Sony A7iii Review

Introduction

In some respects its a little easier reviewing cameras when you are switching systems. You are not as tied to a legacy way of thinking so it’s a little easier to grip on a problem and think of it as a negative or positive. With using a different system, you tend to think: “This is the way I work and I’m not going to change” which creates a problem with a camera. If you are switching you think: “This is the way I am used to working, could I work this way in future?”

My background? Non-commercial photographer. I have long since accepted that I do photography because I enjoy it and doing it commercially wouldn’t work for me because I like doing it the way I want, with the things I want, when I want. I make enough money from my normal career to fund photographic toys. Shot Nikon, switched to Fujifilm for mirrorless years ago, then onto Sony for reasons I won’t go into, except to say I do actually like the Fujifilm gear so it has nothing to do with that.

This is my first foray in Sony since I had a tiny point and shoot Sony camera about 10 years ago. It was terrible, not an inditement on Sony, more a reflection on early touch screen cameras which were terrible.

Pricing

The Sony A7iii retails for US$2,000 (or AUD$3,000 in Australia). I didn’t look around to see how the pricing differed by country. Whatever your perception of the price is, it is sold out, and has been sold out since it went on sale at the end of March/early April. That means it has essentially been out of stock for 6 months, and in Australia, waiting lists range between 1 week and 2 months depending on the retailer. That is absolutely phenomenal and explains why a lot of the Sony lenses are in high demand and out of stock. It is extremely difficult to get hold of the Sony 85mm f/1.8 along with third party lenses like the Sigma ART 135 f/1.8. How did I get mine? I got extremely lucky and walked into a store that had recently started selling Sony on the same day they had one arrive, so no waiting list, just good luck.

The Zeiss Batis 85mm is one of those lenses that is extreme hard to dislike

Whats in the box

Inside the box, you’ll find:

– Camera body with body cap
– Battery
– Battery charger cable (for in body charging)
– Strap
– Manuals

My first observation is the lack of external battery charger. Whilst it’s a small issue, it’s honestly something I hope Sony reconsider, as it makes difficult to charge spare batteries. I purchased a third party dual battery charger along with two spare batteries shortly after buying the camera. I think anyone buying this camera is likely need one so I always question decisions like this to keep costs down. Sadly I couldn’t find a dual battery charger but you can pick up third party battery chargers, although I’d recommend sticking to well known brands.

The strap is good quality for a stock strap. I don’t use these OEM straps as I prefer the Black Rapid style shoulder straps or Spiderpro holsters over neck straps so that will stay unused in the box. On the odd occasion I use a neck strap, I use a Tap & Dye leather strap with quick release clips.

The clichéd beach shot you have to take on holiday – This was taken with the Sigma 70mm ART Macro

Overall, I call it a complete package from an accessories perspective, without any bells and whistles. Some may see this as a negative statement for a $2,000 camera, but given what Sony managed to incorporate in the body at this price range, I think it’s good value for money and I’d rather see less crap you won’t use like the Fujifilm mini flash they dump in the box. (which stays in the box and never gets used by 90% of users)

Construction

From a construction perspective, the quality is very high when you consider it’s an “entry-level” full frame. The camera feels solid and chunky in a good way. Some of the small cameras do have a tendency to feel cheap because of the lightweight construction but I think Sony has done well to achieve the right balance. You generally want a camera like this to feel like it can take some knocks.

I don’t really do landscapes so my poor Sony 16-35mm f/4 was a little out of its depth when it comes to shooting this stuff. I think it’s the first time it has seen an aperture smaller than f8 in its life.

I think there are some small items where Sony could have improved the construction. I think the covers for the USB and HDMI slots are flimsy and terrible, and the flap gets in the way when you are trying to charge the camera through the micro USB.

I initially thought that Sony should have included a USB 3.0 slot, but then I realised that they included USB-C (but didn’t supply a cable) which is a better option for me so thumbs up to Sony for that. I’d recommend going with the USB-C and buying a cable if you don’t already have one, the micro USB doesn’t seem to seat as securely so budget adding in a cable if you don’t have one. My only disappointment in this regard is the terrible recharging time, even when using USB-C which becomes more relevant because Sony don’t provide an external charger.

One of my revelations has been the amazing Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8. The size and quality of the lens is simply off the charts. I honestly think this should be one of the first lenses any Sony user considers.

On my camera the lens mount feels a little tight. As a virgin Sony user, I’m not sure if this is normal, perhaps it’s something to do with the weather sealing, it just seems like a lot more effort than I am used to. Other than that, it’s an impressive feat of engineering.

Ergonomics and Usability

People often complain about ergonomics with Sony but I think it’s important to split ergonomics from usability as these are two separate areas. To me, ergonomics is about the overall feel, usability is about the menus.

