Just when you thought the camera industry's latest models seemed incremental, Sony does this.
A roman numeral incrementing on the end of a camera model name makes an upgrade obvious and it is not hard to figure out that the Sony Aplha a7R IV is the next generation of the Sony a7R III. While the a7R III was a much-loved, very successful camera model and a very significant upgrade from the Sony a7R II, image quality improvement was not a line item on that camera's upgrade list. This time, however, Sony has once again made notable strides on that particular front.
The a7R IV again brings valuable physical improvements such as improved controls, increased grip size, and increased weather sealing, but the show-stopper is the new imaging sensor, providing the same impressive 15 stops of dynamic range in an imaging sensor that has 50% more pixels — 61.0 beautiful megapixels from a back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor. The a7R IV overtakes its predecessor, the Sony a7R III as the highest resolution MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) in the Sony lineup and also overtakes the long-time title holders, the Canon EOS 5Ds and 5Ds R, as the world's highest resolution full frame interchangeable lens camera.
Those of you following this site know that I've been sharing some images from this camera for months prior to sharing this review. I had a full fall workshop/travel schedule that included a significant amount of wildlife and landscape photography. The awesome Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens and Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens had been previously announced and when the a7R IV was announced, I knew what kit I wanted to carry in the fall.
I purchased and tested the lenses, confirming that they were indeed as impressive as expected but a remaining issue was getting an a7R IV in my hands prior to leaving for the 2.5-week trip to Colorado. As the trip drew near, it was determined that Sony needed every available camera for a show and that the camera was going to ship from retailers the day before I was leaving, meaning I would be on a plane when it arrived. The next best option was to have the retailers ship the camera to a UPS store local to my lodging in CO. Yes, retailers with an "s". Having two different retailers ship a camera provided greater odds of getting at least one camera in my hands for this trip and that turned out to be a critical decision (more about that later). I carried two Sony a7R III cameras with me on the plane to be certain I had coverage and successfully picked up the two a7R IV cameras upon arrival.
The mentioned CO trip along with several others gave me great hands-on experience with the a7R IV (over 15k images captured, I'll share samples throughout this review) and lab testing wraps up this experience, perhaps giving me more hands-on experience with this camera prior to review than perhaps any other camera I've reviewed to date. Those searching for the ultimate camera, including from an image quality perspective, will have the Sony a7R IV at the top of their short list.
Here are the Sony-selected highlights for this camera:
In typical Sony fashion, we have reached 9 footnotes in just the camera features bullet list (there are 22 in the full press release). We'll call it full disclosure as that sounds kind.
[i] As of July 2019, based on Sony survey of digital cameras with a full-frame image sensor
[ii] Approximately, effective
[iii] Still images. Sony test conditions
[iv] Up to 10 fps in continuous “Hi+” mode, and up to 8 fps in continuous “Hi” mode — Maximum fps will depend on camera settings
[v] In JPEG (Extra fine / Fine) or compressed RAW mode
[vi] This function does not track animal eyes
[vii] “Tracking” in the menu. This function does not track animal eyes
[viii] Image Edge desktop application Ver. 2.0 or later is required
[ix] Super 35mm 4K recording results in a slightly narrower angle of view
Fortunately, overall, these references are rather mild.
As already hyped, the Sony a7R IV gets a brand new, record-setting "61.0" MP back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor creating 9504 x 6336 px images. Old school math says that a7R IV images fall slightly short of Sony's 61.0 MP spec, equating to a still-extreme 60.2 MP. Here is a chart showing mostly imaging sensor-relevant specs.
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||1.0x||36.0 x 24.0mm||4.14µm||8688 x 5792||50.6||.71x||100%||f/6.7|
|Canon EOS R||1.0x||36.0 x 24.0mm||5.36µm||6720 x 4480||30.3||.71x||100%||f/8.6|
|Canon EOS RP||1.0x||35.9 x 24.0mm||5.75µm||6240 x 4160||26.2||.70x||100%||f/9.3|
|Nikon D850||1.0x||35.9 x 23.9mm||4.35µm||8256 x 5504||45.7||.75x||100%||f/7.0|
|Nikon Z 7||1.0x||35.9 x 23.9mm||4.35µm||8256 x 5504||45.7||.80x||100%||f/7.0|
|Nikon Z 6||1.0x||35.9 x 23.9mm||5.98µm||6000 x 4000||24.5||.80x||100%||f/9.6|
|Sony a7R IV||1.0x||35.7 x 23.8mm||3.8µm||9504 x 6336||61.0||.78x||100%||f/6.1|
|Sony a7R III||1.0x||35.9 x 24.0mm||4.5µm||7952 x 5304||42.4||.78x||100%||f/7.2|
|Sony a7R II||1.0x||35.9 x 24.0mm||4.5µm||7952 x 5304||42.4||.78x||100%||f/7.2|
|Sony a9||1.0x||35.6 x 23.8mm||5.9µm||6000 x 4000||24.2||.78x||100%||f/9.6|
|Sony a7 III||1.0x||35.6 x 23.8mm||5.9µm||6000 x 4000||24.2||.78x||100%||f/9.6|
Does everyone need this much resolution? No, but from an image quality perspective, I can't think of a negative reason for having too many pixels. All other aspects remaining equal, more is better. That said, there are some negative aspects to ultra-high image resolution. More specifically, higher resolution magnifies things you don't want to see including:
The details of diffraction do not need to be understood but all photographers should be aware that, as the aperture opening decreases (higher f/number), images become less sharp at the pixel level beyond the approximate aperture we refer to as the Diffraction Limited Aperture ("DLA", included in table above). As resolution increases, that point of visible degradation occurs at a wider aperture, negating a bit of the higher resolution advantage. While you will want to use apertures narrower than the DLA at times, the decision to do so should happen with the understanding that pixel-level sharpness becomes a compromise being made. Those wanting to retain maximum sharpness in their ultra-high resolution, very deep DOF images may decide that tilt-shift lenses and focus stacking techniques are especially attractive.
I've mentioned "pixel-level" very frequently here and want to emphasize that, when the final output size matches that from lower resolution imaging sensors, the entire list of magnification issues just presented are negated and oversampling with downsizing to a lower resolution has benefits.
Large file sizes require large amounts of storage, increased file transfer/load times, and increased computing cycles. Buying higher capacity memory cards and disk drives and getting a faster computer, if necessary, are all good ways to mitigate the drawbacks of larger file sizes.
The advantages of the increased detail captured by a higher resolution imaging sensor abound and include the ability to output at a larger size or to crop while retaining high resolution. I often find myself using the entire image dimensions to frame the final composition I am seeking, attempting to have the most detail for viewing or printing large. While this strategy is usually a good one, sometimes that tight framing gets me in trouble such as when I clip wing tips, need a bleed edge for printing, and/or need to format the image to a non-3:2 ratio such as for an 8x10 print. Having this much resolution available provides freedom to frame subjects slightly looser, better accommodating such needs with high resolution not being sacrificed by moderate cropping. For example, crop very significantly to APS-C size and still have 26.2 MPs. Birders especially will love that the ultra-high pixel density of this imaging sensor effectively increases the "reach" of all lenses. With this much resolution, there is often potential to crop a variety of final compositions from a single image.
All of that said, I think it is safe to say that you are going to love 60+ MPs of resolution. Check out the Sony a7R IV resolution in the site's image quality tool. Note that these results, using the site-standard processing (Neutral PS, Custom WB, Sharpening = 30, .8, 1, 0, Lens Corrections = 0, Saturation, Brightness and Contrast = 0, all other parameters = 0 including No Noise Reduction), show some moiré, additional colors being produced from the only black and white test target. For a resolution perspective, compare the Sony a7R IV to the a7R III. The resolution increase is quite noticeable.
