Back in July, Sony announced the a7R iv and it caught everyone by surprise. Nobody expected a 61 megapixel camera, including me. Truth be told, at first I wasn’t sure I needed it. But then I used one and the reasons (for me at least) became clear. So I thought I’d write about my first couple of months with the camera.
Who is this for?
Really quick, before we get started. This isn’t a tech review. It’s written for a Sony shooter, who wants to know if they should upgrade to an a7R iv. I won’t try to sell you on switching to Sony. If you’re like me, I want to hear about a camera from some one who shoots that brand of camera and can compare it with other models of that brand. Not some one that tries out every camera model possible, and is just going to confuse me more than when I started after the review 🙂
Let’s start with the features that were considered new for this camera…
New IBIS System: This is something I’m really excited about. IBIS means In Body Image Stabilization. While many of you reading this are used to your lenses have image stabilization built in to them, many Sony cameras also have in-body stabilization built in to the camera. And when you decide to make the jump to a 61 megapixel sensor, you definitely need to make sure IBIS is up to par. It’s one of those things that’s impossible to compare with another camera or earlier version of the r4, but what I can tell you is that the photo below is handheld, at f/11 and 1/8 th of a second and pretty freakin’ sharp if you zoom in. In fact, I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is and let you download the raw file and pixel peep as much as you’d like 🙂 (Click Here to Download)
Not tethering myself to a tripod on this shoot made it so I walked away with many more compositions than I would have otherwise.
Ergonomics: There is definitely a new grip and you’ll feel it immediately if you’ve been a Sony shooter. I personally was never bothered by the previous grip, so this one doesn’t stand out to me. But it definitely is a deeper area to hold the camera.
The joystick on the back has these little dimples in it now and it’s larger and easier to use. Several of the buttons are also larger. And the Exposure compensation dial now has a lock on it so you don’t accidentally move it (love that feature).
Auto Focus– this is one of the stars of the show for the r4. Over the past 4-5 years I’ve been photographing a lot more wildlife. To be honest, before I did that, auto focus was one of the last things I cared about as a landscape photographer. The auto focus we had 15 years ago is fine when your subject is still.
It’s when they start moving that this becomes really important.
Sony has been leading the charge with auto focus and the r4 totally shows it. It’s got more focus points (567 phase detection on the r4, vs 399 on the r3), and covers more of the image area (74% vs 68%) In fact, one of the very first shoots I did with the camera was of some Ospreys one morning at Sparks Lake outside of Bend, Oregon. Having shot with the Sony a9, my requirements were pretty heavy when it came to auto focus. So the r4 had big shoes to fill. And it did fantastic my first time out. The camera tracked and locked on to the birds. Other than 10 less frames per second (a9 is 20 fps and r4 is 10), I couldn’t tell a difference.
So what does this really mean for a landscape and wildlife shooter? Well, for me, I would typically shoot my r3 for landscapes and still life. But I’d reach for my a9 if I was shooting wildlife. Now, I find myself reaching for the r4 much more for wildlife photos. The crop-ability of the large file (or shooting in Crop mode), and the auto focus enhancements make it an excellent wildlife camera.
Megapixels– Okay, here’s the big one that everyone is asking about. Sony didn’t just up the game from the r3 a little. They added about 1/3 more megapixels for a total of 61 MP. That’s huge. The file size is about 9500 pixels x 6300 pixels.
At 200 ppi, which is give or take about what I try to print at for most viewing “normal” distances, that’s a 48 x 32 inch print. Much larger than probably most people reading this ever print. Some of you may want to get techie because some one told you to print at 240 ppi, and that’s fine – but that still makes a 40×26 inch print. And if you were printing on canvas, you could probably double that size.
So… do we really need it? Nope. In this day of everyone shooting with large full frame cameras, editing on a large computer, and then saving their image down to a postage stamp size photo and emailing to themselves to share on Instagram, we definitely don’t need it. And that’s what I thought until I shot with it.
Here’s what changed it for me
Here’s what changed my view on this. That morning, while out photographing the Ospreys, I was pretty far away. Even with the 200-600 lens, I wasn’t able to get close enough. But once you crop in to fill the frame I was still left with a 2500+ pixel file. While I’m not sure I’d print this one big, it’s PLENTY big enough to share on social media and it would look awesome.
