Sony A7 IV review: A nearly perfect hybrid camera powerhouse
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Steve Dent/Engadget

Sony A7 IV review: A powerhouse of a hybrid camera

Rolling shutter issues mar a near-perfect package.

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Steve Dent
January 13th, 2022

Nearly four years after Sony released its highly successful A7 III hybrid full-frame mirrorless camera, it finally launched a follow up. The A7 IV brings a raft of new features and improvements like a higher-resolution 33-megapixel sensor, improved video specs and updated AI-powered autofocus. However, at $2,500 it’s also $500 more than the A7 III was at launch.

A lot has changed over the years between the two models. Sony now has to contend with formidable rivals like Canon’s EOS R6 and the Nikon Z6 II. It itself has also released new high-end models like the A7S III, A7R IV and A1 loaded with the latest technology.

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A7 IV

Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • 4K 60p 4:2:2 video
  • Incredible autofocus
  • Great handling

Cons

  • Rolling shutter
  • Relatively slow shooting speeds
  • High price

With all that, I was of course curious to see how the A7 IV would stack up in a category it dominated for quite a few years. How does it measure up against rivals, particularly when it comes to video? How much new tech from the high-end models has made it to the mainstream A7 IV? And is it suitable for professional use? Let’s dive in and find out.

Design and handling

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Sony’s A1, A7S III and A7R IV all had substantial body changes compared to their predecessors, and the A7 IV follows the same script. It has the same nice big grip, so you never feel you’re going to drop it, even with a big lens. However, it has picked up some heft and size, weighing in at 699 grams compared to 650 with the AIII. It’s 7mm thicker, too.

It has similar controls to the A7 III, with the biggest difference being that the record button has moved from the back to an easier-to-access position on top. The buttons and dials also generally feel better and more precise, and the joystick is grippier and easier to use. It lacks certain dials compared to the far more expensive A1, like the shooting mode and autofocus dials. The lockable exposure compensation dial is the same, but lacks the graphics because it’s designed to be programmable.

In one way, however, the A7 IV’s body is a step up from the A1. The rear touch display can fully articulate and not just tilt out, so it’s much more practical for low-angle shooting in portrait orientation. That also makes it far more useful as a vlogging camera.

It has the same well-organized menu system as the A1 and A7S III, though some controls can be a bit tricky to find. As with any other modern camera then, it’s time well spent to set up the function menu, custom menus and manual controls to your liking. Overall, though, Sony’s menus are now among the best, and better organized than on Canon’s EOS R6, for example.

Sony A7 IV full-frame mirrorless camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

The 3.69-million dot EVF is much clearer than the 2.68-million dot one one on the A7 and on par with similarly priced rivals. However, the rear display is smaller and has lower resolution than the one on the R6. That can make manual focus tricky, though the A7 IV has a new feature that can help there – more on that shortly.

The A7 IV has a dual-slot card system that supports both SD UHS II and much faster CFexpress Type A cards. However, unlike the slots on the A1 and A7S III, it only has a single dual-slot, with the other being SD UHS II only. Type A CFexpress cards aren’t quite as fast as regular CFexpress cards, topping out at 800 MB/s compared to 1,700 MB/s. They're also only used in Sony cameras, so they’re relatively hard to find and quite expensive.

Other features include a USB-C port that can power the camera during operation, along with a full-sized HDMI port, thank God. It uses Sony’s new NP-FZ100 battery that delivers up to 580 shots on a charge, or about 2 hours of 4K video shooting. Finally, the A7 IV can close its mechanical shutter when the camera is turned off, protecting it from dust when you change lenses. That’s a feature that first appeared on the EOS R, so thanks for starting that trend, Canon.

Performance

Sony A7 IV full-frame mirrorless camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

Sony’s mirrorless cameras are renowned for their autofocus speeds and AI smarts and the A7 IV is no exception. However, Sony made some compromises that affect performance.

The new 33-megapixel sensor is back-side illuminated but not stacked like the sensor on the A1, so readout speeds are relatively slow. As a result, shooting speeds are 10 fps like the A7 III in either mechanical or electronic shutter modes for compressed RAW photos, and drop to 6 fps if you use lossless or uncompressed RAW, as many photographers prefer to do.

