Has Sony Made a Mistake With the a7 IV?

Has Sony Made a Mistake With the a7 IV?

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.

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Andy Day's picture

Andy Day is a British photographer and writer living in France. He began photographing parkour in 2003 and has been doing weird things in the city and elsewhere ever since. He's addicted to climbing and owns a fairly useless dog. He has an MA in Sociology & Photography which often makes him ponder what all of this really means.

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"can only manage its 4K 60p with an APS-C crop."
99% of the movies released are filmed with a crop sensor.

I really don't see this as a major issur.
This camera is nicely balanced and just a bit too expensive to my taste.

Maybe true but filming movies isn't how this camera is used. Buyers are amateur or professional photographers who shoot both stills and video. They have high-quality, full-frame E-mount lenses that they want to use interchangeably in both scenarios. Now, if they want to shoot 4k/60, the angle of view dramatically changes. Super-wide angle 4k/60 is impossible unless you buy a separate APS-C lens just for the purpose.

It's OK for grabbing bits of dramatic b-roll that you want to play back at 50%, but it rules the camera out for using 4k/60 as your primary format (which is unusual but it's what we do).

It's a bit of a win for Fuji... if their win is Sony's loss? Fuji has a ton of quality glass with "full-frame equivalent" fast apertures in APS-C. At 4K60, a 1.18x crop on a 23mm f/1.4 is less severe than a 1.5x crop on a 35mm f/1.8.

I agree, this is definitely to Fuji's advantage, when the X-H2 & X-T5 dropping next year at a lower price & higher resolution with probably better video features too their 1.5 crop factor of the APS-C sensor will be an advantage, especially with their cheaper lighter fast lenses and Tamron & Sigma making new lenses for them as well it's an exciting time to be a Fuji shooter.

I’m sure if someone NEEDS full-frame 60p they should be able to film in 1080. If this was Canon there probably would only be 4K lol

When I shot my first student film, my crew was me and one production assistant. My Sony α7R II camera's fullframe format made my workhouse lens, the Sony FE PZ 28–135mm f/4 G OSS, act like an 18–90mm f/2.8 cine zoom on the Super35 format. By contrast, a real cine zoom is manual focus only and costs many times more, whereas I still had Super35 mode, after all, as well as Clear Image Zoom.

I brought a Canon wide photo zoom to adapt, but didn't need it. The Sony zoom at 28mm allowed a medium shot—that is, waist up—of the actor opening and standing at a closet door while I was inside the cramped closet, normal size for a Brooklyn apartment. Of course, I usually shot at 24p, and I had no 4K 60p. For slow motion, I had 1080p. But times change. And fullframe cinema cameras are a growing trend.

Wouldnt the Sony 28–135mm f/4 be equivalent to a 42-202mm in S35 mode?

Unless I am mistaken, the math was done backward.

Cinema's standard is Super35 format, whose crop factor, 1.5x versus fullframe format, you have correct. Meanwhile, the Sony FE PZ 28–135mm f/4 offers fullframe coverage, so I used it mainly with the camera's native fullframe format, a 1.0x crop factor, no crop.

To get that field of view and depth of field on Super35 format, we'd have a 18–90mm f/2.8 lens. But, yes, switching the Sony camera from fullframe mode to Super35 mode, a 1.5x crop factor, effected about 42–202mm f/5.6. Having such broad range, and cinematic depth of field, in one lens, I switched to primes only for select shots.

It's a set of features
Nobody will use all of them
Few will use even half

I agree, it’s a nice camera, but definitely not ground breaking. While the extra res is nice imo, it’s not enough to sell me on this camera and the aps-c crop in 4K 60 is disappointing to me. I was expecting more. Just watched Kai test the af and honestly, wasn’t impressed.

Am I missing the mistake this article mentions? I had to jump to the summary to realize it was about resolution but why's it matter? Rolling shutter? I didn't know the A1 or R5 were inferior there because of their higher resolution. - Maybe someone can explain what I'm missing.

