Sony A7R III Review for Underwater Photography

In-depth review of Sony's next full frame mirrorless camera - the A7R III - covering new features, test video, and recommended lenses and housings
By Nirupam Nigam

With the release of the Sony A7R III, now is the time to be a mirrorless photographer. In fact, one could argue that we have entered a new photographic era – the mirrorless era. In 2015 the flood gates of mirrorless technology were fully released with Sony’s new models of mirrorless cameras featuring full frame sensors – the Sony A7, A7R, and A7S lines. These cameras offered the chance to shoot with a high-quality, DSLR-sized sensor and the advantages of a smaller, mirrorless body. Sony decided to give consumers the option to pick the body that was right for their shooting situation with the A7 being touted as an all-around camera, the A7R being geared towards high resolution, and the A7S featuring good light sensitivity (great for video shooters). In 2016, these initial introductions were finetuned in the A7 II models which had a wider variety of available lenses and better overall specifications. Then came the Sony A7R III....

Jump to a Section

Full Specifications   |   A9 vs. A7R III   |   Upgrades from the A7R II      

Full List of Upgrades   |   Pixel Shift Feature   |   Photographic Performance

Auto Focus   |  Photo Pros and Cons   |   Recommended Photo Settings

Video Performance   |   4K Video Test Footage   |   Should I Upgrade?

Recommended Lenses   |   Recommended Housings   |   Conclusions

More Sample Underwater Images

 

Sony A7R III Full Specifications

42 MP Back-Illuminated Full-Frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor

Updated BIONZ X Image Processor

Gapless On-Chip design

Anti-reflective Sensor Coating

UHD 4K30p Video with HLG, S-Log2 and S-Log3 Gammas

5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Sensor-Shift Stabilization

399 Phase-Detect Auto-focus Points

425 Contrast AF points (400 more contrast point than a7R II)

0.5" 3.69M-Dot Quad-VGA OLED Electronic View Finder (EVF)

3.0" 1.44M-Dot Touchscreen Tilting LCD Monitor

Shoot up to ISO 102,400

Silent Shutter Mode

New Low Vibration Shutter Design

Weather-sealed body to resist dust and moisture

Anti-Flicker function 

Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

Bluetooth connectivity 

Type C USB Port

Resolution: 42.40 Megapixels

Sensor size: 35mm (35.9mm x 24.0mm)

Viewfinder: EVF / LCD

Dual SD card slots 

No internal flash

Native ISO: 100 - 32,000

Extended ISO: 50 - 102,400

Shutter speed: 1/8000 - 30 seconds

Dimensions: 5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9 in. (127 x 96 x 73.7 mm)

Weight: 657g

 

 

The Sony A7R III is available now at Bluewater Photo!

 

New Releases: The Sony A9 vs. the Sony A7R III

In 2017, Sony took a different strategy entirely – they decided it was time to beat the DSLR giants out of their own market. It was time to prove once and for all that mirrorless cameras truly are the future of photography. They did this with the release of the Sony A9 and the Sony A7R III. With the fastest shooting speed of any full frame camera (20 frames per second and 241 shot image buffer), the Sony A9 is Sony’s direct response to the Nikon D5, Canon 1DX II and other quick shooting DSLR’s. The catch in the A9 is the steep, DSLR-level price of $4499.99. The Sony A9 is very much a niche camera – sports photographers and underwater photographers who specialize in shooting quick pelagics should definitely consider it. 

The Sony A7R III, on the other hand, is the best choice for the all-around underwater photographer looking for unbeatable full frame resolution and image quality. The 42 MP back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS Sensor cannot be beat! Not to mention a much cheaper price point of $3198.00. Moreover, the A7RIII boasts improved auto focus and processing power. The updated sensor can process 1.8 times faster than previous versions of the A7R series. 

