Sony A7R IV Review: More Megapixels, Better Autofocus, …Anything Else?
When Sony announced their 61-megapixel A7R IV (mk4) as the successor to the 42-megapixel A7R III, quite a few jaws hit the floor. This camera is truly over-the-top. Who needs sixty megapixels? That’s “medium format territory”, indeed.
The honest truth is, most people really don’t need SIXTY megapixels. Right now, in today’s current “climate”, (an imaginary gauge of memory card prices, hard drive prices, computer power, computer display resolution, and common print sizes) …24-30 megapixels is PLENTY.
Indeed, the class-leading resolution of the ~$3500 Sony A7R IV inherently makes it not as much of an “all-around” camera as the ~$2800 (and sometimes ~$2500!) A7R III still is today. (In fact, I think Sony may officially consider the two cameras to be different enough that they’ll likely stay on the market together for quite a while.)
Either way, for many photographers, the A7R III was already more than enough- it got that impressive new Sony battery, great on-sensor autofocus, good 4K video, and a perfect balance of image quality including not just resolution, but also high dynamic range and low noise.
So, are there still reasons to consider the A7R IV? Yes, absolutely! Even though the camera probably isn’t for everybody, it’s still one of the best high-megapixel cameras on the market, competing just as much with medium format options as it does with other high-megapixel full-frame cameras.
In this review, we’ll dive into why you may decide to stick with the A7R III, (or wait for Sony A7 IV rumors to start popping up) …OR, why you might want to consider this new megapixel champion.
Sony A7R IV Specifications
- SENSOR: 61-megapixel BSI-CMOS full-frame Bayer sensor
- LENS MOUNT: Sony E/FE
- STILL IMAGES: 61-megapixel RAW, compressed/uncompressed,
26 megapixels “super-35” APS-C mode
4K 30p, 25p, 24p, full-sensor width 100 Mbps MP4 XAVC S, H.264, Linear PCM
1080 @ 120p, 60p, 30p, 25p, 24p, 50 MBps, XAVC S, MP4, H.264, Linear PCM
- ISO: 100-32000, Expanded: ISO 50, ISO 102800
- AUTOFOCUS: Hybrid on-sensor AF, 567 phase-detect pts, 425 hybrid points
(99.7% vertical + 74% horizontal mage area coverage)
- SHOOTING SPEED: 10 FPS max speed
- SHUTTER SPEEDS: 30sec-1/8000 sec mechanical, 1/250 sec flash sync, Bulb mode
- STABILIZATION: Yes, sensor-based, 5.5 stops CIPA rating
- METERING & AF RANGE: EV -3 to EV 20 (AF and metering)
- VIEWFINDER: 5.76-MP TFT LCD electronic viewfinder, (EVF) 100% coverage, 0.78x mag.
- LCD: 3″ 1.4mp articulated touchscreen
- CONNECTIVITY: Headphone (3.5mm), microphone (3.5mm) HDMI-D (micro), USB-C, USB-micro (Sony remote style)
- STORAGE: Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II) (both the fast type!)
- BATTERY: NP-FZ100, Lithium-Ion, 7.2 V, 2280 mAh (530 shot CIPA rating)
- BODY CONSTRUCTION: metal/alloy construction, weather-sealed
- SIZE: 5.07×3.8×3.05 in (128.9×96.4×77.5 mm
- WEIGHT: 1.46 lb (665 g)
- PRICE: $3,498 (B&H)
Sony A7R IV Review | Who Should Buy It?
If you want this review to be over right now, here it is: The Sony A7R IV is a medium-format-chasing megapixel beast, with an incredible new autofocus system thrown in to spice things up.
That’s almost all there is to it. Yes, the ergonomics are also significantly improved, but would you pay an extra $700-1000 for a bit more hand comfort? Only if you had $3500 laying around and no lenses on your wishlist. (That was a joke, there are never zero lenses on a photographer’s wishlist!)
TL,DR, you have to really want those 61 megapixels. If you’re not in love with the idea of 80/120-megabyte raw images, then you probably should do one of two things: Either stick with/get an A7R III, …or wait for the Sony A7 IV to come out, which will undoubtedly have 24-30 megapixels and cost “just” $2000, …yet hopefully, still offer similar autofocus and ergonomic improvements to the A7R IV.
