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Sony A7R II: Posterization with a Near Optimal Exposure in Daylight (Portrait at Dana Lake)

Get Sony A7R II at B&H Photo.

In my review of the Sony A7R II I show an image that leaves me flabbergasted.

Sony A7R II: Posterization in Broad Daylight (Portrait at Dana Lake)

Includes RawDigger analysis, image up to 24 megapixels and crops.

I was stunned to see this image (not in a good way). All my assumptions have been that at ISO 100 using a near optimal exposure, image degradation should not be an issue. Uh oh. Judge for yourself (and not using the small size image here).

Update: I’ve added another RawDigger screen shot showing that this does not seem to be some kind of 12-bit mode bug due to LENR (image taken at 1/400 sec). A link to complete EXIF info also added.

Update 2: I’ve added another RawDigger histogram for a large section of the lake, showing that there are only about 43 unique values in a very large section of the lake (only about 33 since 10 or so are hardly there, and no values in the green and blue channels). With that few distinct values, there can be no even smooth transitions in dark areas. I discuss several ways in which this issue could be avoided. One can fairly say that this is an extreme case, and indeed that intense blue seems unreal, even in person. Thus I do not consider this image indicative of a general issue with the Sony A7R II, rather it just shows that the shooting envelope is restricted in some special cases like this. And that is the point: surprises like this can trap even experienced shooters. Sony advertises a 14-bit format, but in my book the 11+7 bit lossy-compressed format does not qualify as real 14 bit like does the Nikon offering.

Update 3: the behavior is confirmed by Alex Tutubalin of RawDigger. I’ve verified also using Iridient Developer. Reader Tim A confirms with CaptureOne Pro. So Adobe Camera Raw is not at issue.

See also Sony A7R II: Assessing Dynamic Range on a Scene that Exceeds the Camera’s Ability, which shows low-level posterization in the shadows.

It’s important to maintain context: this is one example of an image quality issue. This very same hike I made many images whose quality is outstanding. That is what most shooters will find most of the time— engaging and highly satisfactory imagery. It is my intent to present a series of excellent images from this very same hike, as I always seek to show the full range of performance, from the disappointing to the excellent.

Image presented in the AdobeRGB color space. Using the ultra wide gamut NEC PA302W (still my display of choice), a comparison was made between the ProPhotoRGB 16-bit image and the AdobeRGB JPG. The two could not be visually distinguished.

To view properly, a high quality wide gamut display is needed and a web browser that supports color spaces is mandatory (most do, but not Apple iOS). Users with restricted gamut displays (laptops, any Apple-brand display, most displays in general) will NOT see this image properly, and it will clip the dark blues even more.

f4 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 100; 2015-08-13 16:49:10
Sony A7R II + Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8 Sonnar

[low-res image for bot]

Reader comments

I think these comments (unsolicited as always) are best read this way: there is huge enthusiasm for an ideal compact full frame mirrorless camera. When a new model falls short in a a key area (even if a highly demanding scenario), intense disappointment follows. These emails were not counterbalanced by an opposing sentiment, even over a week’s time and that is even more interesting to me than what is expressed here. And be it noted that I like the A7R II and while I find quality issue disappointing, the A7R II is highly capable.

There is clearly anger and offense taken by some people out there at these comments. Why? I know the comments are incendiary, but on what basis? Shall such sentiments be stifled because it might offend sensibilities? Shall discussion be reduced to the pathetic and deplorable state of today’s so-called higher education by 'trigger warnings' or simply having no discussion? Not here. Readers out there who take offense should check their premises and consider the basis for their reactions, turning inward, not outward. See also my general comments.

David C writes:

Boy is *that* ever ugly. hell, even the little image on the blog page is hideous…

DIGLLOYD: unfortunately, I agree. The RawDigger info shows that the exposure is excellent and there is no gamut issue (processed into 16-bit ProPhotoRGB and viewed on a wide gamut display, but well within AdobeRGB color space as a gamut check proves).

James K writes:

This is the kind of stuff that happens when a company rushes cameras and lenses to market without proper professional R&D.

The R&D boys at Nikon must have this stuff posted on a wall as jokes. Imagine a National Geographic guy shooting in a remote area and coming back with junk like the lake shot. Big bucks down the drain along with the guys reputation.

The last time I saw dark areas look like the lake was when I shot some stuff with an early Mamiya 645 Digital Back. I believe heat was the cause. Got a new back from Mamiya and the problem was solved.

DIGLLOYD: why can’t Sony just do it right? Something like Nikon 14-bit quality. As for “heat”, the camera was used about 45 minutes prior for a shot every 30 seconds or so, then it has 45 minutes of near idle. No video, no unusual usage, no time sitting in the sun, 65°F or so.

Gerner C writes:

Holy cow .. I am awed and shocked about your findings about the A7R II. Thanks God I managed to cancel my orders for a hole new system costing a pile of money.

I have downloaded many OOC RAW files which people have posted around the world wide web, and trust me your example is not even the worst.

I feel we are seeing the beginning of an abyss fall of respect for the marketing driven play toy company Sony. They innovate a lot for the better, but doesn't offer the users any chance to take advantage of it really. Even worse it is looking for the *** bloggers that hurrahs and welcome this 8th wonder in the world.

Thanks for exposing the pros and cons of this camera..

DIGLLOYD: such sentiments ought to be of concern to Sony, that is if Sony wishes to take on the challenge of being a pro-grade tool.

Other notes

Readers should not confuse my views with commentary I post, any more than a news outlet should be conflated with the letters to the editor it receives. That should be implicit, but regrettably I have to state it. The Sony A7R II has some limits; we can hope for better down the line.

I like the A7R II a lot in various ways, but what I want to see is Nikon D810 quality in the compact form factor Sony A7R II. There is no technical reason Sony can’t do it right, but it looks like we’re in for a long wait from a company that simply does not offer the highest quality format that is possible, one that pros expect.

See my my comments.

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