In some respects, the Sony A7R IV is the best mirrorless camera available at the moment. Its detail resolution and autofocus system are class-leading, but its price is also staggering. And while its handling is significantly better than previous Sony A7-series cameras, Sony’s refusal to make more use of touch control is frustrating. It would also be nice to see a vari-angle screen rather than the tilting unit we have.
Superb detail resolution
Excellent autofocus system
High-resolution electronic viewfinder
Limited use made the touch-control
Tilting rather than vari-angle scree
What is the Sony A7R IV?
The Sony A7R IV is the fourth generation of the Sony A7R-series of full-frame mirrorless cameras that was first introduced in October 2013. With 61million effective pixels on its sensor, it’s the highest-resolution mirrorless Sony camera we’ve seen to date and it comes with a very sophisticated autofocus system.
However, Sony has also made some interesting handling improvements that have really piqued my interest.
Camera type: Full-frame mirrorless
Announced: 16th July 2019
Sensor: 61MP BSI full-frame sensor
Lens mount: Sony FE
Autofocus system: Hybrid with 567 phase detection + 425 contrast detection AF points
Continuous Shooting: 10fps burst shooting with full AF / AE Tracking
Video: 4K video with S-Log2/3, HDR
Sensitivity range: Still images: ISO 100-32000 (expandable to ISO 50 to ISO 102400) Movies: ISO 100-32000
Weight: 665 g / 1lb 7.5oz with battery and SD card
Inside the Sony A7R IV is a 61.0Mp back-illuminated full-frame (35.7×23.8mm) Exmor R CMOS sensor. This has a front-end LSI and is paired with the latest incarnation of Sony’s BIONZ X image processing engine.
According to Sony, this combination enables images to be captured with up to 15-stops of dynamic range.
Astonishingly for such a high resolution camera, the A7R IV also has a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10fps (frames per second) with continuous autofocus and exposure. What’s more that rate can be maintained for up to 68 Extra Fine Jpegs or compressed RAW files.
That means you can shoot at 10fps for just under 7 seconds, which is likely to be enough for most shooting situations. However, if you need to shoot for longer, there’s an APS-C crop mode that sets the camera to record 26.2Mp files and it extends the burst depth to 200 images.
There’s also a slower full-resolution shooting rate of 8fps which enables a continuous live-view of the scene to make it easier to frame moving subjects.
In addition there’s a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-32000 for both stills and movies. If necessary, the still range can be expanded to ISO 50 to ISO 102400.
As in the A7R III, Sony has again combined a high-resolution sensor with an impressive autofocus system.
There are 567 phase detection points covering 99.7% of the height of the sensor and 74% of its width. These are supported by 425 contrast detection points.
There’s also an array of AF Area selection modes including Wide, Zone AF, Center, Flexible Spot (Small / Medium / Large), Expanded Flexible Spot/ Tracking (Wide / Zone / Center / Flexible Spot (Small / Medium / Large) and Expanded Flexible Spot
Naturally, there’s also Sony’s much-hyped and highly-regarded Real-time Eye AF. And in an exciting new move, in the A7R IV, it works when shooting video as well as stills – at least for human eyes.
In stills mode the camera can be set to detect human or animal eyes, which is great news for wedding, portrait and pet photographers. However, the 61Mp resolution may be overkill for wedding photographers unless they are into selling huge prints.
As we’d expect with a high-end mirrorless camera, the Sony A7R IV has 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) built-in. This is designed to compensate for the accidental movements that result form holding a camera and its claimed to enable shutter speeds of up to 5.5Ev slower than normal to be used.
Another benefit of the IBIS system is that it enables Pixel Shift Multi Shooting. When this is activated the sensor moves between shots as the camera shoots up to 16 images. these can then be composited into one 240.8Mp (19,008 x 12,672) image on a computer using Sony’s Imaging Edge software.
It’s a nice addition, but 61Mp files eat storage space pretty quickly so you need to think carefully about how often you employ Pixel Shift Multi Shooting. It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s designed for use with stationary subjects.
A 61Mp camera is most likely to appeal to stills photographers who want to capture lots of detail, but these days many of us also want to capture video.
Sony hasn’t stinted on the A7R IV’s video specifications.
It can capture 4K (3840 x 2160) movies at bit rates up to 100Mbps and in Super 35mm mode it uses around 2.4x the data required for 4K movies to create a smoother, more natural result.
The S-Log3 and S-Log2 gamma curves are available for great grading flexibility, plus there’s the HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) picture profile for instant HDR workflows.
Build and Handling
Although the Sony A7R IV looks very similar to the A7R III, it feels a bit more solid and comfortable in your hand.
According to Sony the A7R IV’s durability and weather resistance has been enhanced. It has magnesium alloy covers and internal frame, helping to make it light but robust.
Sony has improved the weather-sealing around the battery cover, terminal cover, lens mount and all the joints in the chassis. In addition, the memory card bay now opens with a double-sealed sliding mechanism instead of a hinged door. This also helps improve the weather resistance.
I had plenty of opportunity to test the weatherproofing during a trip to the French Alps. On one occasion the A7R IV was subjected to heavy rain for a couple of hours. The camera continued to capture images as required but after about an hour an error message about a non-existent accessory kept popping up on the screen. I was able to clear it and keep shooting, but the message popped up quite a few times.
