SPECS AND TECH
Sony is known for pouring as much tech into its cameras as it can, and the A7 III is the latest example of this. It all starts with a new backside-illuminated (BSI) 24-megapixel sensor. The resolution hasn’t changed since the original A7, but backside illumination runs the circuity on the back of the sensor, rather than the front, making it more sensitive to light. This helps nudge the maximum ISO up a stop to 51,200 (which can be boosted to 204,800).
BSI sensors aren’t new, but the technique is generally reserved for sensors with smaller pixels — either tiny sensors like those in phones, or large sensors with very high pixel counts like the A7R III — where the difference is more noticeable. Sony’s move to a BSI sensor on the A7 III shows that it is trying to squeeze out as much as it possibly can from those 24 million pixels.
The A7 has always offered plenty of resolution for the majority of photographers, and by sticking with the same pixel count, Sony has been able to dramatically increase continuous shooting speed to 10 frames per second. Combined with a new autofocus system that puts 693 phase-detection points across nearly the entire frame, this should be an impressively capable camera for sports and action.
The Sony A7 III is one of the most impressive high ISO cameras we’ve ever tested.
The A7 III also inherits the latest-generation battery, which takes battery life up to a very good 710 shots per charge (CIPA rating), up from 350 in the A7 II. A DSLR will still do much better, but it’s the best we’ve seen yet in a mirrorless camera.
The 5-axis stabilization system has also been revamped to provide five stops of shake reduction, compared to 4.5 in the A7 II. It can’t quite match the best in-body stabilization systems out there from Olympus and Panasonic, but it is still very good and allows you to shoot a much slower shutter speed than you normally could. In practice, we were able to get sharp results down to 1/8 second.
However, there are also areas where Sony is starting to fall slightly behind some of the competition, which has been racing to catch up (see how it stacks up to full-frame rivals in our comparison). For example, the A7 III still uses a 2.36-million-dot electronic viewfinder, which is over a million fewer pixels than the 3.69-million-dot EVFs found in the Nikon Z6, Canon EOS R, Fujifilm X-H1, and Panasonic Lumix G9.
Still, the A7 III remains one of the most attractive buys in the $2,000 price range, even if doesn’t outright dominate on every spec comparison.
DESIGN, HANDLING, AND USER EXPERIENCE
First, the good: The A7 III is fast. The autofocus locks on blazingly quick (tested with the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master lens), shutter lag is completely absent, and the viewfinder blackout is among the shortest we’ve ever seen. The AF joystick is a bit numb, but still offers a good way to move the active focus point around — if you’d rather, you can also do this on the touchscreen.
The 10-frames-per-second burst mode isn’t just a marketing claim, either — the camera can hold that speed for a full 40 uncompressed RAW files, and the buffer clears in under 15 seconds when using a V90 UHS-II SD card. You’ll need to drop to 8 fps for live view, but this is still an impressive number. Unlike older Sony cameras, you can also fully access the menu system and image playback while the camera is writing to the card, erasing one huge complaint about previous A7 models.
However, not every rough edge has been smoothed out. Sony cameras come so bloated with tech and capabilities that we often overlook the things that are merely acceptable. The A7-series is no longer the only full-frame mirrorless game in town, and its seams are starting to show. For example, while A7 III offers some slight ergonomic improvements over the Mark II model, it doesn’t come close to the comfort of the Nikon Z6.
When it comes to controls, the A7 III makes rather inefficient use of its real estate, leaving the left shoulder completely naked where a drive mode dial or additional button cluster could have fit easily. Alternately, Sony could have moved the exposure mode dial to the left and freed up room for a top LCD display on the right, à la the Z6. Nor are there any controls on the front of the camera, save the lens release button. At the very least, this would be a perfect spot for a focus mode switch, something that is totally absent from the camera body.
Sony also relies on custom buttons for functions that we feel should have dedicated controls, like white balance, autofocus area, and focus mode. On the plus side, Sony offers 22 pages of options in the setup menu for customizing those buttons to your heart’s content — but doing so results in losing one-button access to the above-mentioned functions, which many photographers will no doubt see as necessary.
There is, at least, a dedicated button for ISO — sort of. It occupies the right position on the rear control wheel, which doubles as a four-way button pad. Aside from feeling a bit flimsy, this is at least functional, but it reminds us of point-and-shoot control layouts and isn’t exactly befitting a camera of this station. We can say the same thing about the drive mode button, which lives opposite ISO on the left position of the dial.
Looking inside the menu system, we find things are as complicated as ever. This isn’t a new complaint, but we still can’t understand why Sony chose to organize the menu the way it has. Things like video quality and custom button settings both live under the same top-level menu. Why isn’t there a dedicated Movie settings menu? Why isn’t control customization found under the Setup menu? Worse, the first and second top-level menus are identified by the same camera icon, while the other menus use icons that are unique to Sony rather than the industry standard options used by many brands.
It’s so good across such a wide variety of situations that it’s hard to imagine a scenario that the A7 III couldn’t handle.
Then there’s the esoteric (to put it kindly) way you choose the color profile. For basic users, this isn’t too bad once you understand the nomenclature. Creative Style is where you’ll find the usual suspects, like Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Portrait, etc. Picture Effect is for more “artistic” post-processing effects that, for most of us, are better left untouched, such as Toy Camera and Pop Color.
However, if you’re an advanced video user looking to unlock the power of S-Log or Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), you’ll need to look in door number three: Picture Profile. This brings up a list of 10 profiles identified solely by number (PP1 through PP10). You have to open a profile to see its settings — our test camera came with PP9 set to S-Log3 — but any profile can be customized as you see fit.
Now, there’s a ton of power on tap here, and experienced users will love the ability to set black level, gamma (where you’ll find S-Log2, S-Log3, and four different flavors of HLG), black gamma, knee, color mode, and much more inside these picture profiles — but most of us don’t need all of this control. Why can’t basic S-Log and HLG options be included under the regular Creative Style menu?
At the end of the day, these issues aren’t exactly deal breakers — give it time, and you will grow accustomed to the workings of whichever camera you choose. We reviewers admittedly have more reason to complain about user interface frustrations than the average photographer, as we are constantly moving between brands and models. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement in Sony’s menus and physical controls, and it would be nice to see the company prioritize usability refinements over raw technology upgrades in the next generation.
With all the nitpicking about buttons and menus out of the way, let’s dive into the heart of the A7 III: the photographs themselves. The image quality is simply stunning. Full-frame sensors continue to showcase advantages over APS-C and Micro Four Thirds, a truth that just cannot be denied, and the sensor in the A7 III is one of the best we’ve seen yet.