The Sony a7R IV offers more to hybrid shooters than any other camera before it. For $3,500, the a7R IV combines a 61 Megapixel resolution image sensor with 6K oversampled video for capturing UHD 4K. Plus, it has no record time limit. While the codec, frame-rate and resolution options for video haven’t changed since the previous model, the added benefits to still shooters elevate the a7R IV to the level of hybrid shooter’s dream camera. We’ll explain why in this review.
61 freaking MegaPixels
The biggest perk to this camera is the sensor resolution. As of this writing (August 2019), it has the highest resolution of any full-frame camera. Now, I know what you’re thinking — who needs 61MP images? And the answer is very few. However, the biggest and best use for 61MP image isn’t so you can make a huge print. Rather, it’s the enhanced detail you get when that image is downsampled to a smaller size in the digital realm. Consider this, at 61MP, the images you capture are larger than 16K UHD video. When downsampling the image, any noise in the image will appear much smaller, making it less noticeable. Plus, there will be more detail in every pixel.
The camera’s large sensor brings both high-resolution stills and oversampled 6K when shooting in full-frame 4K. When shooting in super 35 crop mode, it captures 4K with full pixel readout without pixel binning. That means no jaggies and no moiré to worry about when shooting cropped.
The crop of super 35 mode changes depending on if you are shooting in 24fps or 30fps. In 24fps, there is a 1.6 times crop and 1.8 times crop when shooting in 30fps. Because of the sensors high resolution, when shooting stills at super 35, you get a 26.2 MP image.
No 10-bit or 4K 60fps
There have been no improvements in the specs when shooting video in the a7R IV over the a7R III. The camera can shoot in XAVC S HD, XAVC 4K and AVCHD. The top resolution is 4K 30fps with a bit-rate up to 100 Mbps. The bit depth is 8-bit regardless if you capture internally or externally. When capturing internally, you get 4:2:0 color space, but it steps up to 4:2:2 when sending video out the micro HDMI to an external recording device. New to the a7R IV is the ability to capture both internally and externally at the same time.
The top frame rate is 120fps and is available in 100Mbps. For slow-mo, you’ll need to slow the footage down outside of the camera in post-production. On the other hand, when shooting in S & Q mode, or slow and quick mode, the camera will change the frame rate to 24 or 30 for real-time slow-mo playback of the captured video from 1 frame to 120 frames.
For video shooters, it’s unfortunate that there is no change in recording options for either internal video output or capturing externally via the HDMI. That means no 10-bit video at all from this camera. Additionally, 60 fps is not available in 4K.
Log and HDR
The camera offers S-Log 2 and 3 along with HLG HDR. There is bracket shooting for Bracketed HDR. However, there is already enough dynamic range in S-Log3 to make an HDR still image. Anything over 10 stops of dynamic range will work for an HDR workflow. The HDR video shooting is 8-bit HLG. You get much more out of a Log gamma than the HLG gamma.
Dynamic range exceeds expectations — sort of
Testing dynamic range can be tricky. However, we just got in a DSC Labs Xyla 21 testing chart for more consistent and accurate test results. The Xyla offers 21 bars, each with a stop less light than the last. Showing up to 21 stops of light, this chart will either confirm or debunk any manufacturers dynamic range claim. In this case, we were able to replicate the specs that Sony claims for the camera. The catch is, not all of that dynamic range is very useful.
For example, when shooting video, in S-Log3 in S-Gamut3 (the setting with the most dynamic range) we saw 14 stops of dynamic range, but just barely. The last three stops are so noisy that they wouldn’t be good for much. When shooting in normal picture mode, the dynamic range shrinks by quite a lot. We saw 10 stops of dynamic range with 8 of that being usable.
When it comes to stills, Sony adds a stop to their dynamic range performance claims. They say the camera can shoot 15 stops; that’s a hefty claim. However, after processing the uncompressed RAW files, we saw 16 stops of dynamic range, with nine of those being clean without noise. Three more stops that are usable and then 4 stops with loads of noise, but there is information there.
