Sony a7 III Full Review
EDITOR'S NOTE: we first published this review in July of 2018, but are updating and republishing here in May of 2019 after testing the new Firmware 3.0, which adds real-time Eye AF, real-time Animal Eye AF, and a built-in intervalometer. Cheers & thanks for reading!
The Good. For an affordable camera, the Sony a7 III is jam-packed with features you'll find in the more expensive bodies. It's got the autofocusing power to keep up with many action shots and the wide ISO range of the $4k Sony a9. It's got the design, full-frame sensor, Bionz X image processor, video features and image stabilization of the $3k Sony a7r III. But most importantly, it's got talents of its own. Its Real-Time Eye AF has such unbelievable tracking it's able to detect your subject's eye even when he or she is not fully facing the camera. It offers Animal Eye AF and Interval Shooting Functionality. It also has excellent noise handling and a pleasantly surprising long battery life. All of that for only $2k seems too good to be true. Of course, it does have its limitations, which we will talk about below, but in many ways, it is a dream package.
The Bad. While the bad stuff we're about to mention aren't not necessarily bad, a few things about this camera make us hesitate and consider the more expensive options. Let's call them limitations. Granted, we consider ourselves experienced shooters, and these won't matter as much to a beginner or even a hobbyist. The 24.2-megapixel resolution might be a deal-breaker to pros. As is, its color rendering, which tends to lean on the yellow side, and its dynamic range, which isn't as impressive as the a7r III's.
The Bottom Line. The Sony a7 III may not quite be pro league, but it certainly boasts some pretty badass, pro-level features that are a treat to any entry to enthusiast photographer, and practical for experienced shooters to have. It has its limitations, yes, and there are some shooting situations that it might not be the best body for, but with the right glass and the right talent behind it, it can be a powerful tool for shooting portraits, landscapes, events, travel, and even some action shots.
Pick This Up If... you're an enthusiast looking to invest in a camera with many pro-level features, an experienced hobbyist looking to upgrade to a full-frame, or a semi-pro who doesn't have a big budget. If you are a beginner photographer and don't mind shelling out a few thousand bucks (camera + lenses), this is also a great choice.
Click on any image to see a full-res file and don't miss our Sony A7 III Sample Image Gallery!
Let's get this out of the way now: next to the Sony a7R III, which we couldn't praise highly enough, Sony's 'basic' a7 III seems a little forgettable. Although it does match the higher end model in most respects and is considerably cheaper at $1000 less, testing the Sony a7 III after spending some time bonding and falling madly in love with the a7r III makes the experience a little dissatisfying.
To be fair to the a7 III, however, it's not meant to compete with the a7R III, but rather to provide a more affordable, hobbyist-level alternative. As one, it's fantastic. So to give it its due, we will try to review it as separately from the a7R III as we possibly can.
From time to time, we will be comparing the two for the sole purpose of helping you decide which camera might be better for your needs, but most of the time, we will be judging the a7 III based on its own merits. Those include its excellent autofocus, its banging battery life, and the fact that it's got a 24.2-megapixel full-frame sensor in a mirrorless body.
And with that in mind, let's delve right in.
Alongside the Sony a7 III, we had the Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM and the Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS on loan from Sony. We tested the body with these two lenses as well as the Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD, which we already reviewed HERE. Be on the lookout for our reviews of the other two lenses, following this camera review.
- 24 MP BSI full-frame sensor
- 14-bit raw output
- ISO expandable to 204,800
- 4K HDR video oversampled from 6K
- 1080p at up to 60 fps
- 5-stop, 5-axis in-body stabilization
- 14-stops video dynamic range
- 15-stops for stills
- 10 fps stills shooting with active AF/AE
- silent or mechanical shutter
- Z Battery achieves up to 710 images on a single battery charge
- 693 point focal-plane phase-detection autofocus
- 425 contrast AF points
- Real-Time Eye AF & Animal Eye AF
- Interval Shooting Function
- 177 JPEG Image buffer
- XGA OLED viewfinder with approximately 2.3 million dots
- Joystick control and touchscreen
- Dual SD card slots (one UHS-II)
- USB-C port
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
- Rechargeable Battery (NP-FZ100)
- AC Adaptor (AC-UUD12)
- Shoulder strap
- Body cap
- Accessory shoe cap
- Eyepiece cup
- Micro USB cable
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN
Physically, the Sony a7 III has a lot in common with the Sony a7r III, so much so it might be hard to tell which one is which if you're not overly familiar with their inpidual bodies. Made of a lightweight yet robust magnesium alloy cover, the A73 weighs about 1.7 lbs (slightly heavier than a7r III's 1.3 lbs), and boasts six lens mount screws as well as sealing on buttons and dials for resistance against the elements.
The a7 III features user-friendly design and button configuration, with a multi-selector joystick to quickly change focus, a fantastic battery life (up to 610 shots and 115 minutes worth of footage when using the viewfinder, and a dual card slot, one of which is UHS-II compatible). The dials offer tactile feedback as well as enough resistance to prevent accidental turns.
