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 – Hands-on First Look
The launch of the Sony Alpha 7R IV is one of the most significant camera releases we’ve seen so far this year. It enters Sony’s Alpha range with a vast number of improvements that’ll be well received by those who want an accomplished all-rounder suitable for all types of photography, from landscape and still life photographers who demand the highest resolution of any full-frame mirrorless camera, to sports and action shooters who’d like to rattle out a continuous burst at up to 10fps without interruption.
The Sony Alpha 7R IV has a very impressive spec on paper, however, it’s the new full-frame 61-million-pixel back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor and its ability of capturing a mesmerising level of detail that’s got photographers most excited. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the Sony Alpha 7R IV’s new features…
Sony Alpha 7R IV: Features
At its heart the Sony Alpha 7R IV combines the world’s first 61.0MP back-illuminated full-frame sensor with Sony’s latest-generation BIONZ X image processor and front-end LSI. This combination promises smooth, natural gradations and an impressive 15-stop dynamic range at the low end of its ISO 100-32,000 (expandable to ISO 50-102,400) range.
Despite the increase in resolution there’s no reduction in speed. The Sony Alpha 7R IV shoots a continuous burst at 10fps for up to 7 seconds with full AF/AE tracking using its refined, low-vibration mechanical shutter or a silent electronic shutter just like the Sony A7R III. Sony claims 68 images (Extra Fine JPEGs or compressed Raw files) can be shot in a single burst at 10fps, which increases to 200 when the A7R IV’s APS-C crop mode is deployed. This produces images with a 26.2MP resolution and can be customised to a function button for quick and easy one-click operation.
Autofocus is another area of improvement. The 567-point phase-detection AF and 425-point contrast-detection AF provides wide image area coverage (99.7% height and 74.0% width). Sony’s fabulous Real-time Eye AF carries across to the Alpha 7R IV, and for the first time on an Alpha camera, it can be used whilst recording video. You get the option to select either animal or human Eye AF mode depending on your shooting situation and there’s also Real-time Tracking available that utilises a newly developed subject recognition algorithm for improved performance.
Additionally, the new Sony Alpha 7R IV features a Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode that composites up to 16 full-resolution images. In this mode, the camera precisely shifts the sensor in 1 or 0.5-pixel increments to capture 16 separate pixel-shifted images containing a total of 963.2 million pixels worth of data. The final output is a colossal 240.8MP (19,008 x 12,672 pixel) image, however any movement between frames is at risk of being rendered blurred so its use will be limited to non-moving subjects where the camera is locked off on a tripod.
Another first is the Sony Alpha 7R IV’s wireless PC remote connectivity that supports wireless tethering shooting. Sony says this has been implemented to satisfy professional users requests for better freedom in the studio and on high-end location shoots. Even large-sized Raw images can be transferred smoothly and checked via PC immediately.
In addition to its impressive still image capabilities, the Sony Alpha 7R IV will appeal to filmmakers. It provides 4K 30p video recording and full pixel readout without pixel binning in Super 35mm mode as well as S-Log 2 and S-Log 3 to maximise dynamic range and provide videographers the control they need when colour grading. Touch tracking AF is also available during movie shooting, giving users the chance to pinpoint the subject they’d like the camera to focus on by simply tapping the screen.
Other features that carry across from the A7 III include in-body image stabilisation that’s effective to 5.5 stops, a PC sync flash socket and high-speed USB-C port that supports fast wired data transmission as well as in-camera battery charging. There are twin SD card slots, however both are now UHS-II compatible and slot 1 has been moved to the top. The Sony Alpha 7R IV’s multi-interface shoe is also compatible with Sony’s new ECM-B1M microphone.
Sony Alpha 7R IV – Viewfinder and Screen
The big news at the rear of the camera is the introduction of a 5.76-million-dot UXGA OLED electronic viewfinder – the best example we’re yet to see on an A7-series model. It’s a noticeable step up from the 3.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder on the Sony A7R III and the display quality can be set to ‘Standard’ or ‘High’ mode, with 60fps and 120fps refresh rates both available.
Below the EVF very little has changed. The A7R IV inherits the same 3in, 1.44-million-dot tilt-angle screen as the Sony A7R III, which supports touch control, however it remains less manoeuvrable than other top-end mirrorless cameras the moment you switch to shooting in the portrait orientation. It’s good in the way the touchscreen can be used to set the focus point and examine magnified images in playback mode, however you’ll find you’re required to use the dials, joystick or four-way controller to navigate the main menu.
After years of putting up with the focus area being drawn in a dull mid-grey that makes it essentially invisible when positioning the AF point manually in situations where subject contrast is low, Sony has finally changed it so the user can change the focus frame colour. Users of the Sony Alpha 7R IV get the option of setting the focus frame colour to white or red. We’re hopeful that this improvement will be made available to existing A7-series cameras in the future via new firmware updates.
Sony Alpha 7R IV – Build & Handling
The Sony Alpha 7R IV brings an array of control improvements across its body. Though its form factor appears identical to existing A7-series models, you’ll notice the exposure compensation dial gains a toggle lock button to prevent it being knocked accidentally, while the focus-area joystick and AF-ON button are both larger, making them just that bit easier to find when your eye is pressed up against the EVF.
The rear dial that was previously embedded into the camera’s back has shifted up onto the top plate and is completely silent when it’s rotated. In an effort to answer customer’s feedback about the handgrip being too small, Sony has also modified the grip. Making it larger has made a real difference and it’s noticeably more comfortable to hold than previous A7-series models.
There’s a new vertical grip too, the VG-C4EM (£400), which mirrors the control layout for portrait-format shooting and houses a pair of NP-FZ100 batteries for extended stamina. The battery life without the vertical grip is claimed to be good for 530 shots using the EVF and 670 using the rear screen.
Sony Alpha 7R IV – First Impressions
With the Alpha 7R IV, Sony has taken many of the comments that were made about its A7R III on board and looked to address them to create an even better all-rounder. An inspection of our first shots taken with the Sony Alpha 7R IV reveals that it’s capable of producing mind blowing levels of detail from its new sensor, giving users greater flexibility when it comes to cropping and preserving the finest details in any given scene.
It’s not just a camera for landscape, architectural and still-life photography. Its enhanced autofocus speed, wide AF coverage, dedicated APS-C mode and large buffer makes it a suitable candidate for shooting moving subjects too. Its not in the same playing field as the Sony A9 when it comes to shooting action and doesn’t present any continuous speed advantages over the A7R III, but to be able to rattle out 61MP images at 10fps for 7 seconds before it requires a breather is extremely impressive given the vast volume of data it has to process.
Though the look and styling of the camera doesn’t appear much different, there’s more to the A7R IV than first meets the eye. You immediately notice the larger grip when it’s picked up, which helps give it a more substantial feel in the hand without being too bulky. It’s the best feeling A7-series camera Sony has made and I wouldn’t be surprised if this larger grip is used across the A7-series lineup from now on. The enhanced weather sealing around the battery cover and terminals is also welcomed.
All things considered, the Sony A7R IV looks like it’s going to be one mightily impressive full-frame camera and one we can’t wait to lay our hands on again to carry out some stringent tests. Our full review sample is expected to arrive in August so you won’t have too long to wait to read our full verdict.