Sony a7R IV Review

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,…

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:

  • Superb image quality, even in high ISOs in low light.
  • Very quick and accurate focus that locks quickly on still subjects reliably and does a pretty good job of more active subjects.
  • Effective in-camera sensor stabilization that gains extra stops for less risk of shake blur.
  • Granular control over shooting modes and custom-assigned buttons and controls.
  • Overall polish, from extensive options to excellent build quality.

Design, Build, and Handling

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.

This is with the Sony FE 24mm ƒ/1.4 GM prime lens attached. You can find my review of that lens separately.

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.

The controls on the top of the camera. At left of this shot is the shooting mode dial. The C1 and C2 buttons can be customized to your preferred functions (the C stands for custom, obviously). At right is the exposure compensation dial. Between it and the shooting mode dial is a utilitarian dial that can be used to change settings within shooting modes (eg. aperture in A mode or shutter speed is S). The power lever wraps around the shutter button at the top of this shot.

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.

Another view of the controls on top, with the hot shoe at left.

There are up to three stocks in either direction for exposure compensation. The exposure compensation dial has been given a lock to prevent accidental changes, something that was too easy to do when pulling a camera out of a camera back or even just in normal handling. Pressing the lock button at the center toggles the lock. The dial is unlocked when the lock button is popped up and the white line is visible.

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 full back panel with the menu system shown.

The back screen tilts vertically and can slide out a bit but doesn’t swivel or rotate.

The back controls should be pretty familiar by now. There’s the main dial, with the top, bottom, and sides also working as buttons (as is the center button). There’s another small thumb-operated joystick at the top of this shot which is used for moving focus points, etc.

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.

Another, taller view of the back panel controls. From left to right along the top are the video record button, AF-On (autofocus on, which is used for back-button autofocus), and the auto-exoosure lock, which is useful if you want to exposure for one part of the scene and recompose the framing or for shooting a series of images to be stitched in a panorama.

There are up to three stocks in either direction for exposure compensation. The exposure compensation dial has been given a lock to prevent accidental changes, something that was too easy to do when pulling a camera out of a camera back or even just in normal handling. Pressing the lock button at the center toggles the lock. The dial is unlocked when the lock button is popped up and the white line is visible.

If you’ve ever wondered what that symbol at the top of this shot is with the circle and the line through it, that’s the exact point of the sensor plane. Most higher end cameras have it going back to film days (when it showed where the film plane was, obviously). It’s useful in situatons where incredibly precise measurements and focus are required, such as some close-up macro work where you’re working at or near the minimum focusing distance of the lens.

The ports. At left are microUSB and USB-C sockets. In the next group is a micro-HDMI, headphone/analog audio out, and a microphone input (the red one).

The flash sync terminal for running external flash via cable connection.

Taking Photos with the Sony a7R IV

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.

Resolutions and Formats

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:

  • JPEG: DCF Ver. 2.0, Exif Ver.2.31, MPF Baseline compliant
  • RAW: Sony ARW 2.3 format

Image Quality

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.

Sample Images

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.

At ¹⁄₃₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0 and ISO 1000 with a Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G at 12 mm.

At ¹⁄₃₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 and ISO 2000 with a Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G at 12 mm.

At ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 and ISO 200 with a Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM at 24 mm.

At ¹⁄₃₀ sec at ƒ / 11 and ISO 64000 with a Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM at 24 mm.

At ¹⁄₁₀ sec at ƒ / 10 and ISO 100 with a Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM at 24 mm.

At ¹⁄₃₀ sec at ƒ / 1.8 and ISO 500 with a Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM at 24 mm.

At ¹⁄₄₀₀ sec at ƒ / 8.0 and ISO 100 with a Sony FE 12-24mm F4 G at 12 mm.

At ¹⁄₁₆₀ sec at ƒ / 3.5 and ISO 200 with a Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM at 24 mm.

Shooting Video

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:

  • XAVC S: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for the higher resolution and bitrates
  • AVCHD: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 for much smaller video files (but also much more widely compatible).

Interestingly, it doesn’t use the newer, more-efficient but less-widely-compatible HEVC H.265 codec.

Battery and Power

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.

Other Features & Things Worth Knowing

The a7R IV has some other features worth mentioning:

  • PixelShift. This shoots 16 individual images with very subtle sensor-shift between them and then combines the images into a higher-resolution and, ideally, sharper and more color-accurate image. A still and sturdy mount point is essential–such as a tripod. It’s worth noting that the stitching and blending aren’t handled in the camera but in post-processing with the Sony Imaging software. The resulting image is big: 19008 by 12672 pixels.
  • 5-axis SteadyShot INSIDE sensor-shift image stabilization. Sony claims that the sensor stabilization gives you up to 5.5 stops of extra room before camera shake becomes an issue. I haven’t tried to quantify the results, but in practice, I’ve found it to work well. This feature does help drain the battery more quickly.
  • Wireless Connectivity. There’s the kind of wifi and Bluetooth connectivity you’d expect.

What’s in the Box?

It comes with:

  • the camera
  • lens and body caps
  • a battery (model number NP-FZ100)
  • a camera strap

Useful Accessories

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.

Memory Cards

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.

The a7R IV takes two SD cards. Both can be UHS-II. You don’t have to fill both slots, but doing so gives you extra options on how to save the files, such as saving images to one and video to another or RAW to one and JPGs to another, or creating a complete mirror-image backup as you go. One thing to watch, if you haven’t used a Sony camera with dual slots before, is that the default behavior is that it doesn’t automatically move to Slot 2 when the card in Slot 1 is full. You can do that, but you’ll have to change a setting first. I’ve put together a guide on how to enable auto switching on the a7R IV.

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.

Lenses

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.

  • If you’re looking for an excellent low-light option for a more photojournalistic style or travel photography, Sony’s 24mm ƒ/1.4 (see my hands-on review here) and 35mm ƒ/1.8 primes are both excellent (especially the 24mm).

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.

Screen Protector

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.

Case or Bag

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.

Remote Shutter Release

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.

Sony a7R IV Manual

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.

Sony a7R IV Firmware

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.

Wrap Up

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.

Where to Find Them

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.


  1. As usual, Sony makes things unnecessarily confusion by having different versions of the model number. The official name of the camera is the Sony α7R IV. That’s using the Greek letter Alpha. But because that’s not particularly convenient in English or with English keyboards (or search engines), you’ll often see it rendered as the a7R IV, which is what I’m using here. Another official version of the product name is ILCE-7RM4. You might also see it listed as the α7RIV.
Share