Sony a7R III Full Review
EDITOR'S NOTE: we originally published this page as a preview before uploading our full review in April of 2018, but we are republishing and updating this review in May of 2019 after the release of Firmware V3.0. Our earlier First Impressions review remains available HERE.
The Good. The question is, what's not good? The A7R III is basically the A7R II on steroids. Sony has pumped it with significant upgrades, plus a couple of new features you might find in the pro-level A9, making it one of the most incredible, top performing cameras in the market today. It boasts a 42.2 MP full-frame Exmore R CMOS sensor with excellent dynamic range coupled with a mind-blowing AF system and 10fps burst shooting to mention just a few main features, all packaged in a sleek body that's easy on the eyes and in your hands. Other crowd-pleasers include its 5-axis IS system, 3.69M dot OLED EVF and dual SD card slots with one UHS-II support. Did we mention it also carries Sony's new Pixel Shift feature? And with Sony's Firmware V3.00 Update, it now offers Real-Time Eye AF, Animal Eye AF, and Interval Shooting.
The Bad. If we must nitpick, there are a few things that could be better. The ISO sensitivity is still at 50 (compared to competitor Nikon D850's ISO 32), subject tracking could use a bit of work, and the rear tilt-angle display could be more useful--its limited angles and touchscreen functionality might be underwhelming to LCD-oriented users. Plus, it might be helpful to have two UHS-II slots, but card-writing lag can cause delay and make you miss some shots. Still, it's one of the best and most well-balanced cameras you'll ever handle.
The Bottom Line. If you haven't gotten your hands on the Sony Alpha A7R III yet, then gird your loins. Released only in November of last year, this beautiful beast is already much beloved due to its excellent performance, super high resolution, impressive dynamic range and other features you might find in more expensive models.
Pick This Up If... you're a photographer (period!) The A7R III's carefully picked roster of top-tier features gives it that edge that caters to many types of photographers' needs. We're not saying you need to swap out your current system, but maybe you should.
The A7R III came on the scene to rattle cages it seems, boldly competing with the likes of Nikon's D850 and Canon's 5D Mark IV, which had already established themselves as indomitable forces, and sealing Sony's fate as a powerhouse in the camera world.
It's not perfect, obviously--it has a few design quirks that could use a bit of work, but what camera doesn't? Is A7R III worth all that hype? Absolutely! This full-frame mirrorless takes the weaknesses of its predecessor and draws inspiration from the faster, higher-end A9.
It is a brilliant mix of performance, speed, and resolution, with a 15-stop dynamic range to make it such a forgiving camera, 399 phase detection AF points and 425 contrast AF points to give it more precision and more reliability even in low light situations, and a small body to make it lighter to lug around.
As part of the review, Sony loaned us the exceptional, albeit big, FE 85 mm F1.4 GM prime as well as the FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM wide-angle zoom lens, which is now considered a must in every Sony photographer's kit.
- 42.2 MP BSI full-frame 35mm Exmor R CMOS sensor (same as AR7 II)
- No optical low pass filter
- Dust & moisture resistant
- BIONZ X processor
- 3.69 million dot OLED Tru-Finder
- Touchscreen LCD & physical joystick from the A9
- 399 Phase Detection AF points
- 425 Contrast AF points
- Covering 68% of the sensor area
- ISO 100 to 32000
- 15 stops of dynamic range
- 4K @ 24p & 30p + HDR capability (with Hybrid Log Gamma & S-Log3)
- Super 35mm Mode
- Full 1080p HD video at 120p
- Pixel Shift Multi Shooting
- 10fps in 14bit RAW with
- 8fps Continuous Live View
- 87-frame RAW compressed buffer
- 28-frame uncompressed RAW buffer
- 5-axis in-body image stabilization to 5.5 stops
- 2x Battery life (uses A9 battery)
- 2x speed Eye AF, Real-Time Eye AF, Animal Eye AF
- Interval Shooting Function
- USB 3.1 (Type-C) & externally power the camera via USB
- Two card slots (one is UHS-II)
- E-shutter (shoot silently) & new mechanical shutter (avoid rolling shutter)
- My Menu lets you customize and move up to 30 menu functions
- Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth connectivity
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
- Sony a7R III Camera Body
- Sony NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
- Sony BC-QZ1 Battery Charger
- Camera Strap
- Locking USB/HDMI Cord Holder
- USB-C Male to USB 3.1 Male Tethering Cable
- Camera Manual & Warranty Card
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN
The A7R III features a magnesium alloy casing, six screws to secure the lens mount, and lightweight body hovering around 1.3 lbs compared to the D850's 2 lbs. With sealing throughout the body to include its buttons and dials, this camera is built to last and withstand typical camera stressors such as dust, moisture and, well, heavy use.
