Sony is known for reliable camera systems that steadily get better with each iteration. The company sells a variety of models in each user segment, from basic entry-level DLSR’s to professional cinema camera rigs. Some are designed exclusively for still images, while others thrive in their video capturing capabilities. Then there are models like the Alpha 7, which straddles both, in the rapidly developing ‘hybrid’ market.
This is the model that we are focusing on today. As Sony has just announced the Mark IV model (ILCE-7M4) in the Alpha 7 series lineup. This new model gets serious upgrades to both it’s hardware and software capabilities. And is Sony’s way of taking the ‘basic’ entry-level full-frame camera to the next level.
The Alpha 7 is an interchangeable-lens camera. In this iteration, it gets a new 33MP, full-frame Exmor-R sensor. It is a back-illuminated CMOS sensor that has a wide ISO range of 50-204800. This enables the sensor to capture fine details and textures, without adding any unwanted noise. You also get 15 stops of dynamic range to explore, in both photography and videography applications.
Another major addition to the hardware is the BIONZ XR processing engine, which has been ported from the flagship Alpha 1 model. It delivers superior AF capabilities, with real-time eye tracking for not just humans, but birds and animals as well. This is made possible by the presence of 759 individual phase-detection AF points, which cover over 94% of the image area. With this kind of high-speed tracking, you can shoot continuously at 10fps with solid AF/AE tracking, while leaving a large buffer for a smoother shooting experience. This makes it a must-have tool for people who want to dabble in wildlife photography, but have been intimidated so far by the thought of building up a custom camera rig. Now, you can just point and click, and let the camera worry about tracking the subject for you.
These features are supported by a strong 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization system. This is a vital feature for any proper DSLR. As it helps compensate for natural movements that are impossible to avoid without the use of a tripod or gimbal. Thankfully, this stabilization system in itself is strong enough to give you a 5.5 step shutter speed advantage while shooting footage. You can view the difference through a new OLED Quad-VGA viewfinder, which offers better color reproduction and resolution.
All these upgrades are housed in a new body that uses magnesium alloy for better strength-to-weight capability. And featuring completely recycled plastics all over, as part of Sony’s ‘Road to Zero’ commitment to the environment. This alone should make you feel good about upgrading to this new system. Like a nice environmental-friendly cherry on top of all other massive upgrades.
Software updates are a nice way of implementing new features to existing camera models, in order to keep them relevant. In this update, the Alpha 7 IV gets some of Sony’s real-world movie production technologies that have made their cinema cameras so popular. This technology is known as S-Cinetone. It delivers high-quality movie footage at 4K60p, shot in a Super 35mm mode. You also have the option of going up to 7K oversampling, even though it will drop the footage down to 4K30p. Which is not that big a compromise since all this is still done in full-frame mode.
You also get 10-bit depth, 4:2:2 color sampling to give the footage a more natural tone. There are even certain AF assist modes that can be unlocked with Sony E-mount lenses. That enable you to do focus transitions, or even create an entire focus map that visualizes the depth of field. These features not only help you capture the most realistic footage possible, but also compensate for human error while filming. A nifty trick of doing this is Sony’s special ‘Breathing Compensation’ feature. That uses the new AF system to correct focus issues caused by normal breathing. This is a great way of maintaining a consistent angle of view through any and all focus changes.
All of these pre and post processing blends seamlessly with the captured footage, and can be delivered in an advanced XAVC S-I and XAVC HS intra-frame encoding. The former is more efficient in terms of managing editing workflows, while the latter is great for doubled compression efficiency.
Genuine Hybrid Capabilities
All these improvements combine to create a system that is truly hybrid in its approach to shooting images and film. In fact, Sony is so confident of their prowess in both segments that they have included dedicated modes for both sides. This can be seen in the mode dial itself, which now features a dual layer. With the lower layer presenting simple switches for Still/Movie/S&Q and other modes. And the top one featuring basic Auto/P/A/S/M and MR settings. You can set dedicated presets for both, or pick on the fly depending on whether you’re shooting images or video.
There is also the option of delving into live streaming and remote communications without using any dedicated software. The presence of UVC and UAC USB connectivity further enhances this use case, as professional streamers can now export high-fidelity 4K15p or 1080FHD60p footage for hours on end, without the camera getting overheated. All the transfers are done at high-speed, thanks to advanced Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (5 GHz/2.4 GHz) connectivity. Which is a must for paring the camera with not only your computing device, but also other lighting and audio accessories. All in all, this is a great upgrade to an already competent camera system, which only makes it that much more special.
New Flashes for the Alpha Lighting System
Sony has also launched two new flashes as part of this upgrade cycle. Namely, the HVL-F60RM2, and the HVL-F46RM. They are wireless flashes that can be synced with the Alpha camera to deliver all types of custom lighting solutions to professional photographers.
The HVL-F60RM2 comes with GN60 and 20-200mm coverage, while the HVL-F46RM has GN46 and 24-105mm coverage. These are both optimized for continuous shooting, and can flash up to 200 times at 10fps for the M2, and 60 times for the regular M. This high level of performance is supported by custom nickel hydride batteries that are made to be overheat-resistant.
While this is amazing performance in itself, you can even double up these flash numbers, if you increase the recycle time a bit. This is possible because the flashes are built to interact deeply with the camera system itself. You get advanced features like flash control metering, and shortened release time lag, along with continuous shooting modes, and a silent shutter. All of this can be controlled through the camera menu itself, as it integrates all flash parameters for easy access. This is the benefit of staying within the Alpha Lighting System, which has been designed from the ground up to integrate all types of accessories under a single umbrella.
Sadly, this also makes these accessories more expensive. As Sony puts a lot more effort into ensuring they match the standards of their other products. In both build quality and reliability. This can be easily seen in the tiny details on the flashes. Such as the unique multi-interface metal shoe, that is both rugged and easily usable, and features a special sealing to make it dust and moisture resistant.
You can learn more about both the camera and the flashes in our detailed reviews. Which as still some ways away, as these products won’t be available to the public until the very end of the year. So, think of them as early New Year presents that you can look forward to.