The Sony Alpha 7R IV breaks the 50MP barrier, but how else does it improve on the sensational Alpha 7R III? Michael Topham investigates
Sony Alpha 7R IV Review: Build & Handling
A number of the improvements that have been made to the A7R IV are based around the body. Its form factor might not look any different, but when you inspect it closely you realise there are more changes than first meet the eye.
The handling of Sony’s A7-series cameras has come under scrutiny in the past. To try and change the perception of the body feeling too small and fiddly in medium to large sized hands, Sony has enlarged the handgrip. This contributes to more of an assured feel than the A7R III when it’s coupled to large and heavy telephoto lenses, without it being too big or bulky. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best feeling handgrip of any A7-series model Sony has made, however like we stressed when we reviewed the A7R III, the gap between handgrip and lens mount remains fairly tight. This isn’t an issue when you’re working with bare hands or thin gloves, but in colder climates where thick gloves are essential you could find it a struggle to squeeze fingers into the gap.
Another improvement is the sturdier, redesigned memory card door. As well as being more durable, it’s less likely to be opened by mistake. Sony has also made the decision to move slot 1 to the top and make both SD card slots UHS-II compatible. The two loaded cards can be configured as you like; you can backup files to each card simultaneously, record different file types to the two card slots, or tell the camera to switch across to the second card after the first card fills up.
The redesigned body does mean that it’s not compatible with existing battery grips. Those who’d like to double the battery life and improve handling in the portrait format are forced to buy Sony’s new VG-C4EM (£400). Unlike some grips that only accept one extra battery, this example accepts two NP-FZ100 batteries and is made rigid and lightweight just like the body, which comes fortified by high-rigidity magnesium alloy covers and an internal frame. I’m glad to be able to report that the question mark surrounding the plastic covers for the connector ports has finally been resolved too. These are now rubberised and offer far superior sealing in wet and damp conditions.
So what about the rest of the body? To answer the criticisms about the exposure compensation dial being easy to knock, a new lock has been added. It’s different to the mode dial lock that has to be pressed as it’s rotated and can be left unlocked or locked across its +/-3EV range. Up to +/-5EV control is available (0.3EV or 0.5EV steps) from the main menu and this is easily assigned to a custom function button.
Other improvements on the top plate include a newly profiled On/Off switch that doesn’t feel quite as plasticky. You’ll also notice the rear dial that was previously embedded into the camera’s back has shifted up onto the top plate for a better feel and response with your thumb. It operates very smoothly and rotates silently.
Shifting our attention to the rear, the AF-ON button is larger, the same of which can be said for the multi-selector (better known as the joystick) that has more dimples to improve grip and differentiate the feel from other buttons when the viewfinder is raised to your eye. I also found the buttons across the body to have a somewhat squishier feel, suggesting that many of them now offer improved weather resistance.
As to be expected from a camera that’s designed for professional use, the A7R IV features weather sealing in all the key areas to keep dust, dirt, sand and moisture from reaching the internals. That being said, Sony does say in the small print that the A7R IV is not guaranteed to be 100% dust and moisture-proof.
If you’re not a fan of the way the A7R IV is setup out of the box, you’ll be pleased to know it provides as good level of customisation just as every camera should. There is the option to assign different functions to different buttons based on if you’re shooting stills, video or reviewing in playback mode. The Function menu can be rearranged to your liking, as can the configuration of the front and rear dials when shooting in manual mode.
It has taken four generations, but with the A7R IV there is the sense that Sony has got a lot closer to perfecting the build and handling of its A7-series. Picking up the A7R III after using the A7R IV does feel like a bit of a backward step. Based on this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony perseveres with the larger grip and body refinements that have been introduced on the A7R IV and carries them across its other A7-series models in the future.