#670. Monday Post (20 Nov 2017) –  What’s the Sony A7r3 really like ?

#670. Monday Post (20 Nov 2017) – What’s the Sony A7r3 really like ?

As the first Sony A7r3 bodies are being delivered to their lucky owners, dpreview published this studio scene comparison that shows how effective the new pixel-shift feature really is. The superb Nikon D850’s performance is also noteworthy : regularly a notch above the exceptional Sony A7r2 and sometimes even the equal of the Sony A7r3 with pixel shift !

 

 

More interesting to me is the performance of the non pixel-shifted A7r3 to the A7r2. In the lower-right corner, the lab test is a bit of a horror show for the pixel-shifted A7r3, which displays so much lateral colour it looks like a national flag, but that’s probably down to the lens (hopefully !!!). More interesting still, I find the A7r2 at least as good as the newer version, in that area. The same goes on the playing cards, Sergeant Pepper’s, the ponytail, the little ruler thingy (where the A7r3 not only shows a little less detail but also a bit more moirรฉ …).

 

 

This is not to say the A7r3 is an inferior product to its older brother. But it’s plainly obvious from this test that Sony haven’t plaid the massive-image-quality-improvement card in this iteration.

The step up from the A7r to the A7r2 brought about a mix of quantitative and qualitative improvements. Increased resolution, better colour (much better), less debilitating shutter noise … It’s made the A7r2 so good – in most situations – that you wonder what it is that can make anyone upgrade today. What’s that A7r3 really like to use ?

 

 

Well, judging by the initial reports of Sony’s influencer marketing program, it’s more or less the same camera … with most of the complaints addressed (battery life, …) and lots of super useful tweaks (shutter noise and damping, super AF, even better IBIS, even better EVF, 1/2 more dynamic range, at least as much more noise reduction …) plus a bunch of useless video crap features, I’m guessing. Oh, and pixel-shift that does appear to work really well. So … yeah, more or less the same camera, but rather more than less ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

 

Sony have taken a flawed masterpiece and made it less flawed. But, have they made it more masterpiece as well? It doesn’t look like it on first impressions. Early videos suggested A7r2 owners keep their cameras if IQ was the only motivation for an upgrade. And dpreview’s lab comparison appears to support the same conclusion.

But is that really the case ? Sony mention processor and circuit improvements and these should have a marked impact on image quality. Where has that gone?

 

 

Scientific truth, that’s where! Reports indicate that the “star-eater” processing has disappeared from the RAW files. And I’m guessing that the improvements in DR and noise come from enhanced circuits not software. This has fewer negative side effects and would make the shooting envelope of this glorious camera even greater than the previous offered.

So it looks to me like Sony have not just made this camera even more desirable to the existing customer base but have expanded that base to include astro photographers and, possibly those who were scared away from the system by very difficult colour shifts that still plague the A7r2 in some occasional situations. All without a radical step in technology, which will take a few years to flourish.

 

 

All of this is pure speculation, of course. Until new owners report what they are seeing in meaningful ways, we’ll be in the dark, as the number of official samples offered by the mothership is close to zilch. Right now, we’re seeing plenty of evidence the pixel-shift is living up to expectations and that all the announcements are borne out in real life (battery life, shutter quality …).

Technologically and strategically, then, this stirs a feeling of utmost respect for the brand.

But it still doesn’t answer the question : what’s the A7r3 really like ?

 

 

Well, even less shutter noise and bounce, a better grip, a better battery, a better EVF, a better IBIS, the video button tucked neatly out of the way, a My Menu and better ergonomics … to me, all of this adds up to a piece of machinery that’s utterly bling-free and gets out of your way. A transparent lens holder of the highest quality. A workhorse like some of the medium format film cameras of old had come to be, a generation ago.

Hmmm …

Could I be falling in love with an unlovable camera that I’ve not even held in my hand has lower lab IQ than its predecessor? Now that’s an intriguing thought …

 


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18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Joakim Danielson November 20, 2017

    I like that this is more of an incremental upgrade, it actually makes me more interested in this camera than if it had been all about new fantastic bells and whistles so to speak. I hope weโ€™ll see something similar in the A7 III as well.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 20, 2017

      Yes, the last thing we wanted to see was a higher pixel count with none of the flaws corrected. Sony really seem to have hit a bullseye here. Same IQ much better camera. It takes guts and the amount of preordering seems to prove them right.

  2. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron November 20, 2017

    Careful how you treat, Pascal. Example – check out how that pixel shift thing works (it’s not as simple as I’d want it to be, before I took that one on board).

    Seems to me there are lots of A7rII owners circling, like flies around the honey pot.

    Well I have a similar problem with Nik’s D850 – should I? – or not? Even ignoring the price tag (which is actually quite hefty), I seriously wonder what it would add to my photography. And that question remains unanswered, even after all the hype, the reviews and the sample photos.

    I am led to believe it would add a stop to dynamic range, which could prove useful in a very small number of cases, when I am shooting available light stuff at night – noting critical. And of course it has a tilt screen, which might be handy. Then again, it might not – I doubt I would use it much on my full frame cam, with a Otus hanging off the front of it – too heavy, for situations where a tilt screen comes in handy.

