What’s up guys, Sagi here and welcome to another Tech Gear Talk. Today we’re going to check out the Sony A7iii. This thing is an absolute beast and I’m going to walk you through a review and my decision making process about whether I want to keep this camera. The A7iii is being talked about as an “entry-level” or “basic” full frame mirrorless camera but honestly it’s a ridiculous camera. I traditionally shoot with Canon but I’ve used plenty of cameras from other brands and this is one of the most impressive cameras I’ve seen. I’m going to cover what I liked and what I didn’t like about A7iii and there is a specific thing about the AF that I think is critical for you to know either before buying this camera, of even if you already bought it, so let’s get going. I’m going to very quickly go over some overall key features in case you’re just starting your research.
The A7iii is of course the updated version of the A7ii and from what I see, it’s an upgrade in virtually every way. The newer sensor is better in both bright and low light, the AF system significantly better. But like I said it’s not all perfect so let’s talk about the good and the bad and see if this is the right fit.
The A7iii has a 24MP full frame BSI sensor and BIONZ X image processor. If I’m comparing it with another one of my favorite cameras of 2018 the Fuji X-T3, that camera comes with a 26.1MP sensor but it is an APS-C sensor. Going back to the A7iii, without getting into the nerdiness of BSI (or Back Side Illuminated – sometimes you’ll hear BI or Back Illuminated). It basically means that some of the elements were moved to the back of the sensor with the goal being better low-light performance. From day one of using this camera, I was so impressed with how well the A7iii performs in low light. And that was right out of the box, without changing any settings, or using a picture profile I specifically set up for low light. I’ll be publishing a tutorial which covers the exact custom settings I use when shooting in low light, and there a little bit of setup involved but it takes a few minutes and once you have it saved you’re golden. If that’s something you’re interested in and you don’t see a link up in the corner or in the description, drop me a comment so I know people are interested. But going back, this is really only optimizing the already incredible low-light capabilities of the A7III.
Back to the sensor, this is an excellent option you’re shooting portraits, landscape, events, weddings and even sports and street photography. Plus, if you’re just doing family and lifestyle photography and video and you want outstanding results, you’re not going to be disappointed with this sensor.
I mentioned video, and this was one of the main reasons I chose this camera. And for what I’ve seen so far, for 4K video it challenges cameras like the Panasonic GH5 and Fuji X-T3. I’ll get into this more in a later section, but it’s going to give you beautiful, crisp 4K video with improved color science.
The Sony “color” is something that some people like, some don’t, to me it seems to have a bit of a greenish tint, which I normally adjust in Post. But there is a definitely improvement over something like what I was getting from the A6500. That was the sensor, let’s talk a little about the processor. Sony went with the Bionz X processor which together with front-end LSI results in faster processing times and the ability to capture 15-stops of dynamic range at low ISO values. And you’re going to notice this when you go outside and try to shoot in very challenging conditions. So when you’re shooting in situations where there is a significant discrepancy between the brightest and darkest parts of your scene, this is going to to be able to handle it a lot better than a sensor with a more limited dynamic range. Together with the nice sensor, you’re going to get sharper images and video and really nice low light performance. The Bionz X also makes the camera really fast to operate. The A7iii is pretty responsive for both video and stills. General menu operation is fast, it has a very quick startup and things like Image preview and video playback again are very fast.
For photography, the can shoot at up to 10fps burst, or continuous, shooting with continuous autofocus. So I can just hold down the shutter and the camera will just keep firing. This is a nice feature if you’re photographing kids running around, if you’re as a sporting event, or any time when you’re shooting any fast moving subjects. And we’ll talk about this a little more later but the continuous autofocus during burst shooting is pretty impressive.
From a video standpoint, the A7iii can record internally at up to 4K 30 fps. 4:2:0 8-bit video and 4k 30 fps 4:2:2 externally.
