Our In-Depth Review of the Sony a7 IV

Our In-Depth Review of the Sony a7 IV

The popular Sony a7 III has been updated. Meet the Sony a7 IV, the fourth edition of this popular camera. Sony Netherlands provided me with this camera for a review, and I also got a chance to compare it with the previous model. These are my findings.

No doubt, the Sony a7 III is a popular camera. It has a nice resolution sensor, there is eye-AF, and with the much-appreciated video features, it is a great hybrid camera. But the model dates from 2018, and it shows its age. The new Sony a7 IV is now equipped with the newest real-time tracking autofocus with full eye-AF capabilities, both for photography as well as filming.

There are a lot of other changes that make the Sony a7 IV better compared to the a7 III. But it also comes with a higher price tag. Does it justify the price, and is it worth the upgrade? Before I try to answer this question, let’s take a closer look at the camera.

The new Sony a7 IV

Most Interesting Specifications

For starters, I would like to mention the most interesting specifications of the new Sony a7 IV.

  • 33-megapixel back-side illuminated CMOS sensor
  • 10 fps burst mode in compressed raw
  • A maximum of 5.5 stops image stabilization
  • 3.69-megapixel OLED electronic viewfinder
  • Improved AF system with real-time AF tracking for photography and video
  • Fully articulated 3-inch LCD touchscreen with 1.04 million dots
  • 4K oversampled video from 7K resolution in 30p
  • 4K/60p oversampled video from 4.6K resolution with a 1.5x crop
  • 10-bit video, H.265 with S-Cinetone
  • 10-bit HEIF
  • Live stream capability through the USB connector
  • Double UHS-II SD card slot, slot one also accepts CF Express Type A
  • Full-size HDMI port
  • Improved ergonomics
  • New menu structure

The Looks

The basic design is similar to every other model from the Alpha line. Sony follows a well-known path of minor ergonomic improvements with each next model. The Sony a7 IV has finally reached the point where it has a nice grip and sturdy feel to it. Most buttons have been improved, and together with the overall size, the Sony a7 IV is much more comfortable to hold and use.

The Sony a7 IV handles much better thanks to the improved ergonomics.

Most buttons on the back are improved, like the AF-ON button and the joystick. The large rotation dial still is the exception. It is prone to accidental pressing of one of the four sides while rotating. Perhaps the next model will address that issue. The dial at the backside of the top plate is improved as well. You know, the one that sits in between the PASM dial and the EV dial. It is now located on top, instead of sunken into the ridge.

The EV dial has lost the dedicated EV correction markings, making it less dedicated. You can program this dial to your preferences now, giving the camera four dials for changing the settings. It also incorporates a locking knob.

An overview of the buttons and dials on the Sony a7 IV.

Another striking change is the switch for photo, film, and the S&Q function. It’s no longer part of the PASM wheel, making it much easier to set the exposure for filming. Speaking of which, the movie recording button has changed with the C1 button. This may not be everyone's preference, but the buttons can be programmed to your liking, so you can change it back.

The LCD Screen, Menu, and Connections

Sony has decided to give the Sony a7 IV a fully-articulated screen. You can turn it sideways and towards the front, perfect for selfies or vlogging. Unfortunately, it’s just 1.04 megapixels in resolution, which falls short compared to many other cameras. Because of that, the information that is projected on the screen is not as sharp and crisp. But I doubt someone who's upgrading from the previous model will be bothered by that. Still, it would have been nice to see a higher-resolution LCD screen.

The Soy a7 IV has a fully articulated screen that measures 3 inches, but has only 1.04 million pixels.

Fortunately, Sony has provided the camera with its new menu structure. This makes working with the menu much faster, especially with the full touchscreen functionality. Yes, the touchscreen is another improvement. The way the functions are divided throughout the many menu pages and subpages is not much different from the old menu. It’s still full of abbreviations that are not always clear, and the function layout can sometimes be a bit confusing.

Yes, sturdy full-size HDMI

Another big improvement is the full-size HDMI port. This port, together with the others, is placed behind hinged doors, something I can appreciate a lot. The other side of the camera has a double card slot, both ready for UHS-II SD cards. Slot A also allows the use of a CF Express Type A card, which is only needed when using one of the slow-motion video modes. Besides that slow-motion video mode, the UHS-II SD cards will be fast enough to accommodate the Sony a7 IV.

Two card slots, one for both CF Express Type A and UHS-II SD, the other for UHS-II SD.

Compared to Its Predecessor

I got a chance to have both the Sony a7 III and Sony a7 IV next to each other. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to compare the photo or video footage itself, but it was a great opportunity to see and feel how the improved ergonomics make a difference.

The version III next to the version IV. The body design is much improved.

Sony has made the new a7 IV much more convenient to operate due to its improved design. It holds much better. Also, the improved buttons make it easier to use.

The new menu structure is also welcome, making it ready for the future. But besides the differences on the outside, there are also a lot of improvements on the inside as well. Although I find the ergonomics important, the upgrades inside are also worth looking at.

The larger grip and thicker body make the Sony a7 IV much more comfortable to hold.

