The Sony a7 cameras have been a very popular line of cameras and with the addition of the new a9, it’s made Full Frame mirrorless even more of an interest to those photographing with other camera brands and technologies.
As of late I've used both of these camera models for various genre's, but they're typically reserved as my landscape cameras for their high megapixel camera sensors. These two cameras are very similar to one another, with some very amazing improvements in the a7R III model (hence why I simply decided to merge these reviews into one).
What I think about the a7R II & a7R III cameras
They’re phenomenal cameras are the best of the best in the entire Sony lineup. With the older a7R II model we were introduced to the 42MP sensor, which was a step up from the first generations 36MP sensor. We had an upgrade in the body styling and design and inclusion of image stabilization.
The a7R III builds on the strong reputation of the a7R II and brings with it a great improvement in dynamic range, stabilization, battery life and video/image quality. At the same price as the a7R II was at it’s launch price of $3,200 it’s surprising to see how much Sony could throw into a camera at this price point.
What makes these cameras great to most is that high resolution sensor. At 42MP it makes for a solid camera for many applications and offering the capability of cropping significantly and retaining high quality detailed images.
Upon first look they look almost identical, with slight changes to the read with the button layout, updated shutter button and the right side of the camera with it’s new memory card door.
Sony a7R II Specs
42MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
BIONZ X Image Processor
E-Mount Lenses Compatibility
399 Phase Detection
and 25 Contrast Detection Points
5 fps Shooting
Internal UHD 4K Video & S-Log2 Gamma
2.36M-Dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF
3.0" 1.22M-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
Built-In WiFI and NFC
Sony a7R III Specs
42MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
BIONZ X Image Processor & Front-End LSI
E-Mount Lenses Compatibility
399 Phase Detection and 425 Contrast Detection Points
10 fps Shooting
UHD 4K 30p Video with HLG & S-Log3 Gammas
3.69m-Dot Tru-Finder OLED EVF
3.0" 1.44M-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting
Built-In Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, Dual SD Slots
USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C Port and PC Sync Port
These cameras were used for a variety of the genre’s I photograph in, such as Street, Architecture and Worship Photography. The sensors of these cameras are similar in their image quality so whether they’re from either camera you’ll see a variety of examples to just how these cameras perform.
Favorite lenses for the a7R II & a7R III
I photograph so many genre’s of photography that I have the opportunity to utilize a multitude of different lenses. As the lenses I use with the new a7R III grows, here’s a few of the ones I’ve used that have been great to use with both the a7R II and a7R III:
ZEISS FE 16-35mm f/4 (Amazon | B&H Photo) - If you’re big on wide landscape images or full on architecture scenes then you’ll love using this ZEISS lens. It has a very great range that is quite versatile in obtaining wide enough images while also being great for closer images, such as portraits at the 35mm range (not the best lens to use for that, but it's there should you ever really need it for that). (Read my full review on this lens here)
ZEISS Loxia FE 2.8/21mm (Amazon | B&H Photo) - I’ve mostly used this lens for landscape and nature images, which this lens captures beautifully. I typically prefer manual lenses for my landscape work and this is my go to for them. (Read my full review on this lens here)
ZEISS Loxia FE 2/50mm (Amazon | B&H Photo) - This is the first Loxia lens I’ve had the opportunity to use and what an incredible lens this was to use on the a7R III. With the focus peaking feature it’s quite simply to use this lens and have fun with some manual glass. (Read my full review on this lens here)
ZEISS FE 55mm f/1.8 (Amazon | B&H Photo) - The quality is so sharp and the colors from this lens are what you’d expect from a ZEISS. It's still hands down one of the best lenses you could ever own for the Sony E-Mount system. (Read my full review on this lens here)
There’s so much to this camera that I’m going to pick out things that are either my favorite or things people really want to know about this camera. Anything else that I think would be great here in the future I’ll update this review with.
