Sony made us wait for this one. It’s been almost 5 years since the a7S II was released. Was the Sony a7S III wait worth it? You bet it was, this thing is awesome! It’s a solid camera. It’s a better camera than its predecessor by a long shot, and in a time when high resolution is the story for most camera manufacturers, Sony just gave us everything we could ask for and nothing more. We like this camera, but it doesn’t come without flaws, we’ll discuss the good and bad. Let’s jump in.
The high-level specs
The Sony a7S III can capture up to UHD 4K in 10-bit 4:2:2 at 120 frames per second (fps) at 280 megabits per second (Mb/s) in full-frame. If that wasn’t enough frames for you, it can shoot up to 240fps in HD; also in 4:2:2 10-Bit. It has two media card slots for either SD cards or the new CFexpress Type A cards. Don’t confuse this with the larger CFexpress Type B cards that share the XQD form factor. This new media allows for the top data rate when shooting at 280Mb/s.
The camera comes with the far superior battery, shared with the a7R IV, but grows in size over the previous a7S II. Another exciting feature is the ability to output 16-bit RAW out the HDMI, though at the time of this review, there aren’t any external recorders that can capture it.
Lastly, it has a fully articulating monitor, a first for the Sony Alpha line.
The grip on the camera is very nice, it’s deep enough to be able to have the camera hang from your fingertips but it’s not so large that you’d be concerned by its weight. The dials and buttons for exposure control are right where you need them. It even has an easy to find record button, though you can reassign it to do something else if you’d like. In fact, all of the dials and buttons can be reassigned. Pair that with putting all of your needed menu options in your favorite menu and you can have any control just two or three clicks away.
Being able to flip out the monitor is fantastic. It’s surprising that Sony has taken so long to offer it, but regardless, we are happy it’s here. It’s bright enough to deal with the bright midday sun. We would have liked a higher resolution screen. With just 1,440,000 Dots, it pales in comparison to the Canon EOS R5 with 2,100,000 Dots and the Panasonic Lumix S1H with 2,330,000 Dots.
Battery life and overheating
The camera is both larger in size in all directions. It’s also heavier by 3oz than the a7S II when both cameras have both media and battery. This makes sense as past Alpha cameras have had issues with heat. The small size of the prior Alpha cameras made keeping the heat under control difficult. You get even more heat to manage when you add in that this camera now captures much higher data rates internally. Sony has updated the body with what they call a heat-dissipating structure, to better dissipate heat.
The larger battery likely also helps with heat and gives a longer battery life. We tested both the battery life and its overheating status and we are happy to report when shooting in UHD4k in 10-bit 4:2:2 at 100 Mb/s and we saw no overheating for the full battery life of two hours and 41 minutes. The rear screen was up against the body of the camera and the room temperature was 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fully articulating monitor
The monitor offers a full touch function. It can be used for selecting a subject to track or to choose a menu option. It’s intuitive to use and works as you would expect. Sony has moved away from a touchscreen that works for some functions but not all, which we are happy about. A Sony Alpha camera with a fully articulating rear screen is a big thing. Sony has never offered a fully-articulated screen in an Alpha camera before. What if you need the monitor to get brighter to combat the sun? There are 3 steps brighter over the standard brightness. The ability to move the monitor where you need it will be more helpful than the increase in brightness you can send to the monitor.
Sony gives us a new menu and that’s great, however, it’s more different than it is an improvement. However, because there is a favorite menu and you’re able to customize all of the buttons and dials that, if taken advantage of, will give you all of your most typical functions however you’d like to organize them. The camera has all the shoot assists that we have come to expect in a mirrorless camera, with focus peaking, zebras, audio meters and histogram.
The camera’s dual card slots accept two different types of media. The first is the new CFexpress Type-A. This card is smaller than an SD card and shares its name with the currently more prevalent CFexpress Type B. Type A is currently more expensive than type B. Because only the top resolution, framerate and bit-rate of UHD 4k in 10-bit at 120fps requires the CFexpress card, most would do fine with using SD cards. At the time of this review, a Sony tough 128GB SD card is $210 whereas an 80GB type A card is $200.
The camera does not have a record limit time outside of the amount of time a battery can power the camera and the amount of space on your media. So roll till your battery dies or the card fills up, the camera will not restrict the length of the clip. The camera can capture video to one card and stills to the other. It’s able to also print the same file to each card simultaneously so you always have two copies. Lastly, you can capture proxy files at the same time, but not to a different card. They will go on to the same card as the originals.
