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    Sony A7R IV review: 61 megapixels of pure camera power

    And it can do a lot more than just take high-resolution photos.
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    Sony changed the camera landscape with its popular and powerful A7 and A9 full-frame mirrorless lineup, forcing its rivals to adapt or die. Now that its camera series does have some competition, Sony's response is the A7R IV, a 61-megapixel camera that trounces its mirrorless rivals in terms of resolution. It's also loaded with the latest AI-powered eye autofocus (Eye-AF) F image processing, an electronic viewfinder and in-body stabilization technology.

    Sony also aimed to please demanding pro users by making the A7R IV tougher and easier to handle than previous models. On paper, this looks like it should be a top pick for anyone looking for a high-resolution camera, especially as it's reasonably priced against rivals. Now, let's see if it measures up to that in the field, where it counts.

    Engadget Score
    Poor
    Uninspiring
    Good
    Excellent
    Key

    Pros
    • Fast intelligent autofocus
    • Superb photo quality
    • Effective in-body stabilization
    • Bright and sharp viewfinder
    • Great handling
    Cons
    • Expensive
    • Mediocre menu system
    • Some rolling shutter in video
    • Sony's Imaging Edge Mobile is one of the worst camera apps

    Summary

    Sony is once again leaving rivals choking on its dust with the high-resolution A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera. The 61-megapixel resolution is more than any rival model, by far, and image quality is detailed and color accurate. Sony’s AI powered autofocus system is stunningly fast and accurate, and the Eye AF system is by far the best on the market. It’s also got much improved handling and does 4K video well. The drawback, as usual with Sony, is a difficult-to-navigate menu system and rolling shutter in video, though less than before. At $3,500, it’s competitive with rivals in pricing and overall, and it might be the best mirrorless camera ever built.

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    Body and handling

    The A7R IV weighs 665 grams (1.46 pounds), a scant increase over the last model. That's a similar weight to Nikon's Z 7, but it's a lot lighter than Panasonic's behemoth 2.2-pound Lumix S1R.

    In any case, Sony used the extra grams well. The A7R IV has a bigger grip than the A7R III, and it's better contoured to fit your hand. It certainly gave me a firmer hold on the camera, especially when I used Sony's heavy 70-200 mm f/2.8 telephoto lens.

    The only problem is that if you're using a big lens, there still isn't a lot of room for your fingers between the lens and the grip -- especially if you're wearing gloves. That's a trade-off that Sony made by opting for a relatively compact body.

    The layout is about the same as before. That suits me just fine as the power switch and dials are in just the right spots. However, Sony made subtle improvements by adding a locking button for the exposure compensation dial, making the joystick more grippy and tightening up the power switch. Overall, it's one of the easiest cameras to shoot with -- apart from one issue that I'll deal with shortly.

    Gallery: Sony A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera | 29 Photos

    Panasonic's S1R got it first, but the A7R IV now has a 5.76 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder. The high resolution and reasonably fast 60 Hz refresh rate make it easy on the eyes, but the A7R IV will blackout during shooting, temporarily blocking your view, unlike the freshly announced A9 II. For the type of artistic shooting it's designed for, though, this EVF is ideal, providing an accurate preview of what you're about to shoot.

    The rear touchscreen still doesn't flip around, so vloggers can probably tune out if they haven't already. It's also under-utilized. You can only tap-to-focus and drag the AF point around or use the Touch Pad option to move the AF point with your thumb when looking through the EVF. There's no option at all to control the main menus or even the quick-access Function menu, like you can on the Nikon Z 7 or Panasonic S1R.

    As for those menus, they're still the biggest weakness on Sony's A7-series cameras. It's tricky to find what you need as the category organization and navigation logic isn't, well, logical. Your best bet is to set up the camera buttons and Function menu the way you want, then stay out of the menus as much as possible.

    Sony A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera

    The A7R IV has two high-speed SD UHS-II card slots, unlike the A7R III, which only had one UHS II slot and a slower UHS I slot. As I found out during action shooting, it's best to pay extra to get the fastest cards you can afford. With a 61-megapixel sensor, uncompressed RAW files are around 120MB and even JPEG files can hit 50MB in fine mode. If you want the best shooting and transfer speeds, I'd recommend a top-flight 300 MB/s SD card.

