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Cameras

Sony A7R III shoots faster, same great quality (hands-on)

With a better autofocus system, Sony's follow up to its A7R II flagship full-frame mirrorless keeps the stellar photo and video quality but makes it easier to get.

Editors' note: Updated Oct. 27, 2017, with some verdicts and photo samples based on a few hours shooting with the A7R III.

The full-frame A7R models are Sony's image-quality flagship cameras; the A9 may be the speed demon, but the high resolution, antialiasing-filter-free A7R series rules Sony's roost when it comes to tonal range, sharpness, color fidelity and other important characteristics that frequently get sacrificed when you're shooting action. After getting to shoot with the A7R III for a bit, I can confirm it narrows the performance gap, offering a much faster and more accurate autofocus system, improved processing and a new shutter mechanism to offer a sufficient-for-most people 10fps burst rate. 

While Sony claims it ekes out a little more tonal range from the same 42.4-megapixel sensor as the A7R II, that determination will have to wait until I have software to look at the raw images; the JPEGs don't look any better than the A7R II's, and in fact look a little worse at higher ISO sensitivities. 

I suspect it's the lens: Sony only provided the 24-105mm f4 G OSS lens it announced at the same time for its shooting event, and I don't think it's a great match for the camera. 

The camera body can be yours for $3,200 or £3,200 when it ships at the end of November. There's no Australian pricing or availability yet, but it's on Sony Australia's site, so it's definitely coming. The lens is shipping in November for $1,300, £1,200; I can't find Australian pricing for that either, but it converts directly to just under AU$1,700. Sony also announced the intent to produce a full-frame 400-millimeter f2.8 G Master lens for summer 2018, allowing time for professionals to get comfortable with it by the time the IOC's cold-weather festivities begin. 

Faster and better designed

The A7R III inherits many of its design enhancements from the A9, including the joystick for AF point selection, a back AF-on button and a much-better positioned record button next to it. My one nitpick: When trying to stop recording without looking away from the viewfinder (say, to break up clips) I almost always hit the AF-on button instead. Every one of my handheld-shot videos ends with "Hello?? Stop!! Aaahhh!!!" on the audio track.

I had complained about the old model's mushy shutter, and this one certainly feels better. But I can tell why Sony made such a big deal about the camera having electronic-shutter capability, as well: This one still thwacks down, and despite whatever precautions the company took to minimize vibration, the image stabilization just couldn't handle my shake at even a reasonable 1/20 sec until I remembered to change to e-shutter. Plus, you'll certainly want to use it for quiet moments.

Shooting with the A7R III feels like shooting with the A6500; it's fast and responsive. The continuous autofocus is generally accurate, albeit with the occasional object-tracking misstep, like forgetting between one frame and the next that there's a face and switching focus to someone's midsection. That's despite the update to a smarter 295-area contrast-detection system in addition to the 399-point phase-detection held over from the A7R II. And the buffer is deep enough that only once was I forced to wait a couple seconds while shooting raw+JPEG at high speed.

It does take a while to write the buffer to the card -- two slots is a terrific update, but I wish they were both UHS-II, or better yet, at least one UHS-III and the other UHS-II for future proofing -- but it doesn't seem to hold up operation noticeably. The battery life finally lives up to pro standards, as well, thanks to the support for the double-capacity NP-FZ100 battery. I got 1,000 or so shots using only 30 percent.

Status quo quality

With the same sensor as the A7R II, it's unsurprising that the photos look pretty similar. And they're certainly sharp: I took the opportunity to view them on the 8K Dell UP3218K monitor (275ppi) I've been testing, and you can really see the edge detail. Sadly, I can also see what I think are noise or compression artifacts that don't appear at all when viewed on a 4K screen (163ppi), one reason I really want to see the raw files. I shot in Adobe RGB and the colors look great (once you account for Sony's assertive saturate in its default color profile). 

However, while the 24-105mm f4 lens is sharp, I don't really like its bokeh characteristics.

The 24-105mm f4's lens' bokeh is a little too harsh for my taste.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Having to use this particular lens probably colored my perception of my images. When testing the A7R II, I shot with a lot of fast Zeiss lenses.

Much of the rest, including the 4K video, remain the same as before.

