Being in this trade, I see a lot of new products come and go. Some capture the attention of our customers, but others come along and then fizzle out without much interest.
Despite all of these changes, the traditional stalwarts like DSLRs remain amongst our best sellers, particularly amongst our serious hobbyists and professional photographers. But one line of cameras is breaking this trend, and is finally making serious in roads into the professional level photographers camera bag, that being the third generation Sony Alpha 7 cameras, the A7RIII and A7III.
I wanted to find out why so many of our customers were trading in their traditional DSLR set-ups and buying these modern mirrorless marvels instead.
Could this new breed of camera finally have reached a level of development where professionals could rely upon it as their main camera of choice?
With a couple of big events in my diary I decided now was the time.
In my previous life, before Castle Cameras I was a professional wedding photographer. Recently, as a favour for a friend I was shooting their wedding, so what better way to see if this camera really could cut the mustard than using it for this job?
After some serious deliberation I decided to go for it and cracked out a Sony Alpha 7R mark III, along with a Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA Distagon T* and a Zeiss 85mm f/1.8 Batis. Immediately I could tell my back was going to be happier come the end of the day as the weight of the kit felt significantly less than what I was used to. (Canon 5D mark III, with EF 35mm f/1.4L and a Sigma 85mm f/1.4)
Initially I felt some frustration with the menu system. It is rather complex and finding certain settings did take a few minutes of scrolling through the options but eventually I found everything I needed.
I set my most commonly used menu items to the C1, C2 and C3 buttons, namely White Balance, Focus Area and Focus Mode. I found that once these buttons were assigned, everything became much easier to manage. I could change my most commonly used settings with ease, much like I did with my DSLR.
When I arrived at the wedding, I immediately took a ‘Face Registration’ shot of the bride (Camera menu 1, page 14). When used in conjunction with my AF settings (Focus Area: Wide, Face Prty in AF: ON) this enabled the camera to immediately lock onto the brides face at any time, even with many other people in the frame. It worked flawlessly!
I was always a centre point AF, focus and recompose kind of photographer, so to hand over this much control to the camera was nerve-racking but my fears were unfounded. This incredible face detection system, in conjunction with the Eye AF meant I didn’t miss focus on a single shot. Not one. I couldn’t believe how good it was, absolutely game changing for wedding photographers who work at a fast pace and only get one chance to get the shot. Having a camera that you can rely on to get it for you, every time is massive. Even shooting wide open at f/1.4, using Eye AF, the eye was always in perfect focus.
The other big concern I had about mirrorless cameras was battery life. I could confidently shoot a full day wedding on a Canon 5D mark III and never worry about the battery running out. I tried this once on a Fujifilm X-Pro and went through at least 4 batteries in a single day.
The Sony Alpha 7R mark III and its new Z-series battery didn’t let me down! It lasted all the way through the day, into the early evening. I only needed to change the battery around 6pm, after around 600 or so exposures. I was seriously impressed!
The only bad point from my day spent shooting a wedding on the A7R mark III was the occasional buffering problem. I was writing to two cards, one JPEG and one RAW. Sometimes, when shooting a little burst, like during the confetti toss, it hit the buffer and took a while to process. I was using 2 UHS-II cards, so the write speed of the card was not a factor. The buffering was not surprising though when dealing with 42.4 megapixel files. This didn’t happen much so it wasn’t a big deal.
I did also have a small problem with viewfinder, in that it some situations, particularly scenes of high contrast, the image on the screen was too sharp! It was crisp and bright, but almost to the point of distraction. It might just be my eyesight, but this definitely annoyed me.
After the wedding, my back definitely felt less strained than usual, so that weight difference in the cameras did make a difference to my comfort.
When it came to editing the files, I found the RAW files converted nicely in the latest version of Lightroom Classic, especially using the newly developed colour profiles that appeared in the latest version of Lightroom. The images were all incredibly sharp and the super high resolution made cropping images to create a different ‘look’ a breeze, with no compromise in the clarity of the image, even after a heavy crop.
This camera from Sony is a game changer and if I was still shooting weddings as a professional, I’d pick one up in a heartbeat. It has been developed to a stage now where it has impressive technology combined with the level of reliability a professional photographer requires.
Following on from the wedding, I had a trip to the Lake District planned. I’m not much of a landscape photographer at all, the last time I did it was around 4 or 5 years ago with my Canon 5D mark III, but my experience with the Sony A7R markIII at the wedding inspired me to want to take the camera and push myself to do some landscape photography.
The monster resolution seemed a perfect match for this task, so armed with the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 G-Master I made my way up north.
The approach to how I used the camera was very different to the wedding. Much slower, tripod mounted and using the rear LCD display in preference to the viewfinder. I set my AF up differently too, opting to use Flexible Spot:M instead of the wide setting I was using before. This enabled me to place the AF point of focus, exactly where I wanted in the scene, often a third of the way into the scene, with a small aperture to give a large depth of field.
The camera handled landscape photography with ease. Battery life was never an issue at all, I didn’t have to charge it once in the 3 days I spent in the Lakes.
Another feature of mirrorless cameras I enjoyed was how the live view display responds to external input and still shows you an accurate view of what your exposure might look like.
I composed my first scene, got my focus point ready then slipped my 10 stop ND filter into the filter holder, ready to take the shot and immediately the camera’s live view responded allowing me to still see the scene as if the filter wasn’t there! Even as the light levels dropped after the sun went down, the impressive ISO range still allowed the camera to compensate for the filter so I could still see the scene. Fantastic!
When I got home and opened the pictures up on my Mac I was gobsmacked by the resolution. You can just keep zooming in and in with seemingly no loss of detail! On top of that, the dynamic range of the images was very impressive, with lots of details in both the shadows and the highlights with lots of information in between! These files are huge too; so large format printing is going to be a breeze.
As I said, I’m by no means a landscape photographer but I managed to get a number of shots I am really pleased with. This camera from Sony is a fantastic piece of engineering and has really opened my eyes to why so many people are making the move over to mirrorless from their traditional DSLR systems.
It was absolutely next level when I pushed it hard at a wedding and allowed me to shoot amazingly high quality landscape pictures in the next moment.
Do I recommend the Sony Alpha 7R mark III? Absolutely; without question.
Sony is making serious waves in the camera industry at the moment and with good reason. It’s not all hype! These cameras are very much the real deal and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best anyone else can offer and in many areas, better them.
The Sony Alpha range of cameras and lenses are in stock now at both our Bournemouth and Salisbury stores. Come by and give them a try!
All photos in this post with the Castle Cameras watermark were taken by the author, member of staff, Graham Fry