Low light performance: Where’s the noise at?
To see at what ISO noise is introduced to the picture, we did an ISO ramp from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600. When shooting in full-frame 4K, noise becomes noticeable at ISO 6400, but the picture is usable up to ISO 12800. When shooting in 4K with the super 35 crop, we saw a stop less with noticeable noise at ISO 3200 and usable footage up to ISO 6400. However, with that said, all footage up to 25600 would work in a pinch, but the quality wouldn’t be optimal.
Rolling shutter isn’t much of an issue
Regardless of whether you are shooting stills or video, the rolling shutter will appear when shooting either fast-moving subjects or when moving the camera quickly. This will appear as curved vertical lines. We shot a light pole to test for this effect, panning slowly to quickly to see if the vertical line would bend. When shooting in 4K in both full-frame and super 35, we saw very little line bend, meaning the camera has very little rolling shutter. Going deeper, when shooting HD, the results were the same. When shooting stills, we got the same results, until we turned on the silent shutter. Silent shutter mode is Jello city for stills. If you are shooting anything faster than a sloth, don’t use the silent shutter on this camera.
No noticeable moiré
Because of the resolution of this sensor, we thought it might have a moiré issue. Because you get pixel binning when shooting full-frame, we thought you might see moiré. Sony did well here because it has no moiré issue at all — not in full-frame and not in super 35, where you get a full pixel for pixel readout.
Image stabilization is super welcome
The a7R IV has 5.5 stops of image stabilization via Steady Shot. Regardless of what lens you put on the camera, be it Sony adapted or third-party, you will benefit from the 5-axis stabilization offered in this camera. To test the image stabilization, we shot some small tomatoes on the vine fully telephoto at 105mm and f4. First shooting without stabilization and then with, the difference is significant. After shooting with good image stabilization, it’s difficult to go back. We aren’t saying that it’s gimbal-like, but handheld shooting at even a long telephoto focal length is easy with this camera.
240MP Images are amazing!
Another perk is the update to Pixel Shift Multi Shooting. The feature was first included in the a7R III, but in the IV, it’s been improved even more. If you are not familiar with pixel shift, Sony describes it as a feature that “shifts the sensor in half or one-pixel increments in a programmed order to capture 16 pixel-shifted images, composited into one high-precision image of approx. 240.8 MP from original data of approx. 963.2 MP (equivalent).”
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting requires Sony’s Imaging Edge software to combine the 16 images into one 240 MP frame. Unfortunately, it does not do this in-camera. The big negative to it is that its only good for still life and landscape images since it takes a while to capture all 16 images for the final composite.
After selecting the Pixel Shift Multi Shooting function, the camera is ready to take 16 images, one after the other to combine to make a 240MP image. Again, if your subject matter has any movement, it’s not a good candidate for this type of capture. But when detail matters and when the subject matter is still, it’s incredible. The amount of detail when scaled down is stunning. Once combined, we output the composite to a 16-bit tiff that was 1.5 GB. Yeah, that’s a big photo.
We shot a few different subjects to test this. The first is a wide shot at a cemetery. Outside the movement of the trees — and there was no wind that day — nothing was going to move in the shot. There were no clouds in the sky. Even their movement will affect the shot’s clarity. Aside from that, we did two other shots in pixel shift, a close shot of a large tombstone and the other the bark on an oak tree. The moss on the tombstone and texture of the stone was fantastic. The tree bark, though an uninteresting shot had amazing detail that it makes you want to touch it.
We shot in S-log in S-Gamut3 color mode, and the added dynamics with the resolution is a great combination. Every aspect of the shot had great detail.
What’s with this fancy autofocus?
