Sony Alpha A7R III review

The Alpha A7R III is Sony's latest high-resolution mirrorless camera, and an update of the excellent Alpha A7R II, which was responsible for tempting many a photographer away from the comfort of their Canon and Nikon DSLRs. 

This latest model looks to draw on many of the technologies used in the speed-orientated Sony Alpha A9, which is just as well, because with the likes of Nikon's brilliant D850 offering a tempting combination of high resolution and high performance the Alpha A7R II was beginning to look a little pedestrian. 

With some impressive boosts to performance, as well as tweaks to handling and the peace of mind of a five-year guarantee, could the new Alpha A7R III see even more second-hand Canon and Nikon DSLRs appearing on the shelves of camera stores as more photographers make the switch to Sony? 

Features

  • Full-frame stacked CMOS sensor, 42.2MP
  • 3,686K-dot electronic viewfinder with 100fps refresh rate
  • 3.0-inch tilt-angle screen, 1,440,000 dots

While many might have expected Sony to boost the amount of pixels to match or exceed DSLR rivals like the D850 and Canon EOS 5DS, it's actually opted to stick with the same count as the Alpha A7R II.

At the core of the A7R III then is a 42.2MP back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor, although Sony has borrowed some of the innovations from the 24.2MP Alpha A9 and integrated them with this more densely populated chip. 

There are gapless microlenses and a new anti-flare coating for starters, while the Alpha A7R III features a new front-end LSI that almost doubles the readout speed of the sensor. It also takes advantage of the latest BIONZ X image processing engine, and combined, these enhancements deliver a boost of up to 1.8x in processing speeds compared to the A7R II.

Sony says the A7R III has a staggering 15-stop dynamic range at low sensitivity settings

The A7R III's sensitivity range remains unchanged (ISO50-102,400 at the camera's expanded setting), so those hoping for something to match the Nikon D850's expanded ISO32 setting may be a little disappointed. However, the new processing engine should be able to handle image noise better than its predecessor, while Sony also claims the Alpha A7R III will have a staggering 15-stop dynamic range at low sensitivity settings. 

The Alpha A7R III has the same electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the Alpha A9, with the Quad-VGA OLED EVF sporting a resolution of approximately 3,686k dots, and utilizing a Zeiss T* Coating to reduce reflections. On top of this, the A7R III supports a customizable frame rate for the EVF, with options of either 60fps or 120fps, again matching the 120fps offered by the A9.

Along with the EVF, the rear tilt-angle display has also been upgraded over the outgoing model; it now has a resolution of 1.44 million dots, and, just as we've seen with recent models like the RX10 IV, offers touchscreen functionality. 

Also as with the A9, Sony has shunned the XQD card format (even though it's now the sole manufacturer of that format), instead opting for dual SD card slots on the Alpha A7R III, with only one of those supporting UHS-II type cards.

The Alpha A7R III offers 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video capture, with the option to use either the full width of the sensor or Super 35mm format mode, with the latter using the full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 5K of information, and oversampling this to produce what promises to be even crisper footage. 

As well as this, the Alpha A7R III now features a new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile that supports an Instant HDR workflow, allowing HDR (HLG) compatible TVs to play back 4K HDR footage, while both S-Log2 and S-Log3 are also available. 

If you want to shoot Full HD footage you can capture this at up to 120fps, while there are ports for both a microphone and audio monitoring.

  • The 10 best mirrorless cameras you can buy right now

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy construction
  • Dust- and moisture-sealed
  • Weighs 657g

The look and feel of the Sony Alpha A7R III broadly follows the design of the A7R II, but there are a host of tweaks and refinements when you start looking a little closer. 

While the new camera doesn't get the dedicated drive mode dial/focus mode selector that sits to the left of the EVF on the Alpha A9, it does get a similar multi-selector joystick.

It may seem a small thing, but the arrival of the joystick greatly improves handling over the A7R II, as it makes for much quicker AF point selection. The A7R III also sees the addition of a dedicated AF-ON button for back-button focusing, again as on the A9.

In fact, the rear of the camera mimics the control layout of the A9 – that means the A7R III gets an additional 'C3' custom button, while the rear scrollwheel is more pronounced, and less likely to be accidentally knocked.

The changes may be modest, but they combine to make the A7R III that much more user-friendly and satisfying to shooting with

The rear touch display, meanwhile, does away with an annoying quirk of the A7R II. If you were shooting from the waist with the screen angled outward, the older camera would think you had the camera raised to your eye, resulting in the feed being cut on the screen. The display on the A7R III disables the eye sensor when the screen is flipped out, allowing you to shoot at waist level uninterrupted. 

The body is slightly thicker than the A7R II, but fractionally slimmer than the A9, and features a magnesium alloy top, front and rear covers, as well as an internal frame. Sony has also increased the number of lens mount screws to six for enhanced durability, while all major buttons and dials are sealed, and there's sealing throughout the body, to protect the A7R III from dust and moisture.

The menu system has also been overhauled. Now color-coded, it's that bit easier to navigate, but the menu system on the Alpha A7R III is still incredibly comprehensive. That said, once you've tailored the various custom buttons to your desired settings, these, along with the body-mounted controls, mean there should be little need to be regularly diving into the main menu. When you do though, give yourself a bit of time to find exactly what you're looking for.

The changes may be modest, but they combine to make the A7R III that much more user-friendly and satisfying to shoot with. 

