Hands-on with the Sony a7 IV
Back when we reviewed the Sony a7 III in 2018, it changed our perception of what a ‘basic’ full-frame mirrorless camera model was capable of. With solid image quality, autofocus, video features and battery life, it was truly a jack-of-all trades that we thought would be a great fit for all kinds of photographers. But at the time, its only real competitors from other brands were DSLRs: whereas today, the all-new a7 IV finds itself in a very different landscape.
Sony obviously knows this, and compared to its predecessor, the a7 IV has been redesigned, refined, and updated in just about every way. So let’s take a tour of this new ‘basic’ model from Sony, and see if the updates are enough to tempt you to upgrade (or, perhaps, even switch systems).
All-new 33MP BSI-CMOS sensor and processor
At the heart of the a7 IV is an all-new sensor delivering 33MP of resolution, a comfortable bump over the 24MP of the Mark III. Our initial impressions are that the new sensor will of course provide you with some more detail, and low-light performance is unlikely to suffer perceptively. One thing we were a bit disappointed by is the readout speed – for stills, readout takes around 1/15 sec (~66ms), so if you opt for the silent electronic shutter, you may see some rolling shutter artifacts with moving subjects or under artificial lighting.
In movie mode, the readout speed drops to around 26.5ms (we think the sensor is dropping from 14-bit readout for stills to 12-bit for video), but it means that rolling shutter artifacts are better controlled.
That sensor is attached to an updated in-body stabilization unit, with Sony claiming a 0.5-stop improvement over the previous model. Keeping all your images and video clips flying off the sensor and to your memory cards is one of Sony’s latest ‘Bionz XR’ processors. This latest processor effectively banishes Sony’s interface lag to the dustbin of history, and also brings welcome improvements in menu organization and touchscreen functionality.
One thoughtful update Sony has brought to the a7 IV is an option for the shutter to close upon power-off, to prevent dust from accumulating on the sensor when changing lenses. Keep in mind, though, that shutters are lightweight and somewhat delicate, so you don’t want to go poking at it or expecting it to protect the sensor from any substantial physical abuse.
Also, it’s worth noting that it takes the camera around 3 seconds after shutdown to drop the shutter, so you’ll need to pause before rushing to swap lenses.
The a7 IV now comes with a side-hinged 3″ screen that allows for greater flexibility when shooting, particularly if you’re vlogging with the camera pointed at yourself. At 1.04M-dots, it’s serviceable, but is looking perhaps a bit low-resolution compared to its direct peers.
As previously mentioned, though, the touch functionality has really been updated. You can now navigate the full menus and the function menu using it, and it’s far more responsive than previous-generation Sony cameras.
Rear controls and AF updates
On the rear of the camera, there have been some important updates. Relative to the a7 III, the movie record button has shifted to the top of the camera, replaced with a customizable ‘C1’ button.
The AF-ON button and AF joystick both get a big increase in size, which is appropriate since the a7 IV also inherits Sony’s latest ‘Real-Time Tracking’ autofocus that incorporates Eye AF and subject recognition into the main autofocus system. The a7 III was one of the last Sony cameras that required you to press an entirely separate button for Eye AF, and its tracking interface in particular was getting noticeably dated, so we’re thrilled to see these updates making their way to the ‘basic’ a7 model.
But peek just above that C1 button for one of our favorite additions to the a7 IV…
Dedicated stills / video switch, updated dial
Yes, movie mode has been shifted off of the traditional mode dial and onto its own switch (along with Sony’s ‘Slow and Quick’ video mode). This is a welcome change, and makes it much quicker to switch from stills to video and back again for hybrid stills / video shooters. What’s more, with the latest menus and interface, you can customize which settings do and don’t carry over, as well as function menu items and button customizations.
And to keep you from accidentally nudging the control, there’s a small button on the front of the switch that you press with your finger before turning.
Lastly, take a peek at that dial on the right shoulder of the camera – it’s no longer just an exposure compensation dial as it has been on previous cameras. Now, you can customize its function, and it retains a toggle lock, which we’re fans of.
The electronic viewfinder has gotten an upgrade as well. The 2.36M-dot panel on the a7 III was passable, but the large magnification meant you could really see those individual pixels. Now, with a bump to a 3.69M-dot panel (and the same 0.78x magnification), you get a much crisper, clearer view of the world on the a7 IV.
To really see the benefit of that resolution increase, though, you’ll want to switch the EVF to ‘high quality’ in the menus (and note, it will drop a bit in resolution while focusing). If you want to boost the refresh rate to 120fps for following fast action, note you also cannot get the full resolution the panel is capable of, but at least you have the option for that higher frame rate if you want it.
Ports galore – HDMI, video and streaming updates
Relative to the a7 III, we get some welcome changes on the IV. The move to a full-size HDMI port goes well with the vast improvements in video (hit that link for all the details in our initial review), but the top-level updates include the ability to shoot 4K/60p video using an APS-C crop of the sensor, and 4K/30p requires no crop (it required a ~1.2x crop on the previous camera). There’s now 10-bit capture for more flexible grading of footage in post, as well as more color profiles at your disposal.
To make room for that full-size HDMI port, Sony deleted the dedicated flash sync port, but you can always adapt one to the hotshoe. Headphone, microphone, USB-C and Micro USB ports round out the rest of the camera’s wired connectivity.
Finally, the a7 IV can use its USB-C port to live stream audio and video to a Mac or PC at up to 4K/15p (please don’t stream at 15 frames per second), and HD or FullHD at up to 60fps. You can also stream through a USB connection to a smartphone, but audio might not be available at resolutions above HD (720p).
We would be remiss, though, if we didn’t call out the wireless connectivity on the a7 IV. It’s the first Sony camera to use Bluetooth LE to keep a constant connection with your smartphone (you could use Bluetooth on previous Sony cameras, but only for geotagging images).
This Bluetooth connection makes it much, much faster to initiate a Wi-Fi connection to the camera to transfer images in particular.
The a7 IV sees a move to a card slot door that now requires you to move a switch to open it, and we also get a new slot. Slot 1, at the top, can accept either CFexpress Type A or UHS-II SD cards, and slot 2 on the bottom supports only UHS-II SD. You don’t need to use CFexpress, though: only one video super-demanding slow-mo video mode can’t be shot onto SD cards. The camera’s buffer will clear faster onto a quick CFexpress card, though.
The standard options for organizing your files are available, giving you options to split them by medium (stills to one slot, video to the other), as well as using the second slot as either backup or overflow if the card in the first slot fills up.
No surprises here, the a7 IV uses Sony’s venerable (and, arguably, game-changing) NP-FZ100 battery. Here, it’s rated by CIPA to provide 580 shots using the LCD, or 520 using the viewfinder. In practice, we find it’s not unusual to get double those numbers, and generally speaking, this rating means you’re unlikely to need a second battery unless you’re shooting an all-day wedding or a lengthy sporting match.
You can also top up the battery or power the camera using the camera’s USB-C port as necessary.
Hands-on with the Sony a7 IV
And that does it for our high-level tour of Sony’s latest full-frame mirrorless camera, the a7 IV. There are a lot of updates here for sure, but are they the types of updates you were looking for? Do you think Sony went too far, or not far enough? Is it worth the $500 price premium over the previous model? Let us know in the comments.
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