Well, I did it. As outlined in my article My Long Road to Full-frame, I now own a Sony A7 III. As the name would suggest, this is the third generation of the “basic” A7 model. “Basic” is in quotes because the feature set is anything but basic. I guess if compared feature to feature against the 42MP resolution of the A7rIII or the blinding speed of the A9 it would sit at the bottom of the list. A close third place in that race is certainly no cause for shame and as of April 2018, it is easily the best all-around camera you can buy in its price range. This was my reasoning for choosing it to make the jump to the world of full-frame digital photography. Since I’m coming from a very satisfying multi-year experience with Sony’s A6000 and a6300, a lot of my impressions of the A7 III will relate to them.
Unboxing/Look and Feel
It’s been a while since I bought a camera and I feel a little silly about how excited I was while waiting for FedEx to show up. I asked several people if it was over the top to leave milk and cookies out for the driver and the answers were what you might expect.
I had pre-ordered the camera body only along with the 24-105mm f4G which was backordered at the time but due a week to ten days after the release date for the body. The release date came and went and I was notified my camera wouldn’t arrive for a month or so. A few obscure shops showed stock but they either sold out before I could order or sounded a little too shady. A couple of days after the release, a random check of B&H at 3:00 AM found stock on the kit with the 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 FE lens. (I live on the West Coast and work remotely out of Illinois, so 3:00 AM isn’t all that unusual.) Click – ordered it – click – cancelled the body only order on the other site. This actually worked out better since the 24-105mm still wasn’t due for a week and the only FE lenses I had was an adapted 100mm f/2.8 Minolta A-mount macro and an A-mount Lensbaby Composer, also adapted. Not only did I have a lens to play with right away but getting a decent kit zoom for $200 was a pretty good deal.
Smaller than I expected. Having handled it’s ancestor, the A7, I’m not sure why I was expecting it to be bigger. Maybe since I have read over and over again that full-frame Alphas aren’t really any smaller than a DSLR. This might be true compared to the compact, entry-level APS-C DSLRs like the stripped down Canon Rebel SL-1 but compared the something closer in capability like the Nikon D750, the difference is significant, striking even. Even in the APS-C or Micro 4/3 mirrorless world, it is about the same size as the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and smaller than either the Panasonic DC-GH5S or the Fuji X-H1. The only non-Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras to compare it with are the Leica M series (roughly the same) and the new SL (larger). By the time you add the size of the price tag for the Leicas, they are much too large to fit in my camera bag. When I consider that it also has sensor-based stabilization crammed in there, the tech geek in me just smiles. As you would expect, it feels solid and except for the annoying rattles when you shake it….just kidding. It was the strap rings rattling. Because of its size and the probability that there’s not a wasted cubic anything inside, it actually seems heavier than it is.
Menus, Controls and Customization:
I had ordered a couple of backup NP-FZ100 batteries along with an external charger ahead of the camera’s arrival, so I had a fully charged battery ready to start the deep dive into the menus. Needlessly. The included battery had 75% on it. Having dealt with Sony menus for 10 years, the new layout wasn’t a shock to the senses. There are a lot of options and options are good. The level of customization available with the new (to me) “My Menu”, the Fn menu and a host of assignable buttons makes trips to the main menu rare and its complexity irrelevant once the camera is set up to your liking. I really don’t see the need for a forest of dials like some of the retro-styled bodies. I guess a top plate LCD makes sense if you don’t have an EVF but having both is a waste of real estate to me. To my taste, the controls on the A7 III are just about perfect.
The mode dial doesn’t lock but it has firm detents to keep it from rotating unless you want it to. The front and rear adjustment dials take a deliberate action to move as well. The dedicated exposure compensation wheel was a joyful discovery. (Never noticed it in photos for some reason.) I use compensation fairly often and the Down > Left <> Right of the multi-dial on the APS-C bodies was handy but not like having the dial right there where your thumb can get to it easily.
Here’s a rundown of the menu mods I chose along with button assignments:
• File Format (RAW, JPEG, etc.)
• High ISO Noise Reduction
• Bracket Settings
• AF Illuminator
• Airplane Mode
• Monitor Brightness
• Touch Operations
• Touch Pad Settings
• Spot Metering Point
• C1 – Focus Mode
• C2 – Focus Mag.
• C3 – Focus Area
• C4 – Silent Shooting
• Wheel, Down – DRO/HDR
• Wheel, Center – Focus Mag., again
• AEL – AEL Spot Hold
• Joystick Press – Eye AF
We’ll see if these choices stand up to the reality of everyday use.
The Pop-up Flash
Oh, well… Welcome to pro-level bodies. Though I never used them much anyway, I may pick up a small unit for travel. The larger Nissin Di-700 that I got for the A6x00 bodies works perfectly when I need flash and the radio controller for my Alien Bees strobes works as well.
As I said before, the A7 III is smaller than expected but fits my medium-sized hands well. My little finger is still more comfortable curling under the body which is just a bit too short for it to get a good grip. The larger curve of the grip itself is comfortable and feels very secure. Like the A6300, it has an indentation on the inside surface where the middle and ring fingertips naturally rest which adds to the sense of a secure grip. The 90° up and 45° down tilt of the LCD monitor is the same as all the other Alphas. I’m not sure how much size and weight a fully articulated LCD would add or how prone to damage it would be but my guess is that Sony has prototyped it and still hasn’t decided to do it. Probably for good engineering reasons since a few bucks more to cover it on one of these cameras wouldn’t be much of an issue.
As when I moved from the NEX-7 to the A6000, the lower resolution viewfinder was listed as a negative on most of the review sites and similarly, the large clear view seemed just fine to me. My only issue will probably not matter to someone who hasn’t been shooting with an APS-C Alpha. Its viewfinder is in the center, not on the left. This left me groping for offset controls for a while. The controls and buttons themselves are more tactile than on the A6x00 bodies. I tend to adjust to menus or layout pretty quickly but getting used to all the options at my fingertips will take a while to get used to.
