#393. In the A7rII, has Sony secretely tweaked its recipe for RAW?

#393. In the A7rII, has Sony secretely tweaked its recipe for RAW?

Open question: is the RAW recipe in the A7rII the same as the RAW recipe in the A7r ?

Officially, bit depth hasn’t improved. And flame wars still rage on the anti-Sony blogs and forums. One recent comment about Sony’s RAW read “Disgusting. Criminal. Unforgivable.” Eye-opening, really. I had naively thought rape and murder were unforgivable but it appears that Sony’s management of RAW files belongs to that same category of evil. Eye-opening, I tell you.

For those unaware of the broil, here’s the quick lowdown: even for its flagship cameras, Sony has been using compressed RAW, with the benefit of lower file size (about 50% off Nikon’s D800e, which I used to own, for instance). Compression robs information, and Sony has been getting some severe stick for it all along. Compression, up to a point, can be lossless, meaning you can decompress the file to its original quality. Lossless compression algorithms are more or less all equivalent in their not-so-great performance (compared to no compression). A more important concept is perceptual loss. Here, you enter a hazy zone which does not operate with an on/off switch (lossy/lossless) but a slider(more or less lossy). What many are asking Sony is a lossless compression, which is one possibility. The alternative, for Sony is to find a setting and algorithm that optimizes the benefits of compression while not introducing harmful artefacts. That solution will never please everyone because some applications will always bring up something nasty. Sony knows who its important clients are and will undoubtably optimize for their use case.

My question in this article is “Has this improvement process already secretly begun with the A7rII ?”. For one thing files are no larger than on the A7r. If anything, they’re smaller. Then, there’s this …

LSD Milky Way

Laser wars in an LSD Milky Way – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Wha’ever. Does unchanged bit-depth mean altogether unchanged RAW ? For the A7rII, Sony’s obviously gone to tremendous lengths to answer most of the past criticisms raised against the A7r and more. Is it inconceivable that a discreet algorithmic upgrade of RAW processing may have slipped into production cameras, Sony keeping it quiet to stay out of troll’s way ?

Yesterday, I set out to make a few pics of the milky way before having to send ‘my’ Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2 to Zeiss (review on A7r & A7RII coming soon).

My usual processing of these files involves pushing saturation & vibrance to the max to set white balance, before sliding back down to more normal settings, as described in this previous article.

An over-saturated view of the constellation of Orion in post processing. Sony A7r &OTUS 85

Warhol was here

Doing so with files from the A7r produces square artifacts around stars, as seen above. The same intermediate processing on A7rII files did nothing of the kind. See below a file at a similar stage. Stars are (1) out of focus (2) slightly elongated due to the long exposure. But there is nothing weird going on around them.

The A7r2 pushed hard

The A7r2 pushed hard

Now, this is not to say lossy compression is ideal or perfect. And, if it adds significantly to the already improved image quality, we’re all for lossless RAW compression, here at DS. But something already has changed and, apparently, in the right direction. If someone out there knows better and can explain the nature of the changes (it could even be changes in the PP software, who knows ?), I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment.

Milky Way in Provence - Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

Milky Way in Provence – Sony A7rII & Zeiss Distagon 2.8/15 ZF.2

And to round-up the discussion with a real-world photo, here’s what the milky way turned out like in my light-polluted village of the South of France. 12800 ISO 30 seconds. Not too shabby, right ? Go Sony.

For the anecdote: the tiny spec of light on the hill at lower-left (in the bright yellow zone) is a church built in a large grotto in honour of Mary Magdalene (who, according to local tradition, ended her years in prayer there), the exact location from which this sunrise photography walk article was written.

 


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18 Comments

  1. Avatar
    James Moule August 23, 2015

    Did you try processing in Capture 1?

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 23, 2015

      Not yet. Both photographs (A7r & A7rII) are processed with LightRoom. I’ll try Capture 1 this week.

  2. Avatar
    Dennis Manning August 24, 2015

    Pascal, I really enjoy your delicate, philosophical, and artistically centered articles. Here’s a link to the “dark side” (very scientific, tech reporting). Mr. Kasson may have some useful info for you on the A7RII and long exposures. It occurred to me in correlating your article and his series of tests that rather than a software, Raw file change, the new sensor may simply have fewer “hot pixels” due to less dark current leakage. Assuming your “square” pixels are “hot” ones.
    Dennis

    http://blog.kasson.com/?p=11521

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 25, 2015

      Thanks Dennis, most kind of you ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been following some of Jim’s posts and love some of his photographs. I don’t think those were hot pixels as the issue covered large squares and the brighter the star, the larger the square. Looks like processing to me, though I’ve never investigated what it really came down to or meant, shame on me ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 25, 2015

      Thanks Pictus. I use no noise reduction and always stick to 30 seconds or less for my exposures. Should be in the clear ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Avatar
    AmpCAT August 24, 2015

    I do some astrophotography and have been worried about this lossy RAW problem with Sony cameras. Usually I take several pictures and stack them, so I see different sorts of issues. This report is very encouraging for my recent purchase. However, I decided to settle on the A7II rather than the A7rII. Any idea if this improvement was implemented on the A7II as well?

