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Sony A7S III: Just when I thought Canon took the lead…

Canon made a huge statement with the launch of the EOS R5. 8K video. A 45MP sensor. Some ridiculous numbers for a camera that small, especially a mirrorless one coming out of a company like Canon. It was a huge leap for them, but in the days since its launch, whether it was the right leap or not is up for debate.

Then Sony, the company that I think really kicked the mirrorless revolution into high gear, announces a brand new camera that fans have been waiting for over 5 years for. The Sony A7S III, and instead of going after those crazy numbers, the resulting camera almost feels modest. After all, the A7S III can’t shoot 8K because it only has a 12.1MP sensor.

But, looking at how Sony arrived at this camera made me realise that what they did is no less impressive than what Canon did. Sony just took a different approach.

Yes, the full-frame Sony A7S III is a proper mirrorless camera that has fewer megapixels than most smartphones out right now. That said, the reason for this is actually something that will be familiar to a lot of smartphone photographers out there because the basic principle here is that the fewer pixels you have, the larger each pixel can be. And that feeds into the A7S III’s biggest strength: its ability to “see in the dark”.

Unlike the A7R line that’s focused on high-resolution images, the A7S was always about low-light performance and the A7S III improves on that by quite a significant margin. According to Sony, the new BIONZ XR image processing engine will allow the camera to deliver on its “legendary” sensitivity, but more importantly also enhance colour reproduction and texture renderings.

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While the A7S III has an ISO range of 80-409,600 (expanded), Sony claims that the Mark III will have improved image quality by “approximately 1 stop of noise reduction” in the mid and high sensitivity range. The new sensor will also apparently provide “wide dynamic range with low noise at all settings”.

SOURCE: Kai W

And having seen a couple of side-by-sides with the A7S II, I have to say that the difference is definitely noticeable. Images look way cleaner on the A7S III which is great because it means your usable ISO range is now even wider than before.

Being primarily focused on videography, the A7S III does still pack some awesome video recording chops. Sure, it doesn’t do 8K, but it’ll do up to 4K 120fps and 10-bit 4:2:2 colour depth with 15 stops of dynamic range. You can also get 4K 60p 16-bit RAW video output if you hook it up to an external recorder via the full-sized HDMI port. Yes, there’s a full-sized HDMI port on a camera.

Naturally, you can also shoot in HLG and S-Log3, but Sony claims to have also improved the colour science on the new cameras for more consistent production of colours and textures like skin tone and foliage among others.

A7S III also brings its autofocusing capabilities up to modern standards. There’s a new Hybrid AF system (phase+contrast) with 759 points covering 92% of the image sensor. It’ll also do Real-time Tracking and Real-time Eye AF which Sony says is a 30% improvement over the previous system.

On top of that, Sony has also given the A7S III a new(-ish) body that looks a little beefier than its predecessor. Probably the biggest change here has to be the fully articulating 1.44 million-dot touchscreen, making this the first Sony Alpha E-mount camera to feature such a screen. It also gets a high-resolution 9.44 million-dot OLED EVF which Sony claims is the brightest and largest one in the world.

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This A7S III also features 5 stops of in-body image stabilisation, with an “Active Mode” that has a bit of a crop factor, but will supposedly offer better stabilisation. The new A7S III is also the first camera to feature two CFExpress Type A card slots. But, these slots are hybrid slots and also support UHS-1 and UHS-2 SDXC/SDHC cards so you won’t need to drop the cool USD200 (~RM850) for the 80GB CFExpress cards.

While the folks over at the Canon camp have to deal with the EOS R5 and its heat problems, the A7S III doesn’t appear to be bogged down by any of that. There are videos out that showcase this camera shooting 4K 60p videos for over an hour (yes, there’s no record limit) under direct sunlight before shutting down. That’s mighty impressive.

There are also a bunch more changes with this new camera, including a revamped menu system (huzzah!), a new button layout and improved touchscreen functionality, so if you want to learn more about that you can head to the Sony website.

Despite the “modest” on-paper specs, I have to say that I’m thoroughly impressed with the A7S III. Right now, this looks like one of if not the most capable video cameras in the market right now. Instead of relying on the shock factor of features like 8K video recording, Sony’s practical approach seems focused on making the best video camera for today’s videographer.

And I love the big emphasis on low-light performance because if I had to pick between super high resolution or super good low-light performance, I’d choose low-light any day of the week. Especially when the “lower resolution” is still Sony’s super crisp 4K video. Plus, 4K at 120 frames per second sounds mouthwatering.

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Sony’s A7S III will be available in Malaysia from October 2020, but there’s no information on how much this camera will retail for here just yet. In the US, the A7S III retails for USD3,499.99 (~RM14,853) for the body-only.

What do you think of the A7S III, especially compared to something like Canon’s beast of an EOS R5? Let me know in the comments below.