Electronic 1st Curtain & Silent Shutter - One gripe I had about the a7R was that it sounded like a machine gun going off (a bit over exaggerated). That camera didn’t have any electronic shutter and would clack twice! It was quite loud and obnoxious! This camera however now has a silent shutter option, which really is SILENT - like that of the shutter system in the Sony a7S! I can’t think of one person who ever used the previous a7R and didn’t mention the shutter sound. When silent is disabled it does feature a 1st curtain shutter as well, which is like all the other Sony cameras. Why the a7R was the one exempt from having one is beyond me.
Image quality - This camera is a beast in the image quality department. With 42MP’s and without an anti-aliasing filter this camera produces some super sharp and crisp images!
WIFI & NFC - Like my other Sony cameras, this is always a favorite feature of mine, being able to share photos straight from the camera to my iPhone/iPad (works on Android also).
Lens options - Having the flexibility to use an adapter and being able to use other brands of lenses, even the A-Mount on this tiny camera is great! I love that my NEX 10-18mm lens works just fine on this camera, as I’ve used this on the a7R and my a7.
Tilt LCD screen - This is always something I love about the Sony cameras. This screen is very detailed and is very bright for when you’re in direct sunlight.
Electronic View Finder (EVF) - A new thing for this camera is the viewfinder, which also sports a Carl Zeiss T* coating lens for the view finder as well, making this super sharp and crisp to compose your images. It certainly was a difference from my Sony a7 and going to using this camera for several weeks.
Focusing - This camera has Fast Hybrid AF with 399 phase detection focus points and 425 contrast detection points. It blows my mind as to how many there are! I thought 179 in the Sony a6000 was a lot.
Audio Output & Microphone Jack - I’m so glad to have these two jacks, as the Sony a6000 doesn’t. As I venture more into video, having these added features will be quite useful. This camera also includes a nice clip to keep your HDMI (I guess that’s what it is) cord in if you’re tethering with it. I thought that was pretty neat to include.
Video - You can now record 4K video directly inside this camera. Before, the Sony a7S was the only camera capable of 4K, but you had to have an external system to be able to do it and it was not pleasant. It looked like having 3 of these cameras tied to it, lol. It’s nice that now you don’t have to worry about all of that! There are also other added functions to video, which I’m not an expert on, so you may have to continue searching online for those who specialize in video.
Image Stabilization - 5 axis IS was introduced into the Sony a7 II camera and now it comes to this one. Lenses you attach to this camera will now be able to have stabilization, which will make using non Sony lenses a little bit easier!
Low Noise/High ISO - The original a7R was quite impressive in low light, even with it’s higher MP count over the high ISO champ, a7S. This camera raises the bar with it’s back illuminated full frame sensor, which makes shooting at high ISO fantastic! I shot with this camera at ISO 10,000 and I was quite impressed with how detailed my shot was (one of the images in this review is it... look for the caption about it). It’s not to that of the new Sony a7sii, but it certainly is pretty gosh darn close for the MP count that it is!
Bracketing - I don’t know about anyone else, but the bracketing system on this camera is AMAZING! Much wider range and use than any of the other Sony’s ever had. I remember not that long ago, prior to the Sony a77 II their cameras had the strangest bracketing options, but now Sony has finally got the hang of this! You can even do 1 stop images with 9 frames!
Auto Bracketing - Along with the above, you can also now set bracketing with an auto timer to take either all the multiple frames at the EV you choose and don’t have to use a remote or hold down the shutter button! You have NO idea how happy I am that Sony added this feature.
RAW File - This is probably the most talked about thing. For the longest Sony had a 10-bit RAW file format, vs the 14 you’d see from others. The images were also compressed files, which many disliked but now Sony has released an update which allows for 14 bit and the option for choosing uncompressed. =) (Read more about this update here)
Body Design - I’ve mentioned this in both the do’s and don’s section, but the body of this camera is vastly improved over the previous a7R. It’s more rugged and feels like the camera that many wanted the original a7′s to be. This camera is also weather sealed, which together with the new body style makes this a camera that feels like one to take on heavy adventures and hold up to any hits and knocks it may endure.
USB Charging - Something you weren’t able to do with these Mirrorless cameras was plug into the USB and charge the camera while using it, but with this camera you can! This is AMAZINGLY great to have for time-lapses, as you’re going to consume a lot of battery and you don’t want it to die with only a few frames left of shooting, right?
