It all started with an email.
A two-page long email to Sony South Africa, describing in detail why I want to test out the Sony A7R III. It was a total shot in the dark. A chance I took in case I ever regretted it and to my surprise, they answered back the very next day.
Now, at the time of writing, the A7R III is old news. Sony's already released the A7 III and reviews are being published everywhere. My aim was not to do a full technical review of the camera but instead, focus on the user experience itself.
I've been shooting on a Canon 5D Mark II for the last decade. It's a long time to develop a very close relationship with a camera. It's the one camera that's been through hell and high water and stood the test of time. But over the last year or two, I've noticed it starting to show its age. I might be imagining things, but it feels like the shutter is getting increasingly sluggish as time progresses. Bumps and bruises cover the body from the festivals and events I've covered as well as sporting a cracked LCD at the top. Despite it all, I love this camera to bits and continue using it for stills and video. This camera was a true icon of a revolution.
When Sony South Africa answered my email, and said they'd be happy to supply me with an A7R III demo unit and a 24-70 G f2.8 for three weeks, my emotions were all over the place and I couldn't wait to hold the camera in my hands. I started having vivid dreams of using it on locations and events. Three weeks of testing, playing and rediscovering photography and video.
When the day finally arrived, I ripped open the bubble wrapped box, inserted a memory card, battery, mounted the lens and took my first shot. It took a few seconds to sink in. This wasn't the camera I'm used to. It was fast, responsive and almost felt like it had some sort of artificial intelligence in order to sense what I wanted to use it for in every situation. Strangely enough, it felt familiar. A familiar sensation to ten years ago when I unboxed my 5D II and couldn't believe the technology behind that little sensor. It felt as if the possibilities for video and photos were endless.
I received the A7RIII just in time. I was shooting a huge launch event for Mercedes-Benz two days later in the mountains behind the small town of George in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The new X-Class was to be revealed to the South African market, and the company I freelance for sent me down to take images and some video of the event. A perfect chance to test out the camera fully in a challenging environment.
I've used the A7s II numerous times and knew about the short lifespan of the battery and the confusing menu system. Although the menu system hasn't changed much, I discovered to my surprise, after shooting video and stills for the whole day, I've only used two batteries. After a while, the menu system everyone complains about didn't even bug me anymore. I customized my own menus and buttons to reflect my shooting style and the camera responded like a warmed up V6 engine every time I shot a burst of images. It locked on to a person's eyes, lit only by a bonfire about 50 feet away from me.
The Canon 5D Mark II, which is still what I shoot with to this day, was a groundbreaking camera in every right. I, like many others, are of the opinion that it is a revolutionary camera in terms of the features it had to offer for its time - mainly full HD video and that 21 Megapixel sensor. But when you're met with a 44 Megapixel sensor, Eye AF, impressive low light capabilities, internal 4K, as well as Full HD 120fps slow-motion video concealed in a tiny body, you start realizing how a new revolution is slowly starting to unfold. It would seem to some that the age of the DSLR is over. Mirrorless is the future, and Sony seems to be a strong contender in that field.
One of the clear, chilly evenings during the Mercedes-Benz event, I found myself and the D.O.P venturing out into the wild, A7RIII in hand and excited to test out some long exposure photography. We set up a composition, pushed the ISO to 6400 and fired up the WiFi in-camera and connected my mobile phone to control everything remotely as I didn't have a remote release. It worked seamlessly and thirty-seconds later I was met with a stunning image of a barn in the foreground and a vivid Milky Way in the background. Upon further inspection, we found almost no noise in the image and the details appeared to be crisp. While sitting in the field, waiting for the exposure to finish, we realized, to our surprise, we've only used two batteries the entire day while shooting loads of video and stills and now, at the end of the day, shooting long exposures as well. Comparing notes on our experiences on an A7s II, we realized Sony drastically improved battery life on this camera.
It's a strange feeling when you finally meet the camera you've always dreamed about and it doesn't feel like some corporation trying to undercut the end user by removing certain features only available in the higher end models (Ahem... Canon). Sony appears to listen to their consumers and take notes on what to improve in the future.
When the day finally arrived for us to part ways, I shed a small tear. In the three weeks I've spent with the camera it felt like I've been through more than with my Canon 5D Mark II I've been using now for a decade. I started to love the confusing menu system and the fact that I'm looking through an EVF rather than an OVF. Even using Metabones adaptors for my Canon lenses worked great, and it got me wondering. What if this is the next step in photographic evolution? I've shot SLR my entire life, but this little camera seems to just solve all the problems I've had to sort out with the SLR system over the years. And it does it without even trying too hard.