Sony A7R III Upgrades from the Sony A7R II 

Although the A7R III is not vastly different than the A7R II, its release fixes many of the small issues that needed improvement in the A7R II. Perhaps the two most significant improvements for divers are the much longer battery life and the improved auto focus. With the A7R III a diver can now shoot approximately 650 shots a full battery – up from 290. The Hybrid AF has been updated to include 399-point focal-plane phase-detection AF as well as 425-point contrast detection. That’s 400 more contrast detection points than the Sony A7R II. Other nice additions include a 2nd memory slot, faster continuous shooting (10 fps instead of 5 fps), and true slow-motion video in full HD. 

The Sony A7R III has a new front-end LSI (large scale integrated) processor and a faster BIONZ processor, allowing many aspects of the camera to work faster. The sensor is the same as in the A7R II – but this is certainly nothing to complain about! In terms of image quality between the two cameras, you’re not going to find much of a noticeable difference. 

Overall Sony A7R III Upgrades:

Battery life almost doubled (a much-needed upgrade!)

2nd SD card slot added. One slot is UHS-I, one slot is UHS-II

Continuous shooting now 10fps instead of 5fps

120fps video supported in 1080p mode versus 720p mode in the A7r II

EVF resolution increased from 2.4M to 3.69M

425 Contrast AF points (400 more contrast point than a7R II)

Max ISO 32000 instead of 25600

RAW buffer 76 images instead of 23 images

5 axis stabilization rated to 5.5 stops from 4.5 stops

Low light auto-focus rated to -3EV from -2EV

New Hybrid Log Gamma profile for 4K video (useful for new 4K HDR TVs)

New S-Log3 profile which allows 14 stops of dynamic range

New Pixel shift mode for improved sharpness & dynamic range for still landscape shots on a tripod

Bluetooth support added

Same sensor! And still 42.4 megapixels. 4K video is still 30p

Improved ergonomics: Larger 1280 X 960 viewfinder, touch control on the rear screen, and most importantly for topside shooting – an AF point joystick

Pixel Shift Feature

One interesting new feature with the Sony A7R III is the pixel shift feature. In this feature, the camera takes two photos, 1 second apart, and shifts the pixels by 1 for the second photo. Then it combines the results for approximately four times the resolution in your image. This is certainly a cool new feature for still photography, but since subjects must be completely stationary, there is little use of this feature for underwater photographers. 

 

Sony A7R III Underwater Performance

Photographic Performance

Over the past few months, the staff at the Underwater Photography Guide has been able to take the Sony A7R III underwater in Southern California to test whether it truly lives up to expectations. Verdict? It lives up to the name. In fact, the most notable aspect of this camera is in the name – R stands for resolution. The 42.4 megapixel resolution, while not different than the A7R II, quite literally adds another dimension to underwater photography. Photos can be cropped with almost no consideration for loss in quality! A simple photo of an octopus or headshot of a Garibaldi can be cropped into abstract works of art (see examples below). The caveat is that a lot of storage space will be needed to work with RAW files if you are an avid photographer. Likewise, make sure that you have a high speed/high performance SD card when shooting. Large RAW files will require this or your camera will take a significant time to buffer and you’ll miss that shark swimming right past you! Raw buffer has been increased to 76 images from 23 images, which should help ease the pain of having to wait for images to write on the card before taking your next shot. 

 

 

Auto focus

Although auto focus speeds have certainly been improved with the A7R III, it does not quite live up to high-end DSLR models like the Nikon D850. That being said, it is still faster than many other mirrorless models and compact models. When shooting with the A7R III, I preferred to use single autofocus (AF-S) as it enabled me to focus on a point and move the camera to compose my shot.

Pros and Cons

Pros

As with any camera in the Sony A7 lineup, the overall advantage of the Sony A7R III is having all the size and functionality benefits of a mirrorless system with the image quality of a full frame DSLR. One of my favorite things about shooting mirrorless systems is not having to look through viewfinders all the time. Using an LCD leads to increased awareness during the dive which can really help you compose a shot. Now that the battery life has been doubled, even some of the mirrorless drawbacks are being upgraded into non-issues. The addition of 400 more contrast detection AF point makes composing much more versatile. 

