The Sony A7s series has become a go-to for low-budget videographers everywhere. The A7s II even got a reputation as a “Lowlight Monster”. Fans of the A7s series have waited patiently for the release of the follow-up to the A7s II and last September, their wait finally paid off when Sony released the A7s III. It had been 5 years since the A7s II was released and many were skeptical if the A7s III could still compete in today’s market. The A7s III definitely competes but not in the amount of resolution or megapixels, it competes instead in being one of the most reliable 4K mirrorless cameras on the market today. In this blog post, we are going to go through what you need to know before using the A7s III.
Sony is infamous for their past complicated and exhaustive camera menus. They have made strides in redesigning the menu systems but in the A7s III, it is a more profound redesign. The categorization and the labels are much more intuitive. Let’s go through the 7 different vertical tabs in the menu.
One of if not the most important tab in the A7s III menu is the My Menu tab. My Menu is the first tab you see when you open the A7s III Menu. It allows you to add multiple functions or settings to the tab for easy access. After you add your favorite or most used functions to the My Menu tab, you’ll rarely have to move past this tab to change a setting. You can also create multiple pages of settings within the My Menu tab.
This category contains the settings for shooting modes, image stabilization, zoom, audio, timecode, and other general recording settings.
This category contains the settings for ISO, Picture Profiles, White Balance, Metering, and anything that has to do with… you guessed it exposure/color.
This category contains settings for peaking, autofocus, eye tracking, and any settings related to focus.
This category contains all of the settings and preferences related to viewing recorded images and videos.
This category contains the settings for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and anything to do with connecting your phone or remote to the camera.
A category that contains the settings for customizable buttons, date/time, and other miscellaneous settings.
Note: There are many setting combinations that do not work together. For example, D-Range Optimizer and the Creative Look function are disabled when a Picture Profile is in use.
Customization isn’t anything new to Sony but it can get frustrating when multiple of your Sony cameras have different customizations. Before using the A7s III, it’s important to go through all of the settings and customize the camera in a way that makes sense to you. Almost all of the buttons on the A7s III are customizable. You could even change the function of the default record button if you wanted to. Overall, there are 11 buttons built for customization.
The Fn Button is a different type of customization. It leads you to a quick menu on the LCD screen that gives you easy access to functions of your choosing. Similar to the My Menu tab.
There is also customization for the dials on the A7s III. There are 3 dials that you can customize. The front and the rear dials then the scroll wheel dial which is to the right of the LCD screen. Here are all of the potential dial customizations when you’re in video mode.
All of the customization options give users many choices to make the A7s III their own. The A7s III menu design is a needed improvement from its predecessors but with all of the customization options, there are very few times you should need to look through the settings for a function. Keep in mind that some of the customizations will change depending on if you’re in Photo mode or Video mode.
The A7s III features a new BSI CMOS Sensor. BSI stands for Back-illuminated sensor and it means that the wiring on a sensor is placed behind the photodiodes instead of in front of it. This allows the diodes to take in more light. Although tests have shown the BSI design doesn’t add a substantial amount of extra light to images for the A7s III, there is still a noticeable difference.
The A7s III reaffirms the A7s series title as the “Lowlight Monsters”. Along with the BSI design and full-frame size, the sensor also has larger pixels than most. The full-frame sensor has a megapixel count of 12.1 (4240 x 2832) which allows room for much larger pixels. Larger pixels mean the photosites can let in more light.
For comparison, Sony’s a6000 has an APS-C sensor (A lot smaller than a full-frame sensor) and 24MP (6000 x 4000). That’s almost twice as many pixels on a smaller sensor. The new BSI CMOS sensor also helps with rolling shutter. Tests have shown that the A7s III has minimal problems with rolling shutter because of the sensor’s fast readout speed.
Sony made clear that the A7s III would be built for video before its release and most of the A7s III’s major improvements are for its video capabilities. For photographers, this may be a little alarming considering how many megapixels other cameras have around the same price range.
The A7s III offers a good number of different codecs and recording formats for users to choose from. It can be intimidating but it’s important to consider what your goals are for the project at hand before choosing a recording format. Many camera users ask themselves 3 questions before choosing a format....
After you answer these 3 questions, it will be much easier to choose the codec and recording mode you want to shoot in. In the A7s III menu, the codecs are arranged with the most compressed codec at the top and least compressed at the bottom.
XAVC HS 4K records UHD 4K in H.265. It is the most compressed codec in the A7s III and generally, it creates the most difficult files to edit if your computer isn’t built for it. This is because H.265 compression works by avoiding encoding each and every frame fully and instead only encodes the parts of a frame that changes. H.264 compression works in a similar way but H.265 performs this much more efficiently. The computer has to uncompress each and every frame which can put a lot of strain on your computer. H.265 creates smaller files while retaining the most quality when compared to H.264.
If you are a Sony mirrorless camera fan then you’re probably familiar with XAVC S. For many Sony fans, it is the video format balanced between capturing high image quality and capturing files that can be managed in post-production. XAVC S records in a H.264 compression and offers a good balance between moderate quality and moderate file size. XAVC S records in UHD 4K and HD. It also offers the most flexibility when selecting color sampling, frame rates, and bitrate.
The XAVC S-I creates the largest video files with the highest quality. It is also the easiest video format to edit because of its low compression. XAVC S-I is offered in both UHD 4K and HD. The difference between XAVC S-I from the other codecs is that S-I encodes each and every frame fully so the computer doesn't have to decode the frames heavily. If you aren’t worried about storage and you want the highest possible quality then S-I is the best video format to choose.
There are many options to choose from for each codec and it could take days to go through each and every setting but it’s always important to test the different options to find the optimal video format for you. In order to get the best quality out of each codec, try to choose the highest bitrate at 4:2:2 10 bit. Of course, recording 4K video at the highest bitrate in 4:2:2 10 bit is gonna require memory cards with fast and large storage capabilities.