On that note, let’s talk about who might want to consider the Sony A7R IV, and why:
If you shoot portraits, you’re one of the few photographers who might still be making huge prints, frequently, and hopefully charging good money for those prints! Despite the increasing size and resolution of wall-mounted TV screens, large prints of portraits are still good business, if you take the time to build that business carefully. (We have a photography business education course here if you’re interested!)
Having said that, let’s be realistic: Are your prints usually “just” 30-40 inches long? Do you hardly ever crop your photos? Then, quite honestly, 61 megapixels (versus 24-40) is still not necessary.
You need to be either making utterly massive 6-foot (72-inch, 1.8-meter) and larger prints, or be frequently cropping in significantly for more modest (but still relatively large) prints, in order for 61 megapixels to be useful to an “everyday” portrait photographer who specializes in family, engagement, maternity, newborn, or senior portraits, etc.
Bottom line- yeah, the A7R IV might be tempting, and if you don’t shoot extremely high volume, go for it! Otherwise, an A7R III, or the imaginary A7 IV, might be more than enough.
Fashion & Editorial Photographers
Unlike “casual” portrait photographers, fashion and editorial/commercial work is almost always expected to be delivered in the highest possible resolution, for all kinds of cropping and printing needs.
This is also the realm where medium format comes into play quite often. Many photographers may argue that medium format is always better, however, the A7R IV makes a very tempting offer: not just those megapixels, but also, two more things that medium format just can’t compete with: a huge lens arsenal, and the best autofocus in the industry.
Then again, fashion and editorial work doesn’t usually require those things, so…
It’s your call, but personally, if I did more commercial and editorial work, I’d go with the A7R IV simply because it’s not JUST an editorial portrait camera, it’s also a killer landscape camera, a decent wildlife camera, and it’s no slouch at “casual” shooting either. But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Honestly? For weddings, I’d probably rather have almost any other Sony body than the A7R IV. That sounds like a really harsh critique, but it’s also a praise to how good the A9ii, A9, A7R III and A7 III already are. They’re just that good, and they’re much more well-suited to 12-14+ hour-long weddings than a 61-megapixel camera could ever be.
I made the “mistake” of taking the A7R IV to a relatively short pre-wedding event, just 4 hours, and even when shooting compressed (lossy) ARW files, I nearly filled a 128GB memory card.
10/10 times, for $3500 I would buy an A9 for weddings. The autofocus is just as good, (or possibly slightly better; both are incredible) and the low-light image quality is perfect for wedding work.
Candid & Street Photographers
Again, skip the A7R IV and either get an A9, an A7 III, or an A7R III. You’ll get a much better balance for casual street candids and everyday family activities, especially in low light.
Architectural & Real Estate Photographers
Although a lot of architectural and real-estate work now may be mostly destined for online property listings in low-resolution, there are still plenty of reasons to have a really good camera, with plenty of resolution. Aside from benefitting from incredible dynamic range for those tricky interiors, with 61 megapixels you can also use cropping to essentially create a powerful tilt-shift lens: Just shoot a scene with the camera perfectly level, with a wide enough field of view to include whatever upward or downward angle composition you want, …and then crop it in post-production!
Again, however, since you probably won’t be using the A7R IV’s incredible autofocus very much, I have to say that if I had to choose between upgrading to the A7R IV from the mk3, or getting a new lens for real estate work, I’d probably go and get myself the Sony FE 12-24mm f/4 G, or the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DN Art, and skip the body upgrade.
Action Sports Photographers
The new AF tracking of the A7R IV may make it tempting compared to its predecessor, but make no mistake: that 61-megapixel sensor will gobble up your memory cards faster than Cookie Monster. (Or me gobbling a box of Thin Mints!)
Again, get a ~24 megapixel camera, and be happy that your buffer isn’t perpetually full.
Wildlife & Nature & Macro Photographers
Wildlife photography is a realm that often sees much larger prints versus most action sports. Furthermore, oftentimes you just can’t get close enough to your subject, and it’s extremely convenient to be able to flip the camera into APS-C mode (super-35) and still get a respectable 26 megapixels out of your sensor.
Considering the incredible Animal Eye AF of the A7R IV, it gets a big thumbs-up for wildlife photography compared to all but the A9 and A9II. Just don’t spray-and-pray too much or your buffer will fill up real quick!