One of the most important things for me with any tool that I use, is ergonomics. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about it. The A7III is both bigger and heavier than the A7ii, but It’s on the smaller and more compact size when I consider the fact that it’s a full frame sensor camera. The grip is nice and deep and is comfortable to hold. For my hand, it’s just tall enough to where I don’t feel like I need the grip, but I wouldn’t hate using it with one. If you do get the grip and have another body like the A7Riii or the A9, the same grip will work for all 3 cameras which is a nice bonus. And that grip holds 2 batteries, so you’re now shooting forever. The body has a magnesium-alloy chassis and the weather sealing makes the A7 III dust and moisture resistant. The new NP-FZ battery which is also used on the A7Riii and the A9 is amazing. You might think, “it’s a battery, who cares, I’ll just get and bring extra batteries” which is totally true. Except that it’s nice not to have to. This battery is rated for something like 710 shots and it feels like it lasts forever. Sony doesn’t include a charger which is more annoying, and you have to either use a micro-usb or usb-c cable to charge it, or you need to buy a charger. I think if you’re buying a 2K camera, it should come with a charger. I didn’t even think about it, I got an extra battery like I always do, and I don’t really use it because I have to take the battery out of the camera and put the extra one in, in order to charge. Luckily, like I said, the battery lasts forever, but come on – throw in a charger. You can also use the camera while it’s plugged in which is awesome if you want to use it for video or even streaming and don’t want to worry about the battery.
As far as buttons and dials, this is a major strength of the A7III. I think if you’re buying a camera and are just using it with the factory settings you’re really missing out. Part of the what you get for buying a higher end camera is the ability to customize it to work better for how you shoot. I have a follow up video that will show you exactly how I set up the A7iii. I recommend that you check it out when it’s published and even if you don’t end up using it the way I do, it will give you some great ideas and you can pick and choose what works best for you. On the right side we have a little barn door with dual card slots which is phenomenal. You can of course either use in sequence so that the camera starts using card 2 when card 1 is full. Or, what I recommend is that you have them mirrored so that you have an immediate backup. This is super important when doing client work, where immediately after the shoot, we split up the cards and they are kept by two different people in case something is lost, stolen or damaged. Only one of these slots is rated for the faster UHS-II which is kinda strange; maybe Sony was saving money. Something that happened to me (which I never experienced on any other camera before) was that I used Lexar Professional SD-XC UHS-II card and the A7III wasn’t able to read it, and I got an error on the screen. It didn’t work in either slots. I formatted it in the camera and then it worked, but first only in slot 1 at first. It was a little inconsistent and maybe there is a compatibility issue with this particular card type. I also know that there are issues with the camera and some Sandisk cards, so hopefully this is something Sony can take care of with a firmware update. If anyone watching has had this same experience or any feedback about that I would be super interested in reading your comments. My older Sandisk worked great and as long as both slots work, it’s great to have 2 SD slots – I’m looking right at you Canon EOS R.
The viewfinder is good, but not great. It is a 2.36m-dot EVF and If I’m comparing it to something like the EOS R which has a 3.69-dot EVF, then it’s obviously not as sharp. Sony kept their higher resolution 3.68M dot EVF for the A7Riii and the A9 which makes sense to me. You need to be able to offer increased value in your high-end models, otherwise no one would buy them. I talked already about how amazing this camera is as far as the ability to customize buttons.
What’s not amazing is the menu system. And it’s not the menu design that I found problematic. It’s actually super easy to use, it’s split into categories that make sense and you can clearly see what page you’re on and you can navigate up to the top level and move from one category to the next without having to scroll right through every page. So that part is actually well done. The issue is that it seems disorganized which leads to confusion. Features and settings just aren’t where I would expect them to be and aren’t sorted in the order I would expect based on importance. And I’ve shot with many other Sony cameras and this seems to be my general impression.