Then it was reinforced on a recent landscape shoot while teaching a workshop in Tuscany. I was photographing some hills and had a 24-70 lens on. I saw some interesting patterns in the distance and thought about putting the 70-200 on instead. But then I realized I have 61 megapixels to work with. If I can fill half the frame with what I wanted, I still have 30+ megapixels which is still way more than I’ll probably ever need. Or you can just switch to the APS-C crop mode and you get a 26 megapixels (again, still really big).
Same thing with photo at sunrise in Venice. With amazing light like this in front of me, the last thing I wanted to do was change lenses. I shot the whole thing with my 16-35mm on knowing I can crop in to any part and still have a photo big enough to print with.
Do I like to get the best photo in camera? Absolutely! But I also like anything that makes my shooting easier, so I can concentrate on the important things in the field like composition. As an example… I know how to nail the exposure of a landscape photo in camera. But I use bracketing techniques, so I don’t have to worry about looking at exposure, histograms, blinkies, etc.. while I’m trying to be creative and make a great composition. Same thing goes here. I know how to get the composition that I want by choosing the right focal length. But if I can shoot with a 24-70mm and then zoom in on some detailed compositions (after) without changing lenses, that makes my photography better and keeps me shooting instead of changing lenses. Note that you can’t do with with all subjects and all lenses, as the effect of compression and other differences between wide and zoom lenses will come in to play. But when it comes to changing out a 24-70 and a 70-200 for landscapes, the crop-ability of the photo comes in really handy.
The Surprise Benefit of 61 Megapixels
The other thing that, as a wildlife photographer, I’ve come to like about the extra megapixels is that it gives me a look in to the world of the animal I’m photographing that I’ve never seen. There’s something really fun and cool about being able to zoom in so far, and see little nuances about the wildlife that you would not have been able to see. Whether I use those megapixels for the sharing or printing of the photo, or whether I just enjoy them on my own while reviewing photos, it’s a real benefit for me and something I wouldn’t want to give up.
Other Nice to Haves
I won’t go in to detail but I’ll point out a few nice-to-have features. They weren’t revolutionary for me, but nice improvements…
- Adjustable AF points can now change color instead of being gray (gray was very hard to see).
- Dual UHS-II Card slots (whatever that means).
- A new battery grip (which I don’t use).
- Menu access while buffering (nice!).
- And better weather sealing (again, really nice although I never personally had a problem with the r3 – even in rain and snow).
I’m trying to come up with bad stuff to say and it’s hard. See, I’m not a gear reviewer guy. I simply talk about the stuff I use. If you like it… great! If you don’t… well, as much as I like you and all, I wasn’t really thinking about you when I bought it 🙂 All of the people I watch on Youtube have a job to review all types of gear and come up with good and bad things to say because people want to hear it all. Which is why you get people complaining about the size of a button, or the way a memory card is inserted.
I shoot Sony. I switched 4-5 years ago. I don’t shoot other cameras anymore, and I’m used to my Sony’s, their menus, etc… So I’m not trying to talk you in to buying a Sony. My goal is to give people who had an a7R 2 or 3 (or any Sony camera), the information they need to know if the r4 is right for them.
So when it comes to “the bad” about the camera, I don’t have much because I wouldn’t be shooting the camera if were bad. Just about every criticism I had about Sony’s cameras, 4-5 years ago, are gone. But the one thing I’ll say that makes the r4 worth upgrading, is it’s biggest downside too… the size of the raw file.
Each uncompressed raw photo is 122 MB. That’s up 40 MB from the r3. So you’ll fill your memory cards 1/3 faster, it’ll take 1/3 longer to copy files over to a hard drive, and your processing speed will slow down (though, those speeds aren’t necessarily slower by 1/3 since computers don’t work that way).
And if you want to keep pressing me for something bad (sheesh! lay off already!) 😉 – I will say I wish they had a built in timer for long exposures. Sony cameras are so technically advanced, that it just seems time for a feature like that.
I’ll finish up by breaking this down as simple as I can. This camera is for some one that wants 61 megapixels. All of the other improvements are great, but the a7R iii was a great camera too. While the AF in the r4 is definitely a contender for one of the top features – and if you shoot moving subjects this should be a consideration – the real selling point of the camera is the 61 megapixels.
