Equipment

A Studio Photographer’s Review of the Sony a7R IV

Since the release of the Sony Alpha series of cameras back in October of 2013, Sony has been on a steady pace to take over the professional camera market. But that steady takeover has come with a lot of releases. Nearly six years later, ten different cameras have been released into the Alpha series. With that many released, the burden of product development has hit the wallets the hardest. Even still, it’s hard to debate the incredible product that Sony is producing, especially when looking at the competition. So today, we’re going to look at the latest and greatest from Sony’s busy release cycle, the Sony a7R Mark IV.

Overview & Features

The Sony a7R IV is the latest in Sony’s full-frame mirrorless system and is a feature-full camera system designed for the professional photographer. If you’re familiar with the a7R line of cameras, you’re probably already well versed in what they have to offer, and I’ll spare you on talking about every little detail about the camera. However, there is still a lot of talk about that is new with the system, most notably the latest sensor. Sony has dethroned the Canon 5DR has the highest resolution full-frame camera with its impressive 61 megapixels. While one could argue that no one needs 61 megapixels, and I’d at least passively listen to their arguments, one subset of photographers (a subset I’m apart of and will approach this review as) that would disagree, are studio photographers. 61 megapixels has a lot of uses in a studio environment, where resolution is a significant hurdle to consider when shooting for various brands and campaigns. And if 61mp isn’t enough with the Sony a7R IV, Sony has also implemented pixel shift, giving you the option to take 16 different photos, where the sensor is moved by half a pixel each time, and giving you the effective resolution up to 240mp.

But the updates don’t stop at just resolution. The Sony a7R IV has also improved their already impressive autofocus system – bumping the phase-detection focus points from 399 on the Sony a7r III to 567 phase-detection points on the Sony a7r IV. They also improved on the already excellent electric viewfinder, extending its dot panel to 5.7 million dots. The new Sony a7r IV also saw the criticism of Nikon Z7‘s single memory card slot and equipped the new system with two SD slots. Rounding out the feature list is ten fps shooting, USB Type-C charging/tethering, and options for wifi tethering with full RAW transferring.

Sony a7R IV Review

When it comes to video, Sony offers up the same features that were in the Sony a7s II, but offers an improved autofocus system, and removing the 29 minute record time limitations. Out of the box, the Sony a7r IV offers 4K records up to 30fps and offers the Eye AF autofocus system while in use. Dropping the resolution down to 1080p gives you an impressive 120fps with their boasted 14-stops of dynamic range. While many videographers are begging for a refresh to the a7s line of Sony systems, Sony seems to be combining the two platforms with this release, offering you an incredibly capable video camera in the body of a 61mp monster of a stills camera.

Build Quality

Perhaps one thing I noticed first when I received the Sony a7R IV in the mail, though, was it’s subtle size change. I have pretty large hands, and my biggest criticism with many of the mirrorless systems is that they just don’t feel comfortable to hold. As a shoot who will carry his Canon 5D Mark IV in my hands for 8-10 hour days, I want to make sure I have a camera that feels good to hold. Upon grabbing the Sony a7R IV out of the box, I was surprised by how well it felt in my hands, and so I immediately went online to see what was changed about the camera.

For one, the grip of the camera is now slightly larger, and has a stronger curve into it, for better grip. These slight changes make a pretty signification change on how the camera feels in your hand. The worries of dropping your camera are now lessened, and the subtle differents are much appreciated. Aside from the slight design change, the Sony a7R IV feels a lot like the other modern cameras in the alphas series. The magnesium alloy is sturdy in design while keeping the camera lightweight and easy to hold for long periods of time.

Sony a7R IV review

Sony a7R IV (left) vs. Sony a7R III (right)

 

Aside from these slight body changes, there are no obvious changes to the Sony a7R IV from its previous iterations. In fact, one thing I’m relatively impressed with is that Sony doesn’t even brand its cameras with the official model name, with the exception of a tiny badge on the top. The front of the camera says “Sony a7R”, and makes no mention of which version it is. Only the strap gives the ‘Mark’ of the camera, and this level of discretion is appreciated. Where I once was a photographer who wanted everyone to see the red ring on my Canon lenses, showing off its price tag to the world, I’ve now become way more discrete with my gear, and would instead not tell the world its value with a gaudy label or red ring.

