I was provided a short-term rental of the Sony Alpha a7S III for review of its video quality. As a user of Sony video cameras with E-mount lenses, such as the FS7, I was excited to see if this more portable, full-frame camera lived up to the hype.
For starters, I was happy with the image. The camera produced beautiful 4K recording at up to 120fps with its 35mm full frame CMOS sensor. I appreciated that 4:2:2 10-bit recording is available in all modes. I feel recording in this mode provides greater range of choices in post-production while still maintaining realism.
Thanks to the new XABC-HS format for h.265, an HEVC codec that almost doubles compression efficiency, I could record 4:2:2 10-bit and keep a check on file size. But for most of my testing, I used everyone’s go-to codec — h.264. On the flip side of file size, the camera offers All-Intra recording and its 600 Mbps rate.
For those used to shooting movies with Sony cameras, you’ll be right at home with S-Log3 (or S-Log2). You can also output 16-bit RAW to an external recorder via HDMI connection.
If you need a higher frame rate, you can get up to 240fps in full HD. However, I found the 120fps to produce clear and smooth slow motion in post-production.
As soon as I held the camera, I noticed the comfortable ergonomics and well-thought button locations. The new touch-driven menu layout was intuitive and easy to navigate. The battery life seemed to hold up well.
A fully articulated LCD screen is essential for me, and Sony’s is wonderful and extremely clear. Seriously — it’s good. The viewfinder has superb resolution. The on-screen display is well laid out and I often used the ability to quickly call-up key settings to toggle.
With very few adjustments out of the box, I felt the colors and image textures I recorded were accurate. Perhaps this is due to the camera’s improved image-processing engine. I encountered very minimal latency. The 5-axis optical image stabilization worked as advertised.
Autofocus is available in all modes and I found it to be highly accurate in my limited shooting, which was mostly close-up subject matter. The camera’s hybrid autofocus borrows from other Sony cameras to combine contrast detection AF with phase-detection AF. The camera also offers touch tracking on the monitor.
What about stills?
I would also like to add that I shot stills with the camera as well. Even though the weather was uncooperative, I was very happy shooting rain action shots in shutter priority mode in the backyard. Great responsiveness, clean midrange ISO on a very gloomy day … and an accurate image.
Low light capabilities
Having a camera that performs in low light is a must for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been sent to record something in a convention center or at a corporate setting where an executive has to catch a flight in five minutes and can’t wait for a lighting setup. This camera is the best I’ve used in low light. Keep in mind, I am not being paid to say this. It really is true.
I was able to get a quality low light image that was clean even at high ISO. Sensitivity can be set up to ISO 102,400 equivalent (expandable to 409,600 for stills). There are 15 stops of dynamic range.
I’ve demoed a few other cameras and, so far, nothing has been this good. Even my Sony FS7 would struggle to compete here, although that is more due to the lack of options for E-mount sub-f/4.0 lenses with servo control. Speaking of lenses, I did demo this camera with two low-light offerings.
The first lens was the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens (B&H | Amazon). Being a wide-angle to short telephone lens, it offered great versatility for almost any video scenario. Focusing was lightning quick and lens operation was basically silent. I love f/2.8 lenses for the increased control I have over environmental situations.
The other lens was the Sony FE 16-35 f/2.8 GM lens (B&H | Amazon). This wide-angle zoom lens was equally strong in low-light conditions. I appreciated the soft and subtle bokeh I was able to produce. Operation was similar to the other lens. The G-master series has never disappointed me.
All in all, Sony put out another quality camera that has excellent features for video recording. It has the movie maker in mind, with the ability to alter the camera’s settings independently for video shooting. The LCD screen and viewfinder are some of the sharpest and clearest on the market. Accurately seeing what you’re shooting matters. Finally, it offers the codecs you want and the formats you need.
Sure, I’ve heard some disappointment out there about the camera not offering 8K, but with the rise of digital and web marketing, I’m not in a need to get there. And yes, it is a 12MP camera, but with the new full-frame back-illuminated sensor, this camera makes a run at being a top 4K video option.
In the end, it comes down to perceived value. While the price of the camera and lenses is certainly above average, its low light capability makes it worth the cost of ownership for me. Getting better, more dependable outcomes in low light situations (that I face many times) is essential. If you own other Sony products with E-mount lenses, this decision becomes almost a no-brainer, as you can interchange lenses to defray cost.