Friday, February 9, 2018

REVIEW: Sony a7R III - Camera of the Year 2017 (Part II of II) + Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens

Sony a7R III -'s Camera of the Year for 2017

I've "officially" reviewed at least 80 cameras since I started this blog, and many more that didn't result in articles. Let me just say it now - nothing I've ever reviewed deserves to be compared to the Sony a7R III because it is simply in a class of its own. This is the next generation of how camera sensors should perform, and it has no equal - period.

Now before you declare me a Sony fan boy, let me also point out that my primary DSLR is a Canon 1DX Mark II and my secondary camera is a Fujifilm X-E2. I've also said great things about the Nikon D850 and many other Nikons. I've also had my fair share of reviews for Sony, Olympus, Panasonic and more.

I enjoy review cameras and I've had a fair share of excellent products that I've highly recommended. I've bashed Sony cameras that I thought sucked and faced the wrath of the hate mail from the Sony faithful. However, as 2017 has now come to a close it's crystal clear to me that my hands haven't held a camera with a full frame (or smaller) sensor that has even come close to what I've experienced with this camera. What's more, this is the best a7R series camera that I've tested thanks to improvements to the body and what I "non-scientifically" feel are improvements in its in-camera noise reduction and overall dynamic range.

Why is this camera different?

If you've followed my blog, then you know that I've been harsh on large megapixel cameras for the following reasons:

  1. Noisy - High ISO performance has been poor in a world where lower resolution cameras are killing it at ISO 25,600 and sometimes even higher.

  2. Can't Hand Hold - Extra megapixels meant faster shutter speeds were required to get a sharp handheld shot over other cameras. In fact, some cameras on the market demand as much as 1/<focal length * 3> minimum shutter speeds to cancel out camera shake. This means they are utterly useless for anything but tripod and shoots under studio lighting.

  3. No practical benefits - Initially many of these higher resolution cameras offered a lot more megapixels but nothing that can be perceived as a benefit when you shrinking your photo down and use it on social media, your desktop background or on your TV. Sure there are some printing advantages, but poor sensor performance resulted in them not really being much different than a properly resized photo from a lower resolution camera. Simply put - camera makers were fooling us by just doing in-camera resizing that didn't seem to yield any measurable benefit in real world use.

The Sony a7R III changes all of that. The issues raised above are no longer an issue with this camera and here's 100% unedited in-camera sRGB JPEG's (that are only better with the RAW) that prove this camera is legit.

Noise is on par with lower megapixel DSLR's

Consider the following shot that is 100% unprocessed from the in-camera sRGB JPEG and is at ISO 8000:

f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 8000

The color is fantastic and even when you look at the eye at 100% as shown here:


you'll notice that the details are excellent and the noise is on par with best performing lower megapixel DSLR's. That's ISO 8000 folks - previously most high megapixel cameras (except the D850) I tested looked terrible at this ISO and higher. Of course this is in the daylight with everything in best case to high ISO noise, so what about when things get dark?

Here's an example below at ISO 25,600 when you click on it at full-size things get a little ugly, but the in-camera JPEG is still totally usable as you can see here:

f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 25600

However, this is where things get interesting as the dynamic range of this camera is off the chart so some quick editing of the RAW and I can recover a ton of color from this shot to get this:

ISO 25600 processed from ARW RAW file using Lightroom & Imagenomic Noiseware

Look at all of the detail I can bring back in the background and in the shadows - it's like someone turned the lights on! Of course, I can easily change the white balance to bring back the warm feel of the in-camera version but I didn't do that here just to illustrate a point and emphasize the blues that get recovered in this image.

Now imagine if I had taken this shot at ISO 100?!!!! The biggest problem with high ISO images is that you lose dynamic range, but even at ISO 25,600 this camera has gobs of dynamic range with plenty to spare.

Here's another good example at ISO 10,000 that is 100% unedited and taken during a parade at night (hence the persons head at the bottom of the shot):

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

The noise level is acceptable and the colors from the wide dynamic range of this sensor are fantastic!

Here's a landscape shot at 12,800:

f/9 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 12800

Here's another where things really get pushed at ISO 32,000:

f/16 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 32000

While my Canon 1DX Mark II might do a little better with noise at these levels and higher, it can't touch the dynamic range - and that would be true if I was using the 5DsR, 5D Mark IV, or even a Nikon D5. Having this much color retained at high ISO is perhaps more as important as Noiseware can get rid of the noise dots but you can't bring color back. As a result, I can easily say this is a camera where you shouldn't fear cranking up the ISO.

Can you hand hold? - Oh heck yeah!