Autofocus

  • 399 phase-detection points
  • 425 contrast-detection points
  • Eye AF with enhanced tracking performace

Sony has improved the focusing system as well. The 399 focal-plane phase-detection AF points from the A7R II remain (with 68% coverage of the frame), but Sony has bolstered the number of contrast-detection AF points from 25 to 400. 

Sony reckons this overhaul should improve autofocus speed, delivering up to roughly two times faster speeds in low-light conditions, along with improved AF tracking performance. 

The Alpha A7R III can also focus in brightness levels as low as -3EV. When you consider that's pretty much complete darkness, it's very impressive, although the D850's central AF point just edges it at -4EV.

As we've seen on other Sony mirrorless cameras, there's a wide range of autofocus settings. Wide or Zone modes are good for general photography and will take care of much of the decision-making for you, while Center mode uses the central AF point. 

There’s also a Flexible Spot mode (with the choice of three AF area sizes) that enables you to use the joystick to position the focus area pretty much anywhere in the frame, while the Expanded Flexible Spot mode takes advantage of additional AF points to assist with focusing. 

Focusing is fast in single servo mode, but it's when you flick the focusing over to continuous that the system really impressives. You get the same focusing modes as before, but with the addition of a Lock-on setting – use this mode and you'll find the Alpha A7R III can do a stunning job of tracking your designated subject as it moves round the frame. 

The Alpha A7R III's Eye AF has also been enhanced, and now uses the same autofocus algorithms as the Alpha 9. This means that when the A7R III is in AF-C mode and with Eye-AF activated, the system should be able to continuously track and focus on your subject's eye, even if they look down or away from the camera.

In our time with the camera this really impressed us. The A7R III managed to happily maintain focus on a subject in two challenging scenarios – while they were moving round the frame quickly as well as moving towards us, or looking down or away from the camera. 

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Performance

  • 10fps burst shooting
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • 530-shot battery life

While the A7R II could only manage 5fps burst shooting, the enhanced processing power inside the Alpha A7R III sees that rate double to 10fps, and that's with continuous AF/AE tracking. It can sustain this for up to 76 JPEG/raw images, or 28 uncompressed 14-bit raws. 

You have the option of using the A7R III's mechanical shutter to achieve this, or if you prefer you can opt for the camera's electronic shutter for silent shooting. And, rather than having to wait while the camera writes large quantities of images to the card, it's still possible to use many of the A7R III's key functions.

The Alpha A7R III is kitted out with Sony's 5-axis optical image stabilization system, and this has been tweaked for the new camera to deliver a 5.5-stop shutter speed advantage, improving on the A7R II's 4.5-stop system. To reduce the risk of vibration and image blur, especially when shooting at 10fps, there's a new low-vibration shutter mechanism. 

You can expect the A7R III to carry on shooting for 530 frames

The electronic viewfinder is excellent, with a clear and large view thanks to the fast refresh rate and 3,686k-dot resolution, while the rear display doesn't disappoint either. 

One of the biggest complaints levelled at the A7R II was its poor battery life, with just 270 shots possible if you were lucky. Sony has swapped out the W-series battery used in that camera and replaced it with its latest Z-series unit, and you can expect the A7R III to carry on shooting for 530 shots if you use the viewfinder, or 650 shots using the rear display. It's a welcome improvement, but still some way behind the likes of the Nikon D850's 1,840-shot rating.

Image quality

  • ISO100-32,000, expandable to 50-102,400
  • 15-stop dynamic range
  • 14-bit raw shooting

The Alpha A7R III is able to resolve an impressive level of detail; you'd be hard-pushed to distinguish between its images and those from the more densely populated sensors on the 45.2MP Nikon D850 and 50MP Canon EOS 5DS. At the end of the day, if you're planning to produce large A2 sized prints, you won't be disappointed with the files from the Alpha A7R III.

Noise control is another area in which the Alpha A7R III is very strong. Noise levels are kept well within acceptable limits, delivering pleasing results with natural-looking granular noise and minimal Chroma (color) noise even when you're shooting at the higher end of the native sensitivity range (up to ISO32,000). As with most cameras, we'd avoid resorting to the high expansion settings (the maximum here is ISO102,400) unless getting a shot is more important than its ultimate quality.

The Alpha A7R III's dynamic range performance is also very impressive. If you're shooting at low sensitivities and purposefully underexposing the shot to retain highlights, you'll have to really push the file in post-processing before you see any signs of quality beginning to deteriorate in the shadows. For general editing of raw files where you want to recover detail, you've got plenty of flexibility with the A7R III's files. 

  • Mirrorless vs DSLR: 10 key differences

Verdict

If Nikon thought it was going to have things all its own way with the D850, it should think again. Sony has taken one of our favorite mirrorless cameras and bolstered the performance to make the new Alpha A7R III a much more capable and well-rounded offering.

As we've seen with the D850, you no longer have to sacrifice performance for resolution or vice versa. The heady mix of 42.2MP and high performance that includes 10fps burst shooting and a very sophisticated AF system is bound to help this camera appeal to an even broader range of photographers than the older model. This is a camera that would be equally at home perched on a mountain as in a studio or on the sidelines of a football match.

For now, the Alpha A7R III is not only the most well-rounded mirrorless camera you can buy, but one of the best cameras out there.  

Competition

Fujifilm X-E3 review

The X-E3 is the latest X Series mirrorless camera from Fujifilm to get the company's 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor, and replaces the ageing X-E2S.

