Sony A7 III – A Camera Review – Part 2

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.

Nikon and Canon Go Mirrorless.  What Does it Mean?

The last DSLR I owned was the Sony A-850 back in 2011.  At the time, it was at the cutting edge of sensor technology.  It had a 24-megapixel sensor that could be cranked to ISO 6400 (to truly awful result) with a huge bright optical viewfinder and some really cool Minolta and Sony lenses like the Sony 135mm f\1.8 and the Minolta 200mm f\4 Macro and on and on.  That was the last full-frame DSLR Sony ever rolled out.

Shortly after that, Sony began the great mirrorless debacle.  There were A-mount translucent mirror cameras, e-mount mirrorless cameras that could use A-mount lenses and other lenses with various adapters.  The early e-mount cameras were touted for their tiny size but what went along with this new line of mirrorless cameras was a lack of usable auto-focus, long black out periods while shooting and almost no native lenses.  For the Sony and Minolta faithful these were the wilderness years.  Like the Israelites marching endlessly through the desert, we Sony shooters trudged despairingly from one mirrorless camera mirage to the next always hoping to reached the promised land of a competent full frame mirrorless camera.  And then finally in 2017 there was the A9!  Can I get a hallelujah?  And we were there.  Of course, after renting the A9 and proving that it was real (to torture the religious metaphor further) like Doubting Thomas, I then waited until the A7 III was available to save a thousand bucks.  But finally, life was good.  I started to round out my lens collection and anticipate being able to get more specialized lenses in e-mount, things like 200 – 600mm zooms and long macro lenses.

But just to prove that the Sony mirrorless line had arrived, the DSLR heavy hitters Nikon and Canon rolled out full-frame mirrorless cameras with their own new mounts.  And this proves the point because this was the only way for Nikon and Canon to prevent their users from jumping ship.  It is now possible to get all the advantages that mirrorless provides like an electronic viewfinder that works in any light level from pitch black to direct sun without sacrificing the advantages that DSLRs provided, like excellent autofocus and professional lenses.  You might think this competition from Nikon and Canon would bother me.  A Sony fanboy would fear the competition from its rivals would harm his brand.  But in actuality, it will force Sony to step up their game.  For instance, I foresee Sony improving the weather-sealing on their A9 level cameras to compete head to head with the mirrorless cameras that their competitors make.  But by the same token Nikon and Canon are going to have to provide sensors at Sony’s level even in more modest cameras.

And finally, this new situation takes away the biggest detraction that Nikon and Canon used in the past, that the only real cameras were DSLRs.  Without a doubt they were the ones who blinked first in this staring contest.  Sony no longer has to prove mirrorless is better.  Canon and Nikon just did.  So, here’s my prediction.  In ten years, there won’t be a single new full frame DSLR camera to be bought.  I would have said five years but as in everything else I am conservative.

A Sony Fan-Lost-Boy Finally Arrives in the Promised Land

This post is only for the long suffering Sony A-mount users.  You know who you are.  You bought the A900 or the A850 and you were looking forward to Sony re-issuing all those great Minolta lenses and competing head to head with the Nikon D3S.  You saw nothing but upside from a technology powerhouse like Sony improving the DSLR.  And then they pulled the rug out from under you. Translucent mirrors that lost a half stop of light.  LED viewfinders that lagged by a second or two when you triggered the shutter.  And then the true mirrorless camera with contrast detect autofocus that didn’t focus.  The NEX series that was unbelievably small but suffering from all these problems.  And then the A7 cameras.  Series one then series two.  Painstaking progress.  Slowly the potential of the mirrorless becoming real but always something still missing.  And then the A9 the camera that had all the pieces!  And a $4,500 price tag!

But now, the A7 III.  Oh my brothers I just must joyously exclaim.  It is a real camera made by Sony.  Hallelujah, hallelujah, halleleujah. The joy of picking a point in the viewfinder, half-pressing

Sony A7 III with Sony 55mm F\1.8

the shutter and seeing the autofocus work instantly and precisely.  I could barely see the result through my tears of joy.  Huzzah, huzzah.  Never again would I focus, then magnify, then manually refocus to save the shot.  Now I go through the pictures afterward and every shot is perfectly focused.  And ISO 800 and 1600 and 3200 are perfectly usable and even ISO 6400 is often fine!  And if I want to do a macro shot with a non macro lens I use magnify to get precise focus on the exact spot I want and the 24 megapixels give me plenty of room to crop.

Nirvana, Valhalla, Heaven, Elysium, Paradise.  I’m home.  I don’t need to wait or hope or give up and change systems.  It’s done.  I’m there.

Sony you are finally forgiven for keeping me out in the wilderness all these years.



A Quick Note on the Sony A7 III Sensitivity

Shooting with extremely long lenses like the 150-600mm Sigma requires higher shutter speed and to compensate for this, higher ISO levels are required.  This gave me a chance of seeing the result of using 6,400 and 10,000 (and higher) ISO sensitivities.  And I will tell you I am extremely impressed.  I have a hummingbird picture at 6,400 that is perfectly fine.  I’m sure if I subjected it to very close scrutiny and blew it up to 200% I’d find issues.  And that would be crazy.  My point is this camera has really excellent 6,400 ISO results.  The next test is to take some photos at that sensitivity in a low light indoor environment.  If it passes that test then this is the camera I was looking for when I was looking for a successor for the Sony A-850 in 2011.  The A850 was a great camera.  It had a best in class 24 megapixel sensor and  shot beautiful 100 ISO photos.  Even 200, 400 and even kinda sorta 800 ISO photos were also very good.  but try to take photos in a restaurant at 100 or even 800 ISO.  You’ll have motion blur and worse.  So I used to take 3,200 and 6,400 ISO shots that looked like a Monet painting with color noise swirling around everything.  I tried to convince myself that I liked the result but it was pathetic.  Now here I am a mere seven years later and all’s right with the world.  Well, that’s assuming the indoor tests go as hoped.  That also assumes the low light autofocus is as advertised.  Stay tuned.  Results will follow soon.