Ceteris paribus, or, in other words, by the principle whereby all else is equal, higher resolution slows the sensor's readout speed. The slower the readout speed, the greater the 'rolling shutter' effect. One way to increase sensor readout speed is to use a 'stacked' sensor, which offloads data faster than a conventional sensor.

Sony's α9, α9 II, and α1 as well as Canon's R3—but not R5—have stacked sensors. This enables the electronic shutter's use for action stills without noticeable warping, and, all else equal, it reduces rolling shutter. Sony's α7 IV does not have a stacked sensor, and so its higher resolution lacks this offset to the greater readout work.

Seems to me Andy is saying the mistake he's concerned with is you can only shoot 4k 60p video in crop-sensor mode.

"...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."

"...and depriving hybrid videographers of full frame 4K 60p feels unnecessary."

"However, for those who shoot a lot of video...having to work with a crop when shooting B-roll will be frustrating."

I have a feeling a majority of the actual market would disagree. Hybrid shooting isn't the future; it's now.

When shooting in mixed frame rates, switching lenses based on frame rate is very inefficient, and you are wasting your time and your clients.

Also, if you are a live event shooter, the crop will cost you to compromise or miss shots.

At the end of the day, the market will determine if Sony made a good or bad decision.

To me 32 MP gives me exactly what I feel I need to have resolution left after cropping, shooting portraits in studio. If autofocus is more precise and the added upgrade on the body and menu’s then it will be a worthy upgrade. Upscaling is better and better, but I doubt many photographers want to give away upscaled images to clients. I don’t.

Photographers shooting fast action with the α7 IV, whose nearly 40% rise in pixel count slows its sensor readout, are quite disadvantaged versus using the α9, α9 II, or α1, and might not even get usable or favored shots for clients, particularly in video.

The issue is balancing tradeoffs in the new "basic" model—refreshing the α7 III's 2018 precedent—or now, supposedly, in the "beyond basic" model of 2021, not of 2018. Sony already has other cameras prioritizing either high resolution or fast action over the other.

I like it. I don’t shoot action and I don’t do video. Happy they upgraded resolution.

33MP is a great middle ground between 24MP and higher MP cameras, necessary marketing upgrade, offers just enough MP in APS-C crop (14.4MP) to feel like enough in ok light in some scenarios with a sharp lens (I shoot crop with 135GM and 14GM a lot), and I suspect will be the champion in signal(detail)/noise ratio and I'd be surprised if it didn't surpass A7 III in DXOmark measured ISO performance.

Is it a great middleground for a balanced camera, rather, if the rise in resolution restrains the stills frame rates to yesteryear, makes the electronic shutter unusable for action, makes many video shoots cumbersome, and makes many video results amateurish?

You assume there's some technical limitation to get better performance and attribute it to the one visible change of sensor resolution. But the most probable explanation is that Sony just doesn't want you to "have it all" at this price point. 38% of more pixels is not a big deal to process, especially when the camera packs A1 CPU, AF capability of all new bodies etc. It's just Sony and their strict price point and function segmentation. In other words they have to balance what you get for $2500 so people would buy more expensive A7R, A9, A1 and A7S3. Am I happy about it? No. The 4k60 in crop and 1m pixels LCD is just not worth the "bad rap" and whining in my opinion, as for fps 10 is just fine for 90% of buyers, and it's ok with just compressed RAW, but be open about it.

I had expected the α7 IV's abilities to offset the nuisance of having to flip the monitor out just to tilt it. But for balanced usage, not merely select uses, the α7 IV's rise to a 33 MP sensor, nearly 40% more resolution than the α7 III's 24 MP, brings more drawbacks than advances. Slowing sensor readout, it makes the α7 IV's silent shooting basically just as unusable for fast action as the α7 III's is [1].