Now, we get to what is likely the most common use of the Sony A7R IV, when considering both professional and hobbyist photographers together. Landscapes is where the really big prints happen.
Landscape photography is also where you’re most likely to want to shoot at 12mm and 300mm in the same day, and again, medium format just can’t come close to that diverse focal range.
Those who hike/backpack, or travel anywhere by land, sea, or air, will also likely prefer the incredible portability of such a system as the A7R IV, instead of medium format.
Having said all that, the A7R III was already an incredible landscape photography camera, and 42 megapixels is already more than enough for most print sizes. Plus, you’ll probably be shooting fully manually from a tripod most of the time, so any improvements to autofocus or ergonomics won’t be a huge benefit.
Still, most landscape photographers don’t just shoot static scenes exclusively. There is almost always a wildlife opportunity, or action shots of adventures and extreme sports outdoors. And, in that regard, the A7R IV really pulls ahead as one of the most perfectly-suited cameras for such a genre.
Nightscape & Astrophotographers
Not to end on a downer, but if you’re more of a landscape+nightscape photographer, and less of a landscape+wildlife/action photographer, we’re back to recommending the A7R III again. Why? Because you’re not going to need autofocus to shoot nightscapes, however, you are going to need as good image quality at ISO 3200, 6400, and 12800 as possible.
Unfortunately, the A7R IV is a bit of a let-down in terms of extremely high ISO performance versus the A7R III. There’s just a faint bit more noise in the mk4’s image files. It’s a very slight, likely un-noticeable difference when shooting real-world scenes in the field, but the bottom line is that if you nail your exposure and focus on the A7R III, you’ll get better results.
Sony A7R IV | Pros
Okay, now that we’ve probably already answered all of your real questions, about the camera, let’s break down the actual tests. If you want the short-and-sweet version:
- Colors are beautiful, they feel improved VS previous Sonys
- Dynamic range is about the same as the A7R III
- High ISO is about the same (or worse than) the A7R III
- Ergonomics are much improved
- Customizations are expanded, but menus are still a huge undertaking
- Autofocus, both in stills and video, is incredible.
The A7R 4 images are gorgeous, and incredibly detailed, as you might expect from a 61-megapixel camera. However, it’s not just the detail that is impressive. The colors overall seem just a little bit more clear and crisp than I’m used to from all the other Sonys, and specific color reproduction, although highly subjective and likely to be eternally debated, does seem beautiful and pleasing to me.
Another thing that I have found to be undeniable about Sony’s colors, by the way, is just how much they retain incredible saturation when shooting at high ISOs. I noticed this as early as their first 42-megapixel sensor, the A7R II- even at ISO 6400, colors are almost as vibrant as they are at ISO 100!
Dynamic range, especially shadow recovery, are as incredible as ever with Sony’s amazing sensors. Sony has been at the head of the pack (neck-and-neck with Nikon’s champs, that is) ever since the days of 36 megapixels.
High ISO noise is respectable, but still feels like a slight step back compared to the A7R III, and likely to be much more noisy than whatever next-generation camera (with half as many megapixels?) comes next.
Having said that, beware of diffraction. Cramming 61 megapixels into a relatively “small” full-frame sensor, (compared to medium format) …you’ll notice diffraction even by f/8, especially on the sharper FE/GM primes that really deliver incredible image detail by f/2.8 or f/4. That’s one area where medium format, thanks to its larger sensor, may have a slight advantage. (Although DOF gets more shallow as the sensor gets bigger, so it could be a wash, depending on how you like to shoot.)
Design & Ergonomics
WOW, never has a “slight” redesign felt so massively improved. At first, you might not even notice any differences just looking at the camera. But when you pick it up, you’ll immediately feel the deeper grip that gives your fingers more comfort, and slightly more room when using those biggest lenses.
Then, when you go to touch the buttons on the rear of the camera, you notice the other delightful surprise: the camera actually feels like a well-designed camera, and buttons are slightly larger, much easier to press, and less likely to be confused with other nearby buttons when you’re in the heat of the action.
As a left-eyed person, I still am not the biggest fan of the exact positioning of the record button, but it’s still infinitely better than the corner of the body.
