Sony own a major Hollywood film studio. Thus they know film history. After they’d established the market for FF mirrorless, they watched their competitors, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic even, come out with products specced and designed so similarly it was impossible not to see them as clones. Clones going after Sony, as in The Attack of the clones.
But the attack of the clones is episode II of the Star Wars saga, and Sony know the whole story. So it is only logical that they hit back, or rather strike back! Once competitors had released products and staked their claims, mirroring Sony’s offerings (a 24Mp all-purpose medium-priced camera, and a premium 40Mp+ resolution demon), they have now changed -once again- the rules of the game.
Enter the one camera no-one expected: the Sony A7R IV. Previously, Sony had divided the market in 5 segements. The entry-level, made up of previous-generation bodies (you can get a new FF mirrorless for less than US$ 1000 today, but not the latest generation). The all-purpose, with their current 24Mp A7 III, the resolution machine, A7R III with 42Mp, the noise demon A7S II, and the sports king of the hill A9.
Rumours spoke of an A7S III (logical, since this was/is the missing item in the “III” generation), and/or the A9 II (improved from the A9, important for pros to use Sony at the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Not a peep about A7R IV. Especially when the “III” generation is still competitive enough to give Sony N°1 rank in FF camera market share and in mirrorless market share.
So what do the specfications tell us that the A7RIV has that is “worth” breaking the codes? In a word: everything. First, and most spectacular, 61Mp resolution. I know not all of us/you believe that this is even a good thing. But it is certainly spectacular, although, technically speaking it is not a surprise. 61Mp in a FF sensor is the same pixel density as 100Mp in the “small MF” sensor of the Fuji GFX 100, and in the 150Mp in the “large MF” sensor of the latest Phase One cameras. As both sensors are made by Sony, it stood to reason that Sony could release a FF sensor of the same density….
But there is more. High resolution cameras have until now been hampered by their high pixel count in speed terms. You need time to write these large amounts of data to your card. So it was, you had to choose between resolution and speed. Typically, high-speed cameras (Canon 1-series, Nikon Dx series, Sony A9) couldn’t break the 20Mp barrier in order to break the 10 frames-per-second one. And 40Mp+ cameras could hardly speed past 6 fps. Not so with the A7R IV. Not only 61Mp, but also 10fps. That is fast. Almost as fast as the fastest cameras on the planet before the A9’s blistering 20fps. Meaning, very simply, that the time you had to choose between speed and resolution is over. You get both. Very impressive! And you get a state-of-the-art AF system, with eye-AF for humans, and for animals, for stills as well as for video. Wow! And you also get a 26Mp APS/C camera, which will be greatly appreciated by those who want as much reach as they can get, for birds in flight for example.
You also get lots of other goodies in the A7R IV, meaning Sony have taken care of gripes users had with previous models (at least, if you believe Sony’s press blurb), and upgraded various bits and bobs (better resolution EVF, better video specs, better weather-sealing, better ergonomy). But that is not all. The last blow is massive. It is the price. In that it is not massive. In fact, it is the same price as the introductory price of A7R, RII, RIII, take or leave. Meaning you get the improvements at no increase in sticker price. I can hear the groans of pain coming from MM. Canon, Nikon and Panasonic, whose clones now look decidedly overpriced and/or underspecced.
But it is not only the clone-makers who will feel the might of Sony’s counter-attack. Think Fuji, or Leica. Fuji had just introduced a 5000$+ mini-MF machine, the GFX50R, that they called “Super FF” to pick off high-end sales from the mirrorless clone customer base. Easy pitch: larger sensor, more pixels = better camera. Oops. Now they have to explain why 50Mp on a Super FF camera are better than 61 on a FF camera, and “better enough” to justify a 35% higher price, no stabilization, and, and, and…
As for Leica, they continue to plow their own furrow, but every advance Sony make does isolate them a little bit more. At some point a comparison with the car world applies. Yes Rolls and Bentley do luxury vehicles rather than compete on specs. But they do keep their specs reasonably current relative to state-of-the-art. Leica do not. It remains to be seen how long they can keep this going. They are letting 100 people go, and hiring 40 software engineers. That is an indication of where they want to go in the future.
All told, I am not sure Sony’s new entry is a major strategic move. It smacks more of a very aggressive tactical one, putting every one of its competitors under even more pressure. It also makes one wonder where the market is going, because the benefits of increased resolution and speed level off at some point and become irrelevant, if not negative. My guess is that the next step needs to be disruptive, with, for example, different sensor tech, for which Sony already have patents, like curved sensors, organic sensors, Foveon-like sensors, etc.
In the interim, the extra effort Sony have made will force reactions from competitors, most likely moving prices down. And that is all good for us…
PS: my hand is twitching. Deep inside me, there is something that says: if Ahab had had a better (tougher) ship, Moby Dick couldn’t have sunk her, and he (Ahab) might have prevailed. Pequomodo may be about to get an upgrade…
It will come as no surprise to regulars that this announcement leaves me ice cold 😀 To me, it is the triumph of the quantitative over the qualitative. Which is probably in the top 5 reasons why humanity at large is so miserable (quantitative thinking, not the camera itself ;). But wait and see?
