Backscatter has been busy putting the new Sony A7R IV to the test in the clear tropical waters of Little Cayman and the mucky, macro-rich black sands of the north coast of Bali. While the big news with the Sony A7R IV is the new 61MP sensor, how does the rest of the camera stack up against other high-performance full-frame cameras? SONY,A7R,IV,4,lv,m,mk,mark,mirrorless,UNDERWATER,scuba,diving,CAMERA,REVIEW,full-frame

Sony a7R IV Underwater Camera Review

Watch our Full Review Video for the Sony a7R IV camera.The Sony a7R IV video looks really good in the right conditions. Macro is its strong point, but the ambient light wide angle looks good down to about 45 feet. Backscatter has been busy putting the new Sony a7R IV to the test in the clear tropical waters of Little Cayman and the mucky, macro-rich black sands of the north coast of Bali. While the big news with the Sony a7R IV is the new 61MP sensor, how does the rest of the camera stack up against other high-performance full-frame cameras? A WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF RESOLUTION WITH NO COMPROMISE IN IMAGE QUALITY Conventional wisdom in camera sensor design is that when pixel density on the sensor goes up (higher resolution), the light gathering capability goes down. This is due to smaller pixels not being able to gather as much light. This increases the noise level of the image and also results in diminished low light performance. When the Sony a7R III came out with its 42MP sensor, it was the first of its kind to have such high resolution but also no compromise in image quality despite the more tightly packed sensor. Sony has pulled a rabbit out of the hat once again with the Sony a7R IV. With almost 50% more resolution than the previous model, its impressive image quality and resolution can’t be overstated. It is a giant leap ahead of any other full-frame camera. The Sony a7R IV combines both razor-sharp high resolution and a broad dynamic range without compromise, with extreme levels of detail in both the sunball and the shadows.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/250 | ISO 100 | ƒ10 There are a number of practical uses for this amount of resolution. Large prints will hold much more detail and will have more of that "hyper-real” look of medium format. At 300dpi it will yield a 32-inch wide print, but prints much larger than that could be viewed from a much closer distance compared to lower resolution prints. The shot on the left is straight out of the camera, while the shot on the right has had the shadows brought up using Lightroom. The amount of detail maintained in both the highlights of the sunball and the shadows of the reef without adding any noise after boosting the shadows in post is unprecedented for a full-frame camera of this resolution.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/250 | ISO 100 | ƒ16 An obvious benefit of the high resolution is the ability to crop and still have more resolution than most cameras out there. Don’t take this as a license for poor camera technique! You’ll still get a better shot by framing and lighting the scene properly. Being too far away from something and cropping leads to lower image quality due to more water to shoot through between the lens and subject. The most practical application of cropping would be to do a vertical crop from a horizontal. This is especially useful in shooting super macro, where critters tend to be on the bottom in the sand. It would be impossible to frame the shot for a vertical due to the handle of the housing preventing the camera from getting low enough. Tiny critters that are still too small in the fame at the limits of super macro are also good candidates for a purposeful post-shot crop. There’s plenty of resolution to crop a vertical from a horizontal when it’s impossible to position the camera for the proper composition. Even a vertical crop with the Sony a7R IV still yields a resolution of 26.8MP.Sony a7R IV | Sony 90mm | 1/250 | ISO 100 | ƒ22ALL NEW REAL-TIME AUTOFOCUS TRACKING The autofocus system of the previous model Sony a7R III got a huge upgrade over its predecessor. Once again Sony takes the autofocus system to the next level by adding in "Real-time Tracking AF” for the a7R IV. For those who have read our previous reviews on the Nikon D500 and Nikon D850, we have raved about the Nikon “3D Tracking” autofocus. Sony has now implemented this same type of system in the Sony a7R IV from both an operational and functional perspective. Basically, it works like this: There’s a focusing square in the center of the screen that when pressing the AF-ON button will focus on the subject in the square, and as long as the AF-ON button is being pressed, the camera will track the movement of that subject through the frame and update focus continuously. Put the focus squarely on the eye of a subject either by moving the focus point around, or just move the camera to put the square over their eye, press and hold AF-ON, and it will track the eye of that subject. In the rare instance of the focus point slipping off the subject, just release the AF-ON button, repoint and engage again. Those familiar with the Nikon 3D tracking feature will