Tuesday, December 19, 2017

REVIEW: Sony a7R III - The Best Camera on the Market in 2017 - Period (Part I of II)

Sony a7R III

While I'm a Canon shooter, I was very impressed with the image quality I got out of the Nikon D850 that I reviewed earlier this year. However, the Sony a7R and a7R II were the sensor by which I judged all others based on their dynamic range. As a result, I was very much looking forward to this review - especially after the camera body of improvements of the new a9 answered my prayers for a Sony body that properly built for photographers.

Since the Sony 24-70 is such a poor lens, I decided this time around I'd have some fun and get the best Sony lens I've ever tested - the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens:

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens

This was a good choice as this lens is crazy sharp with gorgeous bokeh, yet it's a macro lens which means you can get as close as 11" to your subject and still use auto focus. It's inclusion of Optical Stead Shot also means that you can get super sharp shots despite being handheld.

Everyone who has followed this blog knows that I'm a huge fan of the Sigma 85mm Art, so it would take a lot for this lens to impress me. I'm also reviewing the new Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS at the same time as the Sony, so I have experience with  great lenses in this focal length so I was excited to put this lens through its paces.

Body Impressions

Simply put, this and the Sony a9 offer the only bodies that compete with Nikon for an excellent use and placement of physical buttons. In fact, the improvements to the wheel, joystick and button placements on the a7R III make it the most comfortable one yet.

The joystick support for moving the AF point is my biggest improvement as I've grown so used to this that I can't hardly use a camera without it. This change along with the much better feeling selector wheel (which Fujifilm should look closely at), means it's a natural fit for those coming from Canon and Nikon pro bodies.

The improved electronic viewfinder mean you can leave the hoodman loupe at home and just use the viewfinder on a sunny day to review your images. The resolution and color is excellent, and doesn't feel artificial like the old alpha series cameras.

The articulating rear display is handy for shooting in tight spaces, and optional touch means it works for those who both love and hate touch. Should you want to do more, like a family selfie, the PlayMemories Mobile app can be used to easily remote control the camera.

I was also happy to discover that the phenomenally good eye tracking AF was pre-programmed into a push of the joystick, so this camera was configured perfectly for me right out of the box. In fact, I never found myself using that f*@king Fn menu that you had to live in on other and older Sony models.

While the menus still suck and are just as illogical as ever, there's great support for creating your own favorites and there's lots of great options built in. You also can program many buttons to put your favorite features at the tip of your fingers, or into the blasted Fn menu should you be so inclined.

While this camera touts a cool "Pixel Shift" feature described in the video above, the lack of in-camera support of it was enough of deterrent that I didn't bother with it. Perhaps if Lightroom took advantage of it, I might be interested, but currently it's not for me unless I have a moiré pattern issue AND the opportunity to go back and shoot the subject again with this feature to address the problem. It doesn't seem practical as is for everyday use though.

One negative change from its predecessor is that you can't use Sony's in-camera apps which means you lose the only way it previously supported doing time lapse photography. I had hoped that the PlayMemories Mobile app would have this feature, but I didn't see it when testing in December 2017.

First Look - Real World Shots

I've only had a few hours to play with this camera, so here's some early shots. However, I'd like to point out that these are all the 100% unedited in-camera 8-bit sRGB JPEG's shot in bad light (ISO's 2000 - 8000). All shots are handheld with the standard creative style and auto white balance (ambience) unless otherwise noted.

To quote my friend Douglas Dubler, any mammal can see this camera has excellent dynamic range.

All shots are copyright Ron Martinsen - All Rights Reserved. You can review them while your web browser is open to this article, but you may not edit, print, save, link, or re-publish them in any way without written consent.

f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 3200

Are you f'ing kidding me? Look at how much detail is in the highlights in the jpeg and I haven't even touched the RAW yet! Look at that incredible bokeh despite ISO 3200!

f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 2500

If there's a fault to this camera, the dynamic range is so wide that it can make specular highlights vanish! This leaf is wet and in the light and no filter has been used!

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 4000

It's true this a macro lens, but the resolving detail of this sensor and lens combo means every shot is like a science lesson!

