Sony A7 III - From the Perspective of a Long-Time Sony’s Lower-End Mirrorless Series User
Are you an advanced photographer, looking for an upgrade in the world of full frame and are considering Sony’s newest full frame base option? In the following few paragraphs I will illustrate my transition from Sony’s lower-end aps-c lineup to the newest base model of the A7 high-end series from Sony.
Just for context, I was given the opportunity to test out the (relatively) new Sony A7 III and as a student, I was being faced with the decision of whether or not the camera justifies the steep price tag for someone like me, and if that means a possible purchase in the near future. My main camera until now has been the Sony A6000, which currently has a market price of around 11 990 czk for the body, whereas the A7 III comes in at 59 990 czk.
Body and Controls
Picking up the camera for the first time, you can immediately tell this camera is on a different level than something like the A6300. The body is considerably heavier, nonetheless, it is still lighter than many modern-day aps-c DSLRs, even while packing a larger full-frame sensor. The grip is significantly better than Sony’s other E-Mount aps-c cameras, especially if you have larger hands. If you’ve used Sony before, controlling the camera should be a breeze. The button layout is mostly the same with some additional features, such as the front roller, or the exposure dial, which drastically change the speed at which you can adjust the settings. Another design aspect which may seem insignificant but actually makes a big difference is the shutter button. It has a considerably larger area than cameras like the A6000/A6300 (even the A6500 but the difference there is smaller), which adds to the feeling that you are handling a professional camera, not a toy.
Before this, Sony was often on the wrong end of jokes for being just a toy, and previously this may have made some sense, but with the onset of the A7 III, this is a thing of the past. Especially now that Sony has finally implemented the joystick in their A7 series, which has yet to be added to the mirrorless aps-c series from Sony. Where if you want to move the focus point in the “Flexible Spot AF” you first have to press down on the center button to begin moving the point— otherwise the multi-selector dial is used for changing settings like ISO, drive mode, etc. This can be quite a hassle when you are trying to capture fast moving subjects like wildlife, weddings, or even an energetic pet because the extra button press could easily ruin the timing of the photo. As for really fast action, it is preferable to use AF tracking instead. Anyhow, it is always possible to use the touch screen to move the focus point which is a missing feature on the A6000/A6300, (whereas the newer version has it.) The joystick proved to be especially useful during a wedding shoot, where it allowed me to look through the viewfinder and move the focus point manually while avoiding glare from the direct light on the screen outside. This leads to another AF feature that the A6000 lacks, which is continuous Eye-AF, (though the A6300 and A6500 have this feature), this allows you to continuously track the focus to the subject's pupil so even when shooting wide open the eye is always in focus. In practice, the A7 III has by far the most reliable continuous eye AF from the bunch. It rarely missed focus and was always quick to locate the subject’s eye which was somewhat slower on the lower-end aps-c cameras.
Silent shutter mode
One of the most incredible features of this camera is the completely silent shutter, which, if you are coming from the A6300 or A6500 is nothing new and you can expect it to be available in the A7 III as well. (For A6000 users this is a new feature.) While taking photos at a wedding, being stealthy allowed me to capture genuine expressions from all the people involved. Normally what happens is people hear the shutter and they immediately know they are being photographed so they begin acting differently and the final photos tend to look artificial. Additionally, when taking pictures inside of a church it is always preferable to do so without disturbing others. So the electronic shutter really helps with this. On the other hand, in the case of taking portraits, I would personally recommend turning the feature off so that the model knows when you have taken the photo right away.
Even though the difference in the battery size between the A7 III and the Sony A6000 is quite small, the difference in performance is immense. After shooting a wedding with both the A6000 and the A7 III it becomes very clear that the battery life of the A6000 does not even come close to that of the A7 III. After 7 hours of alternating usage between the two cameras, the A6000 used one full battery and had 30% left on the second one, whereas the A7 III had 70% left of the original battery.
However, this wasn’t the only time that I really appreciated the battery life on the A7 III. For instance, while making a 45 minute timelapse with the display on the whole time in the S&Q mode (which is not available on the A6000/A6300), the battery percentage only dropped by 15%. Here is a part of the timelapse:
Finally, something that really sets the A7 III apart from Sony’s other cameras, such as the A6300, is the buffer size. Now, it is worth noting that the A7 III has a slightly slower fps count than its smaller aps-c siblings when shooting in the high-speed continuous drive mode, (11fps vs. 10fps). Nonetheless, the difference in the buffer size is so big that the slower fps count is negligible. Strangely enough, the A6500 has a slightly deeper buffer than the A7 III, even while shooting one frame faster. Although, honestly, rarely if ever does it happen that the buffer gets so full you can’t take another burst, because there is usually time for the camera to empty it in between bursts. Unless your way of shooting is holding down the shutter the whole time and never giving the camera a break.
