It’s taken me 3 generations of Sony full frame mirrorless cameras to get used to the things, but I can now quite comfortably say that I’ve found a certain amount of peace with the Sony A7iii. In fact, I’d now go as far to say that it’s possibly one of my favourite cameras…!
I’ve actually got two articles planned around this camera. This first one (this one) is going to be something of an overview review, nothing too feature specific, just some thoughts on how I’ve come to find so much appreciation for a camera that’s from a series of Sonys that I have long derided as being the darkside of my gear haul and only really for work. The second – which I will come to in a few weeks – is going to be my personal setup guide. This is going to focus on how I have come to set the Sony A7iii to work for me as a autofocus snapper, a classic lenses body and video camera all at the same time without it then giving me brain bubbles every time I come to use it – something that feels like an achievement both for Sony and for me!
My Sony Background
First, a bit of background. I’ve been shooting this form factor of Sony mirrorless cameras since they released and I bought the A7r. I did not enjoy shooting that camera. I suppose it’s fair to say that it wasn’t terrible, but it was uncomfortable to use, felt clunky and confusing, was loud (despite not having a mirror), and the colour science gave me endless issues… Ok, maybe it was terrible?!
It was also a shock to the system coming from Nikon. I’d been shooting a Nikon D800 which was pretty good, but before that I’d shot a D3 which was – and still remains – one of my all time camera high points. It’s hard to overestimate just how good top flight professional cameras are. But, they are also hard to justify – I certainly couldn’t justify a top flight pro camera from any brand these days. But as I’ll come to, I’ve got to the stage with the Sony A7iii that I don’t feel any temptation to either.
Since the A7r, through work, I have shot with a A7s, A7rii, A7riii an A7siii and the subject of this article the Sony A7iii. Out of all of these cameras, the only other one I was inspired to write about was the A7rii – you can read that article here. There was a couple of reasons I wrote about that particular model. The first was that I found it frustrating and brilliant in equal measures. I called it a superb farce of a camera. It was great at what it did, but thanks to what I felt was an overbearing amount of superfluous tech, I never felt that it removed itself from my psyche as a camera when I was using it. I fumbled a lot with it, and I took that frustration out on the amount of buttons and features it had.
The second reason I wrote about it – just to give some context to how little I actually care about these cameras – was to prove a point. I’d been at the photography show and had mentioned to a PR person at Leica that my M-A review was number 1 in the Google SERPS (search engine results pages) for “Leica M-A review”. I was quite proud of that sort of thing at the time, but she shot me down in flames saying, “Well there’s not much competition, not many websites have reviewed that camera”. This rubbed me up the wrong way, so I thought I’d review the Sony A7rii to see how far up the SERPS I could get where there was a lot of competition. Low and behold, I ended up at number 1 for quite a while. This is why, if you happen to read some of the comments on that article, you’d find them to not exactly be the sort of comments I get from usual 35mmc readers. One guy – much to my amusement – told me I should kill myself! You gotta love the internet!
I digress. I didn’t ever prove my point to the lady at Leica directly – I didn’t feel I needed or wanted to. I’d written a very long article about a camera I didn’t really want to write about. I’d wasted my time for a fairly fleeting sense of satisfaction. Through my own pride, I’d still lost. Or at least that’s how I felt for a while. If you read that article now, it might actually provide interesting context to this one. Just be warned, I do get a bit ranty…!
Finding the Sony A7iii
Sometime, early this year we partially retired the Sony A7iii from work when it was replaced by a A7siii – technically a 4th generation camera, despite the nomenclature. Through that process, it never even occurred to me to sell A7iii. In fact, rather than think to sell it, I decided it would replace the Fuji X100v as my autofocus digital camera at home. That was a camera I don’t think I’d even owned for a full year at the time and was not really in anyway dissatisfied with. But the idea of having the Sony A7iii at home totally trumped having the X100v.