    I’ll try to do some tests myself, and see if I can cause problems in the image, but it’d be great if someone who has more experience with seeing this problem has already tested it.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 25, 2015

      Hi AmpCAT, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that one. Sorry. I’d love to hear about you once you’ve run your tests, though.

      • Avatar
        AmpCAT August 25, 2015

        I did some quick tests last night at various high ISOs, then pushing it hard in Lightroom, and I could not get any artifacts on the A7II. I’ll dig through the article again to make sure I’m following your processing steps properly. But so far, it doesn’t seem like it’ll affect me, at least.

        • Avatar
          pascaljappy August 25, 2015

          Great news. With larger pixels, the A7II is probably the better camera of the two for astrophotography.

  4. Avatar
    Ben Jacobsen August 25, 2015

    how are you focusing stars with the a7rii? I’m having a very tough time! The infinity symbol shows up for a long way on the scale (meaning there’s more than one setting for infinity) and zooming in it’s too dark to see much? Any suggestions?
    Thanks!
    Ben

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 25, 2015

      Hi Ben, I’m struggling too. I’m realising that focusing is one area where the A7r was better than the A7rII. My method is simply to crank up the ISO, move the focusing area to a ‘bright’ star and take short exposures until the star appears to be sharp. Shouldn’t have to be so complicated …

      • Avatar
        AmpCAT August 25, 2015

        I had some issues with this last night as well. Since most lenses have some axial chromatic aberrations, past focus stars will have one color of halo, then closer than focus, they’ll have a different color. (For the lens I was using it’s magenta and greenish) I would play with focus until I got no color halo. That’s how I focus on highlights and stars, generally. The focus assist color peaking actually can get in the way for this. On very bright stars I’d still get a strong purple halo regardless of focus. That’s a different issue. I was using the FE 55/1.8, and found that when I manually focused, I would get it to infinity, then slowly back off until I got numbers for the distance again, then carefully move focus back until it just goes from something like 891m to infinity. That actually seemed to be sharpest focus for me.

      • Avatar
        AmpCAT August 25, 2015

        Also, I used the magnification assist at the 11.7x setting and aperture wide open to focus. I don’t think the focal field position shifts much (should get flatter perhaps) with changing aperture, but I could be wrong. I didn’t have any issues seeing at least a few stars with the magnification and even F/4. I also cranked the ISO up. Focus peaking did help for finding stars, even if it hurt to get fine focus.

  5. Avatar
    PaulB August 26, 2015

    Hi Pascal

    Very interesting article and nice images. Though it is funny that I have read this right after reading Ming Thein’s review of the Sony A7RII. His comment on the question of the compression processing is it appears that the greater number of pixels helps to smooth the transition compared to the A7R or A7II. Though the processing still has its issues.

    Are you rested up from the trip to Arizona?

    PaulB

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy August 26, 2015

      Interesting, Paul, thanks. I’ll take a look at Ming’s review. I agree there are still issues, though much smaller. Maybe Sony can give us 2 RAW settings ? I think the limitations only show up in very specific situations and it would be a shame to double the size of all our files to solve very occasional issues.

      Well rested from Arizona. And sorry to have left, to be honest. I’m currently sorting thousands of photographs into categories to publish a few more articles. Next up: ruins (today or tomorrow).

      All the best,
      Pascal

  6. Avatar
    Damian Crisostomo September 04, 2015

    A7rII has impressive specs on paper but that doesn’t mean it will deliver superior looking video in the real world. I’ll be getting an A7rII to replace my A7r for stills but will very likely still be using my A7s for video until the A7sII which I presume will have the sensible option of a 10bit 4k output.

    • Avatar
      pascaljappy September 04, 2015

      Damian, I’m afraid my only video experience comes from when I accidently press the red button, which I wish I could order the camera without … ๐Ÿ˜‰ So I really can’t help on this topic and hope I didn’t give you the impression the new camera would be better than yours for video.

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