The Alpha 7R III is Sony’s new full-format resolution flagship. Nominally, it dissolves only as high as the Alpha 7R II, but there are improvements in the remuneration of the low-pass filter, the autofocus and image processing, including much more powerful continuous shooting function. Last but not least, the case has been redesigned. It should now be more robust and ergonomic, the operating concept is similar to the Alpha 9. How the changes affect and what the camera does, and not only in image quality, our test shows.
Ergonomics and workmanship
Just over 650 grams pushes the Sony Alpha 7R III on the scales, so it is just between the predecessor Alpha 7R II and the sports flagship Alpha 9. The new housing is almost 1: 1 that of the Alpha 9, only that the knob missing on the left of the searcher’s bump in the 7R III. Compared to the Alpha 7R II, there are some changes, such as the new focus joystick, for which other buttons had to make room and have hiked a bit. A changeover, the habituation should not be too difficult.
The housing is made of a robust magnesium alloy, the reinforced bayonet is now held by a whole six screws. Even a lens that weighs twice as much as the camera, now sits bombproof. Sony is a bit spongy with splash and dust protection. This has definitely been improved compared to the Alpha 7R II, so now seals can be found on the battery as well as on the memory card slot. On the other hand, no confidence-inspiring seals were used at the interfaces. So Sony also writes of a substantial moisture and dust protection, but points out that the camera is not completely protected. Other manufacturers advertise offensive with a better protection, under a tap you should definitely not keep the Sony,
Above all, the case itself now looks a bit thicker, but also more robust. In addition, the handle is even more pronounced and now achieves an ergonomic size. Nevertheless, the little finger just barely fits the handle, so an Alpha 7R III is still quite compact for a full-frame camera. Thanks to the trough for the ring finger and the generous leather cover with a grained rubber, it is very secure in the hand, a thumb recess on the back does the rest. The index finger can easily reach the release button. The shutter release is soft but provides a good first pressure point. Here, Sony has definitely improved over previous models.
Many of the buttons can be programmed with functions. They are preallocated, but only labeled with C1, C2 etc. Important functions such as AEL, AF-On, ISO and the burst mode are located on correspondingly labeled keys. You have to work a little bit into the operating concept, but then things go well. The keys are supplemented by a quick menu (Fn key), which you can use with preferred settings, if one does not like the manufacturer’s specification. The main menu is divided into six tabs, which in turn offer up to 14 numbered menu pages. This is not always clear, but you can quickly scroll through the menu and one of the main categories contains a Favorites menu, which you can refer to preferred menu items. So you should take some time
The rear screen can be folded up and down, but folds in nicely with the design. You hardly notice that it is a touch screen, because the touch function is used exclusively for selecting the autofocus as an alternative to the joystick. No functions or menus or the camera playback can be operated by touch, which is a shame. By the way, if you want, you can completely switch off the touch interface. With its diagonal of 7.5 centimeters, the screen is large enough and he delivers with 1.44 million pixels a fine resolution. If you set the display brightness to sunny, the retina is burned away, because here the screen with 1,140 cd / m² extremely bright. The function should really only be activated in very bright environments, and not in the editorial office on a dull afternoon. Then the screen is wonderful even in sunshine.
The electronic viewfinder is a real feast for the eyes. Thanks to the proximity sensor, it activates automatically as soon as you take the camera to the eye. A folded screen conveniently disables the eye sensor. While using the viewfinder, with the screen off, the touch function will remain active if desired to move the focus point. This works well, especially as you can limit the touchpad function on one of the two halves of the screen so that you do not poke your finger into the closed eye. With the 0.78-fold magnification, the viewfinder image is pleasantly large, but despite the 23 mm exit pupil with attached glasses can not be completely overlooked. Probably the one who can use the far-reaching dioptric correction instead of glasses.
With 3.7 million pixels, the viewfinder image is extremely fine, it also shows colorful, rich in contrast and responsive. Both the brightness and the color can be adjusted. The refresh rate is up to 120 frames per second. It is recommended to activate the high-quality mode, which displays an even finer and more natural viewfinder image, but which requires more energy and thus reduces the runtime a bit. In the live image, a spirit level, grid lines with different patterns and a live histogram can be displayed on both the monitor and in the viewfinder. There is also an exposure preview. If you want, you can also use the viewfinder for image viewing and also serve the menus here.
