Sony Announces the New Alpha 7R IV: A Proper Rival to Medium Format

For many photographers, having a high-resolution camera is a must. For some time now the Canon 5DSR was the highest resolution full-frame camera on the market. Sony has now one-upped it with their latest announcement the new Sony a7R IV. As someone who shoots with both Sony and Canon, I have to say I'm really excited about this new camera. 

Several times during the presentation Sony mentioned medium format and described how the a7R IV offers results rivaling such cameras. Personally, I think that's probably the case because considering the kind of lenses you can put in front of this new sensor you would probably be able to produce results that are better than some medium format cameras. Having a camera with 61mp is noticeably more than several notable medium format cameras currently in production.

There is also the fact that this camera can produce images with resolutions up to an astounding 240mp using its pixel shift technology. This is a ridiculous amount of detail coming from a full-frame camera and currently, it's beyond almost all medium format cameras except the Hasselblad H6D 400c; which is priced at almost $48,000. 

The Canon 5DSR was a brilliant camera and one that I regularly used, however this new camera from Sony really does rival medium format on a level which was not previously possible. 

Dynamic range is one of the aspects that medium format cameras tend to excel at and this is something Sony has seemingly worked really hard on. The a7R IV now boasts 15 stops of dynamic range which is extremely useful for a number of reasons. Recovering data is one thing but it's also the natural transitions between highlights and shadows that make images feel more detailed and lifelike. 

If this camera really does have 15 stops of dynamic range then coupled with the resolution it may produce images better than that coming from the Hasselblad X1D II and the Fujifilm GFX 50s. Although there is the GFX 100 which boasts a 100mp BSI sensor, the price of that significantly more than the Sony. For that extra money, you're not really getting a significant improvement in detail especially when you consider the pixel shift capabilities of this new Sony camera. Ultimately, the a7R IV is an incredible new release form Sony, one that may prevent the need to "upgrade" to medium format. This is especially the case when you consider the price and extra features this camera offers. 

Why This is Better Than Medium Format

Some of you will vehemently disagree with this and that's fine but I do believe this camera is a better option than many medium format cameras on the market today. First of all, consider the kind of lenses available for this camera. There is no equivalent for the FE135mm f/1.8 GM available for medium format cameras like the GFX or X1D. This lens is incredibly sharp too, possibly sharper than any similar medium format portrait lens. The fact that this camera also boasts more resolution than cameras like the GFX 50S and X1D also mean that you'll be able to produce sharper more detailed images with it. If it's just image quality you're looking for then more than likely this new Sony camera will offer better results than several medium format cameras that still cost more. Sure, you may want to bring up the GFX 100, which I do think is an excellent camera for a number of reasons. Although considering the price points, these two systems sit in very different market segments. Ultimately, the R IV might be the best camera you can buy when it comes to image quality up to a certain price point. 

Enhanced Autofocus

The autofocus features of the a7R III are fantastic and I've personally found them to be extremely reliable in many situations. For imagery, eye detect autofocus has been an incredible feature that has made shooting much easier for me. The R IV has improved on this by including real-time eye AF. This can be extremely useful for tracking moving subjects and prevents you from losing them when continuously shooting. This new sensor now has 567 focus points that cover 74% of the sensor. That wider coverage can really help with composition and may prevent the need to focus and recompose. This is especially useful if you're shooting with wider aperture lenses where the depth of field can be extremely thin. 

Better Video Features

During the presentation, there was no mention of frame rates and bit rates and for that reason, I'm assuming that they remain unchanged. What has improved are the AF features and video quality for super 35 crop mode. In crop mode the camera will downscale 6k footage down to 4k producing more detailed footage. The fact that the camera will not be pixel binning in crop mode could also help improve things like moire and low light performance. 

The autofocus improvements for video are very attractive. The R IV now offers eye detect tracking for video which is incredible.  Although the example shown in the presentation was of a very short clip, I think this could be one of the best features of this camera. 

The other improvement this camera has over previous models is touch to track focus. on the a7R III when you touch to focus on the back screen, you couldn't actually track your subject. This is something I've requested multiple times and I'm really happy this has now been included. For video shooters, this could be extremely useful, especially for those of us that film using gimbals.  

