2. Build Quality, Ergonomics and Handling
When it comes to its ergonomics, the A7 III features Sony’s latest generation mirrorless body design which brings it up to date with its siblings: the A7R III and A9. The refinements to the controls and design make the A7 III appreciably easier to handle than the A7 II. The camera fits nicely in the hand, with an improved grip size making it much more comfortable to shoot with, particularly when using larger lenses. Perhaps just as important, the larger grip size also leaves more room for Sony’s enhanced Z-type battery which when used alongside the A7 III, offers the longest battery life seen on a mirrorless camera to date.
Measuring 127 x 96 x 74 mm (5.0 x 3.78 x 2.5 in) and weighing 650g (22.93 oz) including battery, the A7 III is a bit bigger than its predecessor but remains highly compact when compared to a full-frame DSLR camera body. Concerning weather-proofing, Sony describes the A7 III as being dust and moisture resistant but the lack of rubber seals along the body and port doors casts doubt on the camera’s ability to withstand the elements. This is especially true for the battery door which remains the Achilles heel of the weather sealing on Sony’s mirrorless offerings. Personally, I didn’t experience any issues while using the camera during a couple of light rain showers, but I would be wary of using it under taxing weather conditions.
Having latest body design means that the A7 III comes with an almost identical control layout to the Sony A7R III and a9, and only upon a close examination do physical differences between the cameras become apparent.
2.1. Mode Dial and Top Controls
Like its predecessor, the A7 III features a barren upper left side of the camera. This design is an inefficient use of the available real estate and Sony would have been better off using this space for a dedicated Drive Mode Dial (like on the A9) or moving the Mode Dial to the left to free up room for a top LCD panel on the right hand side (like on the Nikon Z6). On the upper right surface we find a very similar layout to the A7R III with a dedicated Mode dial (which unfortunately has a Scene Mode instead of the A7R III’s three Custom modes ), a shutter release with an ON/OFF power collar, a dedicated exposure compensation dial (which turns far too easily and should have been given a locking feature) and a pair of custom buttons.
2.2. Rear Layout and Controls
The back of the camera sees some welcome changes and additions compared to the A7 II. First, the Custom 3 button joins the Menu button on the left side to make room for a repositioned Movie Record button which has moved next to the EVF. On the A7 II, the Movie Record button location on the edge of the rear grip made it aggravatingly challenging to use. The new position is much more logical and makes it easily accessible to your thumb when shooting. This change permits for more room on the right-hand side where there is a very welcome addition of an AF-ON back focus button. The AF-ON button is an essential feature for photographers wishing to employ back-button focus techniques. The AEL button has moved from near the thumb grip to the top right. The AEL button can be assigned a range of controls and I prefer to use it alongside Sony’s Recall Custom Setting.
Below the AF-On button and to the right of the display is perhaps the most useful addition compared to the A7 II: the new Multi-Selector joystick. The joystick grants immediate control over moving the cameras autofocus points and replaces a great source of frustration on previous Sony mirrorless cameras. Gone are the days of endless clicks and menu searches when trying to move an AF point.
Just below the joystick is the familiar FN button which brings up the Quick Menu. You arrange the Quick Menu in any way that you like depending on your style of shooting. Further down is a multi-functional selector wheel– which allows for quick scrolling through menus along with access to specific functions by pressing each of the four corners. While I like this feature, the wheel on the Sony feels rather flimsy and lacks the wonderful tactile feedback of the similar flat Thumb Wheel found on Canon’s full-frame EOS DSLR bodies. As on the A7 II, the Trash Button doubles up as the Custom 4 button.
2.3. Recall Custom Setting during Hold
Probably my favorite addition to the A7 III is the inclusion of Sony’s ‘Recall Custom Setting during Hold’ function found on the A7R III and A9. In our review of the Sony Alpha 9, we praised the depth of customization which this feature allows, and the same sentiment applies to the A7 III. This function allows you to create three wholly unique recall options with a range of different settings and assign each one to any number of Custom buttons which are deployed as they are pressed.
The number of different settings which can be chosen for each unique recall option is quite astounding and includes Shoot Mode, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Drive Mode, Exposure Comp., ISO, Metering Mode, Focus Mode, Focus Area, and AF-On (whether or not to engage AF). The Recall Custom Setting has quickly become one of my favorite features of Sony’s mirrorless cameras as it allows me to assign very specific focus settings for unique shooting situations to the multitude of different custom buttons.
For example, when shooting birds, I often end up assigning the AEL button to Recall Custom hold 1 (I set my Custom Hold 1 for panning and motion blur scenarios. To do this, I set it to Shutter Priority Mode, 1/25 of a second shutter speed, Auto ISO and my desired focus mode. Everything else is left unchanged) and the Multi-Selector Center hold to Recall Custom hold 2 (I set Custom Hold 2 for birds-in-flight scenarios. To do this I set it to Manual Mode, 1/2000 of a second shutter speed, F/5.6, Auto ISO, Wide Focus Area. Everything else is left unchanged).
