- 24.2 MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-204,800 (extended)
- 10fps shooting
- Tilting rear touchscreen
- 5-axis in-body stabilisation
- 4K video recording
A couple of months back, Sony released the third generation of its high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera, in the shape of the 42.4MP Alpha 7R III. This remarkable all-rounder incorporated many features we’d previously seen in the top-end Alpha 9, including a larger battery and improved body design. Now Sony has done essentially the same thing with its so-called ‘Basic Model’ A7-series, to give the new Alpha 7 III.
But don’t let that ‘basic’ label deceive you: this is one very powerful camera indeed, with an unprecedented mix of capabilities and features for the price. Indeed if it lives up to its considerable promise, the Sony A7 III will be the best £2000/$2800 camera yet made when it goes on sale in March, and by quite some margin.
At the heart of the latest model is a brand-new full-frame sensor. Like the previous two A7 generations it features a resolution of 24.2 million pixels, but it now uses a backside-illuminated architecture which should help keep noise to a minimum at high-ISO settings: one of the A7 II’s perceived weaknesses. Sony certainly seems confident enough on this score: it’s increased the A7 III’s maximum sensitivity to ISO 204,800 in extended mode, a 2-stop advantage over the A7 II’s ISO 51,200.
What’s more, Sony claims a stunning 15 stops of dynamic range at base ISO, allowing vast amounts of information to be recorded into the camera’s 14-bit raw files, from the brightest highlights down to the deepest shadows.
It’s not just sensitivity that’s improved: thanks to the incorporation of Sony’s front-end LSI, the sensor’s readout speed has doubled too. Coupled with the Bionx X processor, this brings a commensurate increase in frame rate, with the A7 III capable of shooting at 10 frames per second with autofocus and exposure adjusted between shots (fully double the A7 II’s 5 fps).
The buffer has been radically enlarged to take further advantage of this extra speed, to 177 JPEG frames compared to 52 before. Alternatively you can record 89 compressed RAW or 40 uncompressed RAW files in a burst, which should surely keep most photographers happy.
A fully-electronic shutter is available too, allowing silent shooting in those situations when you wish to remain unobtrusive, along with an Anti-Flicker setting to avoid colour banding when shooting under artificial light.
Autofocus also sees considerable advances over the three-year-old A7 II, using technology inherited from the Alpha 9. The latest model features 693 phase-detection points covering 90% of the frame, compared to its predecessor’s 117 points that were all grouped towards the centre of the image area.
Sony says the autofocus is fully twice as fast as before, and works in light as low as -3EV. Even from an initial short session shooting with the Alpha 7 III, I can confirm that it’s appreciably quicker than its predecessor. Sony’s signature Eye AF is also available and now works in AF-C mode (on the A7 II it was AF-S only).
Both the viewfinder and screen have seen improvements relative to the A7 II, with the camera gaining the same larger 2.3-million-dot EVF as the A7R III, complete with Zeiss T* coating. The tilting LCD is now touch sensitive for setting the focus point and browsing through images in playback; sadly though it can’t be used for changing settings.
One key feature that’s received an update is the in-body 5-axis image stabilisation system, which works with practically every lens you can use on the camera. Refined algorithms mean that it now promises 5 stops of stabilisation, compared to 4.5 stops before.
The handgrip has been slightly enlarged to accommodate Sony’s new NP-FZ100 battery that offers an extremely impressive 710 shots per charge with the LCD, or 610 shots with the EVF.
As with the A7R III and the A9, the A7 III also has twin card slots, one of which is compatible with the faster UHS-II standard. It’s possible to configure the two cards pretty much as you like; you can backup all files to each simultaneously, record different file types to the two card slots, or switch across to the second card when the first fills up.
Another big advance sees the A7 III capable of recording 4K video internally, using 6K full pixel readout for super-high-quality footage. The camera also supports Hybrid Log Gamma for 4K HDR output, like the A7R III before it, along with S-log2 and S-Log 3 gamma modes to retain as much dynamic range in the output as possible for easier colour grading in post-processing. Microphone and headphone sockets are built-in, but disappointingly placed behind separate covers on the side of the camera’s body.
In terms of design and handling, the A7 III is pretty much the same size and shape as its predecessor, and indeed near-indistinguishable when viewed from the front. But it gains all of the same updates that we previously saw on its high-resolution sibling.
The back of the camera is substantially changed, with a larger rear dial and the addition of both an AF-ON button and a focus-area joystick. Unfortunately when you’re using the latter the camera still inexplicably draws the focus point in an invisible mid-grey; however when you use the touchscreen the focus point is highlighted orange, but hidden under your finger. Presumably Sony is still determined to get some interface decisions utterly wrong.
Other updates include improved colour processing, with Sony especially concentrating on rendering attractive skin tones. The camera has a USB 3.1 socket for either power supply or tethered operation from a Windows or Mac computer using Sony’s Imaging Edge software. One thing you don’t get compared to the A7R III is high-resolution multi-shot mode.
Sony Alpha 7 III compared to Alpha 7 II
Here you can see exactly how the new model compares to its predecessor, in terms of physical design. In essence, the two cameras look very much the same from the front, with the most obvious difference being the II and III badges. But look a little closer and you can see the shutter button is slightly repositioned on the enlarged grip.
From the top, the two models look pretty much the same too. However the rear of the top-plate has been redesigned to make the thumb dial and exposure-compensation dial both a little easier to access. You can also see the red T* marking on the A7 III’s viewfinder housing, indicating its better-coated viewfinder optics. The dedicated sweep-panorama setting on the A7 II’s mode dial has been supplanted by an S+Q position for recording slow and quick motion video.
However it’s at the back that all the biggest changes have been made. The A7R III gets a new AF-ON button, although its position on the sloping section of the back deck isn’t ideal. Beside it, the video record button is much better positioned on the new model beside the viewfinder, compared to its awkward location on the side of the handgrip previously.
Perhaps the biggest news is the addition of the focus-point joystick; its great control to have, and perfectly positioned to fall naturally beneath your thumb. If anything, this makes the invisibility of the focus point display even more infuriating. Here you can also see how much larger the rear dial is on the new camera. I suspect many A7 III users will like to assign it to control ISO sensitivity directly.
Sony Alpha 7 III: First Impressions
With the Alpha 7 III, Sony has taken a look at its three-year old ‘basic’ full-frame model and improved upon it in almost every imaginable way. With a new sensor, twice the shooting speed, uprated autofocus, and considerably improved battery life and handling, I suspect many an Alpha 7 II user will gaze at it longingly and be tempted to make the upgrade. Likewise, photographers otherwise tempted by its closest competitors, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, Nikon D750 and Pentax K-1 Mark II, may well have their heads turned if they don’t have an investment in another firm’s full-frame lenses. The A7 III is smaller, faster, and more sophisticated than any of these DSLRs.
Of course the £2000/$2800 body-only price is a considerable increase on the A7 II’s current £1200/$1680 tag, but that’s just Sony’s way. The older A7 models will continue on the market just as they are now, with the Alpha 7 III slotting in above. Crucially, the new kid on the block offers a more compelling specification and mix of features than any of its competitors in the same price bracket. It’s a really exciting camera and I’m looking forward to spending more time shooting with it.