Less than a year after releasing the action-oriented a9, Sony has followed up with a resolution powerhouse in the a7R III camera. As heir to the wildly popular a7R II, the new camera is aimed at still shooters looking to capture extremely detailed images. To test how well it performs, I took the a7R III with me to Los Angeles to capture the city and surrounding landscape. I paired it with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens and B+W’s 82mm Circular Polarizer MRC Filter, with the aim of squeezing as much of the California “winter” into my memory cards as possible to get through the next two months back home in New York.
The a7R III is nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor when first picked up. Its upgrades add only 32g to its total weight and it is housed in a similar magnesium-alloy chassis with only a few interface changes. Particularly useful additions come in the form of an AF joystick, a feature that first appeared on the a9, and the inclusion of touch features on the rear LCD panel. Otherwise, the camera will feel very familiar in the hands of a7R II owners. Compact as ever, even when paired with the relatively large 16-35mm, the a7R III fit comfortably in the minimalist Peak Design Everyday Sling.
Performance and Image Quality
Sony’s a7R III image quality upgrade begins with the 42.4MP full-frame, back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor with gapless on-chip lens design. The sensor is accompanied by a BIONZ X image processor and a newly implemented, high-speed, front-end LSI to improve speed, sensitivity, and dynamic range. The images I took with the a7R III held on to a remarkable amount of detail. When shooting with the 16-35mm, photographs taken of the city from the canyons above covered an impressive amount of land. The high resolution of the files makes it possible to crop numerous usable images out of single images.
In addition to resolution, low-light performance improves with the a7R III, which has a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-32000, expandable to ISO 50-102400. Additionally, the a7R III features area-specific noise reduction, which offers roughly one stop of effect in the shadows when working with mid-range ISOs. While shooting a desert sunset in Joshua Tree National Park, the a7R III did a good job of capturing the dramatic array of colors and had well-controlled noise.
The a7R III’s autofocus system is now much faster, thanks to additional processing for its 399 phase-detect points and major upgrade to 425 contrast detection AF points, a big change from the a7R II’s 25. Although my test focused primarily on landscape capture, acquiring focus was quick and easy, and I found myself trusting the a7R III’s autofocus more than I normally would when shooting subjects that are amenable to manual focusing.
For detail extremists, the a7R III marks Sony’s entrance into the world of pixel-shift image capture. Deploying Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode allows you to combine four frames taken at 1-pixel increments to capture full RGB information at each pixel location, resulting in a final 42MP image with exceptional sharpness and color rendition and effectively eliminating moiré. While the creative constraints imposed by this process (namely, the requirement that your subject remain still while four separate photographs are taken) make this a feature aimed at a narrow crowd of photographers, it will certainly be welcomed where its uses are needed. Look to see how the a7R III compares to other cameras offering pixel-shift shooting in an upcoming article on Explora.
Comparison with Previous Generations
I have been shooting with Sony’s a7R II for a little over a year—long enough to have compiled a list of features and modifications that I would like to see implemented in future models. Some of these wishes were granted with the a7R III, others remain. The first notable improvement in this respect is the addition of a second SD memory card slot to the camera, allowing you to shoot twice as many images. You are also able to specify which card will save which type of file (e.g. raw, JPEG). Additionally, one of the two slots is compatible with UHS-II memory cards to speed up performance.
The a7R III has a larger buffer memory than its predecessor and can record bursts up to 76 JPEG/compressed raw or 28 uncompressed raw files at a time. Nevertheless, buffer-clearing time, among my greatest annoyances with the a7R II, continues to frustrate with the a7R III. Credit should be given to the allowance of limited menu functionality while data is writing but overall, the lethargic buffer-clearing time issue has yet to be adequately improved in the eyes of this reviewer.
Taking a cue from the a9, the video Record button has been moved to the center of the back panel instead of awkwardly placed on the corner like an afterthought in older models. This is a relatively minor adjustment—but one that will be appreciated by those shooting video. Although this review is focused on shooting still images, it is worth mentioning that the a7R III is capable of internally recording UHD 4K movies up to 30 fps and full HD 1080p up to 120 fps. Serious mirrorless videographers will likely wait for the next iteration of the a7S II, but the a7R III is far from a video slouch.
The a7r III upgrades to a Quad-VGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF, which has 3.69m-dot resolution, while the LCD screen resolution has been boosted to 1.44m-dot and now features touch functionality, which is a nice interface addition. However, Sony continues to make its mirrorless-camera LCDs tilt only, so if you are shooting from wacky angles, you are still out of luck.
The a7R III adapts the same NP-FZ100 battery as the a9, which purports to be twice as efficient as older models, permitting between 530 and 650 shots per charge, depending upon whether you are using the EVF or LCD. Battery life was never an issue during my time with the camera. However, if you need even more power, the VG-C3EM Vertical Grip will double your battery life.
Connectivity improves in a variety of ways with the a7R III. A USB 3.1 Type-C port is now used for transferring files more quickly on the go. Location data can now be recorded with images via the inclusion of Bluetooth capabilities. Finally, a flash sync port has been added to expand studio shooting options.
Overall, the a7r III is an impressive camera that leaves little room for complaints. A bit like the a7R II on steroids, Sony shooters will find in it a familiar camera with notable improvements. It is definitely a top consideration for photographers looking for a camera with the best still image quality. Is it worth ditching your a7R II? That really depends on your needs. While casual photographers will likely be turned off by the jump in price, professionals and resolution junkies should find enough in the a7R III to justify the upgrade.
Have you shot with Sony’s a7R III? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, below.