The Sony Alpha 7 Mark IV (MkIV) marks yet another evolution of the much-vaunted Alpha 7, Sony’s core full-frame mirrorless camera.
Evolution is the name of the game: Sony has improved what is already an impressive platform. The A7 is often thought of as the basic full-frame Alpha series model and a starting point for its core full-frame mirrorless range. But with the latest round of improvements, the A7 MkIV is no longer just a meat and potatoes offering for those new to the full-frame game. It’s quite a strong all-rounder.
So let’s take a look at how the new Alpha 7 has improved over its predecessor, the Mark III (MkIII). To do that, we have Joel Lim, a professional photographer and Alpha series user who is very familiar with the MkIII, to help us out.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the ergonomics of the housing have been improved over the MkIII. The new A7 immediately feels snug in your hands, and that extra length of grip goes some way in making it more secure. If you wanted this feel on previous iterations of the A7, you would have had to get an additional plate or grip.
The camera does feel a bit chunkier as a result, but because it’s a lot easier to hold, it doesn’t feel heavier than the MkIII. The weight is distributed better on the MkIV, and the result is a camera that managed to find a nice balance in size and usability. Sony has also added locking mechanisms – a welcome addition – to prevent accidental changes of modes or functions.
The new dials and controls, together with the slightly larger dimensions of the body, have subtly changed the feel of the camera. The spacing between some custom buttons is now a little wider, and so because of muscle memory, we kept hitting the wrong buttons initially. But, it certainly is an improvement to the controls for sure. The Record button is also more easily accessible, so it’s much easier to quickly record videos on the fly.
There’s no need to think about what mode you need to be in (stills, video, slow-mo), and the EV dial is now free-floating (no markings). Should the dial receive a bump in your bag when the camera is switched off, the camera will still retain your previous settings when you turn it back on.
The MkIV also inherited some high-end features from its more illustrious cousins: The D-pad makes navigation quite a fair bit easier, while lock buttons on dials prevent your settings from being bumped. Small quality of life improvements, but they do go a long way.
The new menu system has also been overhauled and all the better for it. Previously, the menu was broken down by shooting modes (photo or video), with options limited in those modes. Now it’s more organised, grouping options logically and making it easier to scroll through. However, at the same time, it makes the options incredibly nested, which can make changing a simple thing quite tedious. Fortunately, it has a “Help” button that is actually useful and can help you figure out what a setting does before you make any changes – no need for trial and error when getting to grips with the MkIV.
The best part of the new menu system is that it is highly customisable, allowing you to map your most oft-used features and settings as you wish. The fact the world’s your oyster also means that you have to spend more time figuring it out. It can be daunting for someone coming over from another camera system and to a lesser extent even users of older Sony cameras might find the changes drastic. Bottom line: it takes some getting used to, but it is a welcome change at the end of the day, and certainly one that’s worth spending time on to get it right.
The swivel screen is another addition that users will love, and it is certainly one that needs little explanation. In our case, it helped a great deal for shooting low and high angle stills, and some video work. The screen also flips out to a selfie position, and it’s useful for video bloggers or live-stream use.
The colour accuracy of the panel could be better but we’re not complaining. What’s more important is that the backlight is bright enough to render the display usable for viewing in daylight. The touchscreen is pretty responsive and it felt slicker and more user-friendly than its predecessors, especially when you’re using it to select the focus point.
The autofocus is super quick and very accurate, and we experienced a higher hit rate at burst shooting over the previous models. Eye AF is a very welcome addition, especially for portraits. It did well for the most part, but it still isn’t 100 per cent reliable. Sometimes, it would fail to lock on to the eyes. But face detection worked fine, so at least there’s that. You could select a person’s face, and once it is locked, you will not lose the tracking even if you shift the frame. It’s all rather impressive.
In terms of image quality, the noise control at high ISO is good. We were comfortable shooting with it as high as 6400 and still felt that the images still looked clean. And even when there’s visible grain, it’s well-controlled and was neither distracting nor blotchy. Even when shooting JPGs, there’s enough dynamic range to capture highlights and shadows well. Skin tone and colour were well preserved too.
To cement the A7 MkIV’s status as a solid all-rounder, we find that this camera is also a viable option as a secondary video camera in a professional setting, thanks to its 4K 50/60 capabilities and 10-bit recording as well as a much-improved AF. It’s a step up from the 8-bit video from its predecessor and is a little closer to the bread and butter equipment of videographers. The A7 MikIV is unlikely to replace mainstays like A7s3 or the Cinema Line cameras like the FX3 and FS6, but having a spare body around can be rather useful. The only caveat is that it uses an APS-C crop when shooting in 4K50/60p; i.e. a 24 mm lens gets cropped down to a 36 mm, so you need to factor that in whenever you are shooting videos. It’s a minor quibble, but it’s one that we can arguably live with.
Breathing Compensation is a new feature on the MkIV and though we did not test this extensively, it does seem to work quite well and reduces quite a bit of the breathing. How this works is that a small degree of cropping is applied so that the angle of view does not change when you change the focusing distance. It only works on supported Sony lenses, which often are at the higher end of the price scale. Tried as we must, we couldn’t get it to work with third-party lenses.
Some issues aren’t getting completely resolved any time soon – for one, the rolling and silent shutter distortion is still present and you still get the same problems when you shoot motion in those modes. On the upside, the shutter slap is a little more dampened now so it’s quite a fair bit quieter than the MkIII. Sony has opted to use the same batteries as well, and battery life doesn’t seem to have changed.
In a nutshell, the entire process of transferring files from the camera to your mobile device or laptop has become much easier. For one, the wireless connection has improved. It’s easier to establish a connection with your mobile devices and more importantly, keep them connected.
And thanks to the new menu system, you no longer have to transfer every file whenever you copy files over to another device. You can now apply a filter and send only pre-selected files.
The A7 series has come a long way since its inception. It began as an upstart capable of delivering decent image quality only to be let down by laggy autofocus. Now, it leads the market with great autofocus, strong video capabilities and excellent image quality.
The A7 Mk IV isn’t geared towards a specific genre of photography and nor does it excel particularly well in one area but its capabilities enable you to shoot almost anything, making this one of the best all-around cameras currently available. While there aren’t any groundbreaking additions to the feature set, the various small improvements add up and the result is that the A7 MkIV is a far superior camera to its predecessor.
While the complexity of the menu system may initially be overwhelming for some; once it is all set up, you will be able to get out there and shoot with full confidence.
Sony Alpha 7 Mark IV
Features - 8/10
Value Proposition - 7/10
Performance - 9/10
Design & Build Quality - 8/10
Overall - 8/10
The phrase, 'all-rounder' hints that the subject is not particularly good at one thing. But in the case of the MkIV, it's a bit like saying someone can speak 10 languages well but doesn't sound native speaking any of them.