Released in 2020, Sony’s A7S III is the long-awaited replacement to the acclaimed A7S II. Ever since its original debut in 2015, the Mark II has been the longstanding low light king and a hit with filmmakers. And for a good reason. But, over the last five years, Sony’s learned a lot. And this latest release promises substantial improvements, many of which will redefine the lineup altogether.
Table of Contents
On paper, it brings 4K 120p, 16-bit RAW, an articulating screen, updated menus, and much more. As a package, it rivals even their flagship FX9 in some ways. Sony designed this camera as the go-to workhorse tool. And one that delivers real-world performance to meet the needs of the pros. They also aim this camera as a competitor to Canon’s EOS R5 and Panasonic’s S1H. But, considering it’s been five long years, has the wait been worthwhile? Let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony A7S III?
It features a brand new 12.1MP Back-side illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor without an Anti-Aliasing filter. The pixels on the sensor itself are also larger. And combined with its back-side structure, low light performance and dynamic range are noticeably improved. Sony’s also installed the latest Bionz XR image processor, which delivers 8x the processing power as the outgoing Bionz X. With that, not only is the camera faster across all working tasks with little latency. The processor and updated color filter array also improve the color rendering, which is now more accurate and natural.
”Sony’s listened and created the best Alpha series camera ever released.”
And these updates in color now closely match their FX9 cinema camera. Overall, image quality on this camera is excellent. The images are sharp, and the colors are vibrant, particularly when using Auto White Balance. This color science provides the most natural rendering of any Alpha camera so far. And images offer 15 stops of dynamic range, which leaves plenty of latitude in exposure without losing information in blown highlights.
This camera now features the HEIF JPEG format, which shoots HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) images. These 10-bit 4:2:2 images provide better color subsampling and compression, increasing color accuracy, and overall detail. It’s an excellent addition. And it bridges the gap between standard 8-bit JPEGs and high-quality RAWs, with smaller file sizes but higher quality. However, as this is a rather new file format, compatibility remains limited. Sony’s Imaging Edge software is the only practical way to preview and edit this format.
The camera offers continuous shooting speeds of 10 fps using either mechanical or electronic shutters, with continuous AF and auto exposure. And it has an extraordinarily deep buffer, providing over 1,000 uncompressed RAW images before slowing.
This camera brings about substantial improvements on the video front. It now shoots 4K UHD video up to 120 fps and 1080p FHD up 240 fps, all with a full pixel readout without binning. There is a slight crop of 1.1x when shooting in 4K 120, but it’s minimal and doesn’t affect quality or framing. So it’s more of a notation. But, shooting 4K 120 does record sound, which is a nice bonus. The camera also oversamples 4K resolution to create 1080p, resulting in even sharper than average 1080p videos with fewer artifacts and noise. And, overall, the footage this camera delivers is excellent. The files are sharp, with plenty of latitude for post-processing. And videos have the same pleasing and natural rendering as stills.
Like several of Sony’s recent releases, this camera also offers unlimited recording time. Now, videos limit only from remaining battery life or storage space.
Unlike rivals, this camera also doesn’t overheat to the same extent, even under the most strenuous circumstances. Sony’s added a new passive cooling design, which makes the camera 5x more efficient in this regard, and overheating shouldn’t be an issue during regular use.
New for this release are brand-new codecs, in this case, XAVC HS and H.265 compression. This configuration allows the camera to record 10-bit 4:2:2 videos internally at 100 Mbps, making it the first Alpha camera to obtain this setup. And it can also shoot these videos up to 120 fps. This configuration is more efficient than standard XAVC S, and it’s also more detailed with fewer motion artifacts. However, it’s quite demanding to edit during post-processing.
Thankfully, it also has the new XAVC S-I format, a feature taken from their cinema lineup, which delivers ALL-I compression and data rates up to 600 Mbps. All-I recording is another first on an Alpha camera. This mode shoots to the older H.264 format with 10-bit 4:2:2 videos up to 60 fps. And while these file sizes are even larger, they’re surprisingly less intensive during post-processing. Overall, 10-bit and 4:2:2 color sampling are substantial improvements. And these give users more freedom in post-processing without color banding or a loss in quality. Videographers will be pleased by the excellent selection of frame rates, resolutions, bitrates, and codecs. And there are plenty of configurations to save space or maximize detail.