Bear in mind, however, that while it might do well shooting in the desert on an average, breezy day, it's only weather-sealed, not weatherproof. That means that it might not survive a dirt bike race or off-roading or a windy day on the sand dunes. Of course, we haven't actually tested it in extreme situations, but at $3,198 a pop, would you risk it?
As far as the design, think of it as the missing link between the A7R II and the A9. It has the look and feel of its predecessor, albeit just a tad thicker, but it also carries a few of the features people love about the A9. That includes a better front grip, a multi-selector joystick (extremely useful when adjusting focus area quickly), an AF-ON button, a monitor that supports touch control, and an electronic viewfinder that boasts a 3686k-dot resolution that allows more detail and a higher refresh rate.
Delving in deeper, you'll also notice that much like the A9, the A7R III also boasts dual SD card slots (one is UHS-II), longer battery life (650 shots per charge), and compatibility with the Sony VG-C3EM vertical battery grip for even longer use and for shooting videos.
The lens release button is a tad stiff, at least when new, and you would have to apply a bit more force to release the lens, which can get in your way when needing to switch lenses quickly. But we do love the noticeable tactile response of its dials, so it's harder to inadvertently turn one, forgoing the need for a lock button. And when you do, you will know that you did, alerting you to any unexpected change in settings.
On the one hand, the A7R III is lighter, takes up less space than a DSLR, easy to tuck out of the way, and a perfect fit for those with small to medium sized hands. On the other, it might be a little too compact for bigger or gloved hands and bigger lenses. These aren't that big of a disadvantage, however, and don't affect the camera's overall performance. (Update: since its debut, Nikon and Canon have released mirrorless cameras with much better in-hand feel.)
Secondly, there's function accessibility. Non-Sony users might find that some of the button positioning, as well as the main menu, dense and inorganic. The menu button, for example, is placed on the top left section instead of the right-hand side, and the menu itself tends to bury options that should be easily accessible. (More on this below.)
Another thing that people have mixed feelings about is the touchscreen function, which is solely for adjusting focus. Almost every other system on the market includes menu navigation as well as touch-to-focus features on their LCDs, and Sony's touch-interface is a bit lacking. Honestly, the joystick is far more convenient to use.
One thing we truly appreciate, though, is the Function button, which moonlights as the Send to Smartphone button when in View mode. The A7R III may not have a dedicated Wireless button, but through this, you can send photos to your phone without much fuss.
MENUS & DISPLAYS
As we mentioned in the previous section, the A7R III menu isn't the easiest to navigate. The good news is that it only takes a few test runs to get used to the menu once you understand how it works.
Sony added a color coding feature to make it easier for users to recognize their current sub-menu. The camera also boasts three custom buttons, a customizable Function Menu to quickly access 12 options, and a sixth tab called My Menu that is also customizable.
With the help of these, plus the "Recall Custom Hold," which lets you set presets, any user can personalize the A7R III and make it their own.
Thanks to Sony's Firmware V3.00 Update, the menu also now has the Interval Shooting Function option, which you can find in the first tab. This feature gives users the ability to shoot time-lapse photos (as well as a succession of self-portraits, if you're a blogger or an influencer). Though bear in mind that it doesn't offer in-camera time-lapse processing; for that, you'd have to use a photo editing software like Photoshop.
SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE
One of the best things about the A7R III is its impressively fast and extremely accurate autofocus system. Like its predecessor, it keeps the 399 on-sensor phase-detection AF points, which is already very precise when locking onto subjects. However, to boost the system, Sony adds 425 contrast-detection AF points. That's 400 more points compared to the A7R II.
It's not as amazing as A9's head-spinning 693 phase-detection AF points, which covers 93% of the frame. But still, A7R III's Fast Hybrid AF system enhances its autofocus speed that works so well even in low light situations as dark as -3EV. Couple it with the camera's Real Time Eye AF or Face Priority in AF, which is similar to A9's algorithms, as well as its Animal Eye AF (that also came with the Firmware V3.00 Update) at AF-C, and you've got a lean, mean subject-tracking machine.
