Sony has released a new version of their flagship full-frame mirrorless camera: the Sony a7R IV. After having been shooting with it quite a bit, here's my take.
To cut to the chase, after having been shooting with the a7R IV quite a bit recently, I’ve found it to be a gem of a camera. It very much shares the same lineage as the previous a7R models, but it’s more refined and that much more impressive. There’s no single feature I can point to that makes it a giant leap over its predecessors, but cumulatively all those little tweaks and improvements add up to make for a superb camera.1
There are oodles of features packed into the a7R IV, and it’s an extremely versatile camera suitable for a wide range of uses. Every photographer is likely to have a different mix of things that matter to them. For me, the standout features of the a7R IV are:
The a7R IV is about the size of a small DSLR. It doesn’t have the mirror of DSLRs, but it does have a similar bulge where the mirror chamber would be, albeit smaller. Still, if you’re comparing it to some other mirrorless cameras, especially ones with smaller sensors, like the Fujifilm X-T3 or Olympus micro four thirds camera (with the exception of the OM-D E-M1X), this is still going to feel relatively large and bulky camera. That said, if you’re used to something like the Nikon D850, this is quite a bit smaller and more compact. So it really depends what you’re used to. If you’ve used previous models in the a7 or a9 lineup, you’ll know exactly what to expect—the body is very, very similar.
To keep things small, there’s still little in the way of ergonomics. It’s mostly quite a rectangular block. That doesn’t tend to be much of an issue unless you’re using it with heavy lenses or doing something like sports shooting, gripping the camera from the sidelines (although, if you’re shooting sports, you’re more likely to be using the a9 cameras, which are better suited to that). But the un-ergonomic design is also because there are several normal ways to grip the camera, depending on whether you’re using the viewfinder or the back screen, and also whether or not you’re tilting the back screen. All that said, there is a useful notch in the grip for your right middle finger that gives some extra vertical stability.
As is typical with Sony cameras, the body is very well crafted. It feels solid and robust. Sony has improved the dust- and moisture-resistance, although it’s not ruggedized to the extent that some other cameras are, particularly those from Olympus and some DSLRs.
The back screen is bright and crisp. It’s a touchscreen by default, although you have some options for controlling that behavior. It also tilts and extends out, a trick that comes in very useful when you’re shooting above or below your shooting eye level. But it doesn’t swivel or rotate.
The electronic viewfinder is bright and sharp, and with a 120 fps refresh rate, it has minimal lag. If you’re coming from a DSLR, working with an electronic viewfinder can take some getting used to. The big advantage (aside from not needing a mirror) is that it shows the effects of any exposure controls as well as any number of informational overlays.
The buttons are logically laid out, and you’re given quite a bit of control for customizing what commands are attached to which buttons and dials.
Despite some very impressive video features and capabilities, the a7R IV seems geared more to stills shooting. And that’s what I’ve been using it for primarily. I’ve posted some real-world examples taken with the a7R IV separately.
As you’d expect, the a7R IV shoots both RAW and JPG (or both at the same time). But the headline feature is the resolution. With 61MP images, it’s on the very high end of resolution and squarely into the realm of medium-format digital backs. It produces images with maximum dimensions of 9504 by 6336 pixels. If you don’t need or want all of that resolution and the file sizes that come with it, you can choose to crop down to APS-C for a more-manageable file size but still high-resolution 26MP image.
With the RAW files, you have a choice of using 14-bit uncompressed or 12-bit compressed. The latter files are about half the filesize. The former potentially give you better quality, with more information available to represent the image data.
You have the usual options with JPG where you can choose the image quality (ie. amount of compression), choosing from Extra Fine, Fine, and Standard.
The sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio, so that’s its native aspect ratio.
If you want to get technical, here are the image file format versions it uses:
This is where I’ve been really blown away from the a7R IV. The previous a7R models have all been superb cameras in their own rights, but the a7R IV takes it to the next level. Admittedly, it helps that’s I’ve been using it with some excellent lenses, like the Sony FE 24mm ƒ/1.4 GM and the FE 12-24mm ƒ/4 G.
But the image quality coming out of the camera is superb in all sorts of lighting, even at high ISOs. It probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise—Sony has been leading the pack with their sensors and onboard image processing for a while now—but it’s still exciting to see how they’re advancing things even further. The native ISO range is from ISO 100 through ISO 32000, but the extended ISO range (i.e. where software takes over to boost the hardware’s capabilities) go down to ISO 50 and all the way up to ISO 102400. Not all of that range is equally useful for all situations, of course; particularly at the extremely high ISOs, the image quality does suffer noticeably, but the a7R IV pushes the envelope further. If you’re interested in seeing some practical examples, I’ve posted some side-by-side shots taken throughout the a7R IV’s ISO range.
And while I nearly always shoot RAW, for testing, I’ve been shooting RAW+JPG. I’m usually a bit leery of JPGs, but the ones coming out of the a7R IV are unusually rich and exposed beautifully. While it’s not enough to convert me to using JPGs rather than RAW, it certainly increases my confidence in sharing JPGs in those situations where it makes more sense. And one place where it makes a lot of sense is with the high-ISO images. The onboard image processor does an excellent job of cleaning up the downsides of high-ISO shooting.
Here’s a small sampling of images I’ve shot with the camera under a variety of lighting conditions and with minimal processing. I’ve posted a much larger collection here.
The a7R IV leans more heavily on its stills photos features, but it’s still a very capable camera for shooting video. I’ve been shooting mostly stills with the a7R IV and haven’t had a chance to put together some samples to post, but here’s a quick rundown of its video specs.
