Sony a7S III Announced: The Best Hybrid Camera Ever?

Sony a7S III Announced: The Best Hybrid Camera Ever?

We’ve all felt the undying anticipation for this day to finally come, so without further delay let’s get straight into the details. For your safety and the safety of those around you, please remain seated with your seatbelt fastened.

Exmor R Sensor

The a7S III uses an upgraded 12-megapixel Exmor R image sensor with a backside-illuminated structure for improved light gathering. It’s “purpose built,” as Sony calls it, with 12 megapixels spanning the full-frame sensor for larger pixels with better noise handling, dynamic range, and sensitivity compared to high megapixel full-frame sensors.

The new camera will have an ISO range of 80–102,400, is expandable to 40–409,600, and Sony claims 15-plus stops of dynamic range using S-Log 3. In S-Log 2 and S-Log 3, the base ISO has dropped to 640. The a7S III sensor has two times the readout speed of the a7S II to support higher frame rates, faster autofocus, and minimized rolling shutter effects.

Not surprisingly, the camera features 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization for 5.5 stops of shake compensation.

BIONZ XR Processor

Sony is starting a new chapter with the release of the a7S III. Inside the original a7 announced in 2013 and with every mirrorless Alpha camera since, they’ve used a variation of the BIONZ X processor. Now, there’s BIONZ XR.

The BIONZ XR processor inside the a7S III has eight times the processing power over the previous generation BIONZ X. What can be done with that kind of power? According to Sony, the new processor affects performance of the camera in basically every aspect. From minimizing latency for video and stills processing, to improved color reproduction and natural gradation, to sustained high EVF and monitor refresh rates during heavy processing, to faster autofocus and autoexposure processing including face and eye detection. As we’ll come to see below, it also enables the a7S III’s high data rate video with high speed processing and faster write speeds for memory cards.

Video

As expressed by Sony, it was their ultimate goal with the a7S III to deliver the best 4K video performance. In doing so, it’s true that they are forgoing the flashy headlines of having 6K and 8K video recording capabilities. 

The new model shoots 4K with full pixel readout and no binning in all recording modes, and across the board is capable of 10-bit 4:2:2 internally. Standard shooting frame rates for 4K in camera include 24, 30, 60, and 120. For Full HD, up to 240p can be recorded in camera.

The a7S III is capable of full-frame 16-bit raw output up to 60p to a compatible recorder via its full-size HDMI Type A terminal. Also, it can now simultaneously display the picture through the on-camera monitor as well as the external recorder.

Except when using the highest frame rates, there is no crop. Sony calls the 4K120p and FHD 240p crops “minimal” with only about a 1.1x crop factor.

Joining Sony’s long-used XAVC-S H.264 MP4 recording format in the a7S III is a new XAVC-HS H.265 HEVC format with doubled compression efficiency as well as an XAVC-SI (All-Intra) H.264 format with up to 600 Mbps bitrate in 4K and Full HD.

With all the various video formats and options, recording times will vary depending on many factors. Sony detailed the following times to me all based on the most demanding All-Intra (XAVC-SI) format recording at 4K 10-bit 4:2:2. Lesser demanding formats and resolutions would be expected to yield longer recording durations. Testing was done internally by Sony with 77 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees C) ambient temperature and “Auto Power Off” temperature set to “High.” Depending on different shooting conditions these durations will vary:

  • XAVC-SI, 4K60p 10-bit 4:2:2, camera running on battery: Over 1 hour, until battery ends.
  • XAVC-SI, 4K60p 10-bit 4:2:2, camera running on USB-C power supply: 4 hours.
  • XAVC-SI, 4K120p 10-bit 4:2:2, camera running on battery: Over 30 minutes, until second 160 GB CFexpress Type A memory card gets full.

That the last item, All-Intra 4K120p, requires shooting in S&Q mode (XAVC-S 4K120p and XAVC-HS 4K120p can be shot as standard video). All-Intra 4K120p in S&Q mode defaults to the highest data rate per frame (10 Mb/frame) for the best picture quality, resulting in a whopping data rate of 1.2 Gbps. All 120 frames per second are recorded and set to a 60p frame rate (2x slower timeline). It should be noted that S&Q mode does not record audio.

