Why Is Sony Giving Us 61 Megapixels When There’s so Much Else That Needs Fixing First?

Why Is Sony Giving Us 61 Megapixels When There’s so Much Else That Needs Fixing First?

A few weeks ago, I started drafting a list of everything that Sony needs to fix on the a7 III. Then suddenly, in a move that caught everyone off guard, Sony announced the a7R IV. Have many elements on my list been resolved by this new generation of camera, or has the rush for an insane number of megapixels meant that certain details are being ignored?

Having bought my a7 III in December last year, it’s been something of a revelation, and the move to mirrorless (though with a few drawbacks) has made a difference in my work. However, the a7 III is certainly not a perfect camera, and there is plenty of room for improvement. With the a7R IV, Sony has made some changes, but in its desire to take the camera industry by surprise with claims of medium format quality, has the manufacturer forgotten to address certain aspects and forgone upgrades that many were expecting?

Speaking to a lot of Sony shooters — admittedly mostly a7 III shooters rather than a7R III shooters — megapixels have not been mentioned. While some are welcoming the 19 extra megapixels that Sony has managed to pluck from out of nowhere through some dark wizardry that’s been implemented into a completely new sensor, no one I spoke to said “I wish it had a higher resolution.” Perhaps, then, there are other reasons that Sony has suddenly dropped this bombshell (as will be discussed later), or maybe it’s a case of another camera manufacturer giving the market something it didn’t know it wanted.

The freshly-announced Sony a7R IV. Easier to hold. Allegedly.

The freshly-announced Sony a7R IV. Easier to hold. Allegedly.

Certain elements have been addressed: the autofocus box is no longer a color so drab and so hard to spot that it might well have been wearing a ghillie suit. The entire camera is slightly larger, and those who’ve been lucky enough to wield it have reported that it sits slightly better in the hand, especially thanks to its slightly deeper grip. There is a pair of UHS-II cards which perhaps should have been XQD, but at least the old UHS-I slot will no longer undermine the UHS-II slot. And the ports seem to have been reshuffled, meaning that the USB port may no longer be on a par with Joyce’s Ulysses in terms of accessibility.

In asking a7 III users what they’d like to see in the a7 IV, you’d expect to see a huge amount of overlap with what Sony users want to see in the a7R IV. A few are minor: from my straw polls, people want to be able to change drive modes more easily and would prefer not to have to wait for the buffer to empty first. We want a mechanical shutter that closes while we’re changing lenses so that the sensor is easier to keep free of dust. We want a lens release button that’s not on the wrong side (I think that ship has sailed), built-in ND filters, and improved IBIS. It remains to be seen whether any of these aspects have been addressed, but it’s worth noting that none of them has been mentioned.

Some things are already certain. A familiar refrain from users of third-generation Sony a7 shooters is the lack of a functional touchscreen. The first DSLR to boast a touchscreen was the Canon EOS Rebel T4i, and that was released in 2012. Given that many owners were looking forward to a bigger rear LCD with twice the resolution, there will no doubt be some disappointment that Sony has not offered any sort of upgrade, especially when other mirrorless manufacturers are demonstrating how it’s done. Furthermore, the screen still doesn’t fully articulate. Admittedly, this is a camera designed more for still shooters rather than videographers, but this does not bode well for those waiting for the a7 IV, not to mention the long-awaited, much-anticipated, and arguably overdue a7S III. If the a7R IV doesn’t have a funky flippy screen, those waiting for Sony’s other forthcoming releases might want to brace themselves for some bad news.

Canon EOS Rebel T4i

The humble Canon EOS Rebel T4i, the first DSLR to rock a touchscreen. Sony, take note: this was released in 2012.

The fact that the menu system doesn’t seem to have been addressed is a massive disappointment. As detailed in this article, the menu has long been an afterthought in Sony’s R&D departments, cobbled together by a jaded intern who, after a night on the town, managed to grab a quick coffee with a stressed technician before designing something that’s just about comprehensible but sits a country mile from acceptable. Refinement of user experience is an alien concept among Japanese camera manufacturers, preferring to leave it to their European counterparts. I’d be happy to have a whip-round and see if we can treat a handful of folk from Sony/Nikon/Canon to a trip to Germany and Denmark so they can see how it’s done.

