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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Previous comments
Iain Stanley's picture

A myth to who? The companies paying me? If you read my quote it says I’m mostly in the companies that pay send me the specs they want to use. Whether they’re a myth or not is neither here nor there to me if that’s what I’m required to do. I agree that 72ppi isn’t necessarily an absolute standard but.......

Daniel Medley's picture

"A myth to who? The companies paying me?"

Yes, it's a myth no matter who pays you, and inconsequential with regards to screen display or web use. Just because someone is paying you doesn't change reality. Period. Therefor it's not relevant with regards to what camera you're using. 2+2 = 4. Even if some don't believe or realize it.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that anyone should push back against a company that doesn't know any better; after all, they're paying you.

But it still doesn't change the fact that ppi with regards to web use and screen display is simply not relevant.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I agree with that. As you intimated, it may be a myth but when my explicit instructions are to upload at 72ppi that’s what I do. And an image at 72ppi is far less detailed than one at 300ppi. Add to that most people are viewing via a small phone screen and and you have one big reason why I won’t be getting a camera with such a big sensor

Paolo Bugnone's picture

Let's say I take an image with my 12mpx camera (4000x3000px).
From that I export two files: one sized 500*375 at 300ppi, the other one 4000x3000 at 72ppi.
Which one is more detailed and has the bigger file size?

Daniel Medley's picture

"And an image at 72ppi is far less detailed than one at 300ppi."

That simply is not correct with regards to web or device display.

Rally, it's not relevant:

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It's a requirement today because it was a requirement in 1998

James Harrier's picture

Is this a joke? Are we seriously debating how ppi works on electronic screen devices in 2019?

Every electronic screen (monitor, laptop, phone, etc) has its own ppi, the pixel ratio to the screen's physical size. The ppi you set in your file makes no difference, the device will always attempt to display an image based on the size that the website or application asks for, the only thing that matters is the pixel dimensions of the image.

If your image is too small, you will see the image occupying the same proportionate screen space dimension as designed by website or application, but at an apparent lower resolution... think Macs with retina displays and seeing heavily pixelated images online.

Not even retina Macbook Pros have the same screen ppi, the 13" has 227ppi, the 15" has 220ppi. The only way to guarantee quality is to make sure that the image's pixel dimensions are equal to or larger than the highest screen resolution of your audience... it has nothing to do with ppi settings.

PPI is only relevant when printing where you're outputting to a printer, which isn't a screen. DPI is also a term people need to stop using, it's just a marketing ploy to appear as having higher print resolution while being completely misleading and not relevant in general conversation. 1200dpi in CMYK printing, is 4-color dots per pixel, which is 400ppi.

Please stop confusing printer ppi with screen device ppi. All this non-sense was cooked up by old-school graphic designers and printing "experts" who do not understand how websites or applications display image content.

Marc Perino's picture

I tried to explain this "72ppi" myth to clients all the time. In the end they don't care (and understand it). For them "72ppi" (they say DPI anyway) stands for (rather) low web resolution for online use and "300ppi" for hires printable files. They have been hearing and using these terms for years.

Just got a briefing from a rather big client who operates worldwide. The briefing said:
"Photos should be delivered in JPG with a file size from 50kb to 5MB, a minimum of 72dpi resolution (recommended 300dpi)."

Still I don't now the pixel dimensions and I used my standard file sizes. 🤷‍♂️
And I save them as 72ppi because I often had clients open a file and inspect the PPI and they complained that it was not like in the briefing - although technically it does no matter. At least for screen work.

Nick Rains's picture

LOL. Even book publishers and graphic designers don't get this. Mr Stanley, if you send an image to your client at 72ppi from a Canon 5D4 then it's still a massive file and will choke their web page. Their specs surely say more than that or do you just make an educated guess and send them something about 2048 on the long edge which is more reasonable? I'm intrigued by this common lack of client sophistication.

But your point about not needing 61mp for your actual money making work is spot on.

Iain Stanley's picture

No. My clients mostly have a generic message that goes out to all contributors along the lines of: “please submit images at 72ppi in the sRGB color space”. Not all, but a large majority. Honestly, I don’t think too much about the rights or wrongs, as such explicit instructions are easy for me to follow.

Daniel Medley's picture

I don't believe anyone has suggested to not follow explicit instructions from those who pay you. Just pointing out that 72ppi for web or display is not relevant.

Marc Perino's picture

Hey Nick,

I guess you were trying to reply to Daniel Medley's comment but directed it at me. ;)

From my perspective I give clients mostly 2 options:
- 2500px on the longest side with 72ppi (then they are happy to se the "72")
- original camera pixel dimension from our D850 at 300ppi (then they are happy to se the "300")
- both in sRGB color space (unless otherwise required or asked for - which never happens)

This is what they get when they don't brief properly (like above in my first comment) or don't brief me at all. 2500px is a random number but the highest possible resolution for my webpage provider. So at least it fits my purposes. ;)

The above briefing I got from a company that is one of the biggest in the world. But it just depends on which PR person is in charge. Not the company itself. Actually smaller companies brief me mostly properly.