Overall, this is a huge win for Sony. The A7R IV is, in fact, my new favorite mirrorless camera in terms of ergonomics, second only to the A9 II which adds the final mode dial in that empty space on the other side of the viewfinder. (More on that later in the cons, unfortunately.)
Weather Sealing & Durability
As with each progressive release by Sony ever since their original A7 and A7R, the overall build quality and durability has been improved yet again. (Which is a good thing, because, honestly, those mk1 cameras had worse ergonomics and durability than a $5 Sony TV remote!)
The A7R IV is not just fully weather-sealed and metal-bodied. I’ll let Lensrentals.com take one apart, if they haven’t already, but the bottom line for me is that every single button and dial feels much more well-sealed, it just has that high-end professional feel to it that I’m only used to feeling from the likes of the Canon 1-series, or the Nikon D5/D6 etc.
I would consider this camera to be ready for shooting in any adverse conditions. It’s a shame that they still can’t close the shutter while you’re changing lenses, or even while the camera is off to keep dust and moisture ingress to a minimum, but it’s still “ready for action”, indeed.
The one thing that was still just a bit frustrating about the Sony A7 III and A7R III, after photographing a whole bunch of weddings with the Sony A9, was the autofocus. It was great, it just wasn’t as game-changing as the A9.
It wasn’t just that the overall reliability on the 7-series cameras wasn’t up to par of the 9-series, it was also the simple fact that when using dynamic AF point tracking in AF-C, the A9 had that un-flexible, fixed-size green box, while the 7-series had the frustrating, incessantly shape-changing green box that always seemed to go wild when trying to adapt to whatever it thought I wanted to be the plane of focus.
So, with the 7-series Sonys, I always just used the fixed-size AF point, and manually moved it around the viewfinder, turning Face/Eye AF on or off as needed.
Now, with the A7R IV, I basically get the full A9 experience: The Real-Time AF Tracking box, which doesn’t change shape and DOES stick like glue to my subject. Oh, and Face/Eye AF is almost unflappable, even when shooting with fast primes in terrible light, it can track a face around the viewfinder better than any competition I’ve seen.
I can only hope that the A7 IV gets the same updated AF system! I know they might not be using the exact same CPU as in the A9 or A9 II, but the implementation/interface is the best on the market, and the overall reliability is still the best around, for now…
If you’re coming from an A7R III, or an A7 III, then the value of the A7R IV might be a little difficult to see. Indeed, the two mk3 cameras are great cameras, and you might be looking for slightly faster speed, or better autofocus, but NOT so many megapixels, or such a high price tag.
As I’ve already said, if you are really excited about all of the A7R IV’s improvements, but don’t want to spend more than ~$2000 or have to buy all-new memory cards, hard drives, and a faster computer just to process the raw files, …then wait and see the what the A7 IV holds! It could be the perfect camera for YOU: An A7R IV, but with “only” 24-30 megapixels. Who knows, maybe they’ll even call it the A7 IV+S, and give it 4K-raw and/or 6K video and insane high ISO performance!
Sony A7R IV Review | Cons
In many of my recent reviews, I haven’t had much to complain about. However, with the A7R IV, things are pretty complicated. Actually, they’re quite simple, but it just isn’t all good news, for a few key reasons:
The A7R III
If you already have an A7R III, the A7R IV might be a tough sell. Do you need ~50% more megapixels? DO you need significantly better autofocus reliability & tracking? If you answered, “No, and No”, then just stick with your A7R III. If you answered, “No, and Yes” …then just wait for an A7 IV to show up. Only if you answered, “Yes, and Yes” should you get the A7R IV.
No “Lossless” Compressed RAW 12-bit, or mRAW Image Formats
At 61 megapixels, it’s a shame that Sony can still only offer the lossy compressed .ARW raw format, and a massive, uncompressed .ARW raw format.
By comparison, both Canon and Nikon now offer reduced size raw formats, “mRAW” and “sRAW”. Canon now offers .CR3 files too, which are slightly smaller (filesize) than .CR2 files, Nikon has always offered both lossy, lossless, and uncompressed raw .NEF files, all with 12-bit and 14-bit options, too.
It would have been fantastic to see a ~26-megapixel mRAW .ARW file that isn’t cropped to APS-C or Super-35 mode.
