Sony A7R IV Field Test

Landscapes, Portraits, Wildlife & More! Is the A7R IV Sony's most versatile camera yet?

by William Brawley | Posted 09/16/2019

FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 5000

Sony might not have straight-up called it a competitor to medium format cameras, but the new A7R Mark IV, complete with the world's first 61-megapixel full-frame sensor, might as well be, at least to some degree. However, the A7R IV is more than just a "simple" high-resolution camera, as it sports enough processing power to capture full-resolution images at up to 10fps, offers fast real-time Eye AF focusing, well over 500 phase-detect AF points and 4Kp30 video recording with Eye AF. Indeed, the Sony A7R IV is as versatile as it is packed with megapixels.

On the physical side of things, Sony's 4th-generation, high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless camera undergoes a few cosmetic and structural improvements compared to the previous iteration. However, the camera overall isn't drastically different in terms of handling and control layout.

Let's dive in to see just how well this camera performs in real-world shooting...

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 70mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 800

Handling & Ergonomics

As mentioned, the overall design of the A7R IV is very similar to the previous Mark III version. If you're coming from an A7R III, in particular, you'll be right at home; the camera features all the same buttons and dials, and they are all in the same location on the camera. However, Sony has tweaked the design of the controls all across the camera body, enlarging a number of buttons to make them easier to press as well as improving tactile feel. In particular, the C3 (custom function) button, Menu button and AF-ON buttons are all larger and have a more pronounced feel when you press them.

The Sony A7R IV (top) vs. A7R III (bottom)

The rear joystick control remains -- a control that I've come to find as an essential feature on a camera nowadays -- but they've changed the texture of the control to make it easier to operate. On the top deck of the camera, again the control layout is the same as the previous version, but the designs have changed slightly. The C1 and C2 custom buttons, like the C3 button on the rear, are slightly bigger and have a more substantial tactile feedback to them. The rear control dial now sits directly on top of the camera, instead of embedded under the top surface of the camera. It rotates now with slightly softer yet firm detents. I do wish Sony had moved the rear control further back so that it sits not as flush against the rear of the camera, but that's a very minor complaint. The most notable tweak to the top controls is the locking exposure compensation dial. The control sits right on the corner of the camera, just like on the A7R III, and it is very easy to bump and change your exposure compensation setting accidentally. Interestingly, the locking exposure compensation dial can either be fully locked or unlocked, which is different than the camera's locking Mode dial that forces you press and hold the unlock button to rotate the dial. With the exposure comp button, you have a choice, locked or unlocked, which is great.

When picking up the A7R IV for the first time, the most notable design change to the camera is immediately apparent: the larger grip. Visually, it doesn't appear much different than the previous model, but in the hand, the A7R IV feels much more substantial. The handgrip is fuller, deeper and offers more comfortable contouring. This updated grip design makes the A7R IV my favorite Sony A7-series (including the A9) camera yet when it comes to handling and comfort. I don't consider my hands all that large, more medium-sized, but earlier A7-series cameras had a noticeably smaller, shallower grip. My hand wouldn't fit entirely on the grip, forcing my pinky finger to slide under the bottom of the camera. I don't experience this at all with the A7R IV. The grip isn't as deep as the ones on a typical, full-sized DSLR, but it's almost there. It's certainly deep and sizable enough to offer a secure, balanced grip, even when using heavier lenses.

Depending on how I hold the camera, or how wide the diameter of the lens is, my fingers can sometime hit up against the barrel of the lens.

Now, there is a minor complaint I have, not necessarily about the handgrip itself, but more to do with the compact size of the camera body as a whole. While the larger grip is a fantastic improvement, the body of the camera is still quite compact for a full-frame camera. The big grip combined with the compact body size doesn't leave a ton of room for your fingers in the space between the grip and the barrel of a larger-diameter lens, such as the FE 200-600mm lens. Although this doesn't cause me any discomfort while using the camera, I do notice that my knuckles often bump or rest up against the barrel of the lens. I can see this being a frustrating comfort issue for others, so this is something keep on mind if you have particularly large hands.

Another area of improvement is to the touchscreen rear display. Sony says they've improved the touch responsiveness, and pleasingly, that appears to be the case. Strangely, Sony was one of the lone holdouts when it came to implementing touchscreen displays into their camera lines. In terms of interchangeable lens cameras, it first appeared randomly in the A5100 back in 2014, but a touchscreen wasn't offered in any higher-end models of that time period. It wasn't until the Sony A9 of 2017 that a full-frame Alpha camera offered a touchscreen. Needless to say, most modern Sony cameras now offer touchscreens, but until this new A7R IV -- at least in my experience using both the A7R III and A9 -- the touchscreen user experience had been underwhelming. The responsiveness of the touchscreen on the A7R III was noticeably sluggish compared to those offered on other manufacturers, such as Canon, Olympus and Panasonic for example. With the A7R III, you'd tap on the screen to move the AF point, and there'd be a visible delay in the AF point/area moving to where you touched. In the A7R Mark IV, the experience is vastly better. It still doesn't feel as responsive as other cameras I've used, but I don't really have any complaints when it comes to usability.

