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Sony A7R III, Pixel Shift, and Sony’s Imaging Edge/Viewer Software

Get Sony A7R III at B&H Photo.

While the Sony A7R III is a camera I must have for ongoing work, I find myself being extremely reluctant to pay for it, in spite of its improved grip and EVF. Because aside from pixel shift and improved focusing (which I use little) and improved speed in some areas, it is still very slow to magnify a taken image, the histogram still sucks, the menus are a total kitchen sink disaster, and—bottom line—I don’t think I can make a materially better image with the A7R III than with the A7R II (excepting pixel shift if someday Adobe supports it and/or I can beat the Sony Imaging Edge software into doing what I desire). Those doing other types of shooting can vehemently disagree and quite legitimately too, because when usage patterns differ, the conclusion also differs.

By comparison, the Nikon D850 is just excellence improved upon albeit with a few warts, and the Fujifilm GFX with all its usability annoyances makes superb images. I would rather put the Sony A7R III expense towards a GFX system, but 'everyone' loves Sony these days, and I have to test it and its system.

Sony A7R III Pixel Shift

Properly-taken images show the superior quality of pixel shift, sometimes hardly at all, sometimes with fervor. But most outdoor images I’ve taken have small defects scattered throughout the image from any change in lighting, shadows, reflections, wind, etc. Great feature, limited applicability.

Those with the patience can process one of the single non pixel-shift images and brush in over the problem areas. It’s a post-processing approach analogous to what needs to happen with focus stacking—but no software does it as yet. See Pixel Shift: What Would be the Ideal Workflow for Handling Such Files.

Sony Imaging Edge/View software

I’ve been struggling through Sony’s Imaging Edge/Viewer software with Sony A7R III files. Which means hours and hours struggling to get what I consider acceptable results out of Sony Imaging Edge/Viewer software, in terms of color, contrast and sharpness. Which is why you don’t see a dozen pages of interesting stuff published yet—the job is like pounding nails with a screwdriver. The foregoing is not a general statement about every image; I speak of images that are not average, but demand excellence in color and contrast and sharpness all together. Which is pretty much what I end up with when shooting outdoors in fast-changing conditions in challenging lighting.

For context, I work on my NEC PA302W wide gamut professional display, calibrated to within an average of 0.5 delta-E as per the NEC PA302W color calibration graphs shown on this page. My standards in this regard are precise, consistent, invariant, and have been for nearly a decade. When something is wrong, it pops out like a Republican rally at UC Berkeley.

I’ll sum it up simply: Sony’s Imaging Edge/Viewer Software is unsuitable for professional usage. Harsh? I think not, and here’s why, even ignoring the intolerable workflow.

Color management

Sony’s editing app is jaw-droppingly incompetent. At least on a Mac, an application should NEVER ask the user what color space to assume the display is in: the program should query the system for the display profile, and then draw the image properly; a color mapping/translation converts color as needed from the color space of the image to the color space of the display that is actually in use. That is How It Is Done and it is why color calibration is critical—otherwise adjustments while viewing a display that might not be the same tomorrow or when the brightness is changed (iMac horrible this way), or next year. Or the display may be a completely brand and model at some point.

Instead of using proper system APIs, Sony Imaging Edit demands that the user choose the display profile, of which there are 3 fixed choices, none of which will ever match any of the display profiles on any of my Macs. This is a shocking incompetence that immediately rules out the software for my use.

Anyone who calibrates properly will NEVER have ANY of these display profiles* (I don’t) because the display profile will be particular to the display, particular to the brightness and white balance chosen, etc. Or consider a pro who might make 10 different profiles for the same display to suit 10 different targeted workflow output needs.

* A close match by luck is possible, but it is still wrong; every display varies, including nonlinearity and drift over time and temperature.

SonyImaging Edge/Viewer software: color management incompetence in Settings dialog or in the menus:
no possibility of choosing the actual profile, nor should one ever have to do so

Setting aside the display profile incompetence (which guarantees incorrect results), Sony does not do color management, or at least does it wrong: exporting the same TIF image in the AdobeRGB color space versus WideGamut results in wildly-divergent color: an other-worldly magenta-blue sky in WideGamut. Assigning a color space or any other mitigation strategy is of no avail—color is just totally hosed when exported in WideGamut.

