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

Previous comments
Usman Dawood's picture

I didn’t say same aperture but oh look a straw man argument lol. Well done, nice try.

Lesser minds who cannot discuss points effectively attack the person.

Usman Dawood's picture

You implied that I did and then went into a rant about it as if I did.

Also no of course not at the same aperture but that’s the benefit of full frame you can shoot at much wider apertures because those types of lenses exist.

Can you shoot at f1.2 with medium format digital? No you can’t not unless you adapt but then that negates the idea of medium format having the best image quality

There are many lenses available for full frame for which there are no equivalents with medium format. The opposite isn’t really true.

Now if you discuss MF film then we have another discussion. 110mm f2 Zeiss on a proper medium format film back and you have the “MF look” but then that’s not the same thing nor is it as practical.

Usman Dawood's picture

Are you being paid by medium format companies? Or are you implying that I’m being paid by all full frame manufacturers.

You’re making some very strong accusations but can’t actually battle the points lol.

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree with you about the GFX 100. It’s a brilliant camera and the cheapest 100mp camera you buy. It’s incredible. I’ve written several articles gushing about it too.

I’ve also written an article gushing about the Quattro H. Colours from that camera are stunning. I don’t think I’ve seen better colours from any other camera including Phase One.

michaeljin's picture

How does that digital medium format kool-aid taste?

Anthony Cayetano's picture

For the price, I hope it can do C4K...

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

Wish I had $3500 laying around.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

At that price and all the features, it appears to be very competitive. Sony is really pushing other companies and this rivalry is only good for customers. I assume Nikon will be releasing Z8 soon. Canon has 63 mp and 120 MP chips. They better move up the schedule.

Canon, maybe, but Sony will certainly have exclusivity on this sensor, just like they did on the A7R II sensor (D850 was the first third party implementation of it).

Johnny Rico's picture

Until you realize the diminishing returns of the 35mm sensor size due to the the smaller area of glass the light is traveling through. There is a bunch of science behind it, names, etc. Too lazy to look it up but your whole subsection "Why This is Better Than Medium Format" with lines like "This lens is incredibly sharp too, possibly sharper than any similar medium format portrait lens" is marketing BS.

There are pro's to 35mm for sure, but it will lose out to a MF kit on pure resolving power with modern lenses.

Rk K's picture

Ah man, there's like science and names and stuff, like I haven't actually looked it up or anything, but, like there's the science.

Usman Dawood's picture

The best lenses in terms of sheer optical performance are with 35mm cameras. There are no lenses that perform on the level of Otus lenses with medium format. There are no lenses equivalent to the widest aperture lenses available for full-frame with medium format. The RF 50mm f1.2 is sharper than pretty much any medium format lens at that equivalent focal length and it opens up wider producing shallower DOF.

The marketing BS is really coming from medium format manufacturers who tell people they produce and have lenses that are the best you can buy.

The BS is the medium format look which doesn't exist.

Also previous to BSI tech many though we couldn't produce sensors up to a certain resolution. That's been debunked. We don't know what new way of producing sensors could emerge in the next few years.

ISO performance for digital sensors has gone from being terrible at 400 to now being very usable at 12800 even with much higher resolutions.

I've been shooting medium format for a good number of years and I've done plenty of comparisons with almost all of the systems currently on the market. There are no lenses available for MF that outperform the best full-frame lenses.

Ricky Perrone's picture

The MF look absolutely exists. The photographers that buy these systems, including myself arent just looking for ways of pissing away money. What MF systems have you tested? What MF system do you currently own? Why do you think people buy MF if not for the superior quality and look of the images compared to other sensor sizes?

Usman Dawood's picture

The medium format look is a complete hoax. I shoot medium format and I know it's complete nonsense lol.

The only real benefits of MF are higher resolutions and some sensors offer 16-bit. That's really it.

Any equivalent tests you perform demonstrate how MF (digital anyway) does not have any magical look to it and does not offer anything superior over FF when it comes to aesthetic. FF can always shoot with a wider aperture so no MF does not have a unique looks.

I'll tell you what does have a unique look, the largest MF film sizes because of the equivalent angle of being much greater and how you have to shot even closer to your subject.

Large format is still unrivaled.

MF digital has nothing incredible about it except for the price. Although the GFX 100 is pretty brilliant.

Ricky Perrone's picture

Cool I saw another comment where you said you shot with the GFX50s, are you saying you chose the GFX50s over the A7R3 for the additional 8 mp? What were you shooting that another 8mp was critical and where you were willing to shoot with inferior MF lenses?

Usman Dawood's picture

Fujifilm has exceptional lenses but full frame have better lenses available.