Much like the predecessor, however, the touchscreen functionality feels, in a way, underutilized. You really can only use the touchscreen to move the AF point. The camera gives you the option of tap-to-focus or touch-and-dragging the AF point/area/zone around the frame. You can also enable a "Touch Pad" option, which then lets you keep the touch function active while you use the EVF so you can use your thumb to quickly adjust the AF point position. However, there's not touch navigation of the camera menus -- not that this would be a pleasing experience given the menu UI -- but the on-screen Function shortcuts menu has rather large icons that could easily be touch-sensitive. That being said, I personally rarely use the touchscreens on cameras for anything other than quickly moving the AF point, so I don't really have much of an issue with the A7R IV's touchscreen from a day-to-day usability standpoint.

FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 5000

The electronic viewfinder has undergone a nice upgrade over the previous version, going from a 3,686K-dot Quad VGA color OLED EVF to a much higher-resolution 5.76M-dot UXGA color OLED EVF. A lot of the EVF specs are the same, however. The A7R IV's EVF uses the same 1.3cm-sized display, offers 100% field of view coverage and keeps a 0.78x magnification ratio as well as a 23mm eyepoint. Plus, the fast 120fps refresh rate makes viewfinder lag nearly imperceptible. Needless to say, the A7R Mark IV's electronic viewfinder is fantastic, making an already-wonderful EVF experience even better.

Finally, I want to touch on the dust and weather sealing. Earlier A7-series models claimed some degree of dust- and moisture-resistance, but as LensRentals found in their notable camera teardowns, the cameras offer little to no actually sealing gaskets or the link to prevent moisture and dust from creeping inside. A few years ago, we ourselves dowsed the Sony A7R III and found that the camera withstood a good onslaught of water. Roger at LensRentals, too, found the A7R III offers much better weather-sealing that its predecessors with gaskets mostly throughout the body construction. While I obviously haven't disassembled the A7R IV, the camera as a whole feels extremely well-built, robust and similar to the A7R III. There are visible weather seals around the SD card compartment and battery door, and the port flaps/door have deeper-seating flanges compared to the A7R III.

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 70mm, f/2.8, 1/800s, ISO 100
100% Crop

Image Quality

Given the historically impressive image quality performance from Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras, I wasn't expecting a poor showing from the A7R IV and indeed, this new 61MP full-frame beast does not disappoint.

Obviously, the first thing to explore is the sheer level of detail the A7R IV combined with a sharp lens can capture. The A7R IV's 61-megapixel full-frame sensor captures a stunning amount of crisp, fine detail. The lack of an optical low-pass filter, too, helps bring out the finest of details. However, as always with cameras that lack this optical low-pass filter (OLPF) there's a greater risk in introducing moiré and aliasing artifacts that can be difficult to remove in post-processing. That said, in my time with the A7R IV, I captured a variety of images, such as buildings with repeating patterns and subjects that included various fabric patterns and features, and I barely noticed any evidence of artifacts resulting from the lack of OLPF.

All in all, I'm extremely pleased with the resolving power of the A7R IV. For example, I can't help but smile when I zoom-in on a shot, discover that I did indeed nail focus, and then seeing all the tiny, little feather details of the bird...

FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 5000
100% Crop

But wait, there's more! If you really, really need some extreme detail performance, the A7R IV takes Sony's Pixel Shift Multi-Shot mode to a whole new level by offering a new 16-shot composite option for 240-megapixel images. Yes, 240MP!

However, while that 240MP figure sounds impressive on paper, in practice, it's actually quick difficult to get a crisp, tack-sharp, artifact-free composite image. Like most other manufacturers' implementations of a sensor-shift-based composite image capture mode, the A7R IV has to move the sensor ever-so-slightly (down to the half-pixel level of precision) for each consecutive frame. While this can work to make incredibly detailed images, the camera has to be absolutely locked-down on a sturdy tripod or other support, and there can't be anything moving in the frame during the sequence (such as cars driving by, people walking or moving at all, or even leaves in trees and bushes moving subtly in the wind). If there is any camera or subject movement during the multi-shot capture sequence, the resulting composited image will have noticeable, unsightly artifacts.

