Five years ago, Sony released the A7s II and it was instantly a fan favorite. Yet, after a few years, many were left wondering when the next model iteration would be released.
Last week, Sony finally answered the hype with the official release of the Sony A7s III.
The A7s III is an interesting camera for us nature photographers. It is a hybrid camera, meaning it has specifications that enable great video and stills. It seems that mirrorless cameras have really focused on video capabilities – see the Canon R5, Nikon Z6, and now the A7s III.
What does that mean for this camera as a whole? We will take a look in this preview article. But, it’s an important consideration because as nature photographers, the main concern for most of us is stills performance with video either being an afterthought or not a thought at all. Perhaps with the enhanced video capabilities that continue to be packed into mirrorless, more of us will start shooting video, but maybe not.
The A7s III does have some great features and looks to be a fantastic camera. I think the tough question with this camera, is where it fits in with the current Sony line. Right now, landscapers have an excellent choice between the A7r III and the A7r IV, while wildlife photographers have the A9 and A9 II, two of the best cameras for wildlife on the market. Can the A7s III make a case for itself for either nature photography genre? That’s for you to decide. Let’s take a look at the camera.
Sony A7s III – $3,499.99 – Release Date: September 24, 2020
- 12.1MP Exmor R sensor, optimized for 4K, sensitivity and speed
- New BIONZ XR processing engine delivers 8x more processing power
- World’s First 9.44m-dot OLED EVF
- 759-Point Fast Hybrid AF
- Low noise images w/ ISO up to 409,600 and 15+stop dynamic range
- Up to 4K 120p 10-bit 4:2:2 and full pixel readout in all rec. modes
- Up to 4K 120p in XAVC S (AVC), XAVC HS (HEVC) and XAVC S-I (All-I)
- Up to 4K 60p 16-bit RAW video output via HDMI Type-A connector
- Effective internal heat dissipation enables 1-hour 4K 60p recording
- Fast readout for high frame rates, faster AF, minimal rolling shutter
- 5-axis in-body stabilization with 5.5 stops of stabilization
- Two card slots: CFExpress A and SD support
The A7s III features a 12.1 megapixel Exmor R sensor. Many of us are now used to seeing 40-60 megapixel sensors in new camera releases so 12.1 megapixels will raise eyebrows. The big question though is, should it? I don’t think so. The high-resolution sensors are great, but there is a point where you actually see an increase in noise and a reduction in dynamic range. Sony says the new sensor in the A7s III will deliver blazing doubled readout speeds, superb image quality throughout the whole sensitivity range, 15-stops of dynamic range, and reduced rolling shutter, with the sensor also providing focal-plane phase-detection AF.
So, although the resolution is lower, the dynamic range and noise handling should be fantastic with this camera, which is two very important things. It should be noted though, the 12.1 megapixel is designed and optimized for the best 4K video experience, which we will get to.
New Image Processor
The A7s III is also Sony’s first mirrorless to get a processor upgrade. All Alpha cameras have had some type of BIONZ X processor since 2013. The A7s III gets a totally new processor and one that we will most likely see in future cameras, the BIONZ XR. Sony states that the new processor is up to 8x faster. That speed goes a long way and basically makes the camera better in every single way, from processing video/images, autofocus, EVF refresh rates, and overall camera performance.
There is no doubt that the A7s III is geared towards video. Sony even explicitly stated this during previous pressers and news releases. Unlike the Canon R5, which offers 8K potential, the A7s III does not have 6K/8K support. Instead, it focuses on bringing the best possible 4K video performance.
It shoots in 4K with full pixel readout and no binning in every recording mode and is capable of 10-bit 4:2:2 in every mode. It can also handle standard shooting frame rates up to 120 frames per second. In Full HD, 240p can also be recorded.
The a7S III is capable of full-frame 16-bit raw output up to 60p to a compatible recorder via its full-size HDMI Type A terminal. Also, it can concurrently display the capture through the on-camera monitor in addition to an external recorder.
The A7s III is quite capable when it comes to still shooting too. I previously mentioned great noise handling and dynamic range. It has an expandable ISO of 40-409,600 and a dynamic range of 15 stops. Those are excellent specifications.
The A7s III has 759 phase-detect autofocus points for 92% plus the contrast-detect system from the A7s II. Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF are also included. The new processor also makes subject detection 30% faster than sensors using the former BIONZ processor. Sony claims it can also focus down to EV -6, which is impressive.
Burst rate maximum is only 10 fps, which isn’t great, but still manageable for wildlife photography.
The sticking points for me are the lower resolution sensor will hinder cropping but will allow for incredible dynamic range and noise handling. Focus should be excellent with this camera, as Sony has really set the bar for AF systems, and they are saying this is another improvement.
The A7s III also has some really interesting features that are important to mention. The first is Sony specific – this camera is getting a NEW menu system. A new menu is a very important addition, especially for future Sony cameras as well. Since 2013, Sony has taken the market by storm. Their sensors and cameras have set the bar, but their menu system has been dubbed the worst out of the major manufacturers. And I personally can attest to this, it is the worst when compared to Canon and Nikon. A new menu system could make a major difference, as user experience and the ability to find settings is very important. Thus, I’m excited to navigate the new menu system.
The new EVF of the A7s III will be the best on the market. The 9.44 million-dot EVF is almost double that of the A7r IV. Sony says it offers resolution, contrast, and color unlike anything in its class. That’s a very important point too. With mirrorless, you spend a lot of your time using the EVF and a great EVF just means a better overall experience. It also offers world-leading 0.9x finder magnification, a 41 ° diagonal field of view, and a 25-mm-high eyepoint. It will be a lot of fun to shoot with the A7s III with that EVF, there’s no doubt about it.
Another exciting feature is the card slots. Sony found a way to create a compact mirrorless camera with only 2-slots…nothing new, right? Except, those two card slots have dual functionality. They support both CFExpress and SD Cards. CFExpress storage is the fastest and best media available, but many still opt for cheaper SD cards. Nikon took flack for only having XQD/CFExpress support and 1 card slot, but Sony somehow managed to have dual slots, which support both types of media. That’s huge since the two types of media have drastically different forms. I really hope we see this innovation spread into Canon and Nikon.
The A7s III has some really great things going for it. It will have some of the best 4K video capabilities available in a mirrorless camera, and also packs a lot for stills photography too. The question is – what’s important to you when it comes to features? With current models already dominating and excelling in stills photography, the A7s III slots in as a very capable stills camera, but also one that sets the bar for video work.
I think the A7s III has some great features though that hopefully pass-through to future Sony releases. I just mentioned the dual functional card slots and the high-resolution EVF. Those are major improvements. Another under the radar feature is the improved IBIS. The A7s III essentially has stabilization on par with a GoPro, which is a massive feature for a full-featured professional mirrorless camera. I said it months ago when Nikon and Canon first announced their mirrorless line and I’ll say it again, competition is awesome for us as consumers. Every single new camera released this year is pushing the boundaries and that just means that we as consumers have access to awesome technology and it will continue to get better. It’s a great time to be a photographer and a gear junkie.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Image Review: Landscape Edition
with Matt Meisenheimer & Kenton Krueger
Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)