That’s still impressive considering the resolution is up nearly 50 percent. By comparison though, the Sony A1 can shoot 50-megapixel photos in electronic mode at up to 30 fps, showing the speed benefits of a stacked sensor.

While burst speeds aren’t improved, you can capture more photos at a time, up to 1,000 in the uncompressed RAW format. If you use CFexpress Type A cards from Sony or ProGrade, you can effectively shoot forever without filling the buffer.

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Steve Dent/Engadget

Another drawback with the A7 IV’s slow sensor readout speeds is rolling shutter. If you want to shoot silently in electronic mode, you’ll need to keep the camera steady and your subject can’t move quickly either. Otherwise, you’ll see slanted lines and other artifacts that can be bad enough to ruin shots. Using the crop mode helps a lot, but then you lose the benefits of a full-frame sensor.

The A7 IV is Sony’s most advanced camera yet when it comes to autofocus. All of Sony’s new AI tricks add up to make it the easiest to use and most reliable camera I’ve ever tested in that regard.

Unlike the A7 III, face, eye and body tracking works in all focus modes for animals, birds and people. Unless you turn it off, it’ll automatically pick up your subject’s eyes, face or body and track them even if they turn or disappear from frame.

Whether you’re tracking sports, birds or cars, the tracking spot will stay tenaciously locked to your subject in most situations. All you have to do is touch the subject you want to track and the camera will take it from there.

Sony A7 IV full-frame mirrorless camera review
Steve Dent/Engadget

The A7 IV’s autofocus can easily keep up with the camera’s burst speeds for sports or bird shooting. But more importantly, the A7 IV consistently nails focus in other tricky situations, particularly with people. In some chaotic situations with lots of subjects and complex lighting, I ended up with very few unusable shots. Keep in mind that optimum focus performance requires Sony’s latest lenses, but it worked well with recent Sigma models as well.

Focus is just one part of the equation. It consistently nailed auto-exposure and auto white balance in tricky situations with a mix of lighting. That worked well in a bar with a mix of studio and practical lights, or in front of the famous Paris department store animated windows with all kinds of colors of lights.

In-body stabilization improves a half stop over the A7 III to 5.5 stops with compatible lenses, but neither comes close to Canon’s claimed 8 stops on the EOS R6. That’s somewhat balanced out by Sony’s superior high ISO performance, however. I was still able to get reasonably sharp shots down to a half second with some care.

Photo Quality

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/54

A big improvement with the A7 IV is with image quality. You’d expect more sharpness with the extra resolution, and it certainly delivers that. However, you might also think that the smaller pixels would make A7 IV worse in low light, but nope. In fact, through much of its ISO range, the A7 IV performs better even than Sony’s low-light champ, the A7S III.

Images are clean and usable in most low-light situations right up to ISO 12,800, with plenty of detail even in underexposed shots. In fact, the A7 IV has the least noise I’ve ever seen in that ISO range. Correctly exposed photos are usable up to ISO 25,600, but noise becomes a serious issue after that.

Sony has improved its color science with every new camera lately, and the A7 IV has perhaps its best setup yet. The green cast we’ve seen on earlier models is gone and colors are accurate right out of the camera and easier to balance in post than ever before.

JPEGs look great straight out of the camera with a nice balance between detail and noise reduction. The 14-bit RAW images deliver up to 13 stops of dynamic range, giving you plenty of room to lift shadows and claw back highlights. Overall, Sony’s A7 IV delivers perhaps the best images of any of its cameras, with a great balance between detail, high ISO performance and color accuracy.

Steve Dent/Engadget
Image Credit: Steve Dent/Engadget

As a semi-pro hybrid camera, the A7 IV is aimed at enthusiasts but could easily serve as a second body for professional shooters who use Sony gear. To that end, I’ve enlisted the services of Samuel Dejours and Nathanael Charpentiers from Studio Nathsam in Gien, France, who do weddings, births, events and studio work.

How is the handling on the a7 III from a pro standpoint?

Samuel: First of all the handling is a lot better than the A7 III. What I liked a lot, which is a big change for Sony, is the fully articulating display. It’s especially useful in portrait mode when you’re shooting from ground level below the subject.