And using the mechanical shutter while viewing live gets up to 8 fps—drive mode Hi—whereas Hi+, up to 10 fps, delays the view. In video, rolling shutter gets severe, 4K 60 fps is cropped to Super35mm format, and 4K beyond 60 fps is absent. A model "beyond basic" as Sony calls the α7 IV has 4K beyond 60 fps, if lowish quality, highly cropped, recorded externally, or even two of these three. To resolve all the above, why not price it 300 USD higher at 2800 USD to use a 24 MP stacked sensor—keyword 'stacked' [1]—like the sensor shared by the α9 and α9 II [2]?

As the α9 II, still 4500 USD, lacks picture profiles for serious video, Canon may soon leave it looking silly, anyway. And the α9, available into August 2021 [3], was at times priced 3000 USD since October 2020, a year ago [4]. An α7 IV cap at 10 fps—reliable and viewed live—would downmarket the α7 IV. Then, instead of the α7 III now often discounted by 300 USD to sell at 1700 USD—and maybe soon at 1500 USD—why not up its autofocus, even sell the firmware update for 100 USD, to reinforce its position? Otherwise, I now wonder, where is the α3, midway between α1 and α7 IV?

Yes, both α9 models, lacking ISO invariance [2,5], have maximal dynamic range below α7 III's [2,6]. But, a year older, the α9's innovative sensor, a stacked design [1], meeting astonishing speed, 20 fps, for a use case where contracted sports photographers might shoot only JPEG, anyway, apparently was optimized for high readout speed, not for low readout noise [2,5]. In 2020, the α9 II, reusing this 2017 sensor, quelled total noise, evidently downstream [2]. In 2021, Sony's electronic noise is so low, both in sensor readout and in signal processing, that α1's 50 MP stacked sensor yields 30 fps and ISO invariance [1,7]. By now, "beyond basic" is 24 MP stacked sensor, 10 fps mechanical viewed live, at least 5 fps silent shooting fast action, ISO invariance, and 2800 USD.

1) Richard Butler, "Why the speed of Stacked CMOS is key to Nikon's pro mirrorless camera", DP Review, 8 Mar 2021.

2) Carey Rose, "Sony a9 II review", DP Review, 19 Aug 2020.

3) Jaron Schneider, "The original Sony Alpha 9 appears to have been discontinued", PetaPixel, 13 Aug 2021.

4) Gannon Burgett, "Deals: Sony USA is offering steep discounts—including all-time lows—for select cameras, lenses and more", DP Review, 14 Oct 2020.

5) Rishi Sanyal, "Sony a9: more speed, less dynamic range", DP Review, 18 May 2017.

6) Rishi Sanyal, "Sony a7 III dynamic range and high ISO improve over its predecessor", DP Review, 17 Mar 2018.

7) Rishi Sanyal, "Analysis: New Sony a1 sensor offers class-leading dynamic range, along with high-speed and high-resolution", DP Review, 9 Mar 2021.

Price is a mistake!

I completely agree with your points in this article, and is exactly what I was thinking when I watched the announcements today. I was really hoping to make the A7 IV my B-camera for my A1 which is currently an A7sIII. But the stills features of the A7 IV are appealing, however the two things that really put me off, were the burst rates being at 10fps, only if you are in compressed RAW (which I guess I could live with or starting to feel ok about) and the 4K 60p crop. They really should have kept it at 24mp or did something like Fuji did and upped the resolution to 26mp and then added full frame 4K 60p, and it would sell like hot cakes. But it sounds like they were doing market segmentation, to protect the A7sIII sales. And honestly that makes sense because I was looking to replace the A7sIII with the A7 IV, and now I'm thinking twice about that move, so it sounds like Sony's mission was accomplished.

Canon making the same mistake years ago with their "Cripple Hammer" caused them to lose a lot of sales to Sony, Panasonic, and Fuji.

Innovation and cannibalization usually go hand in hand. They should have given their base what they wanted.

