If you are a hybrid shooter on a tight budget, the a7 III should be strongly considered.
If you are a hybrid shooter on a tight budget, the a7 III should be strongly considered.

Editor's Choice AwardThe Sony a7 III is a solid camera. It’s got everything a budget shooter needs. It also captures up to 120 frames per second (fps) in full HD and up to 30 fps in UHD 4k. Add in two different log picture profiles and a price tag of $2,000, and you have a formidable camera. But that’s not all, it’s also has a full frame sensor with better than average low light performance. Those are just the video features; throw in the ability to capture up to 10 RAW photos per second at 24.2 Megapixels (MP) and you have a hybrid shooter’s dream.

The a7 III can be compared to another Sony camera in its third iteration. Released last year, the a7R III is a very similar camera, but the a7R III gives you more resolution at 42 MP and 1.3 million more pixels in the monitor, justifying the larger price tag of $3,000. Both cameras share a larger battery than their mark II counterparts.

In use

The first thing we do with Sony cameras is reassign the buttons to suit our muscle memory. For some, leaving them alone might be the best option, but since we shoot on a lot of different cameras, we re-assign the buttons to be as consistent as possible when we can. We also dive into the custom menu to make sure that we can find all of the menu options we may want to access quickly. As we get our bearings, we also like to set up the picture profiles we want to shoot on — something that can be trickier than you would expect. Sony hides S-Log2 and S-Log3 in the picture profile presets under PP7 for S-Log2 and PP8 and PP9 for S-Log3. Panasonic, Canon, and Fujifilm make finding the log function easier with clearer labels.

The FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS is the kit lens for the a7 III, and costs $400 dollars alone (in the kit it is an additional $200 dollars). This is a good fit if you don’t have any E mount lenses. For the majority of this review we shot with four different Sony lenses, which Sony provided to us.

Review conducted with a number of E-mount lenses
Review conducted with a number of E-mount lenses

First, the FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens costs $1,300. Because the low light performance of the a7 III is more than two stops greater than the typical camera, the f/4 aperture is not hard to work with. The second lens is our favorite Sony lens, the FE 85mm f/1.4 GM with a cost of $1,800. A wonderful focal length for portraits or interviews, this glass is special and allows for a superb image. Offering great looking bokeh with good sharpness, it’s a lens to be experienced. The last two lenses — the FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM and the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM — both cost $2,200. These are great lenses, with typical focal lengths and a good value. However, f/2.8 is not necessary with this camera. We’d recommend you save the money if you’re considering a wider aperture for low light performance; it’s just not needed.

We shot in UHD 4K at 24 frames per second and a bitrate of 100 megabits per second. Making sure we had the correct SD card for the data rate, we were just about ready to go. We always start with a fresh format of the cards in the camera. We clean the lens and sensor, and perform a check on the battery life.

We enjoy shooting with mirrorless cameras like the a7 III. Along with internal sensor stabilization, its light weight makes it a great run-and-gun camera. We like the camera’s monitor, especially since it’s bright enough to preview your shot even in direct sun with its brightness set to sunny weather. What we don’t like is that it’s still just a tilt monitor–not a fully articulating one. The a7 III is around the same price as the Panasonic GH5, and the GH5’s articulating screen is one of the reasons it’s chosen over the a7 III. With that said, the sensor on the GH5 is much smaller, so it’s a give and take.

Bright, tiltable rear monitor
Bright, tiltable rear monitor

Sony includes hybrid autofocus (AF) in the a7 III. That means the camera uses both contrast and phase detection to gain focus. Phase detection AF is fast but not very accurate, whereas contrast AF is slow but accurate. Combine the two and you get fast and accurate — and it works pretty well. In situations where pulling focus is too difficult, like off a gimbal, jib or drone, it’s going to be your best option. However, a trained eye and a deliberate camera operator will still get a better focus faster than allowing the machine to choose what to keep in focus. It passes for some situations, but shouldn’t be the default.

Photo features

The a7 III is a great hybrid camera. Shoot video, shoot photos — either way you’re covered. Its 24.2 MP full frame sensor can shoot up to 10 fps full resolution RAW for up to 89 Frames, and up to 10 fps in full resolution JPEG for 177 frames. Get astounding 14-bit color when shooting photos and up to 15 stops of dynamic range. When shooting stills, the AF is key. We found it to be quite fast — not quite as fast as its big brother the a9, but still worth using.