It's by no means perfect. During our tests, when shooting in burst mode to shoot a reasonably fast moving subject--a person spinning in place, for example--the camera would sometimes lose focus of the subject's face when their face turns away from the camera. The camera's Face Detection capability sometimes gets a little erratic when the subject's face isn't completely visible, for example when a subject wears sunglasses. And the Animal Eye AF is still very much a work in progress (read our test and findings HERE)
However, compared to other cameras--we tested it alongside a different manufacturer's newest flagship (more on that soon so keep an eye out)--the A7R III's autofocus will blow your mind. It definitely makes it easy for photographers shooting scenarios with a higher demand for continuous AF.
It also now comes with Real Time Eye AF, the second major new feature you get with the Firmware V3.00 Update that Sony rolled out in Spring 2019. This feature lets you activate the camera's Eye AF simply by half-pressing the shutter (or the AF-ON button). It also automatically switches to other focus modes when it doesn't detect the subject's eyes (and then quickly switches back as soon as it detects them again), which streamlines your creative process whether you're shooting people, wildlife, or pets.
Complementing this fast and precise AF system is the A7R3's whopping 10fps burst rate, thanks to its Exmor R CMOS sensor and BIONZ X image processor. Yes, that's only half of A9's sports photography-focused 20fps. And even with a UHS-II card in the slot, slower write speeds can sometimes get in the way.
But A7R III is not designed as a sports camera, and its combination of superior AF performance and fast continuous shooting still put it at the top of the list for most typical and many high-demand shooting scenarios. Honestly, its lead on other cameras, in terms of speed and shooting accuracy, is so glaring you'll experience withdrawals when you're using other (even newer) models that are meant to compete with it.
A7R III's metering is unchanged with 1,200-zone evaluative and -3 to -20 EV sensitivity. It features six metering modes: Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot, Spot standard/large, Entire screen average and Highlight.
The metering is highly accurate, especially when you're using Multi-segment mode, which is great for most situations, save for high-contrast scenes. For these, Highlight performs much better in preventing highlighted areas from being overblown.
Whatever your mode, however, the A7R III's incredible 15-stop dynamic range helps with almost every shot. Even if you forget to switch to Highlight mode in high-contrast situations, the camera is very forgiving, allowing you to recover details in otherwise bad or just-okay images. Much like the Nikon D850 and Z7, it's miraculous.
STILL IMAGE QUALITY
Armed with the 42.2 MP full-frame Exmor CMOS Image Sensor, the evolved BIONZ X image processing engine, and extended dynamic range, Sony delivers as promised. It's highly forgiving while still delivering fine detail reproduction and excellent noise reduction.
Some degree of chromatic noise and unnatural, exaggerated smoothing may already be discernable at 8,000 ISO, but it still does a great job in keeping those issues at bay so that at 40,000, you'll still get highly usable shots. More on that in the next section.
Alongside its 5-axis image stabilization, which allows users to shoot at slow shutter speeds handheld and achieve still good results especially when using the electronic shutter, this beast delivers sharp, highly detailed images with beautiful, more accurate color rendering, better tonal range, and well-controlled noise.
So good, in fact, the A7R3 might just make the most inexperienced user look like a proper photographer.
One thing worth mentioning is Sony's latest Pixel Shift Multi Shooting function, which the A7R III carries. The new feature essentially allows users to get a super hi-res still image with even finer details, more realistic color reproduction and reduced moiré by taking four pixel-shifted shots and weaving them together in one composite.
This feature takes a bit of work, as the A7R III itself doesn't perform the merging in-camera (you have to use Sony's Imaging Edge Software), and you have to use a tripod to shoot the images, but it's worth it if you need superlative image detail. Just know you can't use it if anything in-frame is moving.
Check our Sample Image Gallery for our Pixel Shift Multi Shooting samples.
With an impressive sensitivity range of 100 to 32,000 (expandable: 50 to 102,400) for still images, the A7R III is more than equipped to handle extreme situations that demand ultra-high sensitivity for faster speeds. Of course, it's always better to exhaust all other options first before resorting to using extremely high ISOs, but it's always good to have those handy if you need them.
