Sony A7R III Review

Sony A7R III Review

By Scott Gietler and Nirupam Nigam

 

The Sony A7R III builds upon the Sony A7R II not with any dramatic changes, but with a large number of small improvements that all add up to more than the sum of the parts. Are the improvements enough to warrant moving up to this camera from a compact or micro-four thirds camera? Has Sony upped their game enough for dSLR users to move to this smaller setup? Read on to find out!

 

Sony A7R III - Compared to the Sony A7R II

The major improvements of the Sony A7R III include a much longer battery life, improved auto-focus speed, a 2nd memory card slot, faster continuous shooting, and true slow-motion video in full HD. In addition, there are numerous other smaller improvements. How significant is the auto-focus speed improvement when shooting underwater? Although noticeable, it still does not match the speed or responsiveness of a high-end DSLR. 

The Sony A7R III boasts a new front-end LSI (Large Scale Integrated) processor and a faster BIONZ processor, which allows for many aspects of the camera to work faster.

The sensor is the same in the A7R II and the A7R III, so there is no noticeable difference in the images.

Sony A7R III Upgrades:

  • Battery life almost doubled (a much needed upgrade!)
  • 2nd SD card slot added. One slot is UHS-I, one slot is UHS-II
  • Continuous shooting now 10fps instead of 5fps
  • 120fps video supported in 1080p mode versus 720p mode in the A7r II
  • EVF resolution increased from 2.4M to 3.69M
  • Max ISO 32000 instead of 25600
  • RAW buffer 76 images instead of 23 images
  • 5 axis stabilization rated to 5.5 stops from 4.5 stops
  • Low light auto-focus rated to -3EV from -2EV
  • New  Hybrid Log Gamma profile for 4K video (useful for new 4K HDR TVs)
  • New S-Log3 profile which allows 14 stops of dynamic range
  • New Pixel shift mode for improved sharpness & dynamic range for still landscape shots on a tripod
  • Bluetooth support added
  • Same sensor! And still 42.4 megapixels. 4K video is still 30p

 

Pixel Shift Feature

Here is a video on the pixel shift feature of the Sony A7R III. The camera takes two photos, 1 second apart - shifting the pixels by 1 for the second photo, and combining the results. Note that this only works for completely still objects.

 

Upgrading from a Compact?

Compact shooters wanting to move up have the most difficult choice. Olympus micro-four thirds camera? Sony A7R III? dSLR? The choices can be daunting, and we recommend you discuss your choice with one of our staff members. You should strongly consider the A7r III if you fall into some of all of these categories:

  • You do not want to compromise on image or video quality
  • You are not too price sensitive
  • You want to shoot video
  • You don't want to lug a full size dSLR system around

Upgrading from a Mirrorless?

Shooters and videographers using a micro-four thirds or Sony Nex or A6000 series mirrorless camera will be pleasantly surprised by their upgrade to the A7R III. In return for a slightly larger setup, they will experience a noticeable improvement in image quality, video quality, responsiveness and focus speed The bokeh / background blur from the full-frame sensor will also give an entirely new element to their creative photos and videos.

Upgrading from a dSLR?

DSLR users wanting a small system and better video capabilities will be smart to consider the Sony A7R III. The body and housing are smaller, although some of the lenses and dome ports are not necessarily smaller than the dSLR equivalents. The Sony setup will not necessarily be much less expensive either.

Incredible detail and resolution taken with the Sony 90mm macro prime lens and the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing

 

For Underwater Videographers

For photographers on assignment who have to produce both still images and videos, the A7R III is a dream camera that will make their editors happy. Shooting in video mode offers great low-light performance, 4K video, focus peaking, and easy custom white balance.

For people shooting only professional video, you may be better served by the not yet released Sony A7S III, which will have better low-light capabilties and hopefully better bitrates, better codecs and possible 4K at 60p. The A7R III only supports 8-bit codecs, while cameras like the GH5 support 10 bit codecs which allow for a billion color combinations vs 16 million for an 8-bit codec.

Other stand-out features include the improved 5-axis image stabilization, which does a great job of reducing the jitters and wobbles of hand-held videographry, both topside and underwater.

Like the A7R II, the A7R III can output uncompressed 8-bit 4K video to an external recording over HDMI, like the Atmos Shogun. 8MP screen grabs can be captured while recording 4K video.

You can shoot slow motion 120 frames per second video in full HD mode now (1080p). The A7R II limits you to 720p.

If you are experienced with more advanced video editing, the new Hybrid Log Gamma compatibility means that playback on new HDR televisions is more easily supported, without having to color grade. The Sony A7R III also supports both S-Log 2 and S-Log 3. If you are not familiar with S-Log profiles, it is similar to shooting stills in "Raw format", except for video - the video output looks flat and needs editing to bring out the full colors and dynamic range, but offers the potential for much greater dynamic range.

