Yesterday, Sony announced the release of version 2 of the A7rII’s firmware, which includes the much-anticipated (by many) 14 bit uncompressed RAW format.
The download and upgrade process is smooth, provided you set the APS mode to off before updating and make sure you have a full battery (my partially charged battery was detected and rejected). If you haven’t done so, you can download the firmware installer (and instructions) here : Windows, Mac.
Early this morning I made a series of comparison shots and uploaded them to LightRoom 6.1.1 (not the recommended 6.2!!!). Being skeptical about the benefit of the new RAW in these conditions (or for that matter, even with the right version of LightRoom, compared to the undeniable pain of doubling the memory usage, slower write times and added complexity to the menu system), I wasn’t hoping for much and didn’t find much. However, there are small but undeniable changes to report and these should only get ‘better’ when I have installed the proper version of LightRoom (riddled with bugs, so I am in no hurry).
If anyone can explain to me why the new RAW is read with 6.1.1, I’d be happy to hear it.
So here’s what I see, in this test scene.
Fewer niggles in compressed mode. Interpreted correctly or not by my version of LightRoom, uncompressed RAW (bottom) shows an alarmingly high number of artefacts (blue horizontal dashes plainly visible at 100%). Hot pixels ? It’s entirely possible that compression covered these up.
I also see better colour in these very deep shadows (the top picture looks grey in comparison, as well as very slightly flatter). These are pushed 3-4 stop.
In a similar shot, a while later and at 50% rather than 100%, the general impression is that the compressed version (guess which one) has more “air” and very slightly better colour and 3D. But there’s very little in it.
However, in a true blind test with co-author Philippe, I sent him a set of comparison shots and he correctly guessed 75% of them. So that has to mean there is a real correlation.
Here are more abstracts, for your perusal. I won’t comment them but I see distinct differences in colour rendition and local contrast.
At higher light levels, I’d lie if I said there is a lot to write about. See a typical direct comparison, below.
If you click above, you’ll see very slightly greater contrast on the right (compressed). The strong jpeg compression of the screen grab doesn’t help much. In the photograph below, the compressed version shows noticeably higher contrast (brighter highlights) on the tree trunk.
What this tells me is that the uncompressed version has slightly higher dynamic range (+0.3 EV ?).
All this being highly speculative, here’s the DS plan. 4 contributors have agreed to make compressed / uncompressed comparisons on a certain number of their favourite subjects and report. We’ll be publishing a collective article sometime later this week with more definitive conclusions and recommendations in a broad range of use cases.
In the mean time, here’s another sample of what this mean machine can do. Compressed or not, this is one sweet deal of a camera.
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I am not a user of the a7RII but of the a7S: if I am not mistaken, this has always had uncompressed 14 bit readout – at least the EXIF readout gives me a value of 14 in the section “bits per sample”.
As to the comparisons between 12 and 14 bit readout: on my trusty D700 I haven’t been able to detect differences in quality – only a slight difference in file size. So at this point the whole debate seems a bit academic to me. Or am I getting something wrong here.
Eagerly awaiting the results of your survey with the four contributors!
Hi Jens, thanks for weighing in. I don’t think you’re missing anything. One the basis of the pics I’ve compared, I feel the changes are minimal. I don’t often push shadows 4 stops, usually preferring to expose correctly from the start 😉 However, I’m not using the correct version of LightRoom, which seems to be a minefield of bugs. So there may be more gains to hope for in the future. We shall see.
We are comparing photographs made in normal lighting situations which do indicate slightly better clarity and 3D. Early days but I’m not holding my breath too much. Still, the nice thing is having the choice in the menu. So for those rare occasions where the best is required, we can always switch over to the higher quality mode. 🙂
Aah, gotcha! I overlooked the critical *UN*compressed feature … just ignore what I wrote above.
OK 😉 Still relevant though. Particularly the 12 – 14 bit comparison on the D700. A very similar situation, probably.
You wanted to know why LR 6.1.1 could read the uncompressed RAW. I think it is exactly the same format as the cRAW. With cRAW the camera just removes some data (11+7 bits) and that’s why the files are smaller. So I didn’t expect LR or any other RAW converter to fail.
The tree photos are really lovely. Your observations on the 14/12 compressed files are what I have seen as well. I am pleased with the difference. The 35 ZM gets on well with the r2 it seems?
Thanks Mark. Yes, the 35ZM is happier on the 7rII. I’d say 1 to 2 stops of improvement in the corners.
Still waiting for a decent lightroom upgrade to conclude the evaluation of the uncompressed raw. So far differences have been very minor but discernable in deep shadows. We shall continue to search
All the best