Specifications

  • Unprecedented Highest Resolution and Widest Dynamic Range for α - Alpha System, Combined with High-speed Performance and a Lightweight, Compact Body 
  • World’s first[i] 35mm full-frame 61.0 MP[ii] back-illuminated Exmor R™ CMOS image sensor with latest-generation BIONZ X™ image processor
  • 15-stop[iii] dynamic range at low sensitivities, resulting in smooth, natural gradations ranging from deep shadows to highlights
  • High-speed continuous shooting at up to 10 fps[iv] with full AF / AE tracking for approximately seven seconds [v] in full-frame mode with an increased buffer memory, and approximately three times as long in APS-C mode
  • 567 focal-plane phase-detection AF points covering 74% of image area and 425 contrast AF points 
  • Debut of Real-time Eye AF for movie recording[vi] and advanced Real-time Tracking[vii] plus Real-time Eye AF for still image recording
  • Features an APS-C crop mode delivering stunning high-resolution images of 26.2MPii
  • 5.76 million dot UXGA (Ultra-XGA) OLED Tru-Finder™ electronic viewfinder with outstanding detail, brightness and contrast
  • Upgraded connectivity and operability including high-speed Wi-Fi support, wireless PC remote connectivity[viii], FTP wireless transfer, faster data transfer via USB and more
  • Professional 4K movie recording functionality including full pixel readout with no pixel binning in Super 35mm mode[ix], S-Log3, HDR workflow support
  • Multi Interface Shoe™ with digital audio interface delivers the high-quality sound recording with Sony’s new microphone and XLR microphone adaptor 
  • Additional enhancements to the body design include an improved grip and button layout for improved control with compact, lightweight body

Other Improvements

Sony has really improved the build and design of this new camera too. It looks as though this new camera might be a little thicker than the previous model which I think is definitely a positive point. Having a slightly larger body can help prevent overheating which is something that plagued older models like the Sony a7R II. The R IV also weighs slightly more than than the previous model the a7R III but by a negligible amount. The grip was also discussed as being improved based on what many photographers requested. I too felt that the grips on previous models were a little uncomfortable so this is a great new improvement.

The R IV also now offers two UHS II card slots which may prevent the bottleneck that the R III had. On the previous model due to the second card slot being limited to UHS I, anytime you were shooting with two cards, the camera would slow down or entirely stop when writing data. Thankfully this may not be a problem now. 

The higher resolution viewfinder is a very welcome addition. That extra resolution really does make a difference and having shot with several cameras with high-resolution viewfinders I have to say it's extremely useful. It not only helps you to see what you're photographing more effectively but also you can preview your images properly. 

Better Color? 

Image by Ryan Mense

One of the biggest criticisms that Sony has had is how it renders color. This has been especially true for skin tones and in some tests and comparisons that I've done, I found Canon to be definitively better. It would seem the R IV might be better when it comes to color and skin tones. This is mostly speculative right now as no side by side comparisons have been done, however, the skin tones in the image above look pretty good. Those strange green-ish tones aren't visible and this is making for a much nicer looking image. I personally found Sony to have trouble with darker skin tones, yet the R IV seems to be doing a pretty good job in the picture above. Of course, some proper testing is required before any actual conclusions can be drawn. 

Expected Features That Are Missing

Based on the rumors that were going around prior to the announcement many people were thinking that Sony was going to release a camera with the ability to shoot 8k video. Of course, this is not the case and honestly, I'm not disappointed about it at all. What I am a little, tiny bit disappointed with is the fact that video features remain mostly untouched. The camera still shoots 4k 30p and only 8-bit 4:2:0. Personally, I think 4k 60p even if only in crop mode would have been brilliant. A full HDMI slot would have been beneficial for many video shooters too. Having said that I'm aware that this camera is more for photographers and Sony has always differentiated the R series and S series of cameras. Even still, I think that giving the ability to record at higher bit rates via an external recorder could have been sufficient. 