I’m going to go back and say that from an actual usability standpoint, it’s easy to navigate and move around if you know exactly where something is, but expect to do a lot of searching in the beginning. I’ll post a few tutorials that will show you how to customize the settings and the good thing is that because of how many buttons there are and how much you can customize it, once I got the camera set up how I wanted, I very rarely interact with the menu.
Next I want to talk about resolution, framerates and image quality. For stills, the A7iii has a maximum resolution for 6000 x 4000 which is more than what most people would ever need unless you’re planning on printing something huge. It can of course shoot in both JPEG and RAW so you can decide just how much information you want to capture depending on what you plan to do with the images in post production. The Image quality for stills is phenomenal. The images are tack sharp with fantastic dynamic range. It has some of the best JPEG noise reduction I’ve seen on any camera and the Sony colors are improving, specifically for skin tones. It still has the Sony “look” which I happen to like. But if you’re coming from Canon, it’s going to look slightly cool to you and you might find that the blues or greens are a little boosted. There is definitely some personal preference there so I’m just sharing my impressions and of course, and all of this can be easily worked out in Post.
For video, the A7III can record 4k video at up to 30fps and FULL HD, 1080P at 24, 30, 60 and 120fps. The A7iii can internally record 4k30p at 4:2:0 8-bit as well as 4k30p 4:2:2 8 bit via HDMI output, both at 100 Mb/s. Depending on how much I graded the footage, I didn’t always find recording externally to be a meaningful enough difference to justify a larger setup. As far as framerates, this isn’t exactly leading the pack. We have the GH5, the Fuji X-T3 and even the Nikon Z6 and Z7 which offer higher bit and framerate. That is of course assuming that all other things are equal which as we know, they are not; but I’ll leave that to the comparison video. A little nerd talk here. If you’re shooting 4k24p then the footage is oversampled from 6k which renders incredible detail. I mean, 4k footage from this camera is absolutely stunning, we’re using the full width of the sensor here and there’s no pixel binning. If you’re shooting at 4k30p then the footage is oversampled from 5k video capture and there is a 1.2x crop factor. Depending on how much of a pixel peeper you are, you could notice a difference in the quality between 4k24p and 4k30p, but honestly, it’s so good, that I don’t even think about it.
Going to 1080p we have a lot more options, you can shoot 24, 30, 60 and 120fps. 24, 30 and 60 offer 2 different bitrates, always choose the higher one to get the best quality. The quality of the Full HD or 1080p isn’t as good as the 4K quality, of course, and if you’re editing in 1080p and want the absolute best footage, you can shoot at 4K then downscale it to 1080p in post. You will definitely see sharper footage with more detail if you choose to go that route. Of course you have to deal with 4K footage, but that’s the price you pay.
Now let’s get to 120fps which is one of the reasons someone who was previously shooting Canon is using a Sony camera. I love slow motion. I do, I can’t help it. And I love the footage I’m getting at 120fps with 100Mbps. The autofocus works really well and I’m super happy with the quality. There is also a video option called S&Q which if you’re not familiar with, allows you to select frame rates ranging from 1 frame per second all the way up to 120 frames per second. The camera will then either slow it down or speed it up to either 24 or 30fps. So if you’re using S&Q 120fps, and you watch the clip in camera or on your computer, it will already be slowed down, vs shooting regular 1080p 120fps which will still need to be slowed down in your video editor. I personally always shoot regular 1080P 120 and then slow it down in post because I think the quality is better. You can also use this feature to shoot a fairly limited timelapse. Meaning, the slowest you should shoot is 1 frame per second. So it’s not great, but Sony doesn’t offer a dedicated in-body timelapse feature and they removed most of the functionality from the PlayMemories App. So if you’re in a bind, it is what it is. You can’t really drag the shutter and like I said, the slowest interval is 1 second, but when in a bind you use what you have.
