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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.