With the a7 IV, Sony is intent on producing the best hybrid camera ever created. However, one decision means that Sony has missed a trick when it comes to creating the perfect camera.
When the a7 III was introduced in 2018, it sent shockwaves through the industry. The camera combined a remarkable set of features that its competitors seemed far from matching and at a price that was deliberately aggressive. It shot fantastic stills with phenomenal dynamic range, the autofocus was incredible, and the video features were impressive. All of this was surprisingly affordable, and creators around the world — not to mention countless amateurs and enthusiasts, some of whom were buying their first camera — also put in their orders. To keep the price down, Sony cut some corners: though reasonably sturdy, the build quality didn’t feel premium and parts — such as the 3.5mm audio output (let’s not talk about the shutter) — had a reputation for failing after sustained use.
Matching the Hype
With the a7 IV, Sony has the unenviable task of trying to match that hype, and at first glance, it seems to have done a pretty good job. Dynamic range is improved, autofocus is somehow even better, and new video features have been introduced. The processor has been lifted directly from the a1, allowing it to oversample 7K from the 33-megapixel sensor in order to create its 4K 30p video and offer a huge buffer. (Quite why this camera isn’t capable of shooting more than 10 frames per second is a question for another day.)
Combining perfect stills features with perfect video features is not an easy task when you’re trying to keep the price under two-and-a-half thousand dollars. The a7S III gives up on this compromise and comes in at $3,499 and reduces the number of megapixels to 12 in order to achieve UHD 4K 120p. The a7 IV, aiming to give a balance between stills and video, has 33 megapixels and can only manage its 4K 60p with an APS-C crop. This was probably a tough decision for Sony, and for me — even though I’m a photographer — it was the wrong one.
If 12 Megapixels Is Almost Enough, Why Isn't 24?
When the a7S III was released, the video features were so appealing that many hybrid shooters were wondering if they could get away with 12-megapixel stills for their work. The argument was that most images shot today never go further than a screen, so for some, it was potentially worth the trade off. In addition, it’s now possible to upscale a photograph with better quality than ever before. Advances in artificial intelligence has brought technology such as Adobe Super Resolution for enlarging your images: arguably, the number of megapixels in your camera has never been less important.
As someone who shoots predominantly stills and the very occasional bit of video, 24 megapixels is plenty, and depriving hybrid videographers of full frame 4K 60p feels unnecessary. The increased resolution means that rolling shutter is also far more severe, providing another argument for a lower resolution. Admittedly, some landscape, wildlife, and sports photographers will probably disagree, as the extra resolution will afford them a little extra flexibility when cropping in on their images, and switching to Super 35 for 4K60 will not feel like much of a compromise. However, for those who shoot a lot of video but don’t fancy the 12 megapixels of the a7S III for their stills work, having to work with a crop when shooting B-roll will be frustrating.
Would Sony have been better to stick with 24 megapixels? Or would that have meant being slated for not offering photographers a significant upgrade? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.