While we've heard some folks say that its weather sealing is not as protective as the a7r III, we didn't get a chance to test the body out in extreme weather to attest to that. What we can say is that we tested this in several desert locations where there is more dust going around than usual, and we never had an issue with dust getting in the lens and the camera. And we were changing lenses several times.
Ergonomics-wise, it's excellent. The front grip is pronounced, securing your hold without forcing you to exert a lot of hand effort, and it's light enough that you won't feel weighed down.
There are several customizable buttons--which you should set-up before you take the camera out for a test run--as well as the Fn button for the Function menu to give you quick access to your most used settings. And of course, there's the multi-selector or AF joystick, which lets you easily change focus points without taking your eyes off the EVF. As a nice extra, it allows silent shooting with the electronic shutter feature to prevent camera shakes in crucial situations.
Though probably one of the best things about this camera's handling is the fact that despite all that power and capability, it's all nicely wrapped in a compact and lightweight body. Shooting with this camera is so effortless, it's almost as if you're not even trying.
MENUS & DISPLAYS
Granted, if you haven't used a Sony mirrorless before or are not quite as familiar with its menus and user interface, it might be worth taking it out for a few practice shots. Don't be intimidated by the menu; there may be a lot in it, but it's honestly straightforward.
On the other hand, if you are a Sony user, the A73's menu should be familiar, as it uses Sony's new color-coded main menu, albeit with just a bit of difference in the settings order.
With Sony's new Firmware V3.00 Update, which rolled out in Spring 2019, the menu now includes the Integral Shooting Function that users can use for time lapses and for capturing a succession of selfies or self-portraits, among other things.
Besides the Main Menu, the Sony a7 III also has a Function Menu, quickly accessed using the Fn button above the wheel, and the My Menu, which is the sixth tab in the Main Menu. Both are customizable, the Function Menu containing 12 slots you can use for 12 of your most used items/features.
As for the display, the a7 III has a 2359K-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF, which offers excellent image reproduction and great visibility, and a 922K-dot LCD touchscreen that tilts up to 107 degrees up and 41 degrees down so you can push past your standard reachable angles and get new perspectives.
Unfortunately, the touchscreen function is limited to setting focus. But while it might be helpful to get more use out of it--menu operation, for example--it isn't essential in our opinion. Call us old-fashioned, but we're so used to using the navigation wheel and buttons, we'd probably forget using the touchpad to control the menu even if it was available.
SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE
For what Sony calls its 'basic' model, Sony has stocked the a7 III with excellent features. Its speed, to start, is impressive. Its Exmor R CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor combo allows fast data readout and processing speeds, and a continuous burst mode of 10fps or up to 40 uncompressed RAW shots (to compare, the Sony a7r III captures 10fps or up to 28 uncompressed RAW).
We have noticed that it experiences shorter lags than the a7R III, especially when shooting in continuous. Perhaps the fewer megapixels requires less processing, but, overall, the camera requires less waiting after burst shooting. Though it is worth noting that you also need to pair it with faster memory cards; otherwise, that high speed is not going to matter much.
Since we're on the topic, the a7 III is also outfitted with remarkably fast autofocusing, thanks to its 693-point phase-detection AF that combines with the high-precision contrast-detection AF, a system that Sony's dubbed its Fast Hybrid AF. Indeed, it's hard to miss a crisp and perfectly-focused shot with this camera. It's one of the many things we loved about the a7R III, and we're happy to see a better version of it in this cheaper body.
Thanks to this system, the autofocus is also highly accurate, very reliable in low light conditions (down to EV-3), when shooting motion and when honing on a specific spot in the frame. While we didn't get a lot of chances to test it in ultra-low light situations, we did witness firsthand how precise and fast it focuses in low light. It's definitely one of a7 III's top five features.
For more Sample Images, don't miss our Sony A7 III Sample Image Gallery!
Sony pairs it with its Real-Time Eye AF with unbelievable tracking and that, as per the Firmware V3.00 Update, is enabled by half-pressing the shutter or pressing the AF-ON button. We had one of our subjects do spins in front of the camera, and this Eye AF caught her eye before she made a complete turn. In other instances, it caught our subjects' eyes even when their faces turn slightly away. Furthermore, Real-Time Eye AF allows the camera to switch from Eye AF to a different focus mode when the subject's eyes are no longer visible and switch immediately back the second it detects the eyes again.
With the camera's Animal Eye AF, which also comes with the update, it does the same with critters and our furry friends. At least, that's the idea. Based on our tests, this feature works with pets, certain birds and reptiles, and some wildlife. It isn't perfect, which is understandable considering how young it is. However, even in its first implementation, it's already quite promising.
Despite Sony's incredible AF, it's not perfect (no system is). When we had subjects briskly walk or run towards the camera, there were a couple of unfocused shots, especially in low light, and we had to reshoot. The camera eventually got it right though, and, Sony AF, in our opinion, remains digital camera standard bearer in better lighting.
We're less impressed with the a7 III's metering. We honestly think that the a7R III does a much better job. We've found the A73 to slightly overexpose in situations when there's a considerable shadow in the frame, resulting in some exaggerated highlights. But that difference is probably not worth paying $1k more for the A7R3; you can always underexpose a shot if the camera's settings aren't working for you.
