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
Rhonald Rose's picture

I agree, it's not a "need" for me, but a "want". Hopefully GFX-100S doesn't become a "strong want" before end of 2020 :-) 100Mp is way too much for me, but GAS says otherwise :-)

Keith Meinhold's picture

Duplicate comment somehow

Keith Meinhold's picture

The a7RIV is clearly a benchmark camera, but everybody has different requirements. The key requirement for me is image quality balanced by the ergonomic attribute of reduced size and weight. 24MP is the sweet spot for me. All this is why, try as they might and covet as I do, Sony has not been able to pry my a6000 away.

Jess Aggeboe's picture

Why comment negatively about this camera's pixel, because it is for those who need a very high resolution and they are obviously not negative about Sony now coming to market with A7RIV.
Why do people always think that all cameras are made for them?

Iain Stanley's picture

Huh? Look at the title, it might tell you how I feel about this camera. Plus, it’s an opinion piece, and is tagged appropriately so. Thus, it’s my opinion

Alex Kroke's picture

I have ordered two A7R4, i did the same when the A7R3 came out. The little improvements made a big difference over the A7R2 at that time. It didn't make sense to have 2 cameras with different menu systems and color signature. I use both all the time when I shoot.
For Professional work you need a backup on everything. It would be terrible to do an important shoot and not be able to deliver.
To me they are just tools and if i lean how to use them I want them to be the same.

Still have a canon 5D setup, and a Leica M10p setup, But what I am most exited this days is the Hasselblad X1DII this days. Just had a private day with it and love it

Iain Stanley's picture

If you have the financial means and the financial return opportunities to invest in the a7r4 and it fits your needs, jump at it! You are one lucky man!

Lino Paul's picture

very well said, the main reason why I bought those 5d3s again to restart my photography early this year.

David Forrester's picture

8 years ago I bought and loved the Canon 5D2. Got really used to my beast. I used to use a Contax RTS3 system and shot 20,000 slides, Kodachromes and what not. Loved the art of creating great shots, no point and shoot for this guy.

So I took those 8 Contax lenses, the big primes (50, 85, 180) all manual focus lenses and just like i did in the days of Kodachrome (for those of you who have not heard of that, it was the best slide film in history and i bet it could outshine todays cameras) and continued on with the Canon and it was an enjoyable creative experience - the ART of making and working on making a damn nice photograph. And some of the Canon pictures were outstanding - unreal. How did i get that anyway?

But video in the evening / night was awful with tons of noise and yuck - and I love the film making experience. Anything shot over 640 started to get questionable. The movies were pretty darned nice if the lighting was good. That camera was like a comfortable pair of old shoes.

Enter Sony A7iii. And, ya the Canon does 80% of what my Sony Aiii can do. OK, 70%. Alright , 60% for crying out loud - sheesh.

I still used the Contax glass, having recently acquired 2 Contax N series zooms which are beyond comprehension in clarity, color, Zeiss effect. And night shots are unearthly. And video in the dark is fun now. And my video dreams are realized with peaking and superb video at all times. Wow!

But I have big hands and this camera is a bit too small! The Canon fit in like a glove at all times, even in winter with gloves. That big unit was OK with me. The flesh tones are awesome.

Little has changed strangely enough. I shoot manual most times, autofocus is nice but I still focus manually often enough like a true film maker. I use the big primes to get that shallow depth for that magnificent look that the 3.5-5.6 zooms cannot get.

I like my Zeiss 50 and 85 f1.4 but stopped to f1.8. Why? The aperture has a Ninja sawtooth look up to 5.6 which gives the picture outstanding boketh and at night, the bright lights in the background is not round (who says round is the standard?) but instead has the glorious Ninja saw tooth look - and the boketh is world class.

Are they stupidly sharp - I dunno, so what? It is the story stupid! That shot that makes others looking at it go wow! or their eyeballs fall out. Do you think for a minute they are saying, wow - i can see the angle of his hairs cut in his moustache when he trimmed it? Or, hey, look, i can see the cells in the violet flower or the little tiny hairs in her face just above her lip line (women love the details - that is why they spend so much time in front of the mirror - to make sure those lip hairs are in the right place). The Sony and Contax N glass gets the shot - priceless!!

