See also Sony Announces an Uncompressed File Format for A7R II and Future Cameras.
Now that Sony is offering a lossless format (albeit uncompressed it seems), here are other areas that need attention.
12-bit land mines
See Sony A7R II RAW (ARW) Files: Format, 12 Bit Degradation:
- The quality-damaging 12-bit mode when using Bulb Mode must be fixed (14-bit).
- The quality-damaging 12-bit mode when using long exposure noise reduction must be fixed (14-bit).
- The quality-damaging 12-bit mode when using continuous shutter must be fixed (14-bit). If that means slowing the frame rate (as an option), so be it.
- Long exposure noise reduction is a cure worse than the disease. And with a proper exposure at 30 seconds, there is no issue to begin with.
- Silent shutter mode should not be 12-bit. Maybe this is a technical issue, but it’s a land mine for some shooters.
- A menu preference that uses the regular shutter instead of the EFC shutter if the shutter speed is too high for reliable quality exposure.
- Sony, please be the first company to offer a
and options. And it should hide the menu, which I do not want and never use. Replace it with a feature. Clutter makes it feel more toy like, not like a real camera, and if nothing else, impedes efficient usage.
- Add a true raw histogram. Or at least allow the selection of a wide-gamut color space for histogram rendering.
- The RGB histogram is too small and hides small but critical blow-out areas in its smallness.
- If JPEG is mandatory (uggh), add a modern 16-bit variant.
- There is no way to transfer a complete camera setup to another camera. This is a major headache given the kitchen-sink settings menus and button/menu customization. So much of a headache that I ended up with JPEG files instead of RAW for my images one day over in Germany (I had along one new A7R II body, and bugs in the menus wiped out my settings).
- It should be possible to make a 45/60/120/240/... second exposure by dialing in an explicit time. There is no reason to be limited to 30 seconds and forced to time things manually with Bulb mode. And please, Sony, don’t make us manually close the shutter as the super-dumb Nikon implementation does: enter the desired time, go back to warm car out of freezing temps, count on job done. The Ricoh GR does this right, up to 6 minutes.
- There should be a true ISO 64 with ultra high quality and dynamic range as with the Nikon D810 (the hardware may not be good enough, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!).
- There should be an option to disable SteadyShot at some shutter speed cutoff, because it is not foolproof.
- There should also be a display of the focal length set for SteadyShot (serious image damage if wrong focal is chosen).
- There should be a best-of-N shot selection mode for low speed handheld shooting, based on image analysis.
- It should be possible to take N frames and merge them in the camera (in raw), e.g. multiple exposures for overlaying images.
- Sound-based focus peaking (pitch and volume) while manually focusing (not just visual).
More suggestions (which I agree with) from Ming Thein:
- Show flashing exposure zebras in full screen image playback
- Speed up menu operation
- Direct AF point selection on D pad
- One press to magnify to preset zoom level. H/M/L is fine. And make it available in all modes, not just MF.
Milton M writes:
This is a goldmine of great suggestions for future enhancements! I think you should re-look at the utility of the application menu, however. Ming Thein can find the intervalometer he wants, there.
I also find the Smart Remote Control app useful. This lets you use your smartphone to control the a7R remotely. The EVF/rear LCD panel display is displayed on your smartphone. This is quite useful in situations where it is impossible or at least not easy to see either the EVF or the rear LCD panel displays. I enjoy using this feature when I use my a7R on my copy stand to copy prints. I also use the Direct Upload app to quickly transfer photos to my smartphone for upload to Facebook.
DIGLLOYD: An intervalometer is a core feature; implemented as an app it just speaks to a failure of conception and design.
I heartily dislike the very idea of downloading “apps” for a camera, unless they offer compelling features clearly outside the core feature set that ought to be in the camera. Basically, the camera ought to be a camera. There is the hassle of having the camera being another software device to update, the crash risks, the security risks and more. These are hardly innocuous threats given the root kit approach Sony uses for firmware updates (and consider the latest iPhone malware apps that got into the Apple Store!). Does anyone realistically expect Sony to do 1/10 as good a job on security as Apple?). A company that requires 'root' just to install a software update? Seriously? The last thing I want is an “app” on my camera.