For the first time in an a7-series camera, Sony is adding “active mode” which combines the optical sensor shift stabilization with an electronic stabilization for better handheld shooting shake compensation. Sony said active mode will maintain the full 4K 3840x2160 resolution with a slight crop.

Other improvements include inheriting the same time code functionality as the a7R IV and a9 II as well as the ability to now change white balance while recording.

Autofocus

With the a7S III, Sony has added 759 phase detect autofocus points for 92 percent coverage in addition to the contrast detect autofocus that was solely present on the a7S II. It will have Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF for photo and video capture. Thanks to the BIONZ XR, subject recognition is 30 percent faster than with the BIONZ X. 

All video modes will support autofocus, including 4K120p.

One new autofocus setting present on the a7S III is AF Transition Speed which is configurable to seven different speeds for rack focus style shots.

Stills

While this time around Sony has resolutely placed the a7S III as a video-first camera, it can adequately function as a stills camera as well. In addition to the lowered base ISO of 80 (one-third of a stop down from ISO 100 for quick reference), phase detect autofocus, and Real-time Tracking capabilities mentioned above, there’s 10 fps mechanical and silent continuous shooting (8 fps without the same old drawbacks of Hi+ mode), up to a 1,000 shot raw+jpeg buffer, newly added HEIF support, and it can autofocus down to EV -6. Sony claims improved dynamic range and tonal gradation, plus with its visible light and infrared sensor, better white balance accuracy in artificial light.

As you’ll read in the section below, despite the megapixel count, this may yet be Sony’s finest execution of a hybrid camera so far.

All New Menu System

One of the most longstanding yet unaddressed requests to Sony has been for an improved camera menu experience. With the a7S III, Sony has finally made that leap forward with not only its new visual interface and menu structure but also its touch functionality. The menu now shows vertically placed tabs on the far left side with two additional columns of options to more easily see settings that can be buried deeper in the submenus. Users can now navigate the new menu system, Fn quick menu, and record and playback modes using touch. Unfortunately it does not appear that they’ve added a search function yet, however time will tell if the new interface is more intuitively laid out to where search is no longer a common request.

It doesn’t stop with a new look and touch capabilities though. Sony is changing the way the menu is presented while in stills and video modes. While in a stills mode using the top dial of the camera (e.g., M, S, A, P), the menu will only display settings that pertain to stills shooting. Once the mode changes to a movie setting, the menu now shows the settings that pertain to video shooting. In practice that means during initial setup of the camera, instead of diving through all the menu options in one fell swoop, you will setup your stills settings, turn the top dial to a movie mode, and continue setting up the video settings. After that initial setup, since the quantity of menu settings are more limited in any one mode, it should theoretically be faster and easier to find something.

Along the same vein as splitting up stills and movie menu settings, a7S III users can also retain camera settings such as shutter speed and picture profile when switching between these modes. So for example, one can keep their movie mode in the S-Log3 profile at 1/50 s shutter speed and keep their Manual stills mode at 1/2000 s shutter speed and no picture profile enabled. In the menu, users can pick and choose which of these settings will be independently retained between modes with the following options: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, metering mode, white balance, picture profile, and focus mode.

Design

The Sony a7S III weighs 1.35 pounds (614 grams) and measures in at 5.07 x 3.81 x 2.74 inches (128.9 x 96.9 x 69.7 millimeters). The overall body shape fits right in line with the a7R IV and a9 II which brought an even more beefy grip over their previous generations. Given its matching form factor, it will be compatible with the VG-C4EM Vertical Grip that also works with the a7R IV and a9 II.

One difference between the a7S III and a7R IV or a9 II is that the video record button has been moved to the top of the camera. In return, the customizable C1 button that it replaces is now moved to where the video record button is normally located on the other models. The record button can customized to do other functions, and other customizable buttons on the camera can be set to record video.

A huge upgrade from the a7S II, the new a7S III now uses Sony’s higher capacity NP-FZ100 batteries. Battery life is quoted as 95 minutes for video recording (not further specified at time of publishing), or CIPA rated for 610 photos while using the LCD monitor.