The Autofocus and Speed

The Sony a7 III had an effective eye-AF system, but it was a separate system that didn't work together with the other AF possibilities. The Sony a7 IV has the latest AF system, with real-time AF tracking ability, complete with eye-AF for humans, animals, and birds. On top of that, the system works also for filming.

The updated AF system brings the Sony A7 IV into modern times. It isn't performing better than its peers, but it has caught up.

The speed of the camera isn’t changed, though. It still shoots at a maximum of 10 frames per second, with the electronic shutter and compressed raw or jpeg. Switching over to either uncompressed raw or the mechanical shutter, the speed drops to a maximum of six frames per second.

When you use six frames per second, the camera allows you to shoot 800 frames in one burst, with compressed raw and JPEG. Only JPEG takes the count over 1,000 frames in one burst. 

But I did test the rolling shutter effect when shooting photos. When using the electronic shutter, I noticed a lot of deformation in vertical lines while panning. This does not occur with the mechanical shutter, but in that case, the speed drops to a maximum of six frames per second. Fortunately, the sensor shows a much faster readout when filming. The rolling shutter is almost absent both in 4K and Full HD resolution.

Shooting 10 fps is possible with electronic shutter and compressed raw, but you will encounter a strong rolling shutter effect.

You need to switch to the mechanical shutter to prevent the rolling shutter effect, but the camera will slow down to a maximum of six fps.

The New 33-Megapixel BSI CMOS Sensor

The Sony a7 IV has a new back-side illuminated CMOS sensor with 33 megapixels. Although the 24 megapixels of its predecessor were more than enough in most situations, it is a welcome increase. It allows you to crop an image without losing too much resolution.

An increase in resolution often affects the ISO performance. For that reason, I have done a couple of tests, shooting scenery with a fixed light and different ISO settings. The performance of the new sensor is good, and the noise in the darker parts of the image is well controlled. An image with a correct exposure shows almost no noise up until ISO 3,200. Higher ISO values do show noise, but it doesn’t degrade the quality too much.

The ISO performance of the Sony a7 IV.

For the second test, I tried to rescue an underexposed image in Lightroom Classic to see how much noise is produced this way. With a six-stop underexposure at ISO 400 corrected, I found the noise levels almost similar to an ISO 25,600 image, which is quite good.

Noise levels are well controlled when correcting underexposure. This example shows how the noise level of a ISO 25,600 image is similar to a ISO 400 that got a six-stop correction.

For this last test, I have used uncompressed 14-bit raw files. For the ISO comparison, I used the in-camera jpeg files without any post-processing.

In Use

During the weeks I spent with the Sony a7 IV, I found the camera to be reasonably pleasant to use. Perhaps it can be called very pleasant when comparing it to its predecessor. This is due to the better ergonomics and the other small but significant improvements. I’m happy to see the new menu structure in this camera. The touchscreen works now with the menu as well, which makes operating the camera much easier and more convenient.

The 33-million-pixel sensor gives a nice resolution for a lot of situations. I can imagine landscape photographer will like the pixel count. It also allows a nice crop without losing too much detail. 

The AF system works like a charm. The real-time AF tracking with eye-AF is a huge and welcome upgrade. The use of the AF system also extends to video, and its sensitivity is rated down to -4 EV with an f/2 lens.

Still, some things are not as great as I had hoped. The burst speed of the camera isn’t that great. It shoots no more than 10 frames per second with a strong rolling shutter effect or six frames per second when you want to avoid the rolling shutter effect.

Another thing that has bothered me is the on-screen information when using the quick menu. Together with the low resolution of the LCD screen, the information doesn’t look that crisp and the white and orange information can be difficult to read when it's projected over the live view image on the screen. Sony should improve this, I think.

The new menu structure is a great update. Still, the information that is projected on the screen can be difficult to decipher in some situations. Sony should improve this issue, I think. The low resolution of the screen doesn't help either. But if you're used to it, it's no big deal.

Shooting video with the Sony a7 IV is something I haven’t done, but it’s worth mentioning nevertheless. As said, the AF system allows you to use real-time AF tracking and eye-AF, and you can use S-log2, 3, and HLG 10-bit. Another great feature is the focus breathing compensation, but it only works with a small selection of lenses. It will introduce a small crop, but that isn’t such a big deal. Although the full sensor is used for many video resolutions, the 4K 60p setting will introduce a 1.5x crop.

I didn't test the video abilities of the Sony A7 IV a lot. These screenshots give a small impression of a few of the possibilities it offers.

Conclusion

The Sony a7 IV is, without any doubt, a much-improved camera compared to the Sony a7 III. If you’re in the market for such a camera, it’s worth looking at it. Despite all this, it doesn’t stand out compared to its peers. The specs may have improved, but it has only brought the camera up to par with a Canon EOS R6 or a Nikon Z 6II. In some instances, it still falls behind, and it doesn’t excel in any way. 

If you’re using a Sony a7 III, the improved AF system alone can be enough reason for an upgrade, if you’re using the eye-AF and tracking for your photography, that is. Otherwise, there is perhaps less need for an upgrade. I think the Sony a7 IV should have a better list of specs compared to its peers to justify the increased price. 

