Hands on: Sony A7R IV Review

The world's first 61-megapixel full frame camera somehow also manages to be a sparkling all-rounder...

First Impressions

The A7R IV is a unique camera – one that appears to be just as comfortable out in the wild, shooting action and wildlife, as it does in the studio taking 61-megapixel product photos. Is it too much camera for most people? Probably, but if you want billboard-worthy detail, or earn your crust shooting commercial work, it might just be the only camera you need – in or out of the studio. Videographers will want to look elsewhere, but with the best autofocus system around, 10fps burst shooting and improved ergonomics, the A7R IV is a camera with few weaknesses and exciting potential.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £3500
  • 61-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor
  • Hybrid autofocus with 567-point phase detection AF points
  • 10fps continuous burst shooting with AF tracking
  • In-body five axis image stabilisation
  • 5.76-million dot OLED viewfinder
  • Dual UHS II card slots

Sony a7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Sony a7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The worlds first 61-megapixel full frame camera, with 10fps burst shooting, Hybrid auto-focus with 567-point phase detection AF points and in-body five axis image stabilisation, this camera truly is the perfect all-rounder.

In a galaxy far away from smartphone photography and social media, a new battle is raging between high-resolution powerhouse cameras with all-rounder skills.

In the past, combining billboard-friendly resolution with large sensors has produced still life cameras that were about as portable (and versatile) as a bowling ball. But a new breed of mirrorless mavericks are now crossing studio performance with all-rounder skills – and they’re being led by the new Sony A7R IV.

Right now, the A7R IV is a one-of-a-kind camera. It’s the world’s first 61.1-megapixel full-framer, but it’s also (like its predecessors) surprisingly small and capable of 10fps burst shooting, which gives it a freakish, Jonah Lomu-esque combination of power and speed.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R is marginally bigger than the A7R III, but remains a small full-frame camera that balances well with primes like the new 35mm f/1.8

This kind of performance, ably backed up by Sony’s class-leading autofocus system, makes the A7R IV a fearsome challenger to the likes of Fujifilm’s GFX 50S, which has an even bigger Medium Format-sized sensor. It also makes it a potentially very appealing all-in-one camera for everyone from product photographers to landscape shooters and even wildlife fans.

So is the A7R IV shaping up to be the best mirrorless camera you can buy, or does its hunt for staggering resolution mean its appeal is more akin to a niche supercar than a Tesla? I took one for a brief spin in Dublin to find out.

Design – A refined beast, but the A7R IV’s menus still need pruning

Considering its power, the A7R IV is a remarkably small camera. It’s ever so slightly bigger in all directions than its predecessor, and it weighs 8g more, but this has created a room for several useful improvements.

The main one is a deeper grip. One of our main complaints with the Sony A7R III was that the grip was both a little too small – particularly when shooting with long lenses – and too close to the lens mount. Sony has addressed both on the A7R IV. It isn’t a huge change, but I definitely noticed the difference and it feels more comfortable in the hand.

Sony A7R IV

One of the biggest physical changes to the A7R IV is its slightly beefier grip – this makes it feel much more comfortable and balanced in the hand, particularly with longer lenses

Dotted around the rest of the A7R IV’s body are lots of other little refinements – a new lock on the exposure compensation dial to prevent accidental turns, more weather-resistant port covers, and slightly larger buttons all round. These buttons, and others like the joystick and rear dial, have a premium, dampened feel that gives you a feeling of real control.

An equally important improvement is the electronic viewfinder, which is now a 5.76-million dot OLED display, like the one seen on the likes of the Panasonic S1 and S1R. This is particularly handy for manual focusing, and you can choose between two modes (‘high display quality’ or ‘120/100fps high frame-rate’) to suit what you’re shooting.

As you’d hope from a pro-level camera, the A7R IV has two card slots and both of these now support UHS II speeds – this means it can not only clear its buffer quicker when used in dual card mode, but also provides the kind of backup that’s pretty essential for wedding photographers or any other commercial shooting.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R IV’s top plate is largely the same as its predecessor, bar a couple of small tweaks – a new lock on the exposure compensation dual and a multi-interface shoe that supports its new digital microphone

The final notable design change on the A7R IV is a new multi-interface shoe on the top, which works with a new digital microphone accessory called the ECM-B1M (which will cost £340).