The Customizability Is Barely Worth The Menu Labyrinth
I was delighted to find that Sony added quite a few much-needed options to the A7R IV, such as direct Kelvin WB control on the back thumbwheel. (I accidentally bump that wheel so easily, I couldn’t trust it to be designated to something more critical like ISO or EV comp, plus I had gotten very used to this great feature on the A9!)
There is also the new double-duty of the on-screen quick menu, which can be separately customized for video and stills shooting, in addition to fully separate customization of all the buttons like with other Sonys.
However, the menus themselves didn’t receive the massive overhaul that they still deserve. Part of the problem is that so many options don’t have a dedicated button, so they MUST be included somewhere in the menu, (things like ISO, AF mode, etc, which all have dedicated buttons on Nikon/Canon) …which means Sony menus will ALWAYS be significantly more expansive than others. That’s fine, as long as you take the time to fully customize every single camera button, the on-screen pop-up menu, and the 5 pages of “My Menus” too.
Otherwise, your shooting experience may come to a screeching halt every time you need to dig down deep and figure out how to turn on/off IBIS, or switch from mechanical shutter to electronic shutter, etc.
Buffer Clearing Still Inexplicably Shuts Down Some Camera Function
One thing that really frustrated me about Sony cameras, and Nikon too in some cases, (Canon, by the way, almost never has this problem) …is the number of features that become unavailable while the buffer is clearing, and the manner in which it informs the user of this conflict. Simply put, most camera settings can be changed, but a seemingly random few cannot.
This means that depending on how you shoot, you may often find yourself feeling “stuck”. You can still click more pictures, as long as the buffer isn’t full, (it WILL be full, often, if you don’t have ultra-fast cards and shoot in compressed raw!) …however, you might miss shots if you need to change certain settings, such turning on/off Super-35 mode, or changing the drive mode, among other things.
Unless the camera’s CPU(s) are completely overwhelmed by the process of clearing the camera buffer, I don’t understand why it can’t still let you do virtually everything while the camera is writing images to the card.
Speaking of inexplicable things, I also wish that more “this operation is currently unavailable” situations in general would have more explanation. Instead of greying out the entire screen, (hey, I’m trying to take pictures!) and throwing up an un-helpful warning, why not throw a more detailed warning at the top or bottom of the viewfinder, that let you know why you can’t change one setting due to another setting?
In some cases, they do give an explanation. For example, if you’re in MF (manual focus) but you try to select “AF-C Tracking”. It will tell you why you can’t select this option. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case; some of the more obscure incompatible functions
Missing The A9’s Mode Dial, And Other Quirks
I reviewed the A7R IV and the A9 II at almost the same exact time, and I must say that after spending a few months with each camera, I really wish that Sony had paid the extra few dollars to put the A9’s mode dial(s) in that empty space on the top of the A7R IV. For $3500, it’s an omission that feels like a bit of a snub, and I have to re-arrange how I customize some of the buttons in order to get the same easy-access to my drive mode and AF mode.
There are other quirks and omissions that bug me, too. For one, I can’t understand why the battery door latch doesn’t latch closed by itself; nobody wants to have to hold the door closed and then latch it!
There’s also the new locked/unlocked button in the middle of the EV comp dial, which is fantastic, however, the main mode dial still doesn’t have an “unlocked” option which I would have actually liked to have.
Lastly, speaking of the EV-comp button, the one real ergonomic sore spot (literally) is the slightly raised rear command dial. Not only is it a little too similar to the EV comp dial, it may also create a new callus on your thumb due to its metal (almost serrated-feeling) design.
I can understand not seeing some of these changes/perks show up on a $1,999 base model camera, but for $3,499, I’d like to see just a little bit more ergonomic perfection.
Sony A7R IV Review | Compared To The Competition
A few years ago, there were barely any cameras with more than 40 megapixels. 36 megapixels was the biggest number in town, and it was the biggest number by a long shot!
Now, the realm of high-megapixel cameras is packed with options. This is great for you, but it does mean that even if you’re in the market for a “megapixel beast”, there might be better options out there…
Sony A7R IV (mk4) vs Sony A7R III (mk3)
The biggest competitor to the A7R IV is its predecessor. The A7R III already packs quite an impressive feature set into its slightly more affordable package. We already said this at the beginning of the review, but if you don’t make huge prints, and you don’t need fast-action autofocus reliability, then you should either stick with your A7R III, or wait for the inevitable A7 IV.
