The Sony Alpha 7S III is out and the crowds are about to compare it with the Canon EOS R5… as if there was anything to compare. This is a 12.1MP video machine against a 45MP monster.
Be reasonable, there is nothing to compare: the Sony Alpha 7S III is designed and configured to support photo and video journalists who need to deliver stills or movies as quickly as possible with several advanced connectivity options. The Canon EOS R5 is a camera for those who need the output of a 45MP sensor and 8K video… used within the limitations of such an innovative small footprint video solution.
Different tools for different needs. Yes, if you’re a photojournalist, 12 MP may sound like too little in today’s world, but, in fact, they are more than enough for much of the newspaper and magazine work… as we all know, despite being tempted to say otherwise, because that’s what people do. My first Canon EOS, the D30, had only a 3 megapixel APS-C sized CMOS sensor, and it didn’t stop me from creating magazine covers and even huge posters (thanks to Genuine Fractals) for many years, starting 2000. The photography magazine I edited then had an interview with Helmut Newton where the photographer assumed he used the same model to shoot some of his iconic images.
The Sony Alpha 7S III has four times the resolution ot the D30, so I guess whoever picks it for making photos for print or online will be well served. What’s interesting, also, and that may matter, is that a full frame sensor with ONLY 12MP probably benefits from those big pixels, meaning that the signal/noise ratio will be great for getting very clean images… maybe those a landscape photographers also needs. That’s just me thinking how to use the camera outside the box, as Sony, in fact, clearly states that this is a camera for photo and video journalists who need to deliver stills or movies as quickly as possible with several advanced connectivity options. Yes, I know I said it again, but I want it to be clear.
This Sony Alpha 7S III comes at the right time, apparently, because Sony just announced that the news agency Associated Press (AP) will use exclusively Sony gear in the future. Yes, we all know this is a marketing thing, an agreement for a couple of years, and that camera brands do those agreements because it helps their marketing strategies, but the truth is that, although other Sony cameras are mentioned in the agreement, this new model seems to fit the needs of AP professionals.
A new heat dissipating mechanism
This is my take on the new camera, which appears to be designed for a very specific type of user, but can, if you don’t mind having just 12MP, be a camera that you, me and everybody else will happily use. One thing the market has asked for, many times, is not more pixels, but “better pixels”. Well, apparently this Sony Alpha 7S III delivers. If Sony cares to send one Alpha 7S III my way, I don’t mind trying it, just to confirm if it can be used for more than news photos and videos.
So, I noted earlier that this was going to be good in terms of signal/noise. Sony says that the camera features “a brand new 12.1MP (approx., effective) back-illuminated full-frame image sensor with ultra-high sensitivity and 15+ stop wide dynamic range, a host of impressive video recording capabilities including 4K 120p and 10-bit 4:2:2 colour depth, a new heat dissipating mechanism, dual slot relay recording enabling over one-hour of 4K 60p movie shooting until battery ends, a new autofocus system, and touch screen interface and side flip LCD screen, the new Alpha 7S III will become the ultimate creative tool for video professionals and all types of hybrid still/video shooters.”
That’s an impressive specs sheet, and while the little footnotes that come with all Sony press-releases can, sometimes, lower the initial excitement – and there will always be points that will be less appealing, depending on your needs – the Sony Alpha 7S III may be one interesting departure from the “more pixels” race and, in the end, a camera that will be picked by those it is designed for… and some other users. It’s not a perfect camera, and only real world tests will show if it works as promised and, because I believe many will want to know that, if it has overheating problems, something that is now about to become a trend, due to the Canon EOS R5, which ignited (pun intended) a whole new debate.
What Sony says about the camera
For now, let me share with ProVideo Coalition readers the information from Sony, which may help you to decide if the Sony Alpha 7S III is the camera for you. Here is what Sony had to say:
“The Alpha 7S III is the ultimate representation of Sony’s passion to solve our customers pain points,”, said Yann Salmon-Legagneur, Director of Product Marketing, Digital Imaging, Sony Europe. “We are always listening to our customers’ feedback, pushing hard to deliver innovation that goes far beyond their expectations. There is no better example than this new camera. Combining classic S series sensitivity with a feature set, performance level and user experience that is simply unmatched in the market today — at any price level — the Alpha 7S III opens up a new world of possibilities for today’s creators.”
