Sony just announced the newest camera in their a7 series: the a7 III. It has a 24.2 megapixel backside-illuminated sensor, a 693-point autofocus system, and the longest battery life of any Sony full-frame mirrorless camera. The rest of the specifications, which we will cover below, are equally impressive – especially considering the launch price of just $1998.
First things first: The a7 III inherits a lot of DNA from its older siblings, the A9 and the A7r III. It has a nearly identical button layout, including the useful autofocus joystick and dual adjustment wheels. It also uses the same high-capacity battery of those two cameras, resulting in 610 photos per charge (710 if you use the rear LCD instead of the viewfinder).
Upon first glance, the a7 III’s sensor might seem similar to that of its predecessor, the a7 II. The new one has 24.2 megapixels, while the old has 24.3 – essentially identical. But the a7 III’s sensor adds backside illumination and mimics the one found in the a9, which should improve the new camera’s noise performance significantly, potentially by about a stop (although this certainly will require tests to determine the exact improvement).
On top of that, the new “III” has several updates over its predecessor. For one, it has dual card slots. That’s not a big deal for most photographers until the day it becomes a really big deal. The a7 III also has 4K video, a 10 fps maximum frame rate, and a buffer of up to 89 compressed RAW images. (The a7 II, by comparison, has 1080p video, 5fps, and a 28 RAW image buffer).
In short, the a7 III is like a miniature a9 for $2500 less. The biggest difference between the two cameras is that the a9 has a 20-fps maximum frame rate (and a buffer of 241 RAW photos), while the a7 III maxes out at 10 fps. But since the a7 III is less than half the price, perhaps you can buy two and just fire them simultaneously :)
In fact, there are very few major differences between the a9 and the a7 III, although we are still waiting for some additional information on the a7 III to come out. Here are the other differences we know of so far that might matter to certain users:
- The a9 has a higher resolution electronic viewfinder (3.7-million dot vs 2.4-million dot) and LCD (1.4-million dot vs 0.9-million dot).
- The a7 III has more contrast-detect autofocus points (425 vs just 25 in the a9).
- The a7 III adds USB 3.0 and USB Type-C ports.
- The a7 III has better battery life – 610 photos via the viewfinder or 710 via the rear LCD, compared to 480 shots (viewfinder) and 650 shots (rear LCD) for the a9.
Overall, it looks like Sony is taking Steve Jobs’s classic marketing advice – “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.” The a7 III looks like a seriously capable a9 junior, for a much, much lower price. Unless you seriously need 20 frames per second, this seems like the camera you should get – at least on paper. It certainly will take testing before we know for sure how the a7 III’s sensor and autofocus system perform, and if they’re up to the same standards as their excellent flagship camera.
- Pre-orders for the Sony a7 III begin at 11:00 AM Eastern time on Wednesday, February 28.
Here is Sony’s press release:
LAS VEGAS, Feb. 26, 2018 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today introduced yet another impressive addition to their full-frame mirrorless camera lineup, the α7 III (model ILCE-7M3).
Sony’s unmatched innovation within the image sensor space is at the forefront of the new α7 III, as it features a brand new 24.2MPi back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor with increased sensitivity, outstanding resolution and an impressive 15 stopsii of dynamic range at low sensitivities. By combining this sensor with a variety of impressive features including extreme AF coverage of 93%, fast shooting at up to 10 fpsiii with either mechanical shutter or silent shootingiv, diverse 4Kvi video capabilities and more, Sony has created a new tool that gives all types of creators – from enthusiast to professional – the ability to capture content in new and different ways than they ever have before.
“We are continually pushing to deliver more for our customers – more versatility, more functionality and most importantly, more innovation,” said Neal Manowitz, Vice President of Digital Imaging for Sony Electronics. “With the new α7 III, we’ve taken many of our newest and most advanced imaging technologies from the acclaimed α9 and α7R III models and paired them with an all-new 24.2 MP back-illuminated sensor to deliver the ultimate full-frame camera for enthusiasts, hobbyists and professionals alike. It’s a camera that punches far above its weight class in every capacity. Combined with our impressive selection of 26 native full-frame E-mount lenses, it provides a level of performance that is simply unmatched in the industry.”