Safe to say is that the Canon EOS 5Ds R is my most-ever-used camera as of review time. Here is the Sony a7R IV vs. Canon EOS 5Ds R resolution comparison. Again, the Sony shows its resolution advantage (and the Canon shows less moiré).
Here is one more comparison: the Sony a7R IV vs. Nikon Z 7 resolution comparison.
Increase the pixel density of the the imaging sensor and decreased signal-to-noise ratio is to be expected from same-era technology, resulting in more noise at the pixel level. The latest cameras typically have the latest technology utilized and how much did those individual pixels improve in image quality becomes the question to be answered.
With the Sony a7R IV noise test results from 169 different test images available, much can be discerned. The smoothly-colored Kodak color patches test chart subject combined with no noise reduction processing (key point) makes noise especially noticeable compared to detailed scenes that better-hide noise levels. As always, noise reduction processing can improve upon the noise level seen in these images, but noise reduction can be applied to images from every camera, reducing its differentiation. So, avoiding noise reduction in the comparison levels the playing field. Unless otherwise noted, the Sony RAW-captured noise test images utilized the "Uncompressed" RAW setting and were processed in Capture One with the Natural Clarity Method and the Sharpening Amount set to 30 (on a 0-1,000 scale).
What you see in these results is not significantly different from what the a7R III delivered though slightly more noise may be noticeable at the higher ISO settings. As the ISO setting increases from 100 through 800, noise levels grow. But, they remain very low, as usual, showing the impressive capabilities of a modern, high-resolution full frame imaging sensor. At ISO 1600 through ISO 3200, noise levels become noticeable though images retain a high quality at these settings. By ISO 6400, images begin to show noticeable impact from noise and by ISO 12800, noise is strong. ISO 25600 through 51200 results look bad unless extremely downsized and ISO 102400 results are terrible, seemingly good enough for only marketing purposes. ISO 32000 is the highest non-extended a7R IV ISO setting and, to give credit where due, that is the number most prominently displayed on Sony's website at review time.
Do not expect noise performance from an ultra-high-resolution imaging sensor to match that from same size, similar generation low-resolution imaging sensors such as that in the Sony a9. However, if the lower resolution works for you, the higher resolution images can be considered oversampled and processed to smaller dimensions.
With the a7R IV, Sony promised a repeat of the a7R III's very impressive up to 15-stops of dynamic range at lower ISO sensitivity. One way to look at a camera's DR capabilities is to over or under-expose images and adjust them to the correct brightness in post processing.
Increase the exposure by 3 stops and pull it back by the same in Capture One to get an idea of the dynamic range available. In that comparison, despite the resolution difference, the a7R IV appears to deliver the same dynamic range as the a7R III. Try higher ISO comparisons to see that these two cameras produce similar results. Images from both cameras have lost the color information in the brightest color blocks with the colors becoming gray, but both appear to have lost a similar amount of color detail. At higher ISO settings in this comparison, notice the reduced noise advantage of this form of oversampling. Also try ISO 64 for the a7R IV (this test result is not available for the a7R III) to see the reduced dynamic range available at this expanded setting. Both cameras are looking very good with this chart overexposed by two stops.
It is similarly interesting to look at underexposed images with brightness increased by the offsetting amount. In the -3 EV comparison, the a7R IV turns in slightly higher noise levels than the a7R III with the difference becoming increasingly noticeable at higher ISO settings. The difference is decreased at -2 EV and the results become similar at -1 EV until higher ISO setting results again reveal a slight difference. If I underexpose an image by even 2 stops, I feel that I failed in my job as a photographer. However, it is very nice to know that underexposing when using the a7R IV involves little or no noise penalty vs. selecting a higher ISO setting in the first place. Still, getting the exposure right in the first place delivers a lower noise image if a longer exposure/same ISO setting can be utilized. A real advantage of this capability is that shadow details can be pulled out of a very high dynamic range scene that is otherwise properly exposed and an HDR technique cannot be used or is not desired.
High ISO noise reduction is always available during post processing and two sets of with-noise-reduction results are included in the noise tool for the a7R IV. The default Standard Creative Style was utilized in-camera for these results and a set of non-noise-reduced JPG images are included for a base comparison. That comparison shows that some processing is being done to the JPG images. Noticeable in the ISO 100 comparison is that Sony, like everyone else, is again applying too much sharpening by default (see the halos along edges of contrast?).
Noise reduction can make a huge difference in the results, but not all of it is positive. Noise reduction is destructive to fine details and must be applied carefully for optimal results. The same applies to sharpening and a stronger amount of sharpening may be needed when noise reduction strength is increased, boding well for Sony's default over-sharpening.
Color balance is part of image quality and I have struggled to correct the auto white balance result in a small subset of my hands-on images. Typically these images are captured under cloudy skies or after sunset and sometimes two significantly different settings are contained within some bursts. Shutter vibration can also affect image quality. To avoid that issue, Sony includes " ... a new shutter unit with a fast-response coreless motor. The system also includes a brake that subdues mechanical front and rear curtain shutter vibration, and dampers that absorb mechanical shock." [Sony]
Also note that 4:3 and 1:1 aspect ratios can now be selected in camera along with the 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios previously available.
Overall, the Sony a7R IV produces exceptional image quality, featuring ultra-high-resolution, modest noise levels, and excellent dynamic range.
So, this camera's 60 MP resolution likely grabbed your attention, but how does 240 MP sound? This camera has that option.
The Sony a7R III came with a very interesting new image quality feature called Pixel Shift Multi Shooting and it is back and better in the a7R IV. In 2014, I asked Canon for a pixel shift feature (see: "Ultra-High Resolution Via Multiple Shots"), but Sony preempted Canon with that technology implementation. I had requested a higher resolution final image to be created from the shifted sensor vs. Sony's original decision to enhance the existing resolution. In the a7R III review, I said that Sony could shift the sensor 1/2 pixel in each direction to easily implement the enhanced resolution model as well. Apparently, they were listening and the a7R IV can do this.
With the Pixel Shift Multi Shooting feature enabled with Shoot 4 Shots selected (the a7R III option), the camera rapidly captures four images (Uncompressed RAW format and silent mode are automatically selected) to be composited together during post processing. The big deal is that the sensor is shifted one pixel between each image capture, resulting in the pixels moving in a square pattern. Since each pixel on the Bayer sensor (no high-pass filter is present) is filtered to capture either red, green or blue light (only), the shift allows each pixel in the final composited image (it retains the native sensor resolution) to have input from a pixel-well filtered for each color (green gets double coverage). The result is a considerably sharper 60 MP image with noticeably lower noise and moiré appears eliminated.
New with the a7R IV was a Shoot 16 Shots option that captured images with the sensor moved 1/2 pixel between captures. These images can subsequently be processed into incredibly-high-resolution 240 MP images. The difference is huge.
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting is a great concept, but not one without downsides. The first and perhaps biggest downside is that both the camera and subject must remain motionless while the 4 or 16 images are captured. Essentially, this means tripod-based shooting and moving subjects cannot be accommodated – even heat waves can prevent optimal results and with the current processing options, areas not identical between images results in a strong, fine band pattern.
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting creates either 4 or 16 normal RAW image files that can be individually used, but processing is required to combine them. At review time, processing options are Sony's Imaging Edge (formerly named Image Data Converter) and PixelShift2DNG. I optimistically thought that with a new name, Sony's software might be improved but it is still kludgy (to be kind) and I struggled to process these files (with error messages preventing saving of edited .ARQ files, the combined RAW image). PixelShift2DNG is easy but I need to spend more time working the results up to the sharpness I want.