The S in a7S III stands for sensitivity. Along with being able to give a clear picture at high ISO’s, the low resolution of the sensor gives the camera larger pixels that also increase its dynamic range. Sony state’s 15 stops of dynamic range and they weren’t lying. We tested the dynamic range with a DSC Labs Xyla 21 dynamic range test.
It shows light at stop increments. The first light is at 100 ire and then we count how many steps you can see after that. We saw 15 stops of dynamic range, however, the last stop is likely not to give much, other than texture to an image. 14 stops of usable dynamic range is nothing to scoff at either though. To get the most dynamic range from this camera shoot in the default picture profile 9 that is set to S-log3 S-Gamut3. Like every Sony offered before it, Slog2 and Slog3 and HLG are also options.
All frame rates and resolutions use the whole full-frame sensor. Unlike other Alpha cameras, the a7S III does not offer any 4K with an APS-C crop. It seems funny to complain that the full-frame 4K camera doesn’t offer a crop, but it’s helpful to be able to do a 1.5x zoom by just using less of the sensor. Outside of that, this camera is unified with offering the full sensor regardless of the resolution or framerate settings.
Bit-rate and high frame rates
The Sony a7S III offers a large swath of bit-rate, resolution, bit-depth and frame rate options. Offering a bit-rate up to 280Mb/s in 10-bit 4:2:2 internal capture, it also offers lighter weight 8-bit video too and lower sampling 4:2:0 color space. The high quality of this camera’s high frame rate options is just amazing. Most cinematic slow-motion requires framerates of 120fps and below, and this camera offers that in 4K. If you don’t mind or if your project is in HD, you can shoot up to 240fps. That makes the a7S III the leader in slow-mo. 240fps when slowed to 24fps makes every second last 10 with 10X slow-mo.
The camera has very little rolling shutter. It’s so slight, that you have to look hard to even see it. At first, we thought it was completely without, but it is there, but it by no means has any jello. That’s true for all resolutions and framerates.
The key to being a run and gun camera for event videography or for documentary work is good image stabilization. If you shoot handheld, you need sensor stabilization. The in-body image stabilization or IBIS in the a7S III works great. It even works alongside lenses that also offer image stabilization yielding axes to the lens if it offers better optical stabilization. There are two options for stabilization; standard and active. There is a slight crop to the image when using active mode.
The lens for testing
Sony has a wide range of lenses in all of the typical focal lengths. The Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS is a one size fits all lens that is great for video. It has a built-in servo, so you are able to do motorized zooms, but also has a zoom ring and aperture ring. The focus ring clicks in and out for Autofocus or manual focus control. It also offers optical stabilization. However, it’s costly at $2,500 and has a huge filter thread, making any filter you buy for it expensive. Because this camera is very sensitive, f4 is not going to be an issue unless you need a shallower depth of field (DOF). Although a pricy lens, it could be the only lens you need with this camera for most shooting situations.
The eye-tracking AF is great. You can make it quickly respond or slower, depending on the subject matter. To test the eye-tracking, we turned it on and from 30 feet zig-zagged across the frame getting closer to the camera with each step. It picked me up and kept me in focus the whole way. Even when we ducked out of the frame, it quickly snapped back in to focus from the background once I was back in the frame. Not that it was tracking my mouth, I was wearing a mask, something that could mess with the camera, it was not phased.
There are times when eye and face tracking autofocus won’t do the job. A face is not always what you might want to focus on. In those cases, tracking will be your friend. We didn’t find it to be as infallible as eye-tracking AF is. Shooting our managing editor Haley LaPlant, she gave us her best impression of a football player. We selected her as our subject to track by tapping on the screen. It kept up with her, but some erratic movements at the edge of the frame confused the tracker, without going back to tracking her. If you were to say doing a follow shot of someone walking and you selected their shoulder to be your focal point, as you both moved, the camera and subject, the tracking would work well. Haley’s movement was a worst-case scenario for tracking erratic movement.
Low light performance
As one would expect, the a7S III has fantastic low light performance. Coming from a long lineage of low light cameras, this camera is no slouch. Doing an ISO ramp from ISO 200 and dubbing it and the shutter speed to see at what ISO noise is introduced into the picture. It looked great until ISO 6,400 and then started very small and slight noise. From there it’s usable until ISO 25,600. Now, the ISO’s above that are usable, but they have significant noise. It doesn’t go to complete garbage until ISO 204,800, which is impressive.