Spectacular Full-frame Image Quality
The newly developed 24.2MPi back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor is paired with a front-end LSI that effectively doubles the readout speed of the image sensor, as well as an updated BIONZ X™ processing-engine that boosts processing speed by approximately 1.8 times compared to the α7 II. These powerful components work together to allow the camera to shoot at faster speeds while also enabling its impressive ISO range of 100 – 51200 (expandable to ISO 50 – 204800 for still images) and an overall 1.5 stopix improvement in image quality. The camera also features a massive 15-stopii dynamic range at low sensitivity settings, ensuring outstanding overall performance at all settings and in all shooting conditions, with significant advancements in accurate color reproductions of skin tones and the vibrant colors of nature.
This new full-frame model can also output 14 bit RAW format[ix] even in silent and continuous shooting modes, and is equipped with a 5-axis optical image stabilization system that results in a 5.0 stepv shutter speed advantage.
Significant Advances in AF Speed and Performance
The innovative new α7 III full-frame mirrorless camera features a level of AF performance that has been largely improved over the α7 II, including the addition of 4D FOCUS™ capabilities. The new camera has 425 contrast AF points that work with a 693-point focal-plane phase-detection AF system inherited from the acclaimed α9 model. This innovative AF system covers approximately 93% of the frame, ensuring reliable focusing and tracking for even the most difficult to capture subjects.
AF response and tracking has also been greatly improved in the new camera, with almost 2xii the focusing speed in low-light condition and 2xii the tracking speed compared to the previous model as a result of the faster image sensor readout. This allows complex and unpredictable motion to be captured with far greater precision and accuracy.
The acclaimed Eye AF feature is also available in the new camera, even in AF-C mode, which is extremely useful for situations where the subject is turning around, looking down or otherwise obstructed. It also works when the α7 III is being used with Sony’s A-mount lenses with an optional LA-EA3 adaptor[x]. Additional improvements in focusing flexibility include the addition of a multi-selector or ‘joystick’ for moving focusing points quickly, the addition of touch focusing capability, AF availability in Focus Magnifier mode, an ‘AF On’ button and much more.
Speed to Capture Every Decisive Moment
The new α7 III is equipped with an updated image processing system that allows it to shoot full resolution images at up to 10 fpsiii with continuous, accurate AF/AE tracking for up to 177 Standard JPEG images, 89 compressed RAW images or 40 uncompressed RAW images[xi]. This high speed mode is available with either a mechanical shutter or a completely silent shootingiv, adding to the immense flexibility of the camera. The camera can also shoot continuously at up to 8 fpsiii in live view mode with minimal lag in the viewfinder or LCD screen.
For added convenience, while large groups of burst images are being written to the memory card, many of the cameras key functions are operable, including access to the ‘Fn’ (Function) and ‘Menu’ buttons, image playback and several other menus and parameters including image rating and other functions that facilitate on-location image sorting.
Additionally, if there is fluorescent or artificial lighting present in a shooting environment, users can activate the Anti-flicker[xii] function to allow the α7 III to automatically detect frequency of the lighting and time the shutter to minimize its effect on images being captured. This minimizes any exposure or color anomalies that can sometimes occur at the top and bottom of images shot at high shutter speeds.
High Quality 4K Video
The new α7 III is an outstanding video camera as well, offering 4Kvi (3840×2160 pixels) video recording across the full width of the full-frame image sensor. In video mode, the camera uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect about 2.4x[xiii] the amount of data required for 4K movies, and then oversamples it to produce high quality 4K footage with exceptional detail and depth.
An HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma)[xiv] picture profile is available on the α7 III as well, which supports an Instant HDR workflow, allowing HDR (HLG) compatible TV’s to playback beautiful, true-to-life 4K HDR imagery. Further, both S-Log2 and S-Log3 are available for increased color grading flexibility, as well as Zebra functionality, Gamma Display assist and proxy recording. The camera can also record Full HD at 120 fps at up to 100 Mbpsvi, allowing footage to be reviewed and eventually edited into 4x or 5x slow motion video files in Full HD resolution with AF tracking.
