Tony Northrup and the problematic Sony A7 III "review"

March 15, 2018



A reader forwarded me the link to Tony & Chelsea Northrup’s Youtube video titled Sony A7 III review!. It’s a 7:44 minutes long video, that talks about the newly launched full frame mirrorless camera by Sony. It struck me more as an advertisement than a review, so I decided to write this post about an issue that I'm increasingly concerned about. Now most camera gear manufacturers are working with photographers and photography gear influencers. The first are actual professional photographers that are often seen in promotional videos by various brands, while the latter are photography enthusiasts with large social media following (Tony Northrup, Jared Polin etc), or websites dedicated to photography (DP Review). While brands like Nikon, Canon and Fuji usually focus on photographers (so called brand ambassadors), Sony usually (in addition to that) creates carefully staged launch events for the top social media influencers and gear reviewers (see [the 2018 list here]) and pays all their expenses in exchange for exposure.


The moral question of influencers

Most photography gear influencers will tell you that they are completely impartial, and whatever subjective opinion they may have on the particular gear or brand was not directly influenced by the brand. They will usually say they just personally like the particular gear or the brand, or in some cases that their judgement has been reached by comparing features and specs objectively (which is often nonsense). I’m quite sure that there is no monetary transaction between Sony and online gear reviewers (those who are not their official artisans), as that would cause both parties to have issues with the law. But imagine this: Sony invites you to Las Vegas. They pay your flight tickets and the hotel, in exchange for covering their marketing event with and for their newest camera, as well as treating you with various perks in between (airport pickup, dune buggies). Are there really no strings attached? Not sure about that, as I have not seen any contract between Sony and the influencers, but there seems to be a silent agreement, that the influencers will be creating marketing material and dissipating it to their audience (most Youtubers are content creators and content distributors at the same time), and Sony will pay for all the expenses. That is for me morally questionable, and seems to be on the brink of legality. Especially when you consider that a lot of Youtubers don’t disclose the details of dealings with Sony, including Tony.

Sony made a lot of Youtubers excited.

Tony Northrup’s “review” sounds like marketing

Let’s look into Tony and Chelsea Nortrhup’s video again, and break down several parts by quoting the (in my opinion) problematic sections. It doesn’t take long to find one. In the very beginning he says:

“Sony brought much of photography press to Las Vegas, so we can get a hands-on experience with the Sony A7 III”.

First of all, he and most of the Youtubers are not press (“The press” according to Cambridge dictionary: “Newspapers and magazines, and those parts of television and radio that broadcast news, or reporters and photographers who work for them”). As far as I know, Tony is not a reporter for any newspaper, nor is his Youtube channel a broadcasting network (he has a license agreement with Google, they own the platform). He makes himself sound more important than he actually is: He’s a Youtube photography gear reviewer with a large following. That’s what he should’ve said to be accurate. Then comes his summary of the review:

“This is a camera, that will really change things. We have a 2000 Dollars entry level camera that does 10 fps. It’s got dual memory cards, so it can be used like a professional wedding camera. The eye AF allows you to not have to move the focusing point all around manually, and the silent shutter is absolutely perfect to shoot silent ceremonies and stuff. This is gonna revolutionize wedding and portrait photography.”

These superlatives are so cringe-worthy that even Sony’s marketing wouldn't dare to use them. Calling a 2000 USD consumer product "entry level" shows how disconnected he is from the world outside his bubble (I proved this in my previous post as well). That’s a whole lot of money for most people in the world! And there are full frame cameras at around 1000 USD still sold today (the Sony A7 and the Nikon D610), so the statement is plain false, but it sounds great as a marketing headline.

Secondly, just like all the other supposedly revolutionary cameras Sony launched, none, absolutely NONE of them, has revolutionized anything in photography. The A7 III will be no exception to this - none of its features are revolutionary, neither is its price. Up until recently Sony’s “pro” cameras had just one SD card slot. Mentioning that A7 III has 2 is no different than mentioning that it has a shutter button. And there’s still no support for CF or XQD cards on any Sony “pro” mirrorless camera. There are also very few lenses for Sony. How can a camera body revolutionize weddings and portraits, if there’s still just a very limited selection of professional native lenses? A body is nothing without good lenses. If you add an adapter for Canon lenses, the cost increases, and reliability decreases. Very few pros who shoot weddings (or at least those who have some common sense) will take the risk to shoot with adapted lenses. Then comes Chelsea:

“While the images aren’t as sharp as the 45 megapixel A7R III, 24 megapixels is perfect for weddings and portraits, and many pros prefer to have an AA filter to reduce moire and less post processing time.”

