Sony a7R Mark III review
Operations, controls and menus
Like the a9 and RX10 IV, the a7R III's menus have been redesigned. The main change is that they've gained more signposting: with color coding and text labels making it clearer where you are within the menu structure and what you'd expect to find there. Some of this labeling is more successful than others: it's pretty obvious what you'll find in AF page 2 or Movie page 3 of the Camera tab, but it's less clear what is gained by labeling the six pages of the Setup tab 'Setup 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.'
In total there are some 181 options spread across 35 pages, themselves arranged into five tabs, which is a lot to deal with. But, given that very few of the a7R III's rivals make nearly the same level of commitment to both stills and video features, this level of complexity is understandable, even if that doesn't make it any easier to deal with, initially.
The good news is that between button customization, a user-definable 12-option Function Menu and a My Menu tab that can be set up to list the settings you most often change, it's rare to find yourself hunting around for obscurely-placed menu options when you're shooting.
The benefits to be gained from spending the time to configure the camera are immense.
Buttons and Customization
The a7R III has four marked custom buttons but 13 of the camera's controls (essentially everything but the playback and menu buttons) can be customized and re-purposed. Unlike most other cameras, it's possible to assign different functions to the same button, depending on whether you're in stills or video mode.
|Each of the 13 customizable buttons on the camera can perform a different function when in video shooting mode. You only need reconfigure those whose functions you want to change, though.|
If the idea of a custom button's function changing seems daunting, you needn't worry: the default value for all buttons is 'Follow Custom [Stills].' However in use it's likely you'll quickly find some features you want access to when shooting stills (eg 'Auto ISO Min Shutter Speed') that aren't really helpful in video, such that they can be given a more video-appropriate purpose when you're shooting video.
|The on-screen Function Menu provides a way of checking and accessing key settings without needing to delve into the full menus.|
There's also a customizable Function menu, where you can arrange twelve of the settings you don't use enough to merit direct button access but that you want to check or change semi-regularly. Unlike the button customizations, however, the function menu options cannot be differently assigned depending on whether you're shooting video versus stills.
Recall Custom on hold
As with the a9, three of the options assignable to buttons are 'Recall Custom hold' 1, 2 and 3. These allow you to temporarily jump to a different set of camera settings, while that button is being held down. Each of these three presets can be user defined, with a choice not only over the values of each setting but also over which camera functions are affected.
|The three 'Recall Custom on hold' banks let you define temporary changes in exposure, drive and focus modes, effected when you hold down a custom button. Note the check boxes to chose whether each parameter is applied.|
This means that, for instance, you can define one preset to jump to Shutter Priority and 1/50th of a second shutter speed for panning shots, while retaining all your existing AF settings, but then have a second preset, assigned to a different button, that leaves your exposure settings alone and jumps to Wide AF area mode and AF-C, so you can be prepared if something unexpected happens away from your chosen AF point.
To make the presets quicker to configure, you can 'import' the camera's current settings, then decide which of those settings you want the preset to impose. Again, it's a bit of work, but it's a feature that lets you configure your camera to behave and react exactly as you want. The Recall Custom hold options are only available for stills recording, not video.
In addition to these temporary settings changes, the a7R III lets you save near complete sets of the camera's parameters that can be saved into any of four memory banks. These sets of parameters can then be assigned to any of three positions on the mode dial. They can also be saved to, and recalled from, memory cards.
|If you switch often between video and stills, programming your desired settings - including your shutter speed and aperture - into the custom banks on the mode dial can make the transition easier.|
Sadly button customizations are not saved, which means you can't simply save your button and dial setup to a card, if you find yourself occasionally renting an a7R III (or an additional a7R III).
Single press options
As a further, minor improvement a handful of button options that would previously bring up a two-choice menu on the screen have been refined so that a button press simply toggles between the available options. These include Peaking, Zebras, the switch between Super 35 and Full Frame movie capture, turning the rear display on and off, and turning the camera's touch function on and off.
|The a7R III comes with the latest implementation of Sony's touchscreen tech, allowing you lots of customization for touchpad AF when using the viewfinder, as well as allowing you to place your AF point when using the screen for framing.|
The a7R III becomes the latest recipient of Sony's oddly AF-point focused touchscreen implementation. This lets you tap on the rear screen to position the focus point, if you're in one of the AF area modes that requires a point to be specified.
In addition there's a Touchpad mode that lets you move the AF point when shooting with the camera to your eye. You can choose which of these Touchscreen and Touchpad functions are active, if you prefer not to have the screen touch-sensitive at all times.
In Touchpad mode you have the choice of whether the position you press on the screen dictates where in the scene the AF is positioned or whether the direction you swipe moves the point relative to its current position (like a mouse cursor). You also get to decide whether the function remains active with the camera in portrait orientation (when the screen may be harder to reach), and which regions of the screen are active, which can be useful for left eye shooters, whose noses might otherwise interrupt operation.
Touchscreen responsiveness has been improved on the a7R III, relative to Sony's earlier efforts. There is noticeably less 'lag' in Touchpad operation, for example, though it still has a ways to go before it's competitive against the fluidity of Panasonic's and Canon's touchscreen implementations.
Dealing with lots of images
A couple of small changes improve the way the a7R III handles the many, many images it can rapidly capture. The first is that images shot as part of a burst can be automatically grouped together in playback mode (if the impressively jargon-y 'Disp Cont Shoot Grp' option is activated in the menus), making it easier to navigate through them.
Another improvement is that addition of a 'Protect' button, making it quick to mark the images you don't want to accidentally delete. There's also the option to configure a button to assign ratings to images. A menu option lets you decide which ratings are available (1 - 5 stars), so you can, for example, set the Rating button to cycle between 0, 3 and 5 stars, if you want to do a quick Yes, No, Maybe assessment on your images. These ratings are written into metadata in a way that software like Adobe Bridge and Lightroom will recognize.
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