Keith Meinhold's picture

Frankly - trying to explain to clients the photo requirements is impossible - add that you are typically on a deadline one needs a faster route. This is why I and no doubt others have resorted to dumbed down specifications. You may not need 300dpi for a photo, but if you get an ad with copy it is a different game - try to explain that difference to someone who isn't a graphic designer or photographer. Good luck asking for a logo in EPS - the typical desktop user can't view it - so they will never send it to you, instead you will get a JPG, PNG or GIF from the website. The only upside is because of the explosion and convenience of publishing, users are familiar seeing low resolution images.

Rk K's picture

You just lack imagination if you can't make use of 61 megapixels... It means you can carry fewer lenses (because of cropping), much better colour resolution, even on standard prints and the web, you can use it as a rangefinder then crop, etc. You might not want it, but it's great.

Iain Stanley's picture

A counterargument to that might be that if you’re continually needing to crop so much to get the right composition then perhaps you need to rethink your shots before you press the shutter

Rk K's picture

In every single example I mentioned the crop was intentional and planned for, not a compositional mistake...

Mr Hogwallop's picture

The work I shoot for a few clients are to satisfy many uses. I may shoot something with 2 products in it as a horizontal for the original use, then another dept needs it as a vertical for a bus shelter sign, and another needs only one of the products for a half page ad, meanwhile the original shot is on their website, and used in the lobby as a print.

Iain Stanley's picture

Are you talking about cropping? Good points and well taken, though I’m not sure they relate to “imagination” as in the original comment. Having the option for different scenarios that are work related can certainly offer increased flexibility

Mr Hogwallop's picture

" needing to crop so much to get the right composition then perhaps you need to rethink your shots"

Some people plan their shots to allow for cropping. I shoot sometimes knowing I can crop into the shot to get the image I need.

Michael Yearout's picture

I used to shoot for a automotive background company. They had a standard that the camera had to produce an image at least 5,000 pixels on the long side. After a few years they upped it to 6,000 pixels. About 6 months ago I was informed that if I wanted to continue shooting for them I would need a camera of at least 50 MP. I reminded them that over the past 10 years of shooting for them I had licensed about $4,000 worth of images. I said now I have to purchase an almost $4,000 camera to continue shooting for you. I said my current equipment does everything I need it to do with room to spare and I don't think spending $4,000 on a new camera body to shoot for you is a very good return on investment, based on my past 10 years experience. Moral of the story: if you don't need it, don't buy it. If you really need it and can justify that it will increase your income, buy it.

Eric Salas's picture

You don’t need it but some of us do. Some of us sell large scale prints, sell photos with massive crops and the client not know the difference, and want all the leeway in the world when it comes to DR/post processing/AF/adaptable lens choices. Some people don’t rely on Instagram to sell their business or create business and some do.

Long story short is get the body/lenses you need for the end result you desire but also keep in mind that you may need something in the future you cannot foresee needing now. Your business may go an unexpected way so upgrading your body to fulfill multiple needs is a safety net.

Iain Stanley's picture

There may well be a time, I cannot dispute that. But my paying work hitherto has not suggested that time is near. I tried carefully not to make any blanket statements that “everyone” should do as I do because there will be people who print on billboards are 90x60 prints and so forth. But I don’t think many are in that boat. If you are, the Sony a7r4 could be a gamechanger for you

Eric Salas's picture

I completely agree. It was well written and a reminder for some not to chase gear, with a clever title I must add lol. I won’t be buying the a7Riv either because I’ll be in Kuwait for 6 months starting in Nov. no sense in upgrading now and kinda holding out for the A9ii.

To throw in a personal account for how gear can make or break a day, I shot a derby (for fun) this past weekend with my A7Riii and the Sigma 105 art. I was at least 30-50 yards away for most of the shots I took but the 40mp sensor helped me make money from a non-commissioned opportunity. I cropped the hell out of some photos and the riders loved some.
Wrong gear for the job but I won’t complain with the extra money I unexpectedly made!

Here’s a super crop that got me three scheduled shoots next month.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yeah the cropping capabilities can open up some genuinely good opportunities. Although I don’t think many people would be shelling out thousands for better cropping options. Stranger things have happened though.....
Nice shot too!

Eric Salas's picture

It’s not to enable the ability to crop severely as a main feature but it opens up the leeway to shoot with less than optimal gear and still end up with a keeper anyways (with limitations of course) I’ve done it quite a few times.
I got the A7Riii so I didn’t have to stack or pano images to make my larger prints, the A7Riv would serve that purpose even better and raise the bar on my portrait work as well.

