After more than 3 years of good and loyal services, the Alpha 7 III (A7 III) is replaced by the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV). Among the novelties, the sensor is renewed while many photo and video functions are improved.
Long awaited by photographers looking for a versatile 35mm camera (photo / video), the Sony Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) is finally here and offers a very interesting technical sheet. On the program: a dual processor Bionz XR, a new sensor of 33 Mpx, an autofocus module revisited and doped with artificial intelligence and a reinforced video part with notably the capture in 4:2:2 10 bits internally.
Opposite the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV), the competition is preparing its weapons. At Canon, we can cite the EOS R6, while Nikon has the Z6 II and the Z6 first of the name. At Panasonic, the Lumix S1 and Lumix S5 are also good candidates.
Among the smaller APS-C or micro 4/3 sensors, it is difficult to find a direct equivalent to the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV). However, we can mention the Fujifilm X-T4, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III or the Lumix GH5 II which could be an alternative.
A range always more accomplished
By correcting little by little the errors of youth, the Alpha range of Sony gains in coherence. The Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) has a slightly textured black finish and a leatherette grip. The Sony cameras are not really eccentric, but they are very efficient cameras. We find a more hollowed handle, improved controls and the new joystick that were presented with the Alpha 7R IV (A7R IV). If the whole is more pleasant in hand and also more effective, the space between the lens and the handle is still reduced. It will always be delicate to use the body with a pair of gloves in winter.
The Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) takes the lever of management of the autofocus of the Alpha 1 (A1) and places it below the barrel of the photo modes. It thus makes it possible to pass from the photo mode to the video mode or to the S&Q mode dedicated to the accelerated or slowed down video. Its use is not necessarily the most convenient with the auto-lock button, but will probably be faster in the field to access one of the 3 modes.
The controls are well laid out and for a large part of them, completely customizable. Combined with the quick menu, which is also adjustable, it is possible to create a custom body from the dozens of options available. We are indeed in front of an expert camera that it will be necessary to tame.
The Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) inherits a screen on a swivel, like the Alpha 7S III (A7S III). Thanks to him, the body gains in versatility at the same time in photo (for original shots at arm's length or at ground level) and in video.
The rear wheel is very practical but unfortunately too small. Its shape also lacks relief and makes its use a bit tricky. Another unclassifiable feature, Sony proposes to protect the sensor when changing the lens by closing the mechanical shutter. Seeing this system - introduced by Canon on hybrids - become widespread is rather interesting.
With 3.69 million dots and a maximum refresh rate of 120 fps, the electronic viewfinder of the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) is among the best and will give full satisfaction, even if other models offer more defined screens (5.76 million dots).
Sony A7 IV
Let's recall that Sony introduced a new menu design with the Alpha 7S III (A7S III) from which this new body also benefits. More colorful and with a vertical tab system instead of horizontal, the new menus are more than welcome. Better organized and with clearer headings, they are on the other hand not free of defects.
For example, there are some unclear names, such as "Dtct on. Vis./eyes" option which allows to switch between human and animal recognition or to some help menus which only paraphrase the name of the setting. Small bonus: it is now possible to use them with the touch screen.
Two SD card slots are available, one of which is additionally compatible with the faster CFexpress Type A card format. Sony has also integrated an HDMI socket, but this time in full size, type A.
USB-C is of course carried over, but benefits from USB 3.2 Gen 2 for theoretical transfer speeds of up to 10 Gb/s. The connector is also capable of providing a 1000BASE-T Ethernet connection. In addition, the flash card allows for digital audio acquisition and transfer. The microphone and headphone jacks in mini-jack format are still present.
Finally, a word about the Sony Imaging Edge Mobile application that uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV). The camera will not hesitate to ask you to pair a smartphone the first time you use it. The application can act as a relay for a background transfer to an FTP server, whether wired or wireless.
With the new Bionz XR processor and a revised sensor, Sony promises even better autofocus performance. The number of collimators increases from 693 to 759, while the coverage of the autofocus sensor surface reaches 94%. During our tests, we were able to verify the very good performance of the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV).
With the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens, we even achieved autofocus measurements down to 0.11s. An excellent performance that is smoothed by our procedure that seeks to reproduce a real use. There is also a slight decline in low light, but nothing prohibitive. In short, we are in the best of what is currently done.
However, we regret two pitfalls that Sony likes to reproduce from generation to generation. The startup is relatively slow, the manufacturer does not seem to be concerned about this point. More embarrassing, the sequence of images can sometimes block the camera in case of repeated triggers very quickly.
On the burst side, Sony announces 10 fps, which can be reached with the h+ setting. If this is not bad, remember that an EOS R6 from Canon can go up to 20 fps. If the sensor is less defined (20,1 Mpx), we think that the 10 fps are not up to the level of Sony which has now accustomed us to performances always more exceptional.
