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Sony Alpha A7R Mark III: the full review 2020

Round 3: just over four years after the first Alpha A7R was released, Sony is launching the third iteration of its full-frame hybrid camera from its “pixel-rich” range. Rich here means 42 megapixels, a definition similar to the Mark II generation. This is all that the two cameras have in common: from ergonomics through the viewfinder to the AF system, everything has been reviewed from A to Z. Enough to fill the gaps in his ancestor … and seduce pros?

Case inherited from the Alpha A9

As was the case for generation I and II of its full format hybrids, Sony has developed a body for its new range and is available on all the following devices, such as this A7RM3 and the newly announced A7M3 (and soon in review on EntertainmentBox).

The physical precursor of the Alpha A7RM3 is therefore the Alpha A9 from which it takes the essentials. We regret that Sony has deprived it of the additional wheel (top left when holding the camera) appeared on the A9 but the handling remains similar, that is to say that it is still closer to little more than a reflex. Sony has only enlarged its casing by a few millimeters, but that is enough to radically change the balance in hand with medium-sized optics. With heavy optics (70-200 mm, 24-70 mm G Master), we still feel a little imbalance but it is still much better than with the Mark II generation.

The rear wheel is still a little small in taste but the arrival of the joystick is a real plus and the device gives off a greater feeling of solidity (read below) with a positioning of the controls close to the A7R Mark II – the transition with this case will be immediate and the ergonomic benefits too.

The AF that changes everything, the burst that pleases

The A7R Mark II offered excellent image quality and good sensor stabilization, yet we had our reservations. Why ? Mainly because of a soft knee AF ​​which penalized him in dynamic shots like reporting. What is the point of having the best image quality if it is difficult to focus?

The good news is that the A7RM3 corrects this big weakness. Without matching the A9, it finally offers a reactive “pro” AF capable of sticking to subjects. Better yet, its eye tracking feature is very effective. So much so that it embarrasses the SLR cameras. Not only, as a hybrid, there are no front or back focus problems like with DSLRs, but in addition we can shoot at full aperture while being almost sure to have the eye in the area of sharpness, an eye that says ” soul mirror »And whose sharpness makes the difference between a failed portrait and a successful portrait.

The burst, on the other hand, makes it possible to follow very sporty sequences very effectively, which is a huge plus. Not only will we have clear and followed images on the subject, but in addition the definition of 42 Mpix offers a huge latitude of cropping or a lot of material for large prints. We will prefer the Alpha A9 (or even the A7M3 currently under review) for real action work, but the A7RM3 is far from being a penguin.

Faced with SLRs, hybrids favored in super definitions

The Alpha A7 “R” line targeting photographers looking for super image definition began its career at 36 Mpix, as did the Nikon D800 for which Sony was suspected of having developed the sensor. The A7R Mark II and this Mark III went up a gear with 42.5 Mpix. This is slightly less than the Canon EOS 5Ds and its 50 Mpix or the Nikon D850 launched last year with its 45 Mpix. But the gap is no longer significant, we have enough material for large prints and large cropping.

The advantage of hybrids over SLRs in the field of high-definition photography is the guaranteed sharpness of image. SLRs can indeed suffer from adjustment problems in focusing called problems of front focus or back focus – basically, the lens focuses a little bit forward or a little bit behind the desired point – which require regular adjustments. The cause is essentially the focusing system by phase correlation detection, ultra fast to approach the subject, but more imprecise at the end of the race (when the mirror is raised at the time of release, the reflex becomes blind).

Conversely, the dual AF system from Sony (and all other hybrid manufacturers apart from Panasonic) combines phase detection (fast) and contrast detection (precise) which guarantees maximum clarity as soon as the point is acquired. Always as precise as in the past but finally fast, this A7RM3 has the weapons to give a change to pro SLR cameras, thus overshadowing its predecessor the A7RM2.

The precision of the shots, although dependent on the quality of the optics, is therefore natively higher than that of the SLRs. They are rich in information and impeccable clarity. If Sony’s hybrids are growing, it is not for nothing! Especially since, in the case of a still life shoot (packshot), this hybrid has a weapon of choice: the Pixel Shift.

Like the Canon EOS 5DS R and the Nikon D800 / D810 / D850, this A7RM3 does not have a low pass filter on the sensor surface to ensure the best possible image sharpness. The small reverse of this medal is the appearance of moire on regular patterns like these shutters in the illustration above. A phenomenon which can be corrected by software, but which must be kept in mind.

Image quality similar to A7RM2 (i.e. excellent)

The image quality of the A7R Mark III is similar in all respects to that of the Alpha A7R Mark II in our reviews. Disappointment ? Not really: the image quality of this Mark II was excellent, we mainly bet against the AF, corrected here. While an improvement in dynamic range or high ISO handling is always welcome – if it is, it is marginal – the original score was already good enough for Sony to focus on the other areas.

In the field, the A7RM3 shoots with no apparent digital noise up to ISO 3200, quietly plays up to ISO 6400 and is still acceptable in RAW at ISO 12.800 with a little noise processing. It’s very good! Especially since the device displays 42 Mpix: having as many pixels that work well in low light is a real asset. With such a powerful sensor, Sony allows photographers to enjoy image quality approaching small medium formats, which is not nothing!

The sharpness of the image depends on the quality of your optics. If you want to get the most out of the sensor and are looking for absolute picture quality and sharpness, you will need to skip entry-level benchmarks and invest in good (and expensive) optics.

For shoots on stationary subjects, the A7RM3 has a shock asset stolen from the K-1 of Ricoh-Pentax: the Pixel Shift (read below).