Unlike traditional shotgun microphones, this has its own analogue-to-digital converter, which means it can process the audio and include effects like noise cancelling, all before sending that signal to the camera. It certainly looks simpler than using an external audio recorder and then editing out the noise afterwards, and it worked pretty well in my demo, but it’s not a natural pairing for a camera that’s predominantly about stills rather than video.

Sony A7R IV

The other big physical improvement of the A7R IV is its new 5.76-million dot OLED viewfinder, although its screen still only offers tilting rather than full articulation and its menus can be a bit of a confusing maze at times.

Perhaps the only two disappointments with the A7R IV’s design are the lack of screen articulation (it’s still just tilts upwards by 107 degrees, and down by 41 degrees) and its labyrinthine menu system. If you want to change any settings that aren’t in the quick menu, then prepare to leaf your way through pages of obscurely named settings, or prod at boxes that are strangely not touch-enabled.

Still, these quibbles aside, the A7R IV is a superbly built, magnesium alloy camera that feels like a £3,500 camera should and, impressively, isn’t much bigger than a Fujifilm X-T3.

Specs and features – More than a megapixel monster, but the A7R IV is better at stills than video

What’s really impressive about the A7R IV isn’t that it’s got a 61-megapixel full-frame sensor – it’s that it manages to combine that with the speed and autofocus powers of a 24.2-megapixel all-rounder like the A7 III. In this sense, it’s really billing itself as a no-compromise camera (aside from your somewhat compromised bank balance, of course).

But first, there’s the obvious question – why would you need a full-frame camera that can take 61-megapixel photos? Well, the idea is that if you’re someone who likes to dabble in (or earn a living from) product photography, studio portraits, landscape shooting or architectural shots, then the resolution is there to help you get the extreme levels of detail that those styles demand. It also gives you the flexibility to crop into images and still get the resolution you need to produce big prints.

Sony A7R IV

While Sony hasn’t given an IP waterproof rating for the A7R IV, it has improved its moisture- and dust-resistance with better port seals – and it survived a Dublin deluge during my trip

Thanks to the A7R IV’s size and speed, though, it can also double as a powerful camera for other situations like sports and wildlife photography, which high-resolution cameras have traditionally been too slow and unwieldy to pull off.

Even in ‘Super 35mm’ mode, which effectively crops the field of view to that of an APS-C camera, it takes 26-megapixel photos and gives you 325 AF points covering 99% of the frame. You also get 10fps burst shooting for up to 68 photos in full-frame (or 200 shots in APS-C mode), which is very impressive considering the amount of data it’s shifting. In many ways, then, the A7R IV is like a full-frame camera that contains a cutting edge APS-C camera.

It has a lengthy roll call of other features too. Perhaps the most impressive is its autofocus – until now, real-time AF tracking has been limited to Sony’s A6400 and A9, but now it’s in the A7R IV too.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R IV’s screen does tilts upwards by 107 degrees and down by 41 degrees, but doesn’t have the full articulation needed to help it face you while vlogging, for example

If you’re not familiar with it, real-time tracking is an evolution of Eye AF, letting you track a subject (mostly likely, a person) through a scene, using higher resolution data than in similar tracking seen on high-end DSLRs, like the Nikon D5. Half-press the shutter and it’ll follow your chosen subject, switching to whichever tracking (be that face or eye) is available in each frame.

The fact that the A7R IV can do all of this while capturing 10fps bursts makes it, unlike its predecessor, a compelling new option for wildlife photographers, particularly with Animal Eye AF on board. With 567 phase detection AF points covering 74% of the frame, backed up by 425 contrast detection AF points, not much can sneak past the A7R IV’s focusing, and there’s silent shooting too (albeit with the usual caveats about rolling shutter).

Two other big features of note are five-axis image stabilisation, which is really essential for handheld shooting with a 61-megapixel camera, and a multi-shot mode that builds on the one introduced by the A7R III.

Sony A7R IV

Under the A7R IV’s sturdier, redesigned card slot door, there are two slots which both now support UHS II card speeds

Otherwise known as ‘Pixel Shift’, this mode lets you go beyond pathetically small 61-megapixel images and composite frames to build a 240.8-megapixel photo. It’s designed solely for completely static scenes – so architecture and product photography, rather than landscapes – and now lets the sensor shift around in half pixel increments to create one giant photo from sixteen frames (or four, if you’re in a rush).

