The Sony a7R IV: Here's Why I Won't Be Getting This Extraordinary Camera

The Sony a7R IV: Here's Why I Won't Be Getting This Extraordinary Camera

A 61 megapixel sensor, 15 stops of dynamic range, 5-Axis Optical IBIS, 10 frames per second shooting capabilities. You're killing me here Sony. Do I want this camera? Hell yeah. Will I be getting this camera? Absolutely not. Here’s why.  

When news of Sony’s latest release dropped last week, I looked on in amazement at the camera that I saw before me. Every time another spec of the new a7R IV was put in front of me, my jaw slackened a little more and my knees buckled like a newborn giraffe’s. What an absolute behemoth of a camera. I looked down at my Canon 5D Mark IV and gave it a little pet to reassure it. Then I watched some initial user reviews from pros, influencers, and everything in between and the one thing they all had in common was their sheer, stunned astonishment at the extraordinary piece of technology in their hands. It was like they were Charlie holding a golden ticket to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Gushes of delight from beginning to end. But once my gaping maw returned to standard position, I realized pretty quickly that I wouldn’t be buying this apparent gold-standard camera for a couple of very simple reasons that I’d like to expound upon.  

To make my point, I’d like to draw upon the car ownership situation here in my home of Japan and use it as an analogy for my Sony conundrum. First, have a look at the picture below.

They are the two cars I currently drive at home. You’ll notice the bigger Nissan on your right has a white number plate and the smaller Suzuki has a yellow number plate. The yellow plate cars are called "kei jidosha" and along with some other specs, must have engines under 1,000cc. When I first arrived in Japan I laughed my little Australian head off at the idea of cars with engines less than 1,000cc. I mocked my Japanese friends and insisted we had lawnmowers at home more powerful. Yet here we are 15 years later and I’m about to buy my very first brand new car. What am I going to buy? A 660cc engine minivan. Now, after you’ve stopped laughing at the idea of me actually spending money on something that’s got barely more grunt than a toy Matchbox car, let me give you the reasons why.  

It all comes down to the use-case scenarios of cars here in Japan, particularly where I live. Or, in other words, what situations will I mostly be using my car? If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll know that cities like Tokyo or Osaka are crowded. Like really crowded. And the roads are filled with cars and traffic lights and stop signs and gridlock and single lane carriageways that all mean you’re not going anywhere too quickly. It’s why the trains are always crowded: to escape the even more crowded roads. And in the countryside, such as where I live in Kyushu, you have tiny little roads full of farmers and bicycles and tractors and potholes which all conspire to keep you at barely 30mph. Oh, I forgot to mention that the speed limits on most urban roads are about 40-50 kmh (25-30mph) and 60mph on the freeways. And there are enough speed cameras and police patrols making their presence felt to ensure that you don’t really get the chance to exceed those limits too much.  

This all brings us back to my impending purchase of a 660cc minivan. In this country of so many amazing feats of vehicular engineering genius, I often look longingly at some of the cars I see at the dealerships or on the roads. Indeed, there’s a new Lexus just next door that is beautiful, just beautiful. But I look at that car and think it’s wasted here. Completely, utterly wasted. It could probably hum through the gears without a misplaced cog and hit 200mph in a blink, but when would that actually happen? The roads here are narrow, crowded, and strictly policed. I doubt that Lexus would hit 3rd gear 90% of the time. Is it a gorgeous car? Yes. Is it better than almost anything out there on the roads? Yes. Is it overkill in this context? Abso-friggin-lutely yes. And that’s why so many people opt for the yellow plate "kei jidosha" cars: because they’re far more practical and they easily cater for the needs of most drivers (as well as being 70% cheaper to run). 

This is on my way to work. Not quite the kind of road where a Lexus LS will really shine

And so we come back to the new Sony a7R IV. What an amazing camera. A 61 megapixel sensor, 15 stops of dynamic range, 5-Axis Optical IBIS, 10 fps shooting capabilities, 567 phase-detection AF points at 74% coverage, real-time eye AF. The list just goes on and on. In almost every department it has upped the ante. It’s the very embodiment of what I hoped Canon’s foray into the full-frame mirrorless market would produce. It really looks like the gold-standard in the overall spec department. But when I stepped back and took a more circumspect view of things I came to the same conclusion as I did about the Lexus next door: the use-case scenarios for myself (and probably most others) mean that all those wonderful features and capabilities are not really given a platform to shine. And that being the case, it means I really don’t need them. That’s not Sony’s fault of course, but it’s the current reality and a reflection of our times.  

