User experience greatly affects the quality of the cameras we use. How has this changed for the new Sony a7 IV?
Sony finally revealed the new a7 IV a little over a week ago. The a7 series is very well known for being the jack-of-all-trades of the Sony system, considering that the a7R line focuses on high-resolution stills and the a7S has features dedicated to producing high-quality videos. The a7 III was released in mid-2018 and has been a favorite among photographers and videographers, professionals and hobbyists alike.
The Sony a7 IV was revealed to be packing quite a lot of improvements coming from the three-year-old a7 III. It has a 33-megapixel 35mm full frame back-side illuminated CMOS sensor with an ISO range of 100-51,200, expandable to 50-204,800, spanning a dynamic range of 15+ stops. For video recording, it is capable of shooting 4K at 60p in Super 35 crop mode or 4K 30p without the crop, over-sampled from 7K resolution. It brings S-cinetone to the a7 series with a color sampling of 10-bit 4:2:2 internally.
On top of all of that, there are quite a number of further significant changes, such as a higher-resolution viewfinder, video eye autofocus, gyro-data stabilization, and focus breathing compensation, among many other improvements. In this article, however, let’s take a look at the physical and ergonomic changes that the a7IV has compared to its predecessor.
As a disclaimer, I got early access to this a7 IV unit as a Sony brand ambassador in my country. However, just like all other gear-related articles, any opinion stated here is in no way dictated by the brand.
An Almost Identical Twin
The a7 IV closely resembles the a7S III much more than the older a7 cameras. As Sony calls this camera model one that is created for hybrid shooters (meaning those who shoot both stills and video), it is not surprising that many ergonomic changes are seen for better handling for shooting videos. A lot of the changes and features that we can see on this camera are also some features we’ve seen on recent models, such as the Sony a1, a7C, and of course, the a7S III.
Sensor Protection Feature
Before any of the features related to ergonomics and user experience, it might be a delight for some photographers to see that this inherits the convenient sensor protective feature from the Sony a1 and a9 II that closes the shutter when the camera is turned off. This might be an irrelevant feature to some, but for photographers and videographers who change lenses a lot out in the field, this will significantly reduce the risk of getting annoying dust or moisture onto the bare sensor.
Flip Screen and Tally Light
This new a7 camera packs a vari-angle flip-out screen that now seems to be the new norm for Sony full frame cameras. This 3.0-inch monitor has a resolution of 1,036,800 dots and is touch-sensitive for both focusing and selecting settings. This type of screen has, of course, been seen on every camera released since the a7S III, such as the a7C and even the smaller ZV-1 and ZV-E10 cameras.
Another screen feature that the a7 IV inherits from the a7S III is the on-screen emphasized recording indicator. While it is technically just a simple firmware feature, many users of the camera have appreciated the availability of it because of the simple but common mistake of forgetting to start recording. This tally light function highlights the edges of the frame red so that the user will have no problem making sure that the camera is recording
Perhaps the most significant physical change to the a7 IV is the button and dial placement and layouts. The most obvious (and expected) change is the placement and size of the video record button. Another aspect similar to the a7S III and a7C wherein the video buttons are placed right next to the shutter button for easier reach. Because of that, the C1 custom button was moved to where the button used to be, while the C2 button remained right beside the record button.
Wheels and Dials
While the front and rear wheels remain the same, the two main dials on the top panel both significantly changed. The EV dial, which has been a standard for many generations of a7, a7S, and a7R cameras, has been changed into an unmarked dial with a locking button. This dial now allows full customization of its function through the menu and can be programmed to change depending on what mode you are in.
The main mode dial lost the dedicated video and S&Q stops. Instead, this mode dial now has a sub-dial underneath with a release button. This sub-dial switches the camera between photo, video, and S&Q modes, while the main dial switches the program/priority settings. This switching comes in combination, of course, with how the menu system was simplified to a certain extent.
Another common aspect with the a7S III is the new Sony menu system. While still rather packed with so many options, the organization into folders and subfolders allows for easier navigation. With the presence of the mode sub-dial, the menu options on image quality and other mode-related settings change when switched to a different mode, significantly reducing the number of options that are irrelevant to what the user is currently doing.
Side Ports and Memory Card Door
One big change in terms of memory card compatibility on the a7 IV is the added compatibility for CFexpress type A cards. The previously double SD card setup from the a7 III is now a double SD but with one slot as a hybrid one to take the new type of card. However, a less-noticed change is that the memory card door now takes more of the side panel and needs a slightly different motion to open. From the previous slide-down switch, it now requires a reverse-L movement to slide down the switch and pull out the door before it springs out to open.
On the other side are the different mini doors to access the ports with the significant addition of a USB-C port that can be used for data transfer, charging, as well as plug-and-play USB streaming. Along with that, the a7 IV now also has a full-sized HDMI port instead of the previous standard compatibility with micro-HDMI cables.
Sony took their time in developing this new camera, and both the physical and functional attributes prove that. While specifications and features have been announced worldwide, there is still a lot to be seen about the actual real-world performance of the Sony a7 IV.