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Sony A7R IV Review

Introduction

Released in the fall of 2019, Sony’s A7R IV comes to market boasting even higher resolution ready to push the bounds. And this fourth-generation model continues their acclaimed R series of high-resolution full-frame cameras. But, now boasting the highest-resolution sensor debuted in this entire segment yet at 61-megapixels. And it marks a new milestone with power expected in medium-format cameras, now in a remarkably compact package.

Sony aims this high-end camera at photographers wanting unrivaled detail, hybrid shooters, or those wanting an affordable alternative to medium format. And they also aim this camera to compete with the Canon 5DSR, Nikon Z7, and Panasonic S1R. But, how does it stack up? Let’s find out.

Sony-A7R-IV-specs

 

What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony A7R IV? 

Pros:

Image Quality

It features a 61MP Exmor R Backside-illuminated CMOS sensor without an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and the Bionz X processor. Comparatively, this is a 32% increase over the predecessors 42.4MP sensor. But, even so, it comes with virtually no trade-offs in overall image quality. And this configuration still boasts 15-stops of dynamic range for ultra-smooth tonal rendering. Sony also opted for a copper wire layer to improve the data transmission speed and readout rate, reducing the rolling shutter. Overall, this sensor and processor combination delivers unprecedented detail, gradation, and resolution with minimal noise. And it marks a new standard in this segment that’s not only the largest in a 35mm full-frame mirrorless camera to date. But it also produces unrivaled detail that’s perfect for those who prefer cropping or shoot commercial applications.

Sony’s also made great leaps to reduce the shutters vibrations by re-engineering the unit with better dampening. And coupled with the in-body stabilization and optional shutter release, you will have little difficulty acquiring ultra-high resolution images without ghosting.

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Sony’s dominated the ultra-high-resolution segment.

It also obtains the APS-C Crop Mode, which crops into the frame, reducing the sensor to 26.2MP. But, this resolution outperforms all of Sony’s current APS-C cameras. And it allows you to maintain image quality while extending the reach of the attached lens. However, using this mode during video results in a 1.6x crop in 24p or 1.8x in 30p, so choose lenses accordingly.

They’ve also added a high-speed front end LSI, which helps realize faster processing and shooting speeds. And the camera now offers 10 FPS burst with full-time AF and exposure or 8 FPS with Live View. And it also provides a deep buffer of 68 RAW + JPEG images before slowing. Comparatively, the predecessor only offers 28 RAW + JPEG. Shooting in the APS-C Crop Mode also triples the longevity. And these capabilities make it the leader of the class in the ultra-high-resolution segment.

 

 

Video Quality

It shoots 4K UHD 30p and 1080p full HD video up to 120p. And it oversamples from 6K  to render genuine uncropped footage with greater detail and less aliasing. Like most Sony cameras, videos record to XAVC S or AVCHD formats with 8-bit 4:2:0 subsampling and data rates of 100 Mbps. Overall, while mostly unchanged on this front, the video produced is excellent. And the footage is extremely sharp, detailed, and well suited for professional applications.

It also marks yet another camera in the lineup to debut unlimited video recording time, so you can now record as long as your battery or SD card allows. And it doesn’t suffer from overheating when recording an extended clip. Plus, you can swap cards while recording, a nice bonus.

It obtains the Slow & Quick Motion Mode, which records super slow motion or quick motion videos rendered in-camera. And you can shoot videos between 1-120 FPS.

It obtains zebras for highlight clipping and warning indication.

It has built-in Time Code settings, and you can customize the timing as needed to sync multiple cameras.

It has Proxy Recording, which automatically records a lower-resolution proxy movie alongside a higher-end 4K UHD file. And this mode is ideal if you want to transfer the footage to a mobile device or share it online.

It obtains Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), Cine1-4, ITU709, and S-Log gammas, for flatter footage and a wide 14-stop dynamic range. Additionally, HLG also uses the new BT.2020 color space. And it has the Gamma Display Assist to help gauge footage when shooting in S-Log.

It has the Frame Grab Option, letting you pull 8MP stills from a 4K video in the playback mode.

