My Return To Sony: A Review Of The Sony a7 III Camera

By Anshel Sag - September 18, 2018
The new Sony a7 III camera.   ANSHEL SAG

I started my journey with digital cameras at a very young age. When my bar mitzvah came around, I asked for and received my first digital camera: the Sony DSC-F717. Back then in 2002, the best digital camera you could get was a Canon EOS-1Ds or Nikon D100 with a maximum of 11 Megapixels. Since then I have spent many years going between cameras from Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and Sony, watching the technology of these devices improve exponentially. Over the last month, I’ve had the opportunity to try out Sony’s new a7 III, the most recent addition to Sony’s prosumer-focused, flagship Alpha 7 line. Sony launched the a7 III in April, and it has been in short supply ever since. Let’s dig into what sets this camera apart from the pack.

Mirrorless cameras: a game-changer Sony has been working on full-frame mirrorless cameras for years, with the new a7 III representing the culmination of these efforts. Though mirrorless cameras have been around for some time, it’s taken a while for them to take hold.  Mirrorless cameras take out the reflex mirror that is used inside of traditional SLR cameras, allowing for reduced body size and additional features. They were originally the purview of the ‘underdogs’ of the industry, in their struggle against the Canon and Nikon behemoths (who instead promoted micro four-thirds systems). Sony has had so much success with the a7 product line that it has surpassed Canon and Nikon in the US to become #1 in the full-frame interchangeable lens camera market as of the first half of 2018. Keep in mind, this is not just the mirrorless full-frame market (which they currently own almost entirely), this is all full-frame digital cameras. Design and features The a7 III is a full-frame camera competing against a world of rapidly-improving smartphones, and it has found success in large part because Sony understands how modern customers use their cameras. A full-frame camera has to have the right connectivity, camera modes, and features to make it worth the purchase. One of the a7 III’s big innovations its in-camera 5-axis stabilization technology, IBIS, which helps to smooth out camera shake and improve low-light performance by allowing for longer exposures. This also helps improve video stabilization, eliminating micro vibrations even when using a gimbal. The a7 III is also the only camera in the full-frame mirrorless class (and one of the few among full-frame DSLRs) that has a dual memory card slot. While not necessary, it is nice to have—there have been a couple occasions when having backup JPEGs of my shots saved me from missing a deadline or losing photos. There is also an SDXC II slot which, when paired with the right memory card, allows the camera to shoot up to 10 FPS (JEPG) burst shots—amazing when you consider each photo is 24 Megapixels. One of my favorite features of the a7 III is its NFC and Wi-Fi connectivity, which allows for quick exporting to smartphones. This is something Sony has been doing with its cameras for years, and its competitors are still trying to catch up. In the era of Instagram, being able to get your photos off your camera and onto your phone is extremely important, and I have been using this feature liberally. Overall, I’ve found the connectivity to be pretty good except for in places with lots of interference. I will say that the application itself needs a serious facelift and improved user controls—it feels dated and hasn’t improved since I first used it with the a6000. The a7 III also includes a very high-capacity battery that allows the camera to shoot over 700 shots on a full charge. I bought an extra battery and grip so that I could have a bigger body frame, less weight on the front end, and, of course, the added benefit of double the battery life. In my usage of the camera, I never once killed the battery after a full day’s use. Sony claims this is the longest battery life of any full-frame mirrorless camera to date, and I guess it would know since it makes almost all of them. One thing worth noting is that while the a7 III is technically a weather-sealed camera, it appears to have some weakness in the battery door. This camera is still usable in light rain or snow, but make sure to keep the battery door dry. Another feature I appreciated was the autofocus system (which it borrows from the much more expensive A9 model). Its 693-point phase detection system gives you all kinds of amazing granularity in focus and allows you to focus extremely quickly with the right lens. I’ve become used to very fast smartphone autofocuses, and one of my biggest pet peeves with other newer cameras I’ve used recently is that they don’t measure up in that regard. The a7 III, however, delivers on this front and is capable of taking some very sharp pictures with the right glass. The a7 III has a plethora of ports on the left-hand side of the camera, opposite of the dual memory card slots. These include the headphone and microphone jacks and a micro HDMI for external monitors, recorders, and other HDMI accessories. It also has both a USB Type-C 3.1 port and a USB micro B port. Sony deserves some praise here, for going with both USB options: this gives people who have legacy micro USB cables a chance to stay in the game without punishing those like me who use USB Type-C for everything at this point (aside from my iPhone). Type-C ports are starting to become standard among high-end DSLRs, but they’re still not the de facto standard yet; certainly, 3.1 is the right choice because it guarantees a 5 Gbps link speed at a minimum (10 Gbps if it’s Gen 2). Taken with the Sony a7 III.    