Sony A7iii Review
If you've been tracking my progress for a while either here or on Instagram you'll probably know that I shoot Sony. The A7iii is now my 4th Sony device, being a committed and loyal follower of the brand and a super fan of the technology. As a lot of the features in this body are the same as it's pro-grade bigger brother, the £4k A9, it seemed like a no brainer for my shooting style.
Having only had the mark 7ii for a couple of years (maybe less 🤔) I was sold on some of the developments in this new body that would dramatically improve my shooting style, particularly for street and gig photography. The main selling points for me were:
1) - silent shutter
2) - increased and fast buffer
3) - joystick/touch pad for focus points
4) - improved low light performance
On the streets it's hard to avoid drawing attention with a noisy shutter, so I thought the silent shutter would be a great addition for me. I have found that some really great shots have been missed at gigs and on the street because I hit the camera's buffer at the exact moment when the expression was just right, something that I have been deeply frustrated about when reviewing images in post. The mark 2's spot focus is great, but it was always laborious having to adjust the focus point and I was always looking for a quicker solution to this. And finally, being a natural light photographer, the improved low light performance was potentially a huge advancement for me.
Now, I'm not a real techy so if you are looking for a low down on specs I would advise you visit Sony's website because I don't really intend to go into them into too much detail here. Instead I am going to offer some insight into my initial thoughts on the body, it's features and performance for my shooting style against the mark 2.
So, lets get straight into the ergonomics. The body is very similar to that of the mark 2, only with this unit the grip is larger to accept the new improved battery system. I always found the mark 2 to feel comfortable in the hand, despite the wide criticism it faced in the industry, and the mark 3 is no different. As I tend to walk around with the grip teetering on the edge of my finger tips whilst wearing a wrist strap, the added size of the grip does make me feel a little more secure that it won't slip when I'm not shooting. Another small change to this body over the mark 2 is the larger size of the EVF which I feel is much more comfortable when pressed against the eye. I did find with mark 2 that I would get a slight headache where the smaller EVF was putting pressure on a specific point on my brow line, so this is a definite plus.
Did I think that 2 memory cards slots would be a great idea? To be honest, I wouldn't have even thought about it, but with the 2 super fast SD XC card slots built in I will significantly reduce the frequency of replacing cads when shooting high volume events like gigs/festivals. Another big plus.
In terms of buttons, knobs and dials there have been some small and big changes. Some good, and some not so good. The addition of the joystick for me was one of the big draws to this model as I often shoot using adjustable focus points which I like to move around (modern Sony's have near edge to edge focus capability), further to the joystick however the can use the newly added touch screen at the back to pinpoint the focus.
Initially I switched this feature off the touch screen as I did not see the benefit of it, whoever having explored the option a little further I have found that you can actually drag your thumb across the screen and move the point much quicker, even when your eye is at the EVF. Due to the huge amount of focusing points I have found the joystick to be quite slow for adjusting the focus point, but this is not a major draw back as the touch screen is so effective. I am still playing with the setting to see if I can improve the joystick performance.
On the subject of the screen, another small yet welcomed surprise was the sensor for the EVF which disables the LCD screen. I used to find with the previous model that when I pulled the screen out to shoot at low level it would go blank and revert to the ECF as the sensor that detects presence was over sensitive and would detect the the screen itself and switch. Not ideal! This function is disabled on the mark 3 when the screen is pulled out so it remains on at all times when pivoted away from the body. WIN!
The relocation of the 3rd custom button to the left side of the body making way for the joystick is a little annoying as I tend to use my right thumb for my adjustments, however this is not the end of the world as I have more flexibility with the new configuration and have set C3 to WB, something I don't tend to adjust too often. On the plus side, the relocation of the movie record button from the right edge to just under the viewfinder was a stroke of genius. Being someone who only shoots stills and has on occasion accidentally hit the record button, this improvement is greatly appreciated.
Another adjustment to the original body is the raised wheel for menus which had been semi flush before. Initially, I had some difficulties operating the new wheel but with some time I have been able to adjust to it. I had thought that this would be a major disappointment for me, but fortunately a false alarm!