To continue on the backward points, Sony only proposes a maximum speed of 1/8000 s, even with electronic shutter ! That's pretty petty, especially when Olympus and Fujifilm offer speeds up to 1/32000 s and when Canon's EOS R3 climbs to 1/64000 s!
As we regularly mention, Sony is a reference on the issue of detection and autofocus tracking of the subject. Here, the function gains the detection of the eye of animals and birds in addition to that of humans. Note in passing that Canon allows the detection of cars and motorcycles with its EOS R3.
As for performance, the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) does not disappoint, quite the contrary. If the real results can vary according to the type of animal or bird, with results often very good, the detection of humans is really excellent. Moreover, the automatic management of collimators evolves compared to the Alpha 7 III (A7 III) with an increased precision coming from the Alpha 1 (A1).
The Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) manages perfectly the rise in sensitivity with practically no grain until ISO 800, the first degradations appearing at ISO 1600. It is at ISO 3200 that a first level is crossed, but we can trigger up to ISO 6400 without too much hesitation. Finally, it is well at ISO 12 800 that the rendering degrades significantly.
If the ISO 25 600 value remains usable, the electronic noise corrected by the camera is really restricting. As for the extreme parameters, we recommend you to reserve them... for extreme cases.
The dynamic range of the sensor is one of the great strengths of Sony which has a very good control of the production chain. For the moment, our softwares do not allow to open the Raw files of the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV), so we will come back on their analysis in a separate article, when it will be possible.
With the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV), videographers also get their share of new features. We see two features that will find their audience: All-I compression is integrated - each image is compressed and recorded separately, unlike LongGOP compression which performs partial compression - and 4:2:2 10-bit sampling internally.
Under these conditions, the most demanding recording reaches a rate of 600 Mb/s, in 4K UHD at 60 fps. Beware, you will have to equip yourself with a CFexpress Type A card to benefit from this and avoid any disappointment.
On the other hand, it is indeed this setting at 60 fps that constitutes one of the major differences with the Alpha 7S III (A7S III) which benefits from it, but without cropping. Indeed, with the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV), the 4K at 60 fps generates a significant cropping of 1.5x. However, we console ourselves with the arrival of 4K at 30 fps without cropping. Let's also remember that Sony still does not use the 4K DCI format, which is widely used in the cinema world.
When analyzing the image quality in a little more detail, we did not find any major differences between recording at 30 fps and in Super35 at 60 fps. The image quality is still very good, even if the Sony rendering is not necessarily the sharpest on the market. The details are well there, the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) being positioned in front of the Canon EOS R6 in terms of precision.
Note that the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) offers the 120 fps slow motion mode only in 1920 x 1080p, unlike the A7S III which allows it up to 4K.
That being said, we can easily find the advanced functions specific to Sony or recent cameras. Among them, recording in H.265 - symbolized by the esoteric name XAVC-HS in the menus - or the S-Cinetone color profile from its professional cameras. Of course, the S-Log3 profile is there to capture more dynamic range and perform post-production.
In video, the autofocus is very satisfying and the most fastidious can even choose to accelerate - or soften - the AF transitions for even more responsiveness. Let's add that the detection and eye tracking for humans, but also for animals and birds, remain available in video!
On the manual focus side, three new functions are integrated, some of them coming from the FX6 professional cameras:
- Breathing focus compensation: with a compatible lens, the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) compensates for the change in focus when changing focus, at the cost of a slight loss of detail.
- AF assist : allows the use of manual focus in addition to autofocus for original shots.
- Focus MAP : once the setting is activated, a depth of field map is displayed. Behind the focus area, the color is blue and approaches light blue when in focus. In front of the focus area, the color is red and approaches orange when the focus area is close. The sharp parts of the image are transparent. The very visual function can be a bit confusing at first, but will surely prove to be very useful once you get the hang of it. In our opinion, this mode is more effective than focus peaking.
If Sony announces the possibility of using the camera for live-streaming in 4K, the rate of 15 fps remains prohibitive and we will be satisfied with a capture in 1920 x 1080p. The rolling shutter is also far too present. Very visible in 4K, these distortions during horizontal movements considerably damage the image. By recording in Super35 format, the problem is largely reduced, but still a little visible. In FHD, the problem disappears almost entirely.
With the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV), Sony strikes a blow. The corrections, adjustments and other improvements are there, both on a software and ergonomic level. Always at the forefront of performance in the management of autofocus and tracking the subject, this very good performance is to be put in parallel with a definition of the image that increases. If some pingreries are still to be deplored, it is difficult not to place the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) as an excellent all-purpose camera. Carried by a largely improved video part and a photo mode always very effective, the Alpha 7 IV (A7 IV) is positioned as a reference on its segment.