Realising this rounded off some growing suspicions I had about my relationship with Sony cameras. That is to say, my relationship had improved considerably since I wrote the article about the A7rii. In fact, it’s true to say that I have for a long time now been saying how much better I find the 3rd generation Sony full frame mirrorless cameras to be. I finally realised just how much I’d been meaning what I’ve been saying when the Sony camera came home, and the Fuji was nudged out.
I can’t completely put my finger on how much of this comes down to me getting used to the Sonys verses just how much better they are. It’s definitely a bit of both. But having recently played with an original A7r again, and hating every minute of using it, I do think a lot is down to Sony’s improvements. What makes it hard to tell, is that really the changes between each generation are quite subtle, and some of what I see as core issues haven’t really been “fixed”.
The Frustrations Remain…
For example, the menu systems – whilst better – are still easy to get lost in so I’m still not able to immediately remember or find some of the more obscure options that I occasionally need to change. The custom buttons that are labelled ‘C1’, ‘C2’, ‘C3’ etc. bother me too – I still randomly press the wrong C button, even after having set them to what I want them to do for ages. And obscure features such as automatic autofocus still make me roll my eyes – not least because once in a while I find the camera has accidentally got switched into some weird shooting or focusing mode that I don’t understand and I have to battle my way out of.
… But they are now a Non-Issue
But, and this is where I find there to be a blurry line between me getting used to the cameras, and Sony improving them, I don’t have as much issue with this stuff now. So, whilst the menu system is still confusing, I don’t find myself needing to go in it as much. As I’ll come to in my next article, I have made good use of the ‘Fn’ menu which speeds things up a lot, and have largely otherwise configured the camera so menu access is an infrequent requirement.
I’ve also got to the stage with my configuration of the camera that whilst I’m sometimes still prone to pressing the wrong C button, I’m only really confused by the two on the top plate, and if I press the wrong one, I can just quickly press it again and then press the other.
And finally, whilst the inclusion of modes like automatic autofocus will never not baffle me, if that’s the price I have to pay for the stunningly accurate autofocus, and features like the eye-AF which work so incredibly well, it’s genuinely difficult not to get got focus on a human (or even animal, if you set it as such), then so be it.
Importantly though, whilst some of these specifics seem to matter less, I now also don’t want for any other features than what the Sony A7iii provides. I’ve also managed to switch my perspective from one of being frustrated at the overwhelming amount of stuff it does to having the view that because it does practically everything for everyone, it definitely does everything for me. And this – as those who have been reading this blog for a while will probably understand – feels like a very big deal for me!
The Balance of Benefits
In short, what feels like has finally happened for me, is the balance of benefits has finally outweighed the frustrations. Unlike the A7r which was more annoying than it was good, and the A7rii which was a balance of brilliant and annoying, the Sony A7iii for me has tipped that balance so far towards brilliance, that the frustrations seem broadly irrelevant. And the upshot of this is a camera that for the first time in my relationship with Sony cameras feels like it gets out of my way.
For the first time, I find myself almost entirely able to focus on the good things about a Sony A7 series camera. The size is right, the weight is good, the position of the buttons is mostly fine, the shutter button feels like it’s in the right place, and it’s fairly quiet when you take a photo. As I’ve said, the autofocus is also really good. The viewfinder is detailed enough, and the focus peaking for manual focus is great. Even the colour science works for me now – which feels like a big deal after dealing with Sony’s weird murky green shi(f)t in the first and second generation cameras.
No Need for “Pro”
And all this – to come back to an early point – is why I don’t feel the need for a pro-spec camera anymore – and that’s even when I am working as a photographer! I’m sure the A9 series and A1 cameras are stunningly good. But unlike when I went from the Nikon D3 to the newer, but less “pro” D800 and found it to be a step back in terms of what I actually needed a camera to do, the Sony A7iii already feels more powerful than I need. I’m sure, were I to shoot the A1 I would find it to be even more impressive, but with the Sony A7iii tipping the balance away from annoying, and it doing everything I need, I feel like it might just be something of a value/quality/requirement sweet spot for me. Which for me, after many years of finding these Sonys frustrating, feels like the highest praise I could give it.
I’ll share my ‘How I’ve made the Sony A7iii Less annoying’ setup guide soon…