Alright, next, let’s talk about autofocus. One of the reasons I had been hesitant to use Sony cameras is that I have not had the best experience when it comes to continuous autofocus for video. Previously, for stills, the Sony AF has been good, but for video, the continuous AF would hunt and was just inconsistent. Well, the A7iii has a new AF system which is essentially the same system implemented in the A9. It uses 693 phase detection AF points that cover 93% of the sensor which when you think about is pretty incredible. For photos, the focus is very fast, using both Sony and adapted lenses from both Canon and Sigma together with the Sigma MC-11 adapter. I mostly used AF-C in flexible spot and used the joystick to control the focus zone. This was super reliable and worked really well for me even in low light. The Eye AF is insane with this camera. It’s so good. Basically I have it mapped to one of the buttons so that I can just hold it down it it’s killer. I was most surprised that it worked even when the person was wearing glasses. I love the green marker, you can’t miss it. And if it doesn’t find the eye, there is still the fallback to face detection. So again, it was good and fast with both the sony lenses and the adapted Canon and Sigma lenses. And really the only time it failed me was in back-lit low light at which point it just reverted to face detection. I’m not really ever shooting like that anyway but I was trying to see how far I can push it.
For video, I noticed a significant improvement over the previous Sony cameras that I’ve used. Sony has pretty confusing focus settings, there are a lot of them and at first glance there seems to be some confusing overlap. But once you dive deeper into each setting and dial down to the one you want for a particular scenario, it works incredibly well. I’m going to do a follow-up video dedicated to autofocus because I think there is so much to cover, but coming from Canon, which I still think has my favorite AF for video, this is the first time where I looked at a Sony camera and was super impressed. I really like the flexibility of being able to control how much of a change the camera needs to detect before shifting focus and on top of that having control of how fast or slow it will rack focus.
Moving to video, the Sony AF is good! And with subject tracking, I just really enjoyed using it. Face detection for video is pretty good as long as there is decent light, but there are some strange limitations. For example, if you use an external monitor because there is no fully articulating screen and you’re shooting in 4K you might find that your face detection no longer works. For some reason, Sony disabled this feature for both 4K 24 and 4k 30 which is super frustrating. Now, that is if you’re just using the monitor, to, well, monitor. If you disable internal recording, and use an external recorder with a monitor then face detection will turn back on. So if you need a monitor, and you need face detection, you have to also record externally. This doesn’t make sense to me, but it is what it is.
One thing I wanted to tell you about has to do with using adapted lenses. I used the Sigma MC-11 adapter which worked beautifully for me with both my Canon and canon-mount Sigma lenses for stills. Autofocus was extremely fast and the images were super sharp. If you have Canon or Sigma lenses and you’re a photographer, I definitely recommend using the Sigma MC-11. For video, only the Sigma lenses were able to use the continuous autofocus mode of the camera. None of my L-series Canon lenses would work for continuous autofocus and I had to use manual focus. I’ve read that you can kinda get it to work with the Metabones Mark V but with pretty inconsistent results. And for me, that’s never going to work. If I can’t count on the autofocus, I’m not using that lens. Of course, this doesn’t matter to you if you’re using Sony lenses, but I thought it was important so that you don’t buy this camera and expect it to do something it won’t. So to recap my opinion about the AF – for stills it’s fantastic, which I expected, but the AF for video as long as you’re using native and sigma lenses has definitely improved on the A7iii.
Alright, let’s move to lens options – and I think a lot of people forget to look at this part when they shop for a camera. When I test cameras, I like to use a variety of lenses at different price points to help give people a true feel of what they should expect. I used the Sony 28-70mm 3.5-5.6 which comes with Optical Image Stabilization. This is an inexpensive lens and I found that for the price, it did quite well. It couldn’t compete with my L-Series glass, and of course it’s not a constant aperture, and it’s not a very fast lens, but again, as a function of price, I think it’s a good value. Lenses are a bit of a touchy subject for some people. It’s not a matter of quality, it’s a matter of cost. If you’re looking at the GM lenses, you’re looking at incredible glass, but expect to spend some serious cash for it. For a quick comparison, the Sony GM 70-200 2.8 is $2600 and if I compare it to the Canon L-Series 70-200 2.8 MKIII which costs $2100 I’m looking at an extra $500. The Sony 24-70mm 2.8 is $2,200 and the Canon is usually $1,900 (although if you look it up now it’s $200 OFF at $1,700. So you’re either looking at a $500 or $300 difference. And this continues.