    Not convinced by the pixel count – I think that’s like legerdemain – throw it out and see what the public makes of it. It DID make a difference, coming forward from the cams of 15 years ago and increasing pixel count to 24MP or 36MP. Going past that, my suspicion is that the pros are right – to get any real benefit from higher pixel counts, you need to go medium format. At the moment, my suspicion is that any benefit in going much past 36MP is going to find itself in conflict with other failings of smaller pixels – some shots might be better, others might be worse.

    And I suspect that chasing pixel counts like 42 or 45 MP isn’t going to be a magic potion, till “they” work up a better sensor and a better processor. Maybe they’ll do that – but they haven’t yet. Current sensor and processor technology hasn’t changed all that much for some years.

    What really puzzles me is why does it matter. I print my photos, so I know why it matters to me – I can SEE the difference, in my prints. But nobody on this planet can make that claim, if they only view their photos on a digital screen – which is apparently how over 99% of photographs are viewed, these days. These cameras give images with 4 or 5 times the pixel count of a digital screen.

    I came across an interesting article recently which explained in great depth why this discussion trips over on its face, when the comparison is made between a FF DSLR and any half decent MF camera. It’s not just the number of pixels – because they are larger, they carry more information, and you get far more information in the highlights. Look at the price tags – ask yourself why a pro would pay 3 times as much for a bulkier camera – he has a business to run, it has to run at a profit, so why the extra spend? It’s because in his market – advertising, for example – that extra image quality isn’t optional – it’s vital, if they want to get the work.

    Not that any of this matters. We all make our own decisions. That’s democracy at work. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 20, 2017

      Well, I agree with what you say, but that’s what makes the camera so interesting. It makes no claims of better IQ but provides a much better shooting experience and corrects some of the processing flaws of its predecessor. It might not change the quality of prints on the wall, but it will make making them more enjoyable AND expand the scope of possibilities. It’s not for everyone but it really seems to be a very interesting camera. Can’t wait to try it out ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Avatar
        jean pierre (pete) guaron November 22, 2017

        Well I’ve pretty much made up my mind. The D850 is “interesting”, but not “essential”. The D810 is a wonderful camera, and within the confines of an FF sensor the possibility of anything being vastly better than the D810 is rather fanciful. One advantage of the D850 is a tilt screen, but Nikon should have included that on the D810 and if it costs them a sale, it’s their own bloody silly fault. Another is getting rid of the built in flash, which I have virtually no use for and which gets in the way of the tilt-shift lenses – again those collisions are Nikon’s fault, they’ve been flogging their tilt-shifts for YEARS longer than their D810 and they should be ashamed for creating that issue, so resolving it in the D850 is underwhelming. A few extra pixels? – to do what, precisely? I have two different cams at about 24 MP and the D810 at 36 MP, and that’s a far bigger jump (50%) than the 14-15% jump from the D810 to the A7RIII or the D850. Anyway, the point of the latest jump is lost on me – I agree with Ken Rockwell that if this REALLY matters all that much, I should go medium format. And I won’t, because I’m in love with my Otus lenses.

        So instead of spending over $5 grand on another Nikon body, I’m thinking of getting another LED flood, and maybe look at the Sigma quattro with its Foveon sensor – just for laughs, to try that out – I know it’s slow, but OMG it takes phenomenal photos! That would expand my photography – more of the same would not!

        But as I said before – not that any of this matters – we all make our own decisions.

        0…

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy November 23, 2017

          I think quite a few users, irrespective of the brand, will be skipping a generation or two of these cameras. They are too close to one another to justify the expense.

  3. Avatar
    Brian November 21, 2017

    I’ll wait for the A7R IV or maybe beyond. I’m already a A7 R II owner and an Olympus OMD EM-1 Mk II owner. I love the small compact lenses especially the 300 f4 and 40-150 f2.8 of the Olympus system when compared to FF.

    As you will infer from the above, I’ve recently really changed my main system away from Sony to Olympus. The only Sony E mount lenses I now own are the Loxia 21 and the 70-300 zoom which may or may not stay. Sony now acts as the color box to compliment my Leica M7 (shooting Tri X) together with my Zeiss Primes of 35mm f1.4 Distagon and 50mm f2 Planar.

    By the way, the Olympus Pro zoom lens are excellent and I like the features included in the Olympus body.

    So I either go out with Leica Sony or Olympus.

    Thus, for me, the new Sony is not worth considering. The laws of physics may also hinder me getting back into really serious FF shooting as I can do my BIF shoots now with Olympus. The attraction of FF Sony for me comes mainly at the WA to Normal range with a tele zoom tucked in because you never know!

  4. Avatar
    Tarmo November 21, 2017

    CA is a function of lens performance and has nothing to do with the sensor (barring some weird cover glass aberrations, but that seems unlikely). Probably DXOmark used a different lens or a different aperture setting, and if not, that would imply corrections applied to RAW files in mk2 (bad).

    I didn’t look carefully but I think I noticed higher CA in pixel shift images. That could be a result of demosaicing (colour interpolation) making educated guesses on the actual shapes in the image, which *could* unintentionally eliminate some of the CA. But that’s pure speculation, and again, pixel shift version would be a “truer” version of the image and correctable to same or better result in post processing.