Surprising that the notorious pixel peepers say something positive about an AA filter. I think that’s a first, and very suspicious. Let's be honest: The AA filter will definitely bother a lot of wedding photographers. She goes on:

“For weddings some photographers pay off the investment by charging extra for silent shooting that won’t disturb the ceremony. Unlike the Canon 6D, the Sony competition has 2 card slots, so a failed memory card won’t wreck a wedding or portrait session.”

I do wonder where she got this idea that photographers charge extra for silent shooting to offset the cost of the camera. Sounds just like the previous marketing fluff. And pointing out the one and only camera in this segment that has 1 SD card slot is just a selective comparison. The Fuji X-H1, Nikon D500 and D750 and most other competing cameras have dual card slots (see the whole list below). Then Tony:

“Oh, and no overheating”

How can he be be so sure about that by testing a pre-production sample only for one day at a carefully staged event? It’s too soon to claim that. In the week of the Sony event in Las Vegas (Week 9), the outside temperatures were around 18° Celsius (65° Fahrenheit). That can definitely help preventing any overheating issues. I wonder how will this camera hold up in summer or countries with hot climate, when the temperatures double. Tony again:

“Sony has the best Full Frame focusing system at all price points”

Another objectively false statement, the Nikon D5 and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II both have the best focusing system in their price point. Also in the under 2000 USD segment other brands have a better focusing system (Nikon, Canon). Tony again:

“I would just not gotten these shots with an SLR, the reason is, it’s so bright out here, I cannot review my pictures on the back screen, but I can put my eye on the viewfinder and review my pictures ‘cause of the electronic viewfinder (…) that allowed me to fine tune my composition, and my camera settings, and helped me get the shot.

A good photographer gets the shot, a bad photographer can have all kinds of electronic features, and he’ll still produce mundane images (see example here). This was clearly a jab at SLRs like Sony loves to do it in their marketing. I’m sure Steve McCurry did not think about an EVF when he shot the Afghan Girl. EVF is a very overrated feature. Most photographers don't need it. Tony:

“Driving one of those things was awesome”

He was referring to the dune buggies, which Sony let him drive (and paid for him). He clearly enjoyed the sponsored trip, so can he really be 100% objective? I have my doubts. There's no such thing as free lunch.

Then came Chelsea again with the conclusion:


“So, should you get the A7 III? Yes. It blows away everything else at this price point. It can shoot any type of photography, it has no major flaws that we can find. While the image quality seems better than the competition, that’s trivial compared to the benefit of edge to edge focusing points, eye detect autofocus, an electronic viewfinder, a stabilized sensor, and that fantastic video quality.”
 

Let us be blunt now:

 First of all, the A7III does not blow away the Nikon D750 in dynamic range, nor the Nikon D500 in fps and RAW buffer in continuous high (which is virtually unlimited). It offers 50% less shots than all comparable Nikons on a single battery charge, and it has an AA filter that reduces sharpness (the Nikon D810 and D500, as well as Fuji X-H1 have none). The Fuji X-H1 is also virtually silent in continuous high (because of the electronic front curtain shutter and the leaf spring), so Fuji’s done it first and just as good (if not better) with the silent photography. Fuji X-H1 also has IBIS, and a fantastic video quality (so does the XT-2). My point is: There’s nothing revolutionary about the A7 III, others have done it before, and better.


