It’s been almost a year since I’ve bought the Sony A7S III in Vietnam. Even though I didn’t use it everyday, I feel like I have enough hindsight to make a first impression review of the Camera and on the Sony ecosystem.
This will not be a technical study since there are already a lot of in depth review out there. This will be more of an article from a usage and human perspective.
I have been taking pictures for over 10 years now. I’ve started like many with a simple point and shoot camera from Canon. This segment have mostly been replaced by Smartphones today which have a very strong computational power and are capable to post process pictures in real time.
My first camera as an enthusiast was a Canon T2i with a kit lens and I later bought a nifty-fifty or 50mm 1.8. Falling in love with playing with depth of field, I later upgraded to a 5d Mark II with a 50mm 1.4 usm which was at the time an already expensive combo costing over 1500 euros.
Later I’ve used Nikon D800s, some Fuji X100s, 6d and a 5d Mark III. I’ve always been a fan of optical viewfinder for photography. For me Canon was by far the best system, even though Nikon had something quite special as well.
Since 2019, I’ve mostly shot my photography with film. I found the process to be more interesting and the colors quite amazing. I still own a Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron and I am not considering ever selling it.
Even though this Combo is my favorite when it comes to photography. I still needed a Digital Camera to shoot stills for clients but mostly to learn how to finally shoot videos.
That’s why after a long time of deliberation, my choice ended up going to the Sony A7S III.
Why choosing Sony ?
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Sony. I am more of a Canon Fanboy and I like to buy from a camera specialize brand. Since Sony is the kind of company who makes tons of electronics my thought process was : they don’t have the inherent philosophy and passion to create great products in each of their fields.
The truth is that Sony is just too good at everything. They make the best TV’s, the best gaming consoles, the best headphones, etc. They are simply very good at innovating and creating better products.
When it comes to Camera, Sony is by far the most advanced and reliable system, Canon, Fuji and Nikon are just trying to catch up at this point and time.
I’ve always been a fan of Canon Color Science and still am. But to be fair, if you compare top of the line Cinema products such as Canon C500 mark II and Sony Venice 2, there’s no comparison whatsoever, the image from Sony just looks so much more professional and cinematic.
It’s perhaps not Arri Alexa or Red like. But it’s been enough of a primary camera to shoot two of the most commercially successful movies of 2022 : Avatar 2 : The Way of Water and Top Gun 2.
So Sony, in addition of being a great electronic company is also a pretty experienced in the professional movie industry. You can even use FE lenses on these expensive cameras.
Sony was also one of the first to market in the mirrorless full frame market, therefore they benefit from a larger and more cohesive choice of lenses. To be honest their products are also better engineered and more adapted to video. It seems like they just have more money to spend than other companies.
Let’s take their IBIS system for example, it’s not the smoothest but it doesn’t show any form of defects like warping corners with a wide angle and as a professional that’s exactly what you are looking for.
They also bought back in 2015, the revolutionary sensor technology from Toshiba and have been leading the industry since then. Most sensor are produced by Sony today, only a few competitors still use they own sensors. So at the end of the day the images they produce looks the cleanest from any of the main brands.
Why choosing the A7S III ?
When I first bought my T2i, the idea have always been to make videos in the first place. Photography came naturally as a passion for images. I also have to admit that making professional videos is a process that involve more investments, for example you’ll need lights and perhaps a team to produce some decent pieces of art, while you can produce some good pictures alone.
This time I was going to focus on Video, the time to market was perfect since the quality of video was good enough for making a short film and with this type of gear, perhaps even as a solo operator.
My main choices were Canon EOS R5C, Sony A7S III, Sony FX3 and Sony A7IV. Black Magic Pocket 6K Pro was also on the line and to be honest it was definitely producing the best images of the bunch.
But I found the camera to be less polyvalent than the others, for one thing they didn’t do the stills camera at all. EF mount is a bit of an old mount and shorter flange distance is so much better for image quality. Also the lack of IBIS and the BRAW workflow wasn’t fitting my needs, even though the camera can shoot Pro Res.
Having shot with many body without stabilisation, this was a non negotiable criteria. I felt like Canon was lagging behind in terms of processing power and dynamic range. The EOS R5C Being a great hybride camera, the LP-E6NH batteries are a bit of a joke compared to NP-FZ100 in combinaison with Sony’s hardware. The codecs in Sony cameras are much more efficient that’s it’s easier to have a decent workflow without having to stack SSDs.
The Sony FX3 was my camera of choice for video, small, compact, ergonomic and also equipped with an active cooling system. The only issue is that the buttons are designed for video and not pictures and I needed to do both.
So for having the best of both world, the Sony A7S III was a clear choice. 12 megapixels was a bit on the low side but I’ve never really send customer pictures over 4000 px of horizontal resolution and I never crop my pictures anyway.
The Sony A7S III also having a class leading EVF this helped me in my decision. Compared to the A7IV which as a sharper image and lower noise at moderately high ISOs like 3200 and 6400. This wasn’t an easy choice.
At the end I chose to privilege slow motion over these criteria, the A7S III being able to shoot 60 and 120 fps with an unnoticeable crop.