Too each their own!

Iain Stanley's picture

Out of curiosity, why would the Sony a7r 3/4 remove the need to do panos? The lens dictates what we can include in the frame, no?

Eric Salas's picture

Not necessarily remove the need to pano but lessen the amount of photos I need to create larger prints. Kind of like how people shoot vertical panos, crop what they want, and take 4-6 shots to have more MPs when stitched. I can get it done with less and just shoot in landscape.

Once again, to each their own because you can get the same result 1000 different ways.

Rick Nash's picture

Nope nope no!
Although I enjoyed reading this article, I can't agree with the usecase argument. If all you own is a hammer, everything is a nail. Now the 5DIV is a really nice camera which i use on occasions but so many times i need the crop sensor for its reach which sadly is an ancient 7DMkII. Its noisy and doesn't even compare to a Nikon D7100 for stills and video. The Sony a7rIV just might be that swiss army knife Im looking for. Versatile and extremely good at taking both photos and video. It even has a crop mode exceeding the specs of my ancient 7DMkIV. Sorry Canon hasn't figured out how to do a right turn.

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes that is a very good point. I also own the 5d4 and 7d2 and the idea that one camera can do the job of both those is very appealing. That is one thing that might make me seriously consider switching.

Ed Di's picture

Good, you've reached financial enlightenment, apply that fiscal maturity to all purchases and you'll avoid wasteful spending.

David Moore's picture

This is all why I am still bashing away with a 5D3. lol.

Rhonald Rose's picture

You are one strong willed man...

David Moore's picture

just poor. lol

Les Sucettes's picture

And here is exactly why I switched from Nikon to Fuji X. I can’t tell a difference when I print 1.5 meters wide. The results are the same - or unnoticeable. However in a timy flipside backpack I can fit any lens I possibly could ever need. The 55-200 (equivalent to 80-350mm !) is so small it probably is small than Nikon’s latest 50 mm lens for the Z Series.

Sorry fullframe guys you lost me there. You’re lenses obliterate the advantages of Mirrorless. Camera is smaller and lenses even bigger! And if I really needed extra quality why wouldn’t I simply get a Medium Format cam also from Fuji at almost the same price ... and size! With quite possibly smaller lenses

Ryan Davis's picture

Which would get you better pictures- a $4000 new camera, or a $4000 safari, or $4000 worth of tutorials? What's the marginal cost vs the marginal benefit?

That's the proper way to frame the question of whether or not you should upgrade,

Nick Rains's picture

The right question is which would earn you more money. ROI is the key, not camera specifications or even cost.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm an amateur photographer, so my calculus is a little different (I make money by filling young minds with nonsense) but for professionals you are absolutely right.

Iain Stanley's picture

Depending on the conditions is it actually an upgrade? If Y camera does Y job perfectly, do you need YYYY camera?

Ryan Davis's picture

More capability is, to my mind, always better. The question is, at what (monetary and non-monetary) cost?

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes you definitely have to weigh up the financial implications

cameramanDop Shanghai Hong Kong's picture

cool, I just read "Five Reasons Why You Should Switch to Sony Mirrorless" advertising why I should go for the Sony R4
I'm confused now..

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Different writers, different opinions. In the end, you decide what's right for you.

Iain Stanley's picture

As per the comment above. Different people have different views. It’s your job to synthesise it all and make an educated decision. Listen to the Republicans or listen to the Democrats - same topic differing views......

Scott Edelstein's picture

If you have no interest in reviewing camera gear from the perspective of those who would benefit from the value that gear offers, why bother? I’m happy that your gear meets your needs, but I can’t help but feel like you wasted my time just to tell me you are content.

Iain Stanley's picture

Maybe coz I might help people save thousands of dollars? And perhaps coz the Sony a7r4 hasn’t been released yet?

Alex Herbert's picture

I think Sony messed up by making the A7iii it does everything most people need, and at slightly too low a price!

Iain Stanley's picture

The a7r3 looks an absolute steal right now!

Rhonald Rose's picture

That's what I thought and held onto my 5dmiv as long as I could. And then, affordability, gear addiction (thanks to YouTube, magazines and my weakness) and self justification took over. Here I am with my GFX-50S shooting things which my Canon 5DMIV could have easily done and now thinking (and avoiding and the same time) about gfx-100s.

Rhonald Rose's picture

To be fair, I did come across few 5% use cases and although 5DMIV + post processing could have helped me, gfx made it a tad easier

Iain Stanley's picture

In a nutshell, it’s a classic needs vs. wants scenario. If you don’t need it, don’t get it. If you don’t need it, but want it, then think about your needs more. If you’ve thought about your needs, you still want it, and you have the financial means to get it, jump on and enjoy!

Who doesn’t want the best of the best? If you’re enjoying your new setup and have no buyer’s remorse, life is grand!

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