Sony Alpha ILCE-A7R III Features Overview

Sony ILCE-7RM3 appeared in our editorial office immediately after the announcement, however, we are releasing a large review in the “Week with an expert” format just now. And for good reason. We wanted to understand this camera in detail in order to understand whether it is really as cool as its characteristics are said to be.

This is the first camera from the third generation of “sevens”. Do not confuse it with a slightly newer Sony A7 III, which came out a little later and has already been tested by us.

The number of small and large improvements compared with the previous generation is simply huge. On the example of the Sony ILCE-7RM3, it is clear how Sony developers are listening to the photographers, creating the next product. In April 2016, several Russian photographers personally conveyed their wishes to Sony headquarters. We even prepared an article about this trip. It is noteworthy that in the ILCE-7RM3 even the unclaimed wishes in the article were taken into account.

In the third “seven” the only unchanged nodes were the bayonet and the matrix. Yes, it is the matrix that all camera manufacturers are striving to upgrade in the first place. Probably, if Sony could improve it, it would improve. But the 42-megapixel full-frame sensor, familiar to us from the ILCE-7RM2, seems to be far ahead of its time and still looks almost the best on the market.

We say for this thanks to the backlight technology, which allows to increase the size of each individual photosensitive cell due to the transfer of conductors surrounding a pixel to the lower crystal layer. As a result, we have high resolution without harming the size of the photosensitive cell (we do not deliberately say “pixel” because it is not the same).

Changes begin with the strapping matrix. And her, and the processor strongly “dispersed.” First of all, it can be seen from the speed of serial shooting. If in ILCE-7RM2 it was up to 5 frames / s, in Alpha 7R Mark III increased to 10 frames / s with autofocus.

The buffer and work with memory cards have also been seriously upgraded. Now a continuous series of RAW + JPEG can be more than ten seconds at maximum shooting speed. To save frames, two memory card slots are used, one of which supports SD UHS-II.

The appearance of the camera at first glance has not changed … But this is only at first glance! Experienced sonivods will immediately see a new control on the rear panel – a joystick. He is responsible for direct selection of the focus point. And this is not the only way to select a focus area. The screen has now become a touch, albeit with limited functionality: you can set the autofocus point, control the view, but you cannot navigate the menu and change the shooting parameters.

The viewfinder, which showed itself well in the ILCE-7RM2, has been further enhanced. Now its resolution is 3.7 million points.

Body parts made of metal. The case has a dust and moisture protection.

Another pride of the seventh Alpha series of the second generation is the integrated optical stabilizer based on the matrix shift. It was also finalized. Now the stabilizer can compensate for up to 5.5 degrees of exposure when shooting from the hands, of course, according to the manufacturer. In our test, we will determine what the real gain is. And the stabilizer now allows you to take shots with increased detail in Pixel Shift mode. The camera is able to make a series of four frames with a shift of exactly one pixel. Then the pictures are combined in a single frame with honest pixel sharpness. We will also tell you more about this in the test.

The list of minor improvements continues to appear Type-C connector, which can be used including for charging and powering the camera.

But a much more important improvement was the use of a large, as in ILCE-9, NP-FZ100 battery. And it did not entail a significant increase in the dimensions of the hull. The resource of work from one charge has increased significantly: 530 and 650 images (using CIPA measurement technology) in the case of shooting through the viewfinder or using the screen, respectively. The same battery grip fits the camera as the “nine” – the VG-C3EM.

In conclusion, a brief review should mention the video capabilities. The camera still writes Full HD and 4K from the entire width of the matrix, allowing you to use S-Log gamma curve profiles, focus picking, zebra and other professional tools. And now let’s talk about each aspect in more detail as part of our “Week with an Expert” test.

 Design and management

 If the external differences between the “sevens” of the first and second generations were very noticeable, then the third generation of cameras in the face of the ILCE-7RM3 almost completely repeats the dimensions and design of the ILCE-7RM2, but with detailed comparison, the difference is still visible.