Taking that data, we set up a low light scene of toy figures at ISO 25,600 and we noticed that if we overexpose by half to a full stop, the noise isn’t as noticeable. However, it has minimal noise and a sharp image all the way to ISO 25,600. That’s 2 stops greater performance than most mirrorless cameras. The camera does have noise, however, its sensitivity gives it a good-looking image for more stops where most cameras would fall apart much sooner.
Mirrorless cameras aren’t known for having discrete audio preamps. To test how much of a noise floor the camera has, we used a Rode VideoMic NTG that has its own preamp and the one in the camera to show the difference of the noise floor. We found a 3db to 6db difference between the two with the preamp from the mic being quieter.
There isn’t one camera that is a perfect match for this camera. Its competition has higher resolution, with the Canon EOS R5 shooting up to 8K or the Lumix S1H capturing up to 6K. Between the a7S III and those two cameras, it’s the most affordable at $3500 over $3900 for the R5 and $4000 for the S1H. They all capture 10-bit internal video, but the a7S III is the only one to output 16-bit, though at the moment, it’s not possible to capture that quality. The S1H is a much bigger camera and the R5 has overheating issues.
The Sony a7S III is what a solid, feature-rich mirrorless camera for video looks like. It’s got all the features you need like UHD 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 internal capture at up to 120 frames per second. Its sensitivity is great and the dynamic range is significant. It has a long battery life and two media card slots. Its sensor stabilization works well and so does the AF.
We wish the fully articulating monitor was a higher resolution and an APS-C crop option when shooting in 4K. Not much to complain about here. Sony didn’t go with record-breaking features, instead, they built a solid mirrorless camera that is great for video shooters, it would only be better if it was the same price and in a cinema camera form factor.
- Low noise in high ISO’s
- Internal 10-bit
- External RAW output
- 12MP still images
- No APS-C Crop option in 4K
- Narrative Filmmaking
- Any project that requires extensive planning and takes on a cinematic aesthetic
- Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
- Run and gun videography where conditions are unpredictable and agility is key
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Situations where ease of use and reliability is more important than the film look
- Marketing Video Production
- Short form video produced on a schedule
- Camera Format: Full-Frame
- Pixels Actual: 12.9 Megapixel
- Maximum Resolution: 4240 x 2832
- Aspect Ratio: 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
- Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Axis
- ISO Sensitivity: 80 to 102400 (Extended: 40 to 409600)
- Continuous Shooting:
- Up to 10 fps at 12.1 MP for up to 1000 Frames (Raw) / 1000 Frames (JPEG)
- Up to 8 fps at 12.1 MP
- Up to 6 fps at 12.1 MP
- Up to 3 fps at 12.1 MP
- Interval Recording: Yes
- Video Recording Modes: H.265/XAVC HS 4:2:2 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [50 to 280 Mb/s]
- H.265/XAVC HS 4:2:0 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [30 to 200 Mb/s]
- H.264/XAVC S-I 4:2:2 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [240 to 600 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p [89 to 222 Mb/s]
- H.264/XAVC S 4:2:2 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [100 to 280 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p/200p/239.76p [50 Mb/s]
- H.264/XAVC S 4:2:0 8-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p [60 to 200 Mb/s]
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/119.88p/200p/239.76p [16 to 100 Mb/s]
- External Recording Modes:
- Raw 16-Bit
- 4.2K (4264 x 2408) up to 59.94p
- 4:2:2 10-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/50p/59.94p
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 50i/59.94i
- 4:2:0 8-Bit
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 23.976p/50p/59.94p
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 50i/59.94i
- Recording Limit: Unlimited
- Live Streaming: Yes
- Webcam Functionality: Yes
- Autofocus Points
- Phase Detection: 759
- Contrast Detection: 425
- Viewfinder Type: Electronic (OLED)
- Viewfinder Size: 0.64″
- Viewfinder Resolution: 9,437,184 Dot
- Monitor Size: 3″
- Resolution: 1,440,000 Dot
- Display Type: Articulating Touchscreen LCD
- Memory Card Slot Dual Slot: CFexpress Type A / SD
- Connectivity: HDMI A (Full Size), USB Type-C (USB 3.2 Gen 1), USB Micro-B (USB 2.0), 3.5mm Microphone, 3.5mm Headphone
- Wireless: Wi-Fi
- Battery: 1 x NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, 7.2 VDC, 2280 mAh
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.07 x 3.81 x 2.74″ / 128.9 x 96.9 x 69.7 mm
- Weight: 1.35 lb / 614 g (Body Only)