Unless you’ve been in a coma, sworn off the internets for a week or somehow been legit under a rock, you’ve probably seen and heard the buzz about what Sony calls their “basic” model a7 series camera. I’m talking about the newest cool kid in mirrorless, the Sony a7III. The a7III is an important unit but the story isn’t so much about new features as it is much more about the speed of how Sony’s best tech of the last 18 months has trickled down to the world’s reigning, most affordable, nicely equipped full-frame camera.

Amongst Sony users that invested in the a9 or a7rIII within that 18 month span, some feel foolish for spending thousands more on their units only to have Sony release a camera being touted as one with all the best bits from those Sony headliners for thousands less. Here we’ll address why Sony buyers of the a9 or the a7rIII are still better off than new a7III buyers, and why the entire line-up makes perfect sense.

a7III vs. a7RIII

What they have in common:

  • Dimensions and weight (a7III is only 7g lighter)
  • Build quality and weather resistance
  • Design of body and button layout
  • Touchscreen LCD functionality
  • New more powerful NP-FZ100 battery
  • Dual memory card slots (only the first slot is UHS-II compliant)
  • 5 axis stabilization (focus at -3EV)
  • Electronic shutter with silent shooting mode
  • Max shutter speed: 1/8000s (1/250s flash sync)
  • Max 10fps with AF/AE tracking (8fps with live view/blackouts)
  • 1080p up to 120fps
  • USB Type C and tethering
  • Wifi, NFC and Bluetooth

Why you should still want the Sony a7RIII

Yes, the a7iii is pretty strong at autofocus as it inherits the a9 AF minus the stacked sensor. However, if you’ve tried both the a9 and a7Riii you’ll quickly notice that Sony is just damn good at AF these days regardless of the body. The very discerning will know which they need.

Unlike the a7iii, what the a7Riii excels at is resolution:

You won’t find a better resolving 35m full frame camera from ISO 100 – 12,800.

On top of that, with the a7riii you get the Pixel Shift Multi Shoot that uses the sensor shift mechanism to capture four images in a row by moving the sensor a matter of microns between shots. You can then composite the four pictures into one shot that offers noticeably better detail and significantly better colour with more colour accuracy, while the resolution remains the same.

The a7Riii also sports a 3,686k OLED panel with a refresh rate of 100/120fps, while the newer younger a7iii has a 2,360k dot resolution and a 60fps refresh rate, and that makes a difference. Our Editor-In-Chief touts this as one of the immediately noticeable differences in shooting experience between the two. When comparing the rear screen, both cameras feature touch sensitivity (to a degree) and a tilting mechanism, but the resolution on the a7Riii is significantly higher (1,440k vs 921k dots).

So, for an extra $1200 you’ll get nearly double the resolution and a superior shooting experience with the a7Riii than you can with the a7iii. If you shoot landscape, architecture, or commercial work the a7Riii is still the preferable way to go.

a7III vs. a9

What they have in common:

  • Dimensions and weight (a7III is 23g lighter)
  • Touchscreen LCD functionality
  • 100 to 51200 ISO, with extended “pull” 50 and “push” up to 204800 ISO (up to 102400 for video)
  • New more powerful NP-FZ100 battery
  • Dual memory card slots (only the first slot is UHS-II compliant)
  • 5 axis stabilization (focus at -3EV)
  • Wifi, NFC and Bluetooth

Why you should still want the Sony a9

You might have heard many early reviewers call the a7III the “Baby a9”, but as impressive as the a7iii is, the gap between the two is larger than you might notice at first glance.

In hand, the first thing you’ll notice is that the a9 body is bigger, beefier than all its brethren, and has an extra dial on the top left that is used for drive and focus options. Any physical option means less time digging in menus and quicker overall operation (a particularly big deal with Sony’s menus). As we boot up these cameras you’ll also notice that the a9 starts up faster at 1.20 vs. 1.7 seconds, and a 30% difference can be significant.

In terms of the shooting experience compared to all other cameras in this series including the a7iii, the a9 has a massive buffer that allows continuous shooting of up to 241 compressed RAW files which is about 1/3 more than what the a7iii can produce. Thanks so the a9’s powerful stacked sensor and processing power it can record at 10fps or 20fps without any lag or blackouts in the EVF or on the LCD screen. The a7iii can give you live view with blackouts up to 8fps, while at 10fps you see the last image taken.

The a7iii also doesn’t take advantage of the electronic shutter to the level exploited by the a9. It can do up to 10fps at 1/8000s with the mechanical or electronic shutter. However with it’s electronic shutter you can expect to get some distortion in your images due to sensor read out limits. The a9 can go all the way up to 1/32000 with it’s electronic shutter while remaining distortion and lag free. In practical terms, with the a9 you can shoot silently full-time and say goodbye to ND filters.

To add to that you get a LAN port to send images directly to a server via FTP along with the same finder and rear screen found in the a7Riii.

All these goodies are premium features, and they come with a price, and as such a brand new a9 costs nearly double that of the a7iii at $4500. Admittedly, the a9 does feel premium-priced when compared to the a7iii, but it still feels like a steal when you compare to it’s actual peers, the Canon 1DX Mark II and Nikon D5.

For the most part, what the a9 has that separates it from the rest can’t be had with any other body, anywhere today. For the stills shooter who doesn’t need high resolution the a9 provides the best possible shooting experience available whether you want a jack-of-all-trades camera or something fine-tuned for sports and street photography.

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If you own the Sony a9, although you paid more dearly for it, congratulations! You already own the best camera Sony makes, and if you’ve bought the a7Riii you’ve still bought a unit with a combination of resolution, accuracy and speed not available from any other manufacturer. So make no apologies for your purchase, and revel in the fact that if you need a backup unit you can consider the early favorite for camera of the year, the a7iii.

*Images courtesy of Kishore Sawh