Battery Life

Prior to the a7R III, all Sony Alpha cameras suffered from a short battery life. The new battery allows for at least double the performance of the prior model. When shooting video we experienced at least a two hour life per battery. Depending on how much we used the monitor and at what brightness, we saw our battery last as much as 40 minutes more or 20 minutes less. Additionally, we are happy to report there are no inherent overheating issues with this camera. Sure, if you are shooting outdoors in the sun at 100 degrees, it’s possible you could run into some issues, but we didn’t experience any during our testing. The biggest issue when it comes to the battery of the a7 III is that the camera doesn’t come with a charger, just a USB cable. Sony will get $80 dollars more out of you if you require a separate charger — and it’s likely you will. However, with the longer battery life, you won’t need to buy as many extra batteries.

Tests

There are a few tests we do on every camera that comes through our doors. We test the low light performance, rolling shutter and moire. To test the low light performance we start at the lowest ISO, keeping the aperture constant and adjusting the shutter speed to counteract the increased light from upping the ISO. We tested in both full frame and super 35 modes. When shooting full frame, we saw that noise was introduced in to the picture at ISO 6400, and the image was usable all the way up to 25600. Past that and the image loses significant detail.

On the a7 III, you can shoot either in full frame mode, or cropped super 35 mode. This will allow you to do a no resolution loss zoom on a lens, just by changing the crop of the sensor. In super 35 mode, the crop factor is 1.5 times.  When shooting in super 35 mode, noise started a full stop sooner at 3200 and the image is usable only up to 12800. This is in line with the a7R III and the a6500. However, the a7S II is still the best performing low light camera out there.

Rolling shutter is a simple test where we look for a wobbly image by panning the camera left and right at increasing speeds, starting at a slow rate and building up to a whip pan. We pointed the camera at a light stand so that we could observe how much of a bend the rolling shutter effect creates. Sony nailed it, the camera has very little rolling shutter effects — you won’t see any wobble or jello effect on your image when panning quickly.

To test moire, we pointed the a7 III at our DSC Labs sine zone chart. Through panning and tilting, the fine lines on the chart will show if there are any concerns with the moire. We saw a sharp picture without any dancing lines throughout the chart, even at the closest resolution. No matter what lens we used, we saw no moire.

What Sony does well

Sony is very good at making new technology and including it in every camera they offer. S-Log, 4K and even high frame rates are included within their sub-$1,000 cameras. Full Frame 4K was a Sony-only option until the Nikon D850 camera came around. They tend to choose affordable and easy to obtain media and are fully customizable from button reassignment to a custom menu. Add in industry leading low light performance in every camera they offer, and they make it very hard to ignore their products. Sony is good at checking the boxes.

What Sony needs to work on

Lenses look great, but are focus by wire. With focus by wire, when the focus ring moves, instead of actually controlling the elements in the lens, it’s creating an electric signal relaying the information. This isn’t as big of a deal for photo shooters, but for video, it creates a disconnect between the user and the focus point. Focus by wire lenses will feel less responsive when in use. Because of this, many video shooters choose to avoid focus by wire lenses. How many times have you seen a Sony shooter with Canon lenses? Quite often. This isn’t as connected to the image quality as one might think — the feel is just much different.

Yes, the a7 iii has weaknesses, but you also get loads of strengths.

The last thing that Sony needs to work on is its ability to capture more than 8-bit video internally. Smaller sensor cameras like the GH5 offer 10-bit color, capturing millions more colors. We’d expect this to mean the camera would have to be larger, likely much larger, but think about if the a7 III offered 400mbps 10-bit internal capture — talk about a game changer.

Marketplace

Full Frame 4K is pretty rare, in fact outside of Sony, the Nikon D850 is the only camera to offer it. So instead, let’s look at similarly priced cameras to see what value Sony offers in the a7 III. We’ve talked a little about the Panasonic GH5 and the a6500, but we’ll also be looking at the Nikon D7500.