Also rich is the equipment with interfaces. On top of the camera is a multi-interface hot shoe for TTL flash units and other accessories. In addition, a studio flash unit can be connected via the side synchronous socket. Furthermore, a stereo microphone jack, a headphone jack and a micro-HDMI interface with clean-out for external video recording or for a control monitor can be found here. There are even two USB interfaces: A normal Micro USB and a modern USB-C socket with USB 3.1.
Both sockets can be used to charge the battery, but it can also be charged externally in the supplied charging cradle. Practically, the USB power also works while the camera is running. With the help of a power bank, the battery life can be extended. In addition, the USB-C interface allows a particularly fast data transfer. The micro-USB interface, in turn, can also connect a remote control cable, even an infrared remote trigger with a corresponding receiver offers Sony. Thanks to the two USB interfaces, the remote control cable and the USB power supply can be connected simultaneously. However, the interface flaps on the left side of the case are quite “windy” and do not do justice to the high-quality processing of the camera.
On the handle side is the double memory card slot. Slot 1 is compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC as well as UHS II and writes very fast at a good 150 megabytes per second, but the record still holds the one year old Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II with 170 MB / s. Slot 2 of the Sony dominated only UHS I, this is probably due to the compatibility with the Memory Stick, which can continue to be used as an alternative to an SD card. When will Sony cut off this old braid?
The battery is removed from the bottom of the camera. It’s the big NP-FZ100 with 16.4 Wh. It delivers juice for 650 CIPA-standard shots when using the monitor, while the electronic viewfinder is more energy hungry and allows a maximum of 530 shots on a single charge. Thanks to the percentage charge display, you are always perfectly informed about the charge status. The metal tripod thread is located in the optical axis and is sufficiently far away from the battery compartment, so that it can be opened easily with tripod changeover plate. In addition, Sony offers a portrait grip, which not only improves the operation in portrait format, but also accommodates two batteries, thus significantly extending the runtime.
The program dial of the Sony Alpha 7R III has a fully automatic mode in which not even the exposure compensation wheel is active. With it you can take a snapshot quickly without any worries. The mirrorless system camera unfolds its full potential, of course, when using the creative programs P, A, S and M, where you can, for example, expose semi-automatically or manually. In addition, preferred settings can be saved and recalled as a user program – three of them, directly accessible via the program dial, the Sony offers. The ISO sensitivity or the corresponding automatic can be adapted in the behavior and also works in the manual exposure mode. The exposure compensation wheel remains active.
On the other hand, who likes to take bracketing, gets his money’s worth. Up to nine images can be captured at up to one EV exposure distance, with up to five images even two or three EV exposure distances are possible. This is a great base for computer generated HDR photos. Photographers without an HDR program can simply use the HDR mode of the 7R III, which is hidden in the “DRO” setting. The “software” solution DRO optimizes the dynamic range of a photo. If you choose HDR here, you can rely on an automatic or manually choose exposure distances of one to six EV, the camera always takes three pictures and automatically charged.
Extremely powerful is the autofocus. The 399 phase AF sensors housed on the image sensor already work from -3 EV and reliably track subjects over a large area of the image field. Supportive is a contrast autofocus with 425 measuring fields available. The menu also allows you to set how the autofocus should react when tracking subjects. A face recognition including eye autofocus offers the Sony, where the face recognition works even with partially hidden face or when looking down. This is how portrait photos can be taken without first having to focus on the face. The FE 24-105 mm standard zoom focuses and shoots from infinity to two meters in just over 0.3 seconds – virtually independent of the focal length you choose.
But not only can focus the Alpha 7R III fast, the continuous mode is also much more powerful than the predecessor model. It shoots up to 10 continuous shots per second, continuously following the autofocus and exposure. The buffer is enough for a good 80 pictures. The high performance is made possible by the front-end LSI, which is connected between the sensor and the Bionz X image processor. He helps with data processing and especially caching. Interestingly, the Sony goes faster with full buffer in raw format to the cause faster than JPEG. This is probably due to the extensive image processing including the correction of optical lens aberrations. Thus, the camera takes in Raw 3.7 continuous frames per second with full buffer, in JPEG, however, only 0.7 frames per second.
It only takes 20 seconds to empty the full buffer in Raw, but a whopping 90 seconds in JPEG. Fortunately, the camera can be operated almost completely. Unfortunately, a live image is not available at the highest continuous shooting speed, unlike the Alpha 9, instead the last taken photo is always displayed instead. However, if you switch to eight continuous frames per second, you can also create a live image during the recording. This is especially useful if you have to swing the camera with the subject, which is difficult when you only see the past. There are only brief dark phases, which are more noticeable as flickering. Despite the high resolution, the Alpha 7R III is very well suited for action shots, which is a real step forward.