For me, if I’m shooting professionally, this difference isn’t significant. I know $500 a lens is a big chunk and it adds up as you get more and more lenses, but I know this coming in and I would build that cost into my business plan. This would be a tool I would use regularly and I don’t mind in investing in it, but I think it should be part of your decision-making process when you choose a system. So to revisit, Sony has an outstanding selection of premium lenses at a premium price. Sigma has also announced that they are going to start making 9 of their art series prime lenses for the E mount. That’s going to make a lot of people happy. Unfortunately, they haven’t said anything about zoom lenses, but I’m telling you it’s coming.
Let’s talk a little about the screen. The A7iii has a 3” tilting touchscreen-ish LCD. Let’s start with the tilt. You can tilt the screen up to 107 degrees which is good when you’re shooting from the hip or anytime when you’re above the camera. You can tilt id down but only to 41 degrees which is a little frustrating. So you can’t always get the angle you want if the camera is at a high angle. It does not articulate to the side and doesn’t flip or face the front. That is something that might be a deal-breaker for me. What I try to do in my videos is share with you my experience, based on how I use a camera – and I concede that that you might use it differently. So a practical example. I went to shoot some footage on a single handle gimbal and the screen is pretty much blocked by the back motor. Also, if I want to use it underslung of if I am walking around someone and want the camera to be facing to the side, I can’t see the screen.
When I use my large rig, I’m always using an external monitor, so in that case it’s not an issue, and I know I could attach an external monitor to my single handle gimbal, but they reason why I’m using it in the first place, is because I want a smaller and more portable solution so that would defeat the purpose. It was also an issue if I was using it on a slider here I’m not always directly behind the camera. So for me, that’s a real pain point and it creates friction. But if you don’t plan on using these tools, or if you’re just willing to deal with it, I totally get that. I would prefer that Sony just implement a fully articulating screen and charge me an extra $100 and we call it a day.
Now let’s get to touchscreen – I said touchscreen-ish because it is technically a touch screen. You can use it to set a focus point or to select a subject for AF but that’s it – you can’t control the menu you can’t change settings, none of that. Again, I’m not sure why Sony would do this. The screen is clearly capable of detecting touch and it seems like the next logical functionality. As far as the quality of the image – it’s fine. It’s not great and definitely not as good as the A7Riii or the A9. It’s a 922K-dot display vs 1.44M-dot displays on the A7Riii and the A9. The Canon EOS R, just as another example, has a 2.1M-dot LCD. The screen quality is not a deal-breaker for me, and I could make it pretty bright using the brightness setting and I didn’t really have issues with it as far as brightness goes – I just wish it was sharper.
I also want to talk about other features that this camera has that may help you make a buying decision. First I want to talk about image stabilization. The A7iii does have in-body image stabilization. And we’re not talking about digital image stabilization of course, we have 5-axis sensor-shift stabilization meaning that the actual sensor is moving to compensate for, and offset camera movement. And Sony says it can minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to 5 stops. I didn’t have a scientific way to measure this but I’ll just say that having shot on a lot of cameras, and having a feel for what for what I should and shouldn’t be able to do with my shutterspeed, the stabilization is noticeable. What’s great here is that this lets you get image stabilization with lenses that don’t offer optical image stabilization – so that’s a huge bonus.
For video, if you plan on shooting handheld, this is also going to help because it’s going to reduce some of that shakiness. It’s not as good as the GH5, but that’s expected. The GH5 has a tiny sensor in a large body so it makes sense that it would do a much better job. Having said that, the image stabilization does make a difference which like I said is noticeable for someone who shoots a lot with Canon. I almost never shoot handheld, I’m usually on a tripod, gimbal or slider but I like to have the option to get another type of shot so this is something that I’m happy to have.