The AF system in the a7R IV uses both contrast and phase-detect autofocus. It has 1.4 times more focus points than the a7R III at 567 focus points. Those points cover 99.7% of the height and 74% of the width of the sensor. That’s all good and all, but it’s the Real-time Eye AF that’s special. When shooting stills, you get both human and animal eye tracking. Video is limited to only humans. How they are executed is different too. When shooting stills, the focus points find the face and track it. With video, it’s initiated by a tap from the shooter on what the subject is. Both offer the choice to focus on the left or right eye, or it can be put on auto eye selection.
To test the real-time eye tracking AF for stills, we shot portraits of two subjects on the 85mm G-Master prime at f/1.4. The two subjects were shot in two locations and with a different style of lighting.
First, we shot with mostly natural light and two hard lights to give a rim light and bright key. The subject was backlit by large windows. When shooting single shots, the camera had a nearly 100 percent hit rate. The real challenge came when we shot with 10fps bursts. The hit rate went down drastically. Remember, we were shooting at f/1.4. When the eyes were in focus, the tip of the nose was not. When shooting the bursts, the hit rate went down just below 50 percent. Stopping down to f/2.8 and then f/4 drastically increased the number of in-focus shots we got.
The next location was all high key (lots of light) on a white background — just about the most contrast, you could get between the subject and background. In this situation, still challenging the camera at f1.4, we had the same experience as the more difficult shooting situation. Single-shot was nearly 100 percent hit rate and when shooting 10fps bursts, it went down to 50 percent.
Beware of shooting bursts on this camera when capturing jpg and uncompressed RAW images. Your media will fill up fast. It fills up much faster than when shooting video. Speaking of bursts, remember also that if you are capturing uncompressed, you will be more limited to the number of images you can capture before the camera needs to buffer to write the images to the media.
Eye AF for video
The option to turn on Real-time Eye AF in video is not the easiest setting to find. Once set up, however, we were impressed by how well it tracked during video recording. Our first set up consisted of two computers with faces of the musicians Sting and Tom Petty. Still shooting at f1.4 on the 85mm G-master prime, the focus was like glue. The camera was placed on a motorized slider and regardless of the speed we set it at, the camera kept focus on our chosen subject — even though there were other faces in the scene.
We then wanted to test how the camera would do when the subject was moving rather than the camera. Shooting my 6-year-old son walking, running and jumping toward the camera, again, until we hit the closest focus the lens could achieve and the focus stayed strong. The only thing we could see being an issue is when shooting a wider shot, the camera wanted to track the face, not eyes. Anything wider than a medium shot and the camera will do face tracking.
The only hunting we experienced occurred right after we choose the subject as the camera hunted to find it. This is tap activated, so if you are capturing and you need to reassign the subject, it’s likely the camera will get a small bounce from touching the screen. This AF system is a great solution for when shooting from a gimbal, or in times where keeping focus would add to the difficulty of capturing the image. Even though we are strong supporters of shooting manual focus, this focus is ready for prime time and we would definitely use it under the right circumstances.
The menu sucks
Even though Sony has been offering a mirrorless full-frame camera longer than any other brand, the a7R IV’s menu is the worst in the marketplace. This iteration of Sony’s menu isn’t much different from menus in past cameras, meaning it hasn’t improved. Worse yet, as new features have been added to the camera, they are not always put in the ideal or best logical location. An already confusing menu just got more confusing.
Sony’s menus have never been all that great, but with the addition of new features finding the option you need to change can be frustrating. We found all of the normal menu operations without a problem. You’ll easily find the resolutions, frame rates, picture profiles and format media functions. Like the Alpha cameras before it, you can make a custom menu and reassign the many custom buttons found on the camera. Those options take the menu frustration away from the necessities. However, when you jump into the new AF functions, you might get a little dizzy.
For example, when shooting video, to turn on the new Real-Time Tracking Eye AF, you go into the camera menu for video features. Then under the menu named “func. Of touch oper…” is where you turn on the eye-tracking AF function. From there, you choose either “Touch Focus” or “Touch Tracking.” Real-time Eye AF is engaged by touching your subject on the screen when shooting video.
