#796. A personal wishlist for the next Sony A7r4 (A9r ?)

#796. A personal wishlist for the next Sony A7r4 (A9r ?)

It’s been 3 years! Who’d have known? 3 years since my replacement of the groundbreaking and unbelievably irritating A7r with the even better and *far* more pleasant A7r2, in my bag. While the A7r3 brought with it the promise of even more fixed glitches and the unbelievably cool on paper pixel shift, it somehow failed to stir me enough to get the credit card to smoke. That doesn’t mean an itch hasn’t been at the back of my head and that I haven’t been given my dream camera some thought. Not very Zen of me, right 😉 ?

The core problem at the heart of my upgrade reluctance is a dislike of Sony’s technology above all path to market domination. Not that Sony know of my reservations, care about them or would be right to even acknowledge them, mind you. If sales prove anything it’s the very astute reasoning of the minds behind that strategy. I just don’t feel part of the target and that’s irritating because (1) no one likes to feel excluded (2) there is so much to love about those cameras, that what feels off kilter is all the more a pain in the butt.

My gripe with Sony is that they focus on faster AF and more frames per second – both completely irrelevant to me, when colours and ergonomics could be so vastly improved. To me, making a few excellent photographs is far more satisfying than making metric sh.t-tons thanks to a vast shooting envelope, all of which are damaged (sometimes beyond repair) by baffling colour inaccuracies. And, no, I don’t care what labs tests say about Sony’s colour accuracy. In the real world, with harsh contrasts and variable white balance from one zone of the image to the other, some of my A7r2 files suck big time and take ages to correct, when they even can be (ever notice how many B&W photos there are in my posts?)

A company like Hasselblad takes a much more rigorous approach to sensor calibration and that’s reflected in the AF speed (not a priority), price (time-consuming tasks are expensive tasks, small series are expensive series) and gorgeous++ IQ. A company like Sony take a much broader slice of the population as their target and so, push the limits on many, many fronts – almost exclusively through new technology. And what technology isn’t able to fix without human intervention simply doesn’t get fixed.

But here’s the thing. Could there be great hope with that strategy? Hope for the masses? I seriously think so!!

Hope because Sony have patents in every imaginable niche of photography, R&D that would probably make NASA blush and pro partners / customers such as Phase One, Fuji and Hasselblad to keep them on their toes at all times.

As Philippe recently pointed out to me, the Trichromatic back on new Phase One cameras is Sony tech. It appears to bring a purely technical solution (Bayer filters that do not allow individual primary colours to overlap) to a problem that Hasselblad (for instance) would handle more labour-intensively. So, it’s entirely possible (at least in my hopeful inner kid’s mind) that the future camera in my bag may have highly beautiful / corrected colours without having required painstaking manual labour.

What I’m saying is that Sony, through their relentless R&D efforts, may well be able to push their boundaries on a qualitative (colours, mainly) level and not just a quantitative (AF speed, FPS, Dynamic Range, megapixels …) one. To me, the A7r3 was a big let down in that respect, but nothing’s to say the replacement won’t be stellar.

So yes, in spite of past doubts and serious lust for other – more expensive – brands, I’m hoping my next camera will be a Sony. And this is my spec list for it.

  • A Trichromatic sensor, or whatever technology brings beautiful (I didn’t say accurate) colours to the table.
  • A rear screen that’s not made out of recycled plastic bottles. Seriously. How can you sell a camera for 3+ grand and serve up a screen that gets deteriorated so rapidly? Phones, I mean cheap phones, have been doing much better for a decade. Gorilla glass, coating that doesn’t wipe off with a tissue … you know … (although, having paid even more for a MacBook Pro that’s coated equally poorly, I’m guessing there must have been a massive clearance sale at CrapCoatings Inc. in the past few years). That level of screen quality at that price point is simply outrageous. When you’ve used the screen on a recent smartphone and have to return to that dreary piece of go se, it’s a sinking feeling.
  • I’d really like a better shutter release button. This one works. It’s efficient, fast and predictable. But it feels so mushy and fly-by-wire … Come on, simply because we’re in digital years doesn’t mean we have to give up everything that was so tactile and pleasant in the analog days. Photographers have a soul, you know …

The baffling thing is that Japan loves luxury. Can you imagine a Vuitton bag with a buckle that turns to poop like that rear screen or feels soggy like that shutter release ?