As for remote control via a phone, certainly such things can be useful in studio scenarios and speciality areas. But for general photography in the field, the last thing I want to do is carry one more gadget and juggle that with the camera. OTOH, if all JPEG support could be an app, I would celebrate, since I would never download that app, and all the JPEG confusion would disappear. And then maybe photography could be more about making images, and less about figuring out that 80% of the menus are crap derived from JPEG-centric thinking.
James P writes:
Really enjoyed your recent articles on Zeiss, and congrats on getting the early scoop on the Milvus range! It's very reassuring to know Zeiss is moving in a good direction with their lineup, they seem to be a very forward-thinking company.
Regarding the weather sealing on the Milvus range, it seems to me this highlights a the rather glaring omission of similar features on the Otus range. To be honest, this is a big factor that puts me off those lenses, because I would absolutely hate to get significant internal moisture or dust in such an expensive lens that I would want to keep pristine for resale if nothing else.
Now that sealing is becoming standard on the Zeiss DSLR range, it puts the Otus lenses in an odd position where they're currently lacking in this aspect of build quality. Did you hear any word over whether Zeiss are aware of this issue and whether they intend to address it?.
DIGLLOYD: the weather sealing on the Milvus line has some effect: focusing is slightly stiffer than it might be (perhaps due to air between elements; there are multiple seals). Still, I deem the Milvus focusing superior to the existing ZF.2/ZE lineup.
As for Otus, neither Ming Thein nor I have experienced any dust or moisture problems with Otus lenses (he is in a much more moisture prone environment than I am). The Otii have cine-lens bearings for the best focusing feel available. I would be loathe to see that fabulous focusing feel compromised by weather sealing, so I am content. And I think that one could have Zeiss clean the lens if dust were to make ingress.
Accordingly I do not see weather sealing as a “build quality” issue. I see it as a design choice.
Dr. S writes:
Taking a cue from your images at Zeiss at least 1 travel camera was the Sony A7R II with Zeiss Batis. Did you take any others? Nice to have a small kit? I know it will be for me.
DIGLLOYD: I took the Sony A7R II with the Zeiss Batis 25/2 and Zeiss Batis 85/1.4. I did not want to haul along (on an airline at least) a Nikon D810 and a Zacuto loupe and Otii. Uggh. Of course, in my SUV in the mountains, those “lugging” factors are less of an issue, at least until I start to fill my pack for the day’s hike, whereupon they put forward their logic in a physical way.
Ming Thein came to the same conclusion*. This then is why Nikon and Canon are in deep doodoo unless they respond soon with a sensible answer to the mirrorless juggernaut.
The “lugging it” reality is one I’ve expounded on at length over the past several years: if the Sony A7R II is a little smaller with its extra batteries, that is a moderate plus. But the Batis lenses are also at least as small and light and outperform CaNikon in autofocus and optical quality.
But most compelling of all: the Sony A7R II autofocus for me has been deadly accurate (excepting specular highlights), whereas the Nikon D810 OVF is useless for accurate manual focusing, and Nikon autofocus has horrendous precision issues with fast primes, always has, and surely always will; it is inherently poor in precision and utilizes a separate optical path to boot (not the sensor itself), a fundamental implementation flaw for high-res digital. And phase-detect AF fails to account for aperture properly as well, that is, it “sees” something like f/5.6, a fatal flaw for lenses with focus shift. Canon has all these same phase-detect AF issues, though IMO it is generally superior to Nikon for fast primes. HIT RATE MATTERS.
And so it is game over for CaNikon for travel and out-and-about shooting without a tripod, at least for most situations (sports and other specialties excepted of course). And that’s ignoring in-body image stabilization (IBIS).
The foregoing should not be confused with field work on a tripod, where the working style is contemplative and not fast-paced. There, the Zeiss Otus and Milvus and other Zeiss primes rock (and yet can be used on Sony as well!). The announcement of a Sony uncompressed format may turn the tide in favor of the Sony A7R II over the Nikon D810 (if that is indeed the core issue with Sony file quality).