find that it works exactly the same way. With 61MP of resolution, nailing focus is absolutely critical. Being off by even a small amount with this much resolution will show up when viewed at 1:1 in post. The tracking system works so well that we do not recommend any other method of focusing for this camera for any shooting situation, underwater or topside. Using the technique allows the photographer to shift attention away from focusing and onto composition and framing, making it easier to get a lot more keeper shots. It will change your life and you’ll rarely ever have an out of focus shot again. Say goodbye to out of focus shots with the Real-time Tracking AF of the Sony a7R IV. This shot was captured by placing the focus square over the turtle’s eye and it tracked the eye as the turtle moved around the frame, allowing the shooter to shift attention and concentrate on getting the composition dialed in.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/125 | ISO 400 | ƒ14BEST UNDERWATER LENS CHOICES FOR SONY A7R IV, USE CANON GLASS One weak point of the full-frame Sony mirrorless camera system is a lack of native Sony lenses well suited for underwater photography. For wide angle, while Sony has two nice 16-35mm options that work well underwater, the Sony 16-35mm ƒ4 and the Sony 16-35mm G ƒ2.8, there is no dedicated fisheye lens in the Sony lineup. There is a Sony 28mm prime that can take a fisheye converter, but underwater the corners turn to mush making it not very usable. The Sony 90mm macro has excellent image quality but focuses very slowly, to the point of not being practically usable in AF, and leads to lots of missed shots waiting for it to focus. In addition, the Sony 90mm only has a minimum aperture of ƒ22, making it harder to get more depth of field and darker backgrounds in high ambient light conditions. Fortunately, the ability to use Canon lenses with an adapter opens up more options. The Sigma MC-11 Mount Converter for Sony E-mount Mirrorless Cameras with Canon Mount Lenses is our top choice. The Canon 8-15mm is a true fisheye lens with L series lens optics, the highest grade Canon makes. Focus speed and accuracy with the Sigma MC-11 Mount Converter is imperceptibly different as with a native Sony wide angle lens. For macro, the Canon 100mm IS macro lens with the Sigma MC-11 Mount Converter focuses much faster than the native Sony 90mm macro. Tracking works well, even with tiny macro subjects. It also has a minimum aperture of ƒ32 that allows it to shoot 1 stop darker and gain more depth of field. The only downside is the extra bulk and size of the converter and a larger housing macro port. In our testing, it seems the Canon lenses focus just as fast or faster with the Sony a7R IV body than with a Canon body. Canon lenses with a mount converter are the best choice for fisheye and macro over the native Sony lenses for the best image quality and autofocus performance.ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDERS — A BLESSING AND A CURSE As with anything in life, there are positives and negatives, and there’s no exception to that with electronic viewfinders. On the positive side is the ability to see playback in both the viewfinder and the rear LCD screen. In clear, bright water with lots of glare, the LCD screen can be hard to see to review the image during playback to make sure you nailed the shot. Switching to the EVF for playback and having all the playback options to see histograms, highlight warnings, and zoom in to see critical focus in shallow water is awesome. With macro shooting, especially super macro, it’s very handy to not have to move at all to review the image and risk losing the macro critter in the finder. The downside to mirrorless is shooting in wide angle, especially with a backlit scene, which to be frank, is most underwater wide scenes. With a backlit scene, the viewfinder or screen compensates for the overly bright background and makes the foreground appear dark, making it hard to see what is in the foreground. Sunball shots are the worst, where it’s nearly impossible to see where the sun is or making out what is in the shadowed foreground. It’s impossible to see what you’re shooting in a heavily backlit scene like this with a mirrorless camera. When looking in the EVF, the sun was completely blown out and all of the surrounding water was blown out too, making it impossible to see where the actual sunball was in the frame until taking the picture and reviewing it in playback.