In front of both cameras and all twin brothers. What catches your eye is perhaps a slightly more massive handle in the third series. Trifles, a few millimeters up and to the sides, but the change is clearly felt: the camera took another step closer to “professional” ergonomics. It seems that Japanese developers have ceased to amaze photographers with the size.

If the handle height still seems insufficient, pay attention to the Sony GP-X1EM handle extension.

On top of the differences are much more noticeable. The camera “has matured”, rang out wide. The case has become thicker primarily due to the use of a new battery of increased capacity NP-FZ100.

But the biggest differences are on the back. One of its views finally dot the i: we have not the improvement of the previous series, but a completely new product with revised ergonomics, functionality and interface.

Here, in contrast to the previous models, everything is familiar to the “old school” photographer. Under the thumb – the traditional buttons to lock exposure and focus. They are large, easily distinguishable by touch. The viewfinder has the same big start button for video recording: with one of its kind, it shows that video shooting in Sony cameras is not inferior in importance to photography.

The most important change is the appearance of a joystick for direct selection of the autofocus point and navigation through the menu. No matter how hard the company tried to wean photographers from this “archaism”, offering various options for automatic detection of the AF zone, it still had to return to proven solutions.

Nowhere has not gone multifunctional navigad with the third control disk. He even became somewhat larger. The number of programmable buttons has not decreased – there are 13 of them, and almost every one of them can be reprogrammed! The list of alternative functions for each, including the shutter button (!), Takes 20 menu pages.

The location of the item reprogramming buttons in the menu

The buttons are separately programmed for photo and video, and this is another gift to videographers. Perhaps, we have the most subtle customizable camera to date.

The display has not gained new degrees of freedom – still tilts up and down. But now he’s touch. This interface is used to select the autofocus point and view images, but not to set shooting parameters. The touch interface can be disabled in the menu or using one of the programmable buttons.

Separately, it is necessary to note the new viewfinder. Its resolution has grown to 3.7 megapixels. The magnification factor is x0.78 with 100% frame coverage. The Quad-VGA OLED Viewfinder Matrix 1.3 cm (0.5 inch) itself.

The automatic switch between the display and the viewfinder began to work better: it no longer turns off the display when it is turned as much as possible upwards.

Among the connectors of the camera, too, there is something interesting. Micro HDMI, microphone input and headphone output are for videographers. For photographers there is a standard sync for working with studio lighting (in addition to the traditional shoe). But there are two USB-connectors: the usual microUSB, which also works as a multi-interface connector for branded accessories, and Type-C. It is noteworthy that through any of these connectors the camera can be charged and powered during operation.

There are also two memory card slots. Both work with regular SD cards of SDHC and SDXC modifications. However, the top slot also supports branded MemoryStick DUO, and the bottom one – fast SDXC UHS-II, which is vital for serial shooting.

Possible options for recording on two memory cards

 Menu

The camera menu has once again undergone a number of changes. Its structure as a whole is similar to what we saw in the previous “sevens”, but still it is much closer to ILCE-9. If earlier some photographers had some complaints about the logic of the menu, now the situation has improved significantly. The various settings are sorted by thematic tabs: in one place all the autofocus settings are collected, in the other – shutter work, etc. The logic is clear and understandable: each tab has an exact title. Another thing is that when creating a highly customizable camera, the developers “inflated” the menu to indecent sizes. For example, the first tab consists of fourteen pages!

The situation is partly saved by the fact that frequently used settings can be put in the “My Menu” tab. But nevertheless, from the habit of finding some specific settings may take a long time. Sony ILCE-7RM3 of those cameras that need to be thoroughly studied before shooting.

There is also a quick on-screen menu – a real magic wand for quick access to settings. Of course, each of the 12 cells in it can be configured individually. So the on-screen menu caused by the Fn button turns into an extremely operative and user-friendly interface element.