The maximum resolution/framerate combination is 4K30, and its maximum bitrate is 100 Mbps. Both of those specs are capable, but they’re nowhere near some of it competitors that lean more heavily on video shooting (like the Panasonic Lumix GH5, for example).
It uses either of two codecs to compress the video files as they’re saving to the memory card:
Interestingly, it doesn’t use the newer, more-efficient but less-widely-compatible HEVC H.265 codec.
The a7R IV uses (and comes with) one 2280mAh lithium battery. I have been a bit underwhelmed by the battery life. Part of that is the nature of the mirrorless beast, because it tends to rely more heavily on back screens and electronic viewfinders. It also hasn’t helped that I’ve been using battery-draining features like the sensor stabilization and rapid shooting modes. Turning those off and better rationing those features will result in longer battery performance.
The battery is model number NP-FZ100. The Sony original battery has a built-in sensor that communicates with the camera to display the remaining charge on the camera’s LCD screen. You can find aftermarket versions of the battery, often much cheaper, but they might not have that feature (called InfoLITHIUM), and at least some of the third-party batteries I’ve seen have slightly lower capacity ratings.
You can also get a vertical grip as an optional accessory. It can hold another two NP-FZ100 batteries to give you much longer shooting life as well as a more comfortable vertical hold. Its model number if VG-C4EM, and like many of the grips put out by camera manufacturers, it’s overpriced.
The a7R IV has some other features worth mentioning:
It comes with:
There are some accessories that you might want to consider right off the bat.
It doesn’t come with a memory card or case as standard. Some retailers put together bundles with some accessories, but unless you’ve picked up one of those, you’ll need to get these accessories separately.
The a7R IV doesn’t come with memory cards as standard. Unless you’ve bought one of the bundles put together by retailers that might include a card or two, you’ll need to pick them up separately.
There are two UHS-II SD slots. To make the most of the camera’s features, you’ll want some fast cards in there. You don’t have to fill both slots, and you don’t have to use UHS-II cards, but fast UHS-II cards will let you take full advantage of the camera’s capabilities. And don’t skimp on the storage capacity–the cards fill up quickly with the high-resolution images that the a7R IV shoots.
The natural choice is Sony’s own high-performance SD card, the SF-G line but they’re surprisingly difficult to track down in the US. I’ve used several other cards in it that have all performed well, including these:
If you’re interested in other options for fast SD cards, you can find my SD card speed test results here.
It’s worth mentioning one issue I’ve run into, though. I’ve not been able to get it to format Lexar 1667x cards. They’re a newer model of UHS-II card that’s rated V60. The problem is not the card’s speed—it’s that the camera won’t format them (I’ve tried multiple). I can’t say whether this is a broader compatibility issue between Lexar-branded cards and the a7R IV, although I’ve used a Lexar 1000x in it without any issues, so if there is an issue, it doesn’t seem to apply to all Lexar cards.
Using fast UHS-II cards matter most when shooting video, especially at the high-bitrate (100 Mbps) resolution/framerate combinations. With stills, the camera’s large memory buffer softens the card speed requirements, although a faster card will clear the buffer more quickly.
If you buy one of the kits that includes a lens with the body, you’re all set. The two lenses that are used in the kits are the 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 and the 24-105mm ƒ/4. Both are very good choices for versatile shooting and would be excellent choices for travel photography. And if you’re planning on one of those pairings, you’ll probably get better value with one of the camera + lens kits rather than buying them individually.
But there’s an enormous range of options for which lenses to use. Here are a couple of other options I’d throw out there.
And one of the great innovations with Sony’s alpha cameras is that you can use adapters like those from Metabones that can adapt lenses from other manufacturers to Sony’s E-Mount system. That means you can use many of the excellent lenses from manufacturers like Canon and Nikon, or even Leica, Minolta, or Contax. Not all lens features might work on the a7R IV body, though, so you’ll have to check on a lens-by-lens basis.
The back screen is somewhat exposed to bumps and knocks. While the glass they use is pretty resilient, it’s still relatively easy to scratch or ding it. So a screen protector can come in handy; this one fits the a7R IV.
It doesn’t come with a case or bag. It’s an expensive camera, so you’ll want to protect it. Any standard camera case will work. If you can fit a small DSLR in it, it should be big enough for the a7R IV. I personally like should-style like Think Tank Retrospective Bags or the similar but smaller (and more discreet) ones from Domke, but there are no requirements specific to the a7R IV—it’s just a matter of personal preference.
The Sony a7R IV is capable not only silent shutter, thanks for the electronic shutter, but also an entirely shake free release. So long as you fire it remote, of course. The compatible wireless remote shutter is model RMT-P1BT.
You can find Sony’s online version of the a7R IV manual here. That’s the most comprehensive version of the official manual. If you want a printable PDF version of that, you can use the Printable PDF button at the top right of the page on Sony’s site.
A PDF of the more concise Operating Instructions is available here.
At the time of writing, there haven’t been any post-release firmware updates issued. If and when they are, you can find Sony’s official firmware repository here.
Overall, I’ve found the a7R IV to be a gem of a camera, and I’ve really enjoyed shooting with it. There are still some minor quibbles here and there—I’ve sometimes found myself fighting the auto white balance, for instance, it’s slower to power up and start shooting than I’d like, and the battery life isn’t especially impressive (at least, without the vertical grip/battery pack)—but these are mostly nitpicking (that said, nitpicking is allowed for a $3500 camera!). But in the ultimate tests—image quality and being able to get the shot—the a7R IV really shines.
Not surprisingly, demand has been hot for the a7R IV. Sony has set the price at $3500 for the body.
It’s available from B&H Photo in several configurations, from body only to bundles with lenses and accessories.