While the likes of the X-T2 and X-T20 take on a DSLR-style design, with a raised, central viewfinder, the X-E3 follows the model of a classic rangefinder-style camera in a similar vein to the X-Pro2.

Whereas the X-Pro2 is aimed at professionals and keen enthusiasts, the X-E3 has been designed to appeal to a slightly broader audience, with more diminutive proportions and streamlined controls.

The specification hasn't been compromised to achieve this, however, with the X-E3 sharing an almost identical set of features with the X-T20, along with a few tricks of its own. 

Features

  • APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor, 24.3MP
  • 3.0-inch touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

As we've seen with every Fujifilm X Series camera since the X-Pro2, the X-E3 features the company's 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III APS-C sensor, which delivers a decent boost in resolution over the X-E2S’s 16.3MP sensor.

This also means it gets a moderate increase in ISO range over its predecessor, with a native sensitivity range of ISO200-12,800 (compared to ISO6400 on the X-E2S), while the expanded range now runs to ISO100-51,200. And where the X-E2S was restricted to JPEG-only files at the extended range, the X-E3 supports raw files as well.

Like the X-E2S (and the X-T20 for that matter), the Fujifilm X-E3 features a high-resolution 2.36 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) with a 0.62x magnification, while the rear of the camera is furnished with a 3.0-inch touchscreen display with a resolution of 1,040,000 dots. 

Unlike both the X-T2 and X-T20, the X-E3 forgoes a tilt-angle display in favor of a flush-fitting design. The touchscreen functionality builds on the system seen on the X-T20 however, offering a greater depth of control. As on the X-T20, then, you can tap the display to acquire focus and trigger the shutter, as well as being able to swipe through and pinch-to-zoom when reviewing images.

There's still no direct control for navigating the menus, but the X-E3 does let you use flicking motions to activate pre-assigned functions, while you can also adjust settings in the Quick menu. 

The touchscreen functionality builds on the system seen on the X-T20, offering even a greater depth of control

As we've seen with other X Series cameras, there's Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, but a first for the range is Bluetooth. Once you've paired the camera with your smart device and downloaded the accompanying Fujifilm Camera Remote app you should be able to easily transfer your images seamlessly, to share on social media.  

The X-E3 also offers 4K video capture (3840 x 2160) at 30p as well as Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 60p, with both formats supporting film simulations. There’s a 2.5mm jack input for a microphone, but not for audio monitoring.

Finally, there’s just a single SD card slot on the X-E3, and the camera doesn’t support the faster UHS-II cards.

  • The 10 best mirrorless cameras you can buy right now

Build and handling

  • Magnesium top and bottom plates
  • No weather sealing
  • Weighs 337g

While the X-E2 and X-E2s followed much the same design as the X-E1, the Fujifilm X-E3 is markedly different. Noticeably smaller than the X-E2s, the X-E3 takes the crown as the smallest X Series camera with a viewfinder currently available. Partner it with a couple of Fujifilm's neat f/2 primes, like the 23mm or 35mm, and you've got a great little camera system. 

Don't think the reduction in the X-E3's footprint has compromised its handling; there's a decent handgrip that's pretty much identical in size to the one on its predecessor, while the raised thumb rest on the rear of the camera makes it incredibly comfortable to hold one-handed. 

As we've come to expect with X Series cameras, the fit and finish are very nice. It may not be weather-sealed, but the magnesium alloy top and bottom plates, along with the machined dials, give the X-E3 a lovely premium feel. 

With the X-E3's body shrinking compared to the X-E2s, the built-in flash has had to be sacrificed, to be replaced by a pocket-sized hotshoe-mounted flash. Otherwise, the top plate of the X-E3 remains the same as on the X-E2, with shutter speed and exposure compensation dials complementing the shutter button and small function button. 

The shutter speed dial offers settings running from 1 to 1/4000 sec plus Bulb, Time and Automatic, with the exposure compensation dial running from -3 to +3EV. As we've seen with other X Series cameras, there's also now a ‘C’ setting on the dial, which lets you set compensation up to ±5EV using the camera's new front command dial. 

A subtle change is the arrival of a small rocker switch round the shutter speed dial, with the option to set the camera to a full Auto mode – perfect for new users who just want to start snapping and without getting bogged down wondering which aperture or shutter speed to use.

The four-way controller on the X-E2 has completely disappeared on the X-E3

The biggest changes, though, are at the rear of the X-E3, with a much more streamlined layout than we've seen previously. 

The display now butts up to the left edge of the camera, while the four-way controller from the X-E2 has disappeared. Instead, you can use the touchscreen control to flick right, left, up or down with your thumb to access four different functions or settings, which can be tailored to your preference in the menu. 

The X-E3 also benefits from the focus lever we first saw on the X-Pro2, enabling you to toggle quickly to the desired AF point, while you can also use it to navigate the camera's menu system if you prefer that to the touchscreen. 

As we've seen with other X Series cameras, the level of customization impresses, while the overall handling is very satisfying. The absence of a four-way controller isn't an issue, while there are plenty of body-mounted controls to make this a quick camera to operate.

Autofocus

  • 325-point AF
  • Eye-detection AF
  • 5 AF-C presets

The Fujifilm X-E3 uses the same 325-point AF system as the X-T20. This is broken down into 169 phase-detect points set out in a grid of 13 x 13 in the middle of the frame, with an additional two grids of 6 x 13 contrast-detect points on either side to make up the 325 focusing points. 