What are the strong and weak points for events and studio use?

Nat: In terms of the color accuracy, it’s really improved a lot, it’s great now.

Samuel: A big issue for us is that the rolling shutter is pretty pronounced, which is a shame because it limits the use of the camera in silent mode for weddings and events.

Nathanael: And if you use this camera it’s really required for certain things because the mechanical shutter is particularly loud.

Could this serve as a professional camera for you?

Yes, it could serve as a professional camera because it’s really versatile in terms of doing both photos and video. It lacks features available on the A1 and A9, but that’s normal because those cameras are in a completely different price category.

Video

Sony A7 IV review
Samuel Dejours

Finally we’re onto video, the one area where rival cameras have moved well beyond the A7 III. Fortunately the A7 IV has big improvements in that area too, along with one drawback.

As before, it can shoot downsampled 4K video at up to 30p using the full width of the sensor, meaning video is extremely sharp. But now, it can capture that video at 4:2:2 10-bit with Sony’s S-Log, so it’s much easier to stretch and pull in post-production.

And now you can shoot 4K at up to 60 fps, also with 10 bits of color depth. While it’s cropped, video is still downsampled from a 4.6K size, so it remains sharp. The A7 IV can’t handle 120 fps 4K like Canon’s EOS R6, but then again it doesn’t have the R6’s serious overheating issues either. If you need that frame rate, it’s only available up to 1080p. HDMI output is limited to 4K 25p at just 8 bits of color depth, unfortunately.

With 13 stops of dynamic range in Sony’s S-Log3 mode, along with 10-bit 4:2:2 color and reasonably high bit rates up to 500 Mbps, image quality is superb and easy to control in post. The lack of noise at high ISO ranges is a huge plus, making the camera usable in a lot of low and tricky lighting situations.

Eye AF and tracking now work in video mode, making it far more dependable for shooting interviews or action. As with photos, it’s extremely intuitive to use. You can tap a subject to track it, and it will automatically switch to eye or face tracking as needed.

Steve Dent/Engadget
Image Credit: Steve Dent/Engadget

There’s a new and cool video feature called lens breathing compensation. Normally, pulling focus from one subject to another causes a slight but distracting zoom – an issue that’s particularly problematic on Sony’s pricey GM lenses, as good as they are. The breathing compensation function introduces a slight digital zoom that counteracts any change in focal length when focusing on a new subject.

Using the feature does cause a slight crop, and it only works with select, mostly expensive, Sony lenses. It’s a really nice feature though, and currently only found on the A7 IV.

Sony has made manual focusing for video easier as well with Manual Focus Assist. It places blue and red colors over objects behind and in front of the focus plane, while objects in focus are clear. Once I got used to it, it was relatively easy to pull focus quickly and in the right direction. The color display is a bit blocky, though, so super precise adjustments can be a challenge.

Image stabilization is very effective for video, particularly with active mode engaged. It works with 4K in both cropped 60p and uncropped 30p modes. However, rolling shutter can be pretty brutal in 30p mode with the full width of the sensor, and stabilization can sometimes make that worse (and unfixable). If you have a wide lens and can stick to the cropped mode with active stabilization, wobble is well controlled and not much worse than with the excellent A1.

Wrap-up

Sony A7 IV review
Steve Dent/Engadget

The A7 IV offers big improvements in resolution, AF tracking, video features and more, but forget about the spec sheet for a second. Sony’s largest achievement is that it created a mainstream camera that makes photography and video easier, thanks to AI smarts that can aid any photographer, no matter their skill.

The biggest drawback is rolling shutter that might give you pause if you require a silent mode or want to shoot uncropped 4K video. Another issue is the $2,500 price that’s $500 more than the A7 III was at launch.

Other hybrid cameras in that price range can’t quite measure up, though. Canon’s $2,500 20-megapixel EOS R6 is your best alternative, but the resolution is a big step down. Panasonic’s 24-megapixel S5 and Nikon’s Z6 II are other decent options, but lack the reliability and ease of use of the A7 IV. So once again, Sony rules the mainstream hybrid camera market and will probably do so for a while to come.

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