Few cameras generate the kind of hype that the Sony a7R IV did, back when it was launched. The latest generation of Sony’s flagship high resolution full frame shooter came with a staggering 61.2-megapixel full frame sensor, which is literally a huge deal for a professional camera of its kind. For reference, the Sony IMX686 image sensor that powers some of today’s 64-megapixel camera-touting smartphones is a meagre 0.22x its size, and binned pixels or otherwise, that should lend some perspective to the might of the a7R IV.
But, prosumers who are looking at the Sony a7R IV will likely know that this makes for laughable comparison. After all, a camera whose body itself costs Rs 2,99,990 would definitely have stronger competition than smartphones, which it does. But, where the Sony a7R IV impresses the most is in the way it flexes its muscles, the way in which it makes its sheer power felt. At times, it almost feels like this is a near-invincible camera, which, until you look at certain elements really closely, it almost is.
So, what makes the Sony a7R such a beast of a camera? Going beyond its spec sheet, here are your answers.
Straight off the bat, the resolution advantages will reflect well with users who need this kind of power when they are shooting, for instance, fashion portfolios or billboard flexes. Sony has combined this with a new, real time AF tracking feature that has been doused with machine learning to show actual improvements over its predecessor, the already-excellent Sony a7R III. While most would expect a camera of such high resolution to go gentle on continuous shooting speeds, the Sony a7R IV does the opposite — it shoots at up to 10 frames per second, albeit with some restrictions.It also offers Pixel Shift — a feature where in static shots, the a7R IV can take four or 16-shot arrays where based on a central point, the camera shifts the sensor by half a pixel to take four shots, and continues the sensor shift process until 16 such photographs are shot. The advantage of this is that users can manually stitch these shots together to create massive, 240-megapixel images. Furthermore, the Pixel Shift mode means all red, green and blue data are captured to the fullest, and there is no need for demosaicing or reconstructing the full colour details. However, this has its own problems too — Sony’s Pixel Shift still does not account for motion correction in post processing, so if there is any movement at all during the shot, you will have no way to remove it on the edit table. More importantly, Sony’s editing tool that you’ve to use to stitch the images together is incredibly cumbersome. Even for a professional photographer who’s more used to such heavy workflows, it will certainly be a huge pain.
However, coming to the fundamentals, the Sony a7R IV can shoot stellar out-of-camera JPEGs, with brilliant dynamic range and, as the sensor would suggest, offers super impressive reproduction of fine and coarse details. Coupled with this is splendid and accurate white balance performance, which also offers manual micro-control of white balance settings and multiple, configurable manual presets that becomes really convenient when you shoot in repeated scenarios, such as sports arenas. The results lead to excellent colour accuracy, great dynamic range, good noise performance at most ISO levels, and no annoying over-sharpening, banding or incidental artifacts, which make life so much easier. The only issue that I faced is the occasional run-in with moire, but the in-camera compression appears to preserve details well, despite a few inconsistencies.
Talking of sports arenas, what’s impressive to note is the buffer memory depth despite this super high resolution sensor. With full focus lock, the Sony a7R IV can shoot at up to 10fps, which is really impressive. However, there are a few points to be noted here — at full speed, the Sony a7R IV only manages to shoot JPEGs, or compressed RAW files with 12-bit readout, which reduces the amount of post-processing flexibility you would have at hand. For full flexibility of the a7R IV’s dynamic range and resolution benefits, you will have to shoot at 14-bit RAW readouts, which reduces the overall speed of shooting.
The next important bit to talk about is the autofocus system — Sony features a 567-point wide phase detection autofocus unit, with 425-point contrast AF hybrid mechanism. What’s more important here is the real time AF tracking system, which not only offers a neat touch-assisted layout for you to select and enable, but also locks on to faces very, very accurately. This is particularly useful when shooting videos in spontaneous conditions, or in photography, shooting portraits at a wedding or parties. The new autofocus system is not only super accurate, but also precise and very stable, and makes for one of the standout features of the camera.
A few compromising factors can be the slightly tricky high ISO, low light noise generated in photographs, which seems like a bit of an oddball here. It still fares very strongly in general low light conditions, but does feel compromised when out in the wild. Apart from this, the Sony a7R IV is a beast of a camera that feels like it can conquer any scenario that is thrown at it. With such a high resolution sensor, the buffer depth is impressive, and the largely improved autofocus system, coupled with its ease of use, excellent colours, great white balance tuning and splendid dynamic range certainly makes it one of the very best cameras you can buy today.
Thanks to the amazing new sensor, the Sony a7R IV can produce full-sensor width, sub-sampled 4K videos at 30fps, or over-sampled 1080p videos at 120fps. The a7R IV offers focus peaking, which coupled with the splendid display is a life saver when shooting under bright conditions. The a7R IV offers 8-bit 4K footage transfer over HDMI, and now features the excellent real-time AF tracking feature in videos too, which yet again makes life easier. The low noise performance is particularly evident, especially when using the full sensor area. It also gives users multiple log shooting modes, which yet again makes life easier for a somewhat amateur videographer like me.
An example of a teaser movie, shot at oversampled 4K 30fps on the Sony a7R IV, and edited on Final Cut Pro X minus any colour grading.
On overall terms, the Sony a7R IV’s videography performance looks just as detailed, crisp, noise-free, accurate to colours and precise to white balance as I would have hoped. This is coupled with the multiple log modes to get better grip on the colour, and I particularly love the over-sampled, high frame rate 1080p videos for my regular workflow, since it helps effectively manage file sizes while retaining everything that I would want my videos to.
Build, ergonomics and battery life
The Sony a7R IV is built to last, and there is absolutely no questioning how sturdy its weather sealing feels. Being a rather heavy mirrorless body, it’s important and heartening to see that the Sony a7R IV gets such a sizeable hand grip to go with. It also has excellent button customisation options, and lets you select a whole bunch of buttons through which you can configure practically any frequently used settings, both for photos and videos.
However, what I’m still not a fan of is the Sony interface. While it does seem organised, actually figuring out all the settings takes painstakingly long. It can get a bit irritating, even in convenient areas such as configuring the camera buttons. Sony should look at introducing a simpler menu layout like Canon’s, which contributes significantly towards making a camera easier to handle.
The camera features a 5.76-million dot electronic viewfinder, which is excellent at its job, but consumes a fair amount of battery. The a7R IV unit that we received also had a strange issue of a malfunctioning proximity sensor, because of which the camera would at times keep switching between EVF and live view display by itself, repeatedly. This created a bit of an annoyance, but it is safe to presume that this is a device flaw, and may not happen with too many retail units. However, while the EVF is excellent, Sony needs to figure out why it simply cannot roll out its touchscreen input support to its entire interface. Despite having touch support, its limited implementation hinders the usage flow of the a7R IV.
In terms of battery life, the Sony a7R IV offers decent battery backup for a camera of its nature. That said, its approximate 600-shot photo cycle means that you will need to charge it every day when holidaying, and multiple times when out on projects.