The A7R III also has a couple of 4K video modes; it can take 4K video in either full-frame mode or Super 35 mode. In Super 35 mode, an 18 megapixel crop of the sensor is used, resulting in sharper images and video with less aliasing and moire. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm fisheye are the equivalent of using a 12-22.5mm lens in Super 35 mode. Super 35 mode can also give better high ISO performance, particularly above ISO 3200.

As of yet, we have not noticed any rolling shutter or over-heating issues. The increased battery life is definitely an improvement. 

 

Underwater 4K Video Test

In January, we took the A7R III underwater for a 4K video test in Redondo Beach, CA. It was the tail end of mating season for our local squid population giving us the opportunity to take some beautiful footage of mating squid and other creatures that were around to feed on the remains. The video quality is phenomenal with excellent dynamic range and detail, especially in low light environments like a night dive. Taking video is very intuitive, especially in the new Nauticam housing for the A7R III.

The Sony A7R III is perfect for compact and mirrorless users thinking about upgrading to take better video. The camera offers much more control over video than a compact set up with the ability to change exposure and apeture (depth of field) while taking video. For amateur video editors the file format is particularly easy to work with as video files are stored in an .mp4 format. The A7R III has proven to take very accurate color while shooting video; to illustrate this fact, the color and white balance have not been corrected in the video below.

This video was captured with the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing with a Sony 28mm lens, Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens, and a single Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro light. For more information behind our 4K video test read our full article:  http://www.uwphotographyguide.com/sony-a7r-iii-4k-underwater-video

* Make sure to set the YouTube quality setting to 2160P (4K)!

 

Best Lens Choices for Underwater

 

Wide-Angle

For both stills and video, the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens is a top choice. Photographers who wish to take close-focus wide-angle shots of coral reefs may go for the 28mm prime lens with the fisheye conversion lens for the widest possible angle of view, or the 28mm with the Nauticam wet wide angle lens for maximum flexibility underwater. The Kraken KRL-01 wet wide angle lens is a also a great option with the 28mm prime lens. All of these options are very sharp and will result in exceptional wide-angle photos.

The fisheye conversion lens can be used behind a large or a small dome port, while for the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens, an 8-inch or larger dome is recommended

Close-focus wide-angle photo taken with the Sony A7R III and a Sony 28mm lens in a Nauticam housing with the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide angle lens and a single Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro light.

 

 

Canon Lenses

By using the Metabones or Photodiox adapter, you can attach Canon lenses to your Sony A7r III, although auto-focus is generally better with Sony lenses. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm, 16-35mm, and 17-40mm generally work well - and the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens is a recommended choice for shooting video when using Super 35 crop mode. You can also the Canon 100mm lenses.

Mid-Range

The Sony 24-70mm F2.8 or the Sony 28-70mm F4 are the two main choices here, along with the 35mm F2.8 portrait lens.

Macro

The Sony 90mm macro lens is the solid choice for small fish and macro subjects. There is also a 50mm macro lens, but underwater photographers will find that the 90mm lens fits most of their needs. The 90mm macro lens is exceptionally sharp and produces a very high quality photo.

Spanish shawl nudibranch photographed with the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing and the Sony 90mm macro prime lens.
Spanish shawl nudibranch photographed with the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing with a Sony 90mm macro prime lens

 

Octopus eye photographed with the Sony A7R III and a Sony 90mm prime lens. 
...and a 100% crop of the same image shows the revolutionary resolution of the A7R III sensor. 42.7 megapixels has its benefits!

 

 

Sony a7r III review for underwater photography
F13, 1/250th, ISO 200, Sony 90mm macro lens

Underwater Video

We recommend using either the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens, or the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens in Super 35 mode. For tighter shots, either the Sony 24-70mm or 28-70mm zoom lenses can be used.

 

Underwater Housings for Sony A7R III 

Does it fit in the A7R II Housings?

The Sony A7R III has a depth of 74mm, vs 60mm for the A7R II. Unfortuntately, because of this large difference, the A7R III is not compatible with any of the A7R II housings. You can order the new housings now on our website!

Nauticam A7R III Housing

In Stock -  $2,850

Nauticam is leading the pack with their excellent A7R III housing. A wide range of lenses and ports are supported, but you pay a premium to get this maximum flexibility. Use of the metabones adapter is supported. Along with previous versions of the Nauticam A7 housings, the new housing also supports the use of several Nikonos lenses. Overall, we found the Nauticam housing to be sturdy, safe, and intuitive. All controls are within finger distance of the grips - including rotating dials for aperture and shutter speed adjustment. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as added protection against a flood. 

