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Reader Comments: Sony File Format

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Sony A7R

Dan B writes:

I'm subscribed to and enjoyed your publications for a few years.

My question is: do you have any inkling of the relative effect of Sony's fake 14-bit lossy compressed raw files would have on a probable future 50mp camera? More specifically, would the effect be greater than currently seen with the 24mp and 36mp a7MII and a7r cameras, given the higher pixel density of a 50mp camera?

I had hoped that given the complaints Sony has received about that issue that they would have issued the A7 Mark II with w/o that issue. But no such luck. I would suppose therefore that the rumored forthcoming A7R II camera will have the same issue. Also, I am wondering that, not only will Sony never fix this issue, but with their new 50mp they will compress the files EVEN MORE! After all, their cameras are selling fairly well so their marketing folks may say 'why change'?

While this issue affects perhaps only up to 5 to 10% of my photos (obvious to a picky person like me) it does stick in my craw and makes me think of going back to a D810. I'd prefer not to go back to the D810 because I like autofocus Zeiss lenses (like the FE 55mm 1.8, with more good ones to come, perhaps sometime in the next year) more than what's available for Nikon and I like the somewhat smaller footprint of the mirrorless camera outfits and I LOVE not having to fine-tune the AF for each SLR lens!.

I'm not interested in Otus (expense, huge, and manual focus only), and the only lenses for the D810 that interest me are the new 24mm Sigma, the 35mm Sigma (which I had before), and perhaps the new Nikon 300mm F/4 diffractive optics version. But if Sony is not going to ditch their compromised files I just may do the switch. I'd spend the money for a Pentax 645Z if (a) they had better lenses near the 35mm effective focal length and (b) the camera had EFC, so that's out as well.

It really makes me angry that Sony Imaging has done such as stupid thing as to hobble the image quality of their cameras, at this late stage. Could it be some kind of bizarre non-competition agreement with Nikon and Pentax - you use our chips and we'll cripple our raw files so that we won't gain too much market share.

Well, probably not, but really, if Nikon and Pentax can pump out real 14-bit files with non-lossy compression using Sony chips there doesn't seem a rational reason for Sony's approach. Perhaps it's the buy-every-next-generation-of-our-cameras-to-help-our-bottom-line type of thing and we might provide a real high class raw file one of these years.

DIGLLOYD: Sony could make the whole file format concern go away by offering a 14-bit lossless compressed mode like Nikon has long done. But that begs another question: would it matter? Because from what I see, the Sony raw files are already cooked, with a lot of preprocessing going on—a half baked pizza, so to speak. What I’d really like to see is a high quality uncooked 15-bit raw file format that is lossless-compressed (variable file compression rates would mean varying raw file size, more detail = bigger file).

As for the Sony 11+7 bit lossy compression used by Sony cameras, it is less and less important with more noise. So the higher the per-pixel noise, the less it matters (higher ISO for example). Thus if a 50MP camera has noisier pixels (per pixel), then the lossy format would have less impact, not more. I would expect Sony to offer the same algorithm run on more pixels, so the files would be larger on a 50MP camera by the ratio of 50/36, just as the 36MP A7R files are larger by a 36/24 factor vs the 24MP A7 II format.

I see the Sony file format as one aspect of the Sony mindset; terrific parts, but it’s not a camera; it’s an electronic gadget—this is reflected in various design choices. And therefore I don’t hold out much hope for a change in the file format. But I do hope to be mistaken.

But the more pressing issue by far is eliminating the Sony A7R shutter vibration (“shutter shock”) issue in the Sony A7R, since under some conditions, the vibration cuts 36MP down to 24MP or even 18MP (a tiny 2 micron movement suffices to turn 36MP into 24MP). The shutter vibration ruined a lot of my work, and with telephotos, it’s a multi-pixel bang-bang nightmare. An EFC shutter is mandatory for a high-resolution camera of any brand.

So in my view, if Sony offered a zero-vibration electronic first curtain shutter (EFC shutter) on a 36/50MP A7R II (as with the Sony A7 II), along with a 14-bit lossless-compressed file format and sensor stabilization, the camera would be compelling. Even if the crapware Play Memories menu remains there like a brain-fart in the menu system.

Finally, I’d like to see the camera made slightly larger because the total size just drives down the size of all the controls, which makes them fiddly, error prone, and hard to work with stiff hands (cold) or gloves and just in general. I vastly prefer Nikon style controls.
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