The Sony A7 IV isn't a fast camera, but for photographing people, it does a nice job. The eye-AF works in every AF setting, and the real-time AF tracking helps a lot.

What I Like

  • Better ergonomics
  • Improved buttons (except the rear dial)
  • New menu structure
  • Fully articulating touch screen
  • Increased electronic viewfinder resolution
  • Large buffer for 800 compressed raw+jpeg or over 1,000 JPEGs (at 6 fps)
  • Real-time AF tracking with eye AF
  • Eye AF for humans, animals, and birds
  • Separate switch for photo, movie, and S&Q
  • EV correction dial is customizable
  • Focus breathing compensation (although only with select lenses)
  • Almost no rolling shutter effect for video
  • Full-size HDMI
  • Shutter can be closed if the camera is turned off
  • Very good ISO performance

What Could Be Improved

  • Only 10 fps in electronic shutter mode, depending on the file format
  • Strong rolling shutter effect with electronic shutter (photography)
  • The rear dial can be pressed on accident easily when rotating the dial
  • Low-resolution LCD screen
  • Overlay information on the LCD screen can be difficult to read under circumstances
  • 1.5x crop with 4K 60p
  • Increased price

Many thanks to Sony Netherlands for providing me with the camera and the accompanying lenses. It was fun using and reviewing the Sony a7 IV.

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9 Comments
Luis Mesa's picture

Very good review. It touches on the important points. I recently sold my Sony a7iii, and lenses as i didn’t find it special in any way. However when the a7iv came out I was wondering if I should have waited to upgrade. Now I am sure I made the right move. Thanks.

Jacob H.'s picture

Excellent review Nando! I fully appreciate the progress that Sony made with their cameras. They're the best in AF and there's a really great lens selection. The sensors in general are excellent.

However, every time I pick up a Sony incl. the ones with the improved menus, I'm flabbergasted by the lack of logic and attention to both UX and UI. It's a plethora of colors, font types and sizes and symbols without any recognizable structure all dumped onto cluttered EVFs and LCDs (the latter of inferior quality).

We work with different brands here in the studio in Zurich and our Sony sales rep is very responsive and eager to lend cameras and lenses (great guy) but after a few days personal use I've never grown to 'love' a Sony camera. It's a pity since the output is of great quality and I do love the Zeiss Batis lenses. But then again, there are so many great cameras and life is too short...

Simon Hartmann's picture

This review is correct but seems a bit harsh towards Sony. Calling 33mp vs 20 on the R6 only „catching up“ is a bit of an understatement. Ive used both cams for months and it IS a significant difference. Not to mention video: while i hate the 4k60 crop, i cannot rely on the canon as it will overheat quickly and you cannot know, how long youll be able to record (maybe if taking some images in between) if at all sometimes.

I do prefer the Canon to the touch, but i prefer Sonys Menus actually. The customisation is much better (the r6 is really limited esp. for filmmaking buttons), especially the Quick-Menu is really nice.

I love Canon for their Colours and how the Cameras feel, i dont like their buttons and their cripple-Hammer tactics (clog2 canon!)

Sony is less sexy on the outside, but it is so much more a reliable tool for me. They pack in whatever they can and it actually works for me without issue or overheating. I really like that as a hybrid creator.

Just my 2 cents.

charles hoffman's picture

the sooner the iv gets into widespread distribution, the sooner its predecessor A7iii will be reduced to a price of 1300-1600l
at that price, it will beat any and all comers

Nando Harmsen's picture

Dropping in price won't make it a better camera. Only a cheaper one. It will suffice for those who don't need an upgraded eye AF system or real-time AF tracking. Those who will benefit from these upgrades won't be better off with the A7 III, even at the lower price

charles hoffman's picture

5 percent will use the newer features
the auto-focus system on the A7iii is quite capable
but then, not all of us cover the ballet professionally

and like everything else,, unless you factor in price, a mercedes will always be the best sedan

Nando Harmsen's picture

Just 4%? That's a bold statement.
I don't believe that. It will be much more than 4%, I'm sure.

But there will be always the hobbyist that just wants the newest camera, just because it's... the newest camera. And of that group, perhaps 4% is a good number indeed.
Perhaps you find my other article interesting: https://fstoppers.com/gear/if-your-photos-arent-any-good-new-camera-wont...

charles hoffman's picture

you managed to repeat the 4 percent error (it was 5%) 3 times - that's understandable

But the real risk is that cameras take on the sickness of the cell-phone --- that every year or two there is the run to upgrade.
A camera is used to take photographs; a cell-phone is used to live all aspects of life.

And if you want to improve your photography, the way to do it is with a camera you know as well as your hands.

charles hoffman's picture

while there is no doubt that this is a fine camera, it is quite unlikely that it will achieve the sales success of the a7iii . A7iii owners are not likely to trade-up for the marginal advantages, and a whole crop of Nikons and Canons are now competitively priced and finally have more comprehensive lens selections

As for its embrace of HEIF files - it's a nice touch, but to what end/? For the pro, there's no real benefit; for the amateur - the savings in file size is eclipsed by the number of programs, apps, and formats that still just take jpg