Cons

For a mirrorless system, the Sony A7R III is a relatively bulky set up underwater. Though a far cry from the size of a high end DSLR, it can still take some work to maneuver around while diving. However, I still had no issues taking it beach diving and through the surf. One issue that we were surprised about was that the white balance seemed to appear particularly warm and purple when shooting underwater. This can be corrected by shooting in RAW and changing the white balance in post processing. However, I found one or two of my images to be difficult to work with when I tried to modify the white balance. 

Recommended Settings for Underwater Photography

The Sony A7R III should not be taken underwater straight out of the box. You will need to modify certain settings first. Make sure that auto review is on for long enough for you to review your photo after you have taken it. This is essential for seeing whether you need to recompose the next shot or move on. 

Perhaps the most important setting to change is the live view setting. The default live view setting will display what the actual photo exposure should look like at current exposure settings, without strobes. For the most part, this results in a black screen while taking underwater photos and you’re left guessing about your composition. Turning the live view display off will brighten the screen regardless of actual lighting conditions and allow you to see what you are composing underwater in low light. 

For a full list of recommended settings, please see our recommendations for the Sony A7R II until we release and updated set of recommendations for the Sony A7R III. Due to similarities between the cameras, the recommendations for the A7R II should be sufficient for the time being. 

 

Sony A7R III Video Performance 

For divers who value a camera that can deliver both still images and videos, the A7R III is a dream. Shooting in video mode offers great low-light performance, 4K video, focus peaking, and easy custom white balance.

For people shooting only professional video, you may be better served by the not yet released Sony A7S III, which will have better low-light capabilities and hopefully better bitrates, codecs, and the potential 4K at 60p. The A7R III only supports 8-bit codecs, while cameras like the GH5 support 10 bit codecs which allow for a billion color combinations vs 16 million for an 8-bit codec. Unfortunately, the A7R III doesn’t offer 4K video at 60p.

Other nice features include the improved 5-axis image stabilization, which does a great job of reducing the jitters and wobbles of hand-held videography. As most underwater videographers know, good image stabilization is essential to getting underwater video that doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a washing machine as swell and current are conditions topside videographers don’t have to deal with.

Like the A7R II, the A7R III can output uncompressed 8-bit 4K video to an external recording over HDMI, like the Atmos Shogun. 8MP screen grabs can be captured while recording 4K video.

You can shoot slow motion 120 frames per second video in full HD mode now (1080p). The A7R II limits you to 720p.

If you are experienced with more advanced video editing, the new Hybrid Log Gamma compatibility means that playback on new HDR televisions is more easily supported, without having to color grade. The Sony A7R III also supports both S-Log 2 and S-Log 3. If you are not familiar with S-Log profiles, it is like shooting stills in "Raw format", except for video - the video output looks flat and needs editing to bring out the full colors and dynamic range, but offers the potential for much greater dynamic range.

The A7R III also has a couple of 4K video modes; it can take 4K video in either full-frame mode or Super 35 mode. In Super 35 mode, an 18 megapixel crop of the sensor is used, resulting in sharper images and video with less aliasing and moiré. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm fisheye are the equivalent of using a 12-22.5mm lens in Super 35 mode. Super 35 mode can also give better high ISO performance, particularly above ISO 3200.

So far, we have not noticed any rolling shutter or over-heating issues. The increased battery life was a much-needed improvement for underwater video. 

 

Underwater 4K Video Test

In January 2018, I took the A7R III underwater for a 4K video test in Redondo Beach, CA.  I had the opportunity to take some beautiful footage of mating squid and other creatures that were around to feed on them. Overall, I found the 4K video to be phenomenal with excellent dynamic range and detail, especially in low light environments like a night dive. Taking video is very intuitive, especially in the new Nauticam housing for the A7R III. Keeping the video shutter separate from the photo shutter makes switching between the two very intuitive.