Some of the comments in this aforementioned article suggested that photographers would be happy using a computer that has nothing more than MS-DOS command prompt rather than the GUI that modern operating systems offer. Usability is not a concern for many customers. By contrast, if I'm spending thousands of dollars on a tool, I want it to feel refined, especially as I’m using it to achieve something creative. My camera is not a photocopier (and now that I think about it, photocopiers have touch screens and menu systems that make sense).

Quite why user interface is so absent from anyone’s radar in Sony is a mystery, and I’m asking anyone who has their hands anywhere near an a7R IV to do one quick test for me. Bring up the histogram and then change the ISO. If the histogram disappears, to me, it’s another nugget of proof that Sony has been in a hurry to get this camera to market. Refinement is one thing; fixing elements of basic functionality is something else.

So, why are megapixels more important than refinement? Why has Sony made this announcement now, when the a7S III, the a7000 (a.k.a. the a6700), and the entry-level full-frame camera (a5?) are still waiting in the wings? I have a few theories.

The first is simply because it can. Sometimes, it feels that Sony is a giant corporation that makes sensors and that its cameras are almost a byproduct. If it can undermine other camera manufacturers by releasing a product that blows theirs out of the water (while overlooking so many other aspects), then why not? Four years on, it’s still not clear whether Canon will be able to match the performance of the sensor in the a9. Imagine what the a9 II might be about to offer.

A second option is that Sony has caught a scent of what Canon and Nikon have been cooking and has moved quickly to undermine them. If Canon was brewing up a 50-megapixel beast that was about to go head-to-head with the a7R III, why not fart out a 61-megapixel camera simply to screw with them? Why do product cycles have to climax in dramatic events that Canon and Nikon have decided should take place once every three to four years? Maybe incremental improvements are Sony's next move in claiming market dominance.

Sony a7R IV hot shoe

With some hot shoe trickery, Sony just released upgraded audio features on a camera that is designed for stills. Why?

Thirdly, the pricing of the a7R IV is a little ridiculous. It might not exactly be all of the “medium format quality” that Sony’s marketing department would like us to believe, but it’s certainly pushing the envelope. The pressure on Canon and Nikon to price their forthcoming high-resolution mirrorless cameras aggressively is now even greater. Certainly, the model of loss-leading with the bodies and creaming a profit from the lenses is one that Sony seems to be embracing wholeheartedly.

The other aspect of this aggressive pricing is the impact it will have on the price of the a7R III. As it stands, B&H Photo has it listed at just shy of $2,500. Arguably, its main DSLR competitors are the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5DS which are currently selling at $2,996 and $3,499, respectively, while the Nikon Z 7 sits at $3,396. If those are your choices right now, Sony is coming for you.

There might be a handful of other good reasons as to why Sony is pushing out a camera that doesn't feel like an upgrade beyond one significant headline. If you'd like to offer your thoughts, be sure to leave them below in the comments.

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126 Comments

michaeljin's picture

Because plenty of Sony shooters are happy with these cameras the way they are and are used to the quirks. The proof is plain in their market share. Stuff that you personally feel needs "fixing" is not necessarily stuff that their users care about. Also, 61 megapixels is a great way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the high resolution field.

michaeljin's picture

The vocal minority is exactly that: a minority. People can complain all they want. Unless they actually vote with their wallets, Sony has no reason to change course.

Oh I get it...

You are not here to have a conversation on what Sony could improve.

You are here to VALIDATE your opinion that Sony has to improve. Based only on your own BIAS and on those 2 pitiful links you have provided as EVIDENCE. LOL!

As if Canon with its multiple releases of outdated sensors has nothing to improve.

Or Nikon with its QC issues in every. damn. body.

Or the myriad of smaller companies with their smaller sensors.

While Sony has a lot of issues to be solved NONE of them, NONE, are related to giving us better IQ/features than the competition.

