Two years ago, almost to the day, I did a review of my brand new Sony A7 III camera. I was extremely enthusiastic about the capabilities of the camera and described how the autofocus and some of the other features compared to great advantage versus my previous camera, the Sony A7S. Well, two years is definitely enough time to finish my review and provide my perspective on it.
First of all, for those who are unfamiliar with the saga of Sony buying Minolta, inheriting their digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera project and then almost immediately switching to a mirrorless system it is a tale of woe and of course I was at ground zero for the event. In 2008 I was shooting with a Pentax DSLR. It was a pretty good camera and fulfilled my modest needs. But I read the reviews and knew that out there were new sensors that provided higher resolution and lower noise levels than I could achieve. Also, I coveted the performance of the Canon and Nikon full frame professional cameras with their remarkable low light capability and the associated ecosystem of fabulous full frame lenses. But their $8,000 price tags horrified me since at the time I was driving a car that cost me $2,000. But then an amazing thing happened. Sony came out with the A-850 DSLR and for $2,000 I could have a camera which had the same sensor as the Nikon D3X which cost over $7,000. I jumped at the chance and bought it. And it was a truly great camera. It produced wonderful images and had a number of Minolta lenses and new Sony lenses that opened avenues for the kind of photography I was interested in. Plus, Sony was a powerful electronics corporation that produced the best camera sensors and they promised that in the future the advances in low light capability and dynamic range would surpass what was possible with digital imaging and in fact would also surpass what film cameras could do. At that time, it was still possible to say that the resolution for a film camera was higher than what a DSLR could produce. This meant that when next year’s model exceeded the performance of my A-850 I could sell it and for a small premium buy the newer model. All photographers know that over the long haul it’s the cost of the lens system that you acquire that anchors you to a camera brand. And I went right to work buying very expensive lenses and accessories like a really good flash system. I was happy in the knowledge that I was investing in a long-term relationship with the Sony full-frame DSLR system. So, all was right with the world.
And then Sony pulled the rug out from under me. They announced that they had made their last full frame DSLR and in fact they were preparing to end all DSLR models and move into a mirrorless market with a completely new lens mount and, by the way, no full frame option was on the horizon for the foreseeable future. The horror, the horror.
After that point I considered switching over to Nikon or Canon. But my A-850 was a glorious camera and I loved some of the lenses my system included. So, I figured I’d wait and see. After that the story is a long and painful affair that meanders through Sony introducing the hybrid DSLT (digital single lens translucent) technology which split the image through a translucent film and thereby losing at least a half stop of light. And the NEX cameras with their abysmal autofocus which essentially turned me into a manual focus shooter. All through this I held onto the A-850 because it was still a pleasure to us. But as time went on the technology of digital imaging was leaving it in the dust. Even my NEX camera could far surpass the A-850 in low light shooting. And so, after flirting with some of the earlier A7 cameras I started using the A7S as my main camera and saved the A-850 for occasions when good autofocus was indispensable. And that brings us up to the A7 III. When I started using it, I was able to finally say I had a camera that exceeded the A-850 in every way. And so, I finally sold off the A7S and the A-850 and some of the parts of the A-mount that I wouldn’t need any more and the rest is history. But that was a solid decade of frustration from Sony. Job ain’t got nothing on me.
So here is my report on the A7 III.
The Sony A7 III is a remarkable photographic tool. It is a quantum leap over the A7 I and A7 II cameras in almost every way. The biggest improvement over those earlier cameras is the autofocus. All of the earlier iterations of the A7 cameras had seriously deficient autofocus. One of the worst offenders was my A7S camera. It was so bad that manual focus was really the only alternative if a critically sharp file was needed. Some of the earlier A7 and A7R cameras were better than the A7S but none of them had truly competent autofocus. The Sony A7 III autofocus gives you sharp pictures quickly and reliably. The A9 professional camera has even better autofocus and I can only imagine that the A9 II must be even more fantastic. But I don’t usually shoot sports or birds in flight so tracking autofocus isn’t something I use all the time and know how to rate easily. Suffice it to say I no longer have the experience of looking at photos I took and finding that the pictures are out of focus. One very useful feature that I believe Sony pioneered is “eye autofocus.” When this mode is turned on the camera looks for a face and then focuses on the eyes. For occasions and portraits that’s as good as it gets.
The next notable improvement of the A7 III over the earlier iterations is the larger battery. The A9 and the A7 III series cameras got a bigger battery and it is night and day over the A7S. With this earlier camera I bought three batteries just to make sure I wouldn’t get caught with an empty battery but even still I did run into trouble when I needed to take a lot of photos. The new battery solves that problem completely. I have gotten well over a thousand photos on one battery and it still had plenty of charge left.
In addition to these selling points the cameras has all the other features that a photographer hopes and expects to find in a modern enthusiast level stills camera. It has a 24-megapixel sensor with low light capability that even exceeded the A7S for the ISO level at which it could produce a noise free image. It has two memory slots. It has all kinds of customizable features to take advantage of effects of dynamic range and bracketing and various creative features plus a plethora of programming and tethering options to allow the camera to be controlled via a smart phone or laptop. I have even managed to use remote control and a custom hack to allow the camera to perform focus stacking.
Okay, I’ve raved enough. It’s a great camera. It does everything I need it to do. I don’t even want the A9 or the A9 II. Even though I know they are even more advanced and contain even more in the way of customizable features, I don’t desire these cameras as an upgrade. And this is the first time I could honestly say that about the Sony camera line in the last ten years of owning them. And that goes for the A7 IV if it comes out any time soon. I simply don’t need it or even want it. Sure, I’m saying that sight unseen and maybe they can trigger my gear lust with some feature that I don’t currently have. One thing that I would be interested in would be an in-camera focus stacking option like Olympus currently has. That would save me from having to bring along a tethered laptop every time I want to do an outdoor focus stack. But I’d almost expect if something like that is added to a later camera that Sony might retrofit the older cameras with it as a firmware update.
So, there it is. The Sony A7 III is a great mirrorless camera with plenty of features and a very nice lens line up available from Sony and increasingly from the third-party lens makers like Zeiss and Sigma. If you really need a completely pro version then upgrade to the A9 series with even more capability for sports. But otherwise the A7 III is a great camera. If you do happen to need more megapixels than the 24 in the A7 III then go with the A7R III or A7R IV.