Sony a7R III Mirrorless Camera Review
My experience with Sony is about zero. Once upon a time, I shot on a RX100 when it first came out. I loved the colors and snappiness of it. But I drowned the thing off the coast of Maui…
That was the end of my Sony dreams. That was 2013.
Now 2017 came along, and I still haven’t picked up a Sony, even though they seem to be dominating the market with a new Sony full frame camera – the a9. Everyone is jumping ship to get their hands on a Sony a9. Shooters from Nikon, Canon, you name it. People were (are?) flocking to the a9.
Then Sony welcomes a 42MP camera: the Sony a7R III. I finally had to see what all this hype was all about. And luckily Mark from Shotkit was willing to let me give it a test drive in exchange for my full review.
Hope you guys enjoy it.
Sony a7R III Review | Intro
First sight. It was nicely packaged – like an Apple product.
Touching the camera for the first time felt great. It had a nice weight and sturdiness to it. Yet, still light enough to make it a nice walk around camera.
As far as appearances go, Sony is living up to the hype. It’s a great looking camera in size, design and feel. But we all know appearances only go so far.
There are beautiful cameras out there but disappoint when shooting with them. And there are some real clunkers that are actually amazing cameras. It’s pretty awesome when a camera company can create something that embodies both.
Keep reading to discover my perspective on how the Sony a7R III stacks up.
In this Sony a7R III review:
- The feel, build, specs and function (includes menu and touch screen)
- The Focus – which is most important for me with any camera.
- Image Quality
- Low light sensitivity both with focusing and ISO
- Post Production with Sony a7Riii Files
Note: This review is based on someone with no previous knowledge of Sony cameras. I am literally opening the box and seeing what this thing is all about. See also a7R II vs a7R III and a7 III vs a7R III for more comparisons.
Sony a7R III Review | Specs, Feel, Function
(i) The specs in a nutshell.
The Sony a7R III is a full frame mirrorless camera with 42MP, 399 focus points covering over 80 percent of the sensor, 5-axis in-body image stabilization – which is great for slow shutter speeds and hand held video, 4K video quality; 1080/120fps video, dual card slots, and a long lasting battery life.
(ii) The feels. All the feels.
This camera feels great in your hands. There’s no doubt. You have the sturdiness of a DSLR with the feel and look of a mirrorless camera. It’s perfect weight to have with you at all times. It won’t break your back – and it doesn’t feel like a toy.
If you’ve shot with Fuji mirrorless, which has been my most recent experience, I would say the Sony a7R III is slightly bigger than size of a Fuji XT2 with great build quality.
It’s all weather proof. I exposed it to rain and sand – had no problems. Sony doesn’t recommend you go swimming with it but I don’t think you’ll have any issues with normal weather.
The exterior is very clean and minimal. It only has one top dial – the exposure compensation dial. Which I love and find that most useful of all the top dials. It also has a few custom buttons that you can program to whatever you want.
[Editor – check out the recommended accessories for making the Sony a7R III feel great in your hands here.]
If you want to change focus, area, frame rate and other little things, it’s all done in camera using the thumbpad. Which is more similar to a DSLR, which I actually prefer. It’s nice to be able to control everything with my shooting hand all while looking through viewfinder.
It’s fast to switch between modes and settings. You can do it all while looking through the electronic viewfinder. As opposed to a manual dial layout where you physically have to lower the camera and use your other hand to change the dials.
(iii) Function (from the speed of the LCD, menu, and the buttons themselves)
All I can say is… Fast. This camera is fast. Fast to focus, responsive shutter, quick to scroll through menu – which is good because is there’s a lot of menu options.
The start up is pretty fast too. The only time where I found it to lag is going between the back display to the EVF where It took a second to switch over to that viewing mode.
– The LCD Display (a plus and a minus, kind of a big minus):
Plus: The back LCD display on the Sony a7R III is bright and beautiful. But that’s about all it is.
Minus: Sony says the back display is touch sensitive. It’s not. It’s completely worthless as a touch screen. It allows you (with a hard touch) to pick a focus area and that’s pretty much it.