Let’s start with the ergonomics:

Coming from Fujiland, I’ve heard people constantly complain about Sony ergonomics, the actual ergonomics came as a pleasant surprise. I was expecting something out of a horror film but I find the ergonomics to be very good, on a par with Fujifilm and a lot of other cameras.

This is not a live railway line before you ask, and it was shot legally. Coming from the Fujifilm 90mm, the Sigma 135mm ART was always going to find its way into my bag. It’s an incredible lens and worthy addition to any bag.

In some respects, Sony is worse than other cameras, in some respects it’s better, but overall, it’s actually very good. There are small issues, like they opted to put slot 1 at the bottom instead of the top which is an odd decision, but these are easy to get used to because once you know, you know and you won’t make that mistake again.

In conjunction to this, some of the function buttons are in strange locations, out of the reach of natural finger positions, where they could have put these in a more natural position. As an example, they could have put one of the function buttons on the front right to make it easier to get access to, or leverage switches on the front left.

On the converse, Sony has gone for buttons which are far better than the majority of the Fujifilm cameras where Fujifilm tried to make them so compact, that it makes them hard to press, particularly for buttons like the AE-L. This is important for people in cold weather with gloves, or those who wants to use the buttons for AF-On functions.

The Sigma ART 135mm…again

I’ve heard some negative comments about Sony’s menus and I understand why. Usability is poor and given the ongoing negative feedback in this area, I’m not sure why Sony hasn’t addressed this. The idea of scrolling across doesn’t make much sense at all and is counter intuitive. In comparing to other cameras, I’d put Nikon above Fujifilm above Sony, can’t comment on Canon or others. It’s honestly not a big issue for Sony to address it, people do it every day, usability design is an important part of these menus and my guess is that it would take Sony a couple of days of design time so why they haven’t done this is a mystery. Fortunately you don’t have to play in them much so the main frustration is during the initial setup.

Where I also think Sony falls flat is a failure within their default options which are easily addressed, but shouldn’t have to be. For example, why do you have to manually activate the link between the AF point and spot focus? There are a lot of small things like this that force you to search through a manual which could easily be addressed out of the box by a default more in line with the way every day people work.

And again…you get the idea I like the 135mm?

I will say that I do prefer Sony’s approach to the function menu, as opposed to Q Menu approach from Fujifilm and I think that Sony got this right. I also prefer having C1 and C2 on the dial so for me this is a big win over the way I worked with Fujifilm. This is inline with my experience with Nikon.

Features and Functions

Wow. Where do we start? How Sony managed to deliver all of this in a body this size is a mystery. I talked about the impressive feat of engineering and this is where it really shows. To put that into perspective, Sony managed to put a full frame sensor, with IBIS in a body the size of the APSC Fujifilm X-H1.

If I had to focus on what is in the camera, this would be a long review, so I’ll leave you to check the specs list.

The only thing I think is missing and that I would really like them to put in is a higher quality EVF, like the A7riii. I was stuck in the difficult position where I wanted a better quality EVF but didn’t want a 40MP sensor. I’d be prepared to pay a little more so hopefully they add this to the A7iv.

More landscapey sort of stuff, not my usual with the 16-35mm f/4 but when you’re at a tropical location, it’s a mandatory activity

I honestly find it hard to find anything that is missing from Sony’s offering personally, but I think that comes down to what you use in a camera so others may feel there is more needed. It’s simple 10/10 but perhaps in time I will notice what is missing, at the moment, I’m finding it hard to point out anything that is glaringly absent.

Battery Life

There has been a lot said about battery life with mirrorless cameras. For the types of people buying this camera, battery life is important and having a 710 shot CIPA ranking unlike the competitors is something I think Sony got 100% right compared to the likes of Fujifilm, Nikon and Canon who have fallen well short of the mark. In reality, this translates to about a 1000-1200 shots which is very impressive. If battery life is a priority, Sony is the only way to go for mirrorless at the moment.

If you need to extend the battery life, you can buy the Sony battery grip, or the Meike version less than half the cost and double your battery life.

The AF on the camera is simply incredible, even with the distracions of a plane in front of the person

What Sony got wrong with the battery is the recent update which provides a warning to users who use non-OEM batteries. Whilst I understand there are users who may get duped into buying replace OEM batteries, for those who have willing chosen third party batteries, there is no way to switch off the warning. I think it’s an underhanded attempt to force users to use OEM, similar to Fujifilm doing the same. I thinK Sony should give the users the option to turn it off.

Autofocus

Like features and functions, this was a wow moment. Once you understand how to set it up, and it does take a little while, it’s amazing.

