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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Keith Meinhold's picture

Small size, low weight and and excellent performance is exactly why I switched from Canon to Sony. But, your liking larger cameras is what works for you - who am I or anyone else to say otherwise. Thats why they make vanilla and chocolate. :)

David Pavlich's picture

It's a very subjective thing, the in-hand feel, but it is a deal breaker for me. Heck, I like Fuji cameras...medium format flavor. :-)

A couple of points to consider.

Camera shake is a real issue with both MF and 36mp+ dslr’s that’s real world solid usage. So is diffraction.

That’s why the Nikon D850/810 and Sony A7’s do well because they hit that sweet spot, by that I mean they don’t get in the way of the photographer creating great work.

The big mp Canon not so much because it’s dynamic range wasn’t/isn’t close, but at the end of the day...., this camera will create just as many headaches and problems as solutions, think doing your weekly Walmart shop in a Ferrari.... sounds good in theory but trying to see out of it, reverse it, park it, get out of it, fill it with shopping and go home... total nightmare...

I would like to think the Sony comes with a free super lightweight, almost invisible tripod and enough gadgetry to stack images shot at f5.6 to give products enough depth of field.

Would I buy this camera...?

Not a chance, I’d spend that money on marketing or travelling, or both...!

If you look at Lees recent article, you can’t tell the difference online between 6 different resolution cameras anyway, adding a 7th won’t make a difference.

Apart from the one you have right now, what’s the definition of ‘best camera’..?

It’s a camera that suits the way you work and doesn’t get in the way of you creating your best work...

I don’t think Nikon or the MF brands are panicking....

G

Usman Dawood's picture

I don't think MF camera manufacturers are panicking but they will take this into consideration. They have to because if they don't then they're being foolish. These kinds of cameras prevent customers from looking at much more expensive medium format options.

Diffractions depends a lot on the lens choice cause I've personally done comparisons with cameras like the 5DSR against 100mp medium format cameras and the MF lens showed noticeably more diffraction at equivalent apertures.

You're right though, if the camera you have perfectly suits your needs do you need to upgrade?

Personally, after thinking about things I don't think I need to upgrade to this latest model. I'm actually really happy with what I have. Having said that I'm still a camera tech fan so seeing these kinds of improvements are always enjoyable for me :).

Hey look, I can copy and paste...

Usman Dawood's picture

out of 1844 words 258 were copied and pasted from Sonys website and they are literally just the hard specs. Everything else was written by me. Come on Sean don't be that guy.

I don’t have my diffraction calculator handy, but wouldn’t this resolution on a 35mm sensor start degrading at around F/4 or F/5.6? Which correct me if I’m wrong but most fashion and landscape photography is shot around F11-F/16. Another advantage that proper medium format cameras like Phase One have are faster flash sync speeds. Why can't a new high MP camera just come out and be just that, a high MP camera? Why must everything be the new Canon-Nikon-Sony-Olympus-Panasonic-Medium format killer?

Usman Dawood's picture

Depends a lot on the lens. For example, the GFX 100 has similar-sized pixels to the Sony, even still diffraction sets in much later in the aperture range. Some lenses suffer very quickly others not so much. Tilt-shift lenses, for example, tend to do really well when it comes to preventing diffraction.

Flash sync speeds is a debatable argument. Sure with Phase you can shoot up to 1500s (f I'm not mistaken but you can shoot all the way to 1/8000 with full-frame and HSS. Advantages and disadvantages on either side.

Mostly because camera performance is relative and it's good to see companies produce stuff that is better than what we previously thought couldn't be beaten.

Samuel Masini's picture

I'll stick to my D810 + film cameras. Largest prints I make are A2 size, the AF capabilities of my D810 serve me well. Shutter count is still low. Generally I'm the weakest link...

The new cameras sound nice on paper but I cannot see any added value to my current product at this point in time. But then again I'm just an amateur and do the occasional gig just to reduce my overall costs.

michaeljin's picture

If A2 is the largest size that you're printing, even a D810 is overkill...

Samuel Masini's picture

Yep exactly. 24mpix would do the job.

Will Murray's picture

As impressive as it is, I just don't care (I really want to, but I don't). Just another company trying to convince us that we need stuff that we do not need.

Eric Salas's picture

So you’d rather wait until you’re begging them to upgrade their products before getting them ? I’m confused to why you’d comment like this, you just need attention or do you think staying ahead of competitors/controlling the market is a bad move by Sony ?

Will Murray's picture

I know it's complex, so I'll dumb it down for you. My comment is within the context of a whole maketing machine that is convincing us to buy crap we do not need.

But sure, I'm sure you're printing 5m wide prints. People just like you are the marks for the marketers.

Eric Salas's picture

Appreciate that! Man, you had me really confused.
I actually just delivered a 3m print two days ago so unfortunately I can't impress you today.

Will Murray's picture

You occupy the very small (real) niche for these products.

Respect.

michaeljin's picture

I'm not sure I see them trying to convince anyone that they NEED anything. I do see them trying to convince you that their product is better than their previous product (as well as that of the competition) and they would mostly be correct in that assertion. Whether those improvements are meaningful to you as a consumer is always your own decision to make. I don't see what vilifying a company for marketing their product accomplishes...

Will Murray's picture

Marketing makes extensive use of psychological principles; and the principles I've stated above are well-understood. I can do nothing if the point is beyond you.

michaeljin's picture

The point isn't beyond me. The point is non-existent. You're complaining that companies are trying to get people to buy their products. What is the realistic alternative? Do you expect them to produce products and NOT market them? Rather than complaining about companies engaging in perfectly rational behavior, why not complain about the sheep who don't actually bother to assess their needs because they're apparently incapable of forming an independent thought?

Will Murray's picture

At no point did I assert these practices were bad business principles.

Perhaps come back after you study some neuromarketing.

michaeljin's picture

"My comment is within the context of a whole maketing machine that is convincing us to buy crap we do not need."

Nobody can convince you of anything that you don't allow yourself to be convinced by.

Will Murray's picture

Look in the mirror.

michaeljin's picture

Now why would I get up from this seat to go do such a thing when I have no reason to be in the bathroom?

Will Murray's picture

I suppose you have not given even a second's thought to the reasons people are so invested in their cameras, or why people aregue gear will make them better photographers?

michaeljin's picture

I've given plenty of thought and it's because those people are idiots, not because some malevolent company is spewing lies. People engage in all sorts of tribalism and create fantastic scenarios all on their own.

Will Murray's picture

"...it's because these people are idiots..."

Go away now.

michaeljin's picture

No, I think I'll stay. Thanks. I like having discussions with condescending assholes. It brightens my day. BTW, was being a shithead something that came BEFORE or AFTER your neuromarketing education?

Will Murray's picture

Yes, now you have made abundantly clear that you are wilfully ignorant. Your mother must he proud.

michaeljin's picture

Willfully ignorant of what? Are you NOT a condescending asshole or a shithead? It must be that neuromarketing making me predisposed to thinking these things. Maybe you should cry about the marketing machine some more. If you do it enough, you'll make a difference in the world. I promise.

BTW, are you still shooting with a D300? That was my first digital camera. :) Lots of fond memories of it.

Will Murray's picture

Me being a "condescending asshole" does not negate you being wilfully ignorant, nor make me wrong.

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