And that’s it, really. Not a long list. So much about this camera is excellent, it would be so great if these 3 flaws received the attention they truly deserve.

Yup, I’d like a better finish (that faux-leather peels off faster than a drunk cheerleader at spring break), I’d like better weather sealing, I’d like a menu page that’s dedicated only to the most common actions (so as not to click 15 times to format a card), a review/zoom system that makes sense (C3 is an unfathomable label for Zoom in), a maintenance plan for amateurs that ensures all is working (pretty sure my IBIS is set to shake, not prevent shake, right now, and my metering occasionally seems set to randomize), I’d love it if the rear screen didn’t have a mind of its own, even when I’ve done my very, very best to clean that pesky eye-detect sensor a gazillion times. I’d love a real grip, that’s not made for telletuby fingers. I’d love lower noise at base ISO so that open shadows contain more detail. But that’s all nice to have stuff. Nothing really critical.

A camera that goes click rather than squish when you press it, creates a lovely looking colour photographs even in difficult light, and lets you review them on a screen that’s both larger and neater than a racoon’s rectum. I’d buy that.

Sony mirrorless cameras have conquered the market through our wallets, isn’t it time they conquered our hearts as well?

Philippe’s wish list follows and, immediately, you can see Sony’s problem as some of our requests overlap (come on, that shameful rear screen, Sony, really ????) but many others go in completely opposite directions 😉

Philippe adds

Christmas is just around the corner. Here’s what I’d love Sony Santa to bring us, in no particular order :

  • A flippy / tilty rear screen. I often see subjects that are incompatible with the configuration of my back and knees. And this also helps a lot on tripods.
  • A nicer shutter release, as in the RX1 (a Sony camera, I believe).
  • More reliable light and white balance measurement in mixed lighting conditions.
  • More reassuring weather sealing, not necessarily full on weatherproofing.
  • A rear screen made of glass that doesn’t degrade faster than GAFA stock valuations.
  • The A9’s blackout-free and roll-free silent shutter.
  • A locking mechanism on the eyeglass of the EVF. It’s too easy to upset the setting on the little wheel.
  • A plate with higher friction under the camera so that it doesn’t constantly rotate on a tripod.
  • A blinkie for each colour to let us know when we are blowing out one of the channels.
  • Manual switching from EVF to rear screen.
  • Frame lines in the EVF for alternative formats (4:3, square …)
  • Finer focus peaking. It’s sometimes still difficult to focus a fast lens without systematically zooming in (and losing your composition)
  • Mini PP in camera, prior to making the shot (b&w simulation, contrast editing …) so as to optimise the shot based on our visualisation.
  • In camera crop, using a joystick.

(c) Philber

In conclusion: in defense of beneficial complexity

Manufacturers have structured their ranges in various ways. Some (Canikon, in particular) have created top of the line cameras from which they arbitrarily remove more and more features as you move further down the range. Others (Sony) segment users along technological lines : speed vs resolution, for instance. And it’s quite obvious that every user has a different set of requirement, all of which can never be met by the manufacturer.

This leads to two types of complexity :

  1. A terrible ode to entropy when the manufacturer tries to be all things to all people and ends up serving a camera that’s so full of buttons and menu options that no one really recognises their workflow in it.
  2. A wonderful ode to intelligence when the manufacturer understands the common ground behind the various shooting scenarios they want to serve and creates a design that serves those as well as possible.

To us (Philippe and Pascal), there are two main uses for a camera that are distinctly at odds : grabbing (street, …) and what can be construed as studio work on location (landscape, …). Pascal wishes for features of the first type (simplicity and logic of flow) while Philippe’s asks are more in line with the second : essentially, being able to create the photograph by exploring all crop, format and PP options before clicking (rather than in actual PP). What we both agree on is that the sloppiness of the rear screen is unacceptable in that price category.