That's if you're using the X-E3's single-point AF mode. When you opt for Zone or Wide/Tracking, coverage drops to a still-decent 91-point AF arrangement. In this instance, there's a central 7 x 7 grid of phase-detect points.

For static subjects, focusing is swift – the X-E3 happily locked onto a variety of subjects under a range of lighting conditions, while switching to continuous AF saw a welcome improvement in focusing accuracy over the X-E2. 

This is thanks to a new AF algorithm that takes three parameters into consideration. These are Tracking Sensitivity (how long the camera waits before switching focus), Speed Tracking Sensitivity (determines how sensitive the tracking system is to changes in subject speed) and Zone Area Switching (whether bias is towards the center, auto or front).

With five presets to choose from depending on how erratically your subject is moving, AF tracking is much improved. Focusing speed could be a bit quicker (it's not quite a much for the likes of Sony's Alpha A6300), but it's a very solid performer. 

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Performance

  • 14fps burst shooting (electronic shutter)
  • 8fps burst shooting (mechanical shutter)
  • 350-shot battery life

Thanks to Fujifilm’s X-Processor Pro imaging engine the X-E3 takes 0.4 seconds to power up, compared with 0.5 seconds for the X-E2s, while the shutter lag remains the same at just 0.05 seconds. 

While the X-E3 isn't marketed as a action camera, it is capable of shooting at a very fast 14fps using the electronic shutter, or at a slightly more restrained 8fps if you'd prefer to use the camera's mechanical shutter – if you do, expect to be able to shoot 23 raw files or 62 JPEGs before the buffer slows up.

The X-E3 uses Fujifilm's tried and tested TTL 256-zone metering system, which in the main performs very well. As we've found before, when presented with a high-contrast scene it can sometimes underexpose the shot a touch, but this is easy to correct thanks to the well-positioned exposure compensation button – or you can simply lift the shadows in post-processing if you wish.

The electronic viewfinder is the same unit found on the X-T20. As we've found with that camera the viewfinder image is lovely and bright, and, thanks to the 2.36m dot resolution, rich in detail. 

Toggling through the X-E3’s settings is pretty painless when combined with the rear joystick

While there's no tilt or vari-angle positioning of the rear display – either would have come at the expensive of the X-E3's compact build – the 3-inch touchscreen is very good. It would be nice to see the menu system integrated into the touchscreen interface, but toggling through the X-E3's settings is pretty painless when combined with the rear joystick.

One area where there's room for improvement is battery life. At 350 shots per charge, it's certainly not bad for a mirrorless camera, but when compared to a DSLR rival such as the Nikon D5600 and its 820-shot battery life there's certainly room for improvement. It's nice to see a dedicated charger bundled in the box, while you can charge via USB as well.

The upgraded connectivity options of the X-E3 work well. It's easy to pair the X-E3 with your device, and provided Bluetooth is turned on on both devices an automatic, low-powered connection is established every time you fire up the Camera Remote app. 

Image quality

  • ISO200-12,800, expandable to 100-51,200
  • Film simulation modes
  • +/-5 EV exposure compensation in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments

The Fujifilm X-E3 uses the same X-Trans CMOS III sensor as we've seen in the X-Pro2, X-T2, X-T20 and X100F, which means the image quality from the X-E3 is some of the best available from an APS-C-based camera.

Detail is excellent, while those not wanting to spend time sitting in front of a computer will enjoy the X-E3's range of film simulation modes. With 15 effects to choose from there's a wealth of options available, with the likes of Velvia great for enhancing colors in landscapes, while mono shooters will enjoy the Arcos mode. 

Another area where the X-E3 excels is dynamic range. There's plenty of flexibility for recovering detail in the shadows and highlights of images – especially raw files, with about four stops to play with at low ISOs.

Available for both JPEG and raw files is the X-E3's Dynamic Range mode, with the highest DR400 setting preserving plenty of detail in both the highlights and shadows, though this comes at the expense of the base sensitivity available in this mode, with only ISO800 or higher available.

As we've found with other X Series cameras that use this sensor, the X-E3 handles image noise very well. At the lower end of the sensitivity range files look very clean, with no signs of luminance (grain-like) noise in our shots.

It's only really at ISO3200 that luminance noise becomes noticeable, and its organic appearance means it's not a big issue, while even up to ISO12,800 results won't be unusable – you'll need to be prepared to tweak files in post-processing if you're planning to shoot at this sensitivity though.

  • The 10 best cameras you can buy right now

Verdict

The Fujifilm X-E3 is a cracking little camera. The premium finish is complemented by an array of tactile controls and a touchscreen interface that make this camera a joy to shoot with. 

There are no complaints when it comes to image quality either – photos are rich and detailed, while the film simulation modes can add a lovely twist to your shots. And, thanks to the improved connectivity, it's possible to share striking-looking images straight out of the camera before you're even home.

We'd avoid pairing the X-E3 with some of Fujifilm's larger zoom lenses – it's really a camera to enjoy with some neat prime lenses – while the battery life means you might want to invest in an extra battery or two.

Fujifilm may have shrunk the camera, but it hasn't sacrificed performance, and the X-E3 is everything you'd want in a compact-sized mirrorless camera.

Competition

Panasonic Lumix G9

The new Lumix G9 is Panasonic's new flagship mirrorless camera, sitting alongside the Lumix GH5 in the range. 

Despite the GH5 being the company's most stills-orientated flagship camera, it's still seen by many as primarily a videographers tool that also just happens to have a wealth of photography features.  