Both the viewfinder and rear LCD monitor are seeing big changes with the a7S III. The viewfinder uses the world’s first QXGA 9.44 million-dot OLED EVF, nearly double the resolution of the next highest EVF found in the a7R IV. It sports new optics with a 0.90x magnification and 41 degree field of view for a 25mm high eyepoint. A new camera setting will allow users to reduce this wide field of view down to 34 degrees for a 35mm high eyepoint which will be better for those wearing glasses.

As a video-focused camera, Sony has granted the a7S III with a side opening vari-angle touchscreen monitor that is designed to work much like the recently released ZV-1. The 3-inch 1.44 million-dot screen is able to rotate 180 degrees while flipped out for front-side monitoring. One drawback to this design is that any cords running out the side of the camera will get in the way of angling the screen.

Inside the camera, Sony notes that it’s been designed quite a bit differently than an a7R IV due to a new heat-dissipating structure. Moving heat away from the sensor and processor, Sony claims this structure has five times the capability over previous models. There’s also a new “anti-dust system” plus improved dust and moisture resistance.

Connectivity

Inside the lefthand covers, there’s a multitude of connection ports including a microphone input, headphone output, USB Micro, HDMI Type-A, and USB Type-C. The USB-C port has PD (Power Delivery) support for fast charging and continuous operation, and can accept a wired LAN adaptor. PC remote shooting can be performed through the 2.4 GHz/5 GHz wireless LAN or tethering via USB.

The hot shoe, like the a7R IV and a9 II, is a Digital Multi Interface shoe which communicates with audio accessories like the ECM-B1M shotgun microphone and XLR-K3M without the need for cables running into the camera. The a7S III and XLR-K3M together supports 4-channel 24-bit audio recording.

Storage

The a7S III has dual card slots which will accept either the all new CFexpress Type A media or SD UHS-II memory cards. Both the top and bottom slots are the same speed and simultaneous recording to the two inserted memory cards is possible.

The CFexpress Type A memory cards are compact and will have an 800 MB/s read speed and 700 MB/s write speed. They will come in two sizes: 80 GB which will cost $198 and 160 GB which will be $398. Sony is also releasing an CFexpress Type A / SD memory card reader for $118. Sony’s CFexpress Type A cards have an internal heat sink structure and enable the a7S III to shoot at 4K All-I 120p 10-bit 4:2:2. All other recording modes, including 4K60p All-I with 600 Mbps bitrate, can be done with the appropriately specced SD card. For many, buying a new set of memory cards will not be a necessity when purchasing the a7S III.

As with the a7R IV and a9 II, users can now save out their camera setting preferences to a memory card to be recalled later.

Price and Availability

The Sony a7S III is priced at $3,498 and will begin shipping September 24, 2020.

Log in or register to post comments

23 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

I wouldn't call it the best hybrid ever because it doesn't really balance stills/video the best; it looks to be GREAT for video, but not better than anything else for stills (except much lower resolution). It may be the best hybrid camera for video, though, depending on how you compare it to the Panny S1H. 16-bit video out is incredible, though.

The EVF excites me the most. I knew it would be 9.44m dot, which is amazing already, but it's also 0.90x magnification. I love my Z6 EVF and one reason is that it's a little higher than most others (I think it's 0.80x). 0.90x is a huge jump and very very cool, because it'll likely end up in other manufacturers' cameras (**crosses fingers for the Z7s or Z8**).

Christian Fiore's picture

As far as photo goes, it should be up there near the A9 II in performance. A sensor with 3x the readout speed of the previous camera, paired with new dual processors with 8x(!) the processing power, along with the most OSPDAF points ever for a Sony camera and highest AF sensitivity ever for a Sony camera (both more than A9 II), plus a buffer that can handle a continuous burst of 1000 uncompressed RAWs (also more than A9 II) at 10fps, means this camera will also be one of the better sports cameras out there. Especially with the crazy high ISO quality that will ensure clean images in any sports location. It even has high speed Wifi and an Ethernet adapter for working pros to get photos and video to their editor ASAP. FPS would be the only limitation, as DSLRs are 50% faster, and mirrorless 100% faster ,on the top cameras, but 10fps isn't anything to complain about.