The system architecture for the new Alpha 7S III has been completely redesigned to deliver exceptional video and still shooting performance. The new 35mm full-frame 12.1MP (approx., effective) back-illuminated Exmor R™ CMOS image sensor reduces rolling shutter by up to three times iv and utilises a variety of advanced light-gathering techniques to ensure high-sensitivity with low noise, allowing users to shoot in low-light situations without needing large-scale lighting setups. In addition to improved image quality, this new image sensor includes a focal plane phase-detection AF system for the first time in an S-series camera. To compliment the new sensor, the Alpha 7S III also includes a new BIONZ XR™ image processing engine that provides up to eight times more processing power iii, minimises processing latency, and enables many of the hallmark still and imaging features of the camera. The new system also includes the world’s brightest x and largest x 9.44 million dot OLED electronic eye-level viewfinder and is the world’s first camera x with dual CFexpress Type A card slots, enabling high-speed data transfer in a compact size.
Professional Video Workflow Solutions
The Alpha 7S III offers in-camera 4K recording up to 120 frames per second i, 10-bit depth and 4:2:2 colour sampling, producing stunning video recording. The new camera offers a more flexible and efficient post-production workflow with a variety of advanced movie recording modes such as All-Intra [xi] and MPEG-H HEVC/H.265 coding (XAVC HS™) [xii]. The Alpha 7S III makes it easy to integrate video recordings with other professional camcorders by providing three colour gamut settings, S-Gamut, S-Gamut3, and S-Gamut3.Cine, allowing users to easily match footage shot on the Alpha 7S III with footage shot on the professional camcorders, simplifying multi-camera post-production workflow. In addition to S-Log3 gamma curves, the Alpha 7S III supports an HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) picture profile with minimum post-production. The Alpha 7S III also allows up to 4K 60p 16-bit RAW output[xiii] to an external recorder via HDMI Type-A[xiv] connector,offering additional post-production flexibility.
Improved Image Quality
The new CMOS image sensor and BIONZ XR™ image processing engine in the Alpha 7S III delivers legendary S-series sensitivity with significantly enhanced colour reproduction and texture renderings for improved overall image quality. The base ISO has been lowered to 80, resulting in a normal range of 80-102,400 (expandable to 80-409,600 for video and 40-409,600 for stills) to provide more flexible ISO plus wide dynamic range with low noise at all settings. It offers improved image quality by approximately 1 stop of noise reduction iv in the middle and high sensitivity ranges.
The colours and textures of foliage, human skin, and more are ideally and consistently reproduced without dependence on light sources. Gradation rendering has also been refined for better looking skin tones and highlight roll-off in portraits. It also improves AWB (Auto White Balance) performance with a new “Visible light + IR Sensor” that helps to achieve more precise white balance under artificial lighting, including fluorescent and LED lights.
Advanced Autofocus Performance for Hybrid use
For the first time in an Alpha 7S series camera, the Alpha 7S III offers Fast Hybrid AF by combining phase-detection and contrast-detection AF, giving it the ability to track subjects over a wide area with outstanding speed, precision and smoothness, even when using a narrow depth of field. Fine focus expression is possible with Sony’s E-mount lenses.
For environments with a lot of movement, Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF are available to maintain constant focus on the intended subject. Sony’s advanced Real-time Eye AF improves detection performance by 30% over the previous system iii, thanks to the new image processing engine. It ensures accurate, reliable detection even when the subject’s face looks away. Real-time Tracking is initiated simply by touching the subject on the screen. Real-time Eye AF is automatically initiated when an eye is detected.
Flexible Autofocus Settings for Movie Shooting
Based on customer feedback, the camera includes several AF features for professional users including AF Transition Speed in seven settings, to easily create rack-focus transitions, and five AF Subject Shift Sensitivity settings, which allows the user to customise how easily AF will switch or stay with the locked-on subject. Touch Tracking allows user to not only initiate Real-time Tracking, but also compose and shoot while using a gimbal or while shooting solo. It’s now possible to Touch Focus during manual focus mode on the LCD screen or remotely from the Imaging Edge Mobile application [xv].
