Thoughts on Sony a7R IV

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Follow-Up on Brent’s Switch to Fuji

Brent, it has only been a week but I can tell from your posts in the Facebook group that you have made some progress with your switch to Fuji.  Why don’t you give a little bit of an update?

Brent: I am going to disappoint some people. I sent the camera [Fuji X-T3] back. There are a couple of reasons. I was feeling some pressure with the return window from B&H where I bought the camera. I couldn’t answer the questions I have quickly enough. I wanted to think I could just put my nose to the grind stone and figure it out. The act of shooting was far superior to what I am doing with a full frame DSLR and I wish I could have felt like I could work it out.

I would up having three problems I just wasn’t sure I could overcome in time when I could return the camera and get a full refund. I decided to error on the side of getting my money back. I can still work with the files and see if I can figure out how to process them. I did figure out that Luminar does a pretty good job of processing the raw images and now there is Luminar Flex that can provide the plugin to Lightroom. That just didn’t come in time. I will keep testing with the files I have.

Kind of scooping myself here but I will be releasing a Latitude episode on 8/11/2019 that will cover this, so check that out.

Jeff: Listeners, we don’t need you to tell Brent how he is making and mistake and try to convince him to give it another try. The point about this is switching camera systems is hard. After talking to thousands of photographers for many years I am thoroughly convinced that photographers upgrade their camera far too early. Even entry level cameras are so capable today you can create stunning images and there is huge value in learning everything there is with your current camera.

Brent: I wasn’t looking to switch because I am totally dissatisfied with my current camera, it was to get smaller and lighter and take some stress off my back. I really wanted this to work. I am so disappointed that it was as hard as it was to switch. I have some shoots coming up where I can’t miss something because I am into a new system. I would have had to use my big heavy Canon camera on those shoots to make sure I could deliver the quality I am used to for clients.

Thoughts on Sony a7R IV

We don’t have hands-on with the camera, this is information that comes from published specifications from the press event Sony had here in July 2019. We reserve the right to change our opinion once there are more who have hands-on with the camera and/or we have get our hands on it.

Here are our thoughts on a few of the key specifications for the new Sony A7R IV.

a7R IV Sensor

The a7R IV has “the world’s first” 61 MP Exmor R BSI CMOS sensor, 26.2MP in crop mode (Sony made a big deal about crop mode with the a7R IV in the press event). That is up from the 42MP full frame sensor in the a7R III with 16MP in crop mode.

Sony also talked about the ability to produce 240 MP images through their Pixel Shift technology, with 16 images at 1/2 pixel distance. (need desktop software to put 16 frames together)

Our thoughts:

  • 61 megapixels is great, especially because as it went up in size here there supposedly aren’t any negative impacts to things like low light performance or dynamic range
  • The megapixel count is not the most important spec of a camera, though that is what marketing really emphasizes. Other things like dynamic range are way important to Jeff
  • Megapixel count is not a number a beginner should be overly concerned with
  • We will see what the detail of these 61MP images looks like once photographers can actually process raw files from the camera. Still really early and those lucky enough to get hands-on can really only do JPEGs at the moment.
  • The pixel shift stuff is cool, but kind of gimmicky for most photographers. You have to keep the camera still and shot a scene that doesn’t have much movement while all 16 frames are taken while moving the sensor around a tiny bit and then merge them together on your computer using special software from Sony (Lightroom and Photoshop can’t do this yet). Really cool exploration into new capabilities for a camera and valuable to somebody like my friend Don Komarechka who does amazing macro photography and wants to get as many megapixels to help him capture that detail as he possibly can. Just not a terribly useful feature for most photographers. Not something newer photographers should care about.
a7R IV Frame Rate

The Sony a7R IV supports 10 fps shooting speed with AF and tracking! This was the same frame rate as the Sony a7R III, and on both cameras the frame rate triples in crop mode.