Ikelite A7R III Housing

In Stock - 1,695

The Ikelite Sony A7R III housing, made of polycarbonate, is a great value at a significantly lower price point than its competitors. Most common lenses are supported as well as the use of the metabones adapter.

Sea & Sea A7R III Housing

In Stock - 3,495.95

The Sea & Sea MDX-A7RIII Housing is a high end aluminum housing which offers full camera control, features molded grips, luminescent buttons and nice ergonomics for easy control. This gives you a great shooting experience. The housing also has a unique feature - Buoyancy Pocket. It  contributes to the reduction of the weight underwater and acts as a compartment for external battery as well. It also supports an optional TTL converter.

Watch the video review of the Sea & Sea MDX-A7RIII here.

Aquatica A7RIII Housing

In Stock - 2,499

The Aquatica Sony A7R III housing focuses on ergonomics, bringing a stellar design for use underwater to match the high quality build quality. All control mechanisms are self aligning and spring loaded, which allows for the ease of simple drop in loading for the camera, no controls to pull out first. Full camera functionality is available with the housing. Many key controls are accessible without moving your hand from the handle for faster settings changes while shooting.

 

Underwater Test and Photos

Over the past two months, we were able to dive off the beach with the Sony A7R III and test whether it truly lives up to expectations. Verdict? It lives up to the name. In fact, the most notable aspect of this camera is in the name - R stands for resolution. The 42.4 megapixel revolution brings underwater photography to a whole new dimension. Photos can be cropped with almost no consideration for loss of quality. This means that simple photos of simple subjects can be cropped into abstract works of art (see the above octopus photo). The caveat is that a lot of storage space will be needed to work with RAW files if you are an avid photographer. Make sure that you have a high speed / high performance SD card when shooting! Large RAW files will require this. The camera will lag significantly if it needs to record to a low performance card.

Autofocus

The auto-focus is fully functional and decently quick when compared to other mirrorless cameras. It is of course, much better than compact cameras. However, it cannot match the speed of high-end DSLR cameras - especially new models such as the Nikon D850. Overall, I still prefer the single autofocus mode (AF-S) over other modes as it enables me to focus on a point and move the camera to compose my shot. The Nikon D850 does this even better with a 3D tracking AF mode.

 

This photo was captured with the Sony A7R III and the Sony 90mm macro lens. Quick autofocus was necessary due to the fish's quick movements. 
...This 100% crop of the eye shows the great resolution of the camera - even the parasites are in focus!

 

This Spanish shawl nudibranch was photographed with the Sony A7R III and the Sony 90mm lens with a Nauticam SMC diopter. The surge was 3-7 feet underwater off of Shaw's Cove, so quick autofocus speed was necessary and the camera delivered.

 

Things to Consider & White Balance

So far we have noted that auto white balance can be a little warm or purple when shooting underwater. This can be corrected by shooting in RAW and changing the white balance in post-processing. 

Settings

It is important to note that the camera should not be used as-is straight out of the box. Certain settings will need to be changed in order for the camera to be used underwater. First, make sure that auto review is on for long enough for you to review your photo after you have taken it. This is essential for seeing whether you need to recompose on the next shot. Perhaps the most important setting that should be changed before underwater use is the live view setting. The default live view setting will display what the actual photo should look like at current exposure settings, without strobes; so if you are shooting with strobes, the default live view may be very dark or even black.

Turning the live view display off will brighten the screen, allowing you to see what you are composing underwater even when there is very little ambient light. 

For a full list of recommended settings, please see our recommendations for the Sony A7R II until we release updated recommendations for the Sony A7R III. Due to the similarities in camera, the recommendations for the A7R II should be sufficient for the time being.

Sarcastic fringehead photographed with the A7R III and 90mm macro lens on a night dive. Turning the live view display off was essential for composing my shot given the lack of available ambient light.

 

Availability & Purchase

Order the Sony A7R III body now from Bluewater Photo! We also stock all popular Sony lenses, the Nauticam and Ikelite housing, and all necessary strobes, lights, arms, and clamps.

 

Final Thoughts

The Sony A7R III camera produces exceptional quality underwater photos and videos. Whether it is the right choice for you, depends on your specific needs. Still not sure after reading this article? Reach out to us at 310-633-5052 or email sales@bluewaterphotostore.com and get an unbiased recommendation from Scott or one of our highly knowledgeable staff.

 

Additional Sample Photos

Sony A7R III  + Kraken KRL-01  Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing and the Sony 28mm lens with the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide lens.Sony A7R III  + Kraken KRL-01  Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing and the Sony 28mm lens with the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide lens. 

2017/12/03
Newly updated! Find out if an upgrade to the A7r III for stills or video is right for you