Metering modes available are multi-segment, center-weighted, spot, spot standard/large, entire screen average, and highlight. For portraits, we found that when using Face Priority, the multi-segment works best.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
First, let's talk about the resolution, wherein lies the significant difference between the a7 III and its almost clone source, the a7R III. While both bodies use the brand's 35 mm full-frame Exmor R CMOS image sensor, the a7 III only has 24.2 megapixels to the a7r III's whopping 42.4 megapixels.
Let's be fair here: 24.2 megapixels is high enough for most people, and it's good enough to yield gorgeous details in your images. But if you compare a 24MP image to a 42MP one, you will notice a huge difference. A 42MP image will have more details and a much cleaner look.
Does that really matter? If you're a pro who shoots landscapes and products and architecture, then absolutely. Otherwise, it's up to you to decide since that's $1k more of your hard-earned dough. Also consider that a 42MP RAW file is nearly double the storage size of a 24MP one, which means that opting for an a7R III is also a commitment in storage.
That said, there's no doubt that the a7 III produces beautiful, detailed images with excellent dynamic range, a reasonably accurate color rendering, and top-notch noise control. We've noticed this camera's skin tones tend to be on the yellow/orange side, and we have found ourselves often making adjustments to correct that. And, while the dynamic range is great, there's still something left to be desired. But as far as noise control, it performs beautifully. In fact, it's among the best on the market.
Like with Sony's other mirrorless cameras, producing incredible images with the a7 III seems effortless, especially with the right lenses. In fact, unless they're particularly bad, any beginner with the basic knowledge of photography can.
The Sony a7 III's sensitivity range is impressive at ISO 100 to 51,200 (50 to 204,000 expandable). It's more impressive than the a7R III.
For more a deep pe into ISO 50 - ISO 204,800, don't miss our Sony A7 III Sample Image Gallery!
Plus, as we mentioned earlier, it does a great job controlling the noise, especially chromatic noise. It's managed to keep chroma down even at ISO 160,000, which is very impressive. Heck, shots are still surprisingly clean at 25,600, which is pretty high; and though grain starts manifesting at 12,800, you can get usable images all the way to 64,000. Just a couple of tweaks in post, and you're all set.
Several file format options for video and movie capture are on hand for Sony a7 III users: 4K at 30p and 24p, and HD at 120p, 60p, 30p, and 24p, which means it's excellent for enthusiasts.
What's more, it can cram about 2.4 times the minimum data for 4K videos and offers the Hybrid Log-Gamma picture mode, making it good enough for pros as well. We recorded similar clips in HLG and the regular modes, and though the differences are subtle, the HLG reduces overblown highlights and also offers more fine details.
Another thing that's impressive about the a7 III is that it's got excellent IBIS, thanks to 5-axis stabilization, which according to Sony boasts gypo sensors and an algorithm that compensates for five types of camera shake. Shooting the same scene and putting them together side by side, the difference is more than obvious.
Because it's got such excellent AF, it's able to keep up with movements in videos, switching and adjusting the focus smoothly. There were a couple of moments when the focus didn't transition fast enough, but most of the time, said transitions were on point and seamless.
The Sony a7 III's wireless performance is pretty solid, if limited, much like the a7R III. There's not much difference between the two. The a7 III also uses the same PlayMemories Mobile app, which is straightforward and easy to use, and allows JPEG files transfers, remote controlling, and location tagging, among others. The app is pretty basic, but it is useful in several instances, especially when you're using the remote control.
PROS & CONS
- Sharp images
- Fast and accurate AF
- Unbelievable Eye AF tracking
- Animal Eye AF
- Excellent noise control
- Long battery life
- Wide ISO range
- 4k video capabilities
- Hybrid Log-Gamma mode available
- Impressive image stabilization
- Nice handling
- Affordable price tag
- Color rendering on skin tone on the yellow end
- 24.2 megapixels might leave something to be desired
- Dynamic range is excellent, but not amazing
For more Sample Images, don't miss our Sony A7 III Sample Image Gallery!
The Sony a7 III is an excellent mirrorless camera. A full-frame sensor trimmed with the works -- a super fast, precise autofocus and Real-Time Eye AF, long battery life, a wider ISO range and impressive noise reduction, 4K capabilities and IBIS, to name a few -- that won't cost you an arm, and a leg is a dream.
If you're already a Sony shooter with an a7R III or an a9, this camera might feel underwhelming. That's because, even though it has many of the makings of a pro-level body, it doesn't go all the way.
But that's exactly the point of this camera. You could be a mom looking to explore the world of photography, a blogger who needs high-res videos, a photography student looking to upgrade to a full-frame, or an experienced photojournalist who needs a more compact body to use in your travels. Whether you're a portraits photographer, a landscape lover, or an Instagram influencer, the Sony a7 III might just be your ideal camera.
It's for photographers who don't need the power and/or resolution of Sony's pricier models, but want a camera of affordable price and high caliber with which to practice the craft and from which they could learn to appreciate the beauty of pro-level features.
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