Other highlights include:

  • Pixel-shift mode: A first for Sony, the A7R III's Pixel-shift mode takes four sequential shots in intervals of no less than half a second, each offset by a single pixel (about 1 micron) using the sensor-shifting image stabilizer; this allows the camera to capture a full pixel of each primary rather than reconstructing the colors from the checkerboard-like color filter array, a process known as demosaicking, which introduces a lot of artifacts. You then use Sony's software to combine the shots with a more accurate range of colors. As you might guess, this isn't for moving subjects; it's primarily for studio photography where the A7R III competes with slowish, tethered medium-format cameras so the PC-based processing isn't a big deal.
  • HLG: If you're not familiar with hybrid-log gamma, it's a curve that maps your video to the broadest tonal range possible as a prelude to encoding HDR video; it's also the HDR playback format of choice for Sony TVs. While Sony's pro camcorders began introducing it recently, this is the first of the company's still cameras to implement it.
  • The same 3.7-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder as the A9
  • Dual USB connectors, one USB-C -- the first in any camera, I believe -- and one Micro-USB

Sony A7R IISony A7R IIISony A9

Sensor effective resolution

42.4MP Exmor R CMOS

14-bit

42.4MP Exmor R CMOS

14-bit

24.2MP Exmor RS CMOS

14-bit

Sensor size

35.8 x 23.9mm

35.8 x 23.9mm

35.8 x 23.8mm

Focal-length multiplier

1.0x

1.0x

1.0x

OLPF

No

No

Unknown

Sensitivity range

ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 25600/102400 (exp)

ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 30000/102400 (exp)

ISO 50 

(exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ ISO 204800 (exp)

Burst shooting

5fps

23 raw/24 JPEG

10fps

76 raw/76 JPEG

20fps

(5fps with mechanical shutter)

241 raw/362 JPEG

Viewfinder 

(mag/ effective mag)

OLED EVF

0.5 in/1.3 cm

2.4 million dots

100% coverage

0.78x

OLED EVF

0.5 in/1.3 cm

3.7 million dots

100% coverage

0.78x

OLED EVF

0.5 in/1.3 cm

3.7 million dots

100% coverage

0.78x

Hot Shoe

Yes

Yes

Yes

Autofocus

399-point phase-detection AF, 25-area contrast AF

399-point phase-detection AF, 425-area contrast AF

693-point phase-detection AF; 25-area contrast AF

AF sensitivity

(at center point)

-2 - 20 EV

-3 - 20 EV

-3 - 20 EV

Shutter speed

1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

1/8,000 to 30 secs (1/32,000 with electronic shutter); bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

Shutter durability

500,000 cycles

n/a

n/a

Metering

1,200 zones

1,200 zones

1,200 zones

Metering sensitivity

-3 - 20 EV

-3 - 20 EV

-3 - 20 EV

Best video

XAVC S 4K 2160/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps

XAVC S 4K 2160/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/120p @ 100Mbps

XAVC S 4K 2160/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/120p @ 100Mbps

Audio

Stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Manual aperture and shutter in video

Yes

Yes

Yes

Maximum best-quality recording time

29:59 min

29:59 min

29:59 min

Clean HDMI out

Yes

Yes

Yes

IS

Sensor shift

5-axis

Sensor shift

5-axis

Sensor shift

5-axis

LCD

3 in/7.5cm

Tilting 

1.4 million dots

3 in/7.5cm

Tilting touchscreen

1.4 million dots

3 in/7.5cm

Tilting touchscreen

1.4 million dots

Memory slots

1 x SDXC

2 x SDXC

(1 x UHS-II)

2 x SDXC

(1 x UHS-II)

Wireless connection

Wi-Fi, NFC

Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth

Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth

Flash

No

No

No

Wireless flash

No

Yes

Yes

Battery life (CIPA rating)

290 shots (viewfinder); 340 shots (LCD)

(1,080 mAh)

530 shots (VF); 650 shots (LCD)

(2,280 mAh)

480 shots (VF), 650 shots (LCD)

(2,280 mAh)

Size (WHD)

5 x 3.8 x 2.4 in

127 x 96 x 60 mm

5 x 3.8 x 2.5 in

127 x 96 x 63 mm

5 x 3.9 x 2.5 in

127 x 96 x 63 mm

Body operating weight

22.5 oz

638 g

22.3 oz (est.)

657 g (est.)

23.7 oz (est.)

673 g (est.)

Mfr. price (body only)

$2,400

£2,500

AU$4,500

$3,200

£3,200

$4,500

£4,500

AU$7,000

Release date

August 2015

November 2017

May 2017

Where to Buy

Sony A7R III (body only)

See all prices

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