The arrival of the Lumix G9, then, is designed to rectify this situation. While it has many of the same specs as the GH5 it offers more features designed to appeal to the stills photographer, while sacrificing some of the advanced video features that many users aren't likely to need. 

With Panasonic marking 10 years since it launched the world's first-ever mirrorless camera next year, could the Lumix G9 be the perfect way to celebrate?

Features

  • Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor, 20.3MP
  • 3-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1,040,000 dots
  • 6.5-stop built-in image stabilization system

The Lumix G9 gets the same 20.3MP Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor as the Lumix GH5, which means that, as on the GH5, there's no low-pass filter. If 20.3MP isn't quite enough resolution for you the Lumix G9 also features a new High Resolution mode, which outputs files with an equivalent 80MP resolution. This works by combining eight images that have been taken in rapid succession, with small sensor shifts between each one, which means that, unlike with some rival systems, a tripod is a must when using this mode.

The sensitivity range remains the same as in the GH5, running from ISO100 to 25,600; this is a spec we'd have liked to have seen improved, as it lags a little behind rivals like the Fujifilm X-T2 and Nikon D500, but Panasonic believes image quality has been refined over the GH5 thanks to the inclusion of its latest Venus processing engine. 

The 5-stop in-body image stabilization (IS) system in the GH5 impressed, and the Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop IS system. Panasonic has achieved this by using – wait for it – angular velocity and motion vector information from not only the gyro-sensor, but from the accelerometer and image sensor as well.

The Lumix G9 takes things a step further with a class-leading 6.5-stop IS system

The Lumix G9 features a large and bright electronic viewfinder with an impressive 3,680,000-dot resolution. While that number is the same as on the GH5, the magnification has been bumped up from 0.76x to 0.83x (35mm equivalent), while the display runs at a smooth 120fps. For action shooters, the feed is blackout-free when using the camera's burst shooting mode, while there’s also a night mode, plus an AF Point Scope integrated into the viewfinder design.

On the rear of the Lumix G9 is a vari-angle, 3-inch touchscreen display with a 1,040k-dot resolution – it's a bit smaller than the 3.2-inch touchscreen on the GH5, but it does feature a night mode for low-light shooting.

As you'd expect for a camera that's designed to appeal to a slightly different market to the GH5, the G9 doesn't have quite the same video capture credentials. That said, you can still shoot 4K video at up to 60fps – and that's Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) too. 

The Lumix G9 includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy connectivity, with the latter enabling a constant connection with your smartphone with minimum power consumption.

The G9 gets dual SD card slots, both of which support the UHS-II format for fast transfer speeds (as long as you've got a compatible card). 

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Status LCD display
  • Splash and dust-proof

The design of the Panasonic Lumix G9 sees a slight change in direction from the GH5. It looks a bit more hunched-over in its proportions, which is likely due to the raised shutter button and grip, while the sharp-edged pentaprism sits a bit lower.

The most obvious change to the design, though, is the arrival of a top-plate status LCD – this feature is common on high-end DSLRs, but the pricey Leica SL is the only other current mirrorless camera to sport one. While mirrorless designs have largely shunned the top-plate LCD it's nice to see one on the Lumix G9, providing a spot where you can have a quick glance at all the key shooting settings.

The arrival of this LCD display means the mode dial has shifted over to the left-hand side of the viewfinder, with the drive modes now selected via a switch at the base of the mode dial.

The rear of the Lumix G9 follows a similar control layout to the GH5; there have been some minor tweaks in terms of which button does what, but you're still furnished with a decent amount of programmable function buttons. There's also a useful mini-joystick for quick AF area selection. 

The Lumix G9 features a decent-sized handgrip, while the rear thumb rest is a bit more pronounced compared to the GH5, enabling you to get a comfy grip on the camera. The G9 also feels nice and solid thanks to the magnesium alloy front and rear frames, while it's also been sealed to make it splash-, dust- and freeze-proof. 

Autofocus

  • 225-area AF system
  • Customizable AF settings
  • 0.04 sec AF speed

The Lumix G9 gets the same 225-area AF coverage as the GH5, which covers the majority of the frame. Focusing is sensitive down to light levels as dark as -4EV, while the G9 also uses Panasonic's DFD (Depth from Defocus) autofocus technology. This tech has been improved over the system used in the GH5, increasing acquisition speed from an already speedy 0.05 sec to 0.04 sec, which should improve tracking performance. We didn't really get a chance to experiment with this in our brief time with the camera, but we'll be putting it through its paces when we get our hands on a final production sample.

There are plenty of focusing modes to choose from as well. Multi AF is fine for general shooting, but there's also a Custom Multi mode that enables you to freely select the AF-area group, and Zone AF, where the focus area group size and position can be customized.

As we've seen with the Lumix GH5, users can also set up four different profiles with adjustable sensitivity, AF area switching sensitivity and moving object prediction, depending on the type of subject they're shooting.

Performance

  • 20fps burst shooting with full AF
  • 4K and 6K Photo modes
  • Shutter release lag of 0.04 sec

The Lumix G9 is capable of shooting at a blisteringly quick 20fps with full continuous AF, while this can be stretched a staggering 60fps if you don't need to track your subject. That's quite a jump from the GH5's 12fps (9fps with AF-C), while it's also possible to use the 4K and 6K Photo modes to extract still images. These modes might have less appeal with the Lumix G9 capable of shooting at such fast speeds, but it's possible to extract single 8MP and 18MP images from 4K 60fps and 6K 30fps footage respectively.