Keep in mind that while it does manage noise factor well, the higher ISOs do exhibit noticeable chromatic and luminance noise. These start becoming visible beyond 6,400, though you'll see hints at 3,200 if you look closely. That said, we found that it kept color noise to a manageable level even at 51,200.
In an effort to control grain, we did find some exaggerated smoothing and sharpening at higher ISOs, even at 6,400. But that isn't as distracting until you've hit the 5-digits, and even then the untrained will barely notice.
With three file formats--including 4K (3840 × 2160 pixels) at 30p and 24p as well as HD at 120p, 60p, 30p and 24p--video capture options abound for videographers both amateur and pro. Supporting that are a built-in stereo microphone and microphone and audio monitoring ports, plus eight picture effects and several creative styles, if those float your boat.
Unlike its predecessor, the AR7 III boasts the Gamma Display Assist and S-LOG 3 to squeeze in as much detail in highlights. Its 5-axis image stabilization is quite effective, helping users create smooth videos for handheld situations. It also handles low light situations nicely at high ISOs of up to 12,800 with very minimal color shifts and well-controlled noise.
We found that it produces crisp and clean videos, boasting fine details on both 4K and Super 35, with the Super 35 offering even better information. The autofocus works extremely well, too. Switching focus from one subject to another with AF-C is beautifully smooth, not erratic, making for more natural transitions, even with fast-moving subjects.
One useful feature is the screen. It's less reflective with less dimming and enough contrast to ensure that you can see enough without having to resort to using the EVF in bright light.
What we love most about the A7R III's connectivity is its user-friendliness. Unlike with Fuji, which is either slow to connect or often makes you reconnect to the camera's WiFi network before it syncs with the app, you only need to establish that connection once. After that, the PlayMemories Mobile app will readily and quickly find that connection as soon as you turn the built-in WiFi on the camera. It makes using the app much more convenient.
This app, which is pretty straightforward and easy to use, allows you to transfer JPEG images on-the-fly, location tagging, viewing images on TV, and transferring images to an FTP server.
Most importantly, it allows you to control the camera itself, which is certainly useful in preventing camera shakes and for using the new Pixel Shift Function when you don't have a dedicated remote trigger handy. Though if you do, you might want to stick with the remote trigger... unless you need a remote preview.
One issue we've found is that the app can intermittently lose the connection for no reason, and it can take a while fetch images if you want to save a copy of every photo you take on your phone. The good news is that, because the app eventually reconnects to the WiFi, you don't need to leave the app and reconnect on your settings. It requires a bit of patience.
One-touch or NFC for Android and Bluetooth connectivity are also on hand to give users several options.
PROS & CONS
- 42.4 MP image sensor for high resolution
- 15-stop dynamic range
- Impressively fast AF system with smooth, natural transitions
- Excellent Real-Time Eye AF
- AF joystick offers convenience when adjusting focus area
- 10fps burst shooting
- Great IBIS
- Sleek, solid built body with ergonomic design
- Wide ISO range
- Great noise control
- Well-rounded, made to cater to different photography genres
- Customizable buttons and menus
- User-friendly WiFi connection
- Better battery life
- Dual SD card slots
- 4K video capture
- Pixel Shift mode
- Subject tracking could be better in some situations
- Only one card slot supports UHD-II
- Can lag when writing, especially after continuous shooting
- Buffer can get in the way of shooting
- Main menu overly comprehensive and not user-friendly
- Touchscreen functionality is not very useful
Once you get your hands on the Sony A7R III, you'll never want to look back. This is the mirrorless that has everyone salivating, including Nikon and Canon users, with its well-balanced combination of speed, performance, high resolution, and image/video quality in a lightweight but robust package that has great handling and is easy to familiarize.
It isn't perfect, but most of its flaws are easily forgiven when you look at your crispy, dynamic images. Plus, it's got a few aces up its sleeves that are missing in other cameras of the same caliber. In fact, in some ways, it even surpasses the A9. (We said some)
Is it worth the $3,198 MSRP tag? Maybe. Is it worth the ~$2,800 for which it more often sells a year-plus after its release? Absolutely! Pair it with stunning glass and you'll be in high-resolution heaven.
And, if you're on a budget, Sony offers the A73, A6500, and A6400 alternatives.
Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.