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/250 | ISO 200 | ƒ16 Focus peaking is another massive benefit to mirrorless cameras. Focus peaking can be set up to show whenever in manual focus. This will show you areas in focus highlighted in your choice of color. The color isn’t too overbearing and is a massive help in determining critical focus. For those who can't see critical focus on a screen or optical viewfinder very well, this is a must for macro shooting, especially when bumping up against the limits of minimum focus for a macro lens. Just look for the critical area you want in focus to be highlighted in the color of your choice, and fire. Focus peaking also works with depth of field (DOF) preview. The gain on the screen compensates for any loss of light from stopping the lens down, but it is still important to use a focus light to help see subjects clear and help with AF performance in low light. This is an advantage over SLRs as most cameras either don’t have access to the DOF preview button, and when you do, the viewfinder is too overly dark to see anything when the lens is stopped down, plus there is no focus peaking in the viewfinder. In general, for macro shooters having an electronic viewfinder is a really good benefit. Easy to see focus peaking and not having to move for playback is gold for macro shooters. Wide angle shooters might be a little more frustrated with the difficulty of seeing backlit scenes, especially ones with sunballs. Helpful features like Focus Peaking combined with the Real-time Tracking AF makes it easy to get tack-sharp results, even with challenging super macro shots that have limited despth of field.Sony a7R IV | Sony 90mm | 1/250 | ISO 100 | ƒ7.1BEST CAMERA SETTINGS FOR SONY A7R IV TO OPTIMIZE FOR FAST ACTION SHOTS Underwater photography has a lot of scenes that require fast shooting to get at the action. The Sony a7R IV comes out of the box set up for a pretty slow shooting experience. When taking a shot, the default is to have the image pop up on the screen or in the viewfinder automatically, making it necessary to half-press the shutter to clear the playback image before firing the next shot. This is a major annoyance of all mirrorless cameras and it makes it perform more like a compact camera than like an SLR. To get a SLR performance level it is recommended to turn off the Auto Review in the menu of the camera. This allows the photographer to shoot repetitive fast shots. If one needs to review the image, tap the playback button then tap it again to resume shooting. This tap dance routine adds another step compared in the mix compared to what an SLR shooter would have to do, but it is the next best thing for a mirrorless camera to perform quickly with action shots. Firing as many shots in as little time as possible is the key to capturing action moments. Changing the menu setting to turn Auto Review off lets the camera always be ready for the next shot without having to tap the shutter to stop the Auto Review of the image.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/250 | ISO 400 | ƒ164K 30p AND 1080 120p MOVIE MODE The Sony a7R IV shoots the same video spec as the previous Sony a7R III, which to be honest is a little disappointing that progress has not been made to get to 4K 60p. Top of the line full-frame cameras from Panasonic and Canon are now shooting in excess of 4K resolution at 60p, so it feels Sony is a little behind here for this level of a camera. However, if 4K isn’t needed, the high speed 1080 120p footage looks amazing. It allows capturing at 120 frames, having the ability to go half-speed to lengthen clips that help stabilize and add more drama, but still output a much nicer looking hyperreal video at 60p. SUPER 35 MODE IN 4K: SHOOT TIGHTER SHOTS WITHOUT CHANGING YOUR LENS The Sony a7R IV has a feature called APS-C/Super 35 Mode. This mode uses a smaller area of the sensor to record 4K video. One of the benefits Sony claims to with the Super 35 mode is reduced moiré patterns by oversampling the image and down-converting to 4K. The “hidden” benefit you won't find on a spec sheet is being able to shoot a scene in both full-frame AND cropped modes, both in 4K resolution. In macro, this has the effect of getting even tighter shots with no loss of quality or depth of field, or even having to move the camera. This is a big help in pulling off super tight macro video. This made it easy to accomplish the “wide, medium, tight” shot sequence that is a cornerstone of video editing. For wide angle shooting with a fisheye lens, it's similar to using a teleconverter on an SLR with a fisheye lens - except that you can change it underwater in an instant. For the ultimate in versatility, use a Canon 8-15mm and you can get full circular fisheye, and with the Super 35 mode, it’s almost equivalent to the zoom range of a Tokina 10-17mm on a crop sensor camera. In these frame grabs from 4K video, the left image is uncropped, the right image is the Super 35 crop. Camera stayed on a tripod in the same position. By activating Super 35 Mode the camera add magnification while still shooting 4k.BEAUTIFUL AMBIENT LIGHT VIDEO COLOR IF YOU STAY SHALLOW The previous model Sony a7R III had massively improved ambient light custom white balance, and this same white balance carries on with the Sony a7R IV with no noticeable changes. It has 3 available custom white balance banks with easy access and simple execution. The white balance performs best at shallow depths and looks good in bright ambient light conditions, but only up until about 45 feet deep. At around that depth the water in the background tends to shift towards a magenta hue that becomes more difficult to correct in post the deeper it’s shot. These frame grabs are directly taken directly from 4K video and show how well the Sony a7R IV performs in shallow natural light shooting conditions.CONCLUSION: BEST CAMERA EVER? DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ASK... The Sony a7R IV is a massive leap forward in image quality. With 61MP of resolution, it will produce big prints with tons of sharp detail like no other camera before it. Cropping a vertical from a horizontal is not a problem and will still yield more resolution than most other cameras at full frame. The color of the still images look great right out of the camera, and the dynamic range is among the best of any camera. With both image quality and resolution, you can have your cake and eat it too. 10 frames per second continuous shooting with this much resolution is crazy good performance. 