Sony’s “Basic Model”: The α7 III up close

At the end of February, Sony announced the third iteration of the series that began with the original full-frame mirrorless camera: the sub-$2000 α7 III, newly dubbed “The basic model.”

Check out more sample videos or preorder yours here.

The slogan both democratizes its subject, positioning full-frame photography as something more accessible than ever, and raises the bar for what could be considered “basic.” It brings to mind their mildly controversial (at the time) decision to place the full-frame RX1 under the CyberShot (point-and-shoot) umbrella. Whether the α7 III proves itself worthy of this lofty goal remains to be seen in the real world, but the numbers look good. Let’s take a look at what, exactly, is coming our way.

Let’s get physical

The updated body design of the camera brings the “vanilla” α7 series in line with the recently-released α7R III and top-of-the-line α9. Minus the α9‘s drive mode and focus mode dials and the mode dial lock (also found on the α7R III), the button layout of the α7 III is identical to its brothers’—and that’s a good thing, including the recently-added AF-point toggle and the massive customizability of the function buttons.

The α7 III also introduces to the line a much larger grip, improving stability and allowing room for the Sony “Z” battery (replacing the previously-ubiquitous Sony “W” battery). The battery is rated for an astonishing maximum of 710 shots.

The α7 III will have the same magnesium frame and sealing as the α7R III. It’s not IPX-rated, but it will resist the entry of environmental dust and moisture.

To the delight of many, the α7 III will provide a touch screen (great for focus targeting) and two SD card slots, just behind the grip. Only one of them contains the additional pins required for UHS-II cards, but if you’re not looking to shoot Raw bursts or 4K video to both cards at once it shouldn’t be a problem. With a card and battery, the camera will weigh 1 lb. 7 oz. (or 650 grams, if you like it in base-10).

Under the skin

While the improvements to the body of the α7 III are, of course, welcome, the quality of your images can only be as high as what’s inside will allow. The new 24MP sensor is the star of the show here, having been updated to the back-illuminated style that allows for massively improved low-light performance over non-back-illuminated sensors. The sensor’s ISO is expandable to 204,800 for stills (102,400 for video) and is touted by Sony as providing 15 stops of dynamic range at base ISO, so Sony shooters should be in for a treat.

A pleasant surprise is the α7 III‘s focusing system. Inherited from the α9, the new sensor allows for 693 phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast-detection AF points with 93% coverage. On paper, this is significantly better than the α7R III, though real world performance may not differ greatly.

The α7 III‘s   processor makes focusing a breeze as well, bringing Eye-AF, a touch screen, and a 4-way focus point toggle to the α7 series.

The shutter unit itself.

Once you’ve locked onto your subject, you should be able to nail a tricky shot with a generous 10fps continuous-shooting rate (even in silent mode). The camera’s buffer holds 177 JPEGs, 89 compressed Raw files, or 40 uncompressed RAW files. Even if you blow through that, the Fn buttons, Menu button, and playback mode will all work during the card-writing process, so you won’t spend much time waiting on your equipment.

Hand-holding all those photos? The α7 III will include Sony’s latest 5-axis image stabilization (OSS, or “Optical Image Stabilization”). Sony claims the technology, built into the sensor’s housing itself, will allow you to take crisp shots 5 stops brighter (or lower-ISO) than you otherwise could—and, because it’s part of the body of the camera, it works on any lens.

If you prefer to use flash to freeze the perfect frame, the mechanical shutter can sync to as short a flash exposure as 1/250 second.

Never stop moving

While those looking to shoot video exclusively would probably be better served by Sony’s α7S line, the α7 III should still prove more than satisfactory for anyone also interested in still photography. The α7 III introduces “4K HDR” video to the line. In more explicit terms, “4K” refers to the maximum possible resolution (3840 x 2160, 30fps, 100mbps) and HDR (“High Dynamic Range”) refers, in this case, to the fairly cutting-edge HLG/BT.2020 gamma profile.

Video recorded in HLG, when viewed on HLG-capable output devices, has a much-improved dynamic range. Real-world meaning: better contrast, less blown-out video, and more realistic textures, so long as you have a device that falls within that gamma-response gamut. Those interested in serious editing would probably still be better off shooting in S-Log and grading as needed, but HLG does open up some intriguing possibilities.

α7 III or α7R III?

With this announcement hot on the heels of the release of the α7R III, it’s been a common impulse to compare the two. At $3199, the α7R III is significantly more expensive, with fewer AF points. The extra $1200 seems to be primarily based on the higher-resolution sensor, providing a full 42.4MP. It also gets you a higher-resolution EVF (the same as the one on the pro-oriented α9), pixel-shift features for ultra-high-res photos, and a removal of the low-pass (anti-moiré) filter ultimate sharpness, but the sensor is by far the biggest difference.

That being said, 24MP is still a significant amount of detail to work with. A file from the α7 III, at 6000 x 4000 pixels, will allow you to print a 16 x 20 at just under 300 PPI (the highest resolution just about any photo printer might use), and should provide sufficient resolution to make a 24 x 36 on a high-quality inkjet printer effortlessly. Will you be using the images for anything larger than that?

Another consideration is file size. My wife shoots with an α7R II, so I can attest that even the JPEGs it produces are gargantuan. The upper limit of what one can do with the α7R series is impressive, but if you’re not going to actually use the additional resolution, it might be prudent to save the SD card space, long-term storage space, and $1200 by opting for the α7 III instead.

How can I get one?

The α7 III ($1999.99) and the α7 III kit including the FE 28-70 lens ($2199.99) are slated to ship at the end of April. If you’ve found just the right camera, preorder here now to make sure you don’t have to wait a moment longer than you have to!

The personal touch

I would encourage any of my Colorado and California readers wanting more information to come in to any Mike’s Camera location to check out our selection in person. (Readers elsewhere, don’t despair! I would hazard a guess that your local camera store will be just as accommodating.) New, popular cameras like the α7 III can be tricky to find for the first couple months, as stock is limited, but we frequently have special vendor events featuring brand new equipment. Be sure to like our Facebook and sign up for our email newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a single opportunity to get the inside scoop.

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