Be Prepared To Change Everything You Think You Know About Mirrorless Cameras: The Sony a7 IV Is Here

Be Prepared To Change Everything You Think You Know About Mirrorless Cameras: The Sony a7 IV Is Here

The Sony a7 IV has finally been released, and it is setting the bar for what we can expect from a mirrorless camera. The question is whether it is so much better than what else is out there that it’s worth getting.

In late December 2021, B&H started shipping Sony a7 IV preorders. I was able to get my hands on an early copy of the camera at the same time that I was able to test drive a copy of the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens. It is difficult if not impossible for me to overstate just how quickly I grew to love the new a7 IV and the new 70-200mm f/2.8 II. The electronic viewfinder had phenomenal sharpness (more than 1.5 times the resolution of the Sony a7 III), and the focusing speed was just unreal when paired with the fast-focusing lens. To say that I loved using the camera would be an understatement. That said, I love my Sony a7R II as well, and the a7 IV has a not-so-cheap price tag, so I had to think about whether it was worth spending the money on. 

I’ve used my Sony 35mm /f1.4 GM on my Sony a7R II (this camera is no longer made new but can be purchased used for typically less than $1,000 and its younger sibling, the Sony a7R IIIA, can still be bought new) all the time, and at this point, I have a good sense of what to expect from that combination, but pairing the 35mm f/1.4 GM on the new a7 IV elevated the autofocus experience for me when it came to shooting portraits and photographs of my dog. Even the manual focusing experience was better given the better resolution in the viewfinder. Using the new Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens was where the difference was apparent. With such a shallow depth of field, eye autofocus is crucial, and I was never really able to find a good groove with the a7R II; however, using the a7 IV was seamless and did not miss focus once when it came to portraits and would only occasionally miss the focus of my dog when he was running full speed. I was very impressed.  

With all of this said, at the end of the day, the majority of my photography is landscape photography using manual focus lenses (or manually focusing autofocus capable lenses), and having the 42 megapixels has been quite nice and a big, welcome improvement over the 24 MP alternative presented by the Sony a7, II, and III options. That said, it’s not uncommon at all for me to make photographs around my home, and for that purpose, 42 MP is entirely too much. Luckily, the Sony a7 IV hits a sweet spot, coming in at 33 MP. 

It is not just the sensor’s 33 MP rating that hits the sweet spot — the Sony a7 IV is right in the middle of the pack when it comes to the cost of Sony mirrorless cameras. Ranging from $6,500 for the Sony a1 to $1,400 for the Sony a7 II, the new a7 IV is the sixth most expensive option (or fourth least expensive if you prefer to think of it that way), so for the group of nine cameras that can still be bought new from B&H at the time of writing, the a7 IV sits comfortably in the middle. When it comes to size and weight, the a7 IV is similar to all other options with the exception of the compact and lightweight a7C

Build Quality and Handling

The build quality of the Sony a7 IV is top notch. In addition, the handling of the camera is, in my opinion, much improved given the larger handle and completely redesigning the dials and buttons. My first digital camera was the original Sony a7, and I was quite happy with that camera’s build quality. Eventually, I moved on to the a7R II and was even more impressed. The a7 IV feels and handles so much better than both of those cameras that there isn’t any competition. Further, the a7 III also felt like a pretty sizable improvement over my two cameras but never so much that it enticed me into purchasing one of my own. Lastly, in addition to the improved ergonomics, the monitor articulates beyond anything we could do before. It’s amazing.  

ISO Performance

The ISO performance of the Sony a7 IV is very impressive. I would even go so far as saying that I found myself not trusting the camera enough and, upon review, think my photos would have been better off by pushing the ISO to 1,600 or even 3,200. In the case that sticks out in my mind the most, I was photographing my dog at ISO 800 for the shutter speed, but I think the photographs would have greatly benefited from an even faster shutter speed. After performing the ISO test and seeing that I can’t tell much of any difference between ISO 800 and ISO 3,200, I wished I had pushed it further when I could have. Either way, now I know. 

This is the entire image that I will use for the ISO performance test. Images below are cropped from the center of this frame. 

Center crop at ISO 100

Center crop at ISO 400

Center crop at ISO 800

Center crop at ISO 1600

Center crop at ISO 3200

Center crop at ISO 6400

Center crop at ISO 12800

Center crop at ISO 25600

What I Like

  • The larger grip makes handling completely different from its older siblings.
  • The ability to customize the buttons and dials is next level.
  • The increased resolution of the viewfinder makes photography more engaging.
  • Fast-focusing ability is amazing.
  • The ability to turn the monitor around is something I love more than I thought I would.
  • The LCD monitor is a touchscreen, allowing you to identify what you want to focus on, and the camera will track that point as the subject or camera moves.
  • Shutter curtain closing when changing lenses comes in handy and should seriously cut down on getting dust on the sensor.