Sony A7R IV vs Nikon Z7
Nikon’s Z7 is a respectable 45 megapixels, and also offers a wide variety of image format options that a landscape shooter might enjoy. Not only are the 45 MP images very sharp on the impressive new Nikkor-Z lenses, even without pixel-shift. but the base native ISO of 64 is a very tempting proposition to those landscape and other types of photographers who spend all their time trying to squeeze the most image quality out of the lowest ISO images.
Having said that, the A7R IV mops the floor with the Z7 in terms of video autofocus, and autofocus tracking in general. We probably won’t see truly competitive autofocus performance from Nikon until we get the 2nd-generation Z-series FX cameras, and even that is being hopeful considering Sony is on their 4th generation already.
Personally, I’d go with a Nikon Z7 for pure, “traditional” landscape photography, but for almost everything else I’d go with the A7R IV.
Sony A7R IV vs …The Canon EOS R5?
Let’s talk about this unreleased wildcard, just for fun. (Then, we’ll update this review once we get our hands on some more factual results about the EOS R5!)
Bottom line- Canon is likely to hit a home run with video shooters, with the 8K RAW, and 4K 60p full-sensor specs in the forthcoming EOS R5. Sony has been shooting roughly the same 100 Mbps MP4 4K videos for a while now, and although they’re full-sensor width and more than enough for most needs, those who have been hoping for more, (if only 4K 60p!) will likely be tempted by the EOS R5.
However, the Canon isn’t out yet, and we can’t pass judgment without knowing whether or not there is anything else that could make this newcomer a flop, or a killer. All we can do is wait to test its overall image quality, autofocus reliability, etc…
Sony A7R IV vs Fuji GFX
We weren’t able to do a direct head-to-head comparison between these two cameras, however, we have had extensive experience with both the Sony A7R IV and the Fuji GFX 50R.
In our opinion, they’re just so dramatically different in their overall user experience, it’s hard to compare them. The A7R IV has a huge advantage when it comes to ergonomics and control layout, and of course in autofocus reliability and versatility.
But, as we mentioned before, a medium-format shooter usually isn’t too worried about shooting fast action, nor are they usually to concerned about the heft of the camera. (Besides, the GFX 50R is actually very light and compact! They probably spend most of their time shooting at normal focal lengths, too.
So, it mostly comes down to image quality. And, in that regard, many people swear by medium format, and talk about how much better the image quality is. But, is it really? Sony sensors have been offering dynamic range and high ISO performance that matches or beats medium format for a while now, actually. The A7R IV’s dynamic range at ISO 100, and its noise levels at ISO 6400, are just as good, if not better than, a GFX camera.
You could get a Fuji GFX100 and call it a day, but then again if you’re shooting static scenes you could use the Sony’s pixel-shift mode for 240-megapixel (equivalent) images. So, it’s up to you. What types of subjects so you photograph, (do they hold perfectly still?) and what types of focal lengths do you usually use? Medium format might be a tempting choice, but the Sony A7R IV might be the more versatile option.
Sony A7R IV Review | Conclusion
It feels strange to talk about how great this camera is, and yet continually repeat that it probably isn’t the right camera for you. But, since we’re being repetitive, we’ll say it one last time: It all comes down to that megapixel number. Do you want SIXTY ONE? (Remember, “42” is the answer to life, the universe, and everything.)
Indeed, Sony could have simply improved the A7R III’s sensor a little bit, and people would have been happy. Heck, people would have been thrilled if the A7R IV had stayed at 42 megapixels, but added 8K video, or 4K raw video! That might have competed better against Canon’s forthcoming EOS R5.
However, the megapixel race marches on. Canon was/is rumored to be working on a 70/80-megapixel sensor, and Nikon users are whispering about their own 61-megapixel camera, too.
If you’re looking for a full-frame camera that delivers images which compete against medium format cameras, while also offering the advantages of the most diverse lineup of full-frame lenses on the market and incredibly reliable autofocus, then the A7R IV is the camera to get. Otherwise, it’s hard not to just sit back and wait for the A7 IV, or pick up a used/refurbished A7R III or A9….
What do you think? Leave a comment below!