Hands on

September 13, 2019

Recommended settings Sony a7RIV

A few days ago, I received my new Sony camera. I am upgrading from the a7RII, therefore the a7 R IV feels amazing. It took me three full days to read the manual and to go through all settings in detail. I felt like learning photography from scratch, but luckily that was only my feeling after reading so many technical information. To save you some time, I will speak about the advantages I see in the new camera and tell you my menu settings and how I customized the buttons.

Sony is ahead of the competition when it comes to building mirrorless cameras. This feels really good. They understood that a camera should be a tool to help the photographer create the images he wants to take. Therefore they included many supporting functions to assist all types of photographers. There are cameras for special needs, like the a9 line for sports photography or the a7s for low light. The R stands for resolution, so the a7RIV has the first sensor to offer 61 megapixels. Of course, there are cameras like the Phase One who have larger sensors and more megapixels. But for such a small camera this is something new.

When you look out there, you can find many landscape and wildlife photographers who tell you about their settings of the a7RIII or a7RIV. But their way of working is so different from mine that I felt the need to talk about my custom settings. My camera never sits on a tripod. And my subjects are moving. No crazy movements, but they won't rest still like a building. And I move around a lot, too, to find a nice angle and perspective for my shot.

Therefore I set the camera on AF-C, the continous autofocus, pretty much all the time. Only when it gets dark (after sunset), I would switch to AF-S, because this allows the Sony to find focus more easily. This also means, I shoot with autofocus all the time. The manual focus is amazing on the Sony. With zooming in on your focus point and supporting you with focus peaking (I set it to red color).

Red focus spot

For me, the autofocus support of Sony was the reason why I upgraded the camera. It already was very good in the mark II model. But in the past four years, Sony has really pushed things forward. And the new capabilities of the camera are amazing. There are yet more focus point available, phase af (over contrast af) is now covering almost the complete field of view and face recognition has become much much better. This also means, you can more easily use an aperture around f/9 to f/11 while in the past the focus was pumping a lot on smaller apertures. I prefer to shoot wide open, but especially when you're outside, it does not make sense to blur the backgrounds too much. So, I go with f/5.6 to f/8 more often.

Even though autofocus is awesome, please never trust the marketing material. Sony nails the focus very often. But when someone tells you, e.g. 80 shots were taken and they were all perfectly sharp, you may question the testing environment and be reminded, it could just be a marketing stunt. And this is not necessary at all, because the autofocus system is the best I ever worked with. Like always, things work best when you have enough light available. The darker it gets, the more difficult it is for any camera to focus.

For the first time, I could set the camera to use all focus points available (setting wide) and most of the time, the a7RIV would focus on a face. But I don't want to give all control to the camera yet. So, I use a medium or large focus spot and move it with the joystick to the face area (and love that I can move it diagonal as well).

Then the a7RIV is taking over by looking for an eye or focussing on the head if the eyes are not recognized because they are closed or partly hidden by hair. This works very well. What I also really like is that I can choose to priorize on left or right eye. Humans have two different eyes and not alway the closer eye to the camera is the one that speaks. Sony focuses on your preference.

Not so well described in the manual: Menu 1, page 6. You can change af spots depending on the orientation of the camera. This basically means, you have one focus spot for landscape, one for portrait orientation and can move them around seperately.


My custom settings

My personalized functions menu
Page 1
Page 2
Page 3

On forums on Facebook I sometimes read that people buy a camera from the R line but they are too lazy to read the manual. This is quite a mistake, because I can definitely say this is a pro camera. You need to customize it to your needs. Then it turns from a nice camera into a beast.

C1: Focus area

I can quickly change from AF-spot L to M or S or change to AF-wide. I deactivated all possible settings except for AF-wide, AF-spot and AF-spot tracking. So the menu looks less cluttered on my camera. After pressing the button C1 button, I quickly change the setting by using the joystick.