240-megapixel Pixel Shift Multi-Shot Composite Image
FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 68mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 100
Close-up Crop (not 100%)

Capture struggles aside, to actually composite all the images together, you need to use Sony's Imaging Edge desktop software. There's no way to process the RAWs in-camera, unfortunately. The process is rather straightforward though, as you simply fire up the Imaging Edge "Viewer" app, navigate to whatever folder you've imported your pixel-shifted sequence of images (the camera and the desktop app recognizes which images are part of a Multi-Shot sequence, too, so it's fairly easy to identify all the frames.), and finally, you can right-click on the selected images and choose to create a composite image.

Alternatively, you can have the Viewer app create a "composite raw" file, a .ARQ (as opposed to Sony's typical .AWR raw format) and automatically send that new file over to the Imaging Edge "Edit" app for general post-processing and other raw file editing tasks. I did find, however, that exporting a JPEG from the intermediate .ARQ composite was much slower than just creating the same JPEG quality composite straight from the .ARW raw files. In my unscientific tests, it took my 2019 MacBook Pro about three or so minutes to export a JPEG from the .ARQ file in the "Edit" app, whereas it only about a 1:50s to make the same JPEG from the .ARW raw files using the "Viewer" app.

240-megapixel Pixel Shift Multi-Shot Composite Image
FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 24mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 100
100% Crop

Ok, moving on. Besides image resolution, other image quality characteristics looked fantastic. I was really pleased by the accurate color rendition, even with straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. Colors were rich and vibrant without coming across as too saturated, at least for my taste. Skin tones, too, look natural and life-like.

Dynamic range has long been one of Sony's strong suits, and the A7R IV certainly excels here as well. Even with JPEG files, highlight and shadow detail come across nicely in properly exposed images, with noticeable details in both highlight and shadow areas. Similarly, RAW files offer a lot of flexibility with tonal and exposure adjustments, allowing you easily recover highlight information with little to no banding and pull up shadows and darker areas to reveal detail with controlled noise.

RAW Edit (via Capture One)
FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 1250
Straight-from-camera JPEG

When it comes to high ISO performance, the A7R IV does quite well here, too, despite the high-resolution sensor. While most of my field test shooting was in the daytime, I did spend some time with the 200-600mm photographing wildlife and small birds in heavily forested areas. With a maximum aperture of f/6.3 at 600mm, plus a relatively fast shutter speed, I was often shooting with fairly high ISOs. I found overall noise levels, at least at medium-high ISOs of around ISO 4000-6400, were very well controlled, with in-camera noise reduction processing doing a decent job of retaining detail while removing egregious noise. At really close inspection, noise reduction processing is noticeable with some smoothing-out of detail as well as creating a kind of "digital" look to the background noise. However, images still feature lots of sharp, clear detail, so all in all, I'm very impressed with the high ISO performance of this camera.

FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 12800

Autofocus & Performance

Besides image quality, the Sony A7R IV is also a surprisingly nimble, responsive camera in most regards. Start-up time is quick, autofocus is blazingly fast, continuous AF works wonderfully, and despite the 61MP sensor, the camera can fire off bursts of full-res images at up to 10fps. It's an impressively versatile camera.

Starting with autofocus, the A7R IV is, somehow, even better than the A7R III, which was already one of the most versatile, most high-performance full-frame mirrorless cameras when it came to autofocus. With the Mark IV, Sony managed to cram even more phase-detect AF pixels onto the sensor, going from 425 PDAF points to a whopping 567. Combined with the 425 contrast-detect AF points/areas, the A7R IV's hybrid autofocus system offers extremely wide coverage across the sensor area (approximately 99.7% height, 74% width). Furthermore, the A7R IV features an APS-C "crop mode," which gives you AF point coverage over the entire image area. Needless to say, you're basically free to put the AF point wherever you want. This is really great, not only for ease of use when carefully composing shots, but also in giving you a lot more flexibility when tracking erratically-moving subjects.

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 42mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 640

Further, I found the updated Real-Time Eye AF function works really well, most of the time. The camera is able to quickly recognize and lock onto the eye of both people and animals now. I was really impressed with just how quickly and consistently the camera recognizes the face of the subject I was shooting, and then a split second later, the focus would lock onto the eye. I mentioned "most of the time" because I did experience a few hiccups with Eye AF where the system would fail to recognize the eye if the subject was heavily backlit or the eye(s) were otherwise in shadow. If the eyes were too dark, too shaded, then the AF system had trouble finding the eye.