* To be clear: Ming and I hit it off on our first meeting. We are different in many ways and yet Ming feels to me like a kindred spirit; we operate on the same wavelengths. We were not idle at Zeiss. Sometimes, a small rock or two starts an avalanche.
Small and light for a price?
As I’ve expressed for myself over the years, Otus-grade (or better) lenses of f/2.8 or even f/3.5 speed that would be much smaller and lighter are highly desirable, but not found on the market. Ponder whether yours truly would travel all the way to Germany and fail to express such sentiments. As well, I am not known for timidity in expressing my views.
And yet there is that price thing. Saying one wants an Otus-grade f/2.8 or f/3.5 lens is hardly the same as saying that one is willing to pay prices a large fraction of Otus prices. Because even a 2-stops-slower lens would require expensive lens elements to deliver Otus+ quality in a compact form factor.
Of course such “slower speed but perfect lens” ideas are necessarily a business decision, especially given the zeitgeist of infatuation with f/1.2 or f/1.4. Video shooters and certain others have legitimate needs for fast lenses, but most of the clamor for fast lenses is ill-conceived because on a digital sensor, f/1.2 can be as slow as T/1.5 anyway: see Loss of Lens Brightness at Fast Apertures on a Digital Sensor. And consider the fact that on a 36/42/50 megapixel digital camera, depth of field at f/1.4 or f/2 is corneal-thin.
As a quick survey (and this should NOT be taken as a hint of anything): would readers out there pay US$4500 for a 28mm f/2.8 or 35mm f/2.8 (or similar) that performs as well and perhaps better than an Otus? Provided that it is substantially smaller than an Otus.
And no, I do NOT mean lenses like Leica M, which are grossly expensive but suffer from all sorts of design compromises like focus shift, field curvature and secondary color and flare problems, not to mention quality control issues. I mean near-perfect lenses devoid of such defects, lenses that set a true reference standard that will not be surpassed.
Peter H writes
You are preaching to the converted here! High quality, relatively small and light f2.8-f3.5 primes. This is what ALL landscape photographers desire...and I suspect there is a few of those around the world! (if Zeiss has any doubts about potential market/ROI).
Yes, I would happily pay 4K for such lenses, as long as they came in Sony mount to avoid any adapter related quality compromises (which would kind-of defeat the purpose of them anyway).
I think Ming summed it up best when he said 4K for a lens is a bargain if you never need to buy another lens in that focal length again. Amen.
DIGLLOYD: no, they should not be in Sony mount for one simple reason: they should be universal lenses usable on Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujfilm, Pentax, for long term universal value. Such lenses would need to include their own high quality adapters. A native E-mount lens would be usable only on Sony (flange focal distance would preclude others) and thus a very poor investment should Sony abandon the camera market, or fall behind in attractiveness. And Sony still has issues of many kinds!
A Nikon F-mount is as close to universal as it gets as it can work on Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, etc. A well designed adapter is not an issue optically (though some adapters out there can cause flare or have poor tolerances). For such stuff, I'd want lenses that would last forever. The Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, even if the electronic chip fails, continue to work just fine with the aperture ring, so this does not preclude an electronic aperture that fails gracefully to mechanical.
Chris L writes:
Lloyd, you nailed it (as usual):
I would be willing to pay 4k+ for such a compact, reasonably light, Otus-quality lens, IF, and only if, it were universally usable.
The qualification means that, if a lens maker would conceive a set of such high-quality lens-heads and dedicated, precise (possibly adjustable!) adapters for the major mounts, I'd be willing to trade most of my gear for that.
Adapter quality is crucial: I'm thinking of *at least* Novoflex standards. For the past 15 months, I've been using all my Zeiss ZF and Voigtländer F-Mount lenses on Sony E and FE bodies via Novoflex adapters (with the all-important ASTAT collar for long or heavy lenses), and I'm not looking back to current Nikon for a second. Not even for mounting the 135mm Apo Sonnar and the Voigtländer 180mm Apo Lanthar, two absolute gems that I found fickly to focus on a DSLR, but a piece of cake on an EVF.