It won’t even focus where you touch it – it just moves the focus point and then you have to press the shutter half way down.
There are no touch options likes most other cameras. You can’t scroll through the menu, no pinch zoom, no touch shutter, nada, ziltch. It’s disappointing. Especially if you’re coming from an amazing touch screen camera (cough cough, the 6dMKII)
The display does flip up and down – which is helpful for really low or high angles. It does not flip out completely so you can see yourself – which can be a deal breaker for vloggers.
– The Menu:
The menu has 32 pages. It took me almost an entire shoot to try and find where to format the card.
It’s great that Sony gives you the option to adjust so many different things but the layout is very confusing.
I called up my friend Tyler Shortt who is a Sony guru. He lives in Hawaii and primarily shoots surfers – check out his awesome work at High on Hawaii.
He flew in to Portland and walked me through the entire menu. Below is a very long and somewhat boring – yet useful – video of us going through the entire Sony a7R III Menu.
– Custom Buttons (your saving grace):
There are 2 buttons on the top of the camera and one on the back right. Those are custom keys that can be programed to whatever you want.
So if there are features that you use all the time and want to access them quickly then program them to your custom buttons.
– My Menu (Hallelujah! You’ll want to read this.):
Like most cameras, in the menu setting, the last page has a “My Menu” that will also be your best friend. Program that with all the features you use. Here’s how you set it up:
Sony a7R III Review | Auto Focus
Hands down the Sony a7 R III‘s best feature. In case you’re wondering why everyone has been jumping ship (like I was), it’s the focus.
The focus is what will make you switch from DSLR to mirrorless.
There is nothing worse than a camera that won’t focus or says it’s in focus and it’s not. NOTHING. WORSE. Can I get an amen?
With the 399 focus points on the Sony a7R III and its ability to track focus like no other, it’s hard to get a shot that’s out of focus. Like my friend Tyler said, it’s like artificial intelligence. I have to agree.
With the thumb joystick on the back of the camera you can easily and quickly change your focus point. You can set one of your custom buttons to be the focus area so then you just change the point within a area of the frame.
You can also set another custom button to to change the focus setting.
My go-to setting was AF set to face detection. I also would use Al servo because of it’s amazing ability to track a subject.
They also have a focus setting that’s in between the two. The camera determines if you need to be in single shot or tracking. Like I said, this camera is smart.
We’re not done yet on the focus system.
Here is the cherry on top…
– Sony’s Eye AF
This is only on Sony cameras. Yes, other cameras can track an eye for focus but Sony has a designated button on the camera and it doesn’t matter which focal point you selected or focus setting you’re in.
When you touch the eye af button it overrides everything to quickly lock focus on the eye. It works.
– Focusing with EVF
The cool thing about shooting with mirrorless cameras is the electronic viewfinder (EVF). What you see what you get. You’re seeing your exposure in real time.
Now, the only time where this is not helpful is when you’re purposefully trying to darken all the ambient light. For example, when you’re working with studio lights you are most likely trying to kill all ambient light – or close to it.
So to do that, you set your camera to a low ISO, close up the aperture and what you see when you look through the screen is black. Well, that makes it very difficult to focus and compose your photograph.
Now here is a tip with the Sony a7R III to get around this dilemma in studio. Deep in the menu, there is a option called “Live View Image Display”.
Set this function to “off” and it will give you a neutrally lit display when looking through your EVF. Now you can compose and take your image.
Just make sure to turn this setting back off when you’re not working in the studio or trying to kill the natural light.
Don’t forget: If you think you’re going to use this function often, add the Live View Display Effect to your custom menu or custom button that way you can easily toggle to it when you need it.
Sony a7R III Review | Image Quality
The Sony a7R III has 42 megapixels. At first I was thought that was overkill. Who needs that? Plus, the file sizes are huge.
Well. Yes, the file sizes are substantial… But after you see a 42 megapixel shot, you can’t go back.
And if the 42 megapixel isn’t good enough for you, Sony introduced “Pixel Shift”.