Final Thoughts

Sony is really pushing for that number one position in the photography industry. New cameras are a regular thing for them as a company and they're making it rather difficult for others to compete. I think this new camera is a brilliant addition. Sure, I'm ever so slightly disappointed about the lack of improvements when it comes to video frame rates and quality, however, this is a photography specific camera first. This also could mean that Sony is saving all of its high-end video features for the potentially upcoming Sony a7S III. Ultimately, it's a great time to be a photographer because cameras like these are making our jobs much easier. I can't wait to see how this camera performs in real world situations. 

The Sony a7R IV will be shipping in September this year for $3500, preorder yours here. 

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227 Comments

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Spy Black's picture

This will be a great option for those who have invested in Sony. Nikon will have a camera based on the same sensor, so for Nikon users it's just a matter of wait.

Canon, on the other hand, is going to have to step up to the plate with sensor design, and so far they haven't caught up to Sony. Let's see how they respond.

I wonder where this leaves the A9 successor?

A9 is still a better camera for action.

You do know Canon and Nikon use Sony's sensors right? Do you really think Sony is going to sell them their top of the line?

Canon make their own. Sony sells sensors to Nikon and does sell them their top of the line but only after Sony have released them on their own cameras first.

True, but so far Canon's sensor are far behind Sony's in terms of dynamic range. Furthermore the processing pipeline isn't the best either.

Spy Black's picture

Canon only uses 1-inch and smaller sensors from Sony. All APS-C and FF sensors are Canon made.

michaeljin's picture

Canon uses their own sensors and if the D850 is any indication, Sony is more than willing to sell Nikon top-of-the-line sensors.

The D850 was a variation of the A7R II sensor. Sony launched the A7R III shortly after, with superior IQ from a newly enhanced A7R II sensor base. Good shot you'll see something similar when the Z 7 II comes out...

michaeljin's picture

The A7RIII was a variation of the A7RII sensor too, so what's your point? The D850 and the A7RIII are pretty much equal in terms of sensor performance.

The A7R III had an advanced version of the A7R II sensor, with improved image quality due to revisions made. The D850 only had an MP, CFA ,and OSPDAF layout change. Same IQ as the older A7R II, though they had issues with OSPDAF banding in the shadows.

Hasselblad and Phase One use Sony's big sensors, too!

Fritz Asuro's picture

When will people understand that Sony is only the manufacturer of Nikon designed sensors. Nikon is not using any of Sony's sensor that is in their camera lineup.

It's not like the new A90 Toyota Supra using a "tuned" BMW Z4 engine.

Spy Black's picture

That's only partially true. Nikon does indeed use off-the-shelf Sony sensors, only certain Nikon bodies use Nikon designed, Sony manufactured sensors.

Rk K's picture

Not how it works, even if nikon would have you believe otherwise. A semiconductor fab is not a 3d printer, the output is largely constrained by their machines, patents and technologies.
When nikon "designs" a sensor they pick and choose from existing tech. This many megapixels, that kind pdaf points, those microlenses, bsi or not..

Think of Sony as a Burger King to their customers: have it your way (as long as its 100% using our parts and tech). Nikon can only "design" a sensor based on what tech Sony already has available. Saying Nikon "designed" the sensor is like saying you "designed" a Whopper by adding bacon and extra salt and pepper to it. Nikon just specs the MP and CFA layout, and now the OSPDAF layout (which bit them in the butt on their first try due to lack of experience). The tech is from sensors Sony has already produced and put into production previously.

D850 = A7R II sensor
Z6 = A7 III sensor
Z7 = A7R II sensor

EL PIC's picture

FF should not be compared to MF .. same for comparisons between other formats like APS - C to cell phones.

Usman Dawood's picture

I think you can especially when the cheaper option can produce better results.

JJ Casas's picture

Agreeing with EL PIC here. Pentax 645Z user here (I also own a7iii and Fujis so am not an anti fanboi :). FF and MF are apples and oranges.

Usman Dawood's picture

Saying they’re different is a cop out.

The larger sensor would have been of greater benefit if the sensor was the size of the older film back or if medium format lenses had wider apertures. Because neither of these are the case medium format lenses don’t have anything unique about them.

