An Upgrader’s Notes on the new A7rIII Pt. 2

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’

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David Braddon-Mitchell

David Braddon-Mitchell is a keen landscape and environmental portrait photographer. In the last decade of film he was a darkroom practitioner and worked with Olympus OM SLRs and various medium format cameras. He switched to Canon DSLRs when digital imaging improved, and made a move to Sony bodies as soon as the A7 series was born. He enjoys using a mixture of legacy manual lenses, modern manual lenses, and E mount AF lenses.

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10 thoughts on “An Upgrader’s Notes on the new A7rIII Pt. 2”

  1. Hi David,
    Thank you for the timely and excellent article. I’m wondering if you had a chance to try Eye-AF with animals, such as cats, dogs and birds. And above all, what do you find the white balance of AWB in a7R3, compared to a7R2?

    1. Hi Thomas
      Eye AF doesn’t work with any non-human animals I’ve tried it with (I suppose it might work with non-human apes, but I haven’t tried!)

      Actually at close portrait distances, I’ve never found any AF able to get sharp eye focus on our dogs’ eyes. They are set back, and there’s too much fur in the eyebrows or muzzle to distract the AF system on any camera, and cause front focus.

      As for auto white balance, I can’t tell, because I don’t use it. I prefer to leave it on daylight, which gives me orange images in tungsten lighting, blue ones in the shade etc which tells me what the ‘real’ colour of the light was. I then adjust to taste in post. Of course this won’t help if you need to use the OOC JPEGs

  2. Is eye-af and touch-af somehow helpful for manual focusing? Will there eg. be a auto-shutter-release when the eye or chosen touch af point is manually put in focus? Thanks for that very interesting review!

    1. There’s no way I know of eyeAF being usueful for MF.

      But the touchscreen can be used to position the focus point for magnification in MF mode.

      1. So true… and 2,700 fewer photos to go throuigh (I’ve winnowed out about 600 “five-star” photos on Capture One, but still have about 950 to rate or discard). Then, of course, I’ll do “round two” on the “five-stars”.

        It would seem this photog’s “selectivity filter” still needs work.

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