The Panasonic GH5 is the most likely rival to the a7 III for video shooters. With internal 10-bit color, cheaper lenses and loads of video assists, it’s a camera that is hard to ignore — short of its small image sensor. Both cameras offer the same high frame rate options at the same resolutions and both have in-body image stabilization. If you are choosing between the two cameras, it comes down sensor size and how important a larger sensor is to your work. If you plan on taking any pictures for print, the full frame sensor of the a7 III will be the best choice.

The Nikon D7500 is another option and a good choice for hybrid shooters. It’s the only DSLR that shoots 4K available for close to the price of the a7 III, even though it’s $750 less. There’s no in-body image stabilization (IS), but with the price difference, you could afford a lens with IS. The sensor is larger than the GH5 but not quite full frame. The APS-C sized sensor shoots 20.9 MP — very close to the a7 III — and it can capture up to 8 fps for up to 50 frames in RAW and up to 100 frames in JPEG.

Last up is the little brother to the a7 III, the a6500. At $1,300, you get the same resolution, same 4K and in-body image stabilization. What you don’t get is a full frame sensor; the a6500 uses an APS-C sized sensor instead. Additionally, for video shooters, the a6500 is missing an independent headphone and mic port, so you will have to find another solution for monitoring any audio input.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

The a7 III is a solid camera. Yes, it has a few weaknesses, but you also get loads of strengths. From a long battery life to great low light performance, Sony makes it a hard choice among its contemporaries. If you are a hybrid shooter on a tight budget, the a7 III should be strongly considered.

Sony

Sony.com

STRENGTHS:

  • Two Log picture profiles
  • Two hours plus – Battery Life

WEAKNESSES:

  • Sharpness loss when shooting 120fps
  • Battery wall charger not included

SUMMARY:

The Sony a7 III shoots up to UHD 4K and has good low light performance. With a budget friendly price, its full frame sensor makes it a good choice for video and photo shooters alike.

RECOMMENDED USES:

  • Narrative Filmmaking
  • Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
  • Corporate and Event Videography
  • Marketing Video Production
  • Online Video Production
  • Casual Video Production

TECH SPECS:

Lens Mount: Sony E-Mount

Camera Format: Full-Frame

Pixels Actual: 25.3 Megapixel

Max Resolution: 24 MP: 6000 x 4000

Aspect Ratio: 3:2, 16:9

Sensor Type / Size: CMOS, 35.6 x 23.8 mm

Still Images: JPEG, RAW

Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, XAVC S

Audio: AC3, Dolby Digital 2ch, Linear PCM (Stereo)

Memory Card Type: SD/SDHC/SDXC/Memory Stick Pro Duo/Memory Stick PRO HG-Duo

Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Way

Video Format:

  • 3840 x 2160p – 23.98/25/29.97 fps (60 Mb/s XAVC S H.264) & (100 Mb/s XAVC S H.264)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 100/120 fps (60 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264) & (100 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 23.98/25/29.97/50/59.94 fps (50 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264)
  • 1920 x 1080p at 50/59.94 fps (25 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264) & (16 Mb/s XAVC S via H.264)
  • 1920 x 1080i at 50/59.94 fps (24 Mb/s AVCHD via H.264) & (17 Mb/s AVCHD via H.264)

Video Clip Length: Up to 29 Min

  • Built-In Mic: With Video (Stereo)
  • Autofocus Points
  • Phase Detection: 693
  • Contrast Detection: 425

Viewfinder Type: Electronic

Viewfinder Size: 0.5″

Viewfinder Pixel Count: 2,359,000

Viewfinder Eye Point: 23.00 mm

Display Screen: 3″ Rear Touchscreen Tilting LCD (921,600)

Buffer/Continuous Shooting :

  • Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 89 Frames in Raw. Up to 10 fps at 24.2 MP for up to 177 Frames in JPEG. Up to 8 fps at 24.2, P
  • Up to 6 fps at 24.2 MP, Up to 3 fps at 24.2 MP,

Connectivity: 1/8″ Headphone, 1/8″ Microphone, HDMI D (Micro), USB 2.0 Micro-B, USB 3.0, USB Type-C

Wi-Fi Capable: Yes

Battery: 1 x NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 2280 mAh

Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9″ / 126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm

Weight: 1.43 lb / 650 g

Chris Monlux chooses to shoot in a log profile as often as he can. He is also Videomaker’s Multimedia Editor.

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