Each of the doors is equipped with dense rubber around the edges to help with protection from water and dust. All of the buttons and dials feel well built and clicky, and I have no worries about the long term life of this camera…from a build perspective. Knowing Sony, the Sony a7R V may be set to release within a year, and well before these cameras are broken. For a more in-depth perspective on the build quality of this camera, we’ll have to wait until one arrives back at our office broken, so we can unleash Roger and Aaron to take one apart and document the process fully.

Sony a7r IV Review

Additional Features

Most certainly, you’ve probably heard the biggest downfall of mirrorless cameras – poor battery life. My approach to this review admittedly didn’t have as much foresight as I had planned, and when I placed my order, I didn’t include additional batteries with my review. Over the course of the week with the rental, I had scheduled multiple shoots, and intended on spending 20+ hours taking photos with this camera – so the single battery included in the rental had me worried. However, being a studio photographer, and spending those 20+ hours predominantly in my studio, Sony had resolved my worries with one of their greatest features – USB battery charging. 

Sony a7RIV w/ Sony 90mm Macro G Series
f/6.3, 1/160s, ISO 50
Photo by Zach Sutton

100% Crop

Most of my work comes tethered to a computer with the use of Capture One. This helps me get a better look at the photos as I shoot them, and allow my makeup artist, hairstylist, and other members of the team to look for any issues with the photos as I’m shooting in real-time. With the camera plugged into my laptop using USB Type-C, I quickly noticed that the camera was being charged while I was shooting. For an entire 10 hour shooting day, I didn’t see the battery drop below 98%, and the entire time shooting, I didn’t have to swap batteries once. Additionally, the use of USB 3.2 Type-C allowed for transfer speeds that were faster than anything else I’ve ever used – and the images were displayed in Capture One Pro nearly instantly, despite being 62mp in size.

Sony a7RIV w/ Sony 90mm Macro G Series
f/11, 1/160s, ISO 160
Photo by Zach Sutton

100% crop

Furthermore, I really have to give Sony credit with their latest updates to their already incredible autofocus system. The Sony a7R III was previously known as one of the best in terms of autofocus, and Sony added a turbo to the system, making it even better in the Sony a7R IV. In addition to the 567 phase-detection points covering 74% of the frame, Sony has also updated the Real-Time Eye AF system, which I found to be incredibly accurate. In general use, I typically will pick my focus point, focus, and recompose the shot so that the eyes are in focus. But the end of my tenure with the Sony a7R IV, I reliability put my full trust into the Eye AF system, allowing the camera to find the eyes for me, removing the need to recompose.

The Shortfall

My biggest critical critique comes with the UX design of the Sony a7R IV. To put it poignant and simply, Sony is a technology company, and nothing more starkly shows that than with their camera systems. One thing I appreciate about pretty much every camera system is that you can flip the switch, find the dials, and it just works. As long as you’re well versed in camera bodies, you can generally work with a Nikon, Canon, or even Pentax without any hiccups.

That doesn’t hold true with Sony. When I received the Sony a7R IV from my friendly FedEx delivery person, I was excited to flip it on, set the date and time, and get to work. However, I encountered several speedbumps on the road to shooting. For one, I’m a studio photographer and shoot tethered at every opportunity. I had previously updated my Capture One to the newest version, assuring that the Sony a7R IV would be compatible out of the box. Though, upon plugging the camera into the laptop, I learned it wasn’t going to be that easy. Want to tether with the Sony a7R IV? You need to go to your settings, and find the PC Remote setting, and turn it on. Is that setting next to the USB settings in the menu? Of course not…it’s in the network settings.

The scavenger hunt doesn’t stop there. If you want to use remote flash, like a Pocketwizard or Profoto TTL-S trigger, you need to dig through the settings and find Silent Shooting and turn it off. But you’re not done there, you also then need to go and find the Flash setting, and turn it to Wireless. Only then will your hotshoe work like it’s intended to.