The implementation of this feature on the Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras is fantastic and adopts the best of Canon and Nikon’s implementations, offering Canon’s flexibility to override multiple settings together with Nikon’s ability to assign any button to AF/metering options. Overall, the customization is one of the cameras biggest strengths and a genuine differentiator in this class of camera.
The A7 III uses the same XGA 2,359K dot (1024×768) OLED Electronic Viewfinder as the Sony A7 II. The EVF is a definite step back from the Quad VGA 3,686K dot panel (1280×960 pixel) found on the A7R III and A9. The viewfinder magnification does, however, get an increase to 0.78x compared to the 0.71x magnification found the A7 II’s EVF. In use, the EVF is quite good though you can notice slight pixelation if you try to look for it. Like the A7R III and unlike the A9, the A7 III’s viewfinder offers a live view with blackouts up to 8fps, while at 10fps you’re limited to a slideshow of images as they’re being taken rather than a live feed. Compared to the competition, the A7 III’s EVF lags, with both the Nikon Z6 and Canon EOS R offering 3.69 million dot panels. An advantage of the lower resolution EVF is that it does go easier on the camera’s battery life and indeed the A7 III has a longer battery life than both the A7R III and A9, even though they all share the same NP-FZ100 Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery.
One source of irritation I found with the viewfinder relates to the way that the focus areas/points are displayed. When using the autofocus joystick to move a focus point, the focus area remains a hard-to-see dull gray rather than turning red or another more visible color. It would have been nice for it to light up the same way it does when dragging a focus area when using the touchscreen.
2.5. Rear LCD Screen
The A7 III has a 3-inch type 921,600-dot touchscreen LCD that can tilt up by a maximum of 107° upward and a maximum of 41° downward. The resolution of the LCD screen is comparatively low, with the A7R III featuring a 1,444,000 dot panel and the Nikon Z6 and EOS R both offering 3.2-inch type 2.10 million dot touchscreen LCDs. Like the A7R III, the screen is touch sensitive and allows functionality such as Touch AF along with Touchpad functionality. You can tap to reposition the AF area, tap to pull-focus in movies, or double-tap an image in playback to enlarge. It can also be used to move your AF points when composing your image through the EVF via the Touchpad functionality much the same way as the joystick. Unfortunately, the touchscreen implementation on Sony’s mirrorless cameras continues to be underdeveloped and feels far less polished than what you’ll find on some of its peers (The Canon EOS R springs to mind). It is impossible to tap through menus, and while you can enlarge with a double tap during playback, you can’t swipe through different images or pinch in to zoom.
The A7 III offers an impressive feature set when it comes to its connectivity. The camera has built-in Wifi with NFC to help transfer files to a smartphone, tablet, computer or FTP server. There is a USB 3.1 Type-C terminal for faster image transfer speeds when shooting tethered. The camera still has the old Micro USB 2.0 port which can be used to power the camera. There is also a Type-D Micro HDMI port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and external mic jack.
2.7. Camera Menu
It seems that there can’t be a review of a Sony camera without complaining about the menu and I am afraid that the A7 III is no different. Sony has made some effort to improve the menu in recent years, but things are still as complicated as ever. A good example is Sony’s odd decision to place video quality and custom button settings under the same menu tab; Or the choice to place AF options, Exposure and ISO settings and Flash settings under the same menu tab. Only Sony can answer they where isn’t a dedicated Movie settings tab or why customization of the camera’s controls aren’t found under the Setup menu. There is also the strange choice of making the first and second top-level menus (Camera Icon 1 and 2) use the same icon while all the other menus use varying icons. Overall, Sony’s menu remains dizzyingly challenging to use and they really ought to learn a thing to two from both Canon and Nikon in this regard.
2.8. Recording Media
On the right side of the camera, we find another important upgrade over the A7 II: dual memory card slots. This is a feature which was sorely absent from Sony’s mirrorless bodies until it was first implemented in the A9 and then again in the A7R III. Dual card slots have long been commonplace in professional cameras and have recently become common in mid-range cameras as well. The A7 III supports SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards and now features UHS-II card support. Unfortunately, only the bottom slot can exploit the extra speed of UHS-II cards. I complained about this peculiar choice by Sony when I reviewed the Sony Alpha 9. In my tests, shooting two cards simultaneously didn’t have much of an effect on the burst size or speed but having the second (slower) slot active certainly reduced my write speeds. Unlike with the A9, I don’t feel that this is such a big problem for the A7 III given that it isn’t a camera directly aimed at sports photographers. Nonetheless, having two UHS-II supporting card slots would have been a nice touch.