Our thoughts:

  • Kind of amazing to keep the frame rate while bumping up the megapixels of the sensor!
  • This is fast enough for shooting sports. Especially if you shoot crop mode where the frame rate is 30fps! That is almost cheating for sports photography. Jeff already shoots crop sensor for basketball and wouldn’t hesitate at all to shoot a game in crop mode to get 26MP images and 30fps. Amazing.
  • Love it that you can get this frame rate with AF and tracking, that wasn’t the case with a lot of recent camera releases.
  • Super impressive and something that I think is important to newer photographers. Frame rate is something to look at with your cameras.
a7R IV Shutter

The shutter has an anticipated life of 500K actuations. Sony also said that they re-designed the shutter in the A7R IV to help photographers get sharper images even at high frame rates with slower shutter speeds by reducing the impact of the shutter flap. They added brakes and dampers that will reduce front and rear curtain vibration and absorb mechanical shock. Top shutter speed is 1/8000s (same as a7R3) and max sync speed is 1/250s (same as a7R3).

Our thoughts:

  • 500K shutter actuations is about double what other cameras are rated for these days, love that. Means the shutter in the a7R IV should last longer than other cameras and that should be important to everyone.
  • Love that Sony is trying to help photographers out with the mid range of shutter speeds where shutter flap can cause images to get soft due to camera shake. It doesn’t matter on the slower and faster shutter speeds, but at 1/30 of a second to about 1/2 second shutter speed it can have an impact even if you are using a tripod. Love this.
a7R IV Memory Card Slots

The a7R III had dual memory card slots, and the a7R IV continues with that. The difference with the a7R IV is that both slots are the speedy UHS-II type whereas with the a7R III one slot was UHS-II and the other was a significantly slower UHS-I.

Our thoughts:

  • The one USH-I slot in the a7R III was an issue for lots of photographers who noticed significantly slower frame rates when shooting with two cards. Love it that Sony seems to have listed to their customers and fixed this so that both slots are equally fast
  • Maybe not something super critical for a new photographer to care about, but if you have the choice you are better off with two card slots and both being faster. A must (two slots) for wedding and event photographers.
a7R IV Buffer

Buffer memory has been increased by 1.5 times over the a7R III, which allows for 68 compressed raw images or 30 uncompressed raw images to be captured in a single burst. That is up from 30 in the a7R III.  In both the a7R III and the a7R IV the buffer is 3x as deep in crop mode, so 204 compressed raw images for the a7R IV.

Our thoughts:

  • Pretty amazing that Sony was able to increase the megapixels in the sensor, which will produce significantly larger raw files, and also improve the buffer in the a7R IV over the a7R III.
  • This is another thing that a newer photographer should look into as they are choosing a camera. The frame rate is quickly impacted by the buffer size and even if the camera supports a high frame rate if the buffer is too small to use it more than one second it isn’t of much value.
a7R IV Dynamic Range

The a7R IV has a reported 15-Stop dynamic range, which may be slightly up from the tested dynamic range in the a7R III of 14.7.

Our thoughts:

  • Sony has always excelled with the dynamic range capabilities of their sensors. It is amazing though that the megapixel count went up so much in the a7R IV and yet the dynamic range hasn’t gone down and may be a little better. Could just be the marketing folks rounded up the number here from 14.7 to 15 so we will reserve judgement on this until hands-on testing can take place. Still, we expect this to really be awesome because Sony has a very well established history with excellent dynamic range.
  • Makes us wonder if there is going to be an a7 IV (the non-R lineup) which has traditionally had smaller megapixel sizes if that may mean a camera with 15.5 or 16 stops of dynamic range. That would be really interesting.
  • Dynamic range is a massive factor with cameras and this is absolutely something a newer photographer should be paying very close attention to. This might be the reason you want to upgrade from the entry level camera to something like the a7R IV.
a7R IV In-Body Image Stabilization

The a7R IV and the a7R III both offer 5 axis IBIS which provides 5.5 stops of stabilization. Sony has lenses that also have stabilization built into them and they are designed to have the stabilization in both the lens and the body work together.

