Sony A7R IV review: Here's to new resolutions

Whoever said the pixel race was over didn’t tell Sony. While its A7R cameras have always been class-leading in terms of their resolutions, the fourth-gen edition delivers a pixel count normally reserved for medium-format cameras.

But this new model isn’t just about the pixels. The Sony A7R IV is a seriously high performing camera across the board, offering features that will appeal equally to professional landscape and portrait photographers, as much as to wildlife and sports photographers. 

Though the general look of the series has changed very little since its 2013 debut, internally there have been some massive leaps forward – especially in autofocus and video. Even from the Mark III, released in 2017, the Mark IV brings significant changes in the sensor, focusing and viewfinder. But is it enough to warrant the extra outlay?

Design

  • HDMI, USB, Mic, headphone and flash sync inputs
  • 2.95-inch, 1.44m-dot tilt-angle LCD touchscreen
  • 5.76m-dot electronic viewfinder
  • NFC, Wireless LAN & Bluetooth
  • Dual SD card slots (UHS-I/II)
  • Lens mount: Sony E Mount
  • 3.5mm headphones jack
  • 3.5mm mic jack

The one area where the A7R has changed most over the years in the body thickness. The Mark IV is nearly 5mm deeper from grip to monitor than the Mark III, and 19mm deeper than the original A7R. This is a noticeable increase and though still considerably slimmer than any mirrored models (the A7R doesn’t have a mirror box, hence being described as mirrorless), it doesn’t seem to be an ergonomic improvement.

The A7R IV features the Sony E-mount and accepts both the full frame FE lenses and the original APS-C E mount range. This provides native access to a total of 49 lenses, including 30 full-frame offerings. A dedicated Sony A-mount adapter extends this to include all Sony A-mount lenses, as well as former Konica Minolta A-mount glass. For testing, we used the Sony FE 24-70 f/2.8 (priced £1,800).

For storage, the A7R IV is Sony’s first major camera release not to offer MemoryStick Pro compatibility, instead providing dual SD card slots (which are both UHS-I/II compatible). Having two cards in the camera allows you to record images and/or video simultaneously to both, separate JPEG and Raw files, or stills and video, or automatically switch when one card is full. The cards are housed beneath a dedicated door in the side of the camera, which is easy to access, even when it’s mounted on a tripod.

One of the camera’s most visible upgrades is the new 5.76-million-dot viewfinder. This is a big jump in resolution from the 3.6-million-dot OLED one used on the Sony Mark III, Canon EOS R and Nikon Z7, and is only equalled by the new Panasonic S1 range. This extra resolution really comes into its own when focusing manually and looks much more natural than lower res models.

The rear LCD screen, on the other hand, remains unchanged from the Mark III, at 1.44-million-dots, and just under three inches on the diagonal measure. This is looking a little old and lacks a little in functionality. Touchscreen control is present here – but only for the focus point selection, not menu access, as with many other cameras. And though the screen does tilt, movement is only vertical and doesn’t allow viewing from in front of the camera.

The A7R IV is very well connected to help you share your images, with NFC (near field communication), Wireless LAN and Bluetooth connectivity included. When reviewing images, you can quickly send pictures direct to a smartphone – though you do need to have Sony’s Imaging Edge Mobile app installed first.

The camera can also be connected directly to a computer and charged via a USB-C connection. There’s also a multi-connector port, HDMI output and both mic and headphone connections.

Performance

  • Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection and contrast-detection combination)
    • 567 autofocus points (phase detection with full frame lens)
    • Multi-direction selector or touchscreen operation
    • Focus sensitivity -3EV to +20EV
  • 3, 5, 8 or 10fps continuous shooting (Lo/Mid/Hi/Hi+)
  • NP-FZ100 battery, 530 shots (finder) / 670 (LCD)
  • 1200-zone evaluative metering from sensor

Despite a significant bump in resolution for the A7R IV, it uses the same Bionz X image processor as its predecessor. Using a processor that has been around since 2013 may seem strange for such a technologically advanced camera – but it doesn’t hold it back.

The A7R IV can continuously shoot at up to 10 frames a second (10fps) in its Hi+ mode (up to 64 frames, when shooting a combination of JPEG and compressed Raw files; or 30 frames when shooting uncompressed Raw files). This is no comparison to the 20fps offered by the sports focused A9 II, but is still faster than its Nikon, Canon and Panasonic competition.