Upgraded Build, Design and Customization
Sony’s newest full-frame camera is equipped with a variety of enhanced capabilities that were first implemented in the α9 and then again in the α7R III. These include dual media slots, with support in one slot for UHS-II type SD memory cards. Users have a variety of options for storing their content in each of the cards, including separate JPEG / RAW recording, separate still image / movie recording, relay recording and more. Battery life has been greatly extended as well – with a CIPA measurement of up to 710 shots per chargeviii, it offers the world’s longestvii battery life of any Mirrorless camera, as the new camera utilizes Sony’s Z series battery NP-FZ100 that have approximately 2.2 times the capacity of the W series battery NP-FW50 utilized in the α7 II.
The new camera features “My Menu” functionality which allows up to 30 menu items to be registered for instant recall when needed. Users can also apply star ratings to their still images through the camera controls for easier image playback and review, and edit the first three characters of all still image files. Additionally, there is a total of 81 functions that are assignable to 11 custom buttons, and the camera is both dust and moisture resistant.[xv]
The α7 III features high-resolution, high-contrast, fast-start XGA OLED Tru-Finder™ with approximately 2.3 million dots for extremely accurate, true-to-life detail reproduction. “Standard” or “High” display quality settings are also available for both the viewfinder and monitor as well. It also is capable of seamlessly transferring files to a smartphone, tablet, computer or FTP server via Wi-Fi®, while also offering a SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.1 Gen 1) USB Type-C™ Terminal for increased flexibility in power supply and faster image transfer speed during tethered shooting.
The α7 III model also comes with Sony’s new software suite “Imaging Edge”, which extends the creative capabilities of the entire shooting process – from pre-processing to post-processing. “Imaging Edge” provides three PC applications called ‘Remote’, ‘Viewer’ and ‘Edit’, available for free download, which support live-view PC remote shooting and RAW development. In the latest Version 1.1, several improvements have been implemented including about 10%[xvi] faster data transfer speed for remote shooting from PC (PC tether shooting) and about 65%[xvii] improvement in the response speed for RAW image editing. For more information, please visit Imaging Edge support page. www.sony.net/disoft/d/.
The camera is also compatible with a wide variety of Sony E-mount accessories including the BC-QZ1 Battery Chargerxviii, VG-C3EM Vertical Grip.
Pricing and Availability
The Sony α7 III Full-frame Interchangeable Lens Camera will ship this April for about $2000 US for the body and $2200 in a kit with the FE 28‑70 mm F3.5‑5.6 kit lens. In Canada, it will be sold for $2600 CA for the body and $2800 in a kit with the FE 28‑70 mm F3.5‑5.6 lens. The camera and kits will be sold at a variety of Sony authorized dealers throughout North America.
- [i] Approximate, effective
- [ii] Sony test conditions
- [iii] In continuous “Hi+” mode. Max. fps depends on camera settings.
- [iv] Some distortion may occur with fast-moving subjects.
- [v] CIPA standards. Pitch/yaw shake only. Planar T* FE 50mm F1.4 ZA lens. Long exposure NR off.
- [vi] Class 10 or higher SDHC/SDXC card required for XAVC S movie recording, UHS speed class 3 or higher for 100 Mbps recording.
- [vii] Among non-reflex interchangeable lens digital camera equipped with auto focus function as of February 2017, based on Sony research.
- [viii] CIPA standards. When using the LCD monitor. 610 images when using the viewfinder.
- [ix] Limited to 12 bits during compressed RAW continuous shooting, BULB exposure, or when Long Exposure NR is ON.
- [x] With SSM or SAM lenses only. With the LA-EA3 mount adaptor. Eye AF not supported for movie recording. AF-C can only be used when the “Phase detection” AF system is selected, but focus is fixed at the first frame during continuous shooting in any mode other than “Continuous: Lo” (Hi+, Hi, Mid).
- [xi] Continuous “Hi+” mode. UHS-II compatible SDXC memory card required. Sony test conditions.
- [xii] Only 100 Hz and 120 Hz flicker is detected. Continuous shooting speed may decrease. Flicker-free shooting is not available during silent shooting, BULB exposure, or movie recording.
- [xiii] 24p recording. Approx. 1.6x at 30p.
- [xiv] Connect to an HDR (HLG) compatible Sony TV via a USB cable to view HDR (HLG) movies.
- [xv] Not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture proof.