Yup, 44x33 is a huge difference vs the smallest legacy MF size, 6x4.5 (60x45). Coming from a close 36x24 FF, which is the smallest difference between sensor sizes out there. Legacy MF went up to (and possibly beyond) 6x17! Standard sizes were:

6x4.5
6x6
6x7
6x8
6x9

Puny modern MF (at least the low end) is just 4.4x3.3 equivalent. And with it, a minimal difference in field of view/subject compression vs FF. You'll probably get a more accurate MF look by using any MF to E speed booster on the A7R IV than using any current 44x33 MF camera.

EL PIC's picture

When this author does proper homework on Sony 61MP camera vs MF and a specific one at that .. he will consider bit depth, optics, larger sensor, etc.
Until then he is just a Sony fan boy making an outlandish claim to get revenue from and to Sony.
This is a typical FSTOPPERS article with little content.

Usman Dawood's picture

I'm sorry how many medium format cameras have you shot with again??

How many years of comparing have you done?

I wonder how much research you've actually done because so far everything you say sounds like the typical marketing speak that most people who know very little about the different formats continue to spew.

Oh, and the fanboy and revenue comment, it's cute; I mean I guess you have to resort to personal attacks when you don't know what you're talking about.

EL PIC's picture

Least 30 over 40 years .. same for large format. When you do your due discipline you will be regarded bettor in this form.
Know you audience before you publish and cover all ASR’s before making outlandish claims.
You should not respond until you do your homework and supply the data.

Usman Dawood's picture

Most of that is with film right? So you’re perspective is based on a format that’s significantly larger than any digital sensor currently on the market. How do you suppose that the same applies when modern digital MF sensors are so much smaller but do not have any faster aperture lenses?

Companies like Hasselblad and Phase One have mostly repurposed older film lenses and rehashed them for their larger sensor cameras. Only a few blue ring lenses are up to date.

Full frame on the other hand have had significant improvements in terms of their lenses and design. Super fast aperture lenses exist which are incredibly sharp.

There are no lenses available for medium format that are as good as Otus lenses.

How many comparisons have you done? Digital. This isn’t a discussion about film backs.

Will Murray's picture

Cell phones are an entirely different animal, as you have computational photography coming into play.

As to MF, the arguments smell like those used with Leica. Nothing quantifiable, it's all about the feel (or something).

I totally agree MF and FF are not really in same lague, even not true MF like fuji.
I'm relly worry about if 60 MP become standard for hi res FF, then can perform only in limited situation namely with limited top notch prime with set upped best light condition. Even with such situation pixel density cause blur with bigger F value. Already with 42MP it begins already from F11. trade off with 60MP is big. slower transfer speed, bigger file size..
May be A7R5 could solve problem, but for me A7R4 seems make sence only for well set upped studio shooting. It was better, if it was 50 MP or same 42 MP with better transfer speed for less rolling shutter and less banding problem..
It is shame sony did bad rush because of canikon's push.

I don’t get this whole hype about comparing this camera to medium format because of its resolution, there are 42 mp cellphones now and the pictures will look nothing like medium format, I own a a7rII and at the time it was hyped as having the ‘medium format look’ and I can assure you the pictures look exactly like the ones out of my other two full frame cameras, the only difference maybe the size you can print or crop, other than that you’ll always be limited by the resolution of your monitor so I don’t buy the BS about increased sharpness and detail!

Usman Dawood's picture

I shoot medium format and what you describe is simply not true.

Usman Dawood's picture

Huge difference?? Come now lol.

The smaller MF sensor is more like full-frame plus.

How huge of a difference does the GFX 50s make? I've shot extensively with it and I can tell you it's not that much and it's actually worse when you put a fast aperture super sharp lens on the front of a full-frame camera. Lenses like Otus lenses or even the relatively cheap zeiss 135mm f2.0.
I've also shot extensively with Phase One larger full MF cameras and for architecture, with a tilt-shift lens the Canon 5DSR outperformed the MF camera at all equivalent apertures.

Do you even shoot with MF?

Usman Dawood's picture

ok... cool story.

Full frame cameras still have better lenses... by a significant degree.

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