With the new back-side illuminated structure, the sensor readout rates have improved. Sony claims that the readout is now twice as fast, which reduces rolling shutter by 1/3. And, overall, the rolling shutter is quite minimal on this camera.
- The camera has zebras for exposure warning indication.
- It obtains Sony’s Proxy Recording, to simultaneously record lower bit rate files along with higher XAVC videos.
The camera obtains Sony’s full suite of Picture Profiles and Gamma’s, including Cine, ITU, HLG, and S-Log. So it’ll be easy to match the colors to their professional cinema cameras. S-Log3, in particular, now delivers 15 stops of total dynamic range. And they’ve changed the minimum ISO in this mode to ISO 160, which is far more useful than the higher ISO’s traditionally used in their cameras. And it makes shooting outdoors with this setting practical without stacking ND filters.
New for this release is 16-bit RAW output via HDMI up to 60 fps, a first in the Alpha series. And you can also output this format while recording internally. In capabilities, it outdoes their flagship FX9 in this regard. And 16-bit will provide unrivaled image quality and flexibility for post-processing. Otherwise, the camera has a clean HDMI for use with external recorders or live streaming.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance is extraordinary. It features the same native ISO range as the predecessor, which goes ISO 80 to 102,400. And this range is expandable to 40 or 409,600. Its predecessor was previously the best low light camera. But, it ups the standard by one-stop across all low light conditions. And users can now capture usable results up to ISO 51,200 with minimal processing.
It obtains the latest Fast Hybrid AF system with machine learning from the flagship FX9. In this case, it uses 759 phase and 425 contrast AF points, covering 93% of the imaging area. This is a substantial improvement over the predecessor, which lacks phase-detection AF altogether. This system also delivers Sony’s Real-Time Tracking for humans or animals and Eye-AF with support down to – 6.0 EV. Sony claims that Real-Time AF has improved by 30%.
But, either way, the autofocusing performance is excellent. Focus is fast, consistent, and accurate for both stills and videos. And Eye-AF in video works well, tracking subjects confidently, even when they turn profile or move far away. The camera also racks focus quite smoothly when using the touchscreen. Overall, this AF system is one of the best implementations to date. And it makes focusing quite intuitive and straightforward.
The autofocusing customization is also much improved. Sony added several new settings to customize the AF Transition Speed and Subject Shift Sensitivity. Both of these allow you to have more flexibility in customizing the tracking parameters for the best results. And it’s an excellent option for cinematic rack focusing.
The camera also offers focus magnification and peaking, which you can use during recording. These are great in situations you want to control the focus manually.
Battery life is excellent. Sony rates it’s NP-FZ100 battery at 600 shots per charge and over two hours of continuous video recording.
Display & Viewfinder
It marks the first camera to feature a QXGA OLED viewfinder, which boasts a resolution of 9.44M dots and a large 0.9x magnification. In detail, it rivals the human eye. And it’s currently the best combination of any mirrorless camera to date. The viewfinder also has variable refresh rates of 60 or 120 Hz. 120 Hz smooths movement, and it’s excellent for tracking sports or action since it improves the responsiveness. Overall, the viewing experience on this camera is excellent. The display is incredibly sharp with accurate colors. And it doesn’t suffer from resolution drops when changing between frame rates.
The camera also features a 2.95-inch TFT touchscreen LCD, which offers several significant changes. First, it’s the second Sony camera outside of the ZV-1 to feature a side-hinged vari-angle LCD. And this is the ideal option for the flexibility it offers in high or low angle shooting. Secondly, the resolution increased. And it now has a resolution of 1.44M dots, a 17% improvement over the predecessor’s 1.23M dot display.
Lastly, Sony’s overhauled the touchscreen functionality. And it now marks the first Sony camera to feature fully touch-enabled menus and navigation, where both the main and function menus are supported. And it also supports other helpful touch gestures such as touch tracking, pinch to zoom, and swiping in playback.