Maybe buddy has a point here of overkill. Like, where in the hell did this worship of the God of sharpness become an idol? Who cares. It is the story - that is king. Soft or sharp.

The Sony does an amazing job at everything and long surpasses the Canon in a lot of areas, especially video that I happen to love. But, dammit anyway, there was something about that big Canon beast, with big manual Zeiss lenses, having to manual focus almost everything that forced me to create true works of superb pictures.

I was tempted to sell the 5D2. Nahhh. For the $500 I get, I would lose a wonderful friend who gave me almost a decade of delight and joy. And I can still use all my lenses on both cameras.

The great Yousef Karsh from Ottawa had an 8x10 view camera and he has crafted the best portraits in history back during WW2. Ansel Adams - same deal. And the Hasselblad moon camera in 1969 - need I say more?

Have cameras become a god, a crutch, a gear junkies dream? Maybe it is time to learn how to take the best pictures in history on an old beast and relish in that alone. I'm keeping both of the cameras and have forgotten how to use the technico features - all manual. And I take some pretty mean shots and enjoyed the hours and hours of creative work to get them that way.

Iain Stanley's picture

I agree wholeheartedly that it’s about the story. I wrote about exactly that very recently :)

Matthew Saville's picture

Also, can we give huge props to Sony for starting the trend of /nearly identical/ camera bodies that have significantly different price points?

It doesn't seem like many people realize that before Sony started this whole "A7, A7R, A7S" lineup differentiation thing, there was almost ZERO precedent for it in the Canon and Nikon realms. If you wanted an affordable/low res D810, you had to get a D610/D750, which was a very different body entirely. Same thing with the Canon 5D vs 6D lineups.

So, with this A7R mk4, we are all but guaranteed that an A7 mk4 is coming, for at least $1K less, and with a sensor that is about half the resolution, but with likely ZERO compromises in overall ergonomic functionality, and only a few other cost-cutting measures such as a slighlty lower-resolution EVF or what have you.

So yeah, if you're not buying an A7R4 because it's too many megapixels, .....DUH. Just wait a few months and you'll get an almost identical camera with a more modest, manageable resolution.

End of discussion.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Sony ergonomics don't work for me (male left-eyed shooter) but you're right: consistent ergonomics across a product line is a huge gift to Sony photographers. More of that from Canon and Nikon please.

My current favorite Nikon Z6 is an interesting combination of Nikon DSLR ergonomics and Canon 5D series ergonomics.

Matthew Saville's picture

I'm very glad that Nikon did the same thing as Sony with the Z6+Z7.

I asked Canon directly if they would consider following this trend in an interview at the EOS R launch, and they said they would consider it. However, I guess the EOS RP shows that for a certain price point they do have to cut corners somewhere...

I guess what I'm hoping is that if/when Canon and Nikon continue to make additions to their lineup, even if there's a $2-4K range in the price point, ...they still manage to keep the bodies as identical as possible.

Having said that, I just went back to the Sony A9 from the A7R3, and I'm reminded that they did finally put a 2nd top dial on the A9, which I always sorely miss on the 7-series, because it means I have to dedicate two C-buttons to those functions.

Iain Stanley's picture

Excellent point.

Tom Cook's picture

I am surprised nobody has mentioned the too-much-of-a-good-thing paradox. I have a Nikon D850 which at 45MP is positively lilliputian relative to your Sony.

The Nikon has a focus-stacking feature because Nikon understood the problem before shipping the camera. With photo sites on the sensor being so small, diffraction raises its ugly head quickly. Thom Hogan, a Nikon expert, says diffraction shows up at anything smaller than f/5.6 on the D850 so you end up shooting at f/5.6, f/4. etc. Great, but your depth-of-field gets shallower with each larger aperture opening.

A way around this is to shoot several overlapping frames of the same shot using the focus-stacking feature. Your post is spent in Helicon instead of Lightroom. Note that this is only a partial solutions since anything moving in the overlapping frames — like the surf or a wind-blown tree branch — now becomes an issue.

I miss my old D3 (13MP) just because I could crank it down to f/16 without many worries.

Yes, if all you want is a small picture, then diffraction may not bother you, but when you need a big print it will be an issue.