Guess what, unless otherwise noted, almost every shot in this article is hand held?!! Take note of that when looking at the shutter speeds. However, I should note that when you see 1/200 sec that's because I forced a minimum shutter speed in the camera to avoid camera shake - before I realized how much I could trust this camera!

How about 1/10 sec for a 90mm lens? Yep, no problem.

Ok, I'll admit it took a few tries and 1/160 sec was much easier, but I got multiple crazy sharp 1/10 and 1/20 sec shots with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens mounted to this camera. Here's one example:

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/10 sec at ISO 160 - hand held!
f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/10 sec at ISO 160
 - hand held!

Here it is at 100% zoom:

100% crop of the above shot

That's crazy sharp!!! Of course, this lens has Optical Steadyshot in addition built-in SteadyShot that applies to all lenses so you end up being able to pull off human tripod shots that even shaky hand people like me with arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome could normally never get without some serious support.

To prove this isn't smoke and mirrors, I had my 8 year old son take this iPhone photo of me while I was taking the shot above:

See, it really was hand held at 1/10 sec

Here's another shot taken in the woods while standing up with much less support at 1/100 sec for a 90mm lens:

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/100 sec at ISO 640

Now 1/100 sec is about what you should be shooting at for a 90mm lens, so I think this shot proves there's no penalty for the extra megapixels when paired to a OSS lens. Unfortunately I only had one lens for this review so I couldn't test OSS alone, but if you read my a7R II review then you'll see that I thought in camera steadyshot performed well. I don't expect that you'll pay the penalty of needing faster shutter speeds with this camera like you do a Nikon D850. Here's a 100% zoom of the eye from the above shot to show it's plenty sharp for a hand-held shot:


With this camera, I can no longer make the statement that the extra megapixels means it's really best for only studio shots and tripod shooting as I definitely proved it wasn't the case. This is a big deal for cameras with this many megapixels so I commend Sony for doing a great job here!

Plenty of Practical Benefits

Normally when you get a camera in this category you sacrifice a lot so it becomes a specialized camera. However,  the a7R III offers an astonishing 399-point AF system with 10 fps that makes it half as fast as the incredible Sony a9 that I reviewed. This means you can get edge to edge AF points and incredible action shooting performance in the worst of conditions. To illustrate this, consider some of these shots taken during a parade at night where I'm being bumped and dealing with a large crowd of people around me:

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

This guy was dancing around so I just lifted the camera above my head while pressing the Eye AF button and let a burst mode rip - got em

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 3200

I was being mobbed with people all around, so I just fired in burst mode to see what I could get - no problem

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 5000

This girl was highly animated, but I just pressed eye AF and let burst mode see what it could do

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

I honestly don't even remember this person as it was another case where eye AF and burst mode were my spray and pray solution. I was pleased with how well it did even with all of the distractions

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

Zoom into this shot - Mrs. Clause eye with glasses on while moving on a parade float was no problem for this camera

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 10000

Another spray and pray and this one is even more impressive when you consider how dark her eyes are with the visor on - this is a legit photojournalism camera folks!

f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/500 sec at ISO 320

This shot is my favorite of the 14 shot burst mode taken below
and look how great the red jacket looks!
Full size originals of all frames are in the gallery associated with this article

Ignore the first shot, but the other 14 were tall taken in one burst at RAW+JPEG X.Fine using Eye AF

So yeah, I found this camera to be just as usable in everyday life as my Canon 1D X Mark II yet it had the advantage of the Eye AF feature. So in my books this is a great event, action, wedding, and kids photography camera - that's saying a lot!

Douglas Dubler - A Top Pro's Perspective on the Sony a7R III

NOTE: The following images are used by permission and may not be linked to, saved, copied or otherwise used without consent from Douglas Dubler.

Ellison Ballet shot by Douglas Dubler
edited by Irfan Yonac - click for a larger version

My good friend Douglas Dubler is one of the most famous fashion photographers in the industry for decades and was a long-time Nikon and Fujifilm featured photographer. In fact, Douglas Dubler photos have been used to launch many cameras including one example - the Nikon D3x.

However, his camera of choice these days is the Sony a7R III and his trusty RX 100IV - the later of which was used for this article where he destroys most DSLR shooters images

He's been amazed at the performance of this camera in extremely low light fast action shots he takes of the prestigious Ellison Ballet.  He's been posting picture after picture of amazing shots like this one on  Instagram and Facebook:

Madison by Douglas Dubler

edited by Irfan Yonac - click for a larger version
 Instagram / Facebook

He feels strongly that the a7R III is definitely an improvement over the II in terms of dynamic range and he considers it to be one of the best cameras he's ever used which is saying quite a lot from a guy who has done quite a few shots with the 100 megapixel Phase One camera system and Broncolor lights!