Pixel Shift: gain in image quality … under certain conditions

Taking photos of top quality products with average optics is entirely possible with this camera thanks to an intelligent use of the movement control of the sensor. Called Pixel Shit, this functionality requires two prerequisites: a scene with perfectly stationary subjects and a camera also motionless – tripod recommended.

Once the camera is set to Pixel Shift mode (MENU / Tab Photo 1, Page 3/14, Line 3 ” Multi dec. pix. “) And correctly set up, you choose the time between the four consecutive shots (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 15 or 30 seconds) and let the camera do it. The images produced are traditional RAW files (silent electronic shutter shooting to avoid vibrations) which can only be used for the moment by Sony’s new free software suite, Imaging Edge.

In the viewing software “Viewer” we select the four shots and we choose the Edit / Create option and adjust a composite image Multi dec. pix (it is not very clear, we grant you this) and Viewer will automatically launch the “Edit” application which will monopolize all the processor resources of your computer for several seconds to combine the four images in a single snapshot.
Image definition gain point since the final image is always 7952 x 5304 pixels. But the gain in image accuracy, sharpness, detail is very important. So much so that we can produce a very impactful image even with the FE 24-70mm f / 4 ZA OSS siglé Zeiss, a zoom launched at the beginning of the adventure Alpha E (2012), which is not really a reference of optical quality.

– Download Sony Imagine Edge for Windows (Free)
– Download Sony Imagine Edge for Mac (Free)

Once the image is assembled, it can be exported in interpreted TIFF or Jpeg format as well as in a special RAW format not .ARW as with all Sony devices, but with an .ARQ extension.
Beware of hard disks: an .ARQ file weighs 320 MB since it combines the four original RAW files of 80 MB (twice as much as a normal RAW!). Until recently, only the Sony software suite allowed editing of this type of file, Adobe has since added support for ARQ in its lareview update to Lightroom CC (Classic version and Cloud) and Camera RAW for Photoshop CC.

Beware of your processor… and your hard disks!

42 MP, 4K video and Pixel Shift have setbacks, like the computer power it takes to edit 42 MP RAW. Camera RAW or Lightroom take a while to interpret each image and we recommend that you switch to a machine with 16 GB of RAM.

Added to these power requirements is the storage of files, which take up a lot of space. Not only RAW files are invariably around 41 MB, but also Jpeg files weigh between 12 MB and 38 MB in super mode. Or up to 80 MB per shutter pressure! Not to mention the four RAW files from the Pixel Shift which weigh 80 MB each and 320 when combined into a file in .ARQ format.

The positive aspect of these technical needs is that it gives you an additional reason to take care of your framing!

Stronger Mark III generation than Mark II

Sony knows it: when targeting the high end and the pros, you have to be careful about promises. Particularly with regard to tropicalization, which means that the device has seals partially protecting it from rain and dust. Sony has not made any specific announcements on a possible certification because the Japanese brand knows that it still has a way to match Canon and Nikon in this area (or even Panasonic with its excellent and very resistant Lumix G9) – when one of the two giants displays the word “tropicalized”, especially for 1DX Mark II or D4 / D5 type cases, this means that even the motherboard is protected by special treatments (resin, etc.)!

However, Sony has revised upward the quality of manufacturing. And, still happy, since generations 1 and 2 of the Alpha A7x have not always aged very well. In addition to the more robust handling, the interior of the device has also benefited from additional reinforcements as updated by some enthusiasts.

Having taken it to the mountains with us, especially during night snowshoeing treks in the snow and without protection, it is certain that the device can go out safely and respond even in difficult situations. Sony is making progress.

The good points … and what should be improved

Victory: Sony has finally integrated a USB Type-C socket which allows not only to recharge the device (like the Micro USB socket still present) but also to download images more quickly (USB 3 requires) and allow better comfort in connected mode.

We also appreciate, compared to the previous generation, the arrival of a second SD card slot, the appearance of a joystick and partial support for touch – even if we are still waiting for real touch management on the Panasonic (benchmark in this area).

If the autonomy is increasing thanks to the larger and more enduring battery (thank you the case finally a little thicker), we are still far from the endurance SLRs, far very far from a Nikon D850, for example. And we’re a little disappointed that the second SD card slot is, like the Alpha A9, limited to UHS-I when the main compartment works in UHS-II – fortunately with files that weigh up to 80 Mo each!

The new camera has above all a revised and improved autofocus, a burst at 10 fps with AF tracking which opens the doors to sports photography. The buyer will also find two SD slots, a significantly more powerful battery (therefore), a touch screen, a very practical joystick and a more precise electronic viewfinder.

A professional service that will have to prove itself

With an A9 released at 5,300 euros and this A7RM3 launched at 3,500 euros, Sony continues to continue a little further its offensive in the high-end attack frontally Canon and Nikon. Sony’s strategy has so far been successful: the brand now occupies second place as a manufacturer of cameras with 24×36 mm sensors, ahead of Nikon!

But to continue its progress and above all to hook the pros and the ultra-passionate – that is to say the different populations who are ready to invest in such expensive optical boxes – Sony must continue to press the accelerator. In addition to the solidity of the cameras that we often highlight – yes, a Canon, Nikon or Ricoh-Pentax SLR is still much more resistant than the Sony Alpha – and the lack of professional telephoto lenses in its range, Sony must also offer services .

The brand anticipated it. At the beginning of April 2018, Sony launched a team to meet the needs of agency photographers, etc. by chasing employees from the two “big guys”. But in addition to this team, the brand will also have to provide additional services and guarantees, a dedicated system of spare parts, on-site support during major events, etc.

The Sony teams we interviewed are fully aware of this and everything is slowly coming into place. Fortunately, because with the imminent arrival of Canon and Nikon in the segment of full-frame sensor hybrids – planned for 2018 for both brands – Sony will have to (again!) Accelerate to prevent the undecided remain in the system only they already know.

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