An upgrader’s notes on the new Sony A7rIII Pt 1

This is not a review. You will have to look elsewhere for actual tests on the A7rIII. Perhaps DXO for noise and DR (or Photons to Photons) or DPR for an overall take.

But you don’t need such a review if you already a Sony ILC user; especially if you are an A7rII user. The image quality of this new camera is pretty much the same. Sure it has maybe a solid half stop more dynamic range at base ISO but there are few of us for whom that matters much other than bragging rights. And, to forestall screams in the comments section, it looks like it’s a bit better from ISO 25K and up, but that’s just a bit of harmless raw-cooking fun. There is a touch of reduction in the pattern noise in highlights which could, rarely, appear in the R2 when darkening skies at mid ISO. That’s gone. In fact that’s the best IQ improvement in my book. But not by itself worth the upgrade tax.

So you aren’t buying this camera for the IQ improvements. Same resolution,  same other qualities—so should you buy it if you can afford it? And if so, why?

The usual suspects are the new frame rate — 10 fps or 8fps in the mode where you can keep track of what’s going on, better AF, new viewfinder, joystick, battery, pixel shift. Here’s a series of my takes on what’s new and what’s good after a week of use.

Manual Focus

I didn’t expect this to be what I most love about the camera, but it is. The manual focus experience is hugely improved. Batis lenses, and some of the Zony lenses, which used to be a little hard to manually focus, are now vastly easier. I’m not 100% sure why: I plan to follow up. Part of it is that the viewfinder is so much crisper you can see the image pop in and out of focus. My suspicion is that the effectively very long travel these focus-by-wire lenses have means that the changes in focus were too subtle to see on the old finder. As a result, in frustration, we twisted the ring quickly and then got the image too far out of focus. But with the new higher resolution finder the long travel becomes an advantage and you can nail focus with probably greater accuracy (but maybe less pleasure) than a standard damped helicoid. That’s my best guess. But I do wonder if in fact the camera is overriding the lens firmware and making the travel a little different, or changing the speed difference at which it goes faster. That’s something to look into. Of course true manual lenses are easier to focus as well, and that can only be the new viewfinder and magnification. So for whatever reason this is my No 1 favourite thing about this all singing and dancing autofocus camera. Better manual focus.

Closely related to that is the AF joystick, or MF joystick as I call it. By choosing the option to make initial magnification 6x, you can use the following lovely workflow. Use the joystick to move the focus point to exactly where you want it. Press the joystick to magnify (you need to set this up as your preferred option). Then either press again for higher mag, or just focus and shoot. Unlike the r2 you don’t have to exit magnification to shoot, so there’s much less delay. Combined with overall less shutter delay, it’s a joy.

So that’s the first great thing about the R3. For me, it justifies upgrade by itself. Now you know why my sample image for this section was a lens whose design goes back to the 1930s. The (manual) Zeiss C-Sonnar 1.5/50. The other stuff is great too, though, and that comes in the next part.

If you can’t wait, you can buy it from B&H through our affiliate link



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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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38 thoughts on “An upgrader’s notes on the new Sony A7rIII Pt 1”

  1. Thanks, David! Usability with MF lenses is not high on other reviewers list, and this is the first time I’m convinced that the new features definitely help. Now, which lenses to sell to finance the body…?

    Can you tell whether IBIS has improved? For handheld focusing with max. magnification and longer lenses, that is.

    1. I haven’t formally tested IBIS but my sense is that its about a stop better as advertised. But 5.5 is optimistic, just as 4.5 is optimistic on the r2

        1. Those CIPA ratings are so strangely defined that qouting them is a disservice. One can download the CIPA white paper on how to perform their tests at their web site. I did and read through them. In general the CIPA number is measured at a fixed temp. a fixed aperture, at a specified distance from a target for one specific lens/focal length. Manufacturers are free to decide which lens/focal length and may but don’t have to specify them in marketing materials. Manufacturers are free to design products with IS parameters for unique situations which puts their products in the best possible light. CIPA’s attitude is that they won’t police the ratings, that manufacturers with pumped up ratings will be punished by the knowledgeable consumer in the marketplace. I’m not so sure. As a photographer with a tremor IS is one of the more important features I look for in a camera. That said I’m always amazed at my ability to hold an RX1rii steady. So 3-4 stops is important. But I can hand hold an Olympus 12-100 f4 pro lens at 50mm (e-100mm) at 800 ISO for 2 seconds and get a sharp and low noise image. I’m eager for Sony to get there.