This is one of the top features new to the a7R IV — why is it so confusing to execute? Why not an Eye AF on/off choice? The next example of this poorly designed menu is the way that you turn on silent shooting mode for stills, it doesn’t work for video, because it’s already silent when shooting video. However, the function is in the video menu. What?!? Why?
While the menu might seem like a trivial thing to focus on, the mirrorless camera market is now so competitive that buyers may indeed choose one camera over another just because of the menu. If you have ever used a Blackmagic Design camera (literally any of them), you’ll know that the menu is intuitive and gives you loads of control. Additionally, it’s all touch. On the other hand, the monitor of the a7R IV has some touch function, but no menu navigation — lame!
Long life, small battery, no overheating issues
Sony has now shown through its newest Alpha cameras that short battery life and overheating are a thing of the past. The new Z battery and body designs have mitigated those problems.
It’s the same small battery from the a7R III. Although we saw a battery life slightly shorter than the 3 hours we get from the a7R III, at 2.5 hours, it’s still pretty good. Plus, we didn’t experience any overheating. It’s nice to see good battery life from a small battery. To put that into context, the battery from the Panasonic S1R is twice the size with a battery life that’s a half-hour shorter.
During our test, the camera was inside in a climate-controlled room at 78 degrees Fahrenheit. The monitor’s brightness was set in sunny weather (brightest) mode and the screen was tight to the body of the camera. The camera had real-time face tracking on the whole time and was shooting in full-frame 4K at 100Mbps.
The updates to the exterior of this camera are mostly in its design, not in its size or weight. It’s just .01 lbs heavier than the a7R III at 1.46 pounds (body only). Its dimensions are just slightly larger at .07 inches wider and .06 inches deeper than the a7R III with the same height. It’s even smaller in size than the Nikon Z7, outside of its depth. Additionally, the Z7 is a bit lighter at 1.29 pounds.
Screen no flippy 🙁
Unfortunately, Sony did not improve the screen articulation in the a7R IV. The limited screen articulation makes shooting a vlog with this camera very difficult without an external monitor. This is not only a quirk of this camera but of every a7 camera before it. This is unfortunate, but some articulation is better than none. In the past, Sony has stated the limited articulation was for weather sealing. What’s a bit frustrating is that the recently released Sony a6400 has more screen articulation than this camera but at a fraction of the cost.
Because you are not able to always be able to move the screen, the monitor will need to be brighter when shooting in the sun. Good enough, the camera offers screen brightness called sunny weather mode. In this mode, it brightens up the screen enough to use in bright situations.
Of course, you can always use the EVF on the occasion the articulation and brightness control don’t get the job done. The EVF on the IV is the new 5,760,000 dot resolution viewfinder, also found in the S1R. EVF frame rate can be adjusted when shooting at high frame rates. Choose either 100 or 120fps. When shooting at high frame rates, being able to preview in realtime is key to being able to assess the image being captured.
The grip is great
Even though the size of the camera is barely changed, the feel of the grip is much better than a7R III. It easily can hang from the tips of your fingers. I’m not a huge fan of shooting with a strap, so it’s nice to have a more confident grip without the need of a strap.
Bigger is better… when it comes to buttons
The thumb stick now has a better feel with little dimples. This was much needed because menu operation is not touch-sensitive. The AF-ON button is now larger, this is yet another good improvement. If you require wearing gloves when shooting, the larger button size will come in handy. Additionally, those with larger fingers will also enjoy the new button size.
There are no front custom buttons like the on the Nikon Z7 or the Panasonic S1R. That’s okay with us. Although you get more programmable buttons with those cameras, they are awkward to use one-handed without just the right size hand.
For still shooters, the new operation of the EV knob is very welcome. With the a7R III, it didn’t lock. With the IV, the EV knob now locks. No more accidentally changing the EV.
