Sony Alpha a7R IV Review

Sony might not have straight-up called it a competitor to medium format cameras, but the new A7R Mark IV, complete with the world’s first 61-megapixel full-frame sensor, might as well be, at least to some degree. However, the A7R IV is definitely more than just a “simple” high-resolution camera, as it sports enough processing power to capture full-resolution images at up to 10fps, offers fast real-time Attention AF focusing, well over 500 phase-detect AF points and 4Kp30 video recording with Eyesight AF. Indeed, the Sony A7R IV is as versatile as it is packed with megapixels.

On the physical side of things, Sony’s 4th-generation, high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless camera undergoes a few cosmetic and structural improvements compared to the previous iteration. Nevertheless, the camera overall isn’t drastically different with regards to handling and control layout.

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Handling & Ergonomics

As mentioned, the overall design of the A7R IV is very similar to the previous Mark III version. If you’re coming from an A7R III, in particular, you’ll be right at home; the camera features all the same buttons and dials, and they are all in the same location on the camera. However, Sony has tweaked the design of the controls all across the camera body, enlarging several buttons to make them better to press as well as improving tactile feel. In particular, the C3 (custom function) button, Menu switch and AF-ON buttons are all larger and have a more pronounced feel when you press them.

The rear joystick control remains — a control that I’ve come to find as an essential feature on a camera currently — but they’ve changed the texture of the control to create it simpler to operate. On the top deck of the camera, again the control design is the same as the previous version, however, the designs have changed slightly. The C1 and C2 custom buttons, like the C3 button on the rear, are slightly bigger and have a far more substantial tactile response to them. The trunk control dial right now sits directly on top of the camera, instead of embedded under the top surface of the camera. It rotates today with somewhat softer yet firm detents. I do wish Sony had shifted the trunk control further back so that it sits not as flush against the rear of the camera, but that’s a very minor complaint. The most notable tweak to the top controls is the locking exposure settlement dial. The control sits right on the corner of the camera, just like on the A7R III, and it is very easy to bump and alter your exposure compensation setting accidentally. Interestingly, the locking publicity compensation dial can either be fully locked or unlocked, which is different than the camera’s locking Mode dial that forces you to press and holds the unlock key to rotate the dial. With the direct exposure comp button, you have got a choice, locked or unlocked, which is excellent.

When picking up the A7R IV for the first time, the most notable design modification to the camera can be immediately apparent: the larger grip. Visually, it doesn’t appear much different than the previous model, but in the hand, the A7R IV feels much more significant. The handgrip is certainly fuller, deeper and offers more comfortable contouring. This updated hold style makes the A7R IV my favorite Sony A7-series (including the A9) camera yet when it comes to handling and convenience. I don’t consider my hands most that large, more medium-sized, but earlier A7-series cameras had a noticeably smaller, shallower grip. My hands wouldn’t fit entirely on the grasp, forcing my pinky finger to slide beneath the bottom of the camera. I don’t experience this at all with the A7R IV. The grip isn’t mainly because deep as the ones on a typical, full-sized DSLR, but it’s almost right now there. It’s certainly deep and sizable enough to offer a secure, balanced grip, even when using heavier lenses.

Now, there is a minor complaint I have, not necessarily about the handgrip itself, but more to do with the compact size of the camera body as a whole. While the larger grip is a fantastic improvement, the body of the camera is still quite small for a full-frame camera. The big hold combined with the compact body size doesn’t leave a ton of room for your fingers in the space between the grasp and the barrel of a larger-diameter lens, such as the FE 200-600mm lens. Although this doesn’t cause me any distress while using the camera, I do notice that my knuckles often bump or rest up against the barrel of the lens. I can see this being a frustrating comfort issue for others, so this is something to keep on mind for those who have particularly large hands.

Another area of improvement is normally to the touchscreen rear display. Sony says they’ve improved the touch responsiveness, and pleasingly, that appears to be the case. Strangely, Sony was one of the lone holdouts when it came to implementing touchscreen displays into their camera lines. With regards to interchangeable lens digital cameras, it first appeared randomly in the A5100 back in 2014, but a touchscreen wasn’t offered in any higher-end models of that time period. It wasn’t until the Sony A9 of 2017 that a full-body Alpha camera offered a touchscreen. Needless to say, most modern Sony cameras now offer touchscreens, but until this fresh A7R IV — at least in my experience using both the A7R III and A9 — the touchscreen user experience had been underwhelming. The responsiveness of the touchscreen on the A7R III was noticeably sluggish compared to those offered on additional manufacturers, such as Canon, Olympus, and Panasonic for example. With the A7R III, you’d tap on the display screen to move the AF point, and there’d be considered a visible delay in the AF point/region moving to where you touched. In the A7R Mark IV, the experience is definitely vastly better. It still doesn’t feel simply because responsive as other cameras I’ve used, but I don’t really have any complaints with regards to usability.

Image Quality

Given the historically impressive image quality efficiency from Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, I wasn’t expecting a poor showing from the A7R IV and indeed, this brand-new 61MP full-body beast does not disappoint.

Obviously, the first thing to explore may be the sheer level of detail the A7R IV combined with a sharp zoom lens can capture. The A7R IV’s 61-megapixel full-frame sensor captures a stunning amount of crisp, fine detail. The lack of an optical low-pass filter, too, helps bring out the finest of details. Nevertheless, as always with cameras that lack this optical low-pass filtration system (OLPF) there’s a greater risk in introducing moiré and aliasing artifacts that may be difficult to remove in post-processing. That said, in my time with the A7R IV, I captured a variety of images, such as buildings with repeating patterns and subjects that included different fabric patterns and features, and I barely noticed any evidence of artifacts resulting from the lack of OLPF.