Have fun on the other side of the fence hoping that whatever brand you chose to better associate with your identity could provide as much bang for the buck as Sony is giving lately.

What an insightful and well constructed response.

I salute you for your effort in disproving my assertions with such eloquence and wit.

Your reply was truly the height of your writing skills surpassing the "article" by a good measure.

LOL!

Andy Day's picture

Happy to engage if you drop the snark, the whataboutism, and the weirdly confrontational tone.

I am sorry, where are my manners? My name is Mr Pot. I assume you must be Mr Kettle?

My sardonic reply was merely an attempt to retort to your equally whataboutist "article" and at your whimsical reply to Mr Jin with merely 2 links to prove your assertions. Trying to dismiss my comment as confrontational does nothing to disprove it.

To that it is quite clear that you have not engaged any other reader, besides TN, which merecely proves my point.

In other words, you wrote an article. It was badly received, got push back. You didn't like it and now we confrontational.

It don't work like that.

PS. I will continue this conversation no further. It is not my interest to pursue such a venture to the point we would mud sling at each other. Farewell.

Stuart Carver's picture

You are coming out of this looking like a seriously offended fanboy to be fair.

Your comment about smaller companies and smaller sensors is pathetic and indicative of the general poison that infects the Internet photography community.

Andy - without engaging in "whataboutism" I will ask - what other company is iterating their cameras forward at the speed Sony is, each with features that *are* answering asks from customers? They have not "forgotten to address certain aspects and forgone upgrades that many were expecting" - maybe they just weren't what YOU wanted.

The A7r4 has better grip and buttons, a better EVF, improved AF for stills AND video, wifi tethering , and dual UHS-II slots - among others. They didn't just shove 61MP into the A7r3 and call it a day.

Tim Cray's picture

Oh, I get it...you're a Sony fan boy. LOL Tell me...who's been in the optics and camera business longer than any other brand? Don't know? I'll give you a hint...Nikon.

I'm not sure you can correlate "Sony shooters are happy with these cameras" with market share. To a large degree, people buy a product (resulting in market share) because they want something they don't have and NOT because they're happy with what they already have. I'm very happy with my D810 and feel no need to buy the D850, even though I would like to buy one. Perhaps, and this is only a "perhaps", Sony enjoys a large market share as a result of people buying their cameras due to the marketing and then upgrade (increasing market share) because they aren't completely happy with the old models. :-/

michaeljin's picture

The only vote that matters is the one that happens when people open their wallets. If people were not happy with Sony cameras, they would not continue to purchase them. If the competition was offering products that people liked more, they would jump ship. It seems to me that a lot more people are jumping ship from other systems to Sony than the other way around. I'm not saying that it doesn't happen (I did it), but it's not as common.

This isn't to say that Sony cameras are perfect by any stretch. Sony cameras have their compromises—every manufacturer does. The question is how much the drawbacks actually matter to their users. It seems that the vast majority of people who are buying Sony right now are OK with the drawbacks because they value the other features of the camera much more.

As for the theory that Sony has a larger market share because Sony users are unhappy with their current cameras and as a result, they buy another Sony camera.... well, I'm not sure where you would come up with that theory. It seems like an odd thing to assume that users would be so happy with a company's products that they would spend thousands of dollars to buy the next product from the same company over and over again.

I wasn't referring to Sony cameras as a whole. It was more in the way of support for Andy's contention that they need to make some improvements. I assume he, as I, was talking about individual features on individual cameras.
Having said that, the vast majority of photographers can not and will not "jump ship".
And finally, I didn't say they were "unhappy" but rather not "completely happy". The difference is significant.

Tim Cray's picture

And most people can't afford to switch camera systems, either. I shoot Nikon, but I can't afford to switch systems. If I went mirror-less, I'd stay with Nikon since I've a great deal of money wrapped up in lenses, accessories, etc.

Martijn Kort's picture

Build in ND filters? For real? That is one of the things I will never miss on any camera.

