Sony A7 IV Camera Review Is the Sony A7 IV the best all around "affordable" full frame for 2021?

Sony recently announced the replacement to its popular A7 III camera in the form of the A7 IV and we got a chance to take it for a full week of extensive testing.

This review is going to be different than the previous ones that we did here on LensVid as we did our best to incorporate as many tests as we could that are based on questions we received from our readers and we also tried to use the camera in several different shooting situations.

The new Sony A7 IV

Sony A7 IV Review

Physical changes

We will start with a look at some of the main external changes to the camera:

  • Display – Like the A7S III the new A7 IV has a fully articulated touch screen. The resolution is a little over 1 million dots (we really wanted to see the 2.36-million dot resolution monitor of the new A7R IV A here) which is a very minor bump from the A7 III (0.9 million dots).
    When set to sunshine mode we could not see a huge difference compared to our A1 but in default manual mode the A1 is brighter – we didn’t see a huge difference compared to the A7 III.
  • EVF – The camera also has a new 3.69M dot electronic viewfinder (with 0.78x magnification and a 23mm eyepoint) on its own it feels perfectly fine but when you compare it side by side to the EVF on our A1 it is really night and day in terms of clarity colors and image magnification (a similar viewfinder is also found on the A7S III by the way).
  • Mode dial – There are two important changes to the top dials. The first is a lower extra dial that lets you choose between stills/video and S&Q modes. It has a forward lock and it is a super useful addition in our view especially since you now have 3 user-programmable settings (1-3 on the top dial) for each of the three modes – more than any other Sony camera.
  • Rear dial R (previously exposure dial) – for the first time Sony removed the exposure compensation dial (we hardly ever used it, to be honest) and you can now assign it to any number of options including ISO, color temperature, white balance, etc., very convenient.
  • Full-size HDMI – moving away from the micro-HDMI is a huge plus of the A7 IV and if you are working with monitors you are going to enjoy this one.
  • Faster USB – like the previous model, the A7 IV has micro-USB and USB-C connections but the USB-C is faster on the new model supporting up to 10Gbps.
  • Top Record button – this change is somewhat controversial as it forced Sony to move the C1 button next to the viewfinder which not everybody likes.
  • Deeper grip – this one should be a welcome change for most users even those with relatively small hands and it is mostly similar to the grip of our A1.
  • New memory card type and new memory door – The A7 IV has two memory cards Both can accept SD UHS-II cards but only the top one can also accept the new CFexpress Type A cards (you must choose between SD and CFexpress for this slot). The door has better sealing and a small movable lock similar to other recent Sony cameras.
  • Improved strap holders – a small but important change in the A7 IV, the two-strap holders are non-retelling.
  • New Menus – Like the A7S III and A1, the A7 IV supports the new menus and improved touch capabilities. The menus are similar although not identical to those of the two other cameras.
  • New Digital Audio interface – like most recent Sony models the A7 IV adds support for the new hot-shoe with the digital audio interface and 24-bit 4 channel recording with supported mics and adapters.
  • Faster flash sync speed – the new mechanical shutter of the Sony A7 IV can sync with a flash at up to 1/400 second so you can get more output from your flash when shooting outdoors during the day (less need for HSS).

The new dials and record button on the A7 IV

New dials on the A7 IV

Software changes

The A7 IV brings a large number of software changes, some are fairly small:

