The influence of Sony’s imaging sensors extends far beyond its camera lineup. Some of the biggest names in tech use Sony sensors: The iPhone 6 camera has a Sony sensor, as does the Samsung Galaxy S6, Nikon DSLRs, and Olympus mirrorless cameras. All told, nearly half of the image-sensor market is dominated by Sony. The company’s three newest cameras are intriguing in their own right, but it’s their brand-new sensors that will likely have a real impact on the entire photography industry.
But first—the new cameras in question. The marquee new camera is the Sony Alpha A7R II, a full-frame follow-up to the A7R. With sensors, you usually have to choose between resolution and low-light performance—bigger photosites on the sensor translates to better light-gathering capabilities at the expense of megapixels—but Sony claims this new camera’s sensor is the first to offer “higher resolution without compromise or tradeoff,” according to Mark Weir, senior manager of technology at Sony Electronics. “Photographers are no longer forced to choose between resolution and sensitivity.”
Here’s what that means: This is a 42.4-megapixel CMOS sensor with backside illumination—the first full-frame sensor of its kind, according to Sony. Normally, all those megapixels would generate a pock-marked mess at high ISO levels. With this camera, you’re able to jack the ISO up to an insane 102,400—which you may want to do if you use its top shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second—and Sony claims the images still look sharp at the upper reaches of that range.
The A7R II is likely to be a go-to camera for filmmakers, too. Manual exposure controls are enabled in video mode, where the camera captures 4K video using a full-pixel readout from the large sensor. Sony says this is another first, and the sample videos the company showed at the launch event were jaw-dropping. This is essentially a professional 4K video camera shrunken down into a DSLR-sized body.