Our thoughts:

  • 5.5 stops of stabilization built into the body is incredible. This has been a really nice thing about Sony mirrorless cameras for a while. The ability to slow down the shutter 5.5 stops and still get photos that aren’t affected by camera shake is seriously good.
  • Another thing a newer photographers should pay attention to, in-body image stabilization is a big deal.
a7R IV Focus System

The a7R IV offers 567 phase detection AF points that cover 74% of the full frame sensor. In crop mode 325 of those phase detection AF points can be used providing 95% coverage of the sensor. Those are up from the a7R III that offered 399 phase detection AF points for full frame.  Both the a7R III and the a7R IV can get focus in -3EV.

Sony also says that they have improved the already stunning and super effective Real time Eye AF. The a7R IV benefits from the latest image processor and autofocus algorithm, which includes real time tracking where color, patterns (brightness), and subject distance (depth) are analysed and processed through an advanced AI technology.

Our thoughts:

  • The a7R III already offered one of the best autofocus systems of any camera. Increasing the count of the focus points is great and to hear that Sony thinks they have improved the Eye AF is something we can’t wait to see more of. We expect to see comparisons of situations where the Eye AF fails in the a7R III (tough to do) and the a7R IV still nails it.
  • This is something that newer photographers should absolutely care about. Autofocus can be hard and this Eye AF makes it dead simple.
a7R IV Electronic Viewfinder

The a7R IV has a 5.76 million dot UXGA OLED viewfinder. That up from the 3.6 million dot viewfinder in the a7R III.

Our thoughts:

  • Nobody was complaining about the viewfinder in the a7R III, something that was a complaint when compared with the optical viewfinder in previous mirrorless cameras from Sony and others. Still, Sony fell behind here compared with other manufacturers so they caught up in this release. We expect the viewfinder to be excellent and make you miss the optical viewfinder even less.
  • For newer photographers this can be a huge advantage in most shooting situations because you see the exposure of your shot right there in the viewfinder. It helps you nail that exposure that much easier. The downside is that it can be harder to shoot in really low light situations but it is not too hard to learn how to overcome that.
a7R IV Video

Like the a7R III, the a7R IV does 4K Movie recording, S-Log2/3, HDR. However, there is a big change in the a7R IV where Eye AF that was limited to still photos in the a7R III is not supported while recording video. You can change the focus while recording video by touching the person on the touch LCD screen.

Our thoughts:

  • Wow. Sony is just knocking the update of the a7R IV out of the park! Making their incredible Eye AF that we already raved about above available while recording video may very well be a game changer for those that do a lot of video. Not something either of us do a lot of to say anything more about it, but it sounds very impressive and we are excited to hear the analysis from hands-on with it.
  • If newer photographers are planning to do video the ability to use the Eye AF in video makes this camera much more compelling over the a7R III or a lot of other mirrorless cameras.
a7R IV Weatherproofing

Sony says the a7R IV has had the dust and moisture resistance upgraded over the a7R III. Specifically talked about changing the battery door where there were some challenges in previous bodies.

Our thoughts:

  • Of course we love this. The more weather resistance a camera has the better it will survive the abuse we tend to put them through – especially those landscape/travel photographers out there.
a7R IV Connectivity

The USB C port on the a7R IV has been upgraded to version 3.2 specifications, doubling the speed of the port over what is offered in the a7R III. Wireless tethering has also been added to the a7R IV which wasn’t available in the a7R III.