The things I love about the A7S III
This was my very fist time with a mirrorless EVF outside of a Fuji X100S. I’ve always been in favor of optical viewfinders. You can see reality and screens can’t compete with eyes, but when it comes to video, EVF is the only way to go. While shooting video, you’ll need to preview the picture as much as possible and you’ll need as much assistance as possible to expose and compose correctly.
Some people even use Monitors for this with Waveform and I totally understand. If you don’t shoot some form of raw images you better know what you are doing when you expose a picture.
The Sony System having tons of experience in EVF and therefore focusing while the sensor is reading, their auto-focusing system is just years ahead compared to the other brands.
While other DSLR users were mainly using focus and recompose technics. Sony users already had face and eye tracking. This technology is simply a game changer and release you from having to pull focus or having a focus puller when on a gimbal.
Having done some recent photoshoots with the autofocus, I can tell you it’s not perfect, but miles away from the competition. You can also always use the focus recompose method when you need it.
The Lens Selection
Sony have been in collaboration with Zeiss when they first release they mirrorless Alpha Cameras. Since then they have been learning from the best and produced some of the best lenses ever for a consumer system. Even better than Zeiss themselves.
Each lenses manufacturer have a specific philosophy and look. Sony went as well as Zeiss for a Modern look, which is ultra smooth bokeh. A detailed image without too edge cutting, popping in sharpness like Canon.
If you compared Canon and Sony Lenses, Sony tend to produced better overall lenses when it comes to sharpness, distortion, chromatic aberration and focus breathing. They are simply more optimized for both photo and video.
Sony have a lineup that is also so much more complete than any other manufacturer. They have for example internal focusing dual motors technology both very quick and smooth, free of any form of stepping and often breathing compensated.
They also have some selection of electronically operated zooms like the Sony 16-35mm PZ lens which is quite amazing for video users.
It’s simple, since their release of the 24mm 1.4 GM, almost every lenses have been a home run when it comes to performances. They have been releasing stellar lenses after stellar lenses.
The Color Science
Like I previously mentioned, I am a big fan of Canon Color Science, I feel like they pop out of the box and with a little magenta shift toward green can look absolutely stunning and realistic.
I’ve never been a fan of Sony Color Science but since the A7 III they have made huge steps in the right direction. To put it simply I feel like colors from Sony are more neutral and natural. They tend to shift more around green and yellow which I personally prefer.
I am a big fan of painting and even painters tends to shift towards these colors. I feel like the larger the spectrum of colors, the more it tends to shift towards this direction since they are much more shade of green than the rest of the colors in a wide gamut.
In other words the richer the colors, the more it tends to have shades of green and yellow. This is especially noticeable on skin tones, just look at Mona Lisa.
The Image Quality
For me the two most important criteria for buying a camera are ergonomics and final results or in other words image quality.
For this, the best way judge is basically to watch samples and productions using the same gear. You can both see the image out of the box and how you can make it look with a bit of grading.
This is one of the most important factors since it will be representative of the output quality you’ll be able to reach for you as well as for your clients.
Obviously images from the Black Magic Camera looks amazing but at the end of the day, ergonomics will dictate the quality of the image as well, especially when it comes to movement and camera placement.
Two of the most clean short I’ve seen have been shot on Sony FX3. One By Danny Gevirtz and the other one Get Away Get Away a 17 minute short film developed by Michael Gabriele and DP Ryan French.
If both of these movies are perhaps not the best image quality you can see on Youtube, I feel like it’s more than adequate to tell a Story and this is what it’s all about telling a story.
Sony doesn’t make the best menu, that’s a well known fact. Canon is very good at this. But they are definitely going in the right direction with the upgraded and custom menus present on the A7S III.
Ergonomics is not just menus but also the gear it self, the codecs, the accessories, etc. The A7S III has a form factor that is small and light weight compared to an Arri Alexa. It can be mounted on a DJI RS3 or even an RS3 Mini.
The best camera is the camera you have with you and you are more likely to use your camera if it’s light weight and easy to unpack.
IBIS System makes it easy to shoot hand held pictures without the need of a tripod without showing any form of artifacts, especially on extreme wide angles.
Accessories like hot shoe microphones and an internal good preamp also gives this camera a very good usability when it comes to recording sound internally. No need to deal with audio synchronisation in post.
Lenses often have linear focus motors which makes manual focusing a great experience, since you can consistently pull focus with accuracy. They also have tons of customizable buttons which I do not use personally but for example being able to holding the focus somewhere is a nice touch.
The body have dual CFExpress Type-A cards which makes it perfect to shoot heavy bitrates files and potentially have a back up or use proxies.
The flip out touch screen is also one bonus for video shooters, it’s also great to be able to transition the focus by touch. This camera is friendly for vlog and self shooting.
The Battery life
The battery life of these NP-FZ100 are simply better than the competition. Sony made the right decision by switching their batteries. The market was focus on weight at some point but has been back to beefy cameras anyway.
Possibility to scale
When entering the Sony ecosystem, you know that scaling and upgrading your clients and business is a possibility since even more professional cameras such as FX9 and Sony Venice 2 can use FE lenses. The colors matches up well between cameras, so your initial investment can always become a B cam for action, tight spaces or drone camera shots, which is exactly what you want from an investment.