The closure is also new and has been specially damped to minimize shock. However, the shutter is not exactly quiet, with a shortest exposure time of 1 / 8.000 seconds for fast. By contrast, the flash sync speed is only 1/250 seconds (unfortunately the Alpha 7R III does not offer an integrated flash). In any case, the use of the electronic first shutter curtain is recommended because it further reduces shocks. Anyone who wants to can also trigger fully electronic and therefore completely silent, but the shortest shutter speed remains at 1 / 8.000 seconds.
The image stabilizer by means of movably mounted image sensor Sony has also improved. This will continue to compensate for camera shake on five axes (including rotational movements) and should now allow up to 5.5 f-stops longer exposure times than without stabilizer. In fact, the image stabilizer is very effective, we were able to hold much longer exposure times hands-free. It should be noted, however, that at full magnification at 42 megapixels even the slightest shake can already be visible, so that the old rule of thumb that the exposure time should not be longer than the reciprocal of the focal length, no longer applies, but you should expose significantly shorter. This is where the stabilizer helps, even if you do not notice it so obviously.
Another new feature related to the stabilizer is the Pixel Shift multi-recording feature. We would have liked to test their resolution gain in the laboratory, but unfortunately it works only with raw data and processing with a special software from Sony, so that no direct comparison to our normal laboratory measurements in JPEG was possible. In any case, you should use this feature with a tripod and a camera remote control to minimize camera shake. In any case, purely visually, a gain in details is recognizable in static motifs. The function takes four pictures and thus theoretically comes to almost 170 megapixels. Practically, the pixel shift at each pixel captures the full color information.
Videographers will also get their money’s worth with the Sony Alpha 7R III. So the Sony films in 4K resolution at up to 30 frames per second and in Full HD at up to 60 frames per second. A big disadvantage, however, is the strong image trim. In video mode, it is switched to the Super35mm format. By the way, the scan is done here in 5K, which is downscaled to 4K for a better picture quality. The Alpha 7R III features a built-in stereo microphone, level control, an external microphone jack, and a headphone jack to assess movie sound. The HDMI interface can be used for an external control monitor or for external video recording. Internally, the Sony takes either in MP4, AVCHD or XAVC S, the latter offers the highest video quality. There is also a time code function, a gamma control, S-Log etc. The HLG function allows, like S-Log, 4K HDR video recording, but does not require post-processing color matching, unlike S-Log. By the way, the autofocus and the image stabilization remain active on request. In addition, the sensitivity of the autofocus can be adjusted as in the continuous shooting function.
As with all newer cameras, Sony does not use feature enhancements with PlayMemories apps on the Alpha 7R III. According Spartan are the post-processing possibilities: There is no, not even a function to develop raw images. Only one rotation of the pictures is possible. There is an evaluation function, which simplifies the later image selection on the computer.
The wireless connectivity, however, is good, there is no extra app to be installed on the camera, on the other hand, on the smartphone. Thanks to NFC and QR code, the connection can be set up extremely easily. Thanks to Bluetooth, it can also lastingly conserve energy. This is especially useful because the GPS data can be transferred from the smartphone to the camera and stored directly in the images during shooting.
Something curious is the fact that we could not operate the Sony Alpha 7R III with a Sony Xperia XZ smartphone, because the app is currently not compatible with Android Oreo, the current operating system on the Sony smartphone. Here, the left hand of the Sony Group obviously does not know what the right one does, because the Oreo update was already a good month ago. With other smartphones, whether from Apple or with older Android operating systems, the connection works without any problems. Practical is the live image transmission and the fact that you can continue to use the camera and this does not have to do it by app. Important exposure parameters such as ISO sensitivity, aperture and exposure time can also be controlled by the app if the camera is in the right program for it.
The image quality of the Sony Alpha 7R III has not only been tested in practice, but also in our laboratory. The new Sony FE 24-105 mm F4 G OSS (SEL24105G) was used as standard zoom. The entire laboratory test including all diagrams on which the following considerations are based can be retrieved for a small fee via the links. By the way, the editors are also supported directly, for example when working on free-to-read tests like this one. If you would like to see more lab tests, you should book the prepaid flatrate, which gives you access to the entire lab test archive with more than 1,700 tests for the booked period. Incidentally, we tested numerous lenses from Sony and Zeiss on the Alpha 7R III and Alpha 7R II.