Keeping the weather out
There were two major upgrades to the weather sealing on this camera. The first is the addition of a rubber seal on the battery door. The second is how the media door opens and closes. It’s reminiscent of how the media doors work on Canon cameras. No longer is there a button or switch to execute; you just slide the door to open, which is easily done with just a thumb.
Two SD card slots — and they’re both UHS-II?
Sony has been offering multiple card slots in all of their a7 cameras for a while now. So far, however, they have not been UHS-II compatible. Because of this, there are multiple ways you can capture to those two cards. The camera can capture the same thing on both cards, or you can set it up to capture video to one and stills to another. Or maybe you prefer RAW stills on one and jpegs on the other.
Just beware of the size of uncompressed RAW stills. At 123 MB per image; it doesn’t take long to fill up a card. We discovered the file size while shooting timelapse, capturing uncompressed RAW and jpegs simultaneously.
The camera has no record limit. It’s a big deal that Sony — surprisingly — isn’t yelling from the rooftops, as I feel they should. The camera will capture to one card until it fills up and then moves on to the next one. We rolled on the camera for our battery life test and it gave us a single 63 GB file on one card before continuing to record onto the other without skipping a frame.
A new feature for video shooters will be that the camera’s model can be part of the file name when shooting in XAVC S. This is helpful when shooting with multiple different cameras.
One last word on the card slots, Sony got smart and rearranged the slots so that slot 1 is now on the top and slot 2 is on the bottom.
What shoot assists does it have?
When shooting manual focus, the a7R IV’s focus peaking is a great tool. There are three levels of peaking, though, the low and mid settings are hardly usable. Stick to the high setting. Choose from four different colors: red, yellow, blue and white. Use a color that contrasts well with the subject matter you are shooting. When shooting video, zebras are a quick way to assess the exposure in a scene. You can set the zebras to show at a given IRE. Setting them at 70 means the zebras will show on everything above 70 percent IRE. Last up, the a7R IV has a histogram, for when zebras are not appropriate or when shooting stills.
You’ll also want to monitor the audio input of your camera as you record. Regardless of whether you have an external mic installed or are using the built-in one, viewable meters are a must. Good thing the a7R IV has them.
What lens(es) should you get?
There are two different lenses bundled with the camera, the first is the Sony FE 24-105mm f/4 G OSS Lens. This is the lens we would recommend if you have no other lenses. It has a wide range, so you can get the focal length you need for most shooting. At $1,400 when bought by itself, its a solid lens for all use. F4 is not an issue with this camera because of its low light performance. It has a very typical 77mm filter thread, so filters won’t be overly expensive.
The other bundled lens is the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens. at $2,200, you get f2.8 and a larger size lens than the 24-105mm. It’s also a G-Master lens, so you know you are getting the top of the line glass, but you pay for it. F2.8 is nice to have, but not necessary with this camera because how you can push the ISO. Additionally, it has a larger lens filter thread of 82mm. If you plan on getting this lens, get some step-down rings for smaller size lenses and buy only 82mm lens filters.
Lastly, we tested two primes, the Sony FE 24mm and 85mm f1.4 G-masters. The 24 is small and lightweight and will set you back $1,400. It’s a great focal length for events. The 85mm costs $1,800, and it’s a stunner for portraits with wonderful bokeh. However, it’s quite large and some tripod plates will require a riser to allow for mounting this camera-lens combo to the tripod
Behold the Multi Interface Shoe and ECM-B1M shotgun mic
The a7R IV has a new Multi-Interface(MI) hot shoe not seen on other cameras — yet. The shoe now allows for digital audio capture. Like with the new 8 capsules ECM-B1M shotgun mic. The mic has an analog to digital converter in it and then transfers that digital signal to the media. This eliminates the need for a cable to run from the mic to the camera and lowers the risk of unwanted signal noise because of the digital transfer of information.