I think that shooting photos at 10 fps amid refined subject tracking is ample for a "basic" model, and that compressed raw is mandatory for continuous autofocus at maximal frame rate. In the past, uncompressed raw merely had cleaner periphery of blown highlights [Richard Butler, "What difference does it make? Sony uncompressed raw", DP Review, 23 Sep 2015].

But, in preproduction, the α7 IV's raw burst with live view peaks at 8 fps, often 6 fps in practice, via drive mode Hi. The 10 fps is in Hi+, which, eliminating live view, delays the view by a frame, and still is merely potential. The α7 III already did all of that, if with poorer autofocus. Now, though, 10 fps seemingly requires writing to a CFexpress A card, which costs 200 USD for 80 GB or 400 USD for 160 GB. So if this persists in production, the α7 IV basically costs 2900 USD.

Or, as 10 fps with delayed view can approach useless, the a7 IV shoots up to 8 fps for 2500 USD. By contrast, the α9 II reuses the α9's 24MP stacked sensor—faster than unstacked—both writing 20fps to SD cards. Sony has sold the α9, out since 2017, for as low at 3000 USD a times since October 2020. Yes, the α9's mechanical shutter is only up to 5 fps, but the α7 III's, dated 2018, is already such clunky 8/10 fps like the α7 IV's. The α7 IV gains great autofocus and great features, but lags in today's basics.

Indeed, the 33 MP sensor, still unstacked, boosts mainly the α7 IV's photo aura, not shooting. Its imposition on 4K video—strong rolling shutter, 60 fps at 1.5x crop, no higher frame rate—makes 33 MP seem an excuse not offset by photo gains. With, instead, a 24 MP stacked sensor, the α7 IV in 2022, even at 2900 USD, would evoke the α7 III in 2018, by offering action photos, mechanical or silent, reliably at 10 fps live view to SD card, low rolling shutter, rightful 4K 60 fps, and 120 fps impaired or external. The α7S III's shields is recording 4K 120 fps at 10 bits, 4:2:2, fullframe, internally, and recording 4.2K at 16 bits raw externally.

Here I am super impressed with Sony's release, having internal 10-bit 4:2:2, the A7SIII's autofocusing which is top tier, 4k 60 (seriously, the crop is no surprise at this price point...?), nice resolution bump, amazing solution to some of their focus breathing lenses. I think it's just a testament to how well Sony has been doing. It is pretty hard to make a new camera that doesn't cannibalize your higher end offerings. Meanwhile I'm looking at my Nikon Z6II (which I love), which doesn't have internal 10-bit, and I'm left kinda bummed out by that fact alone.

And yet, folks STILL complain that the A7IV is underwhelming? At some point it's not the camera holding you back, man. If you need more specs for your work, then perhaps you can justify getting the A7SIII or the A1. At least Sony has the option for you to upgrade if you need to.

Not talking about the camera being underwhelming, we're talking about a single "upgrade"—nearly 40% more resolution, but no newly stacked sensor—restraining or even downgrading action shooting, requiring more gear and more lens changes, and yet offering most users scarce benefit.

Downgrading action shooting? I’ve had quite a bit of benefit from the A7r4’s higher resolution. I’m not following what you might mean.

The α7R IV's 61 MP sensor, high resolution but otherwise of conventional design, performs signal readout much slower than either a sensor of low resolution, like the α7S III's, or a sensor of 'stacked' design, like the α9's or α9 II's or α1's—or like the Canon R3's, made by Sony—whereby the sensor can, additionally, perform autofocus calculations faster. So the α7R IV is roughly unusable silent for action stills, images warping, since by the time sensor readout completes, relative positions of objects have changes. The mechanical shutter is needed to stop exposure sooner.