Hours spent on processing Pixel Shift files have taught me that some editing prowess is required, especially in terms of sharpening. If the source files are over-sharpened, the final results will show jaggies and other artifacts. If the source files are under-sharpened, the final results will not be sharp.
I'll share some comparison examples below.
It is not hard to see the Pixel Shift Multi Shooting advantage in those 100% crops. Especially look at the lettering on small round label on the candle and at the stitching detail in the flag fabric. The increased resolution is very impressive.
The difference made by the Pixel Shift capture and processing is dramatic. If shooting a scenario with no moving subjects, consider using the 4 or 16 image Pixel Shift Multi Shooting options. Aside from some storage space, there is little to lose. If the end result does not work out, simply delete all except one of the RAW files as would have been otherwise captured.
Those with advanced processing skills can utilize 4-shot Pixel Shift Multi Shooting more frequently, even when some subjects are moving (such as tree branches). The shifted image can be processed and layered in editing software along with one of the source images. The single-source image can be selected to show (try using layer masks in Photoshop) in sections of the image showing movement problems. Potentially most of the shifted image quality can be salvaged. Utilizing this technique for 16-shot capture will be more challenging, requiring up-sizing of a base image.
Camera shake directly impacts image quality for both still images and movies and Sony's 5-axis Optical In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) is a difference-maker, providing up to a 5.5-stop shutter speed advantage and the stabilized viewfinder is also quite advantageous. Many of Sony's lenses, including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens have image stabilization included and in-lens stabilization can be better-tuned to the focal length being used, but not all lenses have this feature. Lenses like the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens and FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens have significantly increased versatility with IBIS available. IBIS can also work in conjunction with in-lens OSS (Optical Steady Shot) for enhanced overall performance.
Despite the Sony a7R III having lower resolution than the Canon EOS 5Ds/5Ds R, 42.4 MP vs. 50.6 MP, it has significantly larger RAW files (81.9 MB vs. 65.2 MB at ISO 100). Thus, I was expecting the a7R IV's 61 MP RAW files to be huge.
The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately-high amount of detail taken with the referenced camera.
|Model / File Size in MB @ ISO:||(MP)||100||200||400||800||1600||3200||6400||12800||25600||51200||102400||204800||409600|
|Canon EOS 5Ds||(50.6)||64.7||65.7||66.9||69.2||72.5||76.6||81.6||88.1|
|Canon EOS 5Ds R||(50.6)||65.2||66.4||67.6||69.8||73.0||77.2||81.9||88.4|
|Canon EOS R||(30.4)||35.8||36.6||37.6||38.7||40.0||41.8||43.3||45.7||48.0||49.6*||**||**|
|Nikon Z 7||(45.7)||59.1||59.7||61.1||62.7||64.6||67.5||70.6||74.4||78.6||83.1||87.2|
|Nikon Z 6||(24.5)||32.1||32.2||32.6||33.3||34.1||35.1||36.4||37.9||39.5||42.3||44.4||47.2|
|Sony a7R IV||(61.0)||117.0||117.0||117.0||117.0||117.0||117.0||117.0||117.0||82.0||82.0||82.0|
|Sony a7R IV CRAW||(61.0)||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1||59.1|
|Sony a7R III||(42.4)||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||81.9||82.0||82.0||82.0|
|Sony a7R II||(42.4)||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8||82.8|
|Sony a7 III||(24.2)||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.1||47.2||47.2||47.2|
I have been using Canon's 50 MP EOS 5Ds R as for many years and have grown addicted to its sharp, ultra-high resolution. I've been happy with Nikon's 45 MP imaging sensor and Sony's 42 MP sensor is also excellent. The a7R IV's 61 MP imaging sensor exceeds all of these and delivers very sharp pixels while doing so. All is perfect, right?
Combine a huge RAW file expectation with the great image producing location of Rocky Mountain National Park and the result is a vast amount of storage required. I purchased four 256 GB V60-rated (I wanted the fast speed to reduce buffer-filled situations when bull elk were in the viewfinder) UHS-II SDXC cards prior to leaving for the trip and had all 4 filled only mid-way into the second week. I don't overwrite memory cards prior to images making it fully into my backup workflow and fortunately had additional high capacity (albeit slower) SDXC cards along.
The huge uncompressed RAW files eat up memory cards and disk at a fast pace and this is the first camera to make me pause before hitting the shutter release and pause again before moving RAW files into the archives (vs. deleting them). The file size is encouraging me to delete raw files more liberally, including processing more into JPG images. The large RAW file size also sent me exploring increased drive capacity.
Because of the TIFF-like file structure (RAW converters create 16-bit TIFF files from Sony RAW files extremely quickly), Sony RAW files remain consistently-sized throughout the ISO range. Regardless of the ISO setting used, the a7R IV uncompressed RAW files weigh in at a massive 117 MB.
Sony offers the "Compressed" and "Uncompressed" 14-bit RAW file format options. It seems logical to use the Sony compressed RAW file setting to gain a nearly 50% file size reduction but unfortunately, unlike Canon's RAW file compression, Sony's compression algorithm is a lossy one, meaning that some image detail is not retained during compression. Is the difference between Sony compressed RAW and uncompressed RAW noticeable? In real life images, I have difficulty seeing any difference even when zooming to magnifications much greater than 100%. Differences may become visible during post-processing and I'm very particular about image quality, so I leave Sony cameras always set to capture uncompressed RAW images.
The Sony a7R IV has dual SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slots. While I think that having dual memory card slots has been overhyped recently, I do think they have merit and I think they are a valuable Sony a7R IV feature. Like the a7R III, the a7R IV can write files to both cards simultaneously (providing redundancy for professionals who can afford no excuses) or sequentially (for increased capacity), RAW/JPEG images and stills/movies can be separated, and files can be copied between cards.
New is that both card slots support the fast UHS-II standard (vs. one UHS-II slot) and also new is that card slot 1 is logically the top slot (slot one was on the bottom). Memory cards continue to be inserted brand label forward, reverse of my preference — I prefer to see the front of the card, including the label, as I am inserting or removing it.
While card types faster than SD are available, I like the convenience of being able to use the SD card reader built into my Dell XPS 13 laptop. That I have plenty of SDXC cards is similarly convenient and that SD format cards are more affordable than the faster alternatives is another advantage.
The Sony a7R IV formats a fast 64GB V60 UHS-II SDXC card in about 8.5 seconds, not instantly but acceptably fast.