          1. Yes, Olympus IS is really magic, even with non-stabilized lenses. I owned an OM5 M2 for a year, and you could basically wave it around during exposure and still get a sharp image.
            With my 7R2, I feel I get 2 stops at most. And what’s worse, I still get strange outliers – once in a while I manage to get an unsharp image with exposure times much below the 1/focal length (i.e. 1/320 with a 135mm lens). Perhaps it’s time for a visit to the service.

            I need IS most for hand-held magnified focusing. With the a7, I could not really use lenses over 50mm with max. magnification.

          2. The effectiveness is a matter of sensor size and mass inertia.
            So all else equal the same technology will always perform better when used with a smaller sensor.
            Still, nice to hear they improved it, as your findings on the A7rII match mine.

      1. On the one hand, congratulations, unless you need super teles I think it’s probably the right move.

        On the other hand, Oh Dear, because we Sony users will suffer big time if too many people do that, and we lose Nikon and thus the competition that is doing most to keep Sony on their toes…

  2. Hi David, glad to see the first picture with the sonnar. That lens was glued to my A7ii and now to A7Riii. I have recently bought Sony 85/1.8 but not too happy with it when I compare with Sonnar.
    I assigned C1 for magnification, I will try your suggestion and see how that works. Any other useful tips coming from an A7ii would be useful too.
    I am also thinking of getting a 35 lux/cron for my A7Riii. Do you think that works ok, considering the flange distance etc. ? I am mainly thinking of an m mount lens as I can use that if I buy a CL ..maybe. I have seen some pictures with 35 lux and amazed with the 3d rendition.

    Thank you.

    1. There’s no problem with the flange distance for the lux or cron, but there will be cover glass issues. I haven’t used either. There’s a review of the lux by Bastian on this site..

      1. Ah yes that’s what I meant the cover glass, didn’t remember the term ! Thanks all, I’ll check the review in the link Philip has copied.

    2. The 35/2 summicron ASPH suffers dramatically due to sony’s thick cover glass, much more than any version of the summilux. The pre-ASPH versions of the cron don’t suffer near as much from problems due to the thick cover glass, but have a different less modern look than the leica’s ASPH line. See Bastian’s comparison for the lux ASPH FLE’s performance (the lux ASPH pre-FLE should be similar) as well as good m-mount alternatives.

  3. Hi David,

    Any meaningful differences in the jpeg color? That’s something hyped up by a few of the reviewers out there – would be curious if it’s actually meaningful.


    1. People I trust say there’s a bit improvement in JPEG colour, but of course colour is entirely a matter of taste (well, colorimetric accuracy isn’t a matter of taste, but NOONE likes accurate colour, no camera maker makes it, and Canon and Fuji, whose colour people seem to like most are least accurate). Sorry I have never shot JPEGS and don’t have any old ones from previous models to compare so I don’t plan to test it myself. But I guess said reliable people are seeing a real difference. Whether it’s a difference you will prefer I can’t predict!

    1. Thanks for the link – the dpreview forums are much too busy, so I seldom check in there.
      I was actually hoping for something more obvious, e.g. peaking on horizontal structures, too. Or (getting into dream territory now) internal MF lens settings with focal length + peaking settings, like Nikon (I know can simulate that with stored settings, but only for up to 6 lenses. And I like formatting my cards…)

  4. David, does the new viewfinder actually look good with the iii? I was going to switch from the a7 to a7rii but once I got it in my hands the viewfinder was terrible and so pixelated. I shoot 100% manual focus and found on the rii I couldn’t actually see due to the muddy viewfinder and I went with the a7ii. I would love the joystick and updated battery…just does the viewfinder look like it’s supposed to, or is it still pixelated and muddy?

    1. Like I said in the article. Yes. Way ahead of the A7r which was in some ways better than the R2.
      Pixelated? Yes you can just see pixels if you concentrate, but much less so than any previous A7/7r/7s series (the same I suspect as A9)

      1. Thanks for the reply! I’ll have to check one out first hand but your article and response might have me buying one. Thanks again!

    2. Excuse me if this is obvious to you, but was the display quality set to “high”?

      I remember my first impression when going from the a7 to the a7r2 was also that the viewfinder was a little less “clear”, but that turned out to be the lower magnification. “Muddy” sounds much worse.