The letter R in the index of the model Sony Alpha 7R Mark III means nothing more than a “resolution” (resolution). Initially, the R-series “sevens” was addressed to commercial, studio, landscape photographers. But with the growth of functionality from version to version of the camera, the series stepped beyond these genres. However, the high technical quality of the pictures has not gone anywhere. The full-frame 42-megapixel matrix with reverse illumination and without an anti-oblique filter still “gives a light” to many competitors, especially when paired with high-quality branded optics.

The detail of the pictures is so high that the frames are clearly distinguishable, for example, separate wires between houses at a distance of more than half a kilometer at a focal length of 35 mm! Well read individual branches of trees, details of the fence. The image at the minimum ISO is bright, juicy, contrast. The color is alive. As for the noise level, you cannot call an absolutely smooth picture: the smallest pixel-by-pixel “sand” is noticeable with a strong increase in monotonous parts of the frame in JPEG. In RAW, it is easy to suppress without compromising image quality.

High ISO noise level

With increasing sensitivity, the situation practically does not change up to 400 units inclusive. With 800 ISO units, the detail is still very high, but the noise in the JPEG becomes more noticeable, it starts to gather into separate grains. Its level is low in RAW, monochrome noise is easily suppressed.

At ISO 1600, the level of monochrome noise smoothly increases, while remaining acceptable for commercial use of personnel. At ISO 3200 in JPEG, the first color artifacts appear, but the situation in RAW is still positive: it is mostly subtle and unobtrusive monochrome noise that is easily suppressed. Therefore, we believe that this ISO value is fully suitable for high-quality large-format printing.

The tipping point is ISO 6400. The color rendition in the shadows begins to suffer, the detailing is somewhat reduced. Such frames can be printed in large format (A3 and more), but thoughtful processing with noise cancellation will be required. ISO 12800 in JPEG already looks not so impressive. Such frames are better not to increase to 100%. However, for publication in the network, they are perfect. In RAW, again, everything is not so scary: the frames lose in detail after noise cancellation, but the initial detail of detail is huge, it can be easily exchanged for a reduced noise level. Therefore, to print such a picture with the format up to A3 will not be a problem.

ISO 25600 is conditionally working. After post-processing, such frames are suitable for publication in the network, but no more. But ISO 51200 and higher values ​​should be used only when fixing the moment is more important than the artistic component.

ISO 25600 is conditionally working. After post-processing, such frames are suitable for publication in the network, but no more. But ISO 51200 and higher values ​​should be used only when fixing the moment is more important than the artistic component.

Dynamic range

In the inheritance from Sony ILCE-7RM2, the new camera received an excellent dynamic range. The RAW files here are literally rubber: you can pull them up and down along the exposure pretty boldly. Relight in one and a half steps eliminated very easily. The stock is in color and detail.

We effectively managed to restore extreme overexposures within a little more than two negative correction levels, even at relatively high ISOs.

Shadows also stretch perfectly. Thus, a correction by three exposure steps in plus does not lead to a significant increase in noise (in examples, the noise was not intentionally suppressed) even at relatively high ISO. The correction helps draw out many details and colors in the shadows. Raster and other artifacts do not appear.

Theoretically, a correction is also possible within large limits, but in practice, we have never encountered such a need.

Sony ILCE-7RM3 can work with both 12-bit and 14-bit RAW-files. The instructions say the following:

So that you can independently estimate the difference between compressed and uncompressed RAW, we made three shots with the same exposure settings, but with different compression settings.

Despite the fact that the frames are replete with differences in brightness, gradients, contrasting boundaries, it was not possible to identify a significant difference between them.

How Pixel Shift Mode Works

Probably, the developers of the camera resolution of the old “Seven” seemed insufficient for complete happiness. It was not possible to increase it due to the matrix: the anti-starter filter was already removed from it. Then they decided to give photographers true pixel-by-pixel sharpness, which in principle is unattainable during a normal shooting on the Bayer matrix. Recall that the image on such a matrix is ​​built by averaging information from neighboring pixels.

In Pixel Shift mode, the camera sequentially makes four frames in RAW format with a matrix shift of exactly one pixel. Images can be combined into a single frame in the program Sony Imaging Edge. This is a new free product for working with images for Sony Alpha cameras.