In addition to the 50% increase in pixel count, the a7R IV has a 50% increase in buffer size and is able to match the A7R III's impressive continuous shooting capabilities (a significant improvement over the a7R II). "An advanced mechanical shutter unit and updated image processing algorithms allow continuous shooting at up to 10 fps ["Hi+" mode] with accurate AF/AE tracking, even with this camera’s high-resolution 61.0 effective megapixel sensor. It is also possible to shoot continuously at up to 8 fps ["Hi" mode] in live view mode, with minimal viewfinder/monitor display lag for easy, stable framing, even with dynamic subject motion. Maximum fps will depend on camera settings" [Sony]
You noticed the "up to" being included in the quoted frame rates. Camera settings can affect the experienced rates and the file size of the file type selected can dramatically affect the buffer size.
|Model||FPS||Max JPG||Max RAW||Shutter Lag||VF Blackout|
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||5.0||31/Full||12/14||59ms||125ms|
|Canon EOS R||2.2-8||100||34/47||50ms||n/a|
|Canon EOS RP||4||Full||50/Full||55ms||n/a|
|Nikon Z 7||8/9||25||18/23||n/a||n/a|
|Nikon Z 6||9/12||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Sony a7R IV||10.0||68||68||n/a||n/a|
|Sony a7R III||10.0||76||28||20ms||n/a|
|Sony a7R II||5.0||24||23||20ms||n/a|
|Sony a7 III||10.0||40||163|
With a freshly-formatted fast Lexar 256GB Professional 1667x UHS-II SDXC V60 Memory Card loaded and my Sony a7R IV setup adjusted to "HI+" continuous shooting mode, ISO 100, a 1/8000 shutter speed, and a wide-open aperture, 31 uncompressed RAW images are captured in 4.153 seconds for a 7.2 fps rate calculation. An additional frame was captured 2.0 seconds later and subsequent frames are capture about every 3.7 seconds. A fast V60 UHS-II Delkin card produced similar results.
With the same card in use and "HI" (vs. "HI+") continuous shooting mode, the buffer filled with 32 uncompressed RAW images in 4.838 seconds for a 6.4 fps rate calculation. An additional frame was captured 1.7 seconds after the buffer was filled and the next was captured 3.4 seconds later.
Why would one choose the high speed drive mode over the highest speed drive? There is a reason that a "+" was used to describe the fastest mode vs. simply calling the 10 fps mode "HI" and the primary difference is in viewfinder blackout time. With the EVF (or LCD) showing the subject a higher percentage of the time, subjects are easier to track while shooting bursts at the slower frame rate. The difference is noticeable. While I could track subjects approaching straight toward the camera reasonably well in "HI+" mode, it was quite difficult to keep side-to-side moving subject in the frame. In the latter case, "HI" mode was the better choice.
A performance-related consideration is that writing the full buffer to the card takes about 30 seconds with the referenced SDXC card. While you may not be capturing buffer-filling bursts most of the time, you need to understand that writing to the card takes a noticeable amount of time. In the a7R III press release, Sony mentioned: "For added convenience, while large groups of burst images are being written to the memory card, many of the camera's key functions are operable, including access to the ‘Fn’ (Function) and ‘Menu’ buttons, image playback and several other menus and parameters [xiv] including image rating and other functions that facilitate on-location image sorting." The little footnote leads to "Not all menu parameters can be edited while data is being written to the memory card". While still rather limited during the write operation, the a7R III was more accessible than the a7R II while the buffer cleared. The a7R IV continues to have some limitations and a long buffer write duration may leave you in wait.
Memory card speed matters. However, testing with a SanDisk 32GB Ultra Plus UHS-I 80MB/s SDXC Memory Card shows that card speed makes negligible difference until the camera's buffer is filled. Then the pause between captures extends to 6 seconds and, take note, the buffer takes 2:58 to clear. Three minutes is forever in the field — get cards with fast write speeds (V60 and V90 cards are currently good choices).
A (minor-for-most) memory card performance-related issue to mention is the memory card format time. Sony's format process is long, taking about 8 seconds. While 8 seconds is not a terribly long timespan, it seems quite long when inserting a not-preformatted memory card when action is happening. Format your Sony-destined memory cards during shoot preparation instead of during a shoot.
A short shutter lag is a very important camera attribute and this one has that, but with no sound when the front/first curtain electronic shutter is in use, it is hard to fully realize the responsiveness of this shutter. The a7R IV's front curtain electronic shutter can be turned off, increasing viewfinder blackout time.
In electronic first curtain shutter mode, this camera's shutter sounds (sans a mirror flipping up) are subdued. Following are links to MP3 sound files of the Sony a7R IV's shutter.
With Silent Shooting enabled, this camera does not make any sound while capturing images. Complete silence is a hard sound to share on a website, so I'll trust that you can understand this camera's ability to be stealthy. The ability to shoot in complete silence is of great value, ideal for use during quiet events such as weddings, when skittish wildlife are the subjects, and any time movies are being recorded with audio. Silent shooting mode requires a full electronic shutter and that comes with both advantages and disadvantages.
Let's start with the positives. With no mechanical shutter being used, there are no moving parts, shutter failure is highly unlikely, there is no shutter vibration to be concerned with and, relevant to the just-finished discussion, the camera can be operated in absolute silence, full stealth mode. Again, wildlife and event photographers should take careful note of that last benefit. The a7R IV has a short viewfinder blackout, indicating when an image is captured (you can't hear it).
The downsides of an electronic shutter are primarily related to the current-technology line-by-line reading of the imaging sensor. Fast side-to-side subject or camera movement can (and will) result in an angular-shifted image with vertically straight lines becoming noticeably slanted (with the camera in horizontal orientation). Understand that the second curtain of a mechanical shutter chasing the first curtain can produce the same effect but the difference between mechanical shutter (with electronic first curtain shutter) and electronic shutter performance in this regard has historically been quite big.
Certain light pulsing can influence electronic shutter-captured results, potentially creating banding, an issue I did not yet encounter with the a7R IV. Also, defocused highlight bokeh circles can become clipped when using an electronic shutter. The electronic shutter is not compatible with flash.
Another performance factor is the time required for the camera to be ready to shoot from a sleep state. When hiking to, searching for, and/or preparing a subject, the camera typically goes into sleep mode to preserve battery life. DSLR cameras are typically ready to focus and shoot in a small fraction of a second while mirrorless models usually need more time, making them slightly slower for immediate needs such as often encountered in wildlife photography. In side-by-side testing, the roughly 3 seconds needed for the a7R IV to ready itself seem longer than required by the EOS R (roughly 2 seconds) and the Nikon Z 7 appears to start even more obviously faster.
An ultra-high-resolution imaging sensor places an increased burden on the AF system and if the subject is rendered out of focus, the image will get deleted, rendering the camera's image quality meaningless. The Sony a7R IV has one of the most advanced, high-performing, configurable AF systems on the market and it is hard to consolidate the entire system down to a manageable review section. I'll get right to the points.
"The new image sensor in the α7R IV features 567 phase detection points in a high-density focal plane phase-detection AF system, covering approximately 99.7% of the image area vertically and 74.0% horizontally. High-density focal plane phase-detection works with 425 contrast AF points [not cross-type] in a Fast Hybrid AF system that can handle a huge volume of data at high speed, snapping rapidly into focus with just about any subject and situation. Tracking performance has been improved too, despite the significant increase in resolution." [Sony]
Those moving from a DSLR are going to love this coverage area, allowing proper compositions even with subjects in the periphery of the frame. That said, this camera struggled (more often failed) when using the peripheral AF points with a Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS Lens mounted and the left-most and right-most peripheral AF points often did not work with the Sony FE 600mm f/4 GM OSS Lens.
New with the a7R IV is Real-time Tracking (not to be confused with Real-time Eye AF). "Real-time Tracking is a state-of-the-art feature that employs artificial intelligence to tenaciously track moving subjects when shooting stills or movies. Accurate focus is maintained automatically while the shutter button is half-pressed. The subject to be tracked can also be specified by touching it on the monitor when the Touch Tracking function is engaged. An advanced subject recognition algorithm uses color, pattern (brightness), and subject distance (depth) data to process spatial information in real time. If the subject is a person, AI is used to detect and keep track of the subject’s eye and face in real time for extremely high tracking precision. The focus area will seamlessly change between face and eye according to the condition of the subject." [Sony]
When a subject being photographed has an eye, you usually want that eye to be in focus. If the camera can make that determination and then focus accordingly, the photographer is freed to focus on composition. In Real-time Eye AF, the a7R IV looks for the closest eye near the selected focus area and focuses on it. If in AF-C continuous tracking mode, the camera steadfastly tracks the eye it as long as it is near the selected AF area and especially useful is that Real-time Eye AF is supported for movie recording. This eye-catching feature (pun intended) performs very impressively in both AF-S single shot and AF-C continuous focus modes.