  5. As an owner of A7rIII and A7rII I can tell you this – yes the camera is deffinately a great upgrade for the A7rII owners BUT if you shoot mostly landscape, macro, portraits, MF lenses and you do not need the 2.2x times bigger battery, faster AF with better tracking, 10fps, 2 SD slots it is almost the same camera. I bought it to be my main body for shooting weddings and other things that will require backup(2 SD slots) and faster AF.
    The video functions are almost the same except the much better 120p and AF.
    I do not think that it is a better camera for shooting with manual lenses. The viewfinder is bigger and with better resolution but the liveview is pixelated durring shooting photos so it is a little bit worse than on the A7rII. For video – it is much better because than the liveview is much more detailed. The IBIS is not that much better. Maybe in video it is a little bit smoother.

    1. “The viewfinder is bigger and with better resolution but the liveview is pixelated durring shooting photos so it is a little bit worse than on the A7rII.”

      This experience of lower resolution in live view (which is how manual focusing works) is a comment I’ve heard from a number of sources, and it is very disappointing. Any comments?

  6. Good commentary.

    I think I’m feeling a little better (I got my A7rii in June, so the announcement of the A7riii served to push my self-deprecation button in a big way). The a7riii looks great, of course, and I would likely have bought it were I in the market today, but I’m very happy with the a7rii…

    What you said about the A7riii’s manual focus capabilities (your ironical take on that was priceless) was fascinating–and heartening. Maybe there are more than a few manual-focus geeks at Sony [?].

    I agreed with your response to another commentator regarding Nikon–it is important for competition to remain vigorous and, in my view, the D850 is serious competition. The assistant manager at my favourite local store has preordered the D850 (he is, if I recall correctly, usually a Canon shooter).

  7. So looking for a FF upgrade from A 6000 and I know read A7Rii EVF is really bad for Manual focusing. So, I suppose it leaves A7ii and A7Riii…but Riii is 3 times the price of ii … (and twice Rii …)
    I suppose it leaves me with easy ii choice?

    1. The A7riii could be pre-ordered in Canada (at the time this comment was posted) for C$4000. The A7rii, meanwhile, was on sale for C$3200, while the A7ii was on sale for C$1600.

      The US list prices for the three (on the same date) were US$3198, US$2398 and US1298.

    2. I wouldn’t call the R2 “really bad” for manual focus. Not quite as good as the original R; and definitely not as good as R3.
      But it’s still better than every DSLR, and still pretty good.
      Personally if I didn’t want to get the R3, I’d still get the R2 ahead of the other A7 bodies for it’s overall features, even if it’s slightly worse than the R (I haven’t compared to the straight 7II – but I doubt there’s a huge difference. Maybe one of the other team members knows?)

  8. “Unlike the r2 you don’t have to exit magnification to shoot…”
    – This made me sit up and blink. Great info all around, many thanks.

  9. ““Unlike the r2 you don’t have to exit magnification to shoot…”

    Does this mean that on pressing the shutter it snaps back to full view, or does it stay at high magnification?

  10. I am still using a Sony NEX 6 from circa 2012, with a mix of manual lenses and Sony APS-C lenses. I’m ready to upgrade to an A7-series camera but am torn between the A7r iii or just the A7 iii. I almost never print my photos and don’t work for commercial clients. Low-light performance is important to me, since in addition to landscapes and nature photography I am also a musician and often shoot photographs of traditional musicians (usually in relatively dark environments such as pubs). Would I be missing out on much if I went with the A7 iii (for its better low-light performance) instead of the A7r iii?

    1. No you won’t be missing out on much.
      You also won’t be gaining much: the low light performance at the overall image level (ie at the same overall image viewing size) is extremely close.
      So it’s really the balance of features modulo the cost that should make up your mind.

      1. Okay, thanks very much, both of you. If I won’t miss much or gain much, the higher resolution might be worth it to give me more flexibility (e.g., I often crop my images in post). I’ll ponder it a while longer. 😉 Thanks again to all of you for such a fantastic resource, I’ve learned a lot here!

  11. Dear David,
    first of all: thank you and all the team for all the work and Time you are putting in this blog! It really helped me in the past.
    I own an a7iii and use mostly fast manual focus lenses (nokton, fast vintage glass etc.) and take mostly pictures of my family. I became quite good at manual focussing and enjoy the proces a lot! however I would love to take more pictures without using the magnification and I have the feeling the evf of my a7iii is limiting in this regard. Reading your guide i am now thinking of changing from the a7iii to the R3. Do you think it makes sense? Do you think the evf improvement is worth it? Especially since it is an „outdated“ camera I am hesitant.(The r4 scares me a Bit in terms of filesize and I am Not sure my computer can handle it).
    Any thought is much appreciated! Best seb

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