And yes, the EVF has the highest magnification of any DSLR or mirrorless ever. Most likely on mirrorless because of the resolution. Going too high with lower resolutions would make things look blocky, but this EVF is roughly 1080p (designed to be 1/4 the resolution of 4K for easier processing). You can even reduce the size of the image in the EVF to suit different viewpoints.

Santiago Olay's picture

I can only agree with you. I don´t now why everyone is so crazy about the 12 MPx sensor, when this will be a very good match for many kinds of photographers. Im thinking about events, for example. If you own another Sony body and lenses, this could make it for a magnificent video camera, a backup stills camera when you dont need to print 1 meter side copies, and a magnificent stills camera for low light.

Yin Ze's picture

for that price and the paltry megaixel you gotta be kidding. we deserve better. we should expect better for the price.

Alex Herbert's picture

Nah mate, we really don't... they can have my money with this!

Yin Ze's picture

exactly my point.

Stefan Brink's picture

This is a video centric camera and the low resolution absolutely makes sense for it. It allows a faster Sensor readout and less noise.

Christian Fiore's picture

Meanwhile, you're getting the cleanest photos ever out of that "'paltry' megapixel".

Yin Ze's picture

who cares about clean when your images are only 12 megapixel. sorry, i am not hopping on the Sony time machine back to 2007 when I was shooting with D3 no matter how clean the images are they are still 12 megapixel. Canon r5 is way better all round. I have a9 and a7riv and feel like r5 hits the sweet spot for stills and video. i travel a lot and would prefer to consolidate my gear to bodies that do both stills and video well. now i have to choose between a9 and a7riv for different situations.
r5 is a better solution most of the time when i am not shooting a meteorite or stuck in a bat cave.

Jaspreet Sidhu's picture

It'll have ridiculous noise reduction. 12mp is more than enough. Will be an amazing body for astro shooters, video shooters, and any environment where low light performance matters.

Yin Ze's picture

i shoot with a9 and a7riv. problem with sony is you need one camera for every situation. if i want speed i need a9, if i need high-megapixel i have to grab the af-compromised a7riv. if i need to shoot past 7pm or get decent video I need a7s3. i run a business and do not have an unlimited budget for every sort of situation. while the a7s3 low-light is impressive most of the time I am not shooting pictures of meteorites or stuck in a cave. Canon r5 delivers way more options for hybrid shooter and being able to grab stills from 8k raw is a huge benefit for me.

Jaspreet Sidhu's picture

Don't make your workflow work around a system. Make your system suit your workflow. Kind of sucks that you're in that situation. Hopefully everything works out.

Marc CORBI's picture

4200€ for a rather low definition in 4K based on Jared test a7sIII vs R5 4500€, with an almost ineffective stabilisation (Jared Test), a smartphone photo quality (12MP), no sensor protection while changing lenses with a nice spot in middle of Jared test .....
Looks far from a winner in any segment (vidéo or Photo).

Christian Fiore's picture

" a smartphone photo quality (12MP)"

Which invalidates your entire post...

Edison Wrzosek's picture

That post was just so full of shit, thanks for the laugh...

Matt Williams's picture

literally none of what you said is an intelligent thing to have said

Charles Mercier's picture

As the other article's video says, seems like this is great for video but for photos, the a9II seems to be the way to go.

Yin Ze's picture

this is the problem with sony. you need a different camera for every situation. good for sony bad for my back and wallet.

Chad Andreo's picture

It is more of a videocentric camera than a hybrid.

Yin Ze's picture

that's why r5 is way better option. i want to carry one sony body that does both well. now i have to carry 4 bodies. 2 a9 for speed. a7riv for resolution and a7s3 for shooting decent video after 7pm.

Chad Andreo's picture

Haha! sounds about right.

Sky Makai's picture

Is the chart for video modes incorrect to show that a CFExpress Type A is needed for the last 240Mbps codec instead of the second to last 600Mbps codec?

Jason Lorette's picture

If they'd upped the MP to about 20-24, and dropped the price by about $500 this would have had me considering switching from Nikon as there would have be as close to a perfect hybrid camera as you can currently get.
Darn nice video camera though...but expensive for just that.