Our thoughts:

  • You may wonder why you would care about the speed of the USB port on the camera. You probably take the memory card out and put it into a card reader to copy the images to your computer and don’t really use that port. This would be a feature that should matter to those who shoot tethered. The increase in the megapixel count is going to mean dramatically larger raw files and transferring that data over the slower connection would have taken more time. By doubling the speed of the USB port on the camera the transfer time from clicking the shutter to seeing your image on your computer through tethering should be faster on the a7R IV than it is on the a7R III even though the megapixels went up.
  • The wireless tethering may be great, but given the size of the raw files we think this could end up being rough. We’ll reserve full judgement on this feature until we hear from hands-on or try it out ourselves. Hopefully it is impressive.
  • Tethering is probably not a terribly important features to newer photographers, though if you plan on doing some kind of high volume shooting like team sports photos, it could be a really important feature to you. Our own Connor Hibbs swears by tethered shooting for his portrait work too, but then Connor does high volume headshots so there you go.
a7R IV Body/Ergonomics

Sony changed the body of the a7R IV as compared with the a7R III. It means the vertical grip from the a7R III won’t fit the a7R IV but the right side of the camera body is slightly deeper, a change intended to better fit larger hands. Sony added a lock to the exposure compensation dial to the a7R IV that isn’t on the a7R III. Sony also improved the response time of the touch screen by 1.5x in the a7R IV over the a7R III.

Our thoughts:

  • This was one of the things Jeff didn’t like when he rented the a7R III to shoot a high school basketball game. He is 6’2″ and kind of a big guy with big hands and he didn’t like how the a7R III felt. Had to keep wringing his hands out because they seemed to get tired much more quickly with what felt like cramped ergonomics. He is really excited about the possibility of having the camera fit him a little better. Wasn’t so bad with the a7R III that this alone would have stopped him from buying one (other factors did that).
  • I have seen a lot of reviewers of the a7R III talk about how they inadvertently bumped that exposure compensation dial and had it cause issues for them. It was a big enough deal I saw on Twitter quite a few photographers instantly note the lock on the EC dial as soon as they saw the first image of the a7R IV, like before Sony talked about it. Was a big deal to them and we love that Sony seems to be listening to their customers so much to do something as simple as this.
  • Nobody was really complaining about the response time of the touch LCD on the a7R III, but we are all so used to having touch screens be super responsive with our phones it is probably something photographers are really going to notice with hands-on between the two models now.
a7R IV Battery

The a7R IV uses the same NP-FZ100 battery as the a7R III. The a7R IV is rated to take approximately 670 shots using the LCD and 530 using the EVF based on CIPA standard testing.

Our thoughts:

  • Totally have to reserve judgement on this until there is hands-on experience with regard to battery life, though we are sure it won’t be as good as you get on DSLRs. The CIPA standard isn’t a very practical way of testing real-life battery usage. It is a necessary evil to establish a baseline that should be pretty comparable, but you shouldn’t expect you only get 530 shots using the EVF. Probably more like double that. We’ll see what hands-on reviews say here.
  • For newer photographers you may not know how many shots you need on a charged batter, but if it really as 530 that is pretty low for many types of photography. Solution isn’t too bad though, you just get another battery and bring it with you. Slows you down a tiny bit to have to switch, but not really that big a deal for the most part.

a7R IV Availability and Pricing

Sony says that a7R IV will be available in September 2019 and pre-orders are available now. The body will run $3,500 USD.

Our thoughts:

  • Seems like a very reasonable price here for the upgrade, though still too much for Jeff.
Are We Buying the a7R IV?

Jeff:  Nope. Not because I don’t like the specs of this camera.  It looks downright incredible. Incredible enough I thought about the upgrade for about 1/2 a second. I don’t want to spend the time and effort to switch right now. I can do so much with the camera I already have and it just isn’t worth it to me to switch. I will rent it though and see how it is.

Brent:  I haven’t found Sony to be something that speaks to me.  Not because of the specs, maybe the ergonomics, I don’t know why exactly.  Just didn’t feel compelled to switch to Sony. This camera is hitting me differently and I may really consider it.  I plan to rent it and see how it goes. So not pre-ordering for the September release but it could be something I do later.

Doodads

Brent: Vello FreeWave LR Kit with Two Receivers ($100)

Jeff: Photo Taco Podcast – Take the Intimidation out of Photoshop With Aaron Nace.  20 hours to produce this one episode.  6,000 word show notes with some helpful graphics so you will want to check out the show notes in addition to listening to the episode.

Reminders:

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