My first impression of the A7IV is that the Eye AF is more responsive than the A7 III’s. It spots eyes more quickly and stays with them a little better. I also had the opportunity to try the Animal Eye AF with a fairly uncooperative cat and again, it was quick and accurate.
Sony A7 IV image quality
Currently, the only way to process raw files from the Sony A7 IV is using Sony’s Imaging Edge Desktop software and I’m not convinced that it’s the best option for handling high ISO raw files. There’s good detail visible in ISO 12,800 images for instance, but ISO 25,600 images look rather painterly. For the time-being, I’d aim to stick to ISO 12,800 or lower, but I may revise this up when other software is updated. It will be interesting to see what can be achieved using DxO’s PureRAW noise reduction software.
At the other end of the sensitivity (ISO) scale, detail levels are very good but you can expect to see noise or the impact of its removal making itself known at around ISO 800 if you’re pixel-peeping.
Exposure and colour
Sony doesn’t have the best reputation for its colour rendering but it’s improved it over time and there a healthy range of colour options for both stills and video. However, raw files are still the best option to ensure you get photographs looking exactly as you want them.
One issue is that the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting is prone to making scenes look too neutral, especially when there are large single-tone areas in the frame. When photographing a deer surrounded by grass and bracken for example, he looked a russet colour, but as he got closer to the camera and the framing was tighter, his fur became less saturated and more grey. Scenes can also look very drab when there’ no sunshine.
This makes a preset white balance setting a better choice in many circumstances, however, if you have to keep changing because the sun continually pops in and out from behind cloud, you wind you with images that vary in hue.
Turning to the exposure, the A7 IV’s 1200-zone metering system puts in a solid performance in its Multi-segment setting. It handles scenes that you might think would trick it with ease and doesn’t require exposure compensation to be applied in situations that you wouldn’t expect. It’s a solid performer.
Of course, it’s supported by the viewfinder and screen which do a great job of previewing the scene. Naturally, the ambient light conditions play a part in how the image appears on the screen, so it’s best to put more trust in the viewfinder, but generally they can both be relied upon to accurately portray the captured image or video. Consequently, there are few occasions when you need to switch away from the camera’s Multi-segment metering mode.
Having photographed relatively slow-moving people and portraits at the press briefing, I was keen to see how the Sony A7 IV handles faster-moving subjects, so I took it to a local football match. Initially, I set the Focus Area to Wide, which puts it in charge of the subject selection, with the Face/Eye Priority in AF on and the Face/Eye Subject set to Human.
If only one player was in the frame, the A7 IV did a great job of focusing on him, however, when players passed between my intended target and the camera, or they were closer to the camera, the focusing system tended to become distracted – you can see this happen in the video further down. To narrow down the target area, I switched to Zone AF, but this also proved a bit too large and there were too many distractions in the area. Also, for the most part the eyes and faces were too small in the frame or too fast-moving for the camera to detect them. The solution was to switch the AF-area to Tracking.
In Tracking AF mode you’re able to select one of any of the other AF-area modes as the starting point and the camera will look for the subject within that area, putting a green box with a green line on either side when it’s decided what it is. Whatever it latches onto, the camera does a great job of sticking with it, but if it’s a busy scene when Wide or Zone is selected, the camera may not focus on your intended target at the outset.
For football, I found Tracking: Spot L(arge) works very well. This enabled me to quickly shift the focus area using the joystick on the back of the camera and then half-press the shutter release to get the subject in focus and for the A7 IV to start tracking it.
Tracking: Spot L(arge) also proved to be the best option when I was photographing rugby and with all the diagonal runs and crossing of players, it was helpful to reduce the AF Subject Shift Sensitivity from the default setting of 3 to 2, so that it was programmed to be more locked on to the selected subject.
While the Eye AF isn’t especially helpful for fast-moving sport when people are constantly twisting and turning, it’s a bonus for portrait photography. It’s also useful for wildlife photography and it’s capable of recognising an animal’s eye from the side as well as front-on to the camera. However, it’s not quite as quick to spot an eye, or as sticky as the Canon EOS R6.
With animals, I found that Tracking: Zone and Tracking: Spot L(arge) worked well, with the Spot option being better when the camera struggled to spot their eyes as it enabled me to target them a bit more precisely than the Zone option. However, there were times when I was wishing there was an area sized between the Zone and Large Spot.
Sony A7 IV Image Stabilisation (IBIS)
Sony claims a 5.5 EV shutter speed compensation factor for the A7 IV. Shooting with the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8GM lens mounted and at the 70mm end, I was able to get about 20% of my images completely sharp at 100% on a computer screen when using a shutter speed of 1-second. That’s a compensation factor of around 6EV. Dropping to a shutter speed of 1/2-second raised my hit rate to about 40% while at 1/4-sec my hit rate was about 60-70%.
While it doesn’t offer raw recording, the A7 IV has a healthy array of options for video, probably more than enough for anyone who doesn’t shoot on a frequent basis. Pressing the delete button while the video File Format and Movie Settings options are visible in the menu reveals a little information about each of the settings but in some cases it merely repeats the setting information rather than explains it. Inexperienced videographers would probably appreciate a bit more guidance.
The good news, however, is that the Sony A7 IV is capable of producing excellent results. With the colour and exposure settings selected guided by the view the viewfinder and/or screen with the shutter speed taking into account the frame rate, the autofocus system has the next biggest impact upon the quality of the results. And here it really depends upon what you are shooting. With a slow, steady subject, you’re likely to be able to use the advanced AF features in their default set-up and stick to using Wide or zone area AF with the Face/Eye Priority in AF on and the Face/Eye Subject set to the appropriate subject (human, animal or bird). However, with faster-moving subjects surrounded by lots of distraction, it’s worth tweaking the settings. The Touch Tracking system works very well and with the AF Subject Shift Sensitivity moved towards Locked on it does a great job of staying with the subject.
With Active SteadyShot activated, the handheld recording is pretty good from the A7 IV if you’re standing still. There’s still a little shake, so it’s not a replacement for a video tripod, but it’s watchable. If you walk with the camera you still need a gimbal to get decent footage. Although you can force the issue, rolling shutter isn’t a major problem when you’re shooting 4K video.
The Sony A7 IV is available to order from Wex Photo Video in the UK and Adorama in the USA.