Copyright Info - You can now add your copyright info right into the camera, so that when you export to your computer to edit and then upload online your images are already marked with your information. No need to add it in post anymore.
What don’t you like about the Sony a7R II?
There actually isn’t anything I dislike about this camera, but there are a couple things I’ll mention as it may affect others.
Battery Life - Most people say that the Sony mirrorless cameras aren’t the best when it comes to battery life. Yes, this is true but the batteries are so small that I don’t have a problem having 4-6 batteries with me. I rather that than a heavy DSLR camera any day! This camera does eat through batteries pretty quickly, but turning off Wi-Fi/NFC helps quite a bit and this model also comes with a second battery.
Movie Button - One of the annoyances of the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras has been this button. It’s been in such a position that’s relatively to hit by accident. This however has been moved on all the Generation 3 and Sony a9 cameras, which has been a welcomed update!
What makes the Sony a7R III even better?
We now have the third generation and our new flagship full frame camera from Sony.
In what was already an amazing camera comes many new features that makes the a7R III a very promising camera for the future. Below are some of the new features that stand out to me the most that I think most people are interested in. The features mentioned earlier about the a7R II are either in this camera model as well or has been improved:
IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) - This camera now is capable of up to 5.5 stops compensation, over the a7R II’s 4.5 stops making this camera very suited for handheld shooting at lower shutter speeds.
Touchscreen - This camera now adds a touch screen like that of the Sony a9, which is very handy for focusing on images and in videos. It also adds touchpad functionality. When using the viewfinder the LCD can be used as a touch pad by dragging your finger across the screen to shift the focus point around. Another neat feature is when using manual lenses with this camera you can use the screen to touch where you want the magnification to be as well, which makes it faster to use than the joystick.
Higher Frame Rate - This camera is capable of up to 10fps (up from the 5fps on the a7R II).
4K Video Capture - This camera offers full pixel readout without any pixel binning, collecting 6K date and oversampling it to produce 4K video, while recording across the full width of the full frame image sensor.
Battery Life - A NEW Z series battery is introduced, which adds 2.2 times the battery life of the W series battery in all of the other Mirrorless cameras to date (excluding the a9).
Dual SD Card Slots - One of the biggest gripes with the a7 series was only a single card slot. Now there are two, which are capable of being a way to have a backup, write JPEG to one and RAW to the other or have it switch for when one card becomes full.
Ports - There’s now a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type C and PC Sync Port. For those interested in tethering will enjoy having the USB-C connectivity.
New “My Menu” option - There’s now a new menu tab in the camera, where you can assign your own menu options to this quick favorites tab, making it easy to register items in a custom menu for instant recall.
Electronic View Finder (EVF) - A new higher quality Quad-VGA OLED EVF, which has a 3.69m-dot resolution. It’s a dramatically night and day difference between the EVF of the a7R II. It’s far brighter and even more detailed, maybe even too detailed some times, ha! Once you experience it it’s hard to go back to the one on the a7R II.
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting - This allows you to achieve even greater resolution, working in conjunction with the sensor-shift image stabilization, this mode shifts the sensor while making four consecutive exposures in order to acquire approximately 169.6MP of information for greater color accuracy and detail than possible with a single exposure.
NEW: Real-Time Eye-AF - Sony brought to the generation 3 cameras a new focusing system, which improves on the Eye AF system that's been in their cameras for several years now. What makes this improved is that it's always on (hence the real-time)! It makes nailing the focus on someone's eye almost impossible to miss. It's quite accurate and is a huge plus to have, over the standard Eye-AF system.
What don’t you like about the Sony a7R III?
In the third gen camera there’s so much I love about it, but I do have a few things that I’ll mention for those who may not know about the Sony system that they may not be aware of in some of the functions or lack thereof in the camera:
Touchscreen Functionality - We’re now into the third generation of the Sony full frame mirrorless system and this is the first time we’re seeing the touchscreen, which was once only in the a5100 and later in the a6500 finally come to full frame. This has been a great thing, but I would have liked to see more usability in this. You can only using the screen for focusing. When reviewing images or going through the menu system you can’t use the screen for that. I figure this has to be a firmware thing possibly? It would be nice to have that if we’re going to have touchscreens in the system now.
