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Circuit Breaker

Sony's new A7R III is a direct shot at Canon's full-frame throne

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Like a slightly cheaper version of the outrageous A9

Sony surprised the camera world this morning when it finally announced the new Sony A7R III, the long-rumored third iteration of one of the company’s best digital mirrorless cameras. It ships in November, and will retail for $3,200, according to Sony.

The A7R III uses a full-frame, 42.4-megapixel sensor, and borrows heavily from the A9, Sony’s ludicrously fast professional flagship that was announced earlier this year. It shoots 10 frames per second (RAW or JPEG) with autofocus tracking, and it does this without any shutter blackout, just like the A9. That’s wonderful news, since the A7R III also has the same massive 3.69 million-dot EVF that impressed me so much on the A9 back in the spring.

The A7R III has fast, robust autofocus to keep up with those speeds, too. There are 399 phase detection autofocus points, and 425 contrast AF points, which Sony says makes the A7R III twice as fast as the A7R II in low light situations. The rest of the experience should be faster than the A7R II as well, thanks to an updated BIONZ X processor that is 1.8 times quicker, according to Sony.

Photographers should be able to shoot for longer with the A7R III, too, as it uses the A9’s higher-capacity battery. It even has the A9’s AF joystick. For anyone who was lovesick over the A9 and its $4,500 price tag, the A7R III looks like one hell of a compromise.

In the press release and at the announcement event, Sony touted the A7R III’s ability to shoot in challenging and low light. It uses 5-axis image stabilization to cancel out camera shake, has an ISO range of 100-32000 that’s expandable to ISO 50-102,400, and the sensor provides up to 15 stops of dynamic range.

Sony split the A7 series into three back in 2014, with the A7S line becoming the go-to for video, especially thanks its low light capabilities. But the A7R III sounds like it will still be a formidable tool for capturing moving images. It shoots 4K footage at 24 or 30 frames per second, and 1080p video at 120 frames per second. And to help transfer all these high-resolution stills and movies, Sony’s added a USB Type-C connector to the camera.

And that, more than anything, is a sign of why a camera like the A7R III should be making Canon and Nikon sweat. In the same amount of time (four years) that it took Canon to make a new version of its most popular full-frame camera, the 5D, Sony announced the A7, released a follow-up, and then also forked that camera into two discrete camera lineups — the A7R and A7S — that have each seen multiple updates. (Canon’s only iteration on the 5D in that time was the higher-resolution 5DS and 5DSR, two cameras that were practically the same as each other.)

Beyond product development pacing, the A7R III looks like a pound-for-pound competitor to that new 5D — the Mark IV — at a slightly lower price tag. The 5D has a slightly higher-resolution LCD touchscreen (1.62 million dots vs 1.44 on the Sony), but that’s about it. The A7R III shoots photos faster, has a higher-resolution sensor that’s mechanically stabilized, and offers features that only mirrorless cameras can, like silent shooting and the ability to shoot without any image blackout.

At this high end of the market, mirrorless cameras don’t really offer as much of a portability or weight advantage as people tend to think they do. The size of the lenses these slimmer camera bodies need typically cancels that out. But mirrorless cameras this big and expensive still have concrete advantages in performance and possible features, and Sony continues to exploit this at a faster clip than companies like Canon and Nikon.

Right now, there’s simply no other major camera company doing as much to push this part of the photography market forward. And Sony’s been rewarded for this vigor; it passed Nikon for second place in full-frame camera market share earlier this year. So the introduction of a camera like the A7R III begs the question: who (or what) can stop them now?