The 8 oz. difference in weight is noticeable but not night and day. When the 24-105mm is mounted the difference will be a full pound over the A6300 with the 18-105 f/4 G on it but to me, that’s comfortably covered by the phrase, “you don’t get something for nothing”.
For the last four years I have shot with either an A6000 or an A6300 and I’m used to snappy, accurate focus. The A7 III is snappier and more accurate. That sounds like a trivial compliment, but remember that the A6x00 cameras have excellent autofocus, equaling or exceeding all but the best of the enthusiast DSLRs. The autofocus on the A7 III is good enough that you don’t reallynotice it. It just happens. The eye tracking Eye-AF is much faster and stickier that on the A6300 and the focus tracking of moving subjects is noticeably better with the huge number of focus points now covering very nearly the entire frame (693 phase-detection AF points, 425 contrast-detection AF points). Moving the focus point manually is easier with the joystick nub than it was with the eight-way controller. One of the newer features on Sony cameras is a somewhat limited touch-screen interface. Since I come from a history of SLR and DSLR cameras and not P&S or a smartphone, a touch screen was never even on my radar as a desired feature. I’ll come back and update this when I have some experience since I honestly keep forgetting to use it.
At 10 frames per second, burst shooting is on par with the A6X00 cameras only with a way deeper buffer than the A6300 (up to 177 JPEG/80 compressed RAW). Like the A6300, the viewfinder displays a live image at 8 frames per second. At the full 10 fps you get a snappy, but not quite live slideshow. Unlike the A6x00 cameras, menus, camera settings and review is available while the buffer clears. It also has a little counter that displays the number of images left in the queue waiting to be written. The burst speed and its ability to track focus performs above all but a few current cameras and nothing in it’s price range.
Even though they share the same 24MP on the sensor, the A7 III has two years of technology on the A6300, not to mention sheer size. Below is one of my first test shots taken in the very early morning while I was sitting on the couch watching TV and playing with menus and such. The only light in the room was the TV and the very acceptable image below was shot handheld at ISO51200.
I can live with that.
Quite a while ago when I started shooting with the A700, I discovered the value of the Dynamic Range Optimizer function. Sony introduced this innovative process way back in it original A100 DSLR. It analyzes segments of the image (as many as 4000 in later iterations) and boosts the tone/ISO to recover shadows and block blown highlights. I have shot at DRO Level 2 for years finding that it gave a nice boost to shadow detail without introducing too much noise (an unfortunate by-product). On the A7 III, I have turned it off for now. The amount of recovery in JPEG is pretty darned incredible and not worrying about too much noise/correction smearing at the 100/12800 auto ISO is a bonus. On a bright-day shore excursion or a visit to local wildflower venues, I may turn it back on but for now I will bow to the A7 III’s technological superiority.
Like the A6300, being able to turn on the camera’s wi-fi server and transfer images for editing, posting or email is just plain handy. The PlayMemories app as a camera remote control is still a thing but in practical use, I still seldom need to remotely control my camera.
I Never Thought I’d Miss Apps on a Camera
You know that convenient intervalometer app you use for time-lapse and astrophotography? Gone. As are all the other PlayMemories apps. Will Sony end support for apps on the APS-C cameras too? If they do, maybe they’ll release something like the Pluto Trigger to replace the functionality.
It’s hard to shoot with the A7 III for more than a couple of hours without noticing that you haven’t changed a battery. The new NP-FZ100 battery is almost twice as large, exactly twice as heavy and provides well over twice the power of the NP-FW50. There may also be some additional internal efficiencies introduced into the new FF cameras because the batteries last quite a long time. You can also power the camera via USB while shooting. This isn’t new but is worth mentioning.
What do I think of the ILCE-7M3? I think I made a good choice. I liked the original NEX-5 when it came out and the NEX-7 set me firmly on the road to a mirrorless-only camera bag. When I got my A6000, I knew right away that it was a milestone moment with DSLR focusing and image performance in such a compact body. It went on to become that largest selling ILC in history. I have the same tingle when using the A7 III. It just checks so many boxes that even the most die-hard fat-camera fanatic will have to take notice. It is not the perfect camera for everyone, mostly because that camera doesn’t exist. For me, it is pretty darn close. I probably represent the average “enthusiast” with a very mild case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, so I don’t just buy camera equipment just to own it. I use what I own (and use it a lot) and keep it until it wears out or doesn’t do what I want it to do anymore. I honestly feel that the A7 III will be with me for quite a while. Buying a shiny new camera and a couple of lenses won’t automatically make anyone a better photographer. What a better camera can do is inspire. The A7 III is a better camera than I am a photographer and it challenges me to push myself to get the most out of it. It is a great time to be a photographer.
May 2018 – After a week of carrying the A7M3 with the kit lens on a cruise ship and around various venues, I really didn’t feel any great difference from the A6300. After bolting on the 24-105 however, I became concerned that I was moving too far back up the ladder to a DSLR-a-saurus. I dragged out the 18-105 f/4 G and replaced the Rokinon 12mm I had been carrying on the A6300 and found my fears were unfounded. While it is a bit bigger (a surprisingly small bit, all things considered) and most of a pound heavier, the difference isn’t all that great. Trading a pound for 4x the usable ISO and Eye-of-God focusing is a more than acceptable trade-off for me.
January 2019 – Sony announced the A6400 APS-C nid-range body with advanced autofocus tracking and an actual, built-in intervalometer right there on the menu. Both enhancements will be available via a firmware update for the A7 III, A7r III and A9 in April, 2019.