What I Don’t Like

  • Price? I haven’t decided if I’m disappointed with the price. I seem to remember rumors that it would be priced at $2,000, so $2,500 was enough to stop me from preordering the camera before I could get my hands on it to try it first.

Similar Alternatives

Sony a7 III (cost: $1,998): The most natural comparison to the Sony a7 IV is with its predecessor, the Sony a7 III. It is $500 cheaper and roughly the same size and weight; however, it has more in common with the a7 II than it has with the a7 IV. As such, I personally never found the Sony a7 III to be a big enough improvement to purchase and replace my a7R II. The a7 IV, on the other hand, is a huge improvement in every way that matters to me and my workflow. I would never buy an a7 III unless the difference in cost increased from its current $500 to $1,000 or more. Otherwise, it is just not a competitive option anymore at its current price point. 

Sony a7R IVA (cost: $2,998 at the time of writing, $3,498 when not on sale): Clocking in at 61 MP, the Sony a7R IVA is still a beast of a camera. It has a more approachable, larger grip, making handling better, but otherwise, it has more in common with the a7 III than the a7 IV design-wise. Unless an a7R V comes out and knocks the price of the a7R IVA down a bit closer to the a7 IV, I don’t see myself purchasing or recommending the a7R IVA since 61 MP is overkill 99% of the time. 

Final Thoughts

If you couldn’t already tell from my excitement about the Sony a7 IV, I submitted a preorder with B&H and was ecstatic when it arrived. I spent a good deal of time customizing it to just my liking and have thoroughly enjoyed having it. It was well worth skipping the a7 III. I highly recommend it.  

The lead image was provided by Nicco Valenzuela. He has several more gorgeous photographs of the camera here

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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Where's the film advance lever, James? Is that one of those new fangled cameras with automatic film advance?

Stupid jokes aside, it looks like a great camera.

I would switch all my gear over from Canon to Sony right now on that ISO and video capabilities alone. The problem is I freaking hate the menu system that was on the a7iii and never gave them another chance, and probably won't until the menu can rival that of which I am currently used too.

Stubbornness is my issue, I know. But in the case I am not interested in learning a new camera language when the current is good enough

I've heard people moaning about the menu system of Sonys for years and still wonder why. In real life shoots, you probably change the same handful of settings over and over. These should be set up on your quick access button (the one which gives direct access to eight different settings, albeit from a limited selection). If anything you need regularly is not in the quick access, put them in a user menu. A lot of what people call 'intuitive' on Canons and Nikons is basically another word for 'habit' in my experience. I think people spend more time _thinking_ abut problems with the Sony menus than actually dealing with those problems :)

Totally agree. I have my Fn (or Quick Access), custom buttons, and custom (user) menu set up and very rarely do I actually visit the menus. Not sure why this is always an issue that's brought up? Especially when you compare it with some of Canon's older cameras (maybe even newer ones) where a bunch of settings were just toggling a 1 or 0 for a custom setting that had no user discernable label at all!

The only time I get in the menu is to format the cards and sync the time between my bodies. Other than that, you literally don't need to get into it. You simply customize the buttons and bada bing.

If you're a Canon shooter - why not to get an R5?

At $2,498, they can keep it.

Ah yes, this months latest ‘game changer’

The YouTube gear channels will be dining out on this for all of 3 weeks until the next revolution comes along.

Apparently it's not selling well enough. The A7iv posts are quite frequent here. It's like a post in every few days.

Yes, because Fstoppers is a driving force to camera sales. /s

Funny how folks don't complain when there's a slew of medium format articles, or Canon, Nikon. But, as soon as Sony gets the spotlight for a new model, folks be actin' like they're being forced to convert. lol SMH

I shoot both Sony and Canon and really have nothing against any brand. I may buy a Nikon camera when I see their new super teles in action.

This particular camera doesn't look like something out of this world, and definitely NOT "Change Everything You Think You Know About Mirrorless Cameras".

It's a good camera, but it's evolutionary rather than revolutionary. YT thrives on every bone that gets thrown-in. Today, there are so many great cameras to choose from, you can hardly go really wrong. On top of that 80% of users use approx. 20% of the capabilities of their current camera. But in an industry that's cut by 90% in the last decade, that's a difficult message to spread.

Good camera with a nice features and modest bump in specs from the III, but i don't see anything revolutionary as the title suggest. Put more work into writing your articles, and you wont need to have click-baity titles.

Video or it didn't happen. :D

The ISO images do not show the performance of the camera. Show us a a low lighted area so that we can see how it performs.

Finally a video-less article... missed these!

Click on the homepage headings that says "Originals", you'll find plenty there.