Early verdict

At £1,499/$1,699/AU$2,499 body-only the Lumix G9 is competitively priced, and costs less than the GH5. 

Panasonic has made a sensible move with the Lumix G9. The GH5, for all its qualities, is still perceived, rightly or wrongly, as very much a videographer's camera, and in the G9, existing users of the Lumix system (and for that matter, Olympus users as well), now have the option of purchasing a feature-packed high-end model without necessarily feeling that they're paying for a load of advanced video tech they may not need.

We're looking forward to shooting with the Lumix G9 in the coming weeks, when we'll really be able to put it through its paces.

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GoPro Hero6 Black

Looking at the tiny GoPro Hero6 Black, it's almost impossible to tell it apart from last year's GoPro Hero5 Black. There are, however, plenty of noteworthy differences on the inside.

The new camera can capture super-slow-motion video at a high resolution, output a stabilized image in 4K, and transfer everything to your phone at faster speeds – your video can even be posted before your GoPro-documented adventure is even over if you wish. That's amazing for an action camera that's this tiny and durable.

It's not perfect, of course. The biggest problem with GoPro's devices is that the image quality is more impressive than our phones and other devices are capable of handling at times, due to the huge file sizes.

It's a big problem when you offload and edit the video, especially slow-motion footage at a silky-smooth 240 frames per second. You can find yourself – and your phone and computer – overwhelmed by the demands of editing your GoPro's video files.

That said, GoPro's edit-in-post software has gotten a lot better in 2017, so as long as you don't feel in over your head transferring HD and 4K video files to your device this is the best action camera you can buy today.

Features

  • 4K video at 60fps
  • 1080p video at 240fps
  • 12MP still image capture

The biggest change to the GoPro Hero6 Black is the arrival of GoPro's first custom chipset, the aptly named GP1 processor. This has allowed the Hero6 Black to offer 4K video capture at a smooth 60fps (frames per second); the Hero5 Black is only capable of shooting at 30fps. 

That's not all. Fancy shooting some breathtaking slow-mo footage? The Hero6 Black can capture 1080p Full HD footage at an impressive 240fps. In between those two extremes it's possible to shoot 2.7K footage at 120fps.

GoPro hasn't just concentrated on boosting the frame rate of the Hero6 Black over its predecessor, also tinkering with the image stabilization system.

Thanks to the GP1 processing engine, it's possible to have image stabilization active while shooting 4K footage. Stabilization is capped at 30fps, but it's a marked improvement over the Hero5 Black, which could only offer this on Full HD footage, while stabilization is also possible at up to 120fps at Full HD. 

Want to capture stills as well? The Hero6 Black, like the Hero5 Black, can capture 12MP images in single, burst and timelapse modes. What's new is a built-in HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode for high-contrast scenes.

This new mode replaces the Wide Dynamic Range mode on the Hero5 Black, and, again thanks to the GP1 processing engine, it captures images with greater detail in both the shadows and highlights. And, if you're in the habit of venturing out after dark, Night mode is here for more accomplished low-light shooting.  

Build quality and handling

  • Waterproof up to 10m/33ft
  • Design unchanged from Hero5 Black
  • Wide range of accessories available

While there was quite a design shift from the Hero4 Black to the Hero5 Black, the Hero6 Black doesn't look any different from its predecessor, and that's a good thing. This action camera is as discreet as ever, with a very small logo on the front of the otherwise black-on-dark-gray device – you can't even see the logo when the camera is wearing its frame.

It's compact too, feels extremely durable (something that some more affordable rivals struggle with), and is waterproof (down to 33ft or 10m) without the need for a housing. As we experienced with the Hero5 Black, the absence of a housing also means that with no casing getting in the way of the built-in microphone, audio quality is that much better. Should you want to take the Hero6 Black deeper underwater, the optional Super Suit housing offers protection down to 196ft or 60m. 

It comes with a sturdy plastic frame that allows for all sorts of fun camera mounts, while the entire design is incredibly tight, snuggly fitting the microSD card right up against the user-swappable battery (confirmed to be the same battery as in the Hero5 Black, which is nice for cross-compatibility). GoPro packed a lot of camera into this design with the Hero5 Black, and we're even more impressed with it here.

There are 12 simple voice commands, covering pretty much everything you’re likely to want to do with the camera

It has a 2-inch touchscreen on the back for reviewing video and photos and adjusting settings, and it uses what seems like the world's tiniest touch-based user interface. 

You'd think this might be fiddly to use, but it's actually not too bad, with simple swipes and taps enough to access the Hero6 Black's settings and make changes quickly. The screen itself also looks to be an improvement over the Hero5 Black's, with that bit more clarity evident. 

If using the touchscreen is too much effort, the Hero6 Black also offers voice control. This isn't enabled by default, but it's easy to activate in the preferences menu, and you can then simply shout "GoPro start recording", or "GoPro take a photo" and the Hero6 Black will spring into action. There are 12 simple voice commands, covering pretty much everything you're likely to want to do with the camera.

While voice control was present on the Hero5 Black, the Hero6 Black has a new Wake On Voice function. Turn the camera off with a voice command and your Hero6 Black with switch off and run a low-power listening mode, waiting for the command "GoPro turn on". Leave it longer than eight hours and the Hero6 Black shuts down completely. 