    Things keep getting better on the connection side for Sony. The A7R IV packs a faster USB Type C 3.2 connector, along with HDMI, Micro USB, headphone and microphone ports. What's new here is the Multi Interface Shoe that opens up digital audio connections. If you hook up Sony's ECM-B1M shotgun mic or XLR-K3M XLS adapter kit, you'll get professional audio quality that can match any dedicated camcorder.

    On the negative side, the A7R IV does let you share pictures and shoot remotely using WiFi, Bluetooth and NFC, but you have to use Sony's Imagine Edge Mobile app. With a 2.1 rating on the App Store, it's one of the worst camera apps out there, and that's saying a lot. It's pain to connect the camera to your phone and it's laggy and unintuitive to use. Most pros who would buy this camera probably wouldn't use it, but still, Sony needs to do better here.

    It uses the same Z-series battery as before, but now delivers 670 shots on a charge with the rear display, or 530 when using the EVF, according to official CIPA ratings.That's a slight improvement over the A7R III (650 shots), but in the real world, I was able to shoot over a thousand shots. That's a good thing because the A7R IV is capable of shooting a lot of photos in a short amount of time.

    Performance

    There were times when I found myself laughing in awe of what this camera could do. You would not expect a 61-megapixel camera to be fast, but the A7R IV really delivers 10 fps speeds with continuous AF and auto exposure, even when shooting compressed RAW and fine JPEG images. If you elect to shoot uncompressed RAW, it slows down a bit to 7-8 fps, but that's still an astonishing speed considering the image sizes.

    With fast UHS-II cards, I could shoot at those speeds for a surprisingly long time. That's thanks to a buffer that can handle 68 compressed or 30 uncompressed RAW images -- about 3.6GB worth of files -- in a single burst. However, the buffer took quite a while to clear, sometimes well over 30 seconds. You can review images during that break, but many settings, like full-frame/APS-C switching are unavailable.

    Sony A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera

    If that won't cut it, a flick of a menu setting transforms the A7R IV into a 26-megapixel APS-C camera with a 1.5X crop factor. In that mode, I could capture 10 fps bursts for much longer (three times to be exact), making it more useful as an action camera. The crop mode also brings you closer to your subject, turning a 200mm lens into a 300mm lens. To top it off, the resolution is an added bonus for things like wildlife photography as you can crop in a lot while retaining detail.

    That speed is useless without a good autofocus system, and that's where Sony is so far ahead of everyone else. The A7R IV now has 567 phase-detect and 425 contrast detect AF points, compared to 425 phase-detect points on the A7R III. It has more coverage (74 percent horizontal and 99.7 percent vertical in full-frame mode) and a much faster Bionz X processor, as well. By comparison, Panasonic's S1 only uses contrast-detect AF, and the Nikon Z 7 is limited to 493 phase-detect points with 90 percent coverage total.

    All that tech helped me to keep fast-moving things in focus while shooting 10 fps bursts. If I kept the tracking dot on the subject, I rarely got an out of focus shot. With those smarts and virtually no lag, the camera often had me fighting to keep up.

    Luckily Sony has a cheat for that with its otherworldly AI-powered Eye AF system for people and animals. When enabled, it'll track your subject's eyes even if they're relatively far away and switch to face tracking when it can't. If your subject moves out of frame or turns around, it'll stay locked on their head or body and switch back to the closest eye as soon as it can.

    It worked in most circumstances for me, even with busy scenarios like horse jumping. With Eye AF turned on, I was able to capture sequences of jumps using Sony's 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens without any worry about focus. Unlike earlier versions of Eye AF, it rarely lost track of its subject and was a lot more responsive. It wasn't quite as good with the horse's eyes, especially if they had shaggy fringes. The same applied to furry terrier-type dogs.

    The A7R IV is not a sports or wildlife shooter, but the extra resolution lets you shoot a bit wider than you otherwise might, then crop in to get the ideal framing. I could even see some photographers being tempted away from the more costly action- and sports-oriented A9 II.

    Image quality

    Image taken with Sony A7R IV at 61-megapixel original resolution

    The best part is that, afterwards, I had a flurry of 61-megapixel images. It's not just that the sensor delivers sharper images, it's the way it does it. Without an optical low-pass filter to blur things, it handles fine details in highlights better than any camera I've tried, even when you zoom into an image. For instance, in some of the backlit shots I took of the horses and riders, the A7R IV still retained color detail of fine, highlighted hairs.