For action video, the 'rolling shutter' effect—similar to photo warping—causes amateur quality, looking wonky. Also, 4K video at high frame rates, like 60 and 120, takes high processing power—more than the α7R IV's—to downsample each frame's resolution. Or the camera can ignore more data—colors numbering 8 bits instead of 10 bits, or color subsampling done 4:2:0 instead of 4:2:2, or skipping every other line of pixels, or "binning" adjacent pixels' data together—lowering color adjustability or image fidelity. Or the camera can just, instead, crop each frame a lot, causing need for recompositions, more lenses, lens changes, and gimbal rebalancing,

There you are with your brand new A74 with your old f4 16-35 attached….. or should I say 24-52 attached…. In reality what are you loosing or even gaining? Put your 600mm on for some wildlife shots snd hey presto you now have a 900mm, and some nice extra reach. If like me you have a good selection of Sony lenses and you buy this new A74 you buy it knowing it’s specs. Knowing your widest shot is now 24 instead of 16, you have to ask yourself, is this a major deal killer? In reality in the world of film 18-100 is considered the most desired focal range therefore you with 24 being your new widest are you in fact loosing much? Hardly a deal killer if you take reality in to account.

Are you talking video? I believe the auto-cropping only happens when filming at 4K60.

the 4K 60p crop makes sense to me, a small trade off for higher resolution. A pretty stellar camera all around. If someone NEEDS full frame 60p, there is always a 1080 option.

So don't shoot 4k/60 ;)
This product is targeted at people who this will be their only camera. If you're a pro and shoot video, this is not your A cam, possibly not even B. If you're an amateur, then why shoot 4k/60 FF? Just for the fun of having to edit huge files? But you may just like the fact that if indeed you need it, it's there, and cropped together with the animal AF, it'll be easy to track and keep focus on far-away birds/cats/etc, if you're into that.
Sony is making clearer the difference between its offering with these new cameras, even though it can be frustrating, since the tech can probably easily do it, but it's just not implemented on the lower-end offerings. (the 7iv hardware can prob do 4k/60 ff, but the software side doesn't).

Such objective, universal demarcation between professional versus amateur is no longer realistic among users of hybrid cameras. Besides the expansion of enthusiast as well as semipro sectors, many persons have made livings with the α7 III, and must ponder whether to buy another or to upgrade—to what? Of course, these are First World problems, as it were, but this is where many of us live.

Good! If video people want higher quality video they just need to spend the money just like still photographers have had to spend money on video that they don't need or use. Canon to follow if they are smart enough.

I can 100% guarantee if Canon or Nikon released something at that this price point with severe rolling shutter, slow sensor readout and only 5fps raw shooting with a crop in 4k60p people would be crying they crippled their camera.

“Mistake” is subjective…and to Yes to some people. Personally, the a7iv fits almost everything I need (I do wish the rear resolution was better). The things people are getting bogged down on like burst rate and 4K60 crop, for me, aren’t an issue. The mini-A1 capabilities, improved ergonomics, even some features that only the top end or no other (focus breathing) in the line has at this price point is really good. I would say that Sony could have started closer to $3000 and see how it sold. I feel like we will see some firmware upgrades too. I will be keeping my a7iii around for a while longer to see how things play out; I have preordered the a7iv.

This is definitely to Fuji's advantage, when the X-H2 & X-T5 dropping next year at a lower price & higher resolution (40 Megapixels) with probably better video features too the 1.5X crop factor of their APS-C sensor will be an advantage because you will get to use the full sensor, especially with their cheaper lighter fast lenses and Tamron & Sigma making new lenses for them as well it's an exciting time to be a Fuji shooter.

I do wish they would have done 4k60 FF...... Just makes getting wide angles with slow motion rather difficult. Need an expensive UWA lens basically.

Wish they'd give us it in SOME form with a firmware update. Maybe just drop it to 8bit for uncropped? or SOMETHING....would be nice.

The 33mp is nice but I DO think 24 would have been just fine.

The rolling shutter looks to be a pretty big issue too.