What do I mean? Well, most of my work is seen online for various travel and photography websites. When I submit my photos for online sites and publications, I’m mostly required to save them at 72ppi in the sRGB color space, which is standard for web and SEO practice. Add to that the fact that more than 50% of people now use their mobile phones more than computers to use the internet and you can see that a 61 megapixel sensor that can create unbelievably sharp, crisp images at huge print sizes is not something I really need, unfortunately.  And for those uploads to Facebook or Instagram, we also have to deal with their horrible compression algorithms on top of everything else.  

Moreover, if I do create hard copy prints of my images, they are mostly photo books for clients or stock standard photo series sizes such as 5 x 7, 6 x 4, A4, A3, 18 x 12 or 30 x 20. For me personally, most of my bigger prints tend to be sold on canvas. With the printers I like to use, they require 220ppi in sRGB, and the very nature of the canvas fabric itself means that you lose some of the sharpness and crispness of an image once the ink hits the roll, which kind of abrogates any big image quality or megapixel advantages you might get with something like the Sony a7R IV. Indeed, I recently sold a 40 x 30 inch canvas to a client in California and they were ecstatic with the result, meaning my Canon 5D Mark IV is doing its job splendidly in the context it’s serving. So the upshot of all this is that while the Sony a7R IV is undoubtedly the most impressive camera I think I’ve ever seen at that price point, I really don’t need the jaw-dropping features it has under the hood, given that most of my work is online, at the smaller end of the spectrum for print work, or on canvas. And I’d hazard a guess that most other photographers are in a similar position.  

The Sony a7R IV looks incredible, but when you get reactions like this from clients using a Canon 5D MK IV, do you really need to change?

Of course, I would never argue that my new 660cc minivan will ever be in the same ballpark as the mercurial Lexus next door, but when I’m driving through narrow, muddy rice fields full of hidden, potholed surprises, I’m reminded that it is a perfect car for the context it’s in. Likewise, I won’t put up some futile argument that the Canon 5D Mark IV's specs can hold their own against the new Sony a7R IV's, but when I think about the final output destinations for 95% of my work, I understand that it serves its purpose perfectly. And for that reason, I won’t be making the jump to Sony despite my longing leers.

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.  

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124 Comments

Will Murray's picture

I'd like to think your position is obvious, but judging from argunents online over the years I don't think it is.

Greg Wilson's picture

The majority of those online warriors only own one system and just defend their own choice blindly.

Personally I use Hasselblad X1D and a Canon FF DSLR as a backup. Tried Sony recently but had to ditch it after 6 months because of terrible color output, which is only obvious on a calibrated P3 display I recon.

Iain Stanley's picture

Were you using LR? If yes, when you imported and went to the Develop Module, did you use Adobe colors or Camera colors? I found a huge difference and never use Adobe’s native colors now

EL PIC's picture

Camera Manufacturers MP Race is like Nuclear Arms Race .. does not make sense to the rational.
“ War what is it good for ?? “
“ Camera MP Race .. What is it good for ?? “
Both make revenues for the manufacturers !!
The lenses need to catch up to be compatible.

Steven Magner's picture

I agree with your sentiment exactly. While I have overindulged in gear from time to time, I don't see the immediate benefits of owning a 61mp camera for what I(or most) would need it for. Sure it's a lovely piece of equipment, but it far exceeds what is technically needed to get the job done in most cases.

I honestly am curious who this camera would speak to most right now? Surely not the Sony ambassadors whose work has not changed 1 smidge from when they purchased their first a5100 and proceeded to buy every new A7 after...

michaeljin's picture

"I honestly am curious who this camera would speak to most right now?"

People who want a modern camera with over 50 megapixels and don't want to shell out a fortune for medium format... or people that just want to buy a best-in-class high resolution full frame camera.

michaeljin's picture

LOL! I'm sure he'll chime in soon enough.

Jan Kruize's picture

Sorry I'm in the UK on vacation now. Rains a lot here.... so no sony's on the street :-)

Rayann Elzein's picture

Not trying to be clever here or anything, real question: how large are the RAW files with such a camera? My quite beefy desktop computer already struggles dealing with the 5D4 RAWs, so wondering how it would work here. Although, of course, an alternative could be to move away from Lightroom to regain performance.

michaeljin's picture

I'm going to guess around 60-70mb assuming that it has lossless compressed RAW. It would likely be a struggle to deal with a number of files that size for a lot of lower end computers as well as people using Lightroom.

Rayann Elzein's picture

That's what I thought. It's interesting that nobody mentions this in their reviews. Or what kind of hardware and software they are using to develop those enormous Raw files.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I have a home built PC (2012) and I use Capture One. I work through 24 and 42 mp files and can't tell the difference. Meaning, my system doesn't struggle so I never really think of which body I shot the images on.