So how does it handle? For one thing, the mark 3 is lightning quick making the 7ii appear a couple of generations old instead of only one. The speed in which you can crack through shots and reload the buffer is so much quicker than what I have been used to and will mean that I have more chance of capturing the perfect moment both on the street and when shooting the stage. Another excellent feature that was a total surprise for me was a meter which shows the camera's buffer so you can see when you are going to run out of shots and can mange the burst.
The Eye AF that was such a great feature on the mark 2 appears to be vastly improved on the new model and is much easier to use. For some reason it was always hit and miss for me when shooting before as to whether I had dialed in the right settings to call up Eye AF, but now I have programmed a specific button and it works every time. For those that don't know, Eye AF is a Sony feature that automatically finds the subjects eye and locks on to it, or tracks it if in continuous focus mode enabling sharp focus when shooting portraits every time.
The auto focusing system in this body is incredibly fast, noticeable even when compared against the mark 2. There is still a little struggle when focusing in low light, but again, an improvement on the earlier model. A few new focusing types have been added to the new model which I am still working through to see how they fit with my style of shooting, but the old ones are all there and are more accurate than before. The tracking capability for this model is so much stronger than I was using before which means that my hit rate has increased massively. Focus slipping was a common occurrence for me with the A7ii, but this has been drastically reduced.
The increased low light performance was perhaps not quite what I had been expecting, but I think that perhaps I had unrealistic expectations. When shooting bands available light is always an issue so I tend to ride the ISO as high as I can whilst keeping noise to a level I find acceptable. This used to be 6400, and now I can just about get away with one extra stop to 8000; not a huge jump, but I suppose you can't have it all. I have found that my recent band shots taken at 8000 were very noisy in the shadows which I could correct to an acceptable level.
The two images here are taken from gigs using the Mark ii (far left) and Mark iii (left) both set to ISO 8000 using the Sony 24-240mm FE wide open. There is a disparity in focal length, and aperture with the far left taken at 24mm 4.5f, and left is at 80mm 6.3f, which according to DXO Mark should produce sharp images.
Despite the variations in the settings and lighting, you can see the quality of the overall sharpness once both images had undergone processing for noise. Not the most scientific experiment, but I did say I wasn't a techy.
Where has silent shooting mode been all this time?? This feature being introduced into the mirror-less system is incredible, but must be used with caution. The operation of the camera is truly silent when set to this mode so if you are seeking to shoot incognito then this is definitely the one. With a small flick between shots to indicate the image is taken there is barely any pause between shots and with the super fast frame rate you can capture dozens of shots without the subject suspecting a thing. There is a trade off here though. When shooting my personal project CLEAN, some of which was inside in poor florescent lighting, I observed heavy banding across my images where the ISO had been cranked up. At the time I had no need to shoot silent and had left the feature switched on by mistake. This mistake really saved my from ruining an entire gig shoot, but not so great that some good shots from this project were rendered unusable.
Battery life is always a hot topic when it comes to mirror-less cameras, and with this latest model Sony has done it again. With my old body, for a full days shooting I would normally burn through all 6 of my batteries for that body. At times, I was having to start being very selective in when I shot towards the end of a shoot to avoid running out all together. The new Z battery in the A7iii is astonishing by comparison typically lasting a full day, on just 1 of the new batteries! Yes, just 1 battery! Enough said.
If you've made it this far without falling asleep, good for you and thanks for taking an interest in my ramblings. These are my initial thoughts on this body, and do not cover many of the features that I do not use, such as video so if you are interested I strongly advise you do some further research to see what will work for you.
Was this body worth the additional investment? Most definitely. Introducing this system into my kit has increased my hit ratio, my ability to react to a scene, reduced my need to change cards and batteries. It has improved my ability to shoot in low light, but not by as much as I had hoped for, but this aside I am very happy.
If you have any queries about the functionality of this body please feel free to comment below and I will do my very best to answer. For image examples, click the pic to the right here; this set was all shot on this new body, typically at around 8k ISO.
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