The Sony A7iii Is Technically Advanced But Hard To Love

My first Minolta 600si was my Dad’s last camera before he passed away.  I inherited it and put in in the very large office closet where all my camera gear is stored.  It stayed there for quite a while and then I loaned it to one of my wife’s friends for about 3 years.  When I got the camera I was in a digital only phase and just did not want to use it.  But then when I got it back I had started using film again and tried it out the first day I got it back.  It came paired with a 50mm f2.8 macro lens.  It also came back with two 24 exposure rolls of Fuji Superia 400.

I did find and download a manual for the 600si.  After looking at that and then checking with the internet to see what people thought about this camera I shot the first roll mostly around our house.  Then the next roll we went to the zoo with my daughter and her two kids.  About half way through the first roll I started to think things like, “wow this is really easy to use”.  “What a great bright viewfinder”.  “No menus Yeah!!!!” “It even loads, advances, and then auto rewinds film rolls” “Boy is this auto focus fast.  It works about as quick as my Nikon D5500”. “This Minolta viewfinder is soooo much better than the Nikon.”

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And then those first two rolls came back from the developer and I was in love with this camera.  For a while I preferred the 600si to my long standing favorite the Olympus OM2n.  Now I am about evenly divided between the two.  I use the 600 when I think there will be kids, action, or low light and auto focus helps.  Or when I am lazy.  The 600 just does everything for you when you want or nothing at all and you can use it manually.

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Minolta thought a great deal about how someone would use this camera body and then made it simple and easy but effective.  My biggest complaints are that the plastic body does not look as good as the Nikon and the viewfinder is not quite as good as the Olympus.  But in every other way this is a great shooter.  Very quick to set up and then make changes when shooting.  All the controls are visible at a glance and changeable with just moving the individual controls changing a setting.

Sony bought Minolta in 2006.  This camera was made around 2000.  Sony must have fired or not listened to any of the Minolta people that made the brilliant 600si.  Even camerapedia calls this a cult camera because of the ease of use and capabilities.  But of course by the time it came out the hey day of film cameras was ending.  The Sony A7iii is a technical tour de force.  However, to set up, adjust when using, and love, not so much. And  I don’t just like older film cameras.  I loved my Nikon D5500.  The D5500 has some of the same advantages of the Minolta 600si, easy to use with it’s capable touch screen, very intuitive adjustments, and gives good photos.  A terrible video camera though.

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Notice all the single purpose controls.  A little secret is that when they all are aligned the same direction the system is on full automatic.  The Sony has pretty much no such thought given to the actual operation of the A7iii.  It’s all there from a technical standpoint, but using it is a jumbled up mess of mostly unmarked buttons, dozens of menus not set out logically, and very difficult to use in the hand.  The Sony is very hard to use quickly, one handed, or fast.  You can set up many of the controls but then you have to remember which ones are which.  If you have a dozen special buttons or controls and only a couple are marked you have to remember which is which quickly sometimes.

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The Sony A7iii turns out really good jpegs.  I always used raw with my Nikons because editing the raws gave better results usually than starting with jpegs.  But Sony adds to my confusion by turning out raws and jpegs that are almost indistinguishable.  That is nothing like Nikon.  Nikon raws are unedited and easily developed in Lightroom.  Sony raws out of my camera look the same as the jpegs.  The Sony is developing both in camera even though I would prefer raw, raws.  One of the problems I have encountered is that the A7iii knows through AI that we are near large bodies of water like the ocean.  When it knows that it adjusts the scene towards the blue side.  And that means you have to go through and edit white balance for every shot you want to use.  That said the Sony A7iii with it’s EVF and histogram in the finder you can control exposure much better than on a DSLR with OVF.  The Sony jpegs and raw so far as I have used this camera seem to be able to handle mid day harsh sun and give better files than Nikon.

I go to this one beach park that is part of a National Park and have tested a bunch of digital cameras and film.  The Sony A7iii is the best digital in this tough lighting of the ones I have used.  That said Kodak Ektar, Kodak Gold 200, Fuji 200, Kodak Ultramax, and Fuji Superia 400 have all given very good results on this test even when using the cheapest photo lab to develop them.  The Nikon D5500 & iPhone both failed this test badly.

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The above shot was taken about a month ago and this was a full sun mid day shot.  The Sony did this with a jpeg.  What is really strange is that when I put on a UV filter later in the shoot I could not tell the difference in the files.  I got shots with unwashed out colors from several films, but no other digital. (I only tried a Nikon D5500, Sony HX 80, and iPhone 7+).

Conclusion so far.  My six weeks of experience with the Sony A7iii is that from a technical and performance standpoint it is excellent but hard to use and confusing.  Sometimes too smart for it’s own good.  Like when it turns water scenes blueish.  And, why is it editing the raws?  It is also expensive compared to the Nikon Z6.  A Sony A7iii with kit 24-105 f4 & 55mm Sony Zeiss f1.8 = $4,300.  The Nikon Z6 with kit 24-70 f4 & Nikon 50mm f1.8 = $2,895.  I don’t think the cheep Sony kit lens is worth having.  And 200 of them currently on eBay at half price says I am right.  Final thought – I may get really good results from the Sony but I don’t think I will ever love or even like this camera much.

Suggestion for Sony – Get those Minolta guys back to help you with handling and logical handling.

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