Mark Wang's picture

Wow, I can’t wait to read the comments once Canon announces the 85MP EOS R ;)

Iain Stanley's picture

Counter to my argument here, I might actually be tempted if it was a good enough camera and not absurdly priced. I have no particular loyalty to Canon but Iam set up within its ecosystem. Of course, if a native adapter with the new Canon worked pretty much the same as a Metabones with a Sony then probably not.....I just don’t want to go through the hassle of starting again and dealing with the concomitant costs (time/energy/meaning/learning)

But as articles here tend to stick around the 1,000 word mark give or take, I didn’t explore the cost side of things

Gerald williams's picture

I was a Nikon and Canon pro shooter for 40 years, yes 40 and i made the move to Sony Fullframe mirrorless back in January 2017 and have never looked back. I have owned the A7RII, A7III, A7RIII and A9. And I am upgrading my A7RIII with the A7RIV. I shoot all subjects as an award-winning longtime photojournalist. Moving to Sony from Canon has been the best decision I could have made. It has elevated my game over my top Canon gear in ways you will never understand if you don't shoot with it. You can make all the arguments why you don't need to make any move. It gives you some article fodder to write about. But in the real world you just are denying yourself opportunities to grow and denying yourself better ways to create and expand your art. While you comfortably stand still, I choose to move forever forward. Cheers.

Iain Stanley's picture

Why don’t you tell us about the ways we will never understand?

Desmond Stagg's picture

I understand you fully. When it came to upgrading my trusty original A7 I was torn between the devil and the deep blue sea. What shall I get, bearing in mind I had to set myself a budget?
Then of course the new A7III was the the rage and this did cross my mind. As I photograph architecture I wanted something with an eye for detail so I looked at the A7RIII, an impressive piece of equipment!
I remembered then, Jason Lanier was using an A7RII very often, so I had a look at this. At first sight, the decision was difficult, RII or RIIII?
I looked at the pricing, aha I thought. The RII was a thousand bucks less than the RIII. Furthermore, a 200 buck cash back from Sony was offered. Thus the decision was an easy one.

Was my purchase a good one? Certainly yes. After weighing up the pros and cons of both cameras the extra thousand bucks for the RIII was IMHO not justifiable. At least for my line of work. The detail the RII sees is incredible. I've shot selfies after only one day of not shaving and WOW!
The thousand bucks I saved paid for a lens upgrade.

What about the new RIV? Would I like it? Of course, we all like new toys. Do I need it? NO, not for my line of work. Should I ever need a camera with a super resolution, I can always get my hands on a Phase One if needed.

Back to Sony A7RII, not a day goes by regretting my investment. The RII will last me a long time, especially after taking Peter Hurley's Headshot Training, The RII really comes into it's own for headshot work.

Paul Dharmaratne's picture

Can't agree more with your decision, Sony is a spectacular camera and certainly nice to have but my 5D Mk IV does the job extremely well and I haven't even stretched its capabilities.

Alec Kinnear's picture

The 5D Mark IV is a great camera but it doesn't have a tilt screen (great for high and low angle shots) and the video functionality is fairly awful. As a stills camera if you are willing to either get a right angle finder (I am) or scrabble around in the dirt, it's amazing. Sony hype is really overblown. Life feels better with a Canon in the hand. That is until Nikon bridged the gap between DSLR and mirrorless with their Z6/Z7. Tilt screen and first rate video included.

So Sharp's picture

Fortunately you are not in business or running a corporation. Companies don’t make things to sell to those who only need them. They make things for those who can afford and aspire to own it. Keep calm and carry on teaching and drive your van.

ricky le's picture

100%, I know I don't need this camera. It doesn't serve 98% of my need, but I like new tech, it's cool, I tend to crop a lot in my pictures, and so, therefore, I will have to eat out less for a few months, sell my current sony gear, and upgrade to this camera.

Andrew Werdna's picture

I wouldn't pull a 6tonne trailer with a VW van or expect a Ford F150 to handle like a Miata. So what's the point? You choose the tool you either want or need or some combination. It's likely very few people will need 60mp, but for those who do, this may be the best choice out there, especially if you already have lots of compatible lenses.