The things that can be improved
If overall this camera is quite a refined one when it comes to usability and technical specs. It’s not a perfect camera. Perfection doesn’t exist and it’s always a choice between different compromises.
No dedicated dial for video
The most painful features absent from the A7S III but present in the A7IV and A7R V is the dedicated video switch. Switching from video to stills can be painful since you’ll have to change all the settings like shutter speed, picture profile, etc. No need to say that going from shooting video in S-Log 3 to shooting jpg in standard picture profile mode is quite an hassle.
Also shutter angle settings and wave forms could have been welcomed as video features. At least the camera have a quick menu to change your most basic settings.
Price of CFExpress Type-A cards
The price for a CFExpress Type-A cards is quite expensive compared to SD cards, I paid 390 euros for 160 go. The worst part is that these cards are only necessary in some specific situations like 120 fps 10 bit video.
It’s almost the price of an external monitor recorder with an SSD.
No internal Neutral Density Filters
This one is painful as well. Most cinema cameras today have what we call a Variable Neutral Density Filter integrated in their cameras. Since videos to look cinematic needs a shutter angle of 180°.
With the A7S III you’ll have to hassle with a screw in Variable ND and all step up or step down rings. I recommend NiSi True Color VND if you don’t want another added hassle which is fixing color casts.
Only the FX9 and FX6 I believe, have the internal variable ND that is amazingly smooth in transition. I certainly hope this technology will come to the smaller bodies.
Sony FE Lenses are quite expensive compared to the old EF mount lenses. I think there’s nothing in particular that should cost more except perhaps the research and development. It’s still the same plastic, the same cheap motors and electronics and some glass. Yes perhaps it’s cut with a better degree of precision but it’s still just glass or fluorine not crystal or diamond.
A pair of view eyewear in Asia cost 10 euros with custom cut glass included so why exactly does it have to cost hundreds of euros in Europe ?
It’s just the kind of prices that are dictated by manufacturers, they sell as expensively as they can. Putting 2000 euros in a lens was ludicrous 10 years ago. For the price you could have the best 70-200 f2.8 II brand new. Now it’s not even the price of a standard lens like the 24-70 GM mark II, which is a shame honestly.
They are banking on the fact that video maker earns money and are willing to pay that kind of money but even professional find these prices a bit over the top for the value.
I strongly believe that more megapixels is a better solution to get sharper pictures but also to get lower noise at high iso, since oversampling clean a lot of chroma noise as well.
The next A7S IV will have more megapixels for sure, since a super 35 or aps-c crop can also be more than useful. Perhaps it will even be shot in a 6K or 8K native sensor.
I have to admit that I already am struggling with the file-size of 4K recordings, so I am not too impatient about these upgrades.
Better integrated screens
The first thing I noticed when using the EVF is that the colors with the back LCD and the OLED EVF doesn’t match. The EVF even if it have 10 millions pixels, is less warm, less saturated than the back screen LCD.
The back screen LCD is low on resolution, it’s noticeable compared to Canon back screen. Perhaps it’s a way to save battery but at the end it’s the main tool to judge exposition and focus.
Finally, the issue with flipping screen is that the screen while flipped is always off-center. Which makes it quite unintuitive. This have largely been fixed on the brand new A7R V.
No sensor protection
I think this one have been partially solved with the A7IV and A7R V but the sensor is unprotected and prone to dust every-time you change lenses.
Canon Mirrorless are more advanced since they protect the sensor with the shutter curtain automatically. This has been implemented via firmware update but it’s always better when it’s not an after thought.
If Sony menu has greatly improved, some settings are really not intuitive. For example, picture profiles have no name and instead are just name PP1 to PP11. I always tend to forget which one is S-Log 3.
The quality of the video have the same treatment, between 4K S or S-I it’s pretty hard to remember which one does what.
You can also forget about deleting a selection of pictures inside your memory card, just transfert it to your hard drive and deal with the files there. Canon cameras are simply better for User Interface.
8.9 out of 10
The Sony A7S III is the kind of camera that have made leap and bounds over the competition. So much so that the system is very close to complete when it comes to a portable hybrid system.
Even three years after its release, it is still leading the industry in terms of performance and ergonomics.
Sony as always, has raised the bar and set a new standard that the competition has to catchup and follow. Being a company that is leading the innovation in electronics, Sony benefits a lot from other activities such as building chips, sensors and storage.
Even for a purist, who used Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and Leica gear my whole life, I can’t resist the temptation any longer to use their tools, especially for creating videos and photos.
It’s simply the best camera or more precisely the most convenient camera that yields the best results. I suspect that they will keep occupying this leading position for a long time and that we are coming closer and closer of being able to shoot a decent movie with consumer gears.
Sony A7S III ILCE-7SM3
Website : https://www.sony.fr/interchangeable-lens-cameras
Page of product : https://www.sony.fr/interchangeable-lens-cameras/products/ilce-7sm3
Youtube : https://www.youtube.com/@ImagingbySony
GIPHY App Key not set. Please check settings