Is the camera picking up the wrong eye? New with the a7R IV is a menu option that can instruct the camera to specifically target the subject's right or left eye. It works, solving that problem.
Relatively new is animal eye tracking. "Thanks to an improved algorithm, the α7R IV now supports animal eye in addition to human eye tracking, allowing fast, precise, automatic detection and tracking." [Sony] Unfortunately, the camera does not auto-determine which type of subject to use for eye detection and the photographer must remember to set the Subject Detection menu option to Human or Animal as appropriate (consider selecting Custom Modes to quickly change between these options). Also note that when Subject Detection is set to Animal, Real-time Tracking cannot be activated (Real-time Eye AF is supported).
My experience with this camera's animal eye detection is not as stellar as with human eye detection. I found animal eye AF to work reasonably well with deer, both mule deer and whitetail deer. However, it works rather poorly with elk. In the latter case, the eye AF indicator more frequently shows a spot below the base of an antler or at the base of an ear being selected than the eye.
The Sony a7R IV focuses very reliably accurately in AF-S single shot mode where it seems unchallenged.
Moving subjects change the game, dramatically increasing the challenge to the camera. I photographed several cross country races with this camera, utilizing the eye detection feature. When my subject was not with other runners, I used a wider AF area and when I needed to better isolate which runner was my subject, I used a single small AF point. The camera performed well, usually finding my subject's eye and producing a significant percentage of in-focus images.
As mentioned, I spent a lot of time photographing wildlife and AF-C AF accuracy with these subjects was not so stellar. Every-other-shot-sharp scenarios were rather common with the odd shots often usable but just slightly out of focus. It seemed that the AF system was wavering the focus distance even when the animal was not moving.
Real-time Tracking performs excellently, steadfastly tracking the subject initially selected as it moves throughout the frame.
From a speed perspective, the a7R IV drives AF quite fast. In AF-S mode, the AF system always defocuses the image slightly before locking focus, a slightly annoying feature that has been greatly improved over previous implementations. That trait disappears in AF-C mode.
As mentioned, this AF system is very configurable, including Priority Set in AF-C (priority for AF vs shutter release in continuous focus), AF tracking sensitivity, and orientation-sensitive AF point and area selection. Focus area circulation is a new setting that allows the focus area/point selection to move beyond the edge of the frame, jumping to the other side. The A7R III showed AF point in gray until turning green when the subject was in focus. The a7R IV brings red and white options for improved visibility. Focus peaking has been enhanced with increased detection accuracy and with a new blue color included along with the previously available red, yellow, and white.
Focus point settings can be saved and recalled via custom button assignments. Focus area mode settings can also be stored and recalled.
The a7R IV AF system supports luminosity levels of EV-3 through EV 20. While EV-3 is really dark, this number is not as low as some competing models — the Canon EOS R goes to EV -6 but on the other hand, the Nikon Z 7 only goes to EV-2. The Focus Priority in Aperture Drive option ensures that a wide aperture is used for low light AF.
The Sony a7R III's Focus Area options are Flexible Spot (S, M or L point size selectable), Expand Flexible Spot (uses focus points around the spot as a secondary priority area for focusing), Center, Zone (9 selectable large AF areas) and Wide (all points active). The Tracking: feature has the same complement of sub options selectable for it. When not using a tracking feature, I am most often using Flexible Spot (S) and sometimes wish that an even smaller (XS) one was available. I also wish the focus indicator in the viewfinder was not as thick. While it is currently very obvious, it covers too much of the subject.
AF point/area selection can be done using the joystick or, if using the rear LCD for live view, touching the LCD will select the focus point, overriding the AF area to Flexible Spot until the focus cancel button (center of rear dial) is pressed.
A great a7R IV feature is that the rear LCD can function as a configurable AF point/area selection touchpad during viewfinder use. When first using this feature in the field, I found it not responsive enough to use. However, as I sit at my desk re-evaluating based on those notes/memories, it is working very well. Did a firmware update resolve the original issue? Was I doing something differently in the field? I don't know, but I'm happy.
Overall, This AF system is quite impressive in AF-S single shot mode and it seems only a firmware tweak away from outstanding AF-C performance as well.
Sony MILCs have been highly regarded for their mirrorless full frame cameras' high-end video features and the Sony a7R IV's video capabilities are similar to its strongly-featured predecessor. The specifications list, while not greatly changed from the a7R III, is extensive:
XAVC S, AVCHD format Ver. 2.0 compliant
XAVC S: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, AVCHD: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Audio Recording Format
XAVC S: LPCM 2ch, AVCHD: Dolby Digital (AC-3) 2ch, Dolby Digital Stereo Creator
xvYCC standard (x.v.Color when connected via HDMI cable) compatible with TRILUMINOS Color
7 types: Posterization (Color), Posterization (B/W), Pop Color, Retro Photo, Partial Color (R/G/B/Y), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera(Normal/Cool/Warm/Green/Magenta), Soft High-key
Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn leaves, Black & White, Sepia, Style Box(1-6), (Contrast (-3 to +3 steps), Saturation (-3 to +3 steps), Sharpness (-5 to +5 steps))
Yes (Off/PP1-PP10) Parameters: Black level, Gamma (Movie, Still, Cine1-4, ITU709, ITU709 [800%], S-Log2, S-Log3, HLG, HLG1-3), Black Gamma, Knee, Color Mode, Saturation, Color Phase, Color Depth, Detail, Copy, Reset
Image Size (pixels), NTCS
XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 (30p, 100M), 3840 x 2160 (24p, 100M), 3840 x 2160 (30p, 60M), 3840 x 2160 (24p, 60M),
XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080 (120p, 100M), 1920 x 1080 (120p, 60M), 1920 x 1080 (60p, 50M), 1920 x 1080 (30p, 50M), 1920 x 1080 (24p, 50M), 1920 x 1080 (60p, 25M), 1920 x 1080 (30p, 16M),
AVCHD: 1920 x 1080 (60i, 24M, FX), 1920 x 1080 (60i, 17M, FH)
Image Size (pixels), PAL
XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 (25p, 100M), 3840 x 2160 (25p, 60M),
XAVC S HD:1920 x 1080 (100p, 100M), 1920 x 1080 (100p, 60M), 1920 x 1080 (50p, 50M), 1920 x 1080 (25p, 50M), 1920 x 1080 (50p, 25M), 1920 x 1080 (25p, 16M),
AVCHD: 1920 x 1080 (50i, 24 M, FX), 1920 x 1080 (50i, 17 M, FH)
Slow & Quick Motion (shooting frame rate)
NTSC mode: 1fps, 2fps, 4fps, 8fps, 15fps, 30fps, 60fps, 120fps
PAL mode: 1fps, 2fps, 3fps, 6fps, 12fps, 25fps, 50fps, 100fps
Slow & Quick Motion (recording frame rate & image size)
NTSC mode: 1920x1080 (60p, 30p, 24p),
PAL mode: 1920x1080 (50p, 25p)
Audio Level Display, Audio Rec Level, PAL/NTSC Selector, Proxy Recording (1280 x 720 (Approx. 9 Mbps)), TC/UB (TC Preset/UB Preset/TC Format/TC Run/TC Make/UB Time Rec), Auto Slow Shutter, REC Control, Clean HDMI Info. (ON/OFF selectable), Gamma Disp. Assist
3840 x 2160 (25p), 1920 x 1080 (50p), 1920 x 1080 (50i), 1920 x 1080 (24p), 1920 x 1080 (60p), 1920 x 1080 (60i), 3840 x 2160 (30p), 3840 x 2160 (24p), YCbCr 4:2:2 8 bit/RGB 8 bit
Uncropped full frame 4k is available, utilizing pixel binning while full pixel readout with 6K oversampling (2.4x additional data) is used in Super 35mm mode (approx. APS-C, 1.6x for 25p/24p and 1.8x for 30p, 16:9). While full frame 4k image quality is nice, the oversampled APS-C 4K movies have improved sharpness and less rolling shutter effect. Note that the APS-C/Super 35mm menu option is in the menu at the bottom of the first page on the first tab and not available in the movie tabs section. Via in-camera interval shooting, 4K time-lapse movies can be also be created.
