Sony a7 III Review – The Unexpected New Lowlight King?

During my recent trip to Japan, Sony was kind enough to supply me with their newest creation for a couple of days: I had the chance to test the new Sony a7 III together with the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS lens. Needless to say that I seized the opportunity and ran out to film with it in order to gather enough material and first hand impressions to share with our dedicated audience. 

It’s the beginning of March and I can already tick off covering CP+ (One of the world’s most important photo exhibition taking place in Yokohama, Japan) and just before moving to my next assignment (yet to be revealed), I found myself heading to Sony’s HQ in Shinagawa in order to pick up their new creation, the a7 III. I have to come up front and write how grateful I feel about the opportunity I had – to talk directly to the people who design and make those wonderful cameras – mostly for one reason: the chance to raise our user voices and opinions, be it praises or concerns about a specific product. Equipped with the camera body, two batteries and an f/4 lens, I ran out of the building and into a massive rain storm….Well, I thought I’ll give it an hour or so to pass but boy, was I wrong. It actually did not stop raining for the complete two days that I had the camera, so I diverted my plans and forced myself to film and test it mostly indoors with one quick, wet jump to the famous Shibuya crossing point.

Sony a7 III – key features for video production:

I’ve already covered the highlights of the new Sony a7 III camera when it was just announced, in my article here, but I find it important to repeat myself and write that for the money and definition (by Sony it is their basic model), it is the best full frame mirrorless camera one can get for video production, for the following reasons:

  • The picture quality in full frame is nice, solid and artifact-free.
  • The autofocus will work well in most cases. It is worth mentioning that it will struggle in lowlight situations when contrast is not that great, but this is understandable. What is not so clear to me is why at times – in well lit situations – it will act as if it has its “own brain” and move elsewhere unexpectedly. To conclude; while testing it, the autofocus performed well 90% of the time with the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 lens. Speaking of autofocus, the reason I tend to emphasize this feature in my latest reviews is simply because I think that for us as independent filmmakers, we should embrace any feature or technology that can help with executing our job. Especially when it comes to modestly priced productions or one man band projects. (And yes, “learn how to focus manually” comments are welcome and absolutely true! One should practice and learn how to do it manually, yet, let the technology come to an aid when needed). Speaking of which, changing between focus points is fairly easy and accurate with this camera, so if you are using a photo lens, this element might become handy.
  • To my eye, it looks as if the rolling shutter effect in this camera is a bit better than with Sony’s own equivalent models (Yet needs to be improved).
  • The high frame rate option (up to 120fps in full HD mode) is fine as long as you don’t upscale it as I did, for the sake of keeping this video in 4K resolution.
  • The 5-axis optical in-body stabilisation system is working well. Don’t expect an “Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II” level of performance, but it is definitely doing a good job.
  • The lowlight capably of this camera is simply outstanding, especially considering the fact that we are dealing with a 24.2 megapixel sensor. In other words, with such pixel density and pixel size, one could expect an average lowlight performance, yet with the a7 III, the case is the opposite. This camera can give the a7SII a good fight on any given day (or night)… The basic ISO when shooting in S-Log 2 is 800, but feel free to go higher (actually much higher) according to your filming needs.

Sony a7 III- main cons:

I’m deliberately avoiding mentioning the word “10bit and 422” in this article. (OK, just did it)… As the description and positioning of this model is very clear from Sony’s side, it is obvious for me not to expect such goodies inside that particular body. Actually, when thinking about it, the a7 III is paving the way for a higher rich-in-features full frame mirrorless Sony camera, as the improvements made now with this device will have to dictate what’s being implemented next in the upcoming “S” model – in order to justify interest and demand. In reality, If I could highlight two main subjects that deserve an extra touch and attention from Sony’s side it would definitely be the menu structure and the so needed fully articulated LCD screen. The more I use and test other cameras, the harder it is for me to go back to Sony’s menu. As a person who is mostly using the video features of this camera, I would love to see only the video-related items highlighted, when in video mode. (Or at least see a completely greyed-out structure of the photo-related elements, if those cannot be detached).

Sony a7 III – Image taken from the timeline. Tantra lounge, Tokyo

Lowlight performance:

I think that in many ways this camera would have scored well but would’t be so exciting if its lowlight capability was average. As mentioned above, I really wonder what Sony is doing in order to achieve that level of performance. To my knowledge, it is the Back-Illuminated CMOS Image Sensor that is responsible for such results. Look at the images I took at the Tantra lounge in Roppongi, Tokyo. They are all captured in ISO 800 to 6400. In reality, this means that one can shoot in lowlight situations with full confidence.

Conclusion:

The key element for me in this camera is the right balance between its price and specifications. Sony did a really good job in packing a lot of technology into a well-priced full frame mirrorless camera body. In my opinion, this is a great all-round shooting device with a good level of video performance and nice stills functionality (at least this is what I heard from colleagues who have tried the camera and are shooting photos professionally). Our desires for 4K higher frame rates like 50/60p, higher bit rate,  color depth and maybe even a built-in ND filter will have to wait for the next round of announcements.

About the above video:

Shot in 4K (UHD) in 24p. (The slow-motion sequences were shot in full HD 120fps), S-Log 2. Graded with FilmConvert,Different ISO values were used throughout the video. Edited in Adobe Premiere latest edition.

Many thanks to: Tantra lounge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Saki Matsumoto and Eva Hiesmair

Music by Art list: Sky City – Instrumental by Davis Absolute – Eden and Sky City – Instrumental by Davis Absolute – Eden

Sony a7 III – Image taken from the timeline. Tantra lounge, Tokyo

What do you think, is this the right camera for you or you rather wait for the a7S III to arrive? Share with us your opinion in the comment section below.

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Brian McQuaile
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Where is the video?

cinema5D
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Now it’s back. Sorry for the inconvenience.

 Brian Paul
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Hey Johnnie, what did you shoot the interview portion of this video with? It’s extremely sharp. I like the look.

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Abid Prguda

It has got no 4:2:2 – what about RAW video?

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