Do our different requirements warrant two different cameras (at a distinct cost for Sony)? Possibly. But not necessarily. Again (we’ve written about this numerous times), smartphones and tablets exist for a reason. And tethering is a thing. By scrapping the lousy rear screen and tethering a phone, a manufacturer could design a Janus camera:

  • extremely simple and devoid of custom buttons, wheels, joysticks, and other catastrophic evidence of design schizophrenia (and an unhealthy lust for tools of torture) without the phone/tablet attached
  • über powerful, the natural progeny of large format cameras and digital editing, with the phone / tablet tethered (and a good app running on it).

Thoughts?


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23 Comments

  1. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron December 08, 2018

    So according to Pascal, we’re all doomed – all we can hope for is a “better” version of stuff we already have, but nothing major to clean out the stable and get the horses & the carriage back on the road.

    I must admit, I’ve never had the luxury of focus peaking – and I think it should be mandatory, for these cameras with a zillion focus points flying around the image when you’re viewing the shot you’re about to take.

    Nikon pissed me off bigtime, not putting a tilt screen on the D810. They are damn lucky I didn’t dump them and switch brands, when they did that. So I can sympathise with your plight.

    I don’t hear these complaints about Hasselblad. Or Fuji. Or Olympus. Or Leica.

    But I do hear them about Nikon. And Canon. And Sony.

    All of whom have been right up there with sales. And then hit choppy waters, most of them. Shouldn’t they learn from that, at least?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 08, 2018

      Only C3PO thihnks we’re doomed. I’m just arguing in favour of quality over quantity 😉 But Sony, in their own way, appear to be striving for better quality via technology. We’ll see 🙂

  2. Avatar
    Kakalotli December 08, 2018

    I’ve been reading you for a couple of years now, since I finished my academic studies (which feed my stomach and my family) and I was able to get back to the photograph (that feeds my soul) that I had to stop pausing for close 5 years; always good post, real and above all reflections of what I’m sure, many of the users think or want to say, within an ointment of bitterness-comedy-irony. Hopefully Sony read and take into account these requests (the screen is mandatory) I would add clarify and define what will happen with applications that left rudely interrupted in the 2nd generation of the a7 series, I have tried to pay 3 or 4 times and I have never been able, If it was not for him, he could have left them for free and it would have been a good gesture. It has happened to me on 2 occasions that I forgot my SD at home (of this Sony is not guilty) but the detail is that I realized halfway through an expedition to a mountain, I would have programmed the sunset on a cloudy day, the light that came out as rays from the clouds hit only one side of the mountain range and on the other side shadow, without SD I could not take a single picture, just up the mountain just for the pleasure of seeing the moment, I mounted the camera and take some pictures with sending to the cell phone, where they were recorded in JPG at 500Kbits, a residual memory for I do not know, 7 or 10 photos in RAW would be a great relief for forgetful people like me who took seriously our climbs to the mountain between cliffs and precipices, with current technology, how much space inside the camera can occupy a residual memory of 1 gigabyte. Thanks for your post Pascal. I hope you also read this sony.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 08, 2018

      Hi Kakalotli, thank you for your comment.

      Yes, some people were doing great things with the Sony apps, so it’s a shame they were abandonned. I never found them easy to install but some managed it and looked to be enjoying them. And the system could have been opened to 3rd party programmers, which is what helped Apple become the huge company it is today.

      I’m sorry about that mountain climbing with no card in the camera. That must have been very furstrating. Zeiss are now offering a camera with a built-in hard drive, so it should solve that sort of problem. If the ZX1 works well, we can probably expect Sony models to do the same.

      Anyway, the only important thing is that you have been able to start photography again, after 5 years without. So I hope you enjoy it a lot. Cheers !

  3. Avatar
    Gerner Christensen December 08, 2018

    Thanks for your article Pascal. Good to pick up the discussions about the camera futures. And as the discussions are an ongoing thing within all different brand users, it had me think. But before your article though 🙂

    Honestly I am sick and tired of all the companie’s “hold tech. back” whether that might be IQ related or ergonomic related features. I will and cannot keep paying for keeping this deliberate strategy of feeding the cattle, but keep them by all means hungry. We need them to write the next paycheck.
    No, I will not any longer. I did my contribution and just by looking at my portfolio none of my progress were related to camera features really.
    Through decades I have been looking for gear that doesn’t get in the way. But it never came to the market place even I am quite sure such cameras actually exist in the drovers in the R&D depts. around the factories.