ANSHEL SAG Photography The user experience when shooting with the a7 III is mostly pleasant—good button placement with lots of options and programmable buttons. However, I believe that Sony’s menus need a bit of work and simplification. The complexity is especially noticeable when setting up the camera for the first time, which I would say was the biggest headache I experienced with the camera. I would appreciate it if Sony could simplify the settings page a bit, though I do appreciate the number of granular options on what could be considered an entry-level full-frame camera. The image quality is top notch with all the lenses I’ve tried with the camera. Images that didn’t turn out were usually a result of user error, and some of the greatest shots were taken in low light scenarios. I find that when shooting open all the way at f/2.8, I can shoot at ISO 3200 or 6400 with virtually no noise. In other words, I can shoot low-light photos at a high enough shutter speed to avoid any blur. Since I primarily shoot with aperture priority I usually manually set my ISO and aperture and watch the shutter speed from inside of the OLED viewfinder. The display on the a7 III also allows for very easy outdoor shooting without the need to look down the OLED viewfinder. Furthermore, since it’s an OLED viewfinder, whatever exposure you see in the viewfinder is true to what you get in the shot. A live OLED viewfinder makes it easier to adjust your shots on the fly, resulting in fewer bad shots. The high frame shooting mode is impressive and loads up the camera’s buffer relatively quickly, but you’ll need the fastest SDXC II memory cards if you plan on taking more shots any time soon (especially if you shoot in JPEG + RAW, which I do). I was truly impressed by the sharpness of all the lenses that I shot with, especially the ones from Sony. The lens that impressed me the most was the 70-200 f/4, which has ridiculously fast autofocus and is relatively compact and light. The 70-200 range is a must-have for any photographer once they’ve got the 24-70 range covered (the primary lens for most people). Switching lenses could be accomplished quickly and seamlessly. Pairing the 70-200 with the a7 III enabled significant additional digital zoom without the loss of much fidelity. The primary lens I shot with, however, was the Tamron 28-75 F/2.8 Di III RXD lens, which sells for $800—very inexpensive compared to the Sony 24-70 F/2.8 GM, which goes for $2,000. The Tamron lens was the perfect pairing with the a7 III, delivering a similarly high value and capability for the dollar. Thanks to Sony’s hard work, it seems like you can’t go wrong with any lens you put on the a7 III. Videography Though the Sony a7 III is a photo camera first and foremost, it is still appealing for shooting video. Videographers are attracted to the full-frame 4K video capture, which results in virtually no cropping of the frame aside from the change in aspect ratio. As I mentioned earlier, the camera’s IBIS 5-axis sensor stabilization also makes it very video-friendly. Admittedly, I did not shoot much video with this camera, but I was very pleased with the footage I did take. I attribute this mostly to the continuous autofocus and image stabilization. The camera also has a microphone and headphone jack so that you can plug in an external microphone and monitor audio as it records. Since I’m not that much of a video shooter, I won’t go into too much depth here. I will say that shooting 4K at 100 Mbps chews through storage space at an alarming rate, and I believe you need an SDXC card at minimum to record at this resolution, frame rate, and bit rate. While I consider this more of a photography-focused camera, there are plenty of features on this camera that make it very attractive to videographers who don’t want to lug around a huge video camera or pay way more money. For example, I believe that this camera has some of the best low-light video performance of any camera to date. However, I believe many videographers are still eagerly awaiting Sony to announce the a7s III, the third model of the company’s video-focused alpha series cameras. Because people know there’s a more video-focused model likely coming down the pipe, I think some people might hold off on the a7 III if videography is their focus. One thing that I believe a lot of videographers and photographers alike would like to see in Sony’s cameras is an improved hinge for the display. Currently, the hinge is rigid and only allows the tilting of the screen at a limited angle up and down—not side to side or completely up or down. What about Canon and Nikon’s new Cameras? Sony priced the a7 III at a relatively affordable price of $2000, so its no surprise they’ve been selling like hotcakes. However, I suspect that Sony’s strategy with the a7 III was not only to grab more market share, which they did, but also to insulate itself from the coming competition. In the last few weeks, both Nikon and Canon launched new mirrorless mounts. I believe that competition for Sony is a good thing and it will ultimately give the company more drive to retain its #1 position in the market. Ironically, both Nikon and Canon have run into the same problem that Sony had in the past—they don’t have enough lenses for their mounts. Canon is launching with four lenses, while Nikon is only launching with 3. In addition, they are mostly prime lenses. Both companies are shipping adapters to enable the use of older lenses on the new mounts, but I believe that this is a stopgap measure designed to alleviate claims that there are no lenses for the platform. Ultimately, I think Canon and Nikon have both failed to provide enough lenses at launch to be considered competitive with Sony. I expected more from both companies, considering their large lens portfolios and how long they’ve had to react to Sony’s success in the full-frame, mirrorless camera market. Taken with the Sony a7 III.   ANSHEL SAG Conclusion I believe Sony a7 III is a solid value for the price that the company is charging. I cannot think of another full-frame camera that comes close in features or capability, including the new releases from Nikon and Canon. I’ll end on a personal note: Sony’s new a7 III has reignited my passion for photography and given me the creative freedom that I have always wanted with a camera. I travel around the world for my job, and it is a pleasure using the a7 III to capture and share memories with my friends and family. The a7 III is the perfect balance of what I want in a camera. While it isn’t the best camera in the world, it is without a doubt the best camera for my skill and budget.
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Anshel Sag is Moor Insights & Strategy’s in-house millennial with over 15 years of experience in the IT industry. Anshel has had extensive experience working with consumers and enterprises while interfacing with both B2B and B2C relationships, gaining empathy and understanding of what users really want. Some of his earliest experience goes back as far as his childhood when he started PC gaming at the ripe of old age of 5 while building his first PC at 11 and learning his first programming languages at 13.