After a long waiting of 5 years, the third generation of the Sony a7s series is finally here! The pause was so long, that many people were resigned and thought that it simply won't be another of these fantastic cameras (us included).
Ever since digital imagery has become more powerful, camera manufacturers have been trying to crunch high quality still-imagery and video, inside the same tool. And so far, there are still some limitations when it comes to pairing both at the same level. Since later DSLR systems and pretty much the whole existence of mirrorless cameras, these have been photographic devices that are capable of delivering high quality video, but with some costs and limitations.
Sony has been many things; but never a camper. Their huge bet on innovation has positioned the brand in our top of mind; and in 2014, they came up with the idea of producing a video oriented camera system capable of grabbing the attention of serious video producers and even cinematographers. This system is the a7s, and after so long, they've released the Mark III of this iconic camera.
With a considerable price gap of $1,500.00 from the previous a7s II camera ($1,999.99), the new a7s III ($3,499.99) has been described as a completely new camera, and not just a foresaw improvement.
So, what's this camera all about? In short, it is all about democratizing full-frame 4K movie recording; and taking it to yet unknown levels of performance (at least for compact cameras). And yes, we know, it looks like a photographic camera, but it really is not. So, if the 12.1 Megapixel count doesn't derive you from believing this, then keep on reading to understand better why this is a video camera.
The most notorious component, is of course the sensor. The new a7s comes with a very interesting technology that we still don't fully understand. But maybe while describing it we'll get a better idea of it. The sensor is 12.1 Mp, which is a familiar setting when thinking about the previous two models of the a7s. Many people will find this to be a small number of megapixels for such an expensive photographic camera, right? Unless, this wasn't exactly that type of camera but a video intended one. The a7s is a movie designed camera, with the ability of shooting stills, if you wish.
There are two interesting things about the structure of this brand-new sensor. First, the amount of megapixels. Why such a large sensor feature "so few" megapixels? Well, simple math tells us that perhaps those megapixels are larger in size, meaning that less of them are needed to cover the whole thing. And then, the back-illumination capability, granting the sensor extreme sensitivity when shooting in low light situations.
Notice: Our hypothesis wasn't rejected, the sensor does have bigger pixels covering the whole 24x36mm surface area of it, and when coping with the all-new Bionz XR image processor, the camera becomes insanely powerful. It reaches 8x faster performance with an up and down expandable ISO range of 40 to 409,600. Oh, and don't forget the dynamic range of 15 stops...
On the 4K Dilemma
8K sounds like the next big thing, and eventually it could become a standard. But upon the future, we simply can't know for sure. Things advance so fast that is hard to tell (Black Magic has announced a 12K camera, hence our point) if 8K will indeed be the next big thing. Several camera manufacturers have raced to reach the 8K step line, so why exactly Sony kept cautious and went 4K instead?
Well, 4K is good enough, and it doesn't compromise performance like other overheating cameras we've heard a lot these past few days. When it comes to such power, you need to consider the outputs too! You won't be tossing the camera around so people can see your videos, right?
Many monitors and screens worldwide are still coping with 4K (there are a lot of 1080 resolutions out there to this day). And not to mention the massive amount of computational specs you'll need to handle such massive 8K files. So, upon the question "does people really need 8K?", Sony came up with a brilliant call.
Digging deeper into the techy side of this camera, we've found that it's signal can offer 16-bit 4K raw files when connecting a dedicated HDMI device. If that's not possible, you can still get 10-bit 4K raw at 120p with 4:2:2 color subsampling, allowing us more nice things in post-production without losing any bit of quality.
Managing such loads of information without losing any dust of data is a complex task, therefore the camera works with new XAVC-SI codecs in All-I (intraframe) with less image compression.
Alright, this sounds somewhat strange for the less techy (us included). The perfect analogy is that when shooting at ISO 25,000 (yes, twenty five thousand) there would be virtually no noise in the visual files. How awesome is that?
Handling that Beast
Sony is everything but famous for its intuitive user experience, but this might be about to change. Some people have compared it's feeling to the one on the a7r Mark IV, which is nice when you think that this is a photographic designed camera (remember, the a7s III isn't a photo but a video one). Overall hand-grip and buttons are friendlier, and the digital user interface has been slimmed to offer a more comfortable usage. Thanks a lot Sony.
One feels quite limited when shooting on a regular articulating screen after working with a fully articulated one. So be careful when renting or borrowing this camera, because you might spoil yourselves. Oh, and the screen is 100% touch as well. This screen was actually tested before in the Sony ZV-1, and after some nice feedback, it has finally found its home in the a7s III.