Sony a7RIV w/ Sony 90mm Macro G Series f/14, 1/160s, ISO 100
Photo by Zach Sutton

And these are just a couple examples among many. Simply put, when moving to Sony camera systems, you’ll find yourself navigating the convoluted menu system ad nauseum.

What I Liked 

  • Heavy on features while maintaining a small footprint
  • Impressive 61mp sensor 
  • Quick and accurate autofocus
  • Tethered charging is a huge asset in the studio
  • Better ergonomics from previous generations

What Could Be Improved 

  • Unnecessarily complex menu system
  • Sony’s platform is still the most expensive to get into professionally

Conclusion

Confidently, I can say that the Sony a7R IV is the best full-frame camera on the market today. The incredible image quality paired with a plethora of additional features makes it as close to the perfect studio camera as one could currently get. However, the Sony a7r IV isn’t exclusively built for the studio either. When needed, the Sony a7R IV takes an impressive 10fps and has all the added features for a broad range of photographers. This feature-rich camera personally checks all of the boxes for me and has been the first system brought by Sony that has gotten me seriously contemplating selling all my Canon gear and persuing Sony.

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • Ross Dettman

    Zach, I now see that Live View is not yet supported for the A7R4 in Capture One.

  • Ross Dettman

    Solid images Zach and an extremely accurate review. Thank you. Have you been able to use Capture One 12 Live View with the A7R4? I’ve tried and it displays the message “Live View is not supported for the connected device using PTP”.

  • It’s not a huge difference going from 50 to 60 I guess? The upcoming high res EOS R is expected to have 80 or something. Unless if you’re adapting your EF glass it will be a pain to switch back and forth. Financial pain as well πŸ˜‰

  • I was also curious about the modifier and actually tried to count the petals in the catchlights πŸ™‚ Got 18 and was puzzled (I know it should be either 16 or 24).

    I guess you shoot the Parabolix with the ProTwin, but wondering if you had a chance to try it with your B1? I’m still waiting for my 45 to be shipped (they are soooooo slow). Got a longer rod from the 65″ version in a hope to help with my flat heads in the flooded position.

  • Ken

    Great Review.

  • Mark

    Cheers!

  • Thanks for taking the time to read the review, Athanasius.

  • Mostly because the lens mounted to my camera 99% of the time is my Canon 100L Macro. And when shooting beauty, I move in to get macro shots of the eyes and lips and such pretty often.

  • 45 In Parabolic Umbrella from Parabolix. Focusing rod set to around 3.

  • Mark

    Which modifier? I’m guessing some kinda of parabolic?

  • David Evans

    Zach, a very interesting review thank you. Out of interest, why did you choose the 90mm macro lens instead of the 85mm GM lens? I’m not a studio photographer so the question is purely out of interest.
    Having used Sony for nearly three years, I still have to use Google to find things in the menu system! The My Menu feature is an absolute must!

  • Nicholas Bedworth

    User interface/user experience design is completely unrelated to typical engineering fields such as optics and electronics. It’s the embodiment of the user’s intended goals and cognitive expectations, and as such is inherently an aspect of psychology and social behavior.

    The typical bench engineer does not have these skills, and believes that UI/UX is just for third rate engineers and interns. Many of the jokes in Dilbert unfortunately reflect typical attitudes in the engineering fields.

    So the Sony UI/UX is essentially an expression of all the options available at the hardware and software levels, without much attempt to “massage” them into more user oriented presentations (and there might be multiple classes of users for a given product). It’s a bottom up imposition of hardware considerations onto the user, rather than the reverse.

    BTW most UI for electronics products are farmed out to third-party contractors who have value-add in localization (meaning dozens of languages) and validation (new firmware releases with new features) as well as checking dependencies (does activating feature x clobber feature y?).

    The Sony UI is a highly mechanical and unintelligent system, with many unnecessary keystrokes, each of which is a potential source of frustrating error. Clearly UI/UX has a low priority at Sony, but of course is a major weakness as almost all comments point out.

    Does Sony allow developer access to the chassis? There might be a nice business opportunity for a UI/UX firm to produce a custom approach for managing the camera.