  • Breathing compensation (shooting video> image quality> lens compensation> breathing comp) – This exciting new video feature corrects the breathing of a lens by cropping in slightly to compensate. Currently, only 16 Sony lenses are supported and we hope Sony will add many more and maybe even allow for manual addition of 3’rd party lenses (if this is even technically possible).
    We tested this on our 20mm f/1.8 lens and it worked very well although it does crop quite a bit so be mindful of that.
  • Streaming (shooting> USB streaming) – When connected to a computer or a Smartphone you can now choose to stream as well as simultaneously record up to 1080p 60p (or a pretty useless 4K 15p) and this is the first Sony to allow this in such a way.
    Since the new Imaging Edge app was released late in our review we were only able to try the new fast USB connect functionality which allows the camera to easily display in OBS and other streaming software directly (just like a webcam) without any special apps or accessories and it seemed to work well.
  • Focus Map (Focus> Focus assist> Focus map) – This interesting new feature currently only found on the A7 IV shows areas close to the camera in orange and further away in blue while the area in focus has no color. In practice we found this to be confusing. We love the idea but Sony needs to improve it by adding more settings for color, transparency, etc. to really make it usable.
  • S-Cinetone (as well as S-Log2, S-Log3, HLG) – Like the A7S III and A1 you can now shoot in the S-Cinetone profile and of course in 10bit 4:2:2 which is one of the main new video features of this camera.
  • Anti-dust Function (Setup > Setup Option > Anti-dust Function > Shutter When Power Off > On) – This feature which also exists on the A1 allows the user to set the shutter to close when the camera is turned off to prevent dust from getting into the sensor when you switch lenses. Just remember never to touch the shutter as it is very delicate.
  • Tally light – just like the A7S III and A1 you know have a red rectangle when you record video which is useful (we would still prefer a physical LED on the top plate like some video cameras have). The rectangle is a bit dim though in none sunshine mode compared to our A1.
  • Maintain grid when connected to HDMI – For whatever reason, even the A1 did not maintain the grid when connected to an external monitor. The A7 IV fixed that although you still can’t output and simultaneously view a none clean HDMI signal on an external monitor which is super annoying (but not unique to this camera or even to Sony in general).

The new menus on the A7 IV

new menus on the A7 IV

A7 IV Tests and observations

In order to test some of the changes we mentioned as well as the performance of the new 33MP sensor and processor (similar to that found on the A1) we performed a long list of tests and here are the results we got:

  • AF – Although we didn’t have time to test the new birds-eye AF mode in video which at the moment only the A7 IV has in the Sony line, we did test the real-time ‘tracking of the camera in both stills and video and it seems to work very well.
  • Shooting speed – the official shooting speed of the A7 IV in compressed RAW is 10fps. In our extensive testing, however, we got lower speeds, even with a generous 1fps margin of error – as you can see.

SD card (Prograde V90 card)

RAW+JPEG

Uncompressed

RAW+JPEG

Lossless

RAW+JPEG

Compressed

JPEG RAW
Uncompressed
RAW
Lossless
RAW

Compressed

5.5 fps
(2 sec buffer)
5.5 fps
(2 sec buffer)
7.5 fps
(2 sec buffer)
5.6 fps 5 fps
(5 sec buffer)
4.2 fps 8.2 fps
(8 sec buffer)

We did notice a significant improvement in buffer clearing when we used the Sony CFexpress type A card although the actual shooting speed stayed more or less the same (within a margin of error).

CFexpress Type A card (Sony 160GB)

RAW+JPEG

Uncompressed

RAW+JPEG

Lossless

RAW+JPEG

Compressed

JPEG RAW
Uncompressed
RAW
Lossless
RAW

Compressed

3.6 fps 4.2 fps
(4 sec buffer)
7.7 fps

(4 sec buffer)

6.5 fps 5 fps 4.6 fps 7.6 fps

If you are shooting bursts you will certainly want to get a CFexpress Type A card for this camera. 

  • Slow SD cards – We were asked by a reader to check the min memory card that the camera can use – we tried a really old SanDisk SD with 20MB/s write and it seems to work for stills although we would never recommend this of course. For video, you must have a min V30 card.
  • Moiré test – We were asked by one of our readers to test Moiré with the new sensor. We tried with several tightly knitted fabrics and compared our findings to a few other Sony cameras and found the results to be very similar so nothing special to report on this front.
  • Imaging Edge app support – the latest version of Sony’s Imaging Edge app can now support the A7 IV and from the little time we had with it (it was released just as we were about to send the camera back), it seems to allow to download and view all images taken with the camera more easily and much faster (including RAW).
  • Rolling shutter – in our video test rolling shutter in 4K 25p and 4K 50p seems to be well under control with not too much distortion (note that other reviewers online claim that rolling shutter in stills isn’t very impressive, however).
  • Battery life – While the official CIPA battery life with the NP FZ100 battery is lower than that of the A7 III at around 580 shots per charge with LCD and 520 shots using the EVF (compared to 710 / 610 of the A7 III), you can probably get more out of it in most circumstances.
    We have also been able to shoot around 1.5-2 hours of 4K video per charge depending on the bit rate and other settings.
  • Image stabilization – The A7 IV has improved IBIS with 5.5 stops of stabilization and the new Active mode for the video which adds gyroscope data but crops in to 1.1x which can be problematic especially in 4K 60p when the camera is already cropped in.
  • Overheating – We tested the camera in November and although it wasn’t particularly cold we simply didn’t have enough time to do thorough testing so we will have to get back to this when we receive a production unit. 