The camera outputs a clean 8-bit 4:2:2 signal via HDMI for use with external recorders or monitors.

Low Light Performance

It features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 32,000, further expandable to a high setting of 102,400. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400 or 12,800 with minor processing.

Focusing Performance

It obtains Sony’s high-end 567-point Fast Hybrid phase-detect AF system, with their latest AI-based tracking algorithms. And this AF system covers the vast majority of the frame with AF support to -3 EV. However, the headline feature is Real-Time AF for humans and animals, which debuted on the a6400 and the a9 with the latest firmware update. Real-Time tracking adds a layer of autonomy to subject detection while simultaneously takes into account distance, pattern, color, and subject information. Gone are the days of relying on center lock-on or Expand Flexible Spot. Instead, the focus is tenacious in the default settings for both stills and videos, excellent and well-suited for professional use. And the updated algorithms have noticeably improved general subject tracking performance and hit rates across all measures.

The camera also offers AF Tracking Sensitivity, allowing you to adjust the focusing engine to movement and complex scenes. And this lets you customize the camera to better respond to the shooting demands.

It also offers focus magnification and peeking if you prefer focusing manually.

Battery Performance

It uses the FZ100 battery, and battery life is excellent for a high-resolution mirrorless camera. Sony rates the camera to deliver up to 670 shots per charge or 170 minutes of continuous recording when using the rear LCD.

Display & Viewfinder

It features an OLED electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 5.76M dots, 120 Hz refresh, and a 0.78x magnification. Comparatively, this is a 56% bump in resolution over its predecessor’s 3.69M dot EVF, which is quite an improvement in this regard. It also has the High-Quality Mode to help combat moiré and aliasing to deliver greater realism. Overall, this display is excellent. It’s super sharp, detailed, and the colors are accurate.  And Sony’s even added the Color Temperature Control so that you can adjust its white balance in 5 steps if needed.

But, the camera obtains the same rear display as its predecessor. In this case, it’s a 3.0 tilting touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 1.44M dots. And it tilts 107º upwards and 41º downward for more comfortable high and low angle shooting. While unchanged, this display remains good, and it’s reasonably sharp. The touchscreen itself still supports the same functionality. These features include touch focus, AF touchpad, touch tracking, and playback.

User Interface

Sony’s updated the menu interface for the custom key settings with a helpful graphic overlay. And it makes it understand the placement of assignable keys.

It has four custom buttons, C1-C4, giving you room to customize the physical layout as needed.

It obtains the customizable Function (Fn) menu so that you can create a custom menu of your most-used settings. And the camera also has a dedicated menu for movie capture, which is great. And now, you don’t have to crowd in still and video features into a single menu. Additionally, both the still and video settings are independent for quick and intuitive switching.

It obtains three custom shooting preset banks, 1-3, on the Mode Dial. These let you customize three preset shooting configurations so you can quickly recall them. And you can even save four on the SD card to transfer onto a backup camera.

It obtains the customizable My Menu.

It now has all common aspect ratios ranging from 3:2, 4:3, 16:9 to 1:1 for more accurate framing in-camera.

Physical Layout & Ergonomics

Sony’s updated the design this go-round. And while the camera uses a similar magnesium alloy chassis, they’ve upped the robustness and added more weather sealing. As it stands, it’s even more rugged, durable, and well-suited for adverse shooting conditions. They’ve also made several refinements to the layout. Most notably, they’ve enlarged the front grip and improved the contouring. And compared to the predecessor, the grip is noticeably larger, more comfortable, and easily accommodates those with large hands. It’s a night and day difference when you compare the two cameras side by side. And the handling of this camera is now excellent.

Additionally, Sony’s made some other small ergonomic changes to make the camera more comfortable when using gloves. These include a textured AF joystick, raised AF-On button, a larger C3 button, and Multi-Selector dial. Together, these changes make the layout more tactile and perfect for one-handed operation.