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Video and photo quality

  • ProTune offers advanced control
  • Impressive video footage
  • Good image stabilization

This is where the GoPro Hero6 sets new benchmarks. We were able to shoot 4K video at 60fps, and dial the slow motion back to 120fps at 2.7K resolution and 240fps at 1080p. 

The GoPro Hero6 Black is built for catching action incredibly fast.

The two videos above were shot in 4K at 25fps, while the below video was captured at 1080p Full HD, again at 25fps. All three videos have the built-in image stabilization active. 

You'll benefit from the enhanced performance of the GoPro Hero 6 Black if want to record video at 'normal' frame rates too. The image stabilization has been beefed up, with footage slightly cropped to reduce shakiness. The effect is noticeable, but don't throw away your GoPro Karma Grip, as software-based stabilization can only correct so much.

Low light performance has always been a GoPro shortcoming, but the Hero6 Black delivers improved dynamic range courtesy of the new processor, resulting in better image quality both indoors and out.

Raw support is certainly welcome for still images, although because of the sensor's small size don't expect image quality to be any better than from a decent point-and-shoot compact. Nonetheless, it's still a handy feature to have when you want to capture decent-quality images, but don't want to risk your smartphone or main camera getting damaged.

Editing and apps

  • New 5GHz wireless frequency
  • New HVEC video codec
  • Refined QuikStories app

The Hero6 Black takes uncompromised video, but offloading that raw GoPro footage has increasingly been a pain due to large file sizes, especially with older phones. GoPro is tackling this issue with a three-pronged approach.

First, this new camera, and updated mobile operating systems like iOS 11, support a new video codec: High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC). It can halve file sizes, and that's going to save both your iPhone's internal storage and camera-to-phone transfer time.

Second, the Hero6 Black utilizes the 5GHz wireless frequency, which can offer transfer speeds three times faster than the Hero5 Black could manage. We found transfer times were faster in our early testing.

QuikStories returns as a way to transfer and compile your footage into an automatic video collage

Third, QuikStories returns as a way to transfer and compile your footage into an automatic video collage, adding transitions and even music. The best part is that videos are fully editable if you want to make changes. 

Shooting video with your GoPro isn't the hard part. Transferring hours of 4K 60fps video and 240 fps super-slow motion-movies, though, can feel like a chore. 

The Hero6 Black does a good job at chipping away at the workload. But we still find that offloading and editing action camera footage takes practice and discipline; there's a reason why these devices have such a dedicated fan base.

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Verdict

The GoPro Hero6 Black instantly becomes the best action camera you can buy based on the specs. 4K at 60fps and super-slow-motion 240fps at 1080p footage in such a small, versatile action camera make it a cinematic marvel.

At $500 / £500 / AU$750, though, the Hero6 Black is $100 / £100 more than its now reduced-in-price predecessor, the Hero5 Black. And that's before you factor in all of the mount accessories you'll want to buy.

Is slow-motion video worth the extra money? No, not for most people. But everyone will be able to take advantage of the improved image stabilization, wider dynamic range and better low-light performance, while the faster transfer speeds and small file sizes are a good universal perk as well. Those things are worth the step up in price, even if everything looks the same on the outside.

Competition

Sony Alpha A7R III

The Alpha A7R III is Sony's latest high-resolution mirrorless camera, and an update of the excellent Alpha A7R II, which was responsible for tempting many a photographer away from the comfort of their Canon and Nikon DSLRs. 

This latest model looks to draw on many of the technologies used in the speed-orientated Sony Alpha A9, which is just as well, because with the likes of Nikon's brilliant D850 offering a tempting combination of high resolution and high performance the Alpha A7R II was beginning to look a little pedestrian. 

With some impressive boosts to performance, as well as tweaks to handling and the peace of mind of a five-year guarantee, could the new Alpha A7R III see even more secondhand Canon and Nikon DSLRs appearing on the shelves of camera stores as more photographers make the switch? 

Features

  • Full-frame stacked CMOS sensor, 42.2MP
  • 3,686K-dot electronic viewfinder with 100fps refresh rate
  • 3.0-inch tilt-angle screen, 1,440,000 dots

While many might have expected Sony to perhaps boost the amount of pixels to match or exceed DSLR rivals like the D850 and Canon EOS 5DS, it's actually opted to stick with the same count as the Alpha A7R II.

At the core of the A7R III then is a 42.2MP back-illuminated full-frame Exmor R CMOS sensor, although Sony has borrowed some of the innovations from the 24.2MP Alpha A9 and integrated them with this more densely populated chip. 

There are gapless microlenses and a new anti-flare coating for starters, while the Alpha A7R III features a new front-end LSI that almost doubles the readout speed of the sensor. It also takes advantage of the latest BIONZ X image processing engine, and combined, these enhancements deliver a boost in processing speeds of up to 1.8 times compared to the A7R II. 

Sony says the Alpha A7R III has a staggering 15-stop dynamic range at low sensitivity settings

The A7R III's sensitivity range remains unchanged (ISO50-102,400 at the camera's expanded setting), so those hoping for something to match the Nikon D850's expanded ISO32 setting may be a little disappointed. However, the new processing engine should be able to handle image noise better than its predecessor, while Sony also claims the Alpha A7R III will have a staggering 15-stop dynamic range at low sensitivity settings. 

The Alpha A7R III has the same electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the Alpha A9, with the Quad-VGA OLED EVF sporting a resolution of approximately 3,686k dots, and utilizing a Zeiss T* Coating to reduce reflections. On top of this, the A7R III supports a customizable frame rate for the EVF, with options of either 60fps or 120fps, again matching the 120fps offered by the A9. 