Next I want to talk about timelapse. The A7iii does not do in-body timelapse, and on top of that it doesn’t even have a built-in intervalometer. That’s pretty disappointing to me. So I’m forced to use an external intervalometer every time I want to do a timelapse. This ties into the next thing I want to talk about and that’s the playmemories app. It’s fairly basic, you can control shooting mode, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, White Balance for both photography and video.
For stills, you also control the self timer, continuous shooting settings, and there are some flash options. For video you can adjust your framerate, movie format and you can start and stop recording. There is a big of a lag, and it seems to buffer every so on, but if you’re just using it for framing It will work for you as a remote control and monitor so there’s that. What is disappointing is that you can’t select or even see the focus mode and zone. So you have no idea what the camera is set to and you can’t change or select it. For what I would want it do, this makes the app pretty useless. The only thing I can see really using it for is again, framing myself for video and maybe doing macro photography, so that I can trigger the camera without touching the shutter and in that case I’m setting focus manually. On top of that, I could preview and transfer images to my phone but not videos, they were grayed out.
In my opinion Sony needs to do better. We’re talking about software here, and it’s not a significant ongoing expense. We don’t need a ton of features, but autofocus control, timelapse and complete file transfer should do it. Develop it once and make everyone happy. The next set of features that I want to bring up have to do with Audio. We have a mic input and a headphone jack so I can use an external microphone to get much better audio and can also monitor audio while recording. Another thing that is sometimes missing on other cameras is the audio levels display is always available when you’re in movie mode and just makes my life easier. So on some cameras, you have to go into the menu to set and see your levels, but then when you go back to recording, the levels aren’t displayed, which isn’t great.
Ok, so I think the A7iii is one of my favorite cameras if I’m looking for one camera to do photography and video. Actually, scratch that, it’s one of my favorite cameras – period. To recap, it’s Sony’s entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera, but I’m super impressed by how powerful it is and the image quality and functionality are superb. For photography, the image quality is so good, the autofocus is super fast and the eye detection is outstanding. For video, autofocus has definitely improved and I’m starting to like the extra level of control there. I love how much I can customize the buttons and I really did some work to get it to function exactly how I want it to, so that I don’t have to go into the menu very much. I get incredibly sharp and detailed 4K at up to 30fps, and Full HD or 1080P in up to 120 FPS which lets me do 4x slow motion at when I edit videos in 30fps or 5x when I edit in 24fps. The lenses are expensive but the quality is definitely there, and I’ve got IBIS and dual SD card slots – although I did mention the card compatibility issue. And the option for an external microphone to monitor audio using the headphone jack is also a fantastic bonus for videographers. The screen are viewfinder are ok, they are not like what you get with the top of the line Sony, but again, this isn’t the top of the line so there have to be some differentiators. It’s relatively small, considering it’s a full frame camera and I really like the ability to shoot at both full frame and APS-C or Super35 so I can maximize my focal length. The build quality seems pretty solid, and of course the more I use it the more I’ll be able to give you feedback there. Remote functionality using the app is pretty bad and there is no built-in way to shoot a timelapse which I would have really liked. The body alone sells is right under $2,000 and I think it’s a very good value if you’re looking for a full frame camera. We talked about the prices of the top-of-the-line Sony lenses. They aren’t cheap, but they are excellent in terms of build quality, sharpness and bokeh. This is the first video in this series and I have several more coming to show you my favorite cinematic settings, and a low light settings tutorial, so if you’re interested in learning more, go ahead and hit that Subscribe button so you’re notified when they are published.
I’ll put links in the description to the body as well as some lenses and accessories that I liked because there are always specials and discounts and the links will be automatically updated with the lowest pricing.
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You know what I always say, buy it nice or buy it twice!
Good luck and see you soon.
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