The original A7Siii was my first Sony camera. I got it when I set out to travel the country in a van because I wanted a full-frame camera that could handle photo and video in low light, because I knew I’d never carry a flash. Over the years, as I shifted more and more toward landscape photography and I began to think about printing my images, higher resolution became more important to me, and I eventually upgraded to the A7Riii. But now, at long last, Sony’s long overdue A7Siii is here, and I have a conundrum, because it’s simply the best video shooter I’ve ever used… but damnit! 12MP stills…
It’s been roughly five years since Sony launched the A7Sii, and in that time a bunch of camera companies have shot ahead in terms of video. The A7Siii finally brings the Sony Alpha series up to date, and then some. While it doesn’t shoot 8K video like the Canon EOS R5, it focuses more on low-light sensitivity and high-quality slow motion to the tune of 4K video at 120 frames per second (fps). It’s also the first Alpha camera that can shoot 10-bit 4:2:2 video in body. All other Alphas are limited to 8-bit 4:2:0, and while the difference in those numbers may sound small, that actually means the A7Siii is recording about 1024 levels per channel of color info versus 256 levels and sampling it at twice the fidelity, which gives you far, far more leeway when color correcting and applying different looks. The result is that you can finally make your Sony Alpha footage look genuinely film-like.
It’s hard to describe just how good it looks with mere words, so have a look at my test footage and then we can all freak out together:
I mean, that low-light quality! At ISO 102,400 the camera was able to track my friend’s eye for autofocus despite it only being illuminated by a campfire, and you could see the freakin’ stars behind him! The first time I saw that I found it surreal, but in a good way. And while there’s certainly noise in those shots, it’s really not that bad. It looks like film grain as opposed to digital noise.
This is the first time I’ve actually found Sony’s picture profiles to be worth using. S-Log3 is a very flat, almost washed-out color profile that is meant to give you maximum dynamic range, but it takes a fair amount of color correction in post. Modern video cameras have what’s known as Log profiles, which produces very gray looking footage that is more flexible for color grading (kinda like RAW photos, but it’s not necessarily technically RAW video). In my previous attempts at using Sony’s S-Log profiles with Sony’s 8-bit cameras, I found that the footage would start falling apart very quickly when I started messing with the colors, and it really wasn’t worth the bother. With 10-bit 4:2:2 I can finally work with it, and the results are fantastic. The footage still isn’t as flexible as what you get from the 12-bit video on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, but for many the Sony’s additional features (such a focus tracking) make up for the difference. (The A7Siii can actually shoot 16-bit RAW video when using an external recorder, but unfortunately, that wasn’t available when I was testing so I’m not able to weigh in on the goodness or badness of it.)
Sony also revamped the color science for this camera, and it makes a big difference. Even though I’ve been shooting Sony for more than five years now, I’ve always yearned for my old Canon’s colors. This is the first time that’s changed. Sony finally got its skin-tones together, and they look natural and appealing as opposed to somewhat corpse-like.
High frame-rates are the other banner feature here. The camera can shoot 4K video at 120fps (yes, still at 10-bit) and it is divine. The colors are gorgeous and sound is preserved when you do that. You can then slow it down in your editing software. Alternatively, the camera has an S&Q mode, which does the slowing down for you. So, in my testing I shot at 120fps and had it convert the file in-camera to 24fps for 5x slo-mo, and it turned out buttery smooth while still retaining detail and rich colors. When shooting at 120fps the camera does crop the image very slightly, but it’s barely noticeable.
One thing I don’t particularly care for is the image stabilization in this camera. It’s certainly better than having no image stabilization at all, but it’s not great. It features optical image stabilization, and while it helps a bit for photos, when shooting video the difference between on and off is pretty negligible. The A7Siii features a new mode called SteadyShot Active, which applies about a 10-percent crop to the video and gives the OIS a boost with some digital stabilization, but in my opinion it doesn’t make things that much better and it isn’t worth the crop.
Autofocus on this camera is absurdly good. It has 759 phase-detection points and 425 contrast-detection points covering almost the entire sensor, and it has Sony’s best-in-class Eye-AF (which, as you might guess, focuses in on a specific eye). I tested this with my friend’s kid running straight at me while shooting bursts of photos (it can shoot 10fps), and it was locked on for nearly every frame. More critically, it has Eye-AF in video mode, which makes self-filming (even when wide open at f/1.4) incredibly easy. You can adjust the sensitivity and transition smoothness of the focus tracking, too, which makes it look like you have a skilled director of photography on the lens. That being said, I found the autofocus really struggled when I closed down the aperture. Even in bright daylight if I was shooting at f/22 the camera was constantly hunting for focus, which looked terrible.
And I kinda never thought I’d see the day, but Sony has finally fixed its menu system! Mostly! Before this camera, Sony’s menu was what I would charitably call, an abomination. It is now much less abominable. For starters, it finally works with the touchscreen. Yes, that should have happened the first time Sony implemented a touchscreen, but better late than never. It makes going through the menu so much easier. The menu itself is now colorful and a good deal more intuitive, but there is still some residual badness in the form of abbreviations that make no sense and help tabs that really offer no explanation of features at all. Still, it’s a big step in the right direction.
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