Amen way to many video "articles" are we all about using stills to convey a message, video articles seem to shoot us in our own foot

James, Nice rev
iew. I'm a pro Architectural Photographer in Columbus. I really like your site as well. I'm now inspired to break out my old Minolta Maxxum 7000 for some shots.

How’d you do the ISO “test”. Did you just trade ISO for shutter speed while keeping the ambient light the same? Is so, that doesn’t really tell us much. I’d be much more interested in the actual low light performance of the camera. Keep shutter and aperture fixed, drop the ambient, then see what happens when you boost the ISO.

I test the ISO performance also with the ambiant light the same. Can you explain why dropping the ambiant light is a better way?

Because what matters are the shadows and not the well lit areas. Look at the darker areas in the plant on the left. There you see the difference.
Edit: Enlarged screenshot of ISO 6400: Nothing special, what is to be expected from sensors since about 2012. The Nikon D800 can still keep up.

Indeed, the scenery in this examples is too evenly lit.
So, if a scenery is divided in well lit areas and darker areas, then a continues light would suffice for this test and you wouldn;t have to drop the ambiant light. Correct?
I did a similar test with the Sony A7 IV for my review, in your opinion is this also not correct?

Correct. Please note the edit I just added at the time you answered.
Comment to the image: For me that would be o.k. There are parts which are darker. I am coming from the film era. ISO 3200 was very high already and man, was it grainy. ISO 25'600 like in your example looks like a ISO 200-400 film.

Well... it's well noted for future ISO tests I will perform when I get my hands on new cameras. Never thought about it in this way, although it is obvious when you think about it. Thank you pointing out this little detail.
I think James Madison should have used a different part of his image to show examples of the ISO performance. He has enough dark areas in his full size example.

I often take photos in a dark environment where the background is relatively dark but the performers are in the spotlight. You can see one or two of them in my profile. The ISO values are usually between 6400 and 12800. I don't have any problems with grain in the lit part of the scene, but the background causes problems, especially when you have to increase it by 1/2-1 EV. The one photo with the girl has ISO 51200 with the Nikon D4 (2012). Of course noise reduction has been applied, but no AI algorithm.

I stopped looking at ISO performance around 2015. Since then at the latest, the increases have been marginal. You can't beat physics.

The problem with your example is you're enlarging an already 100% crop of a JPG. If you are going to pixel peep, especially beyond 100%, best to use the raw file.

Black Z Eddie . Perhaps raw, but not with any post-production tricks and absolutely no sharpening or noise reduction.

Nah, that is o.k. for here. I know how it looks. If you enlarge you see the artefacts better. It looks as about any better camera since 2012 looks at ISO 12800. I have seen so many shots at higher ISOs and the all look more or less the same.

Why would shutter speed have anything to do with ISO performance? I think this method is very valid. The lamp scene is still the same as if he raised his ISO for a higher shutter speed while photographing his dog. That’s a real world iso test. He wouldn’t be lowering the ambient while testing with a dog, why would he for a lamp?

It doesn’t. My point wasn’t about “ISO performance” (what does that even mean?). It was about low light performance which is what I think actually matters when comparing different cameras. If lighting and aperture don’t change, then you need to trade shutter speed for ISO setting (setting, not performance) to get a comparable exposure. Go outside on a sunny day, set your camera to manual with auto ISO, keep aperture fixed, and take a bunch of pictures with a wide range of shutter speeds. You’ll be surprised how little difference there is in the shots (until you push ISO to the extreme.)

Could you please let me know at least 1 thing that "I need to change what I think I know" about mirrorless cameras? Seems to me to be another sony camera that has a bit more res and faster than its predecessor, for 25% more price... anything that is new on this camera can easily be found on other cameras that is currently on the market? It is a great camera by the way no doubt, but talk about an oversell/complete lie with the title

The headline reads like it was written for an in-flight magazine. Considering this is just an evolutionary upgrade from the A7iii, I fail to see how this will change everything I know about MILCs.

Those ISO tests are anything but comprehensive or effective. The center of the frame is properly lit, so of course it's going to look good.

So what has the article to do with the headline?

Sounds like every camera released in the last one year. I don't think you can pickup a bad camera for 99% of your tasks these days from any of the major brand (exception is perhaps sigma). And they tend to progressively improve each year.

It looks like a very good camera.

I’m sure it’s very good, but “ Change Everything You Think You Know”? Only if you’ve never used a mirrorless that’s newer than an A7Rii.


Do headlines even matter anymore?

the next iteration of the sony full-frame camera will also make waffles and crinkle-cut potatoes.

What if a7r4 cost 1500 ? Is the a7iv still a better option?

not in your lifetime


even at the same price, the a7r4 is tops