It doesn’t matter if the screen is also set to View => Color Space for Display => Wide Gamut is chosen or not: Sony has broken or inoperable color management. This is the kind of crap that should have gone away a decade ago and should never have been released to users. Only Sigma has done it as badly with Sigma Photo Pro.

Shadows and highlights

After half an hour of trying every possible combination of Shadows/ Highlights/ Contrast/ Exposure that I can tweak in Sony Imaging Edge, I am unable to open up dark shadow areas without destroying some other aspect of image quality (like destroying overall contrast or blowing out highlights, etc). Or open them up at all in any natural looking way. This in itself makes the software unusable for me.

Meanwhile, I can achieve the desired effect in seconds in Adobe Camera Raw.


Saved files go into /var/private,
inaccessible to users

Numerous. The most egregious one is spending an hour on a pixel shift file, clicking on another, then clicking back and being told the file format is incompatible. Unbelievable.

It turns out that Sony saves your *saved* files in /var/private/..., which is an area inaccessible to users. It further turns out that the settings are not saved—settings that took me an hour to get right and after saving are obliterated—start over.

Hitting the TAB key while entering a value does not go to the next field; it hides the palettes. A constant nuisance and unlike what Adobe software does—awful for anyone using Photoshop.


I had to laugh when I recalled a recent email from a reader stating that no one would be able to tell the difference between the Sony A7R III, Nikon D850 or Fujifilm GFX images. I agree of course, if “no one” means 500 million Facebook users. But to this point: I can shoot an iPhone panorama that “no one” can tell from the best Fujifilm GFX image I can make.

One of the first handful of images I shot immediately showed the same “orange peel” chunky noise issues on a bright silver paint surface (!) as with the A7R II and which go all the way back to the Sony A7R (see Aperture Series: Agapanthus Berries, Sony A7R). A genetic trait bred into Sony cameras. I have NEVER seen such an issue with the D850 (or D810) or the Fujifilm GFX or Pentax K-1, etc. The fault might lie in part with Adobe Camera Raw—but I never see that fault with those other cameras.

I often ran into “pre cooked” image quality problems with the A7R II. From what I see, the A7R III has not changed in any significant image quality way since the A7R II, at least using Adobe Camera Raw (which means Photoshop or Lightroom). The noise issue I refer to (in the types of cases I refer to, not the general case) is the same fugly stuff as always, with the same limitations as the A7R II. To be fair, the soft and blurry results even with maximum sharpening from the Sony Imaging Edge software greatly reduce this noise—it looks to me like noise reduction which cannot be turned off is always on, even when turned off. Which may be why non-pixel-shift images are so soft that I consider them non-starters. The pixel shift images are much improved except when they are not—which is oddly true in many areas of an image.

Bottom line: I am not going to switching from using Adobe Camera Raw to Sony Imaging Edge, pixel shift or no. I do hope that Adobe supports A7R III pixel shift files soon. Iridient Developer supports them, but I’ve had results there that disappoint (not stating that this is the fault of Iridient Developer).

Sony viewer and other issues.

I am unable to make the Save As dialog wider. How Sony has managed to defeat a standard system dialog functionality I do not know, but it is a constant irritant smelling of sloppy work, just as the inability to widen the file list below.

As for the Viewer interface, all the folder names are truncated and that area cannot be made wider. I’ve tried and cannot do it. The selected item is thus unreadable. I’ve had to click-guess until I find the folder I need and that only works if I keep the folder hierarchy shallow enough.

The Sony Viewer app has no concept of pixel shift grouping, showing a strip of images lacking in any organization. The user gets to look for a tiny little icon on 4 consecutive files to recognize a 4-frame pixel-shift group.

Unreadable / unusable Sony File Viewer

Bonus behaviors

Export *always* insists on saving to one and only one output folder (no “last used” or “same as original”). This is a constant irritant.

Bonus behavior


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