    • Avatar
      Brian November 23, 2017

      What I meant to really say, but on reflection did not, is that for most uses the Mk II remains a really viable camera for many years and although the Mk III improves on it, is that enough to trigger a switch. IBIS and 42 mpx was what triggered me to the Mk II. I found better systems for my some of my other needs down sensor size in MFT.

      We can also be sure a Mk IV or A9 II will along sooner rather that 2 years later so what do we really miss out on if you are a satisfied Mk II shooter. I can see that if you require a real do it all then there may be some attractions.

      However if you are happy with your style of shooting with your current kit them maybe the latest shiny thing is not really for you. However, wants, needs, ability to pay are not always logical.

      I can safely predict the next model will be better and given Sony’s ambitions will not be too long away.

      • Avatar
        pascaljappy November 23, 2017

        I agree. The mk3 is an excellent camera that seems to deserve a lot of respect and will probably be much loved by its owners. It’s certainly made me very envious. But I’ll save my money for mk4, given how good the mk2 already is. Battery life is one thing, but IQ takes precedence ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 23, 2017

      Whatever the reason, that’s very high colour aberration. I’m sure Sony will look into it soon because it makes the whole point of pixel-shit mute. On the image, it seems too regular to be lens aberration, but I have no idea of what it could be. No doubt owners will let us know.

      • Avatar
        Steffen November 27, 2017

        Dpreview changed the lens from the Sony 55/1.8 ZA to the Sony 85/1.8. Both are maybe not the perfect tools to pixel-peep sensors and changing them wasn’t a great idea too.

        Star-eater is said to be still an issue too. No changes here. Was just a wrong test method. Whatever you think about this issue at all.

  5. Avatar
    Adrian November 23, 2017

    I’m not surprised by the lack of obvious difference or improvement in image quality between the older A7R2 and the new A7R3. The sensor is clearly closely related to the one use in the A99mk2, which has the 42Mp of the A7R2 but with higher frame rates. Clearly this sensor was designed to improve read out and data transfer speeds, so the changes are “under the bonnet” rather that at the front of the sensor where the light is gathered. That the original 42Mp sensor was so good means that further improvement may not be possible until we move to the next generation of devices, and was already so good that it is still better than most of the competition.

    With relatively quick product development cycles, you have to consider what were Sony’s aims with each generation of product. Typically, you can partly guess from what has been seen in the last APS-C cameras, which are often a test bed for whatever is new before it makes it to full frame. The “mark 3” camera is obviously an iteration designed to deal with some of the last remaining complaints about the previous camera, with some engineering know-how taken from the 20fps A9.

    As someone who came to the A7R2 only recently (in the knowledge that it was likely to be superseded by a newer model in the near future), who has other E mount cameras for other purposes, and who has a bag full of batteries, much as the “mark 3” seems a very good camera, the cost of upgrade doesn’t justify the improvements across the bodies I already own. In fact, a good deal on an A6500 was a far more cost effective solution to some of my needs – which takes nothing away from the A7R3, but probably speaks for the capabilities that the entire E mount range offer – often unique and sometimes good value.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 23, 2017

      Couldn’t agree more. The mk3 version is an incredible camera. *Almost* perfect. But for some use cases such as yours (described in your comment) or mine (don’t mind about battery life, have no AF lenses, don’t understand the meaning of the word “video” …) upgrading doesn’t make much sense.

      Any rumours about mk4, yet?

  6. Avatar
    Bob Hamilton November 23, 2017

    Received mine on Monday and it’s probably best summed up in 2 words – “wonderful camera”…….and, in a few more words, undoubtedly the best camera I’ve yet used (which includes Leica and Hasselblad medium format cameras). It’s the proverbial jack of all trades and master of most and a testament to how very far Sony has come in such a very short time. The build quality, ergonomics, battery life and autofocus are vastly improved and, allied to those wonderful G Master lenses, it’s capable of superlative output and is a very sensible move from Sony – take an already excellent camera, retain the best of it but completely overhaul what wasn’t so good and the result is a winner. From an initial few frames, the colour palette also looks to be much improved.
    Bob

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 24, 2017

      Bob, that last sentence is a tipping point for me ๐Ÿ˜‰ As much as I admire this new camera, I won’t buy it unless there is some visible bonus. Better colours would be a huge plus. If your experiments confirm that first impression, can you let us know?

      Enjoy ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron November 25, 2017

    I have a suggestion. Some of you are so obviously hell bent on buying an A7RIII, why don’t you just do it?

    Perhaps this will encourage you:

    TIME Magazine has named the Sony a7R III one of its top 10 gadgets of 2017. It was the only camera that made the illustrious list this year, receiving high praise from TIME, who dubbed it “one of the best mirrorless cameras ever made.”

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy November 26, 2017

      Not sure who le Hell bent on buying one here. As much as we admire it, 3 out of 4 A7r2 owners in the troop are keeping it and not upgrading. Next time maybe. Unless something convinces us IQ has improved in a significant way.

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