And oddly enough, as some one who shoots landscapes and wildlife, I’m more excited about this camera for wildlife than anything. 42 MP was plenty for my landscapes. I simply don’t print large enough, often enough to need anything bigger. But the ability to crop in on wildlife (and landscape/travel too) is what has really made this camera hit home for me. If that’s an important consideration to you (as it was for me), then this is a huge leap forward.
I just purchased the A7R3, with FE 100-400, because I would like to go into bird photography. But after some days I feel some regrets about not buying the R4 (and after reading your review). But I was intimidated by the 120MB files…Before this I used to shoot with an a6000 (PC with just 16GB right now). So I don’t know if I should exchange cameras in order to make more of those 61MP or stay with the R3 to be able to handle better the size files.
Hope to hear from you!
Hi. Both cameras will be a great upgrade for you. Auto Focus is definitely upgraded in the R4, so that will help greatly with bird photography. Or consider the a9 (even better than the r4 for bird photography) series if you’re looking for smaller files. Again, each one will be better than what you had, so I’d get the most expensive one you can afford as they each get better. Finally, if you can return the 100-400, I would strongly suggest the 200-600mm for bird photography. Good luck!
Hi I currently own the a7iii and I’ve loved it ever since I made the switch to Sony. I do primarily portrait stuff like Family, couples, maternity, weddings etc. Ive really been considering not getting rid of my a7ii7 actually adding to my arsenal with the a7riv because 2 is always better than 1. Any ways what are your thoughts about a portrait photographer using the a7riv for that?
Hi Michael. I guess I’d say the main reason to add the r4 would be for print size or crop-ability. If you find you’re having to crop in on your photos a lot and losing the size to print at what you want, then the r4 will help. If that’s not a problem, I’m not sure what adding it would help for you. Hope that helps.
I am thinking about getting a completely new set of camera equipment. My decision is pending between Sony A7r IV combined with some GM lenses or a Leica SL2 with a set of Leica glasses. I really live the bokeh of Leica lenses but the Sony seems to be the better, more modern working horse. The intended use is really a wide range. Landscape, animals, studio portrait with strobes, some architecture. So from a tool perspective the Sony is in lead. From emotions and out of camera picture quality i see the Leica in front. And due to the fact that large prints are one of my goals i am not sure if i will be happy with the Sony option. At the end searching the web for good image samples i ended up on your page and Sony is back in game. Is there any option to share 2-3 raw files, a mix of landscape, animals to see what i can expect from the Sony.
I would really appreciate your help. To take the step of investing a hell of money – at least for me its really a lot – is not easy being not 100% sure. Would be also interesting to know how much time you invest in picture processing and editing?
Hello..As much as i would like to get this camera i cant really afford it BUT what are your thoughts on the original a7 paired with the 200-600mm lens i love wildlife and airshows im not worried about birds in flight would this be a good combination Sorry if this has been asked before.
Hi Stephen – It’s a great lens. I haven’t used it on that camera, so I can’t say anything specific. But the lens itself would work the same regardless of camera. Good luck!
just found your page when looking for A7R4 and 200-600 via. Google. First let me confirm what you are writing here about the great advantages of the A7R4. The cropping ability with that camera is insane.
As you also use the 200-600 with it, I was wondering if you also encounter AF/Focus issues with that combo?
Could you give some insides of your settings, regarding AFC sensivity (1-5), Priority-Set (release/balanced/AF), Hi+ or Hi only?
In many forums worldwide there is a lot of discussion going on, so it would be helpful to have your thoughts on that.
Hi Guido – I don’t change of sensitivity settings or anything in the menus. My setup for birds in flight is:
– Continuous Hi (not +)
– Focus Mode: AFC
– Focus Area: Zone (I use center for most moving wildlife)
You can see photos I’ve taken with these settings at https://mattk.com/sandkey
I have to say that honestly I stay far away from online discussion groups or forums. I usually leave more confused than when I got there 🙂
Hope that helps!
Thanks for sharing the information about this camera. It’s very helpful since I’m in decision making mode.
It was mentioned that in order to get the best landscape exposure in the camera, bracketing techniques are used. I understand it is best to get as much information as possible for the picture, so will the 61 mp’s resolution give someone enough exposure information so they may not have to bracket the shot?