But wait, there’s even more! If you really, really need some extreme detail functionality, the A7R IV will take Sony’s Pixel Shift Multi-Shot mode to a whole new level by offering a new 16-shot composite option for 240-megapixel pictures. Yes, 240MP!

However, while that 240MP figure sounds amazing in some recoverable format, in practice, it’s actually quick difficult to get a crisp, tack-sharp, artifact-free composite image. Like most other manufacturers’ implementations of a sensor-shift-based composite image catch mode, the A7R IV has to move the sensor ever-so-slightly (down to the half-pixel level of precision) for each consecutive frame. While this can work to make incredibly detailed images, the camera has to be absolutely locked-down on a sturdy tripod or various other support, and there can’t be anything moving in the frame during the sequence (such as for example cars driving by, people walking or shifting at all, or actually leaves in trees and bushes moving subtly in the wind). If there is any camera or subject movement through the multi-shot capture sequence, the resulting composited image will have noticeable, unsightly artifacts.

When it comes to high ISO performance, the A7R IV does quite well here, too, despite the high-resolution sensor. While most of my field test shooting was in the daytime, I did spend some time with the 200-600mm photographing wildlife and small birds in heavily forested areas. With a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm, plus a relatively fast shutter rate, I was frequently shooting with fairly high ISOs. I found overall noise levels, at least at medium-high ISOs of around ISO 4000-6400, were very well controlled, with in-camera noise reduction processing doing a decent job of retaining fine detail while removing egregious sound. At really close inspection, noise reduction processing is visible with some smoothing-out of details and also creating a kind of “digital” look to the background noise. However, pictures still feature lots of sharp, clear detail, so all in all, I’m very impressed with the high ISO overall performance of this camera.

Autofocus & Performance

Besides picture quality, the Sony A7R IV is also an amazingly nimble, responsive camera in most regards. Start-up time is quick, autofocus is blazingly fast, continuous AF works wonderfully, and regardless of the 61MP sensor, the camera can fire off bursts of full-res images at up to 10fps. It’s an impressively versatile camera.

Starting with autofocus, the A7R IV is, somehow, even better compared to the A7R III, which was already one of the most versatile, most high-performance full-frame mirrorless digital cameras when it found autofocus. With the Tag IV, Sony managed to cram even more phase-detect AF pixels onto the sensor, going from 425 PDAF factors to a whopping 567. Combined with the 425 contrast-detect AF points/areas, the A7R IV’s hybrid autofocus system offers extremely wide coverage across the sensor area (approximately 99.7% height, 74% width). Furthermore, the A7R IV features an APS-C “crop setting,” which gives you AF point protection over the entire image area. Obviously, you’re basically free to put the AF stage wherever you want. This is really great, not only for ease of use when carefully composing pictures but also in giving you a lot more flexibility when tracking erratically-moving topics.

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Further, I came across the updated Real-Time Eyes AF function works really well, most of the time. The camera can quickly understand and lock onto the eye of both people and animals now. I was really impressed with just how quickly and consistently the camera recognizes the face of the subject I was shooting, and then a split second later, the focus would lock onto the attention. I mentioned “usually” because I did so encounter a few hiccups with Eye AF where the system would fail to recognize the eye if the subject was greatly backlit or the attention(s) were in any other cast in shadow. If the eyes were too dark, too shaded, then the AF system had difficulty finding the eye.

During my period with the camera, I was never once disappointed or disappointed by autofocus efficiency, other than that aforementioned minor concern with Vision AF. Overall, the A7R IV’s autofocusing system is definitely fast, accurate and will perfectly at tracking moving subjects. Eye AF is usually fast and works great for portraiture, and the addition of Attention AF for animals is quite neat. I tested it out on some wildlife, and it also managed to catch the eye of a great blue heron, which I was quite surprised at approximately!

Video

In addition to still pictures, the A7R IV also has a healthy dose of advanced video features, including 4K recording up to 30p, Full HD at up to 120p, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) picture profile, S-Log 3 for 14-stops of dynamic range, clean HDMI out, time code/user bit, REC control, Gamma Display Assist, zebras, concentrate peaking and more. The camera provides two recording platforms, XAVC S and AVCHD, however the latter is quite limited, only offering Total HD video at 60i. XAVC S, meanwhile, is used for both 4K and Full HD resolutions, with 4K UHD offered at both 60Mbps and 100Mbps bit rates. As mentioned earlier, the A7R IV has a Super 35 (APS-C) crop mode, and this mode also functions for video shooting in addition to still photos. In full-frame mode, the A7R IV can shoot 4K video using the full width of the sensor. However, when you switch to the Super 35 setting, the camera captures 6K footage and downsamples it to 4K, utilizing full pixel readout without pixel binning or range skipping, which Sony says boosts detail and results in fewer artifacts.

Summary

Overall, the Sony A7R IV is definitely a thoroughly impressive camera and a camera that’s way more flexible that one might picture. It’s more than only a high-megapixel “specialized” camera, as it’s well suited for lots of different types of subjects, and not only for those classic “high-res” topics like landscapes and portraiture. Of course, it does those types of subjects extremely well, offering lots and lots of crisp, details, pleasing shades and amazing powerful range. Yet, the high megapixel count, coupled with excellent high ISO functionality and responsive autofocus, also makes the A7R IV an excellent choice for wildlife picture taking. The high-resolution sensor gives you a lot of cropping potential, and the high ISO performance gives you plenty of versatility in challenging forest conditions. With up to 10fps continue shooting, the A7R IV isn’t as well suit for super-fast action and sports subject just like the A9 is, for instance, but the camera is generally responsive, super-quick and an excellent all-around performer that’s still fast more than enough for all but the most demanding action topics.

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