Today we are taking our first look at the new Sony A7S Mark III, a camera that pretty much everybody in the filmmaking community has been waiting for for a long time.
The camera we’re basing this post on was an early pre-production unit so stuff could possibly shift, however, Sony isn’t messing about with everything they have squeezed into this camera The A7S MKIII comes in at, £3,600 or £2,880 excluding VAT, and while it may be in a stills body Sony is clearly pitching it for video as it features some really impressive improvements over the previous Alpha cameras.
The body and build quality have improved massively. The camera is a decent amount larger than previous A7 cameras and it really does feel nice in the hand now. The bulkier grip feels so much better to grab onto now versus the last generation, while it also features the same dust and moisture resistance as the A7R MK4 & A9MKII. With the new body comes a new cooling system also.
According to Sony, based on their test conditions you can record an hour of 4K60p without overheating concerns and heat dissipation is up to five times more effective than previous models. There are no other limits to the recording time, you should be able to roll as long as you want.
On the front you have the same E-mount as you expect from Sony, which means access to the huge range of E mount lenses from Sony and third-party brands, as well as the ability to adapt a huge percentage of any lens ever made onto the front due to the 18mm flange.
Behind the E mount sits the A7S MKIII’s brand new backside illuminated Exmor R full-frame 36x24mm sensor and features a new processor that Sony are calling BionZ XR which is approximately 8x faster than its predecessor. Sony reckons this means more dynamic range than the previous A7S and it should perform just as well if not better when it comes to low light. The sensor isn’t pixel binning or line skipping at all in any of the recording format, while the company also says that rolling shutter has been improved by almost 3x over the performance of the A7S MKII with the introduction of an anti distortion shutter
When shooting in SLOG 3 the sensor should be able to capture 15 stops of dynamic range. You can shoot as low as ISO 640 without toggling on the extended ISO ranges and a max ISO of 409,600.
On the top, the dials and buttons have also been improved. Both the mode dial and exposure comp dial now have locking buttons and there is now a third wheel right where your thumb sits. Partner that with the bigger and more tactile buttons and this now makes the A7S III operate more like a much larger DSLR camera which is only a good thing. There is now also a dedicated record button on the top of the camera instead of at the back.
On the bottom you have the battery slot, which takes the same NP-FZ100 as the Sony A7 MKIII, this means you get roughly 60% more out of each battery vs the SII which you had to carry loads of batteries round because of how small the batteries were. In practice this should give you around 95 mins of recording time or 600 photographs.
On the left side of the camera you have a good range of IO, a full size HDMI which output 16 bit RAW at 4K 50/60p, USB-C, Micro USB, 3.5mm Mic input & a 3.5mm headphone output. One little detail about this is the flaps covering the ports. These are so much sturdier now than the last generations and they now open in such a way that you shouldn’t be blocking any of the ports with them if they are all open.
On the right behind this solid door you have a dual card slot which can take two types of media. Each one of the slots is the same and can take either an SD card or a CFexpress Type A card.
On the back not only do you have a redesign in terms of layout but also the size of the buttons. The joystick makes a return from the A7III and, now partnered with the improved AF system, this will make using autofocus precisely and fast much easier! The bigger button size also means that buttons are much easier to press which is great for when you are wearing gloves or have the camera up to your eye. You have the regular buttons you would expect from an Alpha series camera with a few custom function buttons also.
The EVF has seen an improvement and is now a 9.44 million dot QXGA OLED viewfinder. The screen has also been improved, the A7SII’s screen was notorious for breaking due to the weak mechanism for tilting. This new mech is a hinge on the left that will allow you to flip the screen out and adjust a decent amount.
Inside of the A7S III you have a few different options for codecs, namely XAVC HS 4K, XAVC S 4K, XAVC S HD, XAVC S-I 4K & XAVC S-I HD. Some Sony A7SII shooters will be saying, hey there’s some new codecs here, and you would be correct! You have some of the regular versions of XAVC-S but you also now have ALL-I variants which are the S-I formats and HS which are Sony’s new H.265 versions of XAVC-S.
You can shoot a range of frame rates the highest being 4K 100 or 120 which you can do in a few different formats most impressively being the All-I flavour in 4:2:2 10bit with full autofocus and with no pixel binning or line skipping!
Sony have also emphasised how important the difference between S&Q and the regular recording mode is when it comes to bit rates. In slow and quick you capture a maximum of 120 fps in 4K or 240fps in Full HD. However, audio is not recorded in this mode so if you need it, you’ll need to be shooting in the regular mode.
You have a great range of different formats depending on your needs, all in full frame. The camera does have a crop mode however that is only in the HD codecs. However, one way around this could be to use the clear image Zoom to punch in to get round the coverage of your lens while in a higher res format.
One of the biggest drawbacks of the A7SII was its lack of an internal 10bit codec. So, it is really refreshing to see Sony implement both high-quality subsampling and bit depth across a range of formats. This will now mean you don’t experience the same limitations of shooting SLOG-2 or 3 in an 8bit codec, unless you choose to.
When it comes to colour & gamma profiles you have a range of different options. It uses the same Picture Profile system as the previous Sony alpha cameras, you have up to 10 presets though you can go in and tweak what you want.
You can change your black level, gamma, black gamma, knee, colour mode. Saturation, color phase, color depth & detail. You can choose from a huge range of gammas, most noteworthy being four flavours of the Cine profile, ITU709 & ITU709 800%, SLOG2 & SLOG3 & 4 versions of HLG. You also have a good range of colour modes such as ITU709, S-Gamut, S-gamut3 & S-Gamut3.cine, BT 2020 & 709.