    For not already having provided me with the Holy Grail, I will punish them through my wallet. Get out of the game and not toss tons of cash after each and every fart they let out.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 08, 2018

      Thanks Gerner. One sentence sums it up: “none of my progress were related to camera features really”. So, based on that, the only reason why we would buy a new camera would be high desirability. Which is why I’d love Sony to continue making progress in the subjective quality department.

      I suppose those companies have to make a living and need us to upgrade frequently to pay salaries. And Sony have pushed really hard along the technological axis. I’m hoping they will also do this along different directions now. It’s hard to imagine who needs more than 20 fps but there are plenty of us out there who’d love a great screen and colours to match.

      We’ll see, but I’m hopeful

    • Avatar
      jean pierre (pete) guaron December 10, 2018

      Love your comment Gerner. That’s precisely why I stayed with my D810 and ignored the D850 – no matter WHAT the D850 offers that (allegedly) I can’t do with my D810. And yes, there ARE a couple of things I couldn’t do with my half frame (D7200) – so I recently traded it in and bought a D500.
      Guess what? Two the features of the D850 are actually on the D500. So I might not have them where I want them – but I am perfectly happy with the enlargements i make off the half frame, so I don’t care.
      So I CAN do whatever I want, with the gear I have. I have no need to change. A few accessories, perhaps – and they are most likely from other manufacturers anyway – not from the maker of my cameras (Nikon). My spend on camera bodies was roughly half what I would have had to pay, to buy the D850 and the Z7. And looking at both of them now, they don’t appeal. They don’t offer me anything that would convince me to trade in the D500 and the D810.
      Of course that’s not going to apply to all the other Nikon owners, so they’ll still have plenty of sales for both those cameras. So they probably won’t ever cry in their soup, when I decide to buy something entirely different, with the money that could have been theirs.
      THere’s a bit of a buzz out there about the impact of cellphones on the sales from all of these camera companies, but I doubt whether that diversion is ever going to kill off the camera industry. Maybe that makes me sound like the blacksmiths and farriers who looked across the street at the influx of motor cars, and dismissed them as a passing fad.
      But if that’s the case, why do I keep bumping into people who have just taken up photography, and LOVE doing it with a “camera” instead of a cellphone? And people who are tiring of digital images, and want a print? – or even an album of prints?
      I guess I think that 7 billion people on planet Earth provides a large enough market for both.

  4. Avatar
    Kristian Wannebo December 08, 2018

    Agreed !
    The quality of the shutter button is VERY important!
    Even the simple first Canon M has a good one – IMHO.

    And the humble M5 has several good things from your wishlists – a couple of price levels below Sony.

    ( But no screen tilt in portrait position, grr!)

    Which all (including your wishlists!) shows up some forgotten good common photo sense among the high tech developers at Sony!

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 09, 2018

      Hi Kristian, everything suggests that quite a few people in the Sony team are themselves photographers, but they maybe never knew film cameras and their slowly honed ergonomics. Sony themselves claim to make products for content producers, not photographers. So they push the envelope and don’t seem to worry about catering for the needs of “pure” photographers. It’s a shame and I believe there’s room for a camera that focuses exclusively on image quality and handling in the market. But it’s probably not as profitable …

      • Avatar
        Kristian Wannebo December 09, 2018

        Hi Pascal,
        Ah, but do the photographer’s have the say?
        I guess you just answered that…
        🙂

  5. Avatar
    Steve Mallett December 09, 2018

    Never having used a Sony I can’t comment on their allegedly shite screen but I can make a design suggestion for them and all camera manufacturers – a fully articulated screen that also tilts. I had an Oly E-M1 that had a tilting screen that was ideal for taking shots at waist level (my knees and back are not dissimilar to Philippe’s) as long as it was in landscape orientation but useless for portrait. I added an E-M5 Mkii with its fully articulated screen and a few extra pixels and was converted. I upgraded the E-M1 to the Mkii, not for the card slots or the gazillion fps but for the articulated screen. This works wonders for portrait orientation but means it hangs out to the left when used in landscape at waist height. So in an ideal world I’d have a screen that tilts so it’s in line with the lens when shooting landscape and fully articulates for portrait mode and for those wanting to vlog (not me). Surely this is not beyond the wit of man, or woman.