New Heat-dissipating Structure
The Alpha 7S III’s design has been updated to ensure effective heat dissipation and minimise overheating — even during extended continuous recording sessions at 4K 60p 10-bit 4:2:2 video lasting an hour or more [viii]. A newly developed unique heat dissipating structure keeps the image sensor and image processing engine temperatures within their normal operating ranges, preventing overheating while maintaining compact body dimensions. The new heat-dissipating structure requires no fan or cabinet vents allowing Alpha 7S III to maintain dust and moisture resistance [xvi].
Movie Assist Functions
For video on-the-go, the Alpha 7S IIIis the first Alpha series camera to include Active Mode [ix] with 5-axis optical in-body image stabilisation to support especially difficult handheld movie shooting. It is also the first Alpha series E-mount body to feature a side-opening vari-angle rear screen, perfect for gimbal-mounted shots, complicated angles, handheld operation and more. The screen rotates sideways, up and down, and features a 3.0 type 1.44 million-dot (approx.) touch panel LCD monitor, for optimal visibility even in bright outdoor environments.
In addition, the Alpha 7S III provides a selection of new Creative Look with 10 presets that can be used for both photo and video shoots, making it easy to create interesting moods right in the camera to be used as is or customised by the user.
A digital audio interface has been added to the camera’s Multi Interface (MI) Shoe for clearer audio recordings from a compatible Sony external microphone. Used with Sony’s XLR-K3M XLR Adaptor Kit, the Alpha 7S III provides 4-channel 24-bit digital audio recording capability in an Alpha series camera for the first time. Like other MI shoe accessories, no cables or batteries are required, providing unrestrained freedom for Alpha system moviemaking.
Additional movie assist functions include a redesigned monitor display with a bold, clearly visible red frame that makes it clear when recording is in progress even when mounted on a rig or gimbal, custom zoom settings, adjustable white balance while recording, display rotation, interval recording, still extraction from movies and more.
Outstanding Still Image Photography
The Alpha 7S III includes a fast Hybrid AF system with 759 phase-detection AF points covering 92% of the image sensor. The camera can also achieve high AF precision to accurately and reliably focus in light down to EV-6[xvii] where subjects are difficult to see clearly even with the naked eye. Users can continuously shoot more than 1,000 uncompressed RAW [xiii] mages at up to 10fps, or up to 8fps in live view mode, with either the mechanical or electronic shutter.
The Alpha 7S III also includes the world’s first [x] 9.44 million-dot (approx.), 0.64 type Quad-XGA electronic viewfinder with a high-definition OLED display. The Alpha 7S III viewfinder offers a 0.90x viewfinder magnification [xviii], 41° diagonal field of view, 25mm high eyepoint for clear, low-distortion corner to corner viewing. It is also dust, fog and moisture resistant, extremely responsive and has switchable modes for different subject types. Every aspect of the Alpha 7S III viewfinder has been designed and refined for a professional workflow.
For the first time in one of Sony’s digital cameras, the Alpha 7S III includes HEIF (High Efficiency Image File Format) allowing for smooth 10-bit gradations and advanced compression technology to maintain image quality while significantly reducing file size and saving storage space. HEIF stills shot in this mode can be played back on a compatible Sony HDR (HLG) TV via a direct HDMI Type-A connection from the Alpha 7S III, delivering true-to-life dynamic range[xix].
Versatile Design Made for the Pros
CFexpress Type A for High-speed Data Transfer
In another world first [x], the Alpha 7S III features two CFexpress Type A compatible media slots, which also support UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards, enabling high write-and-read speeds while keeping the camera body compact in size. CFexpress Type A cards are ideally suited to high-speed continuous RAW still image shooting as well as 4K 120p [i] movie recording at high bit rates[xx], providing next-generation write speeds that can quickly clear the buffers of cameras that generate high volumes of still image and movie data. High-speed data transfer to a PC is possible at about 1.7 times faster[xxi] than that of SD cards. The dual slots can be set to relay mode for extended continuous recording of even the highest bit rate data as well as simultaneous recording and sort by format type recording.