The A7SIII has improved colour & tone matching of S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.Cine modes with the ones inside the FX9, which will make it easy to match colors/tones between the two cameras. This means anyone looking to pick up the A7SIII as a B or C cam to the FX9 should be able to match the two cameras really easily. Unfortunately, there is no S709 or S-Cinetone profiles internally however Sony has assured me that both the pro cine & consumer side of Sony have worked together closely on this camera so the A7SIII should match with the FX9 or Venice really well!
As well as picture profiles there are also creative look profiles. You have 10 colour profiles, 4 of which are new. These new ones are Fl or Film like tone, IN or Instant camera tone, VV2 or Vivid tone with bright colour & SH or Soft & Highkey. Within these you can control saturation, contrast, shadow, highlight, fade, sharpness, sharpness range & clarity.
The camera also features in body image stabilisation. This is the same as previous Sony alpha implementations of this so it’s a physical mechanism that is moving the sensor not electronic. This provides 5 stops of stabilisation and can be used in tandem with lens stabilisation also for even more! Sony has also added an electronic IS mode also which crops the image by 1.1x but will provide even more stabilisation.
The autofocus has seen a big upgrade over the A7SII. It draws influence from what the A7RIV & A7III can do but is even better. It now features 759 AF points with a combination of contrast and phase detection. These points cover 93% of the frame, provide real-time tracking in video mode and features both human and animal eye tracking.
We didn’t get a chance to record any footage because the camera was such an early prototype. However, from what I did see it looked very very promising. It’s difficult to really judge an image from the back of the camera, so we plugged it into a 65” TV. Dynamic range looked solid, colours looked nice and noise looked very well controlled, even pushing 50000. One thing that it looks like Sony has improved is colour. This is one area that people would complain about when talking about Alpha series cameras. However, with the combination of improved colour science, better recording formats and the new sensor seem to have made capturing more accurate and saturated colours much better than previous models. From images I have seen as well, it seems like low light colour rendition.
Once we get hands on with a full production model of the camera we will run our regular image tests and shoot something creative with it.
The Menu system has improved quite a bit, though if you’re coming from an existing Alpha series camera this will take some getting used to. You can also now navigate the menu using touch, which is a first for an Alpha 7 series camera, and can see how the addition of this has shaped the design of the menu. The first tab is your ‘my menu’ where you can add your most-used settings. You have the option to add anything from the menu system, so you have a huge range of customisation.
After that you have shooting, exposure/colour, focus, playback, network & setup. It’s well laid out but there are a lot of settings. Some of the features worth mentioning are:
With a proxy option you can record low-bit rate HD proxy files while recording in any format under 60p. You can record in both XAVC S HD 1080p or HS HD 720p. This may be handy with the introduction of H265.
You can also change what is recorded to what media type here also. You can change the priority of each slot as well as choose a huge range of recording modes. Standard, Simultaneous for stills, simultaneous for video, simultaneous for both & sort which is going to allow the camera to write to two separate cards. RAW / JPEG, JPEG / RAW & Stills / Video.
Camera Set Memory
You can use memory and memory recall to save and load your frequently used settings on your camera which is a really handy function. You can save two profiles on the camera’s internal memory and then up to 4 on a piece of media. With this, you can set a huge range of settings including frame rate and resolution so you can set some presets and then quickly load those in while shooting.
When it comes to exposure tools you only have a few options, which are similar to those on previous Alpha 7 series cameras. You have the regular EV scale, Histogram which you can cycle through, and lastly you have Zebras which you can customise.
Sony has stepped up with the custom function buttons. Here you have three different setups for your custom buttons which the camera will switch between depending on what mode you are in. You have a set for stills, a set for video & a set for playback. You can choose from a huge range of menu settings and rebind pretty much every button on the camera to fully customise exactly what setup you want.
The A7S III also features clear image zoom which allows you to zoom in up to 1.5x, as well as optical zoom and another digital zoom. There are also settings for adjusting the zoom on the camera and remotely and Sony has introduced a really interesting set of functions here. The remote function can be used with an external remote but the camera function allows you to set a wide & tele zoom custom function button on the camera to control the Zoom on powered servo lenses like the 28-135. You can then go into the menu further and adjust the zoom speed for when you are both in standby & record mode.
It also features shockless white balance for the first time in an Alpha series camera! Shockless white balance will make the transition when you are changing white balance look smoother in case you are changing it while recording on the fly.
In previous Alpha series cameras, pixel mapping has been done automatically at the start of every month. This is normally fine but not good if you noticed a dead pixel just before a shoot. Now instead of pushing your camera’s date forward you can go into the menu and do this manually which will make this process much easier.
The A7S MKiii features both an intervalometer for stills internally and it also features the S&Q mode which you can also use to do in-camera timelapses.
We’ve had to wait nearly 5 years for the MKIII. So much has changed in the past 5 years, technology has evolved and there are so many awesome cameras on the market to choose from, so has Sony come back into the space with a bang? Well, I would say yes; I don’t think I have been so excited for a camera in years.
Just like the FX9 back in November 2019 Sony has clearly listened to their end-users and has made a camera that on paper is pretty much perfect for a mirrorless video camera. However, this is only our first look, we will have the results of some proper creative tests to see what it can do in the real world soon.
Visit cvp.com to pre-order and accessorise.