    Given that all modern cameras can take great pics the things we put at the top of our mandatory requirements list are largely individualistic. For me top of the list is an articulated screen, any camera without one doesn’t make the cut. I sold a Fuji X-T2 after a few weeks on trial for exactly this reason.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 09, 2018

      What is beyond my wits is why we collectively put up with product segmentation based on arbitratry restriction of features. Canikon are the worst at that game, but Sony also do it. When you have the know how to create a feature and don’t put it in your camera, only to make users buy the more expensive model, it’s just archaic marketing strategy. Those manufacturers are protected by the fact that it’s very complex and expensive to make a camera. That gives them a shared monopoly, which allows them to impose commercial practises from the middle ages. In other sectors, where newcomers can kick the incumben’t arses, things change much quicker.

  6. Avatar
    David Mack December 09, 2018

    Another Great Article:

    I was just about to cash in all of the Nikon gear for Sony, when Nikon finally hit pay dirt with the new mirrorless series. I’ll hold off on melting the plastic until the next rendition comes out, but given its size and weight, it’ll work for both street and other forms of photography. i Bonus, will be able to use old lenses as well while they gear up for better specific lenses. I’ve always enjoyed color accuracy with both Nikon and Fuji, plus using X-Rite Color standardization card specific for each camera. I hope that Trichromic tech finds its way into all the sensors of the future, especially Nikon, since Sony makes some of their sensors as well. I’m just an old retired Amateur, but I’m fairly happy with the progression of options and IQ on these very complex computers with eyes given the complexity of it all and the short shelf life, not to mention the optics of both lenses to fit them and the “marketing optics necessary to sell them, often.”

    Just wondering, do any of you write to these companies with your valuable suggestions??? If so what do they say?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 09, 2018

      Hi David, the Nikon Z7 seems to be a fantastic camera. But many say that you’re probably better off waiting for the next version. It’s true that the Z7 isn’t better than the D850, for instance, and the next probably will.

      The new sensors announced by Sony are 16 bits. Let’s hope lower noise floors help exploit these additional bits and that it’s not just marketing. But there’s great potential there, and better colours would be very welcome as well.

      I’ve written to many companies over the years. Only Zeiss replies. The larger manufacturers only talk to the larger blogs. They have so called “inlfuencer marketin” programs in place and we are too far in the long tail for them to take interest. I guess we’d better relay news releases than write intelligent articles 😉

  7. Avatar
    Cliff Whittaker December 10, 2018

    The more you guys publish about Sony the happier I am that I bought the D850. It’s not perfect, but damn it’s good.
    And now, here is sit with my face hanging out, waiting for all the abuse that I expect to be heaped upon me by readers because of my opinion. But, you know what? That doesn’t matter because for the most part I am very well pleased with my D850. That’s what matters.
    I just hope that no one called me fanboy. I bought my first 35mm camera in 1961 and I’ve been at it ever since. 35mm (my first one had a bellows); 6×6 TLR; 645 Mamiya 1000S; and several years with the Linhof 4×5. My first digital Olympus E20 came to me in 2005 and I’ve never looked back.
    I’ve owned the D200, D300, D800E and now the D850. But, if some innovative enterprise comes along with something that I perceive to be “better” quality and features I will change in a heartbeat. My loyalty is not to brand, it is to quality and useful (to me) features at a price that I’m willing to pay.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy December 10, 2018

      Hi Cliff, in my mind, if you’re not fussed about having an EVF, the D850 is the best camera for the money out there. My D800e was really a great camera and felt unburstable. The EVF is what sold the Sony to me and I still love the help it provides in focusing adapted lenses, in particular Mandler M-mount lenses. But the more recent promises of fast fps and other techno babble leave me cold.