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Another area in which the A7 III suberbly outperforms the A6000 is with image quality at high ISO values. This should, however, pose no surprise as the A7 III’s sensor is bigger (fullframe) and about 4 years newer than the one in the A6000.
All photos below taken at F/5.6
RAW comparison, A7 III (left), A6000 (right).
JPEG with no noise reduction comparison, A7 III (left), A6000 (right).
JPEG with low noise reduction comparison, A7 III (left), A6000 (right).
JPEG with full noise reduction comparison, A7 III (left), A6000 (right).
After evaluating the ISO tests it becomes very clear that the image quality at ISO 25 600 from the A7 III is certainly usable in certain scenarios while on the A6000 you can only find a similar result around ISO 3200.
A7 III (left), A6000 (right).
Here we are comparing the RAW files both cameras at the same location, with all Dynamic Range Optimizations turned off and the exposure compensation of both cameras being at exactly 0. This meant ISO 100, F/11, 1”. Then I boosted the shadows and blacks to the maximum value (100) for both cameras in LR, and even so there are some parts in the A6000 image that remain pitch black. The A7 III did a much better job as the black point was exactly in line with the left-hand side of the histogram. However, possibly the biggest difference between the two results is the amount of noise in the shadows. The A7 III barely has any even at close inspection, while the A6000 has a very horrendous amount even at first glance.
This is the same scene with exactly the same exposure values except that it has been shot to JPG, and we can definitively see how much detail we can pull out from the shadows in the RAW photos. Both cameras had Dynamic Range Optimization (D-Range Optimizer) turned off and neither have the photos been edited in any way. Here we see that the two results are nearly identical in terms of dynamic range. This means that if you only shoot JPG and you have optimizations turned off, then the results between the two cameras will basically be indistinguishable.
These two JPG images are exposed identically to the previous, but they were shot with the D-Range Optimizer turned on to the max, which is level 5. When compared with the previous JPGs we can see that there is much more detail present in the shadows from both cameras. Although it is slightly more prominent in the image from the A7 III, such as on the ceiling of the cave.
Here we have another comparison between RAW images after an edit in LR, with the difference being that they were shot at ISO 100, F/11, 4” which resulted in +2 exposure. Then I raised the shadows in both photos to the max (100) and decreased the highlights to –60 in LR. In these two RAW photos it becomes very easy to see detail in the shadows and the blown out highlights on the outside of the cave have completely disappeared after the edit. As a result, I consider the image from the A7 III very usable, but with the A6000 we can see significant color noise which forms a banding effect on the right side of the cave.
These JPGs without any optimization or edits are to illustrate the original appearance of the previous RAW images.
Finally, we have a comparison between the two overexposed scenes at +2 with D-Range Optimizer turned on. The JPG results are, once again, quite similar in appearance with the biggest difference being that with the A7 III, the leaves outside are not as overexposed, but the difference is very major. Additionally, we can also see a substantial difference in the WB on the cave walls between the two images. The A7 III has a tendency to make the shadows more magenta while the A6000 leans towards the greener side, (both cameras were set to WB cloudy). It is also worth noting that the WB on the outside of both images is correct, which leads me to believe that this is the result of boosting the shadows through the D-Range Optimizer.
All in all, the A7 III is a feature packed full frame camera, which is very easy to transition to when coming from Sony’s aps-c mirrorless series, and if you already have gear for Sony, then that is an added bonus. With lenses though, the resolution of the images gets smaller because of the differences between aps-c and full frame lenses (about 10mpx). So it is probably not a good idea to use exclusively aps-c lenses on the A7 III. When using a full frame lens, the resolution is 24mpx which is plenty for most purposes. It is basically the same resolution as cameras in from Sony’s aps-c mirrorless lineup, but due to the increase in sensor surface area, the results in low-light situations are incredible.
Then, we also need to take the superior performance of the A7 III in both the ISO and Dynamic Range tests into account, which greatly sets it apart from the A6000. Additionally, the A7 III has two cards slots while the A6000 only has one, which makes a considerable difference when shooting weddings, because you can’t just re-take those photos. However, I also understand when people say that having two card slots does not matter because I have only ever had one card fail when shooting with the A6000. It was an ancient card with a 2GB capacity (luckily it wasn’t at a wedding). Therefore, it could be said that if you have up-to-date cards, then there is a very small chance that they will fail, but when shooting one-time-only events like weddings it is definitely not the best solution and a major risk.
To sum it up, if you choose the A7 III you will not be disappointed when coming from the other aps-c mirrorless cameras and you will certainly be happy that you stayed with Sony. As for my personal decision, I have certainly been persuaded that this will be my next camera.