Revised Menu System with Enhanced Touch Screen
The Alpha 7S III also features a revised menu structure for easier navigation and touch-responsive menu operation for faster, more intuitive control. For creators who shoot both stills and movies, separate settings can now be stored for stills and movie shooting for quick transition between the two.
High Reliability Gives Creators New Freedom
Professional users need more than just refined features and performance. They also need the reliability and durability demanded of any professional tool. The Alpha 7S III features a redesigned grip for greater comfort and a secure hold, an improved dust removal feature, plus dust and moisture resistance that maximises reliability in challenging environments. It includes a durable, reliable HDMI Type-A connector, and is the first Alpha series camera to support USB PD (Power Delivery), allowing higher power to be supplied from an external source so that users can continue to record for extended periods with minimal internal battery usage.
Advanced Connectivity for Professional Working Environments
The Alpha 7S III has been designed and configured to support photo and video journalists and sports shooters who need to deliver stills or movies as quickly as possible with several advanced connectivity options. The camera supports 5GHz[xxii]/2.4GHz wireless LAN (IEEE 802.11ac) and offers MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) to improve communication quality by using multiple antennas, doubling in speed when compared to the Alpha7R IV.It also carries new USB tethering support[xxiii]. When connected to a 5G (5th generation technology standard for cellular networks) compatible device such as Sony’s “Xperia 1 II” smartphone via USB cable, it is possible to use 5G network for fast and stable FTP file transfer[xxiv]. USB to high-speed wired LAN connectivity[xxv] also offers stable and fast FTP transfer for both movies and stills. A USB Type-C™ connector that supports fast SuperSpeed USB 5Gbps (USB 3.2) data transfer is provided, enabling high-speed PC Remote (tethered) data transfer available for smooth handling of large image files.
Pricing and Availability
The new Alpha 7S III Full-frame Interchangeable Lens Camera will be available in September 2020 priced at approximately $3,499.99 USD and $4,799.99 CAD.
[i]When compared to the BIONZ X™ image processor
[ii]When compared to Alpha7S II
[iii] 40 to 409,600 for stills and 80 to 409,600 for movies. Sony test conditions
[iv] When shooting full-frame still images. The number of AF points used depends on the shooting mode.
[v] This function does not track animal eyes
[vi] Sony test conditions. XAVC S-I 10-bit 4:2:2, 25 deg C (ambient, camera when recording started), Auto Power Off Temperature: High. The value will vary depending on the shooting conditions.
[vii] In active mode, the shooting angle of view is slightly narrowed. If the focal length is 200 mm or more, it is recommended to set to standard
[viii] As of July 2020, Sony survey. Among full-frame mirrorless cameras
[ix] Up to 10fps in continuous “Hi+” mode, and up to 8fps in continuous “Hi” mode Maximum fps will depend on camera settings
[x] Requires CFexpress Type A memory card
[xi] When XAVC S-I 4K or HD is selected via the file format menu
[xii] Requires compatible memory card
[xiii]Atomos Ninja V HDR monitor-recorder support planned. As of July 2020
[xiv] Sony’s Premium High Speed HDMI Cable DLC-HX10 recommended
[xv] Imaging Edge Mobile Ver. 7.4 or later required
[xvi]Not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture proof
[xvii] ISO 100 equivalent, F2.0 lens, AF-S mode
[xviii] 50mm lens, infinity, -1m-1 diopter
[xix] Desktop application “HEIF Converter” for displaying and editing HEIF format is planned to launch in September 2020
[xx] 4:2:2 10-bit All-I, when recording slow motion
[xxi] Sony test conditions.
[xxii] 5 GHz communication may be restricted in some countries and regions
[xxiii] Power Delivery supported smartphone is required
[xxiv] Does not guarantee connection with all smartphone. FTP file transfer by USB tethering that utilises 4G network is also possible
[xxv] A compatible USB-Ethernet adapter is required