C2: APS-C/Super 35mm

Lets me crop the sensor to APS-C format with any lens mounted. I only use this for close-ups sometimes. It results in a 26 megapixels raw file which still alows for printing in 52x35cm at 300dpi.

C3: Live View Display

When shooting with my external Profoto flash, I need to turn the live view off, otherwise I have a very dark image in the viewfinder. This is the downside of a mirrorless camera, but by setting this function to the C3 button, I can quickly toggle without going through the menu.

AF-ON: Focus Mode

Lets me switch from autofocus to manual focus with just one click. (I never use backbutton focus.)

AEL: Eye AF

Searches for an eye using the whole field of view even if the focus spot is elsewhere. Keep it pressed.

Trashcan: Display brightness

When working in bright sunlight, I want to brighten the display, even if this drains more energy from the battery.

Front wheel: Exposure compensation

Rather than using the top wheel to adjust my exposure, I use the front wheel (as I am shooting in aperture priority mode most of the time).

And there is more

There are far more things you can do with the camera. It is a superb machine for photographing stills. You have a focus magnifier in AF-S that allows you to shift a cross-hair pointer to select your focus. And then there's the pixelshift mode that shifts the sensor by a pixel (ore even half pixel) to create a larger image with more realistic color and resolution. This is amazing, but unfortunately a function I don't need for my type of work.

I read somewhere the camera wouldn't be revolutionary. Well, if the previous models already were amazing, there's not too much to improve, right? For example, having a dynamic range of 12 - 14 stops (15 stops might be marketing talk) is an amazing feature and allows saved my ass a few times already.

When photographing (not filming), I don't use the touch screen. Shooting while looking through the viewfinder helps to control the camera better and even though, there's steady shot build in, it's a good idea to concentrate on holding the camera right.

Currently there are only two minor issues (that really don't fall into account). It's even pedantic to mention those, but I do so, to strike this is not a promotional article. With firmware version 1 you cannot set European time (only am/pm time) and there is a small typo in the custom's menu. Another first world problem: My camera bag is a small bit heavier now. And the soft skin option isn't available anymore. This used to be good for preview jpgs, it made the clients happy. I'll better stop being pettifrogging now.


Pros

  • Outstanding autofocus
  • Highly customizable camera
  • Faster handling (better buffer, faster processor)
  • New joystick
  • Better grip and ergonomics
  • Quality housing (improved sealing)
  • Lockable exposure wheel
  • Eye AF for video
  • Dual fast UHS-II card slots
  • Selectable focus frame color
  • Spot metering on focus point available
  • Battery lasts full day (flight mode on)
  • S&Q mode to film slow motion easily
  • Save your custom settings on a card or phone
  • Remote control from phone
  • 61 megapixels
  • Wifi, Bluetooth and FTP support

The advantages and disadvantages I list here are highly subjective. I am not quoting a list of new camera features. Here's simply what I feel is good and what isn't.

Cons

  • Need for faster memory cards, larger hard disks
  • Pocket Wizard doesn't trigger through hotshoe. Additional cable needed (or upgrade to a new flash system).
  • No medium size raw
  • File numbering resets after 4 digits (9999 > 0001)
  • Dust sensitive when changing lenses
I never owned a nicer camera than the Sony α7RIV.

My conclusion

The new Sony a7RIV (officially listed under the funny name ILCE-7RM4 and non-search engine optimized α7RIV) is the best camera I ever owned. It is fast, accurate in focus, very supportive and highly customizable. This camera does what I expect from it. It assists me and helps me focus on my creativity rather than my gear. Thumbs up!

I am neither a Sony ambassador nor a nerd. I just thought this article can be informative so you can read the thoughts of someone really using the camera instead of the many opinions and hands on reviews on YouTube where I often have doubts. Please feel free to ask me any questions!

 

https://www.simonbolz.com/blog/hands-on/2019-09-13.php

Simon Bolz, Frankfurt
Tel.: +49 (69) 95 82 02 12
Mob.: +49 (172) 620 55 18
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