Hi. 61MP actually doesn’t affect “information” in the photo. It’s more about the size of the photo, but it won’t change whether or not you need to bracket. That said, Sony’s are one of the best out there when it comes to dynamic range in the raw photo, which means you typically won’t have to bracket (I know I don’t need to for my landscapes). Good luck!
My wife is looking to replace her Nikon D500 used for birds and wildlife photography with the a7R4. She is using Lightroom for editing and are wondering if she will need to replace her 4 year old computer (windows i5 8GB) to edit photos? I can put up to 12GB Ram in and a SSD.
Hi Don. My 2016 MacBook Pro does pretty good with the photos. I think I have 16gb of ram.
It’s not a speed demon but usable.
Nice post. What do you think of the camera after shooting with it for a few months now. I’m an amateur and have both a small RX100 series camera and had a a6500 but decided to splurge and upgrade to this and some really good lenses during the holiday season. And my lenses have in-body stabilization — but I’m finding that some of my images seem a bit grainy, or blurred where I wouldn’t expect them to be. But perhaps it’s just user error — I’m definitely going to keep trying before I decide it’s the camera! I did get some decent bird in flight tests but they seem a bit grainy if I start pixel-peeping or crop them significantly.
Hi Cheryl. I love the r4. It’s the camera I didn’t think I wanted that I can’t live without now.
As for noise, the RX100 and 6500 aren’t full frame so they’ll definitely be noiseier. My guess is you’re pixel peeping a bit. Nobody will see them that close so don’t judge noise too much. Look at it to fill your computer screen and no more than that. And noise will smooth out in print, so try printing them and you’ll notice they look great.
Matt, Thank you for this information. My wife and I are considering go to Sony equipment and I have one question about the 7R4, Does the viewfinder go black during the shot? I have found this to be a severe problem with the Canon R; it has proven to almost bring flight shots to none, since tracking is so crippled.
Hi Richard – no, there is no blackout. You’ll love it!
Hi Matt! Thanks for the Infos. What do you think about the high resolution Eye View Finder. I do a lot Manual Fokus Photographs. Sometimes with older MF Primes. Is the view Finder good enough to focus manually without Assist Systems like magnification? BR Ralf
Hi. The Sony viewfinder works great for me. I generally don’t use the back of the camera, but look through the viewfinder when checking sharpness and have never had a problem.
Hi Matt, great practical review and I’ve recently placed my toe in the sand from Canon to the Sony A7riv. I have to say that perhaps there is some sort of quality control issue as my camera doesn’t perform well with the 200-600 lens and the critical sharpness is lacking. Tracking is terrible for wildlife compared to my Canon 5dmkiv. I’ve followed every suggested setting from Mark Smith, Mark Galer, Art Morris, on down. It’s not technique or experience and for static objects it captures rather well. We’ll see what Sony says…
Another interesting aspect is that compared to my Canon files, I find the Sony RAW images require more work with color, tonality, Noise, Sharpening etc. Perhaps it has something to do with the profiles used by my DAM, On1 PR though my 5dmkiv files are buttery in every respect with that software.
Hi Adam. I can’t speak to the 200-600mm not working for you.
As for Sony and Canon files, I can’t even compare the two personally. Nikon and Sony are basically both excellent. But Canon’s tend to fall apart and I have to do way more work on any canon file I work on. It can also relate to the raw processor you’re using.
As for noise reduction and sharpening, I use Lightroom which is honestly the best out there. But I barely have to do any of it on the Sony files as they come out so clean. Color – well they all look the same to me. There isn’t better color, just different color and it’s all what you see. Anyway, just goes to show everyone is different and sees it a different way. Thanks 🙂
The technical reviews done by youtubers are great, but i like a REAL WORLD review. And that’s what this is, a review by someone who actually shoots and looks at results not MTF charts and pixel peeps with a magnifying glass i have owned each a7 from the beginning and i love my a7Riv. Is it perfect, no. But for mu money—and it was real money—it’s a terrific camera and a worthy, if incremental upgrade from the r3.
