The A7riii Many people have wondered if upgrading to the newest version was worth the price. Like many A7rii owners, we were underwhelmed by the new A7riii specifications. The upgrade from the A7r to the A7rii was a huge leap of quality. The move from the A7rii to the A7riii was very light. There’s no new sensor, no perceivable improvement of image quality, a handful of small upgrades at $3200 while the value of our old A7rii’s plummeted overnight. I had a chance to rent the A7riii for a shoot and ultimately decided to upgrade. However my needs may be different from yours and that decision really depends if you need the extra features this camera offer over the previous version.
Was the upgrade worth it? If you are an amateur and not a professional (ie you do not rely on your camera to make money) then the new features are likely not worth the huge price premium. The A7rii is plenty camera for most people and good enough even for some professionals depending on their type of work. For example, if you shoot landscapes, street photography, or even portraits and commercial work in a studio or controlled setting, then the A7rii offers plenty for you without too many drawbacks. But if you are a professional that shoots weddings, events, and fast moving subjects in difficult and low light situations, then it’s worth the money to upgrade to the A7riii.
Autofocus is the prime reason why I upgraded to the A7riii. The A7rii is no slouch in AF speed, eye AF, PDAF, and continuous performance are all good, but I would not go as far to call it GREAT. Inconsistency is the main culprit. The AF, while good, always felt sluggish and often gets confused and becomes unreliable. It focuses well and has good eye focus but there are times where it confuses subjects, mis-focuses, or just refuses to lock on the eye. At further distances, EYE AF does not work, the subject needs to really be close to you to work. This is understandable but I often felt the threshold for face distance was far too close and often wished it would extend longer. The overall lag, even minute lag can (and have) cost me shots in important moments. The A7riii AF is much more reliable in comparison. The number of PDAF points (399) have not changed or the focus area, however the number of CDAF (contrast detect) has increased massively from a paltry 25 to 425. I didn’t think this would matter but I can feel the difference. For one thing, EYE AF is hugely improved. Eyes were found near instantly and if your subject turns or gets obstructed, the camera would lock onto the face/head or require the eye as soon as it came back into view. I found in a large crowd such as a wedding reception, pressing the AF would nearly guarantee a face lock making party reaction shots unbelievably easier to do. The eye and face lock also seems to function in much further distances. Furthermore, low light focusing has also massively improved, being able to find faces and objects in much lower light without hunting. The AF improvement is the main reason I recommend this camera for professionals. If you depend on your camera for money, you need reliable AF, period.
Speed is also another main difference between a good camera and professional level gear. The A7rii was always sluggish, both in write and just camera operation. Normally it isn’t an issue but the camera locks up when you are writing files. You cant view, you can’t delete, and you can’t change certain camera settings in menus until the writing is over. If you shoot in burst, the problem is hugely exemplified. This is primarily due to the large file size of the 42mp sensor. The A7riii solves most of these problems as it allows you to change settings while the camera is writing. Again, this could be a huge difference when shooting professionally when you absolutely need to change a setting or lose a shot. Overall the camera feels quicker, more responsive, and more dependable.
The new Z batteries are a huge welcome to the A7 line. The W batteries wer a constant headache and complaint for Sony Mirrorless users. Most of us owned two to four batteries for long shoots and I would be charging two while keeping two on me. The new Z batteries make workign in mirrorless MUCH better. I currently just own two batteries, one for backup.
There is really very minimal perceivable difference in image quality between the Rii and the Riii because its the same sensor. Pixel peeping and lab tests do show some very slight improvement in the Riii due to better processing (Maybe about 1/2 or 3/4 stop?) but in real world use it’s the same. This is the main reason that I don’t recommend this camera for camera for non-professionals. Generally when you upgrade from one camera generation to the next, you are expecting an improvement in sensor and image quality. In this camera there is no real difference in image quality but you get a big improvement in USABILITY. Unless you absolutely need the improved AF and speed and battery life, you’re better off saving yourself some money. The new Pixel Shift feature does improve image quality massively however realistically it’s only useful for landscapes and completely static subjects. The requirements to use this feature are steep: you need to shoot a static subject, the camera needs to be on a tripod, there can be no wind or foliage in the composition that moves at all. Even shooting people in a studio setting is near impossible to get perfect still shots because everyone (and hair) moves ever so slightly. Finally the images need to be processed on a computer with the Sony software. If you are a product photographer or landscape photographer this could be useful but for the rest of us, it’s a nice to have but seldom used.
The new buttons and menu layout are another small but welcome improvement. The additional buttons and joystick are great additions on a camera that is increasingly becoming loaded with new features. The added customization allows you to map new to your liking at your literal finger tips. In regards to the new menu system, many people complain about the menu system being confusing. However I’ve been using the Sony system for years and accustomed to it all. The new changes actually make it more confusing for me but over time I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
The overall body shape and layout is the same (except for new buttons). For some with smaller hands it fits quite well. People with larger hands might find this uncomfortable. I have noticed with extensive shooting sessions (like full day shoots) I would get blisters on my middle finger. One trick I have used with all my A7 cameras is to buy a half-case. Gariz has a great one but they are quite expensive. There are a lot of cheaper ones out there and they significantly add to the comfort of the grip by adding girth to the palm area.
One thing that you do loose is the apps support. It was a novel feature that other cameras lacked. However I do think it was not supported by Sony well. They added a few apps but nothing new or was added in quite some time. Some of my favorite ones were shutterless shooting and smartphone remote. Luckily the smartphone remote feature is baked in the camera now. Hopefully they will find a way to bring them back in future updates.
Overall, the new A7riii has small but welcome improvements over the A7rii. It is not a monumental increase like the upgrade from the gen 1 to gen 2. I would call this the A7rii ver 1.2. You’re getting a lot of small improvements in usability, but they add up to a more capable camera for professional event shooters that’s a direct competitor to the Canon 5D Mark IV. The A7rii has long been an amazing camera but small issues make it not suitable for the diverse and demanding shooting conditions of events and action. The A7riii is finally capable of doing that. Is it worth the price premium over the previous version? Possibly not, but if you’re a pro and need this camera for its new capabilities, then it’s worth it.
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