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

Vivid mode with shade white balance gives nice warm tones that in this case create an image that is identical to how my minds eye saw it. Look at all of that splendid detail!
See the camera default color here

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 2500
-1 EV
Same color settings as the previous shot and with a little under exposure, every detail in the highlights of the log moss is very detailed

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 2000

This time with default color settings, but zoom in to 100% and it's like going to biology class and looking at the leaves under a microscope

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 2500

The detail in the highlights of the rocks is unlike anything I've shot with before. Sure, this shot is in bad need of a circular polarizer, but this handheld in-camera 8-bit sRGB JPEG shot shows great details in the shadows and darks

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

Once again, 5000 ISO - in-camera 8-bit sRGB - holy cow! The wet leaves lack the typical hot spots you'd get unless you used a circular polarizer, yet I didn't. Very impressive!

f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 800

A nice example of the contrast between smooth bokeh and crazy sharp detail

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

While this is a little underexposed for my taste, the default exposure with auto white balance (ambiance) did result in nice skin tones. The bokeh from this lens made the messy background vanish as well

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

100% crop of the eye from the from the above shot. Sony's auto eye AF absolutely nailed the pupil in horrible light while my daughter was dancing around

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 3200

This was like the 6th frame I shot with this camera and it was the typical  shoot a photo at the closest thing next to the box when opening it up. I was immediately impressed with the detail and rich colors

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 8000

Since this is a macro lens, I went in closer and was highly impressed - especially given the resolution of this camera. I couldn't do this shot handheld and get this kind of sharpness out of the highest resolution Canon and Nikon cameras

First Shots from Douglas Dubler

At the same time I am reviewing this camera, so is industry legend Douglas Dubler who destroys most photographers with a simple point and shoot. He is world famous for many things, including his ballet shots, so these photos come from his first test with the a7R III . He was simply blown away.

The following photos edited by the incredible photo editing master, Irfan Yonac, are used with permission and highlight what this camera can do in very low light.

Copyright Douglas Dubler 3 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Douglas Dubler 3 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Douglas Dubler 3 - All Rights Reserved

Copyright Douglas Dubler 3 - All Rights Reserved

Follow Douglas on Instagram for more photos.

Handheld Video

I don't do video as everyone who follows me on this blog knows, but that said here's a couple handheld videos that I tossed on YouTube (which completely destroys the quality):

Sony a7R III Unedited Video - XAVC S 4K 30p 60M

Sony a7R III Unedited Video - XAVC S 6MBs 30p 120fps S&Q

Terrible conditions, low-light, roughly ISO 2500, but still you can see this is nothing to sneeze at.


See part II for my full conclusion, but it's already safe to say that if you were on the fence about getting one of these my recommendation is an resounding YES! The dynamic range is simply incredible and with a lens like the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS, magic is sure to follow.

Despite my significant investment in Canon, I am seriously wishing Santa would bring me one of these cameras - it's that outstanding. Simply put, nothing I've tested - including Phase One and Hasselblad medium format digital cameras - comes even close.

Where to Buy?

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy the a7R III today.

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy the 90mm.

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

Enjoy these and more on the Reviews tab as well as Ron's Recommendations.


If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this.

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity

Monday, December 18, 2017

Meural Digital Frame 2.0 - 2017 Product Of the Year (Discount Offer)

Meural 2.0 Box
Meural Canvas 2.0 Box - Bottom

I rarely do unboxing videos, but for this product I created the article entitled First Look - Meural Digital Canvas Photo Frame 2.0 where I did just that. The reason for this is that I wanted to have a little more bake time with this newest version of the wildly successful Meural Digital Canvas that I first reviewed in August 2016 before I rendered my final verdict on this newest version.

In the first look article you can get an idea of what you get in the box and the frame itself (the Lenora Black in this case), so in this review I'll focus on other relevant points.

Overview - What is a Digital Canvas?

Simply put, this is a dedicated 1080p video display with a low cost computer built in that allows it to talk to my.meural.com. This means that there's a Meural cloud service that is used to keep the files you upload and the settings you set for all of the frames you own. This allows for easy sharing of data between your computer, apps and the frame itself. 

My TV can computer can show photos, why is this better?

While it is true that many smart devices such as modern TV's can show photos, the problem is that this is not their primary purpose so displaying photos typically involves a lot of hassle and it's easy to close the app that is playing the slideshow. As a result, this makes these devices - just like your computer - good for a one off slideshow, but not something that is literally living art in your home.

I've bought small digital frames before and they suck, how is this different?

There's an old saying "you get what you pay for" and sadly most small form factor digital displays are just that. They are a horrifically low quality video display and a terrible software experience making them worse than using your TV or computer for displaying photos and the software is so poorly done that most people are usually turning them off within months of purchasing them.

Leonora Black frame like the ones I own
Great for portraits in offices or homes

What makes Meural different is that this is a high quality display, as the price would suggest, with high quality software with the dedicated purpose of making it easy to display your photos and add more from any location that has internet access.

