sony mirrorless cameras, it no longer applies, at least as far as full frame is concerned. Sony has released their latest, and 23rd lens, in their NEX lineup, with a brand new 24-105 F4 FE lens. Although not an official G Master lens, it nonetheless promises to be sharp, fast focusing, and with minimal breathing for video shooters. It will predictably supplant the Zeiss 24-70 F4 as the go-to full frame, general purpose lens in the near future. What about the long glass though? Here in Alberta, the wildlife photographers yearn for lighter and more capable cameras to shoot with. But, they need the lenses to back it up. Sadly Sony still hasn’t released a compact telephoto lens, in APS-C crop factor, with the 400mm minimum most photographers are looking for. However, the new 400mm 2.8 full frame telephoto has been pre-announced, a lens that will hopefully be available in time for the 2018 Olympic games. It’s a step in the right direction. Sony really needs to step up their long glass, and ultra-wide primes before they can call their lens lineup complete.

Video is the most subtly improved aspect of the camera over the A7R II. But, the A7R III gains some useful improvements. The battery life is the biggest benefit for video shooters as the A7R II was extremely underpowered. We also gain Slog 3 for a wider dynamic range and a Hybrid Log Gamma for displaying HDR video directly on a proper display. The new hi-res EVF and touchscreen LCD make composing much easier as well. Lacking is the 4K 60fps that many videographers are asking for. Although the core specs are similar to the A7R II, the new processor and higher sensor data throughout may reveal some benefits as we test the camera further.

All in all, the A7R III, much like the Nikon D850, or Canon 5D MK IV, is part of a new breed of high-end cameras that allow a photographer unparalleled versatility. High-resolution sensors, coupled with fast auto-focus systems, and professional video capability make this new breed of camera, a jack of all trades, and a master of some. The obvious difference? The Sony A7R III is mirrorless. Like it or not, it can do everything the big DSLRs can, with the image quality, speed, and video capability to back it up. Sony has largely rectified the lack of lenses and has tackled the poor battery life issue as well. Mirrorless has room to grow and create in an industry that thrives on constant growth, and innovation. We’ll be looking at the Sony A7R III in more detail in an upcoming TCSTV episode, to determine if this is the camera to beat for 2017.

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