10 FPS used to be reserved for sports cameras with much lower resolution, but now this camera can push those boundaries and shoot fast action. This being said, it is a little clunky to shoot fast and review, requiring extra taps of the playback and shutter buttons to switch back and forth from shooting to image review, but this is something common to all mirrorless cameras. In this area a SLR is still king. The Real-time Tracking AF is a major leap forward in autofocus for Sony. It can now compete with the likes of the Nikon D850 for that top autofocus performance slot. In our testing however the macro autofocus capabilities of the Nikon D850 still outperform the Sony a7R IV, but you can get closer with the Sony a7R IV than ever before to the Nikon macro performance if a Canon macro lens with an adapter is used. We wish Sony would develop a proper fisheye lens and a better performing macro lens, but thankfully there is a good solution with using an adapter for some Canon glass, even if it adds a little bulk and isn’t as streamlined as native glass. For video shooters, whether this camera fits their needs will depend on the type of shooting they do. It’s disappointing to not see any 4K/60p from Sony yet. Canon and Panasonic both have full-frame cameras now that are shooting over 4K resolution at 60p. That coupled with the rather shallow limitations of the custom white balance, make this camera a choice for more casual video shooters whose real main interest is photo. If you’re looking for the hands-down best stills image quality and biggest resolution, there is no other place to look than the Sony a7R IV. Rear-curtain synchronization allows for slow-shutter shots that emphasize motion blur for creative effect.Sony a7R IV | Canon 8-15mm | 1/4 | ISO 200 | ƒ22Pros61mp sensor produces the best still image quality available yetOutstanding low light and dynamic range performanceReal-time autofocus subject tracking makes it easy to nail focus on every shotWide angle autofocus is super-fast, accurate, and matches or exceeds the performance of other top camerasSuper 35 mode offers more shooting crops while still maintaining 4K resolutionNatural ambient light color looks good up to about 45 feetConsBest lens choices require Canon lenses and an adapterMacro autofocus still not quite as fast as an SLRNatural light custom white balance turns water to magenta after about 45 feetWhere is the 4k/60p?Why buy direct from Backscatter?Free lifetime tech support with every purchase. We will beat any advertised price. Free shipping to USA and Canada and low-cost international shipping. The Camera:Sony a7R IV Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera $3,499.00BUY NOWThe Housings:Aquatica A7rIV HousingBUY NOWIkelite Sony a7R IV HousingBUY NOWIsotta Sony a7R IV HousingBUY NOWNauticam NA-a2020 HousingBUY NOW Sea & SeaMDX-aU HousingORDER NOWSeacam Sony a7R IV HousingBUY NOWRelated PostsOM System TG-7 Underwater Camera Review Get ready to embark on new underwater adventures with the next generation of the world's most beloved camera for underwater photography. Read More Ikelite DS230 & DS232 Underwater Strobe Review The Ikelite DS230 and Ikelite DS232 strobes stand as Ikelite’s latest flagship offerings. Both models boast identical flash features and characteristics, with the only discernible difference being a b... Read More Backscatter Hybrid Flash Underwater Strobe & Video Light Review With the introduction of the Backscatter Hybrid Flash HF-1, underwater photographers can now capture stunning stills and video with a single versatile tool. The Hybrid is the most powerful strobe and ... Read More Retra Flash Pro Max Underwater Strobe Review The Retra Flash Pro Max is Retra's latest top-end strobe. It has a redesigned battery compartment and booster, as well as a rear OLED screen added to the back. This is an attractive upgrade for R... Read More Sea & Sea YS-D3 Duo Underwater Strobe Review The YS-D3 Duo is the latest strobe from Sea & Sea. This strobe adds Olympus RC automatic TTL flash power, giving you the most accurate automatic flash power ever from a Sea & Sea strobe when s... Read More The Best Underwater GoPro Wide Angle Lens & Filter System Get a significant upgrade in image quality from your GoPro camera with the Backscatter Sharp Wide Lens Pro (SWLP). This optical grade glass wide conversion lens will dramatically increase the sharpnes... Read More ARTICLE KEYWORDS: SONY,A7R,IV,4,lv,m,mk,mark,mirrorless,UNDERWATER,scuba,diving,CAMERA,REVIEW,full-frame