I'm proud to have licensed some of my images for use on Meural

What's more, you aren't limited to your own photos, so add the subscription service and you can enjoy others high quality art for those times when you want to enjoy art that exceeds your own abilities. To see examples of art you can enjoy on your frame, check out the galleries from artists and partners who have licensed work to Meural for use on your frame.


Meural On Display Menu - Dec 2017
Device menu displayed via gesture feature

Setup for this device is much like any other IoT device these days - this frame has its own wifi access point that you connect to from your phone, then use the app to setup the device and get it on your local network. Generally speaking, it works just as easy as any other device of this type (like Nest products), which is to say an average user won't have any trouble setting it up. Some beginners may struggle a bit though.

With that said, one of the setup experiences involves using the gesture support on this frame and that's one of the few areas where I don't have good things to say about this product. Simply put, the gesture feature is terrible.

Frequently I found myself flapping like a bird trying to get the gestures to work with roughly a 5% success rate, but fortunately you can completely ignore this feature after you've set up the frame (and even with setup, it's optional).

Hanging the frame

Hanging the frame requires a drill and a hammer and a little patience with the measurements. It took me about 15 minutes from start to finish to hang the frame. While they include a small level with the frame, I still think it's better a real level for better accuracy. I failed to do so when hanging the frame at my parents house and it ended up being slightly off so it drives me crazy.

If you are mindful when hanging, you can set your frame up where it can change orientation from landscape to portrait, which is handy when you get tired of photos of one orientation and you want to mix them up with those of another. I love this feature, so I always make sure I hang my frames in a way that supports both orientations.


While Meural is constantly improving the settings experience, as of December 2017 here's what they looked like in the web browser:

Meural Settings - Dec 2017 Version

App Experience

Here's a demo of what you can do using the app using an iPhone (in this case, the iPhone X) with the phone upright for the first part, and the phone in landscape orientation for the second part:

It should be noted that my mom had a iPhone 4s which wasn't supported since the app requires iOS 10 or later, and her phone only supports up to iOS 9. While it is cool to have apps that take advantage of the latest features, I wasn't too happy about a 4 year old phone being unsupported.

Click here to learn more about the requirements of the app on iOS and click here for Android. While the app has features like being able to switch the images in real time, you can also use the web interface from your computer or phone as another option.

I really wish Meural would be more thoughtful about backwards compatibility for phones or make all of the app features redundant in the web interface so owners with older phones would have more options.

Another frustration point is that the app can only control the frame when you are on the same network, so I can't control the frame on behalf of my parents remotely. Since they are both over 80, this is a real bummer as that could be quite useful.

TIP: The weakest link of any connected device is getting it on a networking and keeping it on the network. The Meural frame is no different, but I do find that it loses its network connection more than other devices. When this happens, the best bet is to just unplug and reconnect the frame to its power source and the connection will restore itself. I suspect this is due to the device failing to send the router a keep alive message, so hopefully this is something they will fix in the future.

Controlling the frame from the app demo


To me the key differentiator of Meural over the competition is the customization that it supports. In addition to the settings shown earlier, the scheduler allows you to pick which play list you display at each hour of the day plus when your frame sleeps. This is a HUGE benefit over all other solutions I've ever tried, and it's the reason why I proudly own three Meural frames.

Here's an example of how you configure this feature from the web browser (only):

Meural Scheduler Feature

There's a drag and drop interface for choosing which playlist you'd like to display on the frame at any given hour. Once you drop it on the frame you can drag it have it span multiple hours as I've done with the 78 image "portraits" playlist. You can also have it randomly choose play lists for part of the day and fixed playlists for other parts. Finally, you can specify which hours the frame sleeps which is my favorite feature as I don't want my frame running at night.

For simplicity sake, I've only shown two playlists here but it supports as many playlists as you've downloaded to your frame. You can also avoid this altogether and turn on "Playlist Rotation" and "Canvas goes completely dark" (shown earlier) if you want the frame to be more hands off and make those decisions for you.

This is the game changer feature that I can't live without!

Frame & Display Quality Thoughts

The display used in this frame is a good quality 1920 x 1080 (1080p) full HD display that resolves to 100 pixels per inch, and it features a matte finish to avoid reflections. Since it is calibrated nicely from the factory, this results in a very pleasant viewing experience that often times can fool novices into thinking they are looking at a framed print.

For those who do frame prints, the size feels about the same as a 13x19" print, so it's big enough to enjoy but not obnoxiously large. When viewing images in landscape orientation it feels just right for most things, but busy scenes viewed at distances greater than 16 feet can feel a bit on the small side (duh). However, in portrait mode I found that most images felt quite large and enjoyable, but that could also be since I get up close on my portraits so the images are larger than life size.