30 Sec Shutter Max? - I’ve been a fan of long exposures, especially in my previous HDR days. In doing them even more than before it’s a bit annoying that you can’t reach a shutter higher than 30 secs without a remote trigger and switching the camera into BULB mode. There are a few systems out there that can do this and it’s a function I certainly would like to see here, maybe in an a7R IV?
Level Gauge - For several years I’ve always not really liked the in camera leveler, as it can be a bit confusing to understand in actual field use and is something that’s not specific to this camera, but being in the third generation now is something I’ll mention for this model. Hopefully I don’t get in trouble for this, but The Fuji systems have a really nice level gauge in their cameras that works extremely well. I would love to see an update that brings something similar to there’s to the system. That would be amazing!
Extra Mode Dial/Buttons - In the third generation cameras we’ve received a lot more user friendly features, but with the debut of the Sony a9 in 2017 and that camera having a second mode dial it’s made me miss having that and I was hoping that of the 7 series camera the R would receive that, but it didn’t. With Sony’s menu becoming more and more saturated with options it can be quite difficult to quickly find specific options that you’re looking for. I think taking some of these functions and placing them to an extra mode dial, like the a9 did with the drive mode and maybe more dedicated buttons could be something we see in the future. Another feature I do like from the old film camera days and even Fuji’s system has this are mode dials for ISO and shutter speed, which is actually quite neat! Some other systems seem to have where you can place more options at your finger tips vs having to go through a menu for a variety of things.
No Blackout - This was a featured introduced in the Sony a9, where you take a photo and the screen doesn’t blackout. I think it’s unfair to have many of the cons to this camera be from my use of the a9, which is an entirely different line of cameras, above the a7 series, but it’s available and something I’ve experienced and do wish was also in this model. It may not be a camera as experience as the a9, but it’s still $3,200 and would have been a nice plus to have that in this model as well.
Focusing - Perhaps it’s all in my mind, but in comparing this camera against my a7R II and even my age old a7 I feel this camera doesn’t come off with as many in-focus images as those cameras. Ex: I was photographing a guy standing in a train station and I used Flexible Spot Medium and it was directly on him around his upper body. I took two images and both images the focus was of the background and he wasn’t in focus at all. I switched to FS Small and it got it then, with both instances being with the ZEISS FE 1.8/55mm Sonnar lens. This happened with my other lenses as well and this is something I don’t really recall having issues with on older models. Maybe it’s a firmware issue, but it’s such a negative point to me on this camera to have this issue, as many great shots I’ve had have been ruined for not being usable from this.
This is probably the hardest I’ve ever been on a particular camera in my reviews, but that’s why I’m ULTIMATELY slow to review things, as I like to take a camera through the works to nit-pick in a way at everything I possibly can so that way I can have that to share from my experiences in my reviews. I certainly love my Sony system and think the a7R III is INCREDIBLE and wouldn’t ever trade it for anything else, but as a veteran with something I feel that gives me an even greater outlook on what I know a brand can do and what I hope to see in the future from them.
Conclusion: Which a7R model is best for me?
If you’re on a budget, but want or require a high megapixel camera then the Sony a7R II gives you that value while still offering a powerhouse camera.
If you simply have to have the latest and greatest then go for the a7R III. You get the added bonus of the new battery system and pixel shift multi shooting, but this comes at a higher price of $3,200.
Both models are great choices and very hard to choose between. I can’t really say beyond that what you should choose as for everyone it will be something different. Try both cameras and see what you like most. I will say if you’re on a budget then go for the a7R II and use the extra money to obtain a high quality lens. The worst thing anyone can do with these cameras is to buy them and place a kit lens on them. That degrades the quality of these cameras tremendously!
I own both of them, but find myself using the a7R III more, obviously. The improvements are going to be noticeable and why that one is my more used choice than the a7R II, but either one you choose will be a very amazing experience!