I have had the A7RIV since the first day it was available in the USA and love it. I upgraded from my A7RIII which I sold. I also have an A9 and the 200-600mm F5.6-6.3. I found the combo of the A7RIV and the 200-600mm lens was super for wildlife, including BIF. Just a super camera all around. I second your thoughts. Cheers and thanks for posting this.
Thanks for the informative and interesting commentary. I’ve just bought into a A7RIV and I’m moving from a Canon 5DIII. I’ve begun waffling about it on my site but it’s early days yet. I bought with it the 70-200GM, because that was a lens size I’d wanted but not bought in Canon L version. It’s working out well, but I’m really interested now to see how the Sigma MC-11 adaptor copes with my Canon lens estate.
Hey Mark. I’ve never used an adapter. I honestly don’t know anyone that has that’s totally in love with using them, but I can’t personally speak to how well they work. Good luck!
Mark the MC11 is the best of the adapters for Canon glass on Sony cameras. It will work fine for stills, but don’t expect to realize the full frame-per-second burst rates with adapted lenses. For video adapted lenses will not autofocus as well as native E-mount lenses. I was a Canon user for 40 years and moved to Sony. I recommend doing what I did once I knew Sony was for me. I gradually sold off my Canon lenses and moved to native E-mount lenses. That is the way you will get the most performance out of your Sony cameras. Sorry but that is the reality. You can still make good use of adapted Canon glass, but native E-Mount glass from Sony, Tamron, Sigma etc., will perform better.
Hey Matt: I also switched to Sony a number of years ago. I still use my canon lens with a metabones. I have a A7ii and three batteries. The biggest problem I have encountered is the live of the battery. Has battery life improved on the newer Sony cameras. The winters around here can get a little cold which can cause the battery to drain faster. Do you, or have you heard of any problems with the LED not operating properly during exposure to cold weather.
Hi John. They were dramatically improved in the “iii” series of the cameras. I’ll go on a whole day wildlife shoot using the camera constantly and get away with 1 battery now. Thanks!
I told you in NY. I’m thinking of switching to Sony and I’m considering this or the r3. Great write up!
What I wonder about is performance at high ISOs. Does cramming so many megapixels onto the sensor make it noisier at, say, ISO 3200 compared to the R3?
With most wildlife photography, I roll out of bed at 3200 ISO 🙂 It performs great but ISO isn’t really something to think much about these days (or at least I don’t think too much about it). It smooths out in most prints, and you’ll never see it when shared on social media since the photo is so small.
I also shoot wildlife with A7RIV and use Topaz Denoise to clean noise while retaining details. Amazing software that I would highly recommend.
I appreciate your write up. I noticed you kept referring to shooting with the 24-70 and cropping in when needed. What about the 24-105 lens for travels to allow for more flexibility. With this being a G lens and the increased MP of the RIV would it be better to stick with the 24-70GM?
Hey Michael – I don’t own the 24-105mm. But have been thinking about it. I never shoot the 24-70 at f/2.8 so it’s almost pointless and the 24-105mm is on my list in the near future 🙂
I am not Matt but I pair the 24-105 with the RIV and it is simply amazing. I don’t need a fast lens in this range. When I need fast glass I reach for a prime. The flexibility of the 24-105 on the RIV can be great to pair with a fast prime for a 2 lens travel kit.
What prime do you have paired with the 24-105?
I also like the 24-105…very sharp and versatile. Outdoors I never shoot at 2.8… and 2.8 indoors isn’t sufficient anyway so your better of with one prime if needed. I actually sold off my 24-70GM after owning the 24-105 for a few weeks. It’s that good
I recently purchased an A7RIV (switching from Fuji) and the 24-105 f/4 (very sharp). I live on the Front Range in Colorado, surrounded by wildlife and beautiful landscapes, so I’ve added a fast wide prime (Sony 24mm f1.4 GM) and the Sony 200-600mm. Based on the varied equipment I’ve owned in the past, and the cropping capacity of a 61 MP sensor, I think I’ve got all my bases covered from a light travel kit for when I visit my son in NYC to a heavy backpack of kit ready for a safari. Expensive for sure but a pretty amazing non-classic 3 lens set up
A Refreshing, honest description. You said what was relevant to you and stressed the abilities of the camera.
Thank you. Not that I will ever be able to afford one but enjoyed dreaming.