Apart from handling, weight and bulk are essential considerations. I'm a number of years older than you are, and in far poorer shape. I'm no longer able to schlepp a Nikon full-frame plus a full complement of primes, let alone quality zoom behemoths. Nor would I be willing to. And tighter airline on-board luggage restrictions over here in Europe mean that one Sony A7xn plus 2-3 lenses (like the Batis 25mm/85mm combo, + maybe the tiny 1.8/55mm Sonnar) plus, possibly, an A6000 body for backup is all you can take comfortably aboard.
DIGLLOYD: I’d not want anything less than first class adapters and universal applicability (or nearly so), of course.
The size/weight thing seems to be a keen interest of many I’m hearing from.
First, I’m not sick as one reader inquired.
Rather, jet lag has hit me hard; I went to bed at 10PM last night and woke up at 14:30 (16 1/2 hours later (!), which I think sets a new personal record; I can usually sleep little more than 8 hours, which is always too little, particularly with a heavy training load, e.g. cycling). I still feel all out of kilter from the Germany trip.
And still, I have a daunting workload facing me over the next few weeks, with a few secret projects (!) that will excite many when they emerge. And more than that. It’s not just the making of images either: for every day I shoot, it’s usually 3-4 days of analysis and writing to publish the material. Moreover, when I publish one aperture series, there were usually 3-5 others that I reject—the end product is neither casual nor quick nor in a lab (but it is why I sometimes shoot The Dolls and similar, a simple time-demand reality). I still have good Zeiss Batis material from August that is as yet unpublished.
Nor does reader email abate. I welcome it, but there are always many demands on my time, and it is only one such thing among several* that compete for my time vs publishing what makes me a living (pays my bills and supports my family). So responding to emails is a true cost to me, and what some don’t realize is that subscribing really helps and that while one subscription is much appreciated, it is not adequate to sustain my efforts longer term (the “full” upgrade is available to all subscribers, please consider it). We all have the same 12-14 hours in a workday, and I am not an internet company whose operations scale and with an IPO looming as a grand prize! The foregoing is nothing more than an articulation of reality. I love what I do.
* For example, many hours over the past year spent implementing anti-hacker defenses in my web server, which is hit with thousands of hacker probes each day. Or the world’s best (and automatic) retina image support for the web; I write my own server code for everything.
I’ve had to drop some lower priority projects for now at least. And also forgo a Chicago Master Class with Ming Thein that I’d really have liked to attend: IMO, Ming is exceptionally talented, and his workshop is a real opportunity for anyone who can get to it. But I know the limits of my aging self (26 bid, no ask) and I've had to be realistic about what I can handle—while I work about 80 hours a week (12 X 7 X 365), and I can do double centuries (7 of them this year), airplane travel is always stressful for me and I’ve been cursed with needing something like 9 hours of sleep of day and yet rarely getting more than 8—and sometimes that piles up into a train wreck that shuts me down, as I learned struggling through August** (a miserable month but there is no rest for the weary in my job). And there is some latent oscillating health issue as yet unresolved that nags me. Still, I love what I have, and that’s all I’m getting. :)
** I was not rested prior to the Marin Double Century (disappointing time, finishing 39 out of 300 or so, poor for me), and then I slept badly for 10 days. Unlike all the previous doubles, recovery was slow and it hit me hard with daily fatigue for the entire month. I finally felt back to normal around the 1st of September.
See also prior post: Sony Working on Uncompressed File Format? as well as many posts discussing lossless compression.
Kudos to Sony for responding to market sentiments! (press release below). I sent a query to both a Sony PR agent and a high-level Sony technical person, but as yet I have not gotten an answer to whether there is a lossless-compressed option.
UPDATE: six days later, I’ve still gotten no answer from Sony on when such an update will occur, or anything more than radio silence. It seems odd as a member of the press to not even get an “ack”.
Update 2: dpreview indicates that the format is indeed the uncompressed flavor.
