This is the second part of my series of notes on the upgrade to the A7rIII. In the last part I said that the improved manual focus capability was my favourite new feature. This time I’ll talk about the AF improvements, which are what probably most people have focussed on. The last part will be about haptics and settings: rather than just list my settings and say you must use them, I’ll talk a bit about why they are right for me, and what might be right for you.
Tracking and Frame Rate
Before I got my first A7r, I was a Canon FF user for general stuff, and M43 for hiking. I converted to Sony so as to have the one system for both. But I was very aware what I was giving up: tracking ability and frame rate. I used to take a lot of images of dogs in action with the 5DIII. That was no more; I could do it with Sony but only when I had lots of time to use manual focus to pre-focus and fire off a burst as the dog crossed my pre-focus range.
Frankly, the tracking was useless. Partly because it didn’t really work, partly because the viewfinder lag meant you couldn’t follow the action. This didn’t bother me: I accepted it as the price of the other benefits, and I was a pretty happy user — though I was mystified by some of my fellow Sony users banging on about how the full frame cameras were OK for sport or action. I guess the A6500 might have been.
Well that’s all changed. I haven’t compared the R3 with the current generation of DSLRs, see elsewhere for that, but for sure it’s not only as good as my 5DIII was (which was plenty good enough) it’s better.
The frame rate can be 10fps, hitherto the domain of specialist action cameras. But now (along with the Nikon D850) you can have it in an all purpose camera. Actually, though, I recommend using Hi, which is 8FPS, because that gives you a real time viewfinder image which allows you to track the action. Hi+ at 10fps has the old slight lag: excellent for prefocus bursts or images where you are trying to capture expressions, but not great for following action.
The lock on AF is vastly better. It can be fooled, though, and you may get better results by using the high speed burst coupled with expanded spot or a wide area, and keeping your AF point on the subject. As that preserves composition, and is possible given the lack of EVF lag, it’s a somewhat more reliable process if you can learn to do it. But either way the performance is great, and we are splitting hairs comparing it to other top cameras. And that sure wasn’t true with the R2. The image of our dog Annie that starts this article was one of a burst of 12, all perfectly sharp. And this is a 135mm lens heavily cropped (maybe 220 mm equivalent?) so it’s pretty good indeed. I’m impressed. I had been tempted to get an A6500 for this kind of work, but for less than the cost of that I’ve upgraded to a camera that does it all.
The next couple of pictures were also from bursts of about 20 where every image was acceptably sharp. The dog was running at quite high speed (about 30kph – I’ve clocked her on the mountain bike) towards the camera. With the Mark 2 you were lucky if the first couple were OK, and by half way through the burst focus was lost. But here we are half way through:
And, on the older model, as the dog or sportsperson got close to the camera, tracking simply didn’t work at all. Yet now, it stays locked on:
Eye-AF has long been a Sony feature that distinguishes it. Perfectly focused eyes with no effort, making people photography effortless. No other camera do it as well. When it worked!
In the r2 it was great, but it was easy to lose focus on an eye, especially if your subject turned away. Now, it’s much stickier, and works in a wider range of angles of view to the subject. And if your subject does turn away, it locks on instantly when the eye is visible again. If you are a portrait photographer, this is going to be a feature you really want.
I have noticed that it does give up in extremely low light, say about a stop or so above the point at which the AF gives up in general. At about EV -2 you need to use regular autofocus points for best results. But that’s very, very low light.
So for someone who is a big AF user, yep, the upgrade is great if you can come up with the money. And if, like me, you were thinking of getting an A6500* for tracking and burst rate work, it’s a no brainer.
*Disclosure: by ‘thinking of getting’ I meant ‘trying to persuade my partner to upgrade her A6000’
- An upgrader’s notes on the new Sony A7rIII Pt 1
- Sony FE lenses: A comprehensive and independent guide v1.2
- User-Guide to wide-angle lenses for Sony a7 a7ii a7rii