Funny story, at first, we weren't much excited about the introduction of touch screens in cameras, especially when they were still pretty laggy. Nowadays, that they've reached an astonishing degree of performance, we can't imagine shooting without them any more.
As expected, this camera features an incredible autofocus performance thanks to its 759 phase detection AF points, which can precisely discern between human and animal eyes, a really useful feature when shooting in the wild. Upon the previous a7s Mark II, sony claims it to be 30% faster thanks to the in-body image stabilization system (better known as IBIS, we bet you've already heard that one before) and an active stabilization feature which blends electronics and optical engineering into a magnificent piece of gear.
A Short Comment on ISO
The native sensitivity on the sensor is ISO 80 (minimum) and ISO 102,400 on the maximum. As said before, one can crank those as far as 40 and 409,600. Of course, this expansion is a virtual punch heavily forced by electricity and visual power from both the sensor and the image processor.
Long gone are the days in which we would fear rising our ISO dial further from 400. And thanks to examples like the Sony a7s, is that camera manufacturers have even made us feel more and more comfortable with the idea of using automatic ISO when shooting under frantic situations.
This might even sound familiar to some photojournalists, which are forced to do more and more video as our platform society develops further. And for these folks, we've spotted a very nice feature! The camera allows wireless LN (IEEE 802.11acA) connectivity, and offers multiple-input and multiple-output (also known as MIMO), making the camera 2x faster than the aforementioned a7r IV when transferring files.
Release And Price
The camera is expected to be available for everybody in September, but with the current global situation that might differ a bit. Nevertheless, the camera is official, and based on the a7s II, it will be intended to last for at least three years, if not more. The camera is way more expensive than the Mark II, so think smart if upgrading to it. $3,499.99 isn't exactly cheap, especially for non- professional usages.
What About Photography?
Our educated guess about heavy photography users tells us that perhaps <5% of the people buying this camera will be using it more for photographic purposes rather than videographic ones.
Beyond the autofocus and the low light sensitivity, there is pretty much anything left to say but that you'll have 92% frame coverage when fine focusing and that it can shoot in HEIF format (yup, the one found on later iPhone models which is technically a substitution of JPEG), and JPEG of course.
The a7s III has two bays for memory cards, on one side we have the traditional SDXC UHS-II and on the other we have a newer format called "CFexpress type A". The difference is that the later one can read files at a speed of 800MB/s, and can write them at close to 700MB/s.
Also the camera allows shooting in continuous bursts of 10 fps, reaching up to a thousand raw files before locking itself. We find that to be very much sufficient.
Last but not least, (and this interests all users not only the photographers) power. The camera uses the same battery models as those found in the a7s I and a7s II, but the ones made for the Mark III have a larger autonomy, of course. They allow us to film 95 minutes of footage or shoot 600 frames with a single charge, meaning that ~60% of the times we will be able to work with just one battery fully charged.
Pro Tip: Always have at least one spare battery and plenty of memory cards.
Who Should Invest in this Camera?
If your major income demands you to deliver high quality video without too much computational and storage sacrifices, then you should consider buying this camera. Especially if you need to work on several scenes under low-light situations and you can't risk getting the material rejected due to noise or other artifacts.
Also, you need to consider your current lenses. If you are expecting to simply attach a Metabone or whatever you might wish, then you should think twice. Perhaps the a7s II is still a good choice for you if that's the case. But if you have enough G Master Series lenses or even some nice ZEISS cinema ones, then you could give it a go. What we are trying to say is that investing in lenses is wiser than doing it in a camera body. Lenses do last longer than bodies, and that's the reason why you should outsmart marketing strategies sometimes. Also if you are used to shooting long scenes (like those demanded in weddings) then you should probably buy this camera since it won't give you limitations like those current cameras delivering 8K.
Who Shouldn't Invest in this Camera?
Well, basically if you are a photographer within the normal distribution (95%), then you shouldn't go for this camera. It is expensive, and professional photographers sometimes do need having a larger amount of megapixels, especially for huge printing purposes. Oh, and if you are shooting mostly under bright sunny days, then you don't need that huge sensitivity.
Sony reached a new level of full-frame movie production capabilities with the new a7s III from their highly acclaimed S series. Meaning that for some people, it could be a workhorse; and for some others, it might be a low-cost powerful tool. Enabling both, the independent and commercial film industries to access new ways of creative freedom and visual expression. With powerful full- frame movie recording performance, and extremely low light handling, the new a7s III contributes for a more decentralized movie making standard.
Reach deeper into your own talent with the new Sony Alpha 7S III.