What works extremely well however is if you adapt full-frame lenses to the GFX. It;'s not perfect but some lenses like the zeiss 135mm f2 and canon tilt-shift lenses work extremely well with it.

The angle of view is different with full-frame lenses.

michaeljin's picture

Confirmation bias and the placebo effect are real things.

"The BS is the medium format look which doesn't exist."

It really does exist and has been widely agreed upon for decades.

Usman Dawood's picture

For film yes absolutely, for digital nope not at all. The film backs were significantly larger in size compared to the largest medium format sensors currently on the market.

Digital sensors just aren’t large enough to make that difference a reality.

Johnny Rico's picture

Alright guys, go shoot this vs an IQ160 and let me know how it out resolves it. I'm not saying this isn't a good camera, or Sony isn't pushing the limits (or that MF is worth the price tag anymore). But it will not out resolve a modern IQ4.

EDIT: and yes by and large 35mm lenses are sharper, but the FF chip is 2.5 times smaller surface area than a FF MF sensor. MF can get away with more imperfections in the glass and still resolve more, physics and all.

Maybe Unman should get Sony to crowdfund the comparison, oh wait

Usman Dawood's picture

Already done comparisons against cameras better than the IQ 160.

Compared full frame to H6D 100c and XF with 100mp back. Each time any of the romanticised stuff people talk about is just nonsense. There was no MF look. There still isn’t. The sensor was better compared to Canon but not by much and the worse performing lenses ended up produce worse quality results.

Shadow recovery was worse compared to the Sony a7R II although highlight recovery was noticeably better.

Shadows recovered between Sony a7r3 and GFX showed the GFX has less noise but the Fuji seemed to lose a lot of detail that the Sony didn’t. After adding noise reduction on Sony the full frame camera was cleaner and more detailed.

Here’s the thing, MF digital sensors just aren’t large enough to produce enough of a difference compared to full frame. There are better full frame equivalents compared to MF Digital.

Consider large format for example. There are no full frame equivalents available that compete against the 300mm f4 on 8x10.

MF just isn’t that special. It’s all hype and marketing.

Usman Dawood's picture

I’ve done in depth comparisons even for portraits.

Medium format digital doesn’t have lenses that are as sharp as full frame; I can prove that.

Second they don’t have lenses with wide enough apertures so full frame will almost always produce a shallow depth of field. For example there are no f1.2 equivalents for medium format. There are plenty for Full frame.

You’re assuming my understanding of medium format is limited to architecture.

I’ve been shooting medium format for a good number of years and I’ve tried and extensively tested almost all medium format cameras on the market today.

Can you say the same?

Usman Dawood's picture

What you're saying is very odd. Considering the context, really think about what you're implying.

You can tell an image is great because it was shot on medium format? Does the tool make the photographer?

"I also can't cook for shit but can easily tell the difference between a so-so chef versus a great one"

I'm assuming this is by tasting the food and not looking at the tools the chef was using right?

A very strange thing to imply Pat.

Luke Adams's picture

Holy crap. Amazing new release with Eye AF in video???!!!! Are you kidding me?! Reading the comments above, you would think Sony released a typical uninspired new Canon-esque model, and pissed in everyone’s Corn Flakes.

David Pavlich's picture

Meh....still too small.

Because huge DSLR's are way more fun to carry. Yeah.

michaeljin's picture

Big cameras may not be more fun to carry, but I find them a lot more fun to use because they tend to fit in the hand quite well.

Buy the palm grip and the A7R IV has roughly a DSLR-sized grip. Looks just as deep as a D850's, and the palm grip will extend the height to about the same size, without adding extra bulk like a battery grip or a DSLR.

michaeljin's picture

Been there, done that. I owned the D850, sold it for the A7RIII, then sold the A7RIII for the Z7. The ergonomic issues with the Sony for me go well beyond the constant "just buy the grip" solution that people parrot over and over again. Part of the issue is the size of the camera itself and even with a grip, it feels pretty cramped compared to a full-sized DSLR—particularly if the barrel of your lens is thick. The other issue has to do with the curvature of the body and the button positioning. Sony cameras just don't seem to fit in the hand as nicely as many other brands.The A7RIV certainly looks better than the A7RIII, but nothing suggests that they've made any significant changes to the camera size and I don't think that they ever will seeing as how so many people enjoy the size as it is.

Ergonomics is a pretty personal thing so if a person is not happy with a given camera, there's likely not going to be a simple solution to the problem. For what it's worth, I'm not particularly fond of the feel of Canon cameras either, which is why I landed on Nikon in the first place.

michaeljin's picture

LOL! I actually have rather small hands... just stubby fingers. :/

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