Sony Alpha A7 III review

The Alpha A7 III sits on the bottom rung of Sony's full-frame mirrorless camera range, and is designed to appeal to both keen enthusiast photographers and professionals. 

In the past the A7 series of cameras have always felt like poor relations to the A7R and A7S series. While the latter two ranges have tended to capture the limelight with their high pixel counts and advanced video capabilities, the A7 cameras have always been regarded as the basic models, sporting a solid but unremarkable set of features.

That looks like it could all change with this third-generation A7 camera. Borrowing many features from the top-of-the-range Alpha A9, as well as the Alpha A7R III, the Alpha A7 III looks anything but basic.

Features

  • All-new 24.2MP back-illuminated sensor
  • 5-axis image stabilization offers 5-stop compensation
  • 4K video capture using full width of the sensor

Sony hasn't been tempted to increase the resolution of the Alpha A7 III, so it stays at 24.2MP, like the Alpha A7 II. However, the sensor is completely new and features a back-illuminated design which, combined with the latest BIONZ X image processor, sees the sensitivity range greatly improved over the older model – with an extended ISO ceiling of 204,800 (the same as the Alpha A9), it's two stops better than the A7 II's 51,200 limit. Sony also reckons it's managed to achieve a dynamic range of 15 stops with 14-bit raw files.

While the electronic viewfinder (EVF) doesn't get a bump in resolution to match the A7R III's 3.8 million dots, the 2.3 million-dot EVF on the Alpha A7 III gets a slightly higher magnification factor than the older model, up from 0.71x to 0.78x. 

As we've seen with other recently announced Sony cameras, the rear 3.0-inch tilt-angle display is now touch-sensitive, enabling you to set the focus point and browse through images quickly, although it doesn't allow for quick navigation of the camera's menu. 

The 5-axis in-body image stabilization system in the Alpha A7 III has also been tweaked, and now provides five stops of stabilization, improving slightly on its predecessor's 4.5 stops.

It's no surprise to see 4K video capture on the Alpha A7 III. Recording in 24p, the full full width of the sensor is used, with full pixel readout and without pixel binning. This sees around 6K of data collected (2.4x the amount of data required), before the footage is then oversampled to produce what Sony says will be 4K footage with exceptional detail and depth. If you want to shoot at 30p, there's a 1.2x crop option that uses roughly 5K of the sensor.

As we've seen with the Alpha A7R III, the Alpha A7 III offers a new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile that supports an Instant HDR workflow, allowing HDR (HLG)-compatible TVs to play back 4K HDR footage.

As well as this, both S-Log2 and S-Log3 are available for increased color grading, while if you want to shoot Full HD footage you can do so at up to 120fps.

The Alpha A7 III sports two SD card slots, but, again like the Alpha A7R III, only one of these supports faster UHS-II cards. There's also Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity to enable you to transfer images, but no Bluetooth (which can provide a low-powered, constant connection between the camera and smart device to make image transfer that bit more seamless).

Build and handling

  • Design identical to the Alpha A7R III
  • Features a multi-selector joystick and AF-On button
  • Dust- and weather-sealed

The Alpha A7 III has the same body as the Alpha A7R III, which means the new camera gains the same refinements to the control layout as its higher-resolution stablemate.

So while there's no dedicated drive mode dial or focus mode selector, as we've seen on the Alpha A9, the Alpha A7 III does benefit from the addition of a multi-selector joystick. 

As we found with the A7R III, the joystick greatly improves the handling of the camera, with AF point selection that much quicker out in the field. Another bit of good news is the arrival of a dedicated AF-On button on the rear of the Alpha A7 III, making back-button focusing much easier. The button is positioned nicely, although we wouldn't mind it being a little more pronounced so it's easier to press.

All the Alpha A7 III’s major buttons and dials are sealed from the elements to protect against dust and moisture

The rear scroll wheel is raised away from the body a bit more than on the Alpha A7 II, and it's less likely that you'll inadvertently change a setting thanks to there being slightly more resistance in its movement. 

Another welcome touch taken from the A7R III is that the eye sensor is now deactivated when the rear screen is pulled away from the body. This means it's possible to shoot waist-level images without the feed cutting out and rather unhelpfully swapping to the EVF. 

The body is a touch thicker than the A7 II as well, but it feels more satisfying to hold thanks to a refined grip, and the overall feel of the camera is very good thanks to a predominantly magnesium construction that virtually mirrors that of the Alpha A7R III. It's not quite the same though, as while the back panel of the A7R III is forged from magnesium, the A7 III instead uses plastic.

As you'd expect for a camera at this price, all the major buttons and dials are sealed against the elements to protect from dust and moisture. That said, as we found with the Alpha A9, the three doors on the side of the Alpha A7 III that offer access to the camera's various terminals don't appear to have quite the level of sealing we'd hope to see; they feel a little flimsy, while there don't appear to be rubber seals. You'll definitely want to double check that these are securely shut when shooting in less-than-perfect conditions.

While the Alpha A7 III's menu is as incredibly comprehensive as its predecessor's, the new color-coded system is a bit easier to navigate, although once you've set up the various custom buttons on the camera and taken advantage of the various body-mounted controls, you should only have to dive into the menu on the odd occasion.

Autofocus

  • Same 693-point AF system as the Alpha A9
  • 93% coverage
  • Focuses down to -3EV 

It's not often that you see a manufacturer take the AF system from its flagship camera and put it in a camera less than half the price, but that's exactly what Sony has done with the Alpha A7 III.