Unfortunately, like all Raw files, you sadly can’t process this in-camera on the A7R IV, instead you need to do it using software called Imaging Edge. This doesn’t yet support the A7R IV, so I wasn’t able to process my mega-photos, but it’s fair to say the whole process isn’t exactly smartphone smooth, largely thanks to the sheer size of the files you’re dealing with. One 240.8-megapixel photo, for example, is around 1GB in size.

What about video? While the A7R IV is certainly no slouch, it’s also not going to be the first choice for videographers. Not a huge amount has changed from the A7R III, in fact, with no 4K/60p mode or 10-bit option for extra editing flexibility.

Still, it does shoot 4K/30p and 4K/24p using the full width of the sensor and you do now get the real-time AF tracking when shooting video as well as stills.

Image quality and performance – The A7R IV is a pro-level camera with versatile skills

Sony has big claims for the A7R IV’s stills performance, claiming it can achieve 15-stops of dynamic range, which would put it marginally ahead of cameras like the Nikon D850 and Sony A7R III.

Having only spent a few hours with the camera, it’s difficult to say definitively whether or not this is the case, but the early signs are certainly good. Colours are attractive, with the auto white balance performing well in most of my test shots, and the metering was pretty rock-solid too.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R’s JPEGs have good colour rendition, with this rose having real pop despite the overcast condition (shot at 1/125sec at f/4, ISO 100)

The in-body image stabilisation lets you take handheld shots in a variety of situations, and keep your ISO low by using slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible. That said, you do still need to keep an eye on your settings because the 61-megapixel resolution can very quickly expose any errors, even in good light.

Sony A7R IV

Despite the useful five-stop image stabilisation, you do still have to be careful with shutter speeds at this resolution – this shot isn’t quite pin sharp when viewed full-size (shot at 1/30 at f/4.5, ISO 200)

The Eye AF was as sticky and tenacious as ever, remaining largely untroubled even by sunglasses, while the level of detail and sharpness you can get from the resolution is pretty incredible.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R IV is a potentially great camera for product photography – this shot was taken on a tripod under continuous studio lights (taken at 1/30 at f/4.5, ISO 200)

Whether or not there’s significantly more detail than the 42-megapixel A7R III remains to be seen, but it seems likely that the A7R IV will give its recent mirrorless Medium Format rivals (which, in the case of Fujifilm’s GFX series, don’t quite have Medium Format-sized sensors) a run for their money.

Sony A7R IV

The A7R IV’s Eye AF is incredibly sticky and tenacious, and remains largely unfazed by obstructions like sunglasses (shot at 1/200 at f/5.6, ISO 200)

It’s a slight shame that there’s currently no lower resolution Raw option for when you don’t want to deal with huge file sizes, because it’s very easy to fill memory cards when shooting in Raw + JPEG as I prefer to. But if you’re paying £3,500 for a camera, then another £100 a pop for a few 128GB UHS II cards perhaps isn’t too much of a stretch.

Sony A7R IV

The level of detail the A7R IV can produce in architectural shots is impressive, with the finest details of this statue visible when cropped in (shot at 1/100s at f/8, ISO 100)

Sony A7R IV – Early verdict

There’s no doubt that the Sony A7R IV is shaping up to be the most powerful all-round mirrorless camera you can buy, alongside the Sony A9. But is it likely to be the best? That depends on how much you’re likely to need that 61-megapixel resolution.

What’s really impressive about the A7R IV is what an incredible all-rounder it is despite that huge resolution. Unlike other high resolution cameras, it’s relatively small, capable of shooting action at 10fps, and has the best autofocus system around. But despite the option of its ‘Super 35mm’ APS-C mode, it’s still likely to be too much camera for most people.

Sony A7R IV

Unless you’re a commercial photographer who makes huge prints or needs the flexibility of cropping studio shots, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a vast difference in detail from the 42-megapixel A7R III. In some ways, what’s potentially most exciting about the A7R IV is seeing how much more affordable the A7R III will become, and how features like real-time AF tracking will filter down to the long-rumoured Sony A7000.

If you are someone who craves, or makes a living from, high resolution photography, then the Sony A7R IV might just be the only camera you’ll need – both in and out of the studio. We’ll give you our final verdict on whether or not that’s the case in our full review soon.

Sony a7R IV Mirrorless Camera

Sony a7R IV Mirrorless Camera

The worlds first 61-megapixel full frame camera, with 10fps burst shooting, Hybrid auto-focus with 567-point phase detection AF points and in-body five axis image stabilisation, this camera truly is the perfect all-rounder.

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