The a7R IV's fast hybrid AF system is a big advantage for movie recording, incorporating Real-time Eye AF and Real-time Tracking, processing color, pattern/brightness, distance, and face information with LCD touch functionality that is able to initialize the tracking at a specified sensitivity and speed.
The a7R IV’s Multi Interface (hot) Shoe features a built-in digital audio interface that allows the ECM-B1M Shotgun Microphone or XLR-K3M XLR Adaptor Kit to be used without cables or additional batteries.
"An HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) picture profile that supports an instant HDR workflow is provided. Recorded movies played back on an HDR (HLG) compatible TV will appear true-to-life, with no blocked shadows or blown highlights, and without the need for color grading. In addition to S-Log2, S-Log3 is available for better gradation from shadows to mid-tones (18% gray), and a dynamic range of up to 14 stops." [Sony] Note that this is not 1-bit capture and the "HLG" specification is key.
Lower-resolution proxy movies useful for quick viewing can be recorded simultaneously with 4k movies. "Picture profiles, Clean HDMI, Time Code/User Bit, REC control, Gamma Display Assist, a Zebra function, and other details provide comprehensive support for advanced video workflows." [Sony] Prefixes can be assigned to movie files (and still images) to make source camera identification easier.
SteadyShot (IBIS) is available for enabling more stable video to be recorded, greatly improving movie quality. Audio is recorded via the built-in, good quality, stereo microphone or alternately an external microphone using the 3.5mm mic jack.
The a7R IV's still and movie modes maintain separate exposure settings, making that change less time consuming.
The Sony a7R IV performs well from an autofocus perspective in video mode. Focus distance transitions happen accurately and at a nice rate (not too fast, not too slow) at the default settings. Especially nice is being able to touch the LCD to change AF points during video recording (though there is a slight pause before the transition happens).
The high quality video capabilities of the a7R IV adds strongly to the overall value of this small, high-resolution camera model.
"The live view image is divided into 1,200 segments for detailed analysis of subject color and lighting" [Sony] with focus information also being used for auto exposure evaluation.
"In addition to the Multi, Center, and Spot metering modes, a Highlight mode detects the brightest area in the frame to avoid blown highlights, and an Entire Screen Average mode can provide stable auto exposure through composition changes. When the Focus Area parameter is set to Flexible Spot or Expand Flexible Spot the metering spot location can be linked to the focus area so that the optimum metering point is maintained automatically. Two spot sizes are available to match a wide range of subjects." [Sony}
I have found the a7R IV (and all of the other Sony MILCs I've used) to deliver good image brightness when using the auto exposure feature.
Sony's flickering light detection and avoidance system debuted in the a7R III and this potentially game-changing feature is back in the a7R IV. Both brightness and white balance are affected by the dim cycle of lighting and correcting even one of these affected images is very challenging and time consuming. The a7R IV can detect only 100 Hz and 120 Hz flicker and apparently the (very typical) fluorescent tube lights in my basement are not compatible or I haven't figured out some nuance to make this feature work (it shouldn't be that hard). Sony notes that continuous shooting speed may decrease when anti-flicker is enabled which makes sense as the camera pauses to miss the dim cycle of the lights. Also, anti-flicker cannot be enabled during silent shooting, BULB exposure, or movie recording.
A stand-out feature for the a7R IV is the beautiful new 0.5" (1.3cm) UXGA (Ultra-XGA) OLED 5.76 million dot Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder. The EVF size remains the same as in the a7R III (huge) but the resolution is increased significantly from the a7R III's 3.69M-dot Quad-VGA OLED EVF, the same resolution shared by the Canon EOS R, Nikon Z 7, and Nikon Z 6. The resolution increase is welcomed and the a7R IV's difference is obvious when looking through the above cameras side-by-side (one at each eye).
The a7R IV eyepiece window is fluorine coated to keep it clean and to make it easier to clean though mine has been dirty a few times and I cannot say that the recessed glass is especially easy to clean (it might have been even more difficult without the coating).
I will not go into a full discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of an EVF here, but the a7R IV is likely the best EVF I have used.
While the a7R IV's blackout period during image capture has not been eliminated, it is rather short. The viewfinder lag does seem very slight, but I do find my images of subjects in motion sometimes reflecting that my composition was lagging slightly behind the action.
The Sony a7R IV again features the valuable electronic level. In the field, I found the viewfinder graphics, especially the level indicator's two large superfluous semi-circles, consuming too much space, at times making it hard to see, for example, an elk's eye and especially hard to see if a catchlight was present. A thinner AF point square would be another improvement.
The other a7R IV electronic viewfinder is the rear LCD, a high quality 2.95" tilting touch screen LCD with 1.44 million dots. Sony claims that "WhiteMagic technology is included to ensure that LCD viewing is bright and clear even in outdoor conditions."
Yes, this is a touch screen, but the touch screen functionality is disappointingly limited — it can be used for touch AF point selection when the rear LCD is active and it can be used as a touch pad for AF point selection when using the EVF. That is the limit of this camera's touch capabilities.
This LCD's tilt feature (107° up, 41° down) makes high and low position shooting easy. Note that neither direction reaches 180° to facilitate selfies/vlogging.
Accessed via the EVF and LCD is the menu system. I'm both spoiled by and acclimated to Canon's excellent, logical menu systems, but despite years of use, I remain challenged by Sony's seemingly overly-difficult menu system structure, this time including 40 subtabs under the 5 main tabs. Note that pressing the Fn button navigates to the next menu tab. That a customizable "My Menu" (first arriving on the a7R III) provides a single location to store the most-used functions is of especially great convenience on this camera.
Those familiar with the Sony a7R III (and other similar Sony cameras) will readily familiarize themselves with the a7R IV and, from a distance, the a7R IV appears to physically be the same as the a7R III. Move in close to find a great number of subtle changes made and those subtle changes add up to a very significant user experience improvement.
As you review the product images for this camera, keep in mind that a huge number of customizations can be made including 11 customizable buttons (4 custom buttons). The front dial, rear dial, and control wheel can have up to three custom functions assigned for use while a custom button is held. If what you see is not your preference, you can probably customize it to be so.
To compare the Sony a7R IV with many other camera models, use the site's camera product image comparison tool (the a7R IV vs. a7R III comparison is preloaded). Opening that link in a separate tab or window will be helpful for following along with the product tour.
I mentioned that, from a distance, the a7R IV appears to be physically the same as the a7R III and that applies to the back. The same buttons are provided in the same positions and they perform the same functions. Look closer and you will see that nearly all of the buttons and controls on the camera back have been re-worked slightly. Minimally, the buttons are raised higher and most now have a raised plastic surrounding area below them. The simple changes made these buttons considerably easier to find and use.