Now let us look into the ecosystem: Sony still lacks great native lenses as well as great 3rd party lenses, most notably fast zooms and primes. Sony is also the most expensive here (do compare the prices of A7 III + 24-70 f/2.8 kit which I listed below). Nikon, Canon and Fuji destroy Sony in terms of value. The first and third party lens selection of Nikon and Canon is still way superior to Sony, while it still trails Fuji in terms of lens quality. Fuji is also leader in customer support, a field where Sony is way behind, and commonly known as being the worst among the top photo camera companies (they just offer you to buy a new camera instead). The ergonomics of the A7 III are as bad as most previous Sony mirrorless cameras. Here Fuji jumped way ahead with the X-H1, while Canon and Nikon are still leaders in this field, miles ahead of competition.

My conclusion

Like I ended my previous post, I want to reaffirm: Beware of "teachers" and "experts" on Youtube telling you which camera is the best. There is no best camera, there are many good and great cameras these days, it all comes down to lenses and wider eco system, as well as what you plan to shoot with your camera. When brands sponsor trips to Youtubers in carefully staged launch events, don’t expect real reviews, even if there’s “review” in the title. Most of it is just marketing fluff and hype for clicks, like my post here showed. I wish these influencers would disclose their relationship with Sony, because I think this practice is increasingly problematic for consumers. If you watched the video without reading my post, I believe you might get deceived by these people and end up buying an overpriced camera in an imperfect ecosystem, that will swallow even more money in the future. I have highlighted all this in my 2016 post. Not much has changed since then.

Appendix:


These are some of the alternative cameras in the price segment that are as good or better than the A7 III (the ones in bold are my recommendations):

- Nikon D810 (refurbished), 36 Mp FF, 5 fps, 1080p/60 fps, 1200 shots - 2200 USD
- Sony A7 III, 24 Mp FF, 10 FPS, 4k/60 fps, 610 shots - 2000 USD
- Canon EOS 5D Mk III, 22 Mp FF, 6 fps, 1080p/30 fps - 2000 USD
- Nikon D500, 21 Mp CF, 10 FPS, 4k/30 fps, 1240 shots - 1900 USD
- Canon EOS 6D Mk II, 26 Mp FF, 6.5 FPS, 1080p/60 fps, 1200 shots - 1900 USD
- Fuji X-H1, 24 Mp CF, 14 fps, 4k/30 fps, 310 shots - 1900 USD
- Nikon D750, 24 Mp FF, 6.5 FPS, 1080p/60 fps, 1230 shots - 1800 USD
- Pentax K-1, 36 Mp FF, 4.4 FPS, 1080p/30 fps, 760 shots - 1700 USD
- Fuji X-T2, 24 Mp CF, 14 fps, 4k/30 fps, 340 shots - 1600 USD
- Canon EOS 7D Mk II, 20 Mp CF, 10 fps, 1080p/60 fps, 670 shots - 1500 USD

I believe Nikon and Fuji offer the best mix of innovation and great ecosystem. Nikon is stronger in terms of lens selection, especially for action and wildlife, while Fuji tends to excel in design, support, and usability innovation. Canon is great when it comes to lens ecosystem, but they're cutting features in their mid-range segment, so I currently don't recommend any of their bodies in the 1500 to 2200 USD price range. The Pentax K-1 is amazing, but just like Sony, the system has very poor and limited lens selection.

Here is the price of the camera and 24-70 f/2.8 lens kit, Sony tops the list with own lens or adapted Canon lens - it's just going to cost wedding photographers extra to shoot with a camera, that is just same or worse than competition:

- Sony A7 III + FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM - 4200 USD
- Sony A7 III + Metabones MB EF-E-BT5 + Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM = 4150 USD
- Nikon D810 (refurb) + AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED - 4000 USD
- Nikon D500 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED - 3800 USD
- Canon EOS 5D Mk III + EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM - 3850 USD
- Canon EOS 6D Mk II + EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM - 3750 USD
- Nikon D750 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED - 3600 USD
- Canon EOS 7D Mk II + EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM - 3350 USD
- Fuji X-H1 + XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR (24-85 equivalent) = 3100 USD
- Fuji X-T2 + XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR (24-85 equivalent) = 2800 USD
- Pentax K-1 + FA 24-70mm f/2.8ED SDM WR = 2650 USD


Price source: B&H Photo.
 Prices are rounded up (plus/minus 5 USD)

Bonus video (very related to this story):

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