Other improvements include re-design port covers, which are hinged and more robust than older models. It’s nice to see real doors here, rather than the predecessor’s flops, which would always be cumbersome during use. Sony’s even refined the lens mount to increase its strength when using heavy lenses. And the Exposure Compensation Dial now has a lock.

However, outside of that, here is the remaining list of features:

It has an AF-On button for back-button focusing.

It has an AF joystick for quick AF point selection or navigating the menus.

The Mode Dial maintains a lock to prevent accidental changes.

It has a large dedicated video record button.

Niche Features/Extras

Despite the larger sensor, Sony’s manage to include 5-axis in-body stabilization, which they call SteadyShot. And it obtains the same system as its predecessor, which delivers up to 5.5 EV stops of shake reduction.  And this allows you to capture sharp handheld images up to 1/10 second.

It has built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC connectivity, allowing you to share images, tether, and remotely control the camera via the Imaging Edge Mobile app. And it also offers dual-band Wi-Fi, giving it the faster 5.0 GHz band, in addition to the standard 2.4 GHz. And using the 5.0 GHz band provides noticeably quicker file transfers.

It has dual card slots, both of which now support UHS-II SD cards. And you can figure them for multi-format recording, overflow, or redundancy. This is a nice change over its predecessor, which had only a single UHS-II slot.

It has a USB-C port for faster tethering, file transferring, and in-camera charging. And it also maintains a micro-USB port for backward compatibility.

It has a microphone input, and you can adjust the audio levels via the menu.

It has a headphone output so that you can monitor incoming recordings.

It obtains Sony’s Multi-Interface Hot Shoe, which allows you to interface with their proprietary accessories without cables.

It has a dedicated PC sync terminal for direct connections to compatible flash units.

It supports FTP background transfer, and you can connect to nine FTP servers in-camera.

It obtains an updated Pixel Shift Multi Shooting Mode. And it uses the camera’s stabilization to shift the sensor 1 pixel between 16 consecutive exposure to produce a 240MP image. Shooting in this mode improves color accuracy and detail. And the files are supremely capable for large format printing. However, you’ll have to merge these images manually using Sony’s Imagining software suite. And this mode is best reserved for use with a tripod, as you’ll see ghosting otherwise. But, it’s otherwise an excellent option for architectural, commercial, and product work.

It has an in-camera rating.

It has built-in panorama, but it doesn’t stitch the files automatically in-camera. For this, you’ll have to use post-processing software.

It has Anti-flicker shooting to reduce the flicking of fluorescence lighting.

It has a fully silent electronic shutter.

It obtains Sony’s Clear Image Zoom for a penalty-free 2x digital zoom.

It has the Interval Shoot Function for capturing time-lapses.

It has several bracketing options, including Exposure bracketing, White balance, and Dynamic Range Bracketing.

It has several in-camera Lens Compensation options, including Peripheral Shading, Chromatic Aberration, and Distortion Correction.

Sony updated the white balance functionality. And you can now move the white balance point freely around the screen. Plus, it offers both the Ambient Set AWB or White AWB, which help maintain color accuracy when shooting in low light. And you can lock the AWB to prevent changes during burst shooting.

Cons:

Image Performance

With the 61MP sensor comes enormous file sizes and massive demand in post-processing. Each uncompressed RAW file approaches 130 MB’s per file. Now, this may not be unusually large for a single file. But, considering most outings, we often take 200-300 images. They add up. And at this file size, a 64 GB card provides only 500 photos. That’s not much in the real world. So plan accordingly. It would be wise to have several 128 GB SD cards if you plan on shooting long-term with this camera.

But, SD card’s aside, it’s essential to consider the demand when processing these files on a computer. This is mainly a concern if you use the Pixel Shift Mode, where files can easily exceed 2 GBs in size or 500 MBs as DNG files. Simply applying effects to these files causes slowdowns while editing, even with a reasonably rigorous setup. As such, we recommend 16 GB RAM and a 10th generation Intel Core i5 at a minimum for this camera. Otherwise, expect to see slowdowns in post-processing.

