Last month, December 20017, I found myself again in Bandon, OR with the new Sony A7r III. I say again, because in December, 2013 I had just received the first Sony A7r and spent a fair amount of time there checking it out. What a change these 4 years have brought from its first iteration and it is now a strong contender as one of the most sought out DSLR and in many reviews on an equal footing with Nikon’s latest camera, the D850.
In, 2013 I was Nikon shooter but was attracted to the Sony camera because it offered a camera with similar image characteristics as the Nikon D800 but in a smaller, lighter configuration. Getting older, the weight of my camera bag was beginning to play a larger roll in my life and travel. Although Sony released only a couple of lenses with the A7r, however, because of the Ayr’s short flange distance, the distance between the image sensor (focal plane) and the lens attachment (flange plane):
it was possible to adapt a huge number of third party lenses. Of initial interest was the number of quality Leica M lenses for their small form factor and excellent sharpness. Since my predominant subject mater was scenic, landscape and art photography, shooting manual was not an issue, but actually kind of advantage as it forces me to move slower.
As one of the first images from the A7r demonstrates as well as the image below, it produced impressive image quality from the beginning. However, there were a couple of significant issues with this first release. The major problem was the lack of an electronic first curtain shutter. The shutter in the A7r opened and closed with such a force and noise that a signifiant number of images were rendered unusable because of the vibration, particularly for an image shot in low light. There were just too many throw aways. Secondly, while the use of Leica M lenses seemed attractive, wide angle lenses were very problematic as they produced a signifiant amount of vignetting. This was before Sony introduced their wide angle zoom, the 16-35mm f/4. These issues, particularly the first, caused me to give up on this experiment and return to my use of the Nikon D800.
Fast forward to December 2013, we had recently returned from an extended trip in Tuscany with my Nikon gear and on trips like these I typically travel to two bodies and relevant lenses, batteries flash, etc. The Tuscany trip included a Nikon D800 an a D7100. The reason for the D7100 is that it took the same battery as the D800, often not the case on some of their batteries. Anyway, the weight of the this combination proved to be an issue including the extra charge I had to pay to Alitalia Airlines. So my wife made it clear I was going to have to reduce the wait of my camera gear for our up and coming trip to Northern Spain in March, 2014.
I started to revisit the Sony A7r along with the Fuji X-T1. By this time Sony had done a good job of adding lenses to their selection and they had made some firmware adjustments to reduce the impact of the shutter slap. While Fuji had earned a dedicated following to their cameras and their lens lineup was first class, I found myself unwilling to give up that much pixel space from what I had been shooting for the last several years, essentially going from 36 mpx to 16 mpx. So, after a lot of analysis on weight, lenses, accessories, I made the decision to return to the Sony A7r along with the A7 and I have never looked back. In early August, 2015 I made the move to the Sony A7r II and it has served my admirably with about 60,000 images from that date to this December. I has traveled with me to Spain, Provence and Paris, New England in the fall and winter, Oregon Coast, Pennsylvania multiple times, Columbia River Gorge, Palouse, Colorado several times, Maui, California, Portland in the snow, Key West, Cuba, South Beach Florida, East Shore Chesapeake, Washington DC, Alaska, The Peak District and Cotswolds England, Paris, Washington, etc. I have used it in snow, heavy rain (with a rain jacket), freezing weather and never had a problem. So this December, when Sony announced the addition of their A7r III, camera with an improved battery, a little larger and sturdier frame, along with other enhancements, I was delighted to move up for another 60,000 or more images.
So, what were my impressions, thoughts of the new camera:
- I really liked the feel of he camera, for my hands it seems to fit a little better. It has a sturdier sense to it
- Batteries are twice the size, twice the weight and twice the performance
- There is a significant increase in setting options. As a user of Sony cameras, it is still a little daunting to go through them.
- I was unhappy with where Sony moved the shutter cable port. On the A7rII, it was at the top of the left side. Now it is at the bottom. I use the Really Right Stuff L plate and being at the bottom, it makes it really hard to connect the cable release. Sony’s Play Memories Mobil allows one to connect to the A7rIII via WiFi and activate the shutter. A nice feather but they worn that it may consume battery power. I have connected it and it is set up. However, I do also like their 2 second delay option which a friend advised me on. It is great for single or multiple exposures.
- One of the funniest things is that they reversed the direction the flash card inserts to the camera. It is nice to have two slots.
- Sony has really come a long way on their Electric View Finder (EVF). At first, I was against this feature, preferring the old method of a Single Reflex Camera. But I have since become so accustom to using it that there is no way I would go back. However, one thing I miss from those days is the ability to close down the shutter on the lens to check the depth of field. A lens favorite of mine is the Leica R 35-70 f/4 zoom. This lens is totally manual, and I can play with the f/stop to determine the best setting for depth of field and the effect of diffraction. By zooming in on a subject I can watch these effects on my subjects as well as make sure I am in focus.
- The shutter is quieter that the A7r II. I believe it has a longer life as well.
- I loved everything I got out of the Sony A7r II, but these images from the A7rIII seem like another stop better. Just in the short time I have been using it, I have really been able to capture some wonderful shots.
- I have not noticed any change in Dynamic Range and the file size is the same.
Pixel Shift: This is a very interesting added feature with some positives and negatives.
- First of all, it is definitely a feature that must be used where there is no motion because the blending of the 4 images blurs the area of movement. Below is an example, on the left is one image and on the right is the blended pixel shift image of waves:
- Sony’s Image Edge software is not great and sometimes it produces weird colors and now appears to not want to edit files with my latest OS High Sierra. However, I discovered that one can create a file from the 4 separate images into an ARQ file extension to produce one massive file with quite the bit depth. This ARQ format needs better support from Capture One or Adobe.
- I would provide more detail on this subject, but like I commented above, it appears that the High Sierra 10.13.2 is causing a lot of problems.
In summary, Sony has come a log ways from that December in 2013. While they may not have quite the camera as the Nikon’s D850, its shortfall primarily in its weather sealing, Yet it is the camera of my choice, with now a lot of wonderful lenses to choose from. Probably the two best additions to Sony’s lineup has been the new 24-105mm f/4 and the 12-24mm f/4. Both really sharp and light. I am looking forward to another productive year.