The ECM-B1M is a unique mic as well. It harnesses the new digital signal, to combine multiple mics to allow for a smaller shotgun mic with a changeable mic pickup pattern that can be switched, even after capture. Going from omni to cardioid and super-cardioid made a huge difference in how much room is captured to a speaking voice. Additionally, it has a noise reduction function to isolate your sound source even more. The only issue with the ECM-B1M is its $350 price tag… ouch!
If the a7R IV isn’t for you, what else should you look at?
There are two other high-resolution full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market: the Nikon Z7 and the Panasonic Lumix S1R. At an MSRP $3,400, the Z7 has a 45.7MP resolution sensor and offers full-frame 4K internal capture. However, it also offers 10-bit capture and log shooting via an external recorder. It only has one XQD media card slot, but there is an affordable selection of available lenses. The Z line is solid with great ergonomics and features.
Next up is the Panasonic Lumix S1R with an MSRP of $3,700. With a 47.3MP resolution sensor, its less of a hybrid camera and more of a photo-first camera. The video features are handcuffed to make room for the more video-friendly Lumix S1. The S1R is closer to the size of a DSLR than other mirrorless cameras and features two media card slots, though they accept different media types: One is UHS-II SD and the other is XQD.
Should you buy it?
If you are a hybrid shooter, meaning you want a strong video and stills camera, the Sony a7R IV is at the top of its class. Just looking for a high resolution stills camera? The a7R IV might still be for you, though you will pay a premium for the added resolution over the previous model a7R III. If you are a video only shooter and wouldn’t be able to use the photo features, then the a7R IV might be a poor choice. You can get much more for less money from many other cameras on the market.
In all, the video looks great, and with the addition of no record limit time with dual card slots, its ready for just about anything. Our favorite feature is Pixel-Shift Multi Shooting; having the detail that a 240MP image offers is just fantastic. On the other hand, the subject matter the feature will work with is limited. It’s disappointing that the menu is poor and that the camera lacks 10-bit video. Overall though, we were very impressed with this camera. Hybrid shooters rejoice — the a7R IV is here, and it’s a beaut!
- 61 Megapixel sensor
- Real-time Eye AF
- 240 MP Pixel Shift multi shooting
- Poor menu system
- No 4k 60p
- No 10-Bit video
- Documentary Filmmaking and Journalism
- Run and gun videography where conditions are unpredictable and agility is key
- Marketing Video Production
- Short form video produced on a schedule
Sony a7r IV tech specs
- Lens Mount: Sony E
- Camera Format: Full-Frame (1x Crop Factor)
- Pixels Actual: 62.5 Megapixel
- Effective: 61 Megapixel
- Maximum Resolution: 9504 x 6336
- Aspect Ratio: 1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9
- Sensor Type: CMOS
- Sensor Size: 35.7 x 23.8 mm
- Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Axis
- Recording Modes: XAVC S
- UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at 23.976p/25p/29.97p [60 to 100 Mb/s]
- Full HD at 23.976p/24p/25p/29.97p/50p/59.94p/100p/120p [16 to 100 Mb/s]
- AVCHD Full HD (1920 x 1080) at 50i/59.94i [17 to 24 Mb/s]
- External Recording Modes: 4:2:2 8-Bit
- Focus Modes: Automatic (A), Continuous-Servo AF (C), Direct Manual Focus (DMF), Manual Focus (M), Single-Servo AF (S)
- Autofocus Points:
- Phase Detection: 567
- Contrast Detection: 425
- Autofocus Sensitivity: -3 to +20 EV
- Viewfinder Type: Electronic (OLED)
- Monitor Resolution: 1,440,000 Dot
- Memory Card Slot: 2 x SD/SDHC/SDXC
- Connectivity: 3.5mm Headphone, 3.5mm Microphone, HDMI D (Micro), USB 2.0 Micro-B, USB 3.0, USB Type-C
- Wireless: Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth: yes
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 5.07 x 3.8 x 3.05″ / 128.9 x 96.4 x 77.5 mm
- Weight: 1.46 lb / 665 g