The AF-ON button is larger, making it far less likely to be confused with the movie record button (an issue I encountered frequently with the a7R III).
The Sony a7R III received a substantial upgrade from the a7R II in the form of a much-needed 8-way multi-selector/joystick. The a7R IV retains that feature and changes the selector's texture. While I like the new texture, I found it very challenging to use with thick gloves, with a press frequently wanting to be registered instead of a directional change.
The programmable function button provides quick access to 12 common functions assigned to still photo mode and a different 12 are assigned to movie mode. By default, ISO settings are easily accessed via the rear control wheel. This is perhaps too convenient as I found ISO being changed inadvertently a few times.
Overall, the buttons on the back are logically laid out and provide great functionality.
Again, the top of the a7R IV resembles the top of the a7R III but there are changes seen upon closer inspection.
The locking mode dial is present — as expected. The modes that professionals (and anyone serious about photography) have come to expect are included: M, S, A, P. Those who just want to take advantage of a great camera without a learning curve (and those who just need the camera to decide what settings are needed in an instant) have the intelligent auto mode ready for immediate use.
Three custom options are again provided, ready to store your most-used settings for immediate recall. I use these modes at least as much as any other modes combined. Note that the a7R IV is also capable of saving and reading up to 10 combinations of camera settings to/from a memory card.
Sony neophytes may need to be enlightened regarding the S&O acronym, referring to the opposites "S"low and "Q"uick, used for Slow and Quick Motion movies. Just counter-clockwise to the S&O mode is the normal movie mode.
A pair of programmable custom buttons are again provided within convenient reach of the grip hand's index finger. These buttons are noticeably raised and easier to find than on the a7R III design.
The aR7 IV's power switch ring, surrounding the shutter release, has a re-worked shape that is smoother, more comfortable, and appears more defined. The front position of this switch is very convenient, allowing the camera to be powered on with the grip hand's index finger while the camera is in hand.
The front dial, positioned just forward of the shutter release, has been angled upward slightly for easier use.
The exposure control dial was positioned closer to the side of the camera with the a7R III, making it more exposed and easier to turn. Apparently the easier-to-turn feature was an issue and new with the a7R IV is a lock in the center of this dial. This is a toggle lock that retains its locked/unlocked setting when pressed – meaning that you can have your preference. This dial is easily accessible to the thumb and provides easy visual confirmation of the current setting.
The other dial on the top, referred to as the rear dial and located rearward between the mode dial and exposure compensation dial, has received the biggest camera top design change. On the a7R III, this dial was exposed by 3mm more than in the a7R II, making it also considerably easier to use. On the a7R IV, the dial breaks out of the camera shell, becoming fully exposed on top of the camera where it is considerably easier to use.
Once acclimated to the control positioning and feature locations (Canon and Nikon users will need acclimation), this camera is quite easy to use and a quality feel abounds, including dials and buttons that click reassuringly into positions.
The change noticeable on the right/grip side of the camera is the missing memory card door release. The entire memory card door now slides rearward and spring-loaded, it opens as finger pressure is released. From a functionality perspective, this is a positive change. It is easier to grip the memory card door compared to the old small release, and especially easier to open with gloves on. With one less opening in the camera body, this design should be an improvement from a weather sealing perspective. That the door provides a slightly improved thumb rest is yet another advantage.
As usual, the left side of the camera has the abundance of ports that are better seen with the port covers open.
Provided are microphone and headphone ports (3.5 mm Stereo minijacks), a Multi/Micro USB Terminal, a USB Type-C port (USB 3.2 Gen 1), an HDMI micro connector (Type-D), and a PC Sync terminal (ready to control studio lighting). Camera battery charging is available via the Multi/Micro USB Terminal or the USB Type-C Terminal.
The a7R IV's bottom dimensions are similar enough to the a7R III that my Kirk a7R III L-bracket seems to fit properly on both.
One of the big attractions to the Sony MILCs is their small size and light weight. Small is great in many respects, but too small has a potential downside in regards to the grip of a frequently-used camera.
When you want to have full control over something, you grasp it with your entire hand. You don't hold a baseball bat, tennis racket or golf club with just your fingertips. The same is true for a camera grip. While I'm not swinging my camera in the same way as those sporting implements are used, I still want total control over my camera and an attached lens.
The Sony a7R II grip was too small for me. Despite its grip being about 2.5mm deeper than the II's, the a7R III grip didn't seem much improved. The good news is that the a7R IV grip is significantly improved. Pick up the camera and the increased palm swell is immediately felt. The a7R IV grip extends forward noticeably farther than the a7R III grip, providing the depth needed to fill fingers and many will find their pinky remaining on the grip vs. sliding under it. While the a7R IV's grip is much more secure and comfortable in the hand, the lens clearance issue has not been addressed in this update. I've often complained about Sony's larger lenses uncomfortably impacting my first two fingers' first (non-cushioned) knuckles (I have medium/large hands) and with the grip not being moved outward away from the lens, this camera still has that issue.
|Model||Body Dimensions||CIPA Weight|
|Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R||6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0"||(152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm)||32.8 oz (930g)|
|Canon EOS R||5.4 x 3.9 x 3.3"||(135.8 x 98.3 x 84.4mm)||23.4 oz (660g)|
|Canon EOS RP||5.2 x 3.36 x 2.76"||(132.5 x 85.3 x 70mm)||17.3 oz (485g)|
|Nikon D850||5.7 x 4.9 x 3.1"||(146.0 x 124.0 x 78.5mm)||32.3 oz (915g)|
|Nikon Z 7||5.3 x 4.0 x 2.7"||(134.0 x 100.5 x 67.5mm)||20.7 oz (585g)|
|Nikon Z 6||5.3 x 4.0 x 2.7"||(134.0 x 100.5 x 67.5mm)||20.7 oz (585g)|
|Sony a7R IV||5.2 x 3.9 x 3.2"||(128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5mm)||23.5 oz (665g)|
|Sony a7R III||5.0 x 3.9 x 3.0"||(126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)||23.2 oz (657g)|
|Sony a7R II||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4"||(126.9 × 95.7 x 60.3mm)||22.0 oz (625g)|
|Sony a9||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5"||(126.9 x 95.6 x 63.0mm)||23.7 oz (673g)|
|Sony a7 III||5.0 x 3.8 x 3.0"||(126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)||23.0 oz (650g)|
There is little size and weight difference between the Sony Alpha camera models. All are small. All are light. Those are features few will complain about, especially when carrying, either in a case or in hand, for long periods of time.
Built on a lightweight, high-rigidity magnesium alloy frame, the Sony a7R IV has a high quality, solid feel to it – similar to the a7R III. In general, the buttons, dials and switches have nice haptic feedback and the fun-to-use factor is very high.
"Dust and moisture resistance have been significantly improved with refinements throughout the body. Additional sealing is provided at all body seams as well as the battery compartment cover, and the media slot now has a double sliding cover rather than the previous hinged cover to keep water out. A redesigned lens lock button and additional cushioning around the mount further contribute to outstanding reliability in challenging outdoor conditions." [Sony] Testing to failure is an option I seldom opt for, my insurance company has an aversion to me discovering failure points, and I opt for a rain cover be used when wet could happen.
That Sony has tested the a7R IV's shutter longevity at over 500,000 actuations, a very considerably high number of images, should be comforting to most.
I used my a7R IV outdoors all day with temperatures starting at 6° F (-14° C) with very strong winds and encountered no issues aside from my breath freezing on the rear LCD.
