I usually try to resist writing about a new camera or a big piece of gear to early in the process. Often, I find the reasons why I was happy when purchasing or immediately after the upgrade, aren’t the same 4-6 months later.
So I purposely waited on this one, until I had a full 6 months with the camera, and could tell you exactly what I found useful.
But first… my Disclaimer(s) – I have two disclaimers about this article.
- This was written with the landscape / nature / wildlife photographer in mind. That’s what I primarily shoot and if I tried to write an article that covered every genre (portrait, sports, wedding, video, etc..), I’d actually write something that didn’t really help anyone.
- This article is not written to get anyone to switch brands. If you’re reading this, I’m hoping you’re a Sony shooter and you’re wondering if the upgrade is worth it. So if you shoot Nikon, and I mention something about battery life being better on this new camera, you may think “well, my battery life is fine… why would I switch?”. My answer to you is that you weren’t the intended audience here.
Okay… let’s get to it. I’m going to break this up in to what I consider Major updates and then some of the smaller things that I noticed. Also, if you’re interested, I did a quick video on the first 10 settings I changed on my A7R3 right here.
Battery performance – This one is HUGE. If you’re a Sony shooter you know the pain of draining a battery every 5 minutes (okay, that’s an exaggeration but it feels like it) 🙂 Seriously though, the A7Rii went through batteries like crazy. If I was on a photo trip, shooting on and off all day, I could easily go through 2 if not 3 batteries (and more if I was shooting video).
Now, like most people, I adapted to it. Early on, I bought 6 extra batteries when I went to Iceland because I just wasn’t sure how often I’d be able to charge them. And for the most part, it was never a problem because I always had extras and swapped them out. Of course, batteries only drain at the worst possible moment right in the middle of an amazing sunset, but still – I adapted to it and it just became normal to me. My biggest gripe was that I’m not a very organized person. So when a battery drained, I’d just toss it in my bag. And eventually when I needed a new battery, I’d often pull out a drained one 🙂
Sony A7R3, 12-24 Lens: f/16, 3.2 sec, ISO 250
Those days are now gone. The new battery life is amazing. I charged the battery to 100% and went on 4 sunrise/sunset shoots with it. When I looked at the battery life after the 4th shoot it read 71%. Huge difference! I still bought 3 extras, but I’m thinking of sending a couple back 🙂
Touchscreen – I’ve owned a Sony a6500 as a backup camera for over a year now. And the one thing I’ve really gotten used to is touchscreen focus. As a landscape shooter, with my camera on a tripod most of the time, I’m usually changing focus points in my scenes based on what’s in front of me. Being able to just tap on the LCD screen to do it was really nice. But whenever I’d use my A7Rii, I found myself tapping the screen and nothing happened 🙂 So, this is a big upgrade for me, since it just makes focussing where I want so much simpler. Especially when it’s cold out and moving the little buttons and dials gets harder.
Sony A7R3, 90mm Macro Lens: f/6.3, 90mm, 0.5 sec, ISO 200
Multi selector joystick – this sounds minor but it’s actually very big. I always found the controls on the R2 smaller and I often pressed or pushed the wrong way. As cameras get smaller (which is a good thing), manufactures have to figure this stuff out. It’s fairly uncharted territory. So for me, the joystick was a big improvement.
10 fps instead of 5 – The A7Riii now shoots 10 frames per second versus the 5 fps the A7Rii had. Three years ago, I probably would’ve said this didn’t matter for me. I mostly shot landscapes and wasn’t that in to photographing wildlife which is where the extra FPS would have benefited me. But, since then, I’ve enjoyed shooting wildlife more and now the added (doubled really) FPS does matter. Imagine trying to take photos of a bird in flight, or a monkey jumping from tree to tree. Doubling the FPS definitely can help in getting a keeper from those bursts.
Dual memory slots – I don’t personally need this, but I totally understand the reasons why it’s there. It’s great to automatically have a backup of your photos, or shoot and have the overflow automatically go on to second card, or the other multitude of reasons you could use it. I put it under “minor stuff” because I do use it now, so I don’t have to change cards on a long shooting trip, but it’s not a deal breaker for me if a camera doesn’t have it.
Rate and Protect Images – this is another one of those features that sounds super small, but for me has made a big difference. Sony added two things: 1) The ability to protect images in camera, so that you don’t accidentally delete something. And… 2) The ability to rate images in camera and have those ratings show up in Lightroom, or whatever editing software you use.