I am puzzled why an uncompressed format would be offered versus a lossless-compressed format. The core issue is file QUALITY, not file FORMAT. Lossless-compressed is identical to uncompressed in quality, but saves a lot of space. And it is not a given that an uncompressed format will solve all issues. My prediction is that the Sony uncompressed format will still show issues as compared to the as yet unbeatable Nikon D810 pixel quality at ISO 64. In particular, Sony raw files look “cooked” to me. I do not think that cooked look is just the lossy compression.
An uncompressed Sony A7R II file will be about 42.2 * (14/8) > 74MB per file, assuming the bits are packed. If the 14 bits are stored in two bytes (16 bits) instead of being packed together, then the file size will be at least a whopping 84MB. Versus ~42MB per file with the current lossy-compressed format = double the size.
The language in the Sony press release is unclear: “selectable compressed or uncompressed 14-Bit RAW” — does that mean selectable lossless-compressed? Or the current lossy-compressed? Are we really going to have to deal with the with the (needless) storage demands of ~74MB uncompressed raw files?
File sizes and lossless compressed
Consider the Nikon D810. Its 14-bit lossless-compressed files are usually around 42MB per file, though files with corner-to-corner detail can be substantially larger (or smaller, with lots of blue sky or similar, particularly high key stuff). Uncompressed, its files ought to be 36 * (14/8) = 63MB. Except that Nikon does not pack the bits, so those 14 bits are stored in two bytes (16 bits), wasting 1/8 of the space (2 bits out of 16) for a file size of 72MB + ~3MB of other stuff for a total file size for its 36-megapixel images of 75MB per image.
Nikon lossless-compressed and uncompressed sizes (same image)
In other words, lossless compression saves about 30% to 50% of the storage space on average—more for some images, less for others, depending the amount of detail or random noise in the file (entropy).
See File Size as a Measure of Image Detail for more on just how much space can be saved with lossless compression. Years ago I employed other techniques to reduce image size as well. I have three compression patents in my name on lossless compression (though not ownership rights), and I know a little about these things.
See also Sony A7R II: Other Areas That Need Attention via Firmware Update.
Sony Announces Addition of Uncompressed 14-Bit RAW Still Image Capture for New α Cameras
Emphasis added in places.
Sony Announces Addition of Uncompressed 14-Bit RAW Still Image Capture for New α Cameras
by Communications 09/15/2015, in Digital Cameras
Son3y Announces Addition of Uncompressed 14-Bit RAW Still Image Capture for New α Cameras
New α7S II to Feature Selectable Compressed and Uncompressed 14 Bit RAW at Launch; Free Firmware Updates Coming for Additional Models Beginning with α7R II
NEW YORK, Sept. 15, 2015 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today announced user selectable Compressed and Uncompressed 14-Bit RAW image capture will be featured in the new α7S II once it arrives in stores this October.
Additionally, they have announced plans to add user-selectable compressed or uncompressed 14-Bit RAW still image capture via firmware update to additional cameras beginning with the recently introduced α7R II full-frame mirrorless model.
“The voice of our α community remains the most important guiding force of our product development plans,” said Neal Manowitz, Deputy Vice President for Digital Imaging at Sony Electronics. “The addition of Uncompressed 14-Bit RAW processing is a direct result of customer feedback. Widely requested by photo and video enthusiasts, we believe the choice of RAW processing types will further elevate the performance of these extraordinary cameras.”
[DIGLLOYD: uncompressed is/was NOT the request of those who understand the matter, it is lossy vs lossless at issue, e.g., file *quality* not file *format*]
The α7S II and α7R II are compatible with Sony’s growing lineup of α -mount lenses, which now totals 64 different models including 13 native ‘FE’ full frame lenses. In 2016, Sony aims to build the native FE lens lineup to over 20 different models, bringing the overall α -mount assortment to over 70 different lenses.
A variety of exclusive stories and exciting new content shot with the new α7S II and a7R II cameras plus other Sony α products can be found at www.alphauniverse.com, Sony’s new community site built to educate, inspire and showcase all fans and customers of the Sony α brand.