I downloaded a couple of the Sony a7rIV raw files from Jared Polin's site. He makes available converted DNGs for people to checkout. I took the files and did some quick edits on them. Like my 24 and 42 mp files, I can't tell the difference as far as performance issues.

When I'm on the road, I use a MacBook (1.1 ghz, 8 mb ram) and Capture One. I use it mostly for culling. Then, some light pre-edits. Same thing, I can't tell if I'm a 24 or 42 mp file.

So, I dunno. It could be your system and/or Lightroom. If you have a beefy system, it could be you may have a lot of things running in the background.

Rayann Elzein's picture

Of course, there could be something wrong with my system, but from what I see, besides, LR, nothing is using any resources. I have a horrible lag when editing pictures from either my 20 MP or my 30 MP cameras, for example when just removing dust spots: I click on a spot, and the little "circle" around the spot shows only seconds later. Don't even start me on exporting. Sometimes I just want to export 1 (ONE!) image, and it takes a minute or more.

i7 8700K + 32 GB RAM + Nvidia 1060 graphics card + Samsung 960 EVO SSD's.

Anyway, I'm going to try Capture One, but the learning curve is steep and time limited. And now I have to find how to get another 30 days trial after I let mine expire without having time to use it :)

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Specs wise, yours puts mine to shame. i5-3570K (OC 4.5ghz), 16gb ram, AMD Radeon 7850, misc SSDs.

If performance on Capture One still doesn't work out, if it were me, I'd do a fresh install of the OS.

Just as a reference, on initial launch, Capture One takes < 6 seconds to export 1 image. After that takes < 2 seconds.

Sounds like your camera works well for you. One thing I would add switching from Canon to Sony is a bigger issue than simply running out to get the newest body. I imagine you have a pretty solid set of EF lenses. I imagine if this camera was from Canon you may have taken a harder look at it, just as someone with a bunch of Sony glass is doing right now.

Jake Larntz's picture

I appreciate your stance on this, I currently use a Sony a6500, and am stupid happy with it. Do I want an A744? Duh, but do I need it? No absolutely not, it's all about necessity anymore with me. Only thing I would really like is to be able to shoot 10 Bit video, but unfortunately for me that won't happen for at least a little while. In the long run though my A6500 does a fine job at everything it needs to hence I don't need to buy something more insane..for the time being.

Ryan Cooper's picture

I think it is also important to think about the other 5% though. While I don't disagree with your position, I feel like when choosing gear you should be evaluating whether it will perform in outlier situations, not most common ones.

For example, back to your car analogy. I live in Toronto and drive a massive GMC Yukon. And not just any Yukon, I have the one with the 6.2L engine that makes north of 400hp. 95% of the time that thing is utter overkill for tooling around the city. However, it shines in that other 5% of the time when I need to load it to the brim with gear or people and head into the wilderness. I didn't buy it for the 95%, I bought it for the 5% and am happy that it can do the other 95% too. :)

I like to think the same of wide-aperture lenses. I don't buy a 1.4 prime so that I can shoot with a razor-thin depth of field 24/7. I buy it so that I can shoot at 1.4 when my composition/situation calls for it. Most of the time that lens lives at f/4.0 or darker.

Now I'm not saying that your 5D IV is insufficient just that I feel it is useful to ensure your set up is prepared to handle 100% of what you intend to put it through.

Or rent for that impossible to predict outlier. I see so many people buying for high iso performance but acting like the camera will explode if they go over iso 400

michaeljin's picture

Unless you live in a big city with a readily available rental house, renting requires you to predict those outliers.

Alex Herbert's picture

I still get scared to 'crank' the ISO, going from a Sony A99 to an A7iii, it's not even like the perform the same function. I get cleaner shots at ISO 1000 now than I did at ISO 200 on the A99.

I used to be that guy (scared to increase the iso beyond 400), but not for the past year or so. These days I am happy to push to iso 3200 and happy with the results. Modern cameras have come a long way isn't it?

I can buy a camera from Wish for about 6$ that is small enough to possibly swallow that could probably out spec my old Olympus 410, camera have vastly increased in power. Really wish I had seen the writing on the wall for the 4/3 standard but ooooh IBIS

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah as I mentioned below I might not have made myself clear - the 5% of “other” jobs I get are still handled perfectly well by my 5D4. I don’t think I said anywhere my 5D4 can’t do what I need it to, including those 5% jobs. It’s just that 95% of my work falls into certain categories that absolutely do not need anything anywhere near what the new Sony is offering.

