8 days. 2589 km. A review of Sony α7R III from Singapore to Hong Kong.
Charmaine and I own several Sony α7R II cameras, and they have been pushed to their limits. From deep winter shooting in Greenland to dodging hailstorms in the Yellow Mountains of China, our Sony cameras have seen them all. So when we were tasked to review the new Sony α7R III, our excitement was palpable. The new camera may look similar to the older model, but it boasts many important improvements. Over the course of a week, we put the Sony α7R III to the test in a host of real world challenges. Read on and find out more.
Day One. On-site Photography Assignment.
Our assignment for the day required us to shoot both lifestyle and interior elements - a great opportunity to test out the new camera. The first scene had us working with a young Barista bathed in lush window light. Trailing his every move, the Sony α7R III’s newly integrated AF joystick helped me make my focus point selection with a quick thumb movement. I fired a quick succession of shots in burst mode and was impressed by how responsive the camera was in dealing with the big RAW files.
We rapidly moved on to the next setup – a food shot. Changing out to a manual macro lens, I enabled ‘peaking mode’ and manually set focus on the freshly flamed Creme Brûlée. The viewfinder was so sharp and clear, so finding the ideal focusing point was just a walk in the park. The speed and confidence at which I can work meant we were ahead of schedule for once. The subsequent lifestyle and architectural shots were also completed with the same high level of productivity.
Figure 1: The new " AF joystick" was a great aid in moving focusing points to the exact position in the frame.
Figure 2: The new high resolution EVF makes composition and focus selection a breeze.
Figure 3: Dynamic range is top notch, retaining both highlight and shadow detail in this image.
The Sony α7R III features dual SD card slots and a smart backup system that duplicates what you shoot onto another SD card. You can also assign JPEG and RAW files to be saved onto separate SD cards. I simply handed the SD card containing the JPEG files to the editorial team for positioning, while I work on the RAW files in my studio. By the end of our assignment that day, we were suitably impressed with the Sony α7R III.
Day Two. The Great Wildlife Hunt
Our next assignment was capturing the wildlife of Singapore. Sony was kind enough to lend us the SEL70200GM – one of Sony’s legendary trinity zooms. This was our first time with the renowned GM zoom and we were eager to put it through its paces. The brief from the client was to showcase the excellent lens performance at f2.8. Since every image had to be shot wide open, the shallow depth-of-field was a great opportunity for us to enjoy the smooth creamy backgrounds.
Figure 4: 10FPS and huge buffer was made it easier to capture wildlife.
After five long days in the sweltering heat, we managed to track down the illusive long-tailed Macaques, Plantain Squirrels and Sea Otters. The Sea Otters were especially territorial and we could only snag a few shots before the adult Otters came charging at us. Thanks to the Sony α7R III’s excellent continuous autofocus, fast 10fps capability in silent mode and large buffer, our hit rates were very high. Coupled with the 299MB/s write speed of Sony SF-G SD cards, the camera handled all the 42MP RAW files shot in quick succession without a hitch. What a huge technical achievement by the Sony engineers.
Figure 5: The very last frame before the Otter decided to charge me.
Figure 6: The higher resolution EVF makes manual focus a treat.
Day Four. Return to the Fragrant Habour
Returning to Hong Kong was a stark contrast to Singapore. It was cold and the PM2.5 readings were hitting unhealthy levels daily and the chances of good clean light did not look good.
Figure 7: The α7R III is a great low light camera
With hopes of hitting the hiking trails dashed, we decided to pound the streets of Sham Sui Po and got into street photography mode.
Figure 8: Charmaine relishing the brighter and clearer EVF.
The hustle and bustle of Sham Shui Po can be attributed to the raw energy spewing out from the stalls that lined the street. Selling anything from multi-coloured LED strips to powered hand tools, this is pure Hong Kong culture at its best - loud, energetic, fast and colourful.
Figure 9: The local market at Sham Shui Po, raw and full of energy.
The essence of street photography is capturing the moment without drawing attention. The combination of continuous AF with 10 FPS burst mode Silent Shooting helped us do just that without incurring the wrath of an irate local.
At the end of our shoot, Charmaine's fell in love with the Sony α7R III’s improved EVF. She found the EVF clearer and easier to focus with - all thanks to a significant boost in resolution, refresh rate and brightness level. We also appreciated the fact that once the LCD has been flipped out, the display on the LCD stays on. This means that the camera doesn't switch the display to the EVF whenever we move the camera close to our body. All these small improvements really help to improve the user experience.
The new high capacity NP-FZ100 batteries really made all-day street photography so much easier - we needed just one battery to last through the day. Not having to worry about batteries and power management, allowed us to concentrate on our task at hand.
Day Seven. Smog free and Sham Shui Po revisited
On the 7th day in Hong Kong, we woke to a glaring, piercing light hitting our eyes. It was our glorious Sun! The sky was a clear blue with no signs of smog. Jumping frantically into action, we packed our bags for a trip up Victoria Peak.
Figure 10: The dynamic range of the α7RIII was just amazing – all this from a single RAW file .
Up we went to Lugard Road to capture the blue hour scene ahead of us. As darkness fell, we decided to whip out the SEL100400GM and aimed for the tall buildings on Hong Kong Island. The Sony α7R III image quality is detailed, clean and full of dynamic range. The shot above was processed from a single RAW file and it was easy to extract details from shadows and highlight areas with just minor S curve manipulation in post. Very impressive indeed. On a side note, the SEL100400GM is now one of our must-haves in our bags. Sharp wide-open and throughout the focal length range, we have fallen in love with this lens.
Back down at Sham Shui Po at about 11pm, an ad hoc flea market was in full swing. The rag-and-bone men were displaying their wares on raw asphalt with the more savvy ones illuminating their collection with battery-powered LED lights. Experienced punters were sieving through the goods, looking for a bargain. Sham Shui Po was truly a neighbourhood that never sleeps.
Inspired, we starting video recording the night flea market with the Sony α7R III. Without the help of gimbals, fluid heads, monitors, we relied on the α7R III’s 5-axis IBIS system and it worked a very well. It mitigated much of the unwanted hand movements and we captured smooth video footages.
Figure 11: Charmaine goes for the eclipse with a SEL100400GM & SEL14TC combo.
What’s more, the Sony α7R III had an extensive list of video picture profiles so selecting one that suited our needs was easy. As the light level was low, we recorded the video using Cine4 Picture Profile to extract the most amount of colour detail.
Day 8. Job Done. Smitten by the α7R III
On our way back to Singapore, Charmaine and I enthused about the Sony α7R III. The many upgrades on the Sony α7R III e.g. faster AF, 10FPS, excellent EVF & LCD, excellent buffer performance, longer battery life etc., made it a more complete and effective camera. For us, the Sony α7R III was perfect for our style of photography and it allowed us to cover a wide range of photography genres with confidence. Suffice to say that both Charmaine and I will be adding the Sony α7R III to our camera bags soon.
Figure 12: Huge buffer is valuable in capturing moments on the streets too.