Taken together, the changes here are substantial improvements over the predecessor. And they’re also huge updates over all other Alpha models.
Outside of that, the display itself offers excellent viewing angles, plenty of detail, and is bright enough to use outdoors.
Since the inception of the NEX lineup, users have complained about the interface. But, this year, that changes. The day’s finally arrived. Sony radically redesigned the user interface and menu system with this release. And they’ve done away with the longstanding two-tiered approach from other Alpha cameras. Instead, the menus use a split-screen vertical interface, which displays all of the options grouped in each menu tab. And you can see up to three levels simultaneously, and the parameters are all visible. This saves time navigating through sub-menus.
Everything’s also nicely color-coded. And with this redesign comes full touch support, which includes the Function Menu as well. And touch navigation works both during recording or using external recorders.
Overall, these are enormous changes. The outgoing menus were quite confusing, overly complex, and difficult to navigate. And the new interface is far more intuitive and easy to operate. Both newcomers and existing users will find them easy to navigate and quickly mastered without deep dives to the manual.
The camera also offers independent settings for movie and still modes, so you can use different settings for each. And you can now choose which settings (ISO, Aperture, etc.) translate when switching.
It features the new Flexible Exposure Mode, instead of the standard PASM shooting mode. And when you select Movie or S&Q modes, this option allows one-touch toggling between either Auto or Manual control over Aperture or Shutter Speed.
It obtains the customizable FN (Function) Menu, which gives users quick access to the 12 programmable settings it offers.
Sony added an extra Memory Recall Function to the MODE dial, offering a total of three, 1-3. This addition gives users even more options to recall full shooting setups, saving time.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Physically, the camera obtains a similar body design as the A7R IV and a9 Mark II. And Sony’s used a similar magnesium alloy construction, which gives the camera full weather sealing. But, coming in at only 614g, it remains lightweight and compact in size. However, Sony’s made a few changes to make the camera more video-oriented. In this case. They’ve moved the video record button on the top plate, adjacent to the shutter release.
They’ve redesigned the port covers, making them both more durable and less intrusive than the predecessor. Otherwise, the camera’s layout and design remain the same as the A7R IV. Albeit slightly larger to accommodate the new passive heat reduction design to prevent overheating. But, it does have a slightly larger and more contoured grip as a result.
It maintains the locking MODE dial from the predecessor, to prevent accidental changes during transportation. But, Sony repositioned the Manual and Movie modes next to each other, for more seamless adjustments. And they added the S&Q Mode for quick access to in-camera slow and quick motion.
- It has dual adjustment dials to control shutter speed and aperture.
- It now has an AF joystick for quick AF point selection or to navigate the menus.
- It maintains the dedicated Exposure Compensation dial from the predecessor. But, It now has a lock to prevent unwanted changes.
- It has four custom buttons, C1-C4.
The camera now offers a full-sized HDMI output. Finally, gone is the flimsy mini-port—a much-needed change for those who use external recorders or monitors regularly.
It features 5-axis in-body image stabilization, which is updated to deliver 5.5 EV stops of compensation—this a substantial change over the predecessor 4.5 stop maximum. Sony also added Active SteadyShot, a form of digital stabilization taken from the ZV-1. It uses gyro information to shift the image. However, it results in a mild 1.1x crop. Even so, it delivers noticeably smoother handheld video. And it’s quite effective at removing micro jitters without the typical artifacts that occur when using digital stabilization.
It has dual card slots that support both UHS-II and CFexpress Type A cards, making it the first Alpha camera to obtain this feature. And you can shoot redundantly to both cards. CFexpress Type A is the next standard for compact storage that offers faster read/write speeds than UHS-II.
- It has a microphone input. And you can adjust the audio levels via the menu.
- It has a headphone output.
- It has a fully silent electronic shutter.
It has a USB-C port (USB 3.2), which supports charging and continuous power. Though, you need a PD rated source to supply power. And this connection doesn’t charge the camera while it’s on.