The Alpha A7 III gets the same, brilliant, 693-point phase-detect AF system as the Alpha A9. 

This is a huge step up from the rather clunky 117-point system in the Alpha A7 II, with the new system offering an impressive 93% coverage across the frame, with an additional 425 contrast-detect points to aid focus; for good measure it can also focus in light levels as low as -3EV.

The Alpha A7 III sports a wide variety of AF modes, enabling you to make things as simple or as advanced as you need depending on the shooting situation. 

As we found with the Alpha A9, with the A7 III in continuous AF mode and set to one of its more sophisticated AF modes, such as Lock-on: Flexible Spot M, the tracking performance is very impressive. While it can on occasion get tricked by fast and erratically moving subjects, overall it's an incredibly impressive and reliable system. If you're planning to shoot action with the Alpha A7 III, don't be in any doubt that this is one of the best systems out there for tracking your subject, and it's very exciting for a camera at this price point.  

The Alpha A7 III also gets Sony's latest Eye AF focusing mode. This is a great feature for portrait and social photographers, as with this activated the system will continuously track and focus on your subject's eye, even if they look down or away from the camera momentarily.

Performance

  • Burst shooting speed doubled over A7 II
  • New silent shutter mode
  • Vastly improved battery life

While the Alpha A7 II could shoot at a modest 5fps, the Sony Alpha A7 III doubles this rate to a very brisk 10fps. This is thanks in part to the addition of the Front End LSI pre-processor, which has enabled Sony to boost the performance of the Alpha A7 III in a number of areas.

The camera boasts a pretty impressive buffer capacity of 89 compressed raw files (or 40 uncompressed), while the Alpha A7 III will happily shoot at 10fps for 177 JPEGs, a huge boost over the A7 II's 52 JPEG file buffer. Suffice to say the burst shooting performance shouldn't leave a lot of photographers wanting at this price point. 

Should you need to shoot discreetly or in quiet environments, you have the option to switch to the Alpha A7 III's electronic shutter and take advantage of its silent shooting mode – and performance isn't compromised, with the burst shooting speed staying at 10fps.

The battery is rated for up to 710 shots, a big improvement over the 350 shots of the Alpha A7 II

The viewfinder is large and bright, and its sharpness is also very good. If we do have one complaint, it's that you can notice a little bit of 'tearing' should you move the camera from side to side too quickly.

The rear display is very good, but as we've found with other Sony Alpha-series cameras there's still quite a bit of room for further touchscreen integration, especially in terms of menu navigation and on-screen settings adjustment.

The Alpha A7 III's 5-axis, 5-stop image stabilization system works a treat – you'll certainly be able to shoot with confidence at lower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible and still come away with sharp shots.

Sony has come in for some stick in the past for its battery performance, but it looks like it may have turned a corner with the Alpha A7 III. The battery is rated for up to 710 shots, a big improvement over the 350 shots of the Alpha A7 II, while the new camera also has the edge over the Alpha A9's 480-shot battery life. 

Image quality

  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Images rich in detail
  • Offers an impressive dynamic range

As we found with Sony's other 24.2MP full-frame mirrorless camera, the Alpha A9, the sensor is capable of delivering images that offer excellent levels of detail. Unless you're planning to produce large prints beyond A2, where you'll appreciate the more densely populated 42.2MP sensor in the Alpha A7R III, the Alpha A7 III does a terrific job. 

While the sensor doesn't benefit from the Alpha A9's stacked design, its back-illuminated architecture helps the A7 III deliver excellent ISO performance. At base sensitivities, files appear incredibly clean and devoid of noise. Even at ISO6400 results stand up well to close inspection, with very fine luminance (grain-like) noise in evidence, but not to the detriment of the image. 

Push above that to ISO12,800, and should you end up shooting at this sensitivity you'll still be able to walk away with very satisfactory shots. Luminance noise is a bit more pronounced, but still not that offensive, and while chroma (color) noise becomes noticeable in raw files it's pretty easy to suppress in post-processing.   

The Alpha A7R III might just edge the A7 III for dynamic range, but it's not by much. The A7 III's sensor offers immense amounts of flexibility here; expose for the highlights and you can happily recover huge swathes of shadow detail in the post-processing of raw files. 

Verdict

While the Alpha A7 III can't quite boast the sheer breathtaking performance or resolution of its pricier siblings, it's a brilliant camera that will tick a lot of boxes for many photographers. 

Sony has taken some of the best bits from its flagship Alpha A9 and A7R III and distilled them into a single camera that offers a fantastic mix of performance, image quality and price.

The 693-point AF system is simply stunning, and rival cameras at a similar price can't even get close to its sophistication, while the 10fps burst shooting speed should satisfy most peoples needs. The full-frame 24.2MP back-illuminated sensor delivers excellent results throughout the ISO range, while the dynamic range offered is equally as impressive.

Meanwhile the refined body design borrowed from the Alpha A7R III makes it a much more satisfying camera to use than its predecessor, while the ability to shoot uncropped 4K video makes this a very versatile camera.

There's still room for improvement though, with more touchscreen control needed, while less 'tearing' in the viewfinder would be welcome. We're also a little dubious about some of the weather-sealing round the accessory ports, but Sony obviously reckons it's done enough to protect the internals of the camera from the elements. 

These are all minor niggles though, which fade away when you look at the wealth of features the Alpha A7 III offers. For the price, there's nothing that can touch it. 

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