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Sony has announced the a7R Mark III, a 42.4MP mirrorless camera built around the lessons learned from its flagship a9 sports camera. The result is a high-res full frame camera capable of 10 fps shooting with more tenacious autofocus and many of the improvements existing a7R II users had hoped for.
The camera features essentially the same body as the a7R II, but Sony has found room for a focus point selection joystick, AF-On button, twin SD card slots, flash sync socket and, most importantly, the higher-capacity battery of the a9. The new camera also gets the 3.69M-dot OLED viewfinder from the a9, providing a 1280 x 720 resolution view.
The sensor is the same 42.4MP BSI CMOS chip as before, but a series of hardware and processing changes act to get more out of it.
A faster ‘Bionz X’ processor, along with the front-end LSI processor featured in recent Sony models, allows the camera to process more data, faster. This, in conjunction with a redesigned, low-vibration shutter mechanism, allows the new camera to shoot at 10 frames per second, with full autofocus, in either mechanical or electronic shutter mode. It can also do a6500-style ‘live view’ continuous shooting at up to 8 fps.
Continuous shooting bursts can last for 87 compressed or 28 uncompressed Raw files.
Sony claims 15 stops of dynamic range and 14-bit Raw capture across more of its shooting modes (including continuous shooting and e-shutter mode, which prompted the previous camera to drop to 12-bit capture), though it still drops to 12-bit when shooting 10 fps uncompressed Raw.
So, although the Mark III doesn’t have the super-high throughput stacked CMOS design that we saw in the a9, Sony says the faster processing will give “more tenacious” subject tracking and Eye-AF than the existing a7R models, even if it’s not expected to live up to a9 standards.
Stable high resolution
As well as the more powerful processors, the a7R Mark III gains some of its capabilities from a completely new shutter mechanism. This is designed to be both fast and low vibration, with a braking mechanism designed to reduce the risk of shutter shock, to maximize image sharpness. Sony says it will offer professional levels of durability, too, though hasn’t put a number on its expected lifespan.
The camera’s IS mechanism also gets a boost with the 5-axis system upgraded to receive a 5.5 step rating, by CIPA standard testing. The full capabilities of the system remain available in video shooting, too.
Although the body is essentially that of the a7R II, the Mark II gains some of the ergonomic improvements of the a9. This includes an AF-On button and joystick/multi-controller for positioning the camera’s AF point. The camera’s 3″ touchscreen can also be used as an ‘AF touchpad’ when the camera is held to your eye.
The touchscreen can also be used to perform a controlled rack focus during video capture.
As with its predecessor, the a7R Mark III can shoot UHD 4K from the full width of its sensor but gets better results in Super 35 (essentially APS-C) crop mode. In crop mode the camera shoots using a 5176 x 2924 pixel region, which it down-samples to produce highly detailed 3840 x 2160 UHD 4K footage. Sony says the image quality of both types of footage is improved but that the quality differential between full frame and Super 35mm modes will remain.
The a7R III gains the Hybrid Log Gamma feature we first saw in the Panasonic GH5, which essentially captures Log footage along with metadata that allows HLG-compatible HDR displays to correctly present the footage, without the need for post-processing. Display Assist, which gives a ‘normal,’ corrected preview while shooting in Log mode, is available when shooting HLG footage. SLog-3 has also been added to maximize dynamic range for users who do expect to grade their footage.
The a7R III also gains the 1080p120 (100 in PAL mode) video capability that Sony has developed since the launch of the Mark II, along with the fast and slow-motion modes that stem from the feature. It also shoots XAVC-S Proxy, with the camera capturing both a high quality and a small, more easily editable proxy stream, simultaneously (a feature we first saw on the RX10 IV).
Multi-shot resolution mode
New to the a7R III is a multi-shot resolution mode that, much like the system in recent Pentax DSLRs, shoots four images and moves the sensor between each shot, so that each pixel position in the final image is captured with a red, a blue and two green pixels. This cancels out the side-effects of the Bayer color filter array, meaning that full color information is captured for every pixel. This has a noise benefit both from capturing multiple shots of the same scene, which helps average out the noise, while also reducing the additional softness and noise that usually comes from the demosaicing process.
However, unlike the system Pentax uses or the earlier, 8-shot process used by Olympus, the a7R III cannot assemble the final images in-camera. Instead four Raw files must be processed using a freely downloadable image processing application for PCs that Sony will offer. The camera must also wait either 0.5, 1, or 2 seconds between shots for the sensor to settle, which is likely to exacerbate the problems of subject movement between the first and last shot.
As well as all these there are a series of smaller additions. For a start, the a7R III also gains an anti-flicker mode that monitors the strobing of artificial lights and shoots at the peak intensity, to avoid dark or inconsistently exposed photos.
There are also twin USB sockets, a USB 3.1 type C connector and the microUSB port that is found on most cameras. The a7R III can be operated when charging over either of these sockets, meaning the camera can charge over a microUSB cable while also shooting tethered via USB-C.
As per the a9, the a7R Mark III has twin card slots, one of which is UHS-II compatible, while the other is the lower-bandwidth UHS-I standard.
Use of the larger NP-FZ100 battery increases the battery life by 2.2x, meaning a CIPA rating of 650 shots per charge when using the rear LCD or 530 shots per charge with the EVF. This can be increased using the optional VG-3EM battery grip, which it shares with the a9.
The a7R Mark III will be available from the last day of November at a recommended selling price of $3199.