There are no lossless compressed options for RAW, for example, RAW-S or RAW-M. Instead, you’re stuck with lossy compressed, which doesn’t provide the same amount of detail since it interpolates, causing a loss of dynamic range, color and increases noise. Only JPEG has these options. So you’ll have to shoot in the APS-C Crop mode to reduce file sizes.

There’s also no 12-bit RAW file options, which is strange since it automatically configures 12-bit when shooting continuous burst, and there’s no way to change that. The only alternative to maintain 14-bit is dropping down to 6 FPS. But, that isn’t always ideal, depending on the subject matter. So there’s an interesting compromise to make here.

Like many Sony cameras, filling the buffer causes the camera to lock up. At this point, many functions become limited, including the majority of the menu, video recording, and the APS-C Crop Mode.

The High Res Shot mode is a gimmick. The difference between this mode and regular shooting is minimal at best. And it makes a subtle difference in a limited subset of conditions. Overall, the results are not worth the inherent difficulty of shooting in this mode.

Video Capabilities

The camera doesn’t offer 10-bit video, 4K 60p, HEVC, and other video-centric features. If you want these kinds of features, take a look at the A7S III instead.

Display

The touchscreen maintains Sony’s underdeveloped touch functionality. And it still lacks full touch navigation, touch shutter, and setting selection. Instead, we’re stuck with AF point selection alone. It’s a continued shame to see Sony overlook this aspect of development.

Menus

It obtains the standard Sony user interface menus, which are quite clunky, overly complicated, and challenging to master. And the user interface remains a significant disappointment and an unnecessary hurdle new users will face. But, at least current Sony users will find them familiar. Nevertheless, the user interface is dated and needs a redesign. And it remains the single biggest Achilles heel in their design.

Ergonomics

It has a Micro HDMI Type-D port, which typically isn’t secure when using external monitors. But thankfully, Sony includes an HDMI cable clamp to secure the connection. So it’s not all doom and gloom here. This is more of a consideration.

Lacking Features

It lacks the Time-Lapse Movie Mode, which renders the resulting lapse into a video in-camera. It’s strange to see this feature missing, as it’s something even entry-level cameras offer. Without it, there’s no way to render the lapse in-camera. So, you’ll have to use post-processing software to do so.

The playback menu continues to offer limited functionality over rivals. And the camera doesn’t provide any in-camera RAW, cropping, or image processing functionality—a shame.

It lacks in-camera HDR. Instead, you’ll have to manually bracket exposures then combine the results in post-processing.

Is this a good beginner camera?

A beginner’s camera, no.

This camera is designed for working professionals and serious enthusiasts looking for class-leading resolution. As a beginner’s camera, it’s too expensive and niche. Better options exist at nearly 1/10th of its price. If you want a full-frame camera, however, consider the A7C instead.

Is this a good camera for you?

Yes.

Outside of the a9 series, this is Sony’s best full-frame camera to date. And for sports, wildlife, and journalist shooters not needed blazing fast speeds, this is a powerful alternative to the a9.

This is also an excellent option for those wanting the utmost detail for commercial, product, or architectural photography. And it’s currently class-leading in this regard.

Current Sony A7R owners should consider the upgrade. As a whole, this camera delivers notable improvements to the ergonomics, EVF, AF, and sensor. But, given the price difference, the predecessor may be a worthwhile consideration if you’re new to the ecosystem.

This camera is a competent choice for hybrid shooters and videographers. Just be mindful it lacks several high-end features the competition offers, namely, DCI, 60p, 10-bit, HEVC, and high bit rate video.

In the end, Sony pulled off a small miracle with this camera despite the increase in resolution. And the A7R IV becomes arguably their best hybrid camera to date. Sure, it isn’t perfect; but it excels across the board as a device perfectly suited for professionals. And it’s a tough competitor to beat. Right now, this is one of the best alternatives for those venturing into medium format. And if you want an equally competitive option, but one that’s lightweight, flexible, and affordable, this is your best bet.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.8

Summary

With the A7R IV, Sony’s created a small miracle of sorts. And it excels despite the enormous increase in resolution. It still lacks a few niche features, but it’s one of their best hybrid cameras to date.