- [xvi] The transfer speed has been measured with multiple images using α7R III, SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.1 Gen 1), and Uncompressed RAW ( L: 7952 x 5304)＋JPEG Extra fine.
- [xvii] Measured with: CPU Intel® Core™ i7-6700 Processor 3.40GHz, Memory 8GB, OS Windows® 7 Professional, and Uncompressed RAW (α7R III L: 7952 x 5304)
- [xviii] Not supplied in box
I saw a brief mention of a tilt out LCD screen on this model. The poster eluded to the fact that it is not as versatile as other models. The tilt out screen would be a deal breaker for me, since it greatly enhances my ability to shoot low.
Interesting offer. Fuji’s X-H1 tries to attract people, but is the same price region and as big or bigger as this body.
Now I need to give it a try, rent a Sony and if it’s alright for me, I just can start thinking about a lens conversion of my Sigma lenses for Nikon. Then I would start with a lot of excellent glass and native AF without adapter
It seems most reviews and commentators forget two – quite important – things 1) the view finder is not as good as the one on the A9 and A7riii; 2) battery life is about 100shots less when using the viewfinder only.
Why not integrate the same view finder as the A9? I did not like the viewfinder of the A7ii. That only is a deal breaker. Too bad…
You are right about the viewfinder and it would be nice to have the a9/a7rIII viewfinder – but taking the pricing into consideration I guess one can’t complain about the camera – the “old” viewfinder was among the best in the DSLM-market. Using the viewfinder with an DSLM is always reducing the battery life as the viewfinder has higher resolution and faster refresh rate compared to the screen…
Great, just great. But when is sony gona take the a6000 series seriously? With full dedicated lenses? because to me sending 1 new lens… the 18-135mm is not taking it seriously. Yes they have great APS-C sensor cameras, the a6000, a6300 and the a6500. But in terms of lenses, sony has just left the production to sigma and company. It is to bad.
I’ve been waiting (in hopeful expectation!) for this announcement … Details sound pretty much perfect to me.
The only (minor) disappointment is provision of only 2 memory states on the Mode dial … Sony has replaced one of them (as compared to the a7R3) with a Scene selection … curiously, ‘cos I doubt user of this type of camera would be much interested in “scene” pre-sets(?)
Planning to match mine with the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G lens.
No mention of pixel-shift feature anywhere that I can see in the official Sony material. Not much of a loss given how poorly it is implemented in the A7Rm3. Also as already pointed out, no lossless compressed. I’ll be curious to see if the combination of uncompressed raw + silent shooting disables all bracket shooting modes, as is the case for the A7Rm3. I’m waiting to see what Nikon comes up with.
Backside illumination has almost no effect on noise or total light gathered on a 35mm sensor. So you might want to edit that out :)
Interesting – I’m not an expert on the details of sensor design, but I always thought that was the purpose of backside illumination, even on full-frame. I’ve been looking it up, and it definitely does seem that it has less of an effect when pixels are larger, so thanks for adding this! Still, the Sony a9 (with BSI) has a significant noise improvement over the a7 II – almost a stop – despite both being 24 megapixels. The a7 III has a sensor design much more similar to that of the a9, so I suspect that there also will be a noticeable improvement compared to the a7 II – maybe 2/3 to 1 stop.
Noise improvement is usually in the processing pipeline and massage of data. Thom Hogan estimates that BSI improves a 35mm sensor about 1/6 a stop. However, it does allow better placement of electronics which leads to faster data reads, etc. So it’s a good thing but by itself won’t impact light gathering or noise.
Only “backside illumination” doesn’t do the trick. “Backside illumination” with two different circuits for high and base ISO (therefore different amplifcation of the signals), like used in the D850 (and maybe here as well?) does make a difference.
It does have mic and phone jacks
Thanks, Stefan! I’m glad this turned out to be the case – it would have been a strange omission. I updated the article accordingly.
I’d like to buy a FF mirrorless camera for about 8-9’000 USD and have been waiting for Nikon for 2 years. Meanwhile Sony have developed a mature FF mirrorless system with a lots of lenses. By this time there are 3rd party lenses on the market as well.
I guess the conclusions can draw anyone.
Number of AF points is one thing but AF performance may not be as good as A9 (yet to be seen). We have seen this before in other brands.