Earlier in the review, I mentioned that initially purchasing two Sony a7R IV cameras proved critical. Upon returning to my room that evening, I set up both cameras for shooting early the next morning and discovered that both arrived with very dirty imaging sensors. One could not even be wet-cleaned and forced a return. That a company can design and build such an incredibly complex camera and then deliver it with a dirty sensor is disappointing and this is a build quality issue. For what it's worth, the a7R IV is built in Thailand and the a7R III was built in China.
The Sony a7R IV has built-in 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi useful for tethering, Wireless PC remote connectivity, and FTP wireless transfer with transfer speeds approximately 2x faster than the a7R III.
"With the camera and computer connected using Sony’s Imaging Edge 'Remote' software application (Ver. 2.0 or later), it is easier than ever to shoot, change camera settings, and transfer and store still images. In addition to wirelessly connecting the camera directly to the computer, the connection can be made via a wireless access point for compatibility with a variety of network environments. During PC Remote shooting, the file storage destination can be set so that images are stored in the camera as well as on the computer. This feature has been refined in the α7R IV, so that it is now possible to change the storage destination from either the camera or a computer running the Imaging Edge application while shooting. Another option is to transfer only JPEG files to the computer rather than both the JPEG and RAW files, reducing data volume and allowing transferred images to be checked almost immediately. You can even choose to transfer the original JPEGs or compact 2-megapixel versions for maximum speed." [Sony]
New for the a7R IV is the FTP background transfer function, allowing convenient Wi-Fi transfer of still image files (including while shooting or reviewing images) of specified formats (JPEG/RAW) to a specified remote FTP server. FTPS (File Transfer Protocol over SSL/TLS, SSL or TLS data encryption) is supported. "The number of FTP servers that can be pre-registered has been increased from three to nine, and it is possible to set up folder configurations on the destination FTP server." [Sony]
Smart mobile device pairing is featured on this camera. "Install the Imaging Edge Mobile app on your mobile device via Wi-Fi, then touch the device to the camera to connect. Pair the devices using QR code, or use NFCTM on Android devices. Imaging Edge Mobile can be used to acquire location data, link location data to still images, and correct camera date/time and location settings." "Smartphone still and movie file transfer is now supported even when the camera is powered off." [Sony]
Note that the a7R IV does not support in-camera RAW file conversion. Also note that a GPS feature is not provided.
For those upgrading to the a7R IV from the a7R III, Sony has preserved your battery investment.
One of the major drawbacks of the Sony a7R II was the very short battery life with a meager, inadequate 290-shot rating using the NP-FW50 battery pack (viewfinder rating). Addressing that shortcoming was the new Sony NP-FZ100 battery pack, featuring about 2.2x capacity of the NP-FW50.
In the a7R III, the NP-FZ100 is rated for approx. 530 shots using the viewfinder or 650 shots using the LCD monitor and the difference seemed considerably larger in real world application. The a7R IV, despite supporting a much higher resolution imaging sensor and EVF, gets the same viewfinder rating and bumps the LCD monitor rating up by 20 for approx. 530 shots using the viewfinder and approx. 670 shots using the rear LCD monitor. Usage can vary greatly, but as usual, those ratings were easily surpassed in my experience and even when shooting in very cold temperatures, I could often use a single battery all day.
While the a7R IV's battery door is spring-loaded, the switch on the door again is not. Slightly annoying is that it must be manually slid into the locked position after closing the door.
Unlike the older NP-FW50, the NP-FZ100 is keyed to insert in only two orientations vs. four. Unfortunately, it still fully inserts backwards (without locking into place). Fortunately, the battery contacts make the remaining mis-orientation less logical to try.
Especially nice is that this battery features in-camera charging + power.
The provided AC charger is a corded model vs. the cordless direct-plug-in style I prefer. I'm also not a fan of this charger's LED going dark when the battery is fully charged. The charger light also goes out if you turn off the light switch that controls the electrical receptacle the charger is plugged into. From the charger light perspective, those two scenarios look the same and yes, I encountered this problem in a rental house, costing me about an hour of shooting in the field when the only partially charged battery drained more rapidly than expected. What happened: at the end of a day, I placed a battery in the charger, observed the charging lights, turned off the overhead room light, and went to bed. In the morning, the charger light was off, indicating a full charge as I expected. However, also turned off was the overhead light controlled by the same light switch as the receptacle power. When I turned off the light, I turned off the battery charger and mid-morning, I became purely a spectator until we returned to the vehicle an hour or two later where I could pick up a spare battery.
Overall, I like the NP-FZ100 battery pack. It is relatively compact and in the a7R IV, it provides a solid number of shots.
While in Colorado, I was thankful to have the a7R IV in my hands but with primarily large lenses in use, I would have appreciated having the dedicated Sony VG-C4EM Vertical Grip and picked up this useful accessory prior to the next wildlife workshop in Shenandoah National Park.
The vertical grip provides improved handling, especially in vertical orientation where it provides the same grip and controls as the built-in grip. The VG-C4EM permits two NP-FZ100 batteries to be used, doubling the number of shots that can be captured before battery replacement.
The biggest downside to the grip, aside from the purchase cost, is the size and weight it adds to the camera. Being easily removeable means you can choose when to use it. The battery door is required to be removed for the grip to mount. As with most battery grips of this type, the removed door clips into space that is provided on the side of the grip fitting into the battery compartment.
The VG-C4EM is constructed of magnesium alloy with dust and moisture resistance matching the a7R IV. It is well-built and well-matched.
If two batteries are not sufficient for your needs, the Sony Multi Battery Adaptor NPA-MQZ1K can hold four.
When deciding on a camera to purchase, the entire accessory system available to that camera should be considered. If your needs are light, a few good lenses may be completely adequate. Professionals with more complicated needs are not as easy to satisfy. In this regard, Sony has much more than the basics covered and continues to add significant models to their E-mount lens lineup.
What is the best lens for the Sony a7R IV? The lens is of course one of the required accessories and most will find the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens to be the best general purpose lens available for the a7R IV. For longer focal length needs often encountered by professionals, the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS Lens is a great choice and the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens is an excellent option for the wide-angle needs. Check out our Sony Lens Reviews page for more good options.
The Sony a7R IV price is moderately high. That you get arguably the best mirrorless interchangeable lens camera ever built (as of review time) justifies that price in my mind. This is a best-in-class-feature-packed camera and the price seems very justified, making the a7R IV a good value.
This camera has an extremely deep feature set and I can't cover everything this camera can do in a reasonably-concise review. The Sony a7R IV owner's manual (linked to at the top of this page) provides a deeper look into the full capabilities of this camera. Read the manual, go use your camera, repeat.
The Sony a7R IV used for this review was purchased online/retail.
The Sony a7R IV is a highly-refined, feature-packed, extremely competent, well-constructed little camera that delivers sharp, incredibly-high-resolution images with impressive dynamic range. The upgrades in the version IV camera are signifcant with the new 61 MP imaging sensor being a highlight. The new EVF is superb and the much-improved grip and controls improve the user experience significantly.
Want to become a better photographer? Using a camera with an ultra-high-density imaging sensor will up your game. At this resolution, do not expect Sony a9-equivalent noise levels at the pixel level (unless comparing at the same 24 MP output size). While this camera's Pixel Shift Multi Shot feature extending resolution to 240 MP with low noise is totally amazing, the post-processing system used to get there needs some work. The a7R IV's AF system, including its eye-detection and tracking capabilities, is outstanding, though AF-C continuous focusing with a high speed drive rate selected needs a firmware update for improved stability.
Overall, this is an extraordinary camera.
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