A constant criticism of Sony’s mirrorless cameras over the years has been their relatively poor battery life compared to shooting with the optical viewfinder on a DSLR. Due to the mirrorless design, the screen and the EVF are always on when the camera is active, and this inevitably consumes more power. While the issue isn’t just tied to mirrorless cameras (my Sony Alpha 77 springs to mind), it has been made worse by the usage of smaller batteries to better accommodate the compact size of mirrorless cameras. In the past, as Nasim pointed in his review of the A7R II, this problem meant that multiple batteries were needed for a long day of shooting.
Thankfully, Sony updated their battery when they introduced the Alpha 9 and both the A7R III and A7 III share the new Z-type battery. In the A7 III, Sony has an industry leading (for a mirrorless camera) 710 shots under CIPA conditions when using the NP-FZ100 battery which is nearly double the amount offered by the NP-FW50 battery on the A7 II. During my time in the field with the A7 III, I was regularly able to go through a whole day’s worth of shooting on one battery charge. On an average day I was continually using the EVF and back screen, vibration reduction and often playing back my images in the EVF and by the end of the day (if I didn’t recharge the battery midday) I found myself with around 35% power left over.
3. Overall Handling
Sony’s mirrorless Alpha series has now gone through three generations of design and has reached the stage where its handling feels quite mature. The third generation of the A7 series, in particular, has significantly improved with the larger and more comfortable grip, better button layout, dedicated AF joystick, improved robustness, and class-leading customization. Nonetheless, there are still things Sony would do well to improve on in future models. The buttons still feel relatively mushy and lack the tactile feedback of the best DSLRs. While the grip has significantly improved, it still feels too short and isn’t as nice as the one found on the Canon EOS R and Nikon Z7. Sony could have made better use of the space on the top of the camera by shifting the Mode Dial to the left-hand side (which currently lays empty) which would have made room for a top LCD panel. Sony claims that the A7 III is weather sealed and it is to some degree, but the weather sealing isn’t nearly as substantial as what one finds on the Nikon Z7 and Z6. Sony’s menus have matured and are easier to navigate than in the past, but much work remains to make the menu seamless to use. The touchscreen functionality remains underutilized and in its current state feels much more like an insignificant accessory than an integral part of the camera.
4. In-Body Image Stabilization
Akin to Sony’s other mirrorless cameras, the A7 III incorporates a 5-axis sensor-based image stabilization system. The unit used in the A7 III is rated at around 5-stops of stabilization which is a slight improvement over its predecessor. Having In-Body Image Stabilization is crucial for low light handheld photography and it’s a real life saver when shooting with non stabilized lenses.
5. Silent Shooting
As with the A7R III and A9, the A7 III features both an electronic and mechanical shutter. The mechanical shutter is rated for 200,000 cycles which is less than the 500,000-cycle rating of the A7R III. The camera’s 10fps with continuous autofocus is available whether you are shooting with the mechanical or electronic shutter which is the same speed as the A7R III and twice as fast the A7 II. Like the A7R III and A9, the A7 III offers a “Silent Shooting” mode that relies on the electronic shutter to offer a completely silent shooting experience.
Like the A7R III, the A7 III’s Exmor R CMOS sensor does not have the fast readout speed found on the A9’s Stacked Exmor RS CMOS sensor. When shooting with the electronic shutter, the stacked sensor design of the A9 allows it to read the full sensor in about 1/160 of a second (Compared to 1/250 of the Mechanical shutter). In comparison, the A7 III’s sensor has a readout speed of around 1/20th of a second when using the electronic shutter, which is about 3 stops slower than the A9. This speed advantage is what allows the A9 to deliver its incredible frame-rate with no viewfinder blackout and 250 image buffer.
Beyond increased performance, faster sensor readout speeds also help mitigate rolling shutter effects which show up when shooting video of a moving subject or when panning with the camera. The adverse effects of rolling shutter show up in vertical objects in the image which appear tilted when in fact they are perfectly straight. When shooting with the silent electronic shutter, the A7 III suffers from an average amount of rolling shutter and is about in line with the A7R III. The only way to alleviate the impacts of the rolling shutter is to use the A7 III’s mechanical shutter.
6. Video/ Movie Recording
The A7 III continues Sony’s strong push for better video in their mirrorless lineup offering 6k sensor readout for full frame pixel 4K/24p video with no crop, 1080/120fps slow-motion recording along with a very good reduction in rolling shutter. What this means is that for its 4K video, the camera collects 6k pixel information which is then down sampled to 4k with no pixel binning. All this adds up to very sharp 4k videos. The Sony A7 II was only capable of Full HD so this is quite an upgrade over its predecessor. Compared to the video capabilities of the A9 we recently reviewed, the A7 III offers the same oversampling in 4k but it also receives both picture profiles and the ability to capture Log footage internally. What this all means is that you can get a similar video quality as that found on the A9 to go along with the A7R III’s Picture Profiles for half the price of the A9. Sony also added a host of video centric features like zebra warnings for exposure, excellent focus peaking and clean HDMI output. Overall, the A7 III is a wonderfully specified camera for videography, especially when its price tag is taken into consideration.