The A7 IV next to our A1

A7 IV ana A1

A few observations compared to the A7 III

As part of our review, we joined Suf Cohen with the camera for a day of shooting on the beach. Cohen is a local pro stills event and surfing photographer and he also had a chance to shoot a wedding with the camera.

He has been working with the A7 III for 3.5 years and had a lot of interesting insights regarding the differences between the new and old models that are not necessarily reflected by the camera’s specs or even in our own testing. Some are really small points while others show more substantial differences.

Here are some of his observations in brief:

  • The mechanical shutter sound on the A7 IV is louder than the A7 III (and much louder than the A1).
  • The A7 IV has the option to set seconds in the clock which is important for synching two cameras more easily (important when you shoot an event for example with two cameras).
  • The stabilizer for stills feels a little better.
  • Despite the increased resolution, the image looks a bit cleaner in higher ISOs.
  • AF in stills works extremely well, fast and accurate (with the Sony 35mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8).
  • The screen looks good indoors and outdoors even in sunlight. Working with an articulating monitor is not for everyone and Cohen certainly prefers a tilt screen for his work.
  • The switch between the EVF and monitor is very quick (not instantiations but fast enough). The camera reacts very quickly and turns on faster.
  • Shooting in uncompressed RAW feels slower than the A7 III, however, compressed RAW feels significantly faster.
  • You can now jump 10 or even 100 images in the preview and not just one by one.
  • Being able to get the shutter to close down when switching lenses is great.
  • The camera gets hot in the front next to the A7 IV logo during long stills shooting unlike the A7 III which got hotter behind the screen. This is part of the camera’s new heat dissipation system.
  • Ergonomics is good, fairly similar button layout to the A7 III with some small changes which are easy to get used to. The quality of the joystick is far superior.
  • Crop mode gives you 15MP which is very useful in many circumstances, especially for web use.
  • Viewing the RAW files from the camera in a 3’rd party software like Faststone shows them in full size unlike all other previous Sony models (including the A1).

Stills/Video and S&Q dial

New features - A7 IV

Sample shots

We shot some images with the A7 IV with several lenses including the new 90mm f/2.8 Sigma, the Sony 20mm f/1.8, and the 35mm f/1.8 Sony.

No processing was done on these images (only resizing):

A few images taken by Suf Cohen on the beach (only cropping was applied; please note that the 200-600mm that was used for some of these images had to be taken for repair later so it might not show its full sharpness in some of these shots).

Conclusion

After spending a full week with the A7 IV we can say that Sony created a very strong all-around professional camera. Although we might be spoiled by our A1, the A7 IV felt very familiar to us with a similar body, menus, and quality AF system.

The A7 IV is a jump forward in almost any respect compared to the now-aging A7 III. Anything from usability, performance, features, and ergonomics have been improved. Even compared to our top of the line A1, the A7 IV didn’t feel too far behind for general purpose use and it actually introduced some very useful innovations such as the new dials and the focus breathing correction feature which we would love to see added via firmware to other Sony cameras.

The best all-around “affordable” Full Frame for 2021?

The A7 IV - best all around camera 2021?

The A7 IV is not perfect of course. There are a few areas where we would have liked to see improvements and that includes the monitor (which Sony should really improve by now), the EVF which isn’t bad but could certainly be better (maybe with the 5.7 million dot EVF of the A7R IV) and faster stills shooting speed in non-compressed modes.

For video shooters the lack of full-frame 4K 60p is disappointing. We are not sure why this was not possible in this camera but for those who need 4K slow motion, the A7S III is still the far better choice.

As extensive as this review is, it can only go so far and it is important to remember that we were testing a pre-production version of the camera for only a single week. We are planning on buying the camera to supplement our A1 and A7R IV so we might be able to do some more testing at a later date.

Price

The A7 IV will start selling in late 2021 for $2500 (now on pre-order on B&H).

Special Thanks

We want to thank Sony Europe (and in particular Sony Italy) as well as the local Sony Importer Isfar for loaning us the camera for review and helping with the logistics as well as answering some of the technical questions that we had during this review.

We also like to thank Suf Cohen for helping us with some of the tests and providing some much-needed real-world feedback on using the camera.

You can check out more LensVid exclusive articles and reviews on the following link. 

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of LensVid.com. He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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