Sony Launches the A7 Mark IV

One benefit of being first to act is that you get to the iterative process faster. By the time your competitors attempt to match you, you've moved on and iterated to a new model. 

The Sony A7 appeared back in October 2013 and set the stage for entry-level full frame. The next year we got a quick "fix" with the A7 Mark II, a camera you can still buy new today. Sony went from calling the A7 "entry" to "balanced" with the II model, starting a tradition of leaving the earlier model as the "entry" model.  In February 2018 Sony launched the A7 Mark III. And today, three-and-a-half years later, we have the announcement of the A7 Mark IV.

bythom sony a74side

Aside — As I write this, the A7 Mark II is the "entry model" in the Sony full frame lineup, while the A7 Mark IV becomes the "current" model in this balanced, lower-end camera position. But the A7 Mark III remains for sale in between the other two generations. I understand why the camera makers use strategies like this—Nikon was the first to go three generations on sale with some of their consumer DSLRs—but I don't particularly like this strategy from a customer standpoint. You get people buying solely on price and probably receiving "less" than they are probably expecting based upon the marketing of current products, which can have a long-term impact on brand loyalty. That said, buying at the tail-end of a technology is a way of saving money, and a lot of people use that approach to minimize their costs and get a confirmed stable product. 

To be clear, though: I no longer recommend the Sony A7 Mark II. At its current price point there are now better cameras you can buy that are more current, perform better, and have fewer liabilities. 

For the first three generations, Sony stuck with a 24mp sensor—though they made improvements to it with the Mark III model, including BSI—they mostly concentrated on a number of enhancements that took the A7 from being an awkward but interesting camera to a solid workhorse of a camera that had broad appeal and few downsides ("balanced"). Unfortunately, other companies began using those same 24mp sensors, and I'd argue that both Nikon and Panasonic managed to pass the A7 Mark III by in some key ways. Both the Z6 II and S5, for instance, produce arguably better video than the Sony model. 

Thus, Sony needed the A7 Mark IV to leapfrog back ahead of the competition, and that starts with a new image sensor. 

The A7 Mark IV takes the lower level full frame competition from 24mp to now 33mp. I'm pretty sure that will be the primary attribute being used in marketing against the competitor's cameras, at least until they match it. Likewise, some of the video capabilities enabled by the new sensor and moving to BIONZ XR are being touted. Frankly, I'm not all that hung up on the pixel count, as I think that Sony has done far more to improve the A7 level than just stick in a new sensor. The video improvements are nice, but they, of course, won't be used or appreciated by many.

In terms of the improvements that make a difference, I happen to like Sony's new menu system (the A1/A7SIII one), and the A7 Mark IV now gets that. Discoverability, organization, and speed of access all improve significantly with this new menu system on a touch screen. The EVF gets a much needed bump from 2.36m dot to 3.69m dot. While that doesn't seem like enough to make a difference, believe me, it does. Likewise, the Rear LCD bumps up from 921k dot to 1.04m dot, another long-overdue improvement, though not as much of a change as some expected. Both these display changes catch Sony up to the competition for this highly contested camera category. The other display change is the conversion from tilt-only to fully articulating, which will invoke "but I like tilting" arguments from some. Personally, I like articulating.

The body gets some subtle-but-useful improvements, as well. Essentially, the A7 Mark IV inherits the A7S Mark III body, complete with better passive cooling, a dual/dual card slot arrangement (two slots, one of which take both UHS II or CFexpress Type A cards), and some sharpening of the weather resistance. That makes the Mark IV body slightly larger and heavier than the Mark III body, but not enough to be noticed by most (other than the hand grip depth, which is greater on the Mark IV). The biggest difference is that the shoulders (top plate) of the Mark IV are higher, meaning that there is more volume inside to work with, which was necessary for the passive cooling. The exposure compensation dial is now locking, plus it's customizable, allowing you to set a number of other items using it. Another interesting change is that Sony has moved to essentially a Live View switch (ala Nikon), adding S&Q to stills and video positions.

4K 60P video is going to get hyped, but once again this will be from the APS-C crop (Sony calls it S35 mode). At least it will be an oversampled 4K (from 4.8K). More important is that we now have 10-bit 4:2:2 capability in camera, as well as the full range of Sony's gamuts and compression choices. Note that 4K USB streaming is limited to 15 fps.

One downside for some will be that the price point has moved from US$2000 to US$2500. This leaves some room for a Nikon Z6 III and Panasonic S2 (or is it S6?) to step in and undercut Sony on price with similar specs. But that's the thing about being #1 in a slot: you have some pricing flexibility that can enable higher profits, at least at product launch.

The A7 Mark IV seems to have been a bit rushed to announcement. The camera itself won't ship until December, and Sony's marketing and PR materials weren't all ready immediately upon announcement. It took SonyUS a full 40 minutes to update their own site.

Sony's current camera lineup is now:

  • A1 — US$6500 all around performance camera
  • A9 Mark II — US$4500 sports performance camera
  • A7R Mark IV — US$  high resolution camera
  • A7S Mark III — US$  high-end video-oriented camera
  • A7 Mark IV — US$2500 "beyond basic", balanced camera
  • A7C — US$2000 entry video-oriented camera

A broad set of cameras with different highlights, with a well-balanced camera near the bottom of the pricing. 

One amusing thing that's becoming evident with each additional YouTube influencer video that gets posted today is that suddenly the A7 Mark III focus isn't all that great. This after years of saying it was great, indeed "almost perfect." Turns out that was hyperbole. Influencing, basically. 

Along with the A7 Mark IV Sony announced two new flash units, the (HVL-F60RM2 and HVL-F46RM), and a new AI cloud service.

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