The Sony α7 IV

Notes from a week at Disney World with Sony’s latest full-frame camera body.

Assumed Audience: People interested in cameras and photography.

My family and I recently went to Disney World as a huge celebration of paying off our house (!) this spring. For the trip I rented the Sony α7 IV and the Tamron 35 – 150mm 𝑓/2 – 2.8 Di III VXD, and I also took along my recently acquired Sony Sonnar T* FE 55mm 𝑓/1.8 ZA. Over the course of the week, I took a bunch of notes on using each. This post focuses on the camera; see the sibling posts for details on the lens!

Posts in this little series:

First impressions (June 4)

The grip is subtly different from the grip on the α7R IV, and better. It’s a tiny bit larger, without feeling large or bulky, in a way that fits my hand much more nicely. If you’ve felt the difference between the α7 III or α7R III and the α7R IV, it’s the same kind of difference.

The button feel is a touch nicer as well in a few cases. As with button feel in general, it’s a bit hard to describe; it mostly feels slightly more satisfying in the case of the shutter button and the wheels on top of the . The α7R IV wheels are slightly clickier, but the α7 IV’s slight decrease in clickiness does not make it feel less sure or reliable, just slightly smoother. Most of the buttons feel otherwise unchanged, with the same small degree of wiggle within the casing but no issue pressing them confidently.

The menu revision is very, very good. I very much wish Sony would roll out this firmware revision to all their cameras in recent years. Sony has long been justly criticized for how badly organized and difficult to use its menus are; this should put those complaints more or less entirely to rest. If you haven’t seen PetaPixel’s coverage from the new system’s debut with the α7S III covers it nicely.

The new system immediately felt familiar from my use of the α7R IV and α7C — but better. The overall information architecture is not substantially changed — but a few key tweaks improve it substantially. As a key example, I have found it incredibly difficult to tweak the output settings for USB or HDMI on my α7R IV.

One other detail which caught my attention: the shutter sound is subtly nicer than on the α7R IV — which was itself subtly nicer than on the earlier α7 models I have listened to. It’s a small thing, but one I appreciate!

Travel day (June 5)

I had the body out a handful of times today, mostly at the airport before we left. Besides the handful of portraits I took with it (on which see my discussion in the companion post), I caught this shot of my girls entertaining themselves while waiting for our much-delayed flight:

two girls looking out an airport window
ISO 125, 36mm, 𝑓/8.0, 1/40s

The handling is easy, the menus continue to be much nicer to work with, and the pleasant details I noticed the first day continue to strike me

One upside I hadn’t considered compared to the α7R IV: the much smaller megapixel count means I can take ~2½× as much photo or video on any given SD card. The 64GB SD cards I have will hold over 1,300 photos from this body, vs. fewer than 500 for the α7R IV. That is a huge difference.

Walkabout days

Written June 10.

My conclusion at this point is that while I really like a bunch of the improvements in this body, and would probably seriously consider it if my existing camera were an α7 III or α7R III… I am absolutely going to be sticking with my α7R IV. I can imagine a future α7 VI or α7R VI tempting me away (in half a decade or more!) but as things stand, the α7R IV remains a better fit for me overall — for one key reason.

Tight crops are just much less usable on the α7 IV compared to the the α7R IV. This is the flip side of the ability to take 2½× as many pictures on the same SD card: a lower megapixel count has real photographic impact; no few of those those pictures will simply be less useful to me.

Given my love of prime lenses, I have come to rely on the ability to use those MPs to compensate for lack of reach by way of cropping. Shooting yesterday with the 55mm lens, for example, I took a shot the same way I would have with my α7R IV, and the α7 IV produced something kind of usable… but nothing like what I’m used to when trying to crop in on these birds:

ISO 125, 𝑓/1.8, 1/8000s

For comparison, the uncropped and unedited original.

The α7R IV would have given me a perfectly usable tight crop here — I know because I’ve done it, and repeatedly, in worse conditions! — and that’s a very, very big deal to me.

Parting thoughts

Written June 14. The camera went back to LensRentals today, and while I quite enjoyed the experience, I stand by my conclusion from a few days ago: I won’t be buying this one. The one thing about it that did tempt me from the past couple days of walking around with it was its bird autofocus feature — something the α7R IV lacks, though most (or perhaps all) of the α-series cameras Sony has introduces since then have had it. Besides the excellent pictures I got with the Tamron lens (see that post’s Closing Thoughts section), a walk across a bridge brought us to see this beautiful green heron washing itself and generally chilling out on the water:

Tamron 35-150mm 𝑓/2 – 2.8 Di III VXD; ISO 320, 150mm, 𝑓/2.8, 1/500s

The bird tracking made grabbing a bunch of shots like this incredibly easy. The same goes for this shot from a few days earlier, with this bird just hanging out with a crowd at Epcot:

Sony Sonnar T\* 55mm 𝑓/1.8 ZA; ISO100, 𝑓/3.5, 1/2,500s

I don’t do a lot of bird photography, but when I do I will miss this feature! It was really nice, and the lack of it will be one of only two things that feels like a downgrade going back to my α7R IV — the other, of course, being the menu system. I tweaked my α7R IV’s settings for the way I use it as a webcam” at my desk for video conferencing today, and just let out a sigh at how bad it is.

Net: I’m really glad I rented the α7 IV and I can highly recommend it: if you’re able to put out the not-small amount of money the body costs, it is great. If I were buying today, and didn’t already have the α7R IV and therefore have built-up habits around using its massive MP count for cropping, I would certainly get the α7 IV instead.