Along with the EVF, the rear tilt-angle display has also been upgraded over the outgoing model; it now has a resolution of 1.44 million dots, and just as we've seen with recent models like the RX10 IV, offers touchscreen functionality. 

Also as in the Alpha A9, Sony has shunned the XQD card format (even though it's now the sole manufacturer of that format), instead opting for dual SD card slots on the Alpha A7R III, with only one of those supporting UHS-II type cards.

The Alpha A7R III offers 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) video capture, with the option to use either the full width of the sensor or Super 35mm format mode, with the latter using the full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 5K of information, and oversampling this to produce what promises to be even crisper footage. 

As well as this, the Alpha A7R III now features a new HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profile that supports an Instant HDR workflow, allowing HDR (HLG) compatible TVs to play back 4K HDR footage, while both S-Log2 and S-Log3 are also available. 

If you want to shoot Full HD footage you can capture this at up to 120fps, while there are ports for both microphone and audio monitoring.

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy construction
  • Dust- and moisture-sealed
  • Weighs 657g

The look and feel of the Sony Alpha A7R III broadly follow the design of the A7R II, but there have been a couple of subtle changes. 

While it doesn't get the dedicated drive mode dial/focus mode selector that sits to the left of the EVF on the Alpha A9, it does get a similar multi-selector joystick for quicker AF point selection. There's also the addition of a dedicated AF-ON button for back-button focusing, again as on the Alpha A9. In fact, the rear of the camera mimics the control layout of the A9 – that means the A7R III gets an additional 'C3' custom button, while the rear scrollwheel is more pronounced, and less likely to be accidentally knocked.

They all combine to make the A7R III that much more useable and satisfying to shooting with

The body is s thicker than the A7R II, and fractionally slimmer than the A9, and features magnesium alloy top, front and rear covers as well as an internal frame. Sony has also increased the number of lens mount screws to six for enhanced durability, while all major buttons and dials are sealed, and there's sealing throughout the body to protect the A7R III from dust and moisture.

The changes may be modest, but they combine to make the A7R III that much more user-friendly and satisfying to shoot with. 

Autofocus

  • 399 phase-detection points
  • 425 contrast-detection points
  • Eye AF with enhanced tracking performace

Sony has breathed over the A7R III focusing system as well. The 399 focal-plane phase-detection AF points remain (with 68% coverage of the frame), but Sony has bolstered the amount of contrast-detection AF points from 25 to 400. 

Sony reckons this overhaul should improve autofocus speed, delivering up to roughly two times faster AF speeds in low-light conditions, along with improved AF tracking performance. 

The Alpha A7R III can also focus in brightness levels as low as -3EV. When you consider that that's pretty much complete darkness, it's very impressive, although the D850's central AF point just edges it at -4EV.

The Alpha A7R III's Eye AF has also been enhanced, and now uses the same autofocus algorithms as the Alpha 9. This means that when the A7R III is in AF-C mode and with Eye-AF activated, the system should be able to continuously track and focus on your subject's eye, even if they look down or away from the camera.

When had a chance to test this out during our hands-on time with the camera, and we were really impressed. The A7R III managed to happily maintain focus on a subject in two challenging scenarios – while they were moving round the frame quickly, or looking down or away from the camera.

Performance

  • 10fps burst shooting
  • 5-axis image stabilization
  • 530-shot battery life

While the A7R II could only manage 5fps burst shooting, the enhanced processing power inside the Alpha A7R III sees the burst shooting rate double to 10fps, and that's with continuous AF/AE tracking. It can sustain this for up to 76 JPEG/raw images or 28 uncompressed 14-bit raw images. 

You have the option of using the A7R III's mechanical shutter to achieve this, or if you prefer, you can opt for the camera's electronic shutter for silent shooting. And, rather than having to impatiently wait while the camera writes large quantities of images to the card, it's still possible to use many of the A7R III's key functions.

The Alpha A7R III is kitted out with Sony's 5-axis optical image stabilization system, and this has been tweaked for the new camera to deliver a 5.5-stop shutter speed advantage, improving on the A7R II's 4.5-stop system. To reduce the risk of vibration and image blur, especially when shooting at 10fps, there's a new low-vibration shutter mechanism. 

One of the biggest complaints levelled at the A7R II was the poor battery life, with 270 shots possible if you were lucky. Sony has swapped out the W-series battery used in the A7R II and replaced it with its latest Z-series unit, and you can expect the A7R III to carry on shooting for 530 shots if you use the viewfinder, or 650 shots using the rear display. It's a welcome improvement, but still some way behind the likes of the Nikon D850's 1,840-shot rating. 

Image quality

  • ISO100-32,000, expandable to 50-102,400
  • 15-stop dynamic range
  • 14-bit raw shooting

We'll look at image quality in more depth when we get our hands on a final production sample and can take a close look at the raw files. For now, below are a selection JPEG files from our hands-on time with the Alpha A7R III.

Early verdict

If Nikon thought it was going to have it all its own way with the D850, it should think again. Sony has taken one of our favorite mirrorless cameras and bolstered the performance to make the new Alpha A7R III a much more capable and well-rounded offering.

The heady mix of high resolution and high performance is bound to help this camera appeal to an even broader range of photographers. We can't wait to get our hands on the A7R III for our full review.

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