While I don’t typically delete images in the camera, the first one isn’t that big for me. But the rating is huge. For starters, when I know I’ve shot several of the same image, but know that a certain one is probably the keeper for whatever reason, I can rate it right there. If you’re like me, the moment I leave a shoot my brain becomes a vegetable and I forget everything that I thought I wouldn’t forget. Also, gone are the days of my holding up my hand in front of a pano to signify that I was shooting a pano. Now I just rate it 1-star (or whatever number works for you), and I know to search through those when I’m editing (since I don’t really use star ratings, I don’t have to worry about them getting mixed up). Love this feature!
Sony A7R3, 70-200 Lens w/ 2x converter: f/8, 400mm, 1/8000 sec, ISO 200
Dynamic Range – I’m not even going to mention this beyond saying I don’t notice a difference. Yes, I know that DxO Tests and all the tech specs say it has 15 stops of dynamic range instead of 14, but in practice that means nothing to me. I wouldn’t notice it unless I took the same photo with the A7Rii and put it side by side with the R3. And since my A7Rii is already sold and gone, I’ll never know. I do know that Sony has one of the highest dynamic ranges of all the cameras I’ve ever owned, and my post processing is much simpler because of it. But I would never say to upgrade from the R2 to the R3, because of a 1-stop difference.
A True Back-Button Focus Button – again, this is one of those small things that could be big for some people. The idea of back button focus is that the shutter button only has one job now – to take the photo. The back button is now in charge of focussing. Some people swear by it, and some don’t. So this one is up to you. While Sony had ways to configure a button on the camera for this, we now have a button dedicated for this on the R3.
Play Memories Apps – So far you’ve heard all of the things that I think are a step forward. There’s honestly, only one area that I feel was a step backward and thats the inclusion of the Play Memories Apps on the camera. Sony decided to remove it from this camera. I don’t know why, and all I can say is I’m a little bummed about it.
Yeah, I get it… this is a pro-level camera and the apps seem to take away from the “pro-ish-ness” of a camera. But I liked them. I basically stopped carrying Neutral Density filters with me when I shoot waterfalls because it had an app for that. It had an app for time lapse. It had one that simulated a Grad ND filter for bright skies, and some other cool things. So… not only have I lost the use of my apps on the camera (which sucks), but I also paid for them and now I can’t use them :-/
Sony A7R3, 12-24 Lens: f/16, 12mm, 1/6 sec, ISO 100
Pixel Shift Technology – Sony added a new feature that can shift the sensor 1 pixel in every direction and capture 4 photos. When merged together this is supposed to produce an image with more detail. Pixel peepers rejoice! Right now, the only software that can merge these together is Sony’s Imagine Edge software. I’ve seen a lot of tests on this one. While zoomed in at 100% I can see slight difference, it’s not something important enough for me that I use the feature.
Don’t forget! If you’re interested, I did a quick video on the first 10 settings I changed on my A7R3 right here.
Should You Buy One?
So there’s the magic question. Remember, this is not a “switcher” article. If you shoot another brand, it really wasn’t written with you in mind.
Side Note: B&H Photo did an article on me switching last year. Here’s the link.
Upgrading cameras is really a tricky thing. Do we “need” the upgrades? For most of us, no. I mean, none of these features are going to make my photos better, sharper, more colorful or anything like that right? So why upgrade? Well… sometimes, it’s the experience while shooting that also matters. Is better battery performance going to make me a better photographer? Absolutely not. But it may save me on some photo shoots, and help me get a keeper, when I may otherwise have missed a shot because I had a drained battery (or was changing batteries).
Did my photos suck because I didn’t have a touchscreen or the multi-selector joystick? Nope. I made do with what I had, and adapted to it. And I never looked at a photo that I didn’t like and said, “Damn… if I only had that touchscreen (or better battery life, or etc….), this shot would be better”. But… if you give me the choice between the two, I’ll take the touchscreen and battery life any day over not having it.
Now, some features are more important than others. If you’re shooting wildlife, 10 fps (instead of the old 5 fps) may certainly help you get a keeper in a burst of frames while photographing a bird. The Auto Focus improvements may also help. It’s very hard to quantify all of these little things to say it’s worth the money to upgrade.
I always use the analogy of my guitars. I have a guitar and an amplifier that are FAR better than I’ll ever need. And every once in a while something new comes out with a few new extra features. Or I see a guitar I like that may have a couple of upgrades on it vs. one I own. Will purchasing any of this gear make me better? Will I be able to quantify any improvement from the upgrades over what I have now? Absolutely not! But, sometimes that purchase makes makes me and my playing “feel” a little better. And more importantly, sometimes the purchase of something new helps inspire us to use our gear in a different or new way. And if you can afford it, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Have a great weekend!