During my time with the camera, I was never once frustrated or disappointed by autofocus performance, other than that aforementioned minor issue with Eye AF. Overall, the A7R IV's autofocusing system is fast, accurate and does very well at tracking moving subjects. Eye AF is fast and works great for portraiture, and the addition of Eye AF for animals is quite neat. I tested it out on some wildlife, and it even managed to catch the eye of a great blue heron, which I was quite surprised about!

FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 250

When it comes to continuous burst shooting and buffer performance, I'm surprised the A7R IV performs as well it does considering the massive file sizes this thing creates! When shooting just JPEG or just (compressed) RAW files, the A7R IV can shoot at 10fps, which is impressive given the resolution. For the majority of my field testing, however, I was going for optimal image quality and had the camera set to uncompressed RAW + SuperFine-quality JPEGs, which does get a bit taxing on the camera's performance. At these settings, JPEGs are around 42MB+ and RAWs are about 123MB each, and burst rates definitely drop. In our lab testing, just using uncompressed RAW files by themselves causes maximum continues shooting to drop to around 7fps. Practically speaking, however, I don't mind the slight dip in performance as around 7fps is plenty fast for my shooting needs and for a majority of subject matter.

FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM: 70mm, f/3.2, 1/2500s, ISO 100, -0.7EV

On a similar note, buffer depths are quite good, but they do seem to fill rather quickly when using uncompressed RAW + SuperFine JPEG. Buffer clearing times, too, are oddly sluggish, even when using a really fast UHS-II SD card. In the field, however, I wasn't too bothered by either of these, as I wasn't often shooting long, extended sequences of images. Plus, the camera allows you to immediately begin reviewing images while the camera continues to dump the buffer in the background, which is nice. And while things are better than they were with earlier-generation Sony Alpha cameras and you have access to some menu settings during the buffer clearing process, there are still certain options that are inexplicably grayed-out during buffer clearing, such as the Drive Mode setting.


In addition to still images, the A7R IV also has a healthy dose of advanced video features, including 4K recording up to 30p, Full HD at up to 120p, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) picture profile, S-Log 3 for 14-stops of dynamic range, clean HDMI out, time code/user bit, REC control, Gamma Display Assist, zebras, focus peaking and more. The camera offers two recording formats, XAVC S and AVCHD, however the latter is very limited, only offering Full HD video at 60i. XAVC S, meanwhile, is used for both 4K and Full HD resolutions, with 4K UHD offered at both 60Mbps and 100Mbps bit rates. As mentioned earlier, the A7R IV has a Super 35 (APS-C) crop mode, and this mode also works for video shooting in addition to still photos. In full-frame mode, the A7R IV can shoot 4K video using the full width of the sensor. However when you switch to Super 35 mode, the camera captures 6K footage and downsamples it to 4K, utilizing full pixel readout without pixel binning or line skipping, which Sony says improves detail and results in fewer artifacts.

Sony A7R IV 4K Sample Video #1
3840 x 2160, 24fps, 1/50s
Download Original (335.6MB MP4)

Sony A7R IV 4K Sample Video #2
3840 x 2160, 24fps, 1/50s
Download Original (381.7MB MP4)

Sony A7R IV 4K Sample Video #3
3840 x 2160, 24fps, 1/50s
Download Original (369.1MB MP4)

Sony A7R IV Full-Frame Sample
3840 x 2160, 24fps, 1/50s
Download Original (276.8MB MP4)

Sony A7R IV Super35 Sample
3840 x 2160, 24fps, 1/50s
Download Original (255.9MB MP4)

Check out our IR Review Sample Videos YouTube channel for more sample videos.


Overall, the Sony A7R IV is a thoroughly impressive camera, and a camera that's way more versatile that one might imagine. It's more than just a high-megapixel "specialized" camera, as it's well suited for lots of different types of subjects, and not only for those classic "high-res" subjects like landscapes and portraiture. Of course, it does those types of subjects extremely well, offering lots and lots of crisp, fine detail, pleasing colors and amazing dynamic range. Yet, the high megapixel count, combined with excellent high ISO performance and responsive autofocus, also make the A7R IV an excellent choice for wildlife photography. The high-resolution sensor gives you a lot of cropping potential, and the high ISO performance gives you lots of versatility in challenging forest conditions. With up to 10fps continue shooting, the A7R IV isn't as well suited for super-fast action and sports subject like the A9 is, for example, but the camera is generally responsive, super-quick and a great all-around performer that's still fast enough for all but the most demanding action subjects.

All in all, combining excellent image quality and performance with robust build quality, improved ergonomics and a wide range of features, the Sony A7R IV is an impressively versatile, professional-level camera.


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