After the camera was dried, it worked as normal.
Sony has made few worthwhile changes to the controls and handling of the A7R IV in comparison with the A7R III. Chief amongst these, the multi-selector or mini joystick control of the back of the camera is broader and has a new texture, making it easier to find with your thumb when you’re looking in the viewfinder.
It’s great for positioning the AF point while you compose the shot in the viewfinder.
The AF-ON button has also been made bigger so it’s easier to find and operate.
I’m also very pleased to see that the exposure compensation dial has a lock button. This means you can choose whether to lock it or not. That’s great news because the A7R III’s exposure compensation dial is prone to shifting while you carry it or when it’s pulled from a bag.
I’m disappointed that Sony hasn’t upgraded the lock on the mode dial to the same type as is on the exposure compensation dial. You have to press the button at the centre of the mode dial before it can be turned.
Better news is that there’s lots fo opportunity to customise A7R IV’s controls. What’s more, the menu system make it very clear which button has which function when you make changes.
Sony’s menus have a reputation for being long and complex. A lengthy menu comes with the territory if you have a camera with an extensive feature set. However, it can take a while to find the features that you want. Naturally, you get used to it, but it’s good to see a customisable section to which you can assign the features that you use most often.
Pressing the Fn button also reveals the Function menu. It would be nice if there were two versions of this and the custom menu, one for stills shooting and the other for stills. I’ve mentioned this to several manufacturers but so far only the only camera that has this functionality is the Fujifilm X-T4.
I’m surprised that we don’t yet have cameras with completely customisable menus. I think that Sony would be a prime candidate to introduce this. It would be great if you could just drag any menu item to another location so that features can be grouped in ways that make logical sense to the photographer.
The A7R III has a 0.5-inch type OLED electronic viewfinder with 3,686,400 dots, and it’s very nice. However, Sony has upped the resolution to 5,760,000 dots for the A7R IV. That’s a big step that makes for a very clear, detailed view.
It means that the viewfinder looks very natural, but as an electronic unit it has the advantage of being able to show the impact of the camera settings. That’s a big advantage in tricky exposure situations – not that the A7R IV’s metering system struggles that often.
It also means that you can get the white balance right in-camera.
The viewfinder can be set to 60fps or 120fps. I mainly opted for 120fps as this gives the most natural view when photographing moving subjects. The movement is just a bit smoother.
Sony has stuck with the same 3-inch 1,440,000-dot tilting TFT LCD as on the A7R III, which is a little disappointing. The view is fine if you’re shooting landscape format images above or below eye-level, but the tilting mechanism is of now help when you’re shooting in portrait format. I’d really prefer a vari-angle screen.
It’s also frustrating that Sony continues to make such little use of the screen’s touch-sensitivity. You can tap to set the AF point or zoom into an image, but you can’t use touch-control to navigate the menu or making setting selections (even in the Function menu). In fact, it’s not even possible to swipe through images, which seems very behind the times.
Sony has dragged its heels for a while in this area and I really don’t understand why.
As the Sony A7R IV has 61Mp on its full-frame sensor, I anticipated seeing lots of detail in my images and I’m not disappointed. However, it’s worth using the best lenses you can and observing the usual guidelines for getting sharp results – although the image stabilisation is excellent.
Colour is also good from the camera, but I find it worth experimenting with the white balance settings in each new situation to be sure to get close to the result I want from the outset.
The autofocus system is fantastic. It has the occasional wobble in low contrast situations and when there’s a lot of flare from the low sun, but that’s to be expected.
It’s fast and accurate with stationary subjects, but it really comes into its own with moving objects. In many instances, the Wide Setting works very well as the camera quickly picks up the moving subjects and follows it around the frame and as it gets closer to (or further away from) the camera. Occasionally, it can be useful to switch to one of the smaller AF options such as Zone or Expanded Flexible Spot/ Tracking, but it’s not required that often.
The Eye AF system is also excellent. It means you have the freedom to shoot at large apertures without having to worry if you’ve got the subject sharp.
While the A7R IV captures plenty of detail and keeps noise under control very well, I’d aim to make ISO 12,800 the top sensitivity setting. I wouldn’t get too stressed if I had to go a little higher than that, say for music photography, but I’d try to stay to ISO 12,800 (or lower) because at that point granular luminance noise starts to become quite noticeable in the raw files and the Jpegs lose some of their sharpness.
Like the stills, the movies from the A7R IV are excellent. You can get good results straight from the camera, but as usual, it’s best to capture in one of the S-Log modes to give greater scope for grading.
Sony has improved the A7R line with each successive generation and the A7R IV is the best yet. As well has having 45% higher resolution than the A7R IV it feels more solid in your hand and has better controls.
Sony continues to lead the way with autofocus (AF) and the A7R IV’s system is excellent. This combined with the high frame rate means that despite its high resolution, the A7R IV is suited to shooting a wide variety of subjects, not just landscape, still-life and commercial photography, but sport and action too.
And while it might not be the natural choice of camera for videographers, the Sony A7R IV has the clout to deliver very high quality 4K video.
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