      “My loyalty is not to brand, it is to quality and useful (to me) features at a price that I’m willing to pay.” … yeah … a lot of people seem to be saying that. Maybe it’s specific to DS, maybe manufacturers aren’t listening and no longer care about creating real value, as opposed to more and more features.

      It still baffles me that no one is ever willing to *remove* stuff from their products and everyone keeps on piling more and more pointless gadgets, rather than making existing stuff better. Ah well …

    • Avatar
      jean pierre (pete) guaron December 10, 2018

      Cliff I’m sure you would be happy with the D850. If I had a blank sheet of paper in front of me right now, I’d write down “D850” – or maybe look at the Z7 – and certainly wouldn’t be looking at buying the D810. But I DID buy the D810. And it’s ALSO a man good camera.
      As for your opinions – opinions are a funny animal – they are incapable of being right or wrong – everyone has them – everyone is entitled to have them! – the only issue is what to do if someone tries to bang you over the head with their opinions.

  8. Avatar
    Cliff Whittaker December 10, 2018

    Thank you, Pascal and Pete. You are gentlemen and scholars of the highest order.
    My bird photographs have improved dramatically since I got the D850. Focus is an almost instant lock with my 500mm lens; the frame rate is much faster; and I can shoot in lower levels of light and still get good quality images (I am a nit picker for image quality). And I’m already wondering what my next camera will be. :))
    Cliff

  9. Avatar
    jean pierre (pete) guaron December 11, 2018

    This is pure evil. But the temptation to post this URL here has overcome any moral scruples I might have about doing it.
    EXPOSED – read this one!
    https://photographylife.com/nikon-z7-firmware-update-wishlist?utm_source=Photography+Life+Newsletter&utm_campaign=0c1d0c8ccf-newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_74d1711c3d-0c1d0c8ccf-183956653#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nikon-z7-firmware-update-wishlist
    My motive is pure & simple – that article could well be written about all or any of the cameras that ALL of these companies are inviting us to buy.
    Point 2 tugged at my heart strings – another “when the camera turns off” that Nikon, at least, could incorporate is something that turns VR first. Apparently if you don’t, the lens might rattle. OMG – this they know, this they tell you, and this they do nothing to prevent? That stuff fries my brains – what little’s left of them after nearly 80 years!
    I’m sure everyone in the group could scream about a heap of other things, too – not just the ones in this article!

  10. Avatar
    LB December 22, 2018

    As a Sony photog, currently A9/A73, I enjoyed the read as I do most pieces on this blog. Good stuff guys, keep it coming!

    I work with color and Sony files on a daily bases. I would like to see side by side raw image comparison of what you consider poor Sony colors compared to what you feel are good colors. Under close scrutiny, I think you may find a surprise It seems subjective statements about color science is fairly popular these days yet blind test after blind test proves otherwise …overwhelmingly.

  11. Avatar
    Christian January 09, 2019

    Hi,

    I owned the A7rii for 14 months! I can relate to your feelings, since I’m very sensitive when it comes to color!
    Before I bought it I knew that the colors were more on the „natural side“ and many people said that it is better to give the images a personal touch in Lightroom anyway.

    What immediately struck me was a yellow cast that was more apparent in certain conditions. A sundown never felt like a sundown, you always were forced to edit the images. The Raws were not easy to grade, they quickly get very digital and never felt right, despite its enormous dynamic range. It was especially hard on skin! Overall I found that this camera is technically very good but at what makes a camera a camera it is lacking.

    In the end I sold it and bought the technically inferior EosR and I could not be happier! Having good emotional color and a soft natural look to my images is something that was very hard to archive on the Sony. And once you feel the grip, or look at the viewfinder, you’ll immediately learn that a spec sheet is not everything!

    But still, Istform many people the Sony is probably the best tool you can get!

    Best
    Christian

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy January 09, 2019

      Hi Christian, I reall wish more people would understand this. Technical specs, today, obscure the real quality of the camera. It’s so revealing that you are happier with the EosR. Thank you for sharing this experience! Sony are winning by being ultra-technological, but at what emotional cost to users and their results?

      All the best, Pascal

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