Pixel Shift Function Result

Due to the fact that at each point of the space there is information about the color from four color pixels, when “assembling” the final image, you can do without any averages and get honest pixel-by-pixel sharpness. The file after shooting in Pixel Shift mode remains 42-megapixel, but its real resolution is higher than the resolution of the “normal” frame.

However, the Pixel Shift mode has quite a few limitations. First, shooting is possible only with a tripod. Frames are taken sequentially, one after the other. If your tripod is not rigid enough or there are moving objects in the plot, problems may arise with sharpness.

Secondly, the consolidation of images is possible only on a computer and not in the camera. Therefore, this mode is more suitable for archival, subject, interior shooting. Only in ideal shooting conditions can you realize the benefits of this mode.

Practice shooting. Shooting in low light

In preparing this test, I allowed myself to transfer the camera to other photographers. For me, the opinion of colleagues, who often take pictures of another system for years, is very important. If with the previous Sony models there were sometimes difficulties – people did not understand “where what is included” – then there were no issues with the ILCE-7RM3 at all. Perhaps, the role played by an interface close to a more classic look.

However, there is another component of success. The camera falls in love with the first minute. It’s just nice to look into the digital viewfinder: the color, the light, the abundance of details – as if you already see the finished picture on an expensive monitor.

But after pressing the shutter button, the feeling is even nicer. All the “brakes” remained in the distant past. 42 megapixels do not hang the camera, even if you suddenly forget to let go of the shutter button and shoot a series of several dozen frames. Thanks for this UHS-II and fast stuffing.

But when the picture appears on the screen, you realize that the camera has exceeded expectations. “Improvers” pictures in the face of DRO (dynamic range optimizer) and creative styles (many shots taken with the “Bright” style) give a very good result in JPEG: the frames are juicy, bright, contrasting, with a balanced dynamic range. The simplicity of getting the highest quality picture is captivating.

However, before you pass the camera into someone’s hands, I set it up a little. For example, I use the setting for auto-ISO with a shortened two times relatively critical shutter speed. Yes, this leads to an increase in ISO, but it minimizes lubrication for static subjects. 42 megapixels – not a joke, they are demanding for exposure.

In-camera jpeg

Separately, I praise the camera for the fact that even at relatively high ISO it gives plastic, well-processed RAWs. I use regular 12-bit RAW, although ILCE-7RM3 also supports 14-bit format.

So, at ISO 4000 shadows stretch easily, only slightly increasing the noise level. Monochrome noise can then be easily suppressed to get a relatively smooth picture. Unpleasant artifacts in the form of a raster does not appear.

If you use a lower ISO, then there is no problem at all. Look at this frame. At ISO 3200, we can perfectly distinguish the smallest font on cans. Noise he is not afraid of either RAW or JPEG.

In the frame with the chandelier, I allowed myself to divert Shadows and Highlights by 100% plus and minus, respectively, adding half of the exposure. There was no noticeable increase in noise or image degradation. However, extreme ISO is not always needed. Sometimes I deliberately lower the ISO to get a longer shutter speed or higher quality shots. This is where the stabilizer built into the camera comes to the rescue.

With stabilized optics, it gives a really big win. Three stages of exposure relative to the critical value – this is what you can safely count in any situation. This is especially true for wide-angle optics when shooting with hands is carried out at relatively long shutter speeds of the order

During the test, we never found ourselves in the conditions where the autofocus was wrong or did not catch on the subject due to darkness. In addition, when using frame-by-frame focusing, the camera can use the built-in backlight – not very pleasant for the person being photographed, but extremely effective!

Finally, when the shooting day is over, you can view the pictures on the camera display. The Sony A7R Mark III has a photo rating system that allows you to select the most successful shots already in the camera.

The rating is in the proprietary software Imaging Edge, which further accelerates the process of selecting images. By the way, the rating from Imaging Edge can be transformed into XMP for further work with Adobe products.

Another useful feature was the ability to group images by series. You can delete the entire series at once, or vice versa, to protect it from erasure.

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