When it was first released, I was so impressed by the photo and video quality of the Sony a7R II that I was willing to look past an enormous list of inconveniences in order to shoot with it. Battery life was terrible, the single card slot was slow, the menu, impenetrable, and the controls were imprecise. Despite that, the a7R II was a clear sign to me that the advantages of mirrorless were becoming too great for pros to ignore. Pros (especially Canon shooters who could continue to use their glass with some functionality) began switching systems, we awarded the a7R II our TCSTV Best Camera Of 2015 Award, and the camera has already become recognized as a classic. I thought Sony’s follow-up would feature the next step forward in sensor technology, and was surprised to see an emphasis on usability over technology.
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Sony a7R III Hands-On Field Test In Sedona, Arizona
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We had already shot a brief first look at the a7R III a few weeks ago in New York City, but our time with the camera was extremely limited. I didn’t even receive a camera, and had to beg Chris Niccolls for a few minutes with it to do some video tests. I was grateful for the opportunity of a press trip in Sedona, Arizona, where I would get some real hands-on time with the camera. Chris and I packed an a7R II and Nikon D850 for comparisons, and we escaped the frigid Alberta winter for the gorgeous Arizona landscapes.
Usability was clearly a priority for Sony. On the a7R III, the buttons and dials feel better, the battery life is enormously improved, the EVF is brilliantly clear, and AF performance is in line with the best DSLRs. Chris was constantly commenting between shots about how much he was really enjoying taking pictures with the camera, something he rarely said working with other Sony bodies. Filming with the a7R III, I, too, was struck by the improved handling (shutter button as a record button when in video mode!) and EVF clarity. Due to a miscommunication regarding a monopod, I found myself shooting primarily handheld, allowing me to get a good sense of the in-body stabilization. I used my beloved Sigma Art 18-35mm F1.8 on a Metabones adapter for the first half of the video (Super 35) and the Sony 28-135mm F4 video lens for the second half (full frame).
The trip afforded me many opportunities to test a number of video features. The dynamic range in S-Log 2 is still excellent, though I recommend shooting in Super 35 mode for the cleanest shadows. I never recommend using S-Log 3 on 8-bit cameras, and the a7R III was no exception, with flat colours lacking tonality when a punchy look is applied. The stabilizer helps quite a bit, though it was a bit underwhelming after using the Panasonic GH5 for several months. There are several shots in this episode where I really wish I had that monopod.
The biggest oversight to me is the removal of the PlayMemories Apps, and by extension, any form of built in time-lapse functionality. This is one of best time-lapse cameras available, especially with the inclusion of an electronic shutter, but you’ll need to bring an intervalometer and build the sequence on the computer later. This can be a deal breaker, as I want to play back a time-lapse right after it’s been captured to make sure I got what I want. Hopefully, this will be addressed with firmware at some point.
At the end of the week, I had truly enjoyed my time with the a7R III. If you require top-notch photo quality, but also need some high-end video capability in the same body, this is the best option out there. I initially was surprised by the feature set of this camera, but then thought of a similar situation from just a few years back. When Canon followed up the revolutionary 5D Mark II with the more refined, but less headline-grabbing Mark III, many photographers and videographers called it a huge disappointment. The Mark III is now considered on of the most well-rounded digital cameras ever produced, and I expect that the Sony a7R III will be thought of in much the same way.
Sony a7R II Field Test Parts 1 & 2
Our huge review of the a7R II consisted of a battery of tests to find out if the new camera lived up to its promise. In some ways it certainly did, but there were some serious handling and battery life issues. If you shoot more deliberate photography and want to save some money, the a7R II may still be a good choice.
Sony a7R III First Impressions
Here’s our first video at the unveiling of the a7R III. There are some different types of samples (studio lighting) and a much less intimidating run time.
Read sister pub Digital Photo Pro’s live coverage from the Sony a7R III media event in Sedona, with sample images and video
Plus, check out Digital Photo Pro’s first impressions of the Sony a7R III and two new Sony lenses