The frame itself features a nice wooden frame white a white matting that feels very professionally done. As a result, it doesn't feel like a cheap digital frame but instead like a print that you had framed. This is why I think I often get the reaction from guests who so say "I didn't realize that was digital" after they see the image change for the first time.

As previously mentioned, the gesture support is terrible so I consider it a non-feature. In fact, for my parents I had to effectively disable it as they would sometimes accidentally activate it which stressed them out.

I've owned my first version for over a year and heat has never been a problem. It's always cool to the touch, unlike my TV, so that's a good sign that it's using a lot less electricity too. This is one of the big benefits of this solution over a computer or TV used to display your images because I haven't noticed any impact on my electricity bill while running this frame for 16 hours a day for the last 16 months! My room doesn't feel like a sauna either like it does when I'm done watching a long movie.

New for 2.0 - the sleep button

Meural 2.0 Sleep Button
Meural 2.0 Sleep Button

One great new feature for the 2.0 version is the sleep button. This allows you to push a physical button on the side of the frame to put it to sleep. Push it again and you get instant wake up - much like open and closing a Macbook Pro.

But why isn't it 4k?

4k is great, but it also comes at a premium price both in terms of the display cost as well as the the bandwidth and storage needed to transmit photos back and forth. While I'm sure there will be a day in the future when I'm bragging about the 4k Meural, I've found that at this size I don't have any concerns about resolution at normal viewing distances (and I'm a master printer and display expert) . A typical billboard is 15 dots per inch and a magazine which has a closer viewing distance is often 150 dots per inch, so this is a good trade off for price versus performance.

What about Momento?

Yes, I've heard of Momento Smart Frame (B&H & Amazon), but the software is optimized around the mobile photo experience with a lack end to end thought. It's also very cheaply built, so it doesn't have the same quality as a Meural. It's promising given its price point, but at this time I have to say it's poor hardware and software experience by comparison. I've also had a terrible experience trying to reach anyone at this company, so I've been reluctant to invest in one for fear that it would be the same experience as I've had with all of the cheap frames that have disappointed me in the past.

What about the optional subscription service?

I hate subscription services, and that's putting it very politely. This is why I'm happy to report that Meural doesn't require you use their service. What the service provides you is access to their gallery of curated art to display on your frame which for some may be preferable to their own images - especially businesses. However, that's a value added feature and not a required service.

While the galleries from artists and partners offer a lot of great images, some of which I enjoy on my frame despite my photography background, you aren't forced to use it so don't worry. I do recommend you try it out though as I've found some of the images are quite spectacular like the ones from 1x. You could never legally license these photos yourself at this price, so it's a good deal to get this many images at this price.


The Meural frame is the first and only digital frame that I can say that I've truly enjoyed. It has all of the features that I've wished for and its continuous improvement shows a commitment to make it even better for existing owners. My 1.0 frame has all of the software benefits of the 2.0, yet it didn't cost a penny to get those upgrades.

I also have found it to be a profound life changing experience for myself and my family members to enjoy hundreds of digital photos changing on the wall of my home (and my parents). There's no way I could display that many prints, so a lot of touching family photos can be enjoyed at no additional cost. What's more, I have no hesitation to include "bad" photos that I'd never print, but put a smile on our faces nevertheless.

While the first version was good, it felt like a product in progress from a start up. The bones were good and mine still works fine, but this newest version feels a lot more polished. I also had a unit shipped from the East coast to my house and then I shipped it to my parents place in Texas. Despite this the original packaging (shown here) kept the frame safe for thousands of miles of travel.

Simply put, there's no better way to enjoy your investment in photography than to display your photos on a Meural Digital Canvas.  As a result, I can easily give it my highest recommendation for anyone who enjoys viewing meaningful photos. It's also a no brainer for my 2017 ronmartblog.com Product of the Year.

Where to Buy?

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy today.

Discount Offer

For a limited time, Meural is offering $100 off and if you order by December 20th they promise delivery by Christmas (exclusions apply and subject to weather and transportation conditions).

Other articles you may enjoy

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:

Enjoy these and more on the Reviews tab as well as Ron's Recommendations.


If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this. While I have purchased a 2.0 frame, I was also provided with one for review purposes. I also am a featured artist for images found in the subscription based service as part of a research experiment for a future idea that I have for this blog.

NOTE: This site requires cookies and uses affiliate linking to sites that use cookies.

If you enjoyed this article, please support future articles like this by making a donation or saving money by using my discount coupon codes. Either way, your support is greatly appreciated!

This blog is intended for freelance writing and sharing of opinions and is not a representative of any of the companies whose links are provided on this site.

The opinions provided are of Ron Martinsen alone and do not reflect the view of any other entity