TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV
All pictures by Noel Campion

The latest in Sony’s R series is a great stills camera, but it requires know-how, says Noel Campion

I’ve been testing Sony’s latest R series (‘R’ for resolution) full-frame camera for the last few months: At 61MP, it boasts the most megapixels in its class. Too often, we compare specifications, but, in practice, the sum of the parts makes the difference.

This is true of the A7RIV’s 61MP sensor, which is far more than most will need. However, there’s more to this camera than just a gargantuan amount of megapixels.

The A7RIV is an upgrade in megapixels over its predecessor, the A7RIII, which features a 42.2MP, BSI (backside illuminated) Exmor R CMOS sensor. However, it has similar specifications, including a native range of ISO 100-32,000, expandable to 50-102,400. The A7RIV manages the same 15 stops of dynamic range, at its base ISO of 100, as the A7RIII, despite the extra pixels.

I used different lenses for landscapes, but was able to try the new Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Art Lens on the A7RIV body. This exceptional lens offers incredible flexibility as a walk-around option featuring excellent sharpness and AF ability.

It is a lens worth checking out for any Sony full-frame camera, but I was impressed at how well it performed on the A7RIV.

There’s more to the Sony A7RIV camera than just a whopping 61 megapixels
There’s more to the Sony A7RIV camera than just a whopping 61 megapixels

15 stops of dynamic range is a big deal for landscape shooters and I was amazed at how much detail I recovered from shadow areas, but also in what looked like blown-out areas in highlights. I often shoot three bracketed shots to increase the dynamic range in a contrasty scene, but I didn’t need to use the feature much, as I was able to achieve good results in a single shot.

The A7RIV also improves the hybrid AF system, which consists of 567 on-sensor, phase-detection AF points, as well as 425 contrast-detect points.

Like the A7RIII since firmware 3.0 update, it has animal- and human-eye AF, but it also has real-time tracking similar to the Sony A9 and A9II cameras. New to the A7R series is the ability to select either the left or right eye (human/animal) and you can now use eye-detect AF in movie mode.

All of these AF features are class-leading and work very well. The only caveat is that there are so many focus modes and zones, you need to learn how and when to use them. I’ve taken thousands of shots with this camera and had to get to know it intimately to get the most out of it.

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

Initially, I was a little disappointed with the results. Some of this was down to the shutter speed being too slow, especially on longer focal-length lenses.

Thanks to 61MP, every flaw and little shake is visible at 1:1. I had to shoot with shutter speeds that were higher than I’d usually get away with on a 24MP body, like the A7III. Once I understood the A7RIV, I was blown away by the breathtaking images it captured.

A feature not in the A7RIII is Focus Priority Aperture Drive, which can open aperture drive system to prioritise auto-focusing performance. During continuous shooting using the electronic shutter, this allows you to continuously adjust the focus with an F-value greater than F11. This is only supported with the electronic shutter and not the mechanical shutter.

Another feature that was previously only available on the A9 is that phase detect AF will work up to f/11, previously f/8 on the A7RIII.

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

This makes it much better for combos like the 200-600G and 1.4x teleconverter which starts at f/8 forcing it into using contrast detect AF.

Finally, you can now change the grey colour focus point, which is difficult to see against a busy background. Unlike the A7RIII the A7RIV allows you to display the focus frame in either white or red which makes it much easier to see.

Just like the A7RIII, you get in-body 5-axis image stabilisation, however, the a7R IV uses optimised algorithms and a redesigned mechanism to achieve up to a 5.5 steps of shutter speed advantage.

This means that when you use a lens without image stabilisation, the camera body is able to shift the sensor to stabilise the shot. If you use a lens that already has image stabilisation it will combine the in-body with lens IS for even better stabilisation.

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

Pixel Shift was first introduced on the A7RIII, which takes four photos and shifts the sensor by 1 pixel in between. Then using Sony’s Imaging Edge software the images can be combined to create a single image with a higher resolution.

The A7RIV can do the same but can take it a step further by taking 16 images in Pixel Shift mode. It does this by shifting the sensor in 0.5-pixel increments composited into one high-precision image of approx. 240.8MP using the Imaging Edge desktop software.

This feature works well but is incredibly limited in that absolutely nothing can move in the scene and you have to use a tripod. It’s only good for still life, product and architecture photography but certainly not landscapes as there’s always something moving like clouds, grass, leaves etc.

You’ll see movement in a Pixel Shift shot as a cross-hatch pattern which makes the image unusable.

When it does work though, you end up with massive files of up to nearly 2GB, but the detail is amazing. I used PixelShift to DNG to combine the images which works incredibly fast and I found it easier to use than Sony’s Imaging Edge desktop software.

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

I love shooting wildlife and used the Sony 100-400GM as well as the 200-600G. Both are incredible, but, for reach, the 200-600G is hard to beat. They’re perfect matches for the A7RIV’s 61MP, offering incredible detail and cropping capabilities. Using APS-C mode on the A7RIV offers an additional 1.5x to your focal length, so 600mm becomes 900mm and the files are 26MP instead of 61MP, which is still more than any other APS-C Sony body.

Despite the massive jump in resolution, the A7RIV can still shoot continuously at up to 10fps, with full AF/AE tracking for bursts up to seven seconds. The buffer supports a maximum of 68 JPEG, 68 compressed RAW, or 30 uncompressed RAW images. In APS-C mode, you’ll get three times as many shots before the buffer fills.

The A7RIV has two card slots, but now both are UHS-II, with the top being slot one. The card door is less prone to accidental opening. Also, the body is more dust- and moisture-resistant, thanks to improvements in seals and tweaking of the flaps and compartment doors.

Ergonomically, the A7RIV is a big improvement, especially the larger, deeper grip, which makes holding it with larger lenses much easier.

The camera just feels great in the hand, even without a grip or bracket. Being a back-button focus shooter, I appreciated the larger AF button, which protrudes more and is easier to feel and use. You can now lock the exposure dial and I wish they’d use the same toggle button on the mode dial, which you still have to press while changing modes.

The shutter is now better-dampened, which causes less vibration and is much quieter.

The EVF is a revelation after the A7III, which is crude by comparison. The bump in resolution, from 3.69m dots in the A7RIII to 5.76m in the A7RIV, makes focusing and reviewing images so much better.

TechNow: You have to focus to get most out of the A7RIV

Unfortunately, the 3.0-inch rear display is still the same single-touch, non-menu interactive, low-resolution screen as before. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but a corner cut by Sony on a professional camera that boasts such high-resolution images.

It can still tilt up and down, but not sideways.

I love that the A7RIV supports USB Type-C (3.2) charging/tethering, and options for wifi tethering with full RAW transfers. It also now supports both 2.4 and 5GHz wifi.

Although the A7RIV is a phenomenal stills camera, it’s no slouch for video, either. There’s no 30-minute time limit and you can record 4K at up to 30fps. You also get 1080p up to 120fps, with 14 stops of dynamic range.

The Sony A7RIV is a serious professional body that requires know-how to get the most from it. The ability to crop in post cannot be underestimated. I may have been sceptical, but I’m a believer now.

Each lens you own is like having two, thanks to crop mode, so a 24mm is also a 35mm and a 50mm is also a 75mm.

File sizes are huge, at 120MB per uncompressed RAW file (60MB compressed), but my year-old PC didn’t have any problems in Lightroom or PhotoShop dealing with them. Sony fans can still buy the excellent 42MP A7RIII or 24MP A7III, if 61MP is too much.

- The Sony A7RIV, from barkerphotographic.ie; €3,999.

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