    We are active in this area because of our work in machine-learning driven medical devices, which are exotic contraptions that need to be usable by normal people. Yes, it requires a team of PhD level UI/UX scientists to establish the concepts and procedures, but then “anyone” can pick up the device and start using it to get their work done. They could care less about the device, but they just assessed a patient in 5 seconds with 2 button presses.

  • terry Stahly

    I hate the dial on the A9 being able to quickly change these with a custom button and the wheel with my eye still I the viewfinder is much faster and easier than having to lower the camera look at it and use two hands to change to continuous Hi when needed the bird has flown away.

  • Stanislaw Zolczynski

    Now, what lenses are resolving this sensor?

  • Freddy

    #1. Build quality. I don’t think it’s a subject photographers are suited to talking about. I even struggle with it (despite my qualifications) because unless you can speak to the designer and understand everything, it’s hard to judge. Unless you can check the calibrations on all of the CNC equipment as well, feeling a cold piece of metal doesn’t necessarily mean good build quality. I certainly question why the a9II has a stronger mount though. Should we infer the a7r IV is designed poorly? Or is the stronger mount on the a9II unnecessary? You cannot make a change like that and both cameras be equal.
    #2. Ethernet port. I’m an FTP fanboy and I’d have liked to see the ethernet port in the a7r IV. There’s no excuse on this one.
    #3. The extra dial is incredibly useful on the a9 series.
    #4. I never thought the battery consumption on mirrorless cameras was high. I thought some of the batteries were low capacity.

    That said, I cannot use the a9 series because I need the resolution and I also want the higher quality EVF. So basically I’m forced into having a wooden fork or a plastic knife. I cannot buy a plastic fork or something which does any particular task perfectly. I shoot Sony, I’ll remain to buy Sony cameras but it’s aggravating. I wish that they all had the same physical layout and sensors dictated what you shot. We’re not far away from Sony deliberately gimping their software to market their cameras.

    As for the menu system… I don’t think it’s something the majority of people are mentally capable of grasping. I know it sounds awfully condescending, but a lot still seem to think it simply requires you to get used to the camera. If your car randomly goes backwards, in third gear, you can get used to it and not face that problem. Does it make the car better or did you just mask the problem? Sony camera menus require unnecessary button presses to change any particular value even if you operate them with 100% efficiency and without mistake.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    Now this, Zach, is very good short review. It won’t help sports or wildlife shooters, but it covers topics that are rarely touched upon by other reviewers. What you mention about the UX is certainly inexcusable, and as the roster of options continues to grow on Sony cameras, it only gets worse. It might have something to do with their corporate culture indeed, as all of the PlayStations I’ve owned have been confusing as hell in terms of menus ?

    Anyway, thank you. Oh, BTW, gorgeous photos! I have never seen such good studio shots in a camera review before.

  • obican

    Could you let me know if you try it sometime?

    It wouldn’t be the first time Sony did something in the firmware department to exclude live view tethering from some of their models. I know they have their own tethering software this time so maybe there’s a conflict somewhere but if that is indeed the case, I’d find it to be very annoying.

  • Hey there,
    I didn’t try to enable live view on C1 when I was tethered, but if it’s not available now, I imagine the feature would be coming soon.

  • Hey Ronald,
    Thanks for taking the time to read the article. My work with Canon is very similar to what I produced with the Sony (Though you can see examples on the Canon at https://instagram.com/zsuttonphoto). Out of the box, I generally like Canon’s color better, as I got a little more green and yellows out of skintones with the Sony. But it’s a quick adjustment with white balance.

    For me, the reason for switching is the resolution. Shooting beauty, it’s nice to be able to crop in for some macro shots with ease.

  • Ronald Diepenbroek

    seriously you are thinking of switching to Sony. Does Canon come close to these photo’s.

  • Thank you JP.

  • Thank you Salar.

    All the photos were lit with either Profoto B1’s or a Profoto Pro Twin Head.

  • JP

    This is a terrific write-up, Zach! For those that turtle in the studio, this short review is way more useful than most of the longer ones out there.

  • Salar Barekatain MS, DDS

    amazing photos, do you mind me asking what flash system do you use?

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