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
Dennis Williams's picture

At what point does it sink in it is a 35mm camera with 35mm optics and a 24x36mm 3:2 aspect ratio native file? If 35mm is what you need for your work then there you go.

35mm will never rival MF if you need MF for the job. Get over it. Life has its inequities.

Usman Dawood's picture

That's completely untrue.

You can produce better results with full-frame depending on the lens you're using.

The Hasselblad 150mm f3.5N on the 100mp back was outperformed by the lowly EF 135mm f2. Put a properly sharp lens in front of a full-frame camera like the Zeiss 135mm f2 and it's a no contest.

I shoot both medium format and full-frame depending on the project. I know very well what the performance differences actually are.

Most of it is just marketing hype that people just seem to accept.

If this camera can focus in the studio, it will be a game changer and I'll be the first in line to purchase.

If it focusses like the a7RIII (with lens stopped down in "setting effect" mode), I don't really see any benefit in updating from the rIII

Usman Dawood's picture

What I do is have settings effect off but then program one of the buttons to switch it on. The settings effect are only visible whilst holding the button down cause I only need to quickly see the exposure, I don't need it there all the time. That works the best I think.

This way you have the benefit of seeing what you're working on but also can quickly see your exposure whenever you need.

I'm intrigued, but I think your working in a different scenario than what I'm describing.

The scenario I'm describing is a studio in which I'm shooting at say f/11. With "settings effect" on, the frame would just be completely black, since the strobes are what are lighting the photo. In this scenario, I don't see the benefit of programming a button to switch "settings effect" on and off.

Would love to hear that I'm missing something though!

Usman Dawood's picture

I know what you meant.

Keep settings effects off at all times and have a custom button that shows you settings effect when you hold the button.

The button doesn’t switch it on and off instead it shows you the settings effect only when you’re actually pressing and holding the button down.

Domenico Dentice's picture

More Canon and Nikon users switching!!

David Love's picture

Doubt it. Only a select few need that many megapixels and everything is web based now so even less.

Usman Dawood's picture

You’re part of this crowd now :-).

Usman Dawood's picture

I agree I enjoy cameras regardless of the brand. I'm a fan of all... well except for Nikon cause you know... they're Nikon :P.

Usman Dawood's picture

I enjoy poking fun at Nikon but honestly, their cameras are brilliant and definitely some of the best on the market. They're still Nikon though :P.

George Todoroff's picture

How one could possibly compare fulframe consumer electronics camera (sony is consumer electronics brand nothing else) with medium format brands that are decades on the market. Each camera these days is producing quality images no matter the brand. Comparing different sensor sizes and technologies behind is a total ignorance. Period!

Usman Dawood's picture

Fujifilm is a consumer electronics company that uses Sony’s consumer electronics parts lol.

Hasselblad has their cameras made by Fujifilm (consumer brand) for decades whilst using Sony parts lol.

It’s only ignorant to you because you don’t like it. Get over it.

Also... some research man.

George Todoroff's picture

Sorry, nothing to get over here :) Producing parts is not all that one camera is, do you agree? When you are talking about different real estate in terms of sensor sizes there is nothing to compare - none, sorry. Sony might have better cameras than Nikon and Canon and producing all the sensors these days (not the processing power behind sensors though) but a rival to medium format - come on, are you really meaning it? And you are saying that you are shooting MF. That's a pity. Can you say honestly that there is no difference? Image fidelity, tones, latitude, quality? I am not talking about sharpness cause that's not even interesting (for most people actually is). I am curious to see identical shots, full sized raw images from any full frame camera and any medium format camera and then compared. Not like some time recently done comparison here of downsized jpeg shots that were made to look the same - crops and everything (by the way I saw the difference there and guessed them right even though missing experience with medium format).
Things are incomparable, sorry. Different technologies of the lenses and image processing. Both worlds have astonishing lenses but you cannot compare apples and oranges, right. These are just different Eco systems and meant to serve certain needs. And please, fast aperture is not the most important characteristics of a lens. Otherwise we are talking about techno-masturbation-like stuff here.

Usman Dawood's picture

Sorry man I can’t read all of that lol. Keep its succinct.

Hard to believe Sony is still so far behind in ergonomics. Each rev improves only a tiny bit. But someday they'll get there!

Tim Foster's picture

Still has an amateur aspect ratio.