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS Lens Thoughts

It's kinda hard to tell but this review isn't just about the camera, but it's also about the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens I used for all of my featured photos in the review gallery.

The Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS features low-dispersion glass glass which has benefits you can read about here. In simple terms all this means that this is a crazy sharp lens with deliciously smooth bokeh as you can see in this handheld shot below:

f/2.8 @ 90mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 2000

I talked about how it makes a heck of a macro lens in part I of this article, but it makes a killer portrait lens too as you can see in this shot and others like it in this article:

f/3.2 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 5000

Natural light, unedited, standard camera settings, auto white balance (ambient bias)

Click here to see an edited version of this photo on Instagram or on my portfolio site.

Here's an impromptu handheld macro shot I did in the kitchen while my wife as cooking:

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

I could have got much closer and filled the frame with the main subject (I don't know what that food is called either - ha ha). However, I love the shallow depth of field I got from the f/2.8 lens yet my subject is super sharp.

Here's one of the few stabilized shots I took where I was trying to see how well it did at f/22:

f/22 @ 90mm for 1 sec at ISO 640

I have three other versions of this shot in the gallery at f/9.0f/11 and f/16. While diffraction definitely kicks in and isn't handled as nicely as I've seen on the best Fujifilm X-Series cameras, there's no doubt this is a proper landscape camera!

Here's a portrait shot out in the snow which surprised me for how blue it was despite using the auto white balance with the warmer ambient setting. Sony seems to favor cooler temps in the snow in its auto white balance algorithm, but that's easy to fix with the RAW:

f/5.6 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 640

Click for original or go check out the edited version

My camera settings were such that my exposure compensation got ignored, so wintery scene turned out darker than I wanted:

f/4 @ 90mm for 1/200 sec at ISO 100

See the edited version here and the higher ISO variant

Marrying the worlds of landscape, macro and portrait, this shot of a fallen tree is a visual feast for pixel peepers who enjoy seeing the details that this sensor can capture:

f/8 @ 90mm for 1/60 sec at ISO 4000

Like snow, rushing water is always tough to shoot because it's easy to blow out your highlights. Since I was handheld for the shot below I couldn't do a long exposure so I went for capturing the power of the water:

f/8 @ 90mm for 1/160 sec at ISO 640

This is a fun shot to explore for all of the detail in the water droplets and rock textures!
I can't wait to edit this one as the RAW file gives me so much I can do to make this shot be exactly what I want it to be thanks to the incredible dynamic range of the a7R III

See more than 110 unedited sample photos at  All photos here and in the gallery are copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (or Douglas Dubler where noted). You may view the photos while your browser is open to this article, but you must delete all copies from your machine when you leave the article.

You may not print, edit, link to, repost, or otherwise use any images from this article without consent from Ron Martinsen (or Douglas Dubler where applicable). Contact me for more details.


I wish I had more lenses for this review, as being limited to the 90mm really hindered what I could do.

I wish I had more time with this camera as I have a lot of ideas of what I could do to show it off.

I wish you'd buy my Canon gear so I could buy this camera - it really is that good. This is why I'm proud to give the Sony a7R III my highest recommendation by naming it my 2017 Camera of the Year!

While Sony still has plenty of gaps in terms of lenses offered for this camera and its flash system is nothing compared to the Canon 600EX II-RT or Nikon SB-5000, there's enough goodness with the Sony a7R III that I'm officially recommending those that can afford it to switch camps. That isn't something I do lightly or have ever done before, but in the world of amazing cell phones like the iPhone X and the Samsung S8 the advantage of big bulky DSLR's is fading fast. As a result, your camera should do more and only the Sony a9 and a7R III are legitimately doing that in my opinion.

While I haven't owned a Sony camera since 2006, that is very likely to change in 2018 when I've sold enough gear to make the switch. When I do, you can bet that the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens will be high on my wish list. I'd also love to see Sony work on these things in 2018 to make this platform better:

  1. Please make E-Mount versions of your best lenses and move third parties like Sigma to do the same.
  2. Please build a killer radio frequency ETTL flash system.
  3. Continue to make improvements on the painful menu system such that it has fewer pages. I like Canon's system best - especially with the Q button jump feature.
  4. Make it easier to one tap (rather than hold) to engage and disengage Eye AF.
  5. Learn from Fujifilm and offer a left vs right eye option for Eye AF.
  6. Continue to improve the high ISO performance and metering.
  7. Make it cheaper so more people can enjoy the best camera on the market! :)

Where to Buy?

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy Sony a7R III from B&H.

CLICK HERE to learn more or buy the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens from B&H.

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