But yes there is a lot missing which could have been addressed by software. Not to mention by this update cycle Sony is crashing the second hand prices so doing the investment into the IV will be a big question for many.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

I have seen NDs on a few video cameras and my RX100. I don;t think I have used that feature

EL PIC's picture

Photographers are generally dumb and easy sales for upgrades that don’t really matter. The camera manufacturers .. all .. know this and more pixels are easy for them to achieve new revenue with.
But improve lens and AF in the order of magnitude that Pixels have increased ... LMAO !!

David Ha's picture

Sony is starting to disappoint Sony users by not fixing and improving several features and issues.

1. They still using the god damn LCD screen for a long period of time WITHOUT changing its design. The vertical tilt screen is still not possible. Are they really lazy about making a new LCD design or what?

2. The touch feature is not supported on the menu.

3. For A7R4, the AF coverage is still not able to cover the entire sensor like a9 and a7iii. Are they kidding us?

4. XQD or CFexpress is not even supported. Even 300mb/s UHS-2 SD card won't gonna perform the maximum speed at 300mb/s because of its limitation. Can you believe that 150mb/s is the maximum speed for Sony cameras no matter how fast SD cards are? What's the point of supporting 300mb/s for?

5. Sony's software and app are terrible to use.

6. Sony intentionally blocked several of Sony's features from Capture One Pro. Seriously? Sony is trying to convince people to use their own software instead of Capture One Pro by having its own features. This is not a good attitude by limiting features for tethering.

Daris Fox's picture

Sony has a history for forcing people to use their software to make their hardware work, or using their kit trying to force standards lock-in.

I can only think of two examples where this is even sort of true - tethering and Pixel Shift. Are there any others?

Jonathan Brady's picture

I don't get the teeth gnashing over UHS-II. If the camera performs up to the advertised specs, what's the problem?

I suspect the write speed is limited by the camera's processor anyway. It's the same as in the previous generations, and it's processing more data than ever. I bet the A7RV will have a new processor, and it's going to help with a bunch of stuff. Maybe it'll be worth having XQD cards then. Maybe it'll be able to process the pixel shift images in camera. Maybe it will have a basic raw developer, too. And incorporate more computational imagery tricks. Maybe the image quality will improve from being able to do more with the processor, too.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Nice list David. Could you tell me more about this limitation?

"Sony intentionally blocked several of Sony's features from Capture One Pro. Seriously? Sony is trying to convince people to use their own software instead of Capture One Pro by having its own features. This is not a good attitude by limiting features for tethering."

Lots of emotion here about minutiae. Seems like most people usually use the viewfinder. AF is really good in the A7 system. Menu is annoying, but you learn where things are and set custom buttons. Is touch screen something people want? I don't want that. Never had an issue with write speed. I haven't tried tethering, but it appears you can do it with 3rd party software. See this link: https://briansmith.com/how-to-tether-sony-a7-a7r-a7s/

Mr Hogwallop's picture

Why do some cars have 500 plus horsepower? Because it's easy to sell, and compare to the other guy.
More horsepower is always good but a touch screen that flips would have been nice and afaik that is not a firmware upgrade

Matt Williams's picture

I'm not sure why everyone wants shutters that close when the camera is off/when changing lenses.

Sensors (or rather, the glass sensor stack) are remarkably durable. Shutter blades, on the other hand, are not. This could be the difference between accidentally getting a fingerprint on the glass or totally damaging your shutter blades.

As for dust or water... is it really better for that to get on the shutter blades than the sensor? It would be harder to clean and if not cleaned, it's going to go somewhere (perhaps onto the sensor).

DSLRs had their shutters closed because it only made sense, plus there was a mirror in front to protect the blades.

Not to mention, most modern sensor shift / vibration dust cleaning features are quite good.

Adam Palmer's picture

I'm with you. I feel like this has been put to bed.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

What are you even talking about, they finally made it so you can change the focus frame color. :P

In all seriousness, most of those things people thinks needs "fixing" are pretty inconsequential to me. If they do "fix" 'em, they do. If they don't, they don't. Not a deal breaker.

So if you made a wish list for the A7, why are you complaining about the A7R? Two very different cameras and two very different distinctive tools. You would have had a valid argument if you were a A7R shooter and made a list about it, but you did not.

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