As with my Lexus analogy, I’m not questioning the quality of the Sony, I’d love to own it. But I certainly don’t need it for the environment that I work in. If there are certain outliers that do require a specific something that your regular camera can’t cope with then yes, of course get something that covers absolutely every scenario comfortably.

A lawnmower in capable hands will give that Lexus a run for its money.

Yes, that was a metaphor, and to elaborate: why don't you take that lawnmower of yours and go on a roadtrip to show some more of that rural Japan to us? Infinitely more interesting than anything else encountered in this article...

On a side note: Porsche used to be a desirable car. Beautiful to look at, a little bit of that riches mystique. These days in the Netherlands I see more Porsches on the road than I care to look at. They primarily create the traffic jam I was hoping to avoid. Some are even painful on the finely tuned designer eye that we photographers supposedly have.

So much for desirability, and btw where can I bring that mac computer to for proper recycling? You know, that computer that was so desirable like 20 years ago? Now every 13 year old has a better macbook than the ancient computer I'm typing on right now. Which should give you a hint as for why I don't go on a roadtrip thru rural Japan myself.

But I'm highly emphatic, I would thuroughly enjoy reading about yours...

Iain Stanley's picture

1. People love brand/gear discussions
2. People don’t care about my life in rural Japan
3. You are an outlier :)
4. If an article about my travels through ricefields generated 1/10th the interest that these articles do I’d write about them forevermore...

Tony Northrup's picture

Continuing with the car metaphor - America has a problem because many people commute alone with 5-7 passenger SUVs or minivans. Why don't they get a micro car for commuting? Because they need one car that serves 100% of their driving needs, including commuting, driving half the soccer team to a game, taking their family on long road trips, hauling a new door back from Home Depot, etc... even if those tasks happen infrequently, they can't afford to have multiple different vehicles specialized for different tasks, so they buy one massive multi-purpose vehicle.

You say, "...when I think about the final output destinations for 95% of my work..." Most people need one camera that will handle 100% of their work, so they need equipment that doesn't just meet their average requirements, but meets the most extreme requirements they might ever encounter over the life of the camera body (which you can't 100% predict).

You could rent for those extreme circumstances, but that assumes you have a couple of days notice, and it would also require you to do this extreme job with a camera that's not your daily shooter, so you're very likely to screw it up. The cost of renting might be high enough that financially you would have been better off just getting the higher-end body (especially since you would probably also need to rent lenses).

With all that said, I believe the 5D IV will meet 100% of the requirements of 95% of professional shooters. But if it actually only meets 95% of your requirements, you might reconsider.

A very good point. If you can't afford two cameras, (or modes of transportation) then you buy the one that can still do everything you need it to.

Having said that, America still has a wasteful car problem. Saying that we should all commute 2-3 hrs a day in a gas-guzzling SUV just because we can't afford two cars for the 5% of the time that we need to do something extracurricular, is basically telling the planet's resources, "hey, we're probably screwed either way, so I'm just gonna floor it and doom us all much more quickly."

The real solution for such a grand-scale problem is, of course, to actually live within our means. Can't afford two cars? Buy the fuel-efficient one, (or better yet, the EV) and find a way to be happy without that 5% of extra stuff that you don't need, or that is just slightly inconvenient to rent a truck or van for.

The problem with modern society, especially in America but certainly all over the globe, is the sense of entitlement to do whatever we want, as long as we can afford it in the short run. It's equivalent to living paycheck-to-paycheck on the grand scale, though. Each decade that rolls by is burning through its paycheck way too fast, and in 100 or 200 years it will catch up with us. Then we'll look back and realize that we actually couldn't afford to drive everywhere at 10 MPG, but by then it will be too late for all but the wealthy.

Of course I'm hoping that none of this is actually going to come true, and that we'll be able to figure things out before we run out of resources, but for the time being, I fully support the "I don't absolutely need it, so I'm not going to buy it" sentiment being stated here.

Hella Lenz's picture

Matthew Savilles' comment is all that matters. 10/10

michaeljin's picture

No it's not and if you actually believed that then you wouldn't be wasting resources looking at this website or commenting. Human beings find all sorts of meaning in life that doesn't involve a single-minded focus on the long-term survival of our species on this rock.

As it stands, we're an insignificant blip in the existence of the cosmos. Our continued survival is not going to depend on moving to eco-friendly transportation. It's going to depend on our ability to get off this planet and spread throughout the universe. Everything else is just as short-sighted in the grand scheme as the person who feels that they need a supercharged V8 to drive from red light to red light in a city.

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