The French have a saying that goes “seule la victoire est belle”: only victory matters. And a victory it undoubtedly is, from a tactical point of view. These days, however, winning rarely means having the customer’s best interest at heart. Or society’s. There are exceptions but they are few and far between. Think Facebook and Google … tearing the world apart in a effort to concentrate wealth in the hands of a chosen few. I like Sony. I don’t want Sony to be like that.
What troubles me is that, to my biased eyes, this camera is taking the whole industry in the wrong direction. Not only Sony customers, but the rest of the sector too.
I can already hear the shrieks of outraged fanboys in the other camps. So all other manufacturers still standing and able to will have to follow in the insanity of the jack-of-all-trades super-computer camera.
Today, you can buy a Z7 and be happy for the rest of your life, but that doesn’t matter. Until something radically different comes along, the arms race continues, chucking the whole industry in the wrong direction for the next 3 years. Shiny.
All things considered, cross that initial ice cold part and make it mildly annoyed. All I’m hoping is that some of the asphyxiated also-rans will have to think outside the box to survive and will deliver some real innovation. My breath is flowing freely. Long live Dick slayer, I guess.
Still, peeing against the winds of “progress” wasn’t my reason for barging into Philippe’s Monday Post. Here’s an update on some evolutions on the website, in response to the various needs and requests collected 🙂
Comments: The commenting system has been updated to load comments only when you reach the bottom of the text, in order to accelerate the load time of the page. A lazy load insures you only load more as you move further down the list, for the same reasons. You can now upvote some comments if you feel they are particularly useful to future readers. I deactivated the downvote feature because life is short. I am trying to allow image uploads in the comments but the component that enables this seems to be conflicting with others. More news soon.
Look and feel: The design is more or less final, with some colour tweaking still needed. But the homepage won’t always be the same as the blog page. I’m working on a layout that will allow quick access to all sorts of content such as gear reviews, location maps, …
Font: Thanks to Sean, the font on this site is now easier to read. It isn’t one of the officially tested dislexia-oriented fonts because they appear to be inefficient and none were easily available, but it is one that simplifies and accelerates reading nonetheless.
Content: Some of the “cornerstone” content of the site, which is currently hidden away in old posts, is being grouped into chapters and tutorials. A course creation component has been added and several courses are being written.
Galleries: A gallery module is now up and running. A test gallery has been published until our real galleries are completed. Expect updates and examples in the next Monday Post. Those galleries are being created to support the Pwintshop project mentioned a few months ago and also to sell prints. Our prints, your prints … More on this soon.
Donations: in response to the multiple suggestions to add donation buttons, made in comments or via email – thank you, thank you, again – I have set up a page explaining how you can help DS grow. Part of this is donating, to support the costs nearing 5 figures over the years. But there are many other non-financial ways as well 🙂 All is explained in the new Friends of DS page.
Michael and others suggested a section on photobooks. Being a relative ignoramus on the subject, I love the idea but can’t work it alone. Is anyone interested in helping with that. Help would be in the form of little reviews of books. If enough people read enough books, we can start something meaningful.
I’d like to start a Q&A section. You probably have a question someone else knows the answer to. And you probably have the answer to someone else’s question. Let’s make those questions and answers meet.
It’s always hard to be the first to raise their hand. So I’ll start with a print related question:
I’m printing with a Canon printer and have uploaded some paper profiles to the computer. It’s easy to set up the page, chose the paper, soft proof in Lightroom to see what the print will look like. But, to actually print, you have to select one of the Canon papers known by the printer (not the actual paper I’ll be using and have loaded the profile for) Some 3-party papers (Hahnemuhle in my case) tell you what equivalent Canon paper settings to chose in the printer. But why do I have to chose a Canon paper? Why can’t the printer use the Hahnemuhle profile I uploaded to Lightroom? Consider me puzzled. Any pointers?
If anyone in the know can help, that would be great. Others, do you have any other questions we can relay in a future Monday Post?
Finally, several of you have suggested a critique forum for photographs. You’d send in photographs and other readers could make a constructive critique of it. I love the idea of that.
So, welcome to the new Triple C section of the website: Collaborative Constructive Critiques. Again, let me start to get the ball rolling. What do you think of the picture above (which you will soon find in a new lens review)? What’s good, what’s bad, what do you like, what would you have done differently?
You can send in your own photographs to the usual address pascal dot jappy at gmail dot com. I will publish them in Monday Posts so that other readers can comment on them. Please keep their size reasonable (< 2000 pix long side) and please provide a title for easy identification. As usual, all comments will be moderated, so this will always remain a safe environment in which to open up. Looking forward to your pics 🙂
Cheers to all.
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