The Sony A7R III is perfect for compact and mirrorless users thinking about upgrading to take better video. The camera offers much more control over video than a compact set up with the ability to change exposure and aperture (depth of field) while taking video. For amateur video editors the file format is particularly easy to work with as video files are stored in an .mp4 format. The A7R III has proven to take very accurate color while shooting video; to illustrate this fact, the color and white balance have not been corrected in the video below.

 

This video was captured with the Sony A7R III in a Nauticam housing with a Sony 28mm lensKraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens, and a single Kraken Hydra 2500 Macro light. For more information behind our 4K video test read our full article.

 

Should I Upgrade…

From a Compact Camera?

Compact camera users have a very difficult choice when it comes to thinking about upgrades from their set up. There are many nice lines of higher end compacts, more traditional mirrorless cameras, and low to high end DSLRs. Higher end compacts, such as the Sony RX 100 series, result in nice, quality image but they compromise on lack of control or choice of lens. Mirrorless cameras other than the Sony A7 series, like the Olympus OMD and PEN lines, are generally much cheaper than the A7R III and with image quality that is much better than compact series cameras. Olympus has a great selection of micro four-thirds lenses. However, the A7R III’s 35mm full frame sensor is a far cry better than sensors in other mirrorless cameras. A DSLR is also something to consider if you want the best image quality, versatility, and options money can buy. But that comes at a price and size. I would consider the A7R III if: 

You do not want to compromise on image or video quality

You are not too price sensitive

You want to shoot video

You don't want to lug a full size DSLR system around

 

From a Mirrorless Camera?

Photographers using a micro-four thirds or Sony Nex or A6000 series mirrorless camera will be pleasantly surprised by their upgrade to the A7R III. In return for a slightly larger setup, they will experience a noticeable improvement in image quality, video quality, responsiveness and focus speed. The bokeh / background blur from the full-frame sensor will also give an entirely new element to their creative photos and videos. I would consider the A7R IIII if:

You want higher resolution images that you can crop down to almost any size

You don’t like using DSLR viewfinders underwater

You want a little more AF speed

You want to focus on shooting more video

 

From a DSLR?

Is your DSLR feeling a little bulky? Have you been thinking about looking for a new camera that shoots 4K? Consider the A7R III. The body and housing are smaller, although some of the lenses and dome ports are not necessarily smaller than the DSLR equivalents. The Sony setup will not necessarily be much less expensive either. I would consider the A7R III if:

You’re tired of looking through a viewfinder underwater

You want to shoot nice, professional 4K video

You’re thinking of moving from a cropped sensor DSLR to a full frame

You want higher resolution images that you can crop down to almost any size

 

Best Lenses for Underwater Use

Recent releases of lenses for the Sony A7 series has made the repertoire of underwater lenses much more versatile. Sony A7R III users have an excellent set of choices for shooting macro, wide, mid-range, and fisheye. 

 

Wide-Angle Lenses

The Sony 16-35mm F4 lens is the top wide-angle lens choice for photo and video. If you’re looking for something even wider to get nice close-focus wide-angle (CFWA) shots of reefs there are a couple of options for shooting fish-eye. The 28mm prime lens with a fisheye conversion lens will give the widest possible angle of view. The fisheye conversion lens can be used behind a large or small dome port, while the Sony 16-35 mm F4 les is recommended for use with an 8-inch dome or larger.

Wet wide-angle lenses are a great option with this camera. We recommend the Nauticam wet wide-angle lens or the Kraken KRL-01 wet wide-angle lens with the 28mm prime lens. All of these options are very sharp and will result in stunning wide-angle photos. 

 

 

Mid-Range Lenses

The Sony 24-70mm F 4 or the Sony 28-70mm F3.5-F5.6 are good choices along with the 35mm F2.8 portrait lens.

 

Macro Lenses

For underwater photography, the Sony 90mm macro prime lens is the best choice for small fish and macro subjects. It is exceptionally sharp and produces high quality images. A 50mm macro lens is available, but probably not the best option for underwater photography.