With all of the high bitrates and recording formats, the a7s III requires specific memory cards to access certain formats. To be able to use all of the codecs in any frame rate or bitrate without worry, the a7s III requires Sony’s CFexpress Type A memory card. Sony was the first company to create CFexpress Type A cards and they are incredibly fast. The CFexpress A card, however, is expensive. An 80GB CFexpress A card costs around $200 and the 160GB version is around $400. In order to read the CFexpress A cards, you need a CFexpress card reader which costs another $118. The CFexpress card reader transfers large files extremely fast. It can also read SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
If you don’t want to spend that much money on memory cards, then you can invest in SD cards for the A7s III. The SD Cards have more restrictions but still gives you access to many recording modes.
SD cards are more affordable and depending on your needs, they can still give you access to a good amount of recording modes. You can find all of Sony’s memory cards here. If you are looking for suitable memory cards from other brands check out this informative blog post from 4K Shooters that links several reliable SD card brands.
S and Q mode which stands for Slow and Quick, is a recent feature that has been introduced to many Sony cameras. It is also a feature available in the A7s III. S & Q Mode allows you to shoot at frame rates as high as 240fps for slow motion and as low as 1 fps for time lapses. Of course, this all varies depending on the codec and memory card you are using. S and Q Mode also does not record audio.
The A7s III has 11 picture profiles to choose from. Each of them captures different dynamic ranges and saturation in-camera.
Much like any camera function, choosing a picture profile and a color mode depends on your specific needs. There are 3 questions to ask before choosing a picture profile/color mode.
The answers to these questions will help you find the best profile and mode for your needs. For users who want to capture the most dynamic range, S-Log 3 is a popular choice. But S-Log 2/S-Log 3 come with a tradeoff. They are very hard to color correct manually and best used in controlled, well-lit scenarios. The two other picture profiles are Cine and HLG.
These aren’t as difficult to color correct but come with their own strengths and weaknesses. There are 4 variants to Cine and HLG. Each with differences in shadows, mid-tones, highlights, etc. Gerald Undone, videographer and content creator, has a great video that goes through exposure, picture profiles, and color for the a7s III extensively. You can check that out here.
S-Cinetone is a fan favorite among Sony camera fans. It’s known to give you great dynamic range while giving you a usable image straight out of the camera. It has been added to the A7s III in a recent firmware update (update released on 2/24/21).
Another important fact to know about the A7s III is about base ISO. Sony has not confirmed this but many tests have shown that the A7s III has 2 native ISOs. In the simplest terms, the native ISO gives you the least amount of noise in your image.
The A7s III essentially has dual native ISO. One at the lowest possible ISO you can choose normally and the other 4.33 stops above it. For example, with picture profiles off the lowest ISO is 80. 4.33 stops above that makes the ISO 12,800. As you increase the ISO past 80, the image will get noisier and noisier but when you hit the ISO of 1600 the noise goes away. In fact, it looks similar to when the image was at ISO 80. Another trick in finding the 2nd native ISO is to times the lowest ISO by 20.
Each picture profile has its own “dual native ISO”.
The a7s III has 3 types of stabilization. Steadyshot Standard, Steadyshot Active, and Gyroscopic. Between the 3, the gyroscopic stabilization works the best. The results are even comparable to using a gimbal.
Here’s how it works. Inside the a7s III, there is a gyro stabilization sensor. That sensor records motion data in real-time then, using Sony’s post-processing program Catalyst, you can transfer that motion data to get an accurate and effective post-stabilization. In order to use gyroscopic stabilization, you need to do 3 things.
This is the beginning of this type of technology so it’s only natural that there are limitations but the results are impressive. Check out Brandon Li’s video that shows the effectiveness of gyroscopic stabilization.
Steadyshot Standard and Active are in-camera stabilization functions within the A7s III. Standard being the least impressive of the 2. Active provides impressive stabilization that compensates for the small jitters in movement. It surpasses the stabilization in the A7s predecessors but it’s important to note anytime you use Active Steadyshot the frame crops in 10%.
The A7s III autofocus is said to be the best autofocus in any camera out today. Sony has added many additional autofocus features that weren’t in their previous A7s cameras. Now in the a7s III, you can control how fast and how responsive you want the autofocus to be.
Sony has created a 7 step adjustment for focus racking speed and a 5 step adjustment for the responsiveness of the focus. This gives the user many options in how exactly they want to use their autofocus. Sony has also added a feature that allows you to easily use autofocus while in manual mode. Simply by pressing the AF ON button, you can use autofocus to ensure your subject is in focus. The A7s III autofocus also works persistently in overexposed and underexposed images... to a fault of course.
All of these new changes are welcomed but when it comes to face/eye tracking, Sony has a track record of providing impressive results and the a7s III is no different. The face/eye detection is extremely accurate and effective. The focus tracking catches the eye/face and sticks to it consistently. If there is more than one person in a shot, Sony has added touch tracking to compensate. You can use the touch LCD screen to choose the subject you want the camera to prioritize and it will stick to that preference. Although, make sure your subject stands out in the frame because if they wear similar colors to the background, the autofocus could get confused in wide shots.
The A7s III is a camera that was made to give users flexibility. There are so many options in fact that users can get overwhelmed by the amount of options themselves. There are many guides made by reputable videographers on YouTube that give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up your camera for optimal use and we will link those below. Overall, the a7s III is a reliable camera and once you get comfortable with it, you won't want to use anything else.
Matt Johnson: https://youtu.be/fXW4Zj9Jygg
Max Yuryev: https://youtu.be/PU0GZES-Kxw
Dunna Did It: https://youtu.be/727pS02Ik8A