Firmware v4 for Alpha 700 – high ISO NR ‘OFF’

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Sony has released – without announcement – a new firmware version for the Alpha 700 which includes an OFF function for high ISO. This is presumed to be in advance of tomorrow’s press conference, where the Alpha 900 will be revealed. Journalists could be expected to ask questions about the NR, and the lack of firmware upgrades to the Alpha 700, and they have acted just in time for this launch and photokina to remedy the situation. Article with image samples and download links:

Here is a sample at ISO 3200, taken at dusk – a 100 per cent clip. Adobe Camera Raw 4.5 final release, zero sharpening, 25 Luminance NR, 50 Chroma NR (the defaults). The structure and detail are both easily a match for Nikon D300 shots:

1/60th at f6.3, 75mm, on Carl Zeiss 16-80mm hand held (crop from 12 megapixels, at 100%)

From comparison, here is a shot taken on Saturday 6th, using firmware v3, at 3200 with NR set to Low, processed from raw with the same parameters:

And here is the first shot I took with v4 loaded (both are of course 100 per cent small clips) and High ISO NR now set to OFF:

The disappearance of the ‘watercolour’ effect and the appearance of a tight, film-like grain even when processed using Adobe Camera Raw are exactly what the Alpha 700 community has been asking for – for almost a year.

Examination of the few shots I’ve taken at 800-6400 reveals that NR OFF works well for JPEGs too, and ISO 800 is hard to distinguish from ISO 200 now. It remains to be seen whether this is just a matter of swiching NR off. I think that in the next few days, users and going to be reporting sharper and cleaner low ISO images too. I think the firmware may have improved all round image quality. We’ll to wait to see what Sony says it does.

The firmware was first found by Maurizio, posting on dPreview:

The downloads have now (update Sept 9) been removed from the Sony site. Here is a direct link to copy in Mac .zip archive format, which can be used by any platform – Mac, PC or Unix etc. Just auto unzip the archive, to extract the file DSCA700.APP:

Use your control-click or right click option to download and save this file, do not click to open directly unless you are configured to extract zip files automatically.

Thanks to Olaf Ulrich for flagging this up on the Sony Alpha 100-700-? forum here on Sept 8!

To perform the update, format a CF card in your camera, then copy the extracted .APP file on to the card using a card reader (ideally). Then insert the card in your camera, and turn the camera on (with a full or nearly full battery inserted) while holding the MENU button down. This will bring up a Yes/No choice to upgrade, which you can select. The update then takes about a minute, after which the camera will automatically reboot.

The upgrade adds new auto bracketing options of a 2-stop either way 3 bracket option designed for HDR shooting, and a wider choice of 1/2 and 1/3rd stop bracket sets, but no 1 stop bracket interval. It adds OFF to the High ISO NR choices. I’ve checked every single menu option and can not find any other changes at a glance, but there may be hidden changed behaviours which those who use the AEL button, flash with manual exposure, or wireless flash with the new HVL-F42AM and HVL-F58AM may uncover.

Update just after midnight on the 9th (off to the Sony press do twelve hours from now!): I have done some checking of A700v4 versus Nikon D300 raws. The D300 files – which probably have NR enabled – sometimes seem to have finer grain, then in other cases seem to have much less detail, or more blue noise versus more red etc. I do not have enough examples but it would be hard, now, to tell the two cameras apart on identical subject matter.

Adjusting a Sony raw conversion to the same (crushed) shadow density as a Nikon conversion with ACR 4.5, it’s neck and neck:

Nikon D300, above, ISO 1600 with no sharpening, no NR in ACR 4.5.

Sony A700 v4 file processed using exactly the same setting, ISO 1600, to match the density of the Nikon in the foliageshadows and the rendering of the building against the statue stone. The best I can do to find two images right now with similar tone values at the same ISO!

See also our Photoclubalpha Forums main thread on this topic.

– DK


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