    If 61 megapixels won't cut it, Sony's Pixel Shift Multi-Shot can quadruple that to a ridiculous 240 megapixels. However, you'll need a tripod and subjects that don't move because it works to a half-pixel of precision, and the pixels are pretty darn small on this camera. On top of that, you need to use Sony's clunky Imaging Edge desktop software to stitch the 16 separate images together. By mounting the camera on a tripod and triggering it with my smartphone, I was able to produce a few pretty cool images, though.

    Gallery: Sony A7R IV image gallery | 54 Photos

    Sony introduced some new color science with the A7R IV, and the company is pretty excited about it, according to representatives I spoke with. That should scare its competitors because Sony already had some of the best color rendering in the business.

    I was pleased with the natural colors for JPEG images straight out of the camera, especially the lifelike skin tones. The 15-stop dynamic range, meanwhile, gives you tons of shadow and highlight detail. If you under- or overexpose a shot in RAW mode, you'll be able to recover details with well-controlled noise levels in Lightroom and other apps.

    The A7R IV does surprisingly well in low light, considering the high resolution. At speeds of up to ISO 6400, you can use shots straight out of camera. Beyond that, you'll see a fair amount of noise, and Sony's noise-reduction processing kicks in pretty aggressively. Still, images retain most of that incredible detail, and overall, it exceeded my expectations for low-light performance.

    Video

    Sony A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera

    If you're into video, you probably should get the A7 III or A7S II instead of this camera. Still, as further proof of its versatility, the A7R IV can do that chore pretty well, too, if you need it. It can handle 4K at up to 30 fps or full HD at 120 fps, so while it's not quite up to Panasonic's video-centric cameras in that regard, it's not shabby for a high-res shooter.

    The A7R IV can't shoot 10-bit video and has a relatively low 100 Mbps bit rate, compared to 400 Mbps on the Panasonic GH5. However, Sony gave it HLG, S-Log3 and S-Log2 custom shooting profiles that deliver up to 14 stops of dynamic range, beating the GH5 and Blackmagic's Pocket Cinema Camera 6K.

    To maximize depth of field and low-light capability, you can shoot at full-frame with some line skipping, though you'll get some aliasing and moire. If you're okay with a crop, it'll downsample the entire APS-C area of the sensor to a crispy 4K with no artifacts.

    I found the 4K cropped video to be extremely sharp, and aliasing was only noticeable in full-frame on shots with lots of fine detail. As with photos, I found colors to be accurate and pleasing, especially with human subjects. Shooting with S-Log3 or S-Log2 gave me more options in grading if I wanted more control over the look. Sony has improved the rolling shutter "jello" issue, but it's still pretty noticeable in full-frame mode.

    With the new digital audio interface and S-Log color profiles, the A7R IV would actually be fine for the odd professional video job. In some ways, it's more capable for that than the A9 II, which lacks the S-Log feature. I guess that Sony sees the A7R IV as more of an artistic camera for folks who dabble in both photography and video.

    Wrap-up

    Sony A7R IV full-frame mirrorless camera

    I expected the A7R IV to be a great high-resolution camera for landscape, fashion and other types of artistic photography, and it is that. It's second to none if you need maximum detail, and it produces perhaps the best quality images I've ever seen. Color reproduction is excellent, and the high dynamic range gives you plenty of latitude to adjust them later.

    What really surprised me was how versatile it is. The A7R IV is no sports camera, but it delivers impressive burst performance considering the resolution. The best part of it is Sony's advanced autofocus system, which delivers sharp photos in nearly every shooting scenario. Video is also far beyond what I expected with professional features and sharp, color-accurate 4K.

    At $3,500, the A7R IV is vying against Nikon's $3,000 Z 7 and the $3,700 Panasonic S1R. It beats those cameras in most areas, particularly resolution and autofocus, though the Z 7 is a better choice for video, as also offers 10-bit external recording. Sony itself is also overdue to release a sequel to its video-centric A7S II model, and the A7R IV's biggest competition might be Sony's previous A7R III, which you can now get for $2,500.

    All told, Sony has once again elevated itself well above its rivals with the A7R IV, which is in a class by itself when it comes to high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless cameras. If that's what you're looking for, and you can afford it, I wouldn't hesitate for a second.

    All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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