The autofocus has been significantly upgraded on the A7R and makes use of 567 phase-detection autofocus points when using a full-frame lens – though this reduces to 247 points with an APS-C lens (or 425 in contrast-detect).

There’s a huge choice of focusing area modes to choose from, including wide and zonal options, though the flexible spot is most useful for precise focusing. Focus tracking can also be selected direct from the focus area menu, with a choice of all focus area options and further sensitivity options in the menu. The focus tracking is very capable, maintaining a lock on to almost any subject. Interestingly though, it is not accessible in the animal detection mode.

The choice of shooting modes includes both an automatic mode, to swap between single and continuous focusing, and a direct manual option to allow manual adjustment after using autofocus. We found the joystick control for the autofocus really quick to use, and much more functional than the touchscreen, especially when using the viewfinder to take the shot.

The eye-detection functionality is especially useful for ensuring accurate focusing on portraits, and we particularly love the new animal detection/eye focus functionality. Not only does this help those pet lovers among us, but it can really come in useful for wildlife photography, too.

One surprise of the A7R IV is its impressive battery life. For stills photography it can deliver between 530 and 670 shots, depending on whether using the viewfinder or the rear screen. Surprisingly, it’s more efficient when using the rear screen. Video recording capacity is also respectable, between 100 and 115 minutes. These figures are little changed from the Mark III, which considering the much greater resolutions, and the same battery, is remarkable.

Image quality  

  • Stills: 61-million-pixel Exmor R CMOS sensor (9504 x 6336 output)
  • Video: 4K (30/25’24fps), Full HD (120/100/60/50/30/25/24fps)
  • 5-axis SteadyShot Inside (sensor shift stabilisation)
  • ISO 100-32,000 (50-102,400 expanded)
  • Bionz X image processor

The resolution of the A7R IV is truly staggering and leaves it with no real direct comparison outside of medium format cameras, such as the Leica S3.

Looking at the images in close magnification, you really need to view at 200 to 300 per cent before you start to lose clarity. At this magnification you can see a slight mottled effect, particularly in the Raw files. The JPEG files do a great job of compressing this, while Raw files can be easily controlled in editing software and is practically invisible at 100 per cent magnification or less.

If you want even higher resolution, the Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode allows you to create a 240-megapixel image by taking up to 16 images with slight sensor adjustments between each one. This can be useful for architecture or landscape shots, without any movement – and a steady tripod. The images are saved to the camera as individual Raw files and can then be combined in Sony’s Viewer software. 

Using the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens, images showed almost no sign of haloing or aberration. Though the sensor stabilisation feels more subtle in use than a lens-based system, it is very effective, even at shorter focal lengths, allowing you to maintain a shake-free image when hand-holding – just make sure you keep shutter speeds up a little, as every slight movement is magnified at this kind of resolution.

Signs of a grain-like monochrome noise start to appear in images from ISO 800, but only really start to become noticeable in Raw files at ISO 12,800. That’s quite remarkable.

In the expanded settings of ISO 40,000 and above, detail is maintained even though noise is more pronounced. Overall image colour only starts to really suffer at ISO 64,000 and above. For high-quality shooting, it’s safe to leave the camera in an Auto ISO mode, which keeps the setting between 100-12,800. If you really need to go higher, images can be corrected in software by applying a little noise reduction, but we’d suggest avoiding it with a camera such as this. 

The Sony A7R IV’s 1200-zone metering system is very capable of giving a well-balanced exposure, keeping detail in shadow areas even when heavily backlit. Using the multi metering mode, highlights and shadows are preserved. Centre-weighted and spot options really allow you to expose for your subject. The top exposure compensation dial on the camera allows you to make any quick adjustments and, for those moments when you really need it, there’s the option to auto bracket shots in the drive mode settings.

For those serious videographers, the A7R IV misses a few features, such as a 60p option when shooting 4K and a 10bit capture or output. Video capture is available in both AVCHD and Sony’s XAVC S format, with 4K available either full-frame (with pixel binning) or in a cropped Super 35mm form.

The Super 35mm mode is chosen by default when the mode is left in auto, as it creates a more detailed image, but both versions look pretty good, with no real rolling shutter to talk of here. HD shooting comes with frame-rate options of up to 120fps, and there’s a full set of picture profiles and Gamma settings including S Log 2 and 3. With the HDMI output you can now also capture your footage internally and externally at the same time – which couldn’t be done on previous models.

Source: https://www.pocket-lint.com/cameras/reviews/sony/150424-sony-a7r-iv-review-mk4

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