It has an ultrasonic filter installed on the sensor that vibrates to remove dust and debris.
It obtains Sony’s Multi Interface (MI) Shoe to attach microphones or other accessories without cables.
It has a new IR sensor on the front-face, which improves white balance accuracy under artificial lighting.
It obtains Sony’s Clear Image zoom for penalty-free zooms during 1080p recordings.
It obtains the Gamma Display Assist Function from the predecessor. This allows you to see a more accurate LUT when recording in S-Log to gauge white balance and contrast better. However, you cannot preview or program custom LUTs on the camera.
It obtains the Face Priority Multi Exposure setting from the ZV-1. This is a new form of smart auto-exposure that optimizes faces’ to make sure they stay evenly lit, rather than the background.
You can now configure external flash controls via the menus.
You can now change white balance while recording, perfect for long format videos. And you can also set it to adjust smoothly.
It offers ten new Creative Looks, which are in-camera filters to establish a mode for stills or movies. And you can adjust brightness, contrast, color saturation, and more. It’s nice to see Sony add more extensive in-camera customization and editing functionality.
It has built-in dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. And new for this release is the 5 GHz band, which offers 5x faster file transfer speeds than 2.4 GHz alone. You can now also use a USB-Ethernet adapter for direct ethernet connections.
It lacks DCI 4K, which is the slightly wider 17:9 aspect ratio used in cinematography.
It lacks waveforms, RGB parades, and vectorscopes for advanced color monitoring and calibration.
It lacks a video tally lamp, though you can emphasize the display during recording with a red box around the screen.
Is this a good beginner camera?
A beginner’s camera, no.
This camera is best for filmmakers looking for a comprehensive package. Alternatively, it’s also a good choice for Astro or event photographers. As a beginner’s camera, there are far better options for less money. Consider Sony’s A7 III instead.
Is this a good camera for you?
For photographers, this camera is ideal if you want the low light capabilities it offers. Its updated sensor, processor, and stabilization systems make it ideal for astrophotography, event work, and nightlife. 12MP may not sound like much, but larger sensors are useless if the images are washed out due to noise. And this is ultimately where this camera excels.
For videographers, this camera is an excellent option. And it’s a better video-centric camera than rivals since it offers superior reliability. And with full pixel 4K 120 fps videos with autofocus and audio, it’s the current leader in Sony’s mirrorless lineup for video. If you want the best Sony offers, this is it.
For FX9 users, this camera is an excellent lightweight alternative and a strong b-camera. Given that it provides unlimited 4K 120 fps video, 10-bit color, and 15 stops of dynamic range without overheating, it’s the ideal option. And it’s a great run and gun solution.
Current A7S II users should consider upgrading. This camera delivers substantial improvements in virtually every conceivable area. With the advances made, it’s an easy camera to recommend here.
In the end, Sony’s A7S III is quite a niche product, indeed. But, it’s the ideal solution for those wanting the best full-frame low light camera released to date. And it’s arguably Sony’s best video camera ever released. This camera will undoubtedly appeal to many videographers, be they professionals or enthusiasts. And given its current price, it compares favorably with several cinema cameras over three times the price.
But, it offers a superior feature set currently unseen elsewhere. The A7S III, as it stands, is a hallmark release and an excellent package. It delivers superior low light capabilities and best-in-class video quality and wealth of design innovations.
Sure, it doesn’t offer 8K video or anamorphic recording like rivals. However, with unlimited recording times and no overheating, it’s a far more functional package. And as a tool intended to get the job done, it’s consistent and practical. And in a single camera, Sony’s packed virtually every request users have asked, addressing every issue up to the fourth generation. This is the camera fans have long-awaited. And to date, it’s the most fully-featured camera they’ve released and their best camera yet. If you’ve been thinking about jumping ship, here’s your boat to shore.
Last Updated on May 13, 2023 by Photography PX Published August 11, 2020
Sony’s A7S III is a hallmark release, and a surreal follow up to the predecessor. It’s a compelling camera that adds new capabilities unseen in the lineup. And it’s the ideal choice for those looking for a well-rounded run and gun solution.