Canon Lenses

Canon lenses can be attached to the Sony A7R III with the Metabones or Photodiox adapters, but auto-focus is generally better with Sony lenses. Lenses like the Canon 8-15mm, 16-35mm, and 17-40mm work well. The Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens is recommended when shooting video using Super 35 crop mode. You can also use the Canon 100mm lenses.

 

Lenses for Underwater Video

When in Super 35 mode we recommend the Sony 16-35mm F4 lens or the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens. For closer shots use the Sony 24-70mm or the 28-70mm zoom lens. 

 

Underwater Housings for the Sony A7R III

 

Does it fit the A7R II Housings?

In order to accommodate for a larger body and more ergonomic controls, the A7RIII is fitted with a 74mm depth body rather than 60mm in the A7R II. Unfortunately, the A7R III is not compatible with A7R II housings.

 

Nauticam A7R III Housing

In Stock -  $2,850

Nauticam is leading the pack with their excellent Nauticam Sony A7R III housing. A wide range of lenses and ports are supported, but you pay a premium to get this maximum flexibility. Use of the metabones adapter is supported. Along with previous versions of the Nauticam A7 housings, the new housing also supports the use of several Nikonos lenses. Overall, we found the Nauticam housing to be sturdy, safe, and intuitive. All controls are within finger distance of the grips - including rotating dials for aperture and shutter speed adjustment. The housing includes a moisture alarm and can be modified to include a vacuum seal as added protection against a flood. 

Order Now!

 

In Stock - 1,695

The Ikelite Sony A7R III housing, made of polycarbonate, is a great value at a significantly lower price point than its competitors. Most common lenses are supported as well as the use of the metabones adapter.

Order Now!

 

Acquapazza A7R III Underwater Housing

We anticipate an ergonomic and well-designed housing for the Sony A7R III by Acquapazza. It will feature a double o-ring seal for the back door, an optional angled LCD viewing window, adjustable vari-anlge grips, M14 and M16 accessory ports, a trigger type shutter lever, a zoom/focus knob, and 16 colors to choose from.

 

Aquatica A7R III and Sea & Sea A7R III Housing

Aquatica and Sea & Sea both make smaller machined aluminum housings, and we expect the Aquatica to be at a particularly sweet point in price for a light-weight aluminum housing. The Sea & Sea A7R II housing supported an optional TTL converter. The Aquatica housing is expected to include a flash trigger. Both housings will support using the metabones adapter.

We'll update this article as release dates for the housings are better known.

Conclusion

The Sony A7R III is an amalgamation of all that is good in modern photographic technology. By making constant changes and improvements to their A7 line cameras, Sony has managed to create a multifaceted super-camera that truly has it all. There is no other company in the world that could offer you a mirrorless sized camera with a full frame sensor yielding 42.4 megapixel images! With the addition of longer battery life, 120 fps full HD and 4K video, the Hybrid Log Gamma profile, 400 more contrast AF points, faster AF, and 5 axis stabilization, the Sony A7R III is sitting at the top of its market. Whether or not it can make waves in the DSLRs markets, only time will tell. As far as underwater photography goes, it will be some time before enough kinks get worked out that the Sony A7R III will have a seat at the table with the true full frame DSLR hard-hitters. Regardless, the Sony A7R III is an all-around excellent camera with exceptional video capabilities that is sure to satisfy any customer looking for the best in what mirrorless technology has to offer.

More Sample Underwater Images

Macro Underwater Images

Wide-Angle Underwater Images

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nirupam Nigam is a dedicated underwater photographer and fisheries scientist. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. He received degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, at the University of Washington. Now he works as a fisheries observer on boats in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. When he is not at sea, he is traveling with his fiancee and taking photos. 

SUPPORT THE UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE:

The Best Service & Prices on u/w Photo Gear

 

Visit Bluewater Photo & Video for all your underwater photography and video gear. Click, or call the team at (310) 633-5052 for expert advice!

 


The Best Pricing, Service & Expert Advice to Book your Dive Trips

 

Bluewater Travel is your full-service scuba travel agency. Let our expert advisers plan and book your next dive vacation. Run by divers, for divers.