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.