Cameras

Sony a7 III: A speedy hotshot

The full-frame mirrorless a7 III offers superb image quality and excellent operation speeds

The Sony a7 III is marketed as a "basic" full-frame mirrorless camera. However, it is anything but basic.

It offers ample improvements over its predecessor - the a7 II - by combining the speed of flagship cousin a9 with the body of the high-resolution a7R III.

The 24.2-megapixel a7 III has a whopping 93 per cent autofocusing (AF) coverage with 693 phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast-detection AF points, like the a9.

But the a7 III can shoot up to only 10 frames per sec (fps), unlike the a9's continuous shooting speed of 20fps. For this review, the a7 III is used with Sony's 24-70mm f/2.8 GM FE lens. It comes with in-body image stabilisation to reduce camera shake, regardless of the lens used.

Build-wise, the a7 III, with its magnesium alloy chassis, feels much like the a7R III - strong and sturdy.

Its ergonomic rubberised grip and contoured rear thumb rest allow a secure grasp of the camera. On the side of the grip is a compartment with two SD card slots, with one supporting the faster UHS-II format.

Like the a7R III, the dials and buttons are strategically placed and within easy reach of your right index finger and thumb.

On the camera's top right are two customisable function buttons, which accompany the mode and exposure compensation dials.

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $2,899 (body only)

    IMAGE SENSOR: 24.2-megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS

    DISPLAY: 3-inch tiltable touchscreen LCD with 9,216,000 dots; electronic viewfinder with 2,359,296 dots

    SENSITIVITY: ISO 50 to 204,800

    SHOOTING SPEED: Up to 10 frames per second

    CONNECTIVITY: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

    WEIGHT: 650g (body with battery and memory card)

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

The shutter release sits atop the grip with a command dial in front of the grip, where the index finger usually rests. A rubberised rear command dial sits near the thumb rest.

There is a joystick, sited just below the rear command dial, which allows you to move the AF point quickly. The dedicated video-recording button, situated to the right of the electronic viewfinder, is easily accessible by the thumb.

It is a joy to hold and use this camera. But something had to give for the basic model.

For instance, its mode dial lacks a lock found in the a7R III.

Also, its display and electronic viewfinder (EVF) is of lower resolution. Plus, the EVF, while big and bright, looks visibly pixelated compared with that of the a7R III.

Operation-wise, this is one speedy camera. It takes one second to start up and 1.5 secondsto shut down, compared with the usual two seconds each of its competitors.

Using a UHS-II SD card with a writing speed rated at 299MB per second, it shot 168 RAW images in 21.1 seconds before the buffer ran out. This is amazing coming from a "basic" full-frame mirrorless camera and puts its peers and DSLR competitors to shame.

The AF performance is equally impressive. In bright sunlight, AF was instantaneous. In dim lighting conditions, the camera took 0.5 seconds to focus with the help of the AF assist light.

As you might expect from an a7 camera, image quality is superb - sharp with great dynamic range, and full of details even in darker areas. You can do a tight crop and still get clear details.

Noise performance is excellent too. There were very few noise artefacts all the way to ISO 6,400. Noise became more visible at ISO 12,800, but detail loss remained minimal.

Even photos taken at ISO 25,600 are still good enough for small prints and Web use. However, I would not recommend shooting at ISO 51,200 and above, given the amount of noise artefacts present, which lead to substantial detail loss.

With a bigger battery compared with its predecessor, the a7 III is rated at 710 still images on a full charge. That is over twice the usual 300-still-image battery life of most mirrorless cameras.

Not too long ago, getting a full-frame camera would set you back $10,000 or more. But the a7 III is less than $3,000, allowing you more moolah to get a great lens to go with it.

• Verdict: Dollar for dollar, the Sony a7 III is the most value-for-money, full-frame mirrorless camera in the market now. Get it if you can afford it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2018, with the headline 'Sony's speedy hotshot '. Print Edition | Subscribe