In the test laboratory, the optical correction of the 24-105 mm convinces. The edge darkening is a maximum of 0.6 f-stops and is hardly noticeable due to the gentle rise to the edge of the picture. Amazingly low is the distortion. It lies in the wide angle at less than one percent barrel shape, at medium focal length at less than half a percent pillow shape and is virtually absent. Even color fringes occur only to a very small extent and are not visually noticeable.
The resolution at 50 percent contrast achieves an outstanding maximum of over 80 line pairs per millimeter (lp / mm), but only in the wide-angle in the image center, but here already from open aperture. Beyond F8, diffraction begins to reduce the resolution, but only beyond F16 does it sink below 70 lp / mm. At medium and long focal length, a very high resolution of up to a good 70 lp / mm is achieved, whereby in tele position it must be faded by one level. Again, beyond F8, diffraction limits the resolution, but remains at a very high level until F16.
The edge resolution is at all focal lengths at F4 just over 50 lp / mm (which is good for 30 times 45 centimeters large prints) and increases when fading partially clear. This is especially true for the wide angle, where the edge resolution of F8 even climbs over 70 lp / mm, while at long focal length at F11 or at medium focal length even at F16 the maximum with 63-64 lp / mm is achieved. Dimmed down so strongly at all focal lengths very uniform resolutions up to the edge of the picture are possible, whereas at the open aperture edge drop of up to almost 40 percent occurs.
The signal-to-noise ratio of the Sony Alpha 7R III ranges up to ISO 400 at a good level of over 40 dB and remains within the acceptable range of over 35 dB up to ISO 3,200. Brightness noise becomes visible from ISO 6,400 and becomes more and more apparent with increasing sensitivity. From ISO 25.600 it becomes very strong and dominant. On the other hand, color noise plays no role and only becomes visible at the highest sensitivity of ISO 102,400. The noise always remains very fine-grained, so it does not tend to form blocks. Up to ISO 3.200 there are virtually no loss of detail due to the noise reduction. At ISO 6,400 first losses are measurable, at ISO 12,800 they are slightly stronger, but the images only become really soft at even higher sensitivities.
Bigger are the differences in the dynamic range. Here, the new sensor brings almost a f-stop more dynamic. At ISO 100, there are twelve f-stops, until ISO 800, the value hardly drops to about 11.5 f-stops. Then it goes down a bit, but even at ISO 12,800 are still ten good f-stops dynamic range recorded. Then it goes down to nine f-stops at ISO 51,200 and eight f-stops at ISO 102,400.
The tone curve runs steeply for an emphasis on the image details with medium contrasts, which makes the images look crisper. The re-sharpening, however, is restrained to work, the artifact rate remains low at less than ten percent. The output tonal range is almost perfect at ISO 50 and 100, using nearly all of the possible 256 brightness gradations. Up to ISO 400, there are over 224 steps and at ISO 1600 the value with 160 steps is still good. The output tonal range remains acceptable up to ISO 12,800, above that only less than 96 brightness gradations are available.
The Alpha 7R III colors are much more neutral than the Alpha 7R II. The deviations are smaller and affect almost exclusively the saturation, which is slightly raised in warm colors. Only green still has a small deviation towards yellow. Also the color gamut is very good. Up to ISO 400, it is about eight million colors, up to ISO 3,200 over four million, and even at ISO 12,800, a good value is reached with two million.
Overall, the Alpha 7R III delivers a very high resolution (we could even reach a maximum of almost 90 lp / mm with another lens) and excellent image quality up to ISO 400. Up to ISO 3.200, the image quality is very good and up to ISO 12,800 ,
The Sony Alpha 7R III is a superbly processed and thanks to splash water and dust protection robust mirrorless full-frame system camera. It offers a very good ergonomics with many customization options to personal preferences. The autofocus works quickly and reliably even when tracking moving subjects, the continuous speed and endurance is enormous despite the high resolution. You can also rely on the effective image stabilizer. The image quality is excellent, especially at low sensitivities up to ISO 400. However, you can easily turn up to ISO 3,200 without having to expect big losses. Even at ISO 12. 800 are still getting good results from the Alpha 7R III. Luckily, there is now also a large choice of lenses in a quality that make the high resolution of the Sony usable.