Pixel Shift essentially takes 4 photos of the same scene and combines them into one image. Giving those 42 megapixels even greater detail.
This feature will be really useful for landscape photographers. Also, being that it takes 4 images and puts them together – the camera has to be stabilized (on a tripod) and your subject can’t be moving.
Check out the behind the scenes of this creative portrait:
Sony a7R III Review | Post Production
You have so many more megapixels to play around with in post out of the Sony a7R III. You can blow the photo up to billboard size.
And best of all, you can shoot wide and crop in without losing any quality.
The image quality of Sony is beautiful. Hands down.
Do the massive files slow down your workflow? Yes and no.
Yes, you will need to get bigger hard drive space. As far as editing them in Adobe Lightroom, it will not slow you down all that much.
What I recommend is build a 1 to 1 preview and Smart Preview on import. There is a little check box setting in Lightroom that you tick on when you import. If you’ve already imported without checking the box you still can render the previews in library mode.
Rendering/building these previews does take some time. But once it’s done, it’s done and you’re good to go for editing quickly in LR.
Sony a7R III | ISO Capabilities
The ISO range on the Sony a7R III is ridiculous – ranging from ISO 50 to ISO 102,400. In my opinion, I have no idea when you would ever go that high. I don’t even understand why it’s even an option. If anyone has an example of why, I’m all ears.
Personally, when I’m shooting low light I don’t like to go above 6400 with any camera. As is true with this camera.
Being that it’s 42 megapixel, you are more susceptible to noise with higher ISO’s. I read a lot about this. I didn’t see a huge difference in this camera at higher ISO’s than in others. I just think that most cameras start to look like crap over 3200 ISO.
Sony does have a good noise reduction option. But because you will lose a little detail with this option, I kept it off.
Achieving a focus in low light wasn’t difficult. If the camera hunts for focus, it does have a infrared focus assist beam.
Sony a7R III Sample Images | Editor’s Comment
Editor: I took the Sony a7R III on a family holiday to Japan earlier this year. Here are a few sample images to hopefully give you an idea of how this camera fairs as a camera for travel photography.
Sony a7R III | Cost
Welp. They aren’t cheap.
The cost of a Sony a7R III body only will set you back north of 3,000 (see latest price here). Is it worth it? Yes. These cameras are the future.
For a full frame mirrorless camera that has outstanding focus and image quality, $3000 dollars is worth it.
You’re probably already wondering if are there other less expensive options. I am not sure there are. Not if you’re wanting a full frame mirrorless camera.
There are other awesome, cheaper, cameras out there, for sure – check out my review of the Canon 6D MKII or this review of the Sony a7 III for instance.
So the question begs. Is this camera for you?
First I’ll say that the great thing about this camera is that while it’s built and works like a pro camera, it’s small enough to enjoy as a travel and family camera.
I had an amazing time photographing my kids and wife Lindsay (who’s also my business partner and fellow photographer) while testing for this review.
My 2.5 year old pretty much doesn’t stop moving and if there’s a camera that can not only keep up, but also get a beautiful photo in focus of her…well I’m sold.
If you have been considering going mirrorless, I would say the Sony a7R III is one of your best options. It has everything a full frame mirrorless camera should have and more.
I will admit, in the beginning I wasn’t so sure. I kept comparing it to the Fuji, to the Canon, to what I was accomplishing with those cameras. But it turns out I just needed to learn more. I needed eat my humble pie, ask my Sony expert friend Tyler for advice and really give this camera a go.
I’m so glad I did.
By the end of my time on this Sony a7R III review, I had learned about 12 different ways to ask Lindsay if I could get one. She’s alllllmost sold.
I just need to blow up one of the photos of our kids on the beach and I’m pretty sure it’s in the bag. Luckily I CAN blow up that photo because it’s sharp as shit with beautiful colors and has enough megapixels to be wallpaper if I want it to.
Who can say no to that?
Guest Review by Portland Wedding Photographers, Daniel and Lindsay Stark of Stark Photography | www.starkphotography.com
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.