The a7RIV is the newly redesigned 2019 premium 35mm mirrorless body, specialised towards stills image capture, with a world leading 61MP full-frame back-illuminated CMOS sensor. At this resolution it competes with medium format camera resolution, with several added benefits. Benefits over medium format systems include the price, AF tracking, familiar handling and the overall compact size and weight of the system. It is also capable of 4K video recording, although there are better movie-specific Sony systems available to choose from if you are predominantly a Vlogger or cinematographer. Read more to see how this new version excels for stills photography.
Personally, I come from a landscape photography background. Landscape photographers will tend to crave more pixels, enabling them to reveal more detail in the scenes they capture. The thought of 61MP is extremely appealing for my type of shooting. Studio photographers working in fashion, portrait or commercial will also benefit from this level of high resolution. Wildlife photographers and birders will have access to incredible detail as well as huge cropping capability, sometimes necessary to get closer to their subject. Anyone who prints at large format sizes for art or advertising will see the resolution benefit, at around 30% greater than the previous mark III version.
For hobbyists predominantly posting images to social media, this body is no doubt overkill with JPG file sizes in the region of 30-50MB each. Raw files are even larger at over 100MB each. These files are way too large for screens to display and will need considerable downsampling, somewhat defeating the point of this particular model. There are several other bodies in the a7 mirrorless range amply capable of impeccable image capture more suited to screens and social media.
For those working on billboard sized prints you’re in luck as Sony continued the development of Pixel shift multi shooting. If your subject is completely still with constant lighting as many are for advertising or studio photographers, huge 240.8MP images are now possible. Shooting on a tripod is of course essential and photographs have to be composited with Imaging Edge software, however results are simply stunning, with noticeably sharper detail at higher resolution. I’ve included the following video directly from Sony, which illustrates the staggering detail this body is capable of with Pixel shift technology.
Higher dynamic range allows photographers in any discipline to capture more light variation in their images, from brighter areas to darker shadows. Of course, this won’t affect composited HDR images particularly, it is predominantly a single shot light gathering measurement. The a7RIV proves to excel here too despite the added resolution, showing similar dynamic range to the previous a7RII and III sensor. Sony are even advertising a slightly increased 15EV stops over previous 14.7EV.
It should be considered that differences below 0.5 EV aren’t usually noticeable to the human eye, but it is quite an achievement, positioning this body with the very best, whether mirrorless or DSLR. What’s more, you can pull out two to three extra stops in post production without any noise problems whatsoever, which increases dynamic range possibilities even further. More music to high resolution seeking ears.
Native ISO is 100 as with previous sensors in this range, although tests are showing the new version may gather slightly more light. Some slight colour noise creeps in and is evident at ISO1600 and over, particularly in out of focus and darker areas. As a landscape photographer it will be rare that I will go anywhere near that kind of ISO range, which is great news for retaining image quality even in low light. It really is a feat of engineering that this sensor is so free from noise in low light situations and will be appreciated for both hand held and tripod mounted exposures.
Sony has a colour science which is fairly neutral and this model is similar to the a7RIII with bright, natural looking images. Colour manipulation from raw files can easily be done in post production, where small edits can have significant effect.
With such high resolution better quality optics are generally ideal for this system. When matching lenses, look for higher contrast, low aberration elements for the very best results. GM lenses are designed for large resolution, as are Zeiss Batis and Loxia Zeiss Sony E-mount lenses, which are both particularly strong options from Zeiss. This doesn’t mean to say you cannot use other glass or older lenses. Classic manual focus and regular Sony G lenses will also produce excellent results. Sigma and Tamron are two third party lens manufacturers with ample choices that will perform well on the body.
For excruciating detail, DXO Mark is an excellent resource and provide optical testing for both sensors and lens combinations.
Sony were early adopters of full-frame mirrorless development, trail blazing with a lightweight, portable compact system camera. Where other manufacturers are currently on their first versions of mirrorless bodies, this is Sony’s fourth iteration of the hugely successful a7R series. With that in mind the new camera body design has been tweaked in response to creating a more user-friendly experience. A newly deepened grip provides more purchase on the body, and new materials have been used and an updated rear button layout has been implemented. All in all this combines for better feeling in the hand, which many will appreciate.
In order to retain sharpness, which is no small feat with so many pixels in a small space, Sony are helping photographers get the best results possible with an updated in-body 5-axis image stabiliser algorithm. This has been optimised to maximise the sensor performance, providing up to 5.5 EV stops. The series of lenses marked with OSS also feature ‘Optical SteadyShot’ for lens-based stabilisation, which has been shown to work excellently with previous models.
Other enhancements from the manufacturer to assist with capturing sharp images include a re-engineering of the shutter unit assembly with dampened screws to absorb shutter shock. Any parts moving during image capture increase the risk of blurred images and this tiny well considered detail reduces that risk.
As photographers we can employ best practice by shooting at high enough speeds to minimise any shake or movement. Longer lenses need faster exposure times or a tripod to keep things steady. Hand held gripping of a high resolution system can be improved, bringing your elbows in for a more stable platform. Tripod mounting should always be secure and free of movement, even wind will cause tiny movements. Although the a7RIV has several self timer options, an optional wireless remote controller can be used to reduce chances of shake even further.
The headline of this fourth iteration flagship body is of course the resolution, but there are several other compelling reasons to upgrade if you are a stills photographer.
Cutting edge technology has been employed throughout this camera and the upgraded body really seems to be a feat of engineering. Sony have been able to provide the highest resolution 35mm camera in the world whilst retaining the benefits of a lightweight portable system. All of the previous successful ingredients are still present and have been improved throughout. These include stabilisation, focus acquisition, dynamic range and noise control, all combining to maintain the best image quality possible. For a niche system it has surprisingly broad appeal and for these reasons the Sony a7RIV will be on many photographers wishlist.
You can see the full spec, price and everything else about the Sony a7RIV here.
By Nick Dautlich on 14/10/2019
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