The Eye AF is incredible, working for most situations and the only time I’ve found it really fail is when my young children are bouncing after a kids party sugar rush. That’s not a failure on Sony, just accepting the reality that not even a billion dollar radar tracking system could keep up with my 5 and 8 year old after sugar, they are like the squirrel from “Over the hedge” where time stops.

I tested the Eye AF with a model shoot and the results were simply mind-boggling. When you can do an entire shoot with just Eye AF, and miss 5% or less, you know something is impressive. What impressed me is that the Eye AF even picked up eyes as sunglasses were dropped with barely half an eye showing. Well done Sony.

The usual kind of stuff my 16-35mm will be used for. I was hoping the new Seafrogs housing with a pistol grip would be available but it’s taken them a little longer than I had hoped to get released so I’ll have to post some pictures from that later.

The general AF has yet to be tested in its entirety but I tested it at a recent fair with the kids and it didn’t miss much at all. Kids in general are normally a big challenge due to their unpredictability. With a car, you know where it’s going, with an athlete, you know where they are going, with kids, well, not even they know where they are going.

I’ll be testing this more with sports over summer with a waterhousing and the 16-35 for kitesurfing, along with a longer 100-400 when I get all of my old gear sold so that should give me a good indication of how well it works.

What I do like however is that the Sony AF system has less AF dud’s to rely on from a lens perspective.

The Batis 85mm. Eye focus was even able to catch the top of the eyes behind sunglasses.

Image quality

From a sensor perspective, it’s really hard to find anything to complain about with the image quality. Personally, I believe sensors have long since reached a point where users have very little to complain about, and that occurred from about the time the Nikon D750 was released. The reality is today’s sensors are so damn good, they’re only really limited by the glass we put in front of it, and most people are still putting substandard glass in front of it and complaining their sensors aren’t good enough.

My philosophy on sensors aside, this sensor is nothing short of phenomenal, good enough for me, good enough for people who are far better photographers than me, and good enough for most of the people out there. If you want to know how phenomenal and compare 100% crops like you’re comparing…well, you get the point…go to the dpreview sensor comparison tool, it’s impressive. If that isn’t enough to convince you, and you need more convincing, DXOMark believe it’s the best sensor they’ve tested.  If that’s still not enough to convince you, you probably need a tin foil hat.

Same shoot, same railway line, the 135 ART again.

It’s not perfect, the Sony sensors suffers from something called PDAF striping which is the reflection of the PDAF points that causes striping on the image. It’s fixable via a website but it’s something Sony should be rectifying with a provided tool rather than relying on a third-party.

The striping issue on the A7iii sensor which can be fixed via the provided link

What’s not to like?

There isn’t a lot to complain about on the Sony so I’ll list out my issues here:

  1. I really think Sony need to fire their usability specialists, if they have any at all. The menu system is terrible.
  2. Striping – The issue with striping when shooting into the light is one I encountered. Given a third-party has come up with a way to rectify this, I think Sony should make an effort to rectify this in the raw files or as a tool Sony provides to its users.
  3. EVF – I think Sony should have gone for a higher resolution EVF. I mentioned earlier that I would have paid for for this, so hopefully this is something they rectify in the next version.
  4. Soft shutter – having come from the Fujifilm X-H1, I can honestly say the shutter mechanism is something that every manufacturer should have. It’s hard to explain until you have tried it, like the difference between shooting a DSLR and mirrorless.
  5. The battery warning – Sony decided to push in a sneaky underhanded warning for non-OEM batteries that has been a frustration to a number of users. Sony need to give users the option to remove it.

The Batis 85mm on the railway line, just to be different

Conclusion

So, what are my thoughts after my short time with the A7iii? It’s really hard not to be impressed with the A7iii and it’s easy to understand why it’s been sold out for so long.

The short answer is the A7iii is an incredible piece of engineering, the image quality is outstanding and the feature set is simply unmatched 6 months after the release of the camera. The fact that the Z7 and EosR cannot match it from a features and functionality perspective 6 months on (which is a lifetime by camera standards) is a fair reflection of what Sony Achieved with the camera.

What can you call it? A home run!

Some notes on the test shots

I’ve put in sample of photos I have taken. I am not going to hide behind studio test shots, this is what I do and the kinds of photos I take.

My key genre’s are portraits, sports, and gear photos if that counts as a genre. I’ve included a landscape shot, but I’m not a landscape photographer, I took it before I was in Fiji and my 5 year old woke me up at 5am due to a nightmare so I got to see a sunrise, unintentionally.

I was hoping to have more sports photo in there but I’ve been on holiday and my waterhousing hasn’t arrived which has limited my ability to get more sports photos so as soon as that changes, I’ll update the gallery.

 

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