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Is Sony Really Alpha?

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#1 mmalik

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 08:26 AM

I am bit puzzled; Canon announces 19µm pixel, high sensitivity 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor for video capture in low-light environments about two years ago... (March 2013), makes big news, and then nothing happens, at least not that I know of unless I missed something [please update if there were any developments]?

 

 

Not that we ‘still’ DSLR'ers much care about low-light video per se, that news at least gave us hope that Canon was up to something in low-light arena that might eventually trickle into DSLR astronomy.

 

 

A year later (April 2014), Sony announces 8.43µm pixel, high sensitivity full-frame CMOS camera in the form of a7S and follows through with the product, and arguably, quite revolutionary.

 

 

Up until I held somewhat tiny (compared to Canon standards...) an a7S in my hand, it didn’t register as a serious contender for astronomy or for that matter a serious DSLR. Then I had a look inside... and was intrigued by the genius of Sony. For example, shimmed instead of spring loaded sensor; of course obvious one was NO mirror; eyepiece was an electronic one in alpha, no more light-leak, no blocking required—among many more features.

 

 

Then there is aesthetics; having used to seeing and holding relatively big bulky heavy and fixed LCD Canons, new Sony (7) alpha looked like a toy at first. But that impression didn’t last long; paradoxically I was puzzled which design was better; now Alpha looked more ergonomic, slim, light weight, agile, utilitarian, and astro-friendly especially with flip open LCD.

 

 

My point being, is Canon lost? I don’t know what Canon has up its sleeve with its recent posturing, for example, discontinuing of 60Da? I hope Canon can surprise us with something even better than a7S in design and performance, else…

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Edited by mmalik, 18 January 2015 - 08:04 PM.

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#2 GJJim

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 10:09 AM

For decades Sony has had the mechatronics talent to design amazing products. What they lack (and seem incapable of developing) is the ability to match that prowess in writing the software that is required for modern products.


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#3 garret

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 10:11 AM

 

My point being, is Canon lost?

 

Sony has two very important patents for better sensitivity and lower noise: Exview HAD for the CCD type and Exmor for the CMOS type sensor, Canon has.....none.

 

DXO Sensor Rating trashed the Canon 7 mk2 sensor, the rumour is Canon will launch a 50M pixel camera this year and if this camera has the same sensor

technology as the 7 mk2 it will be fully trashed by DXO and almost everyone else, then Canon will be lost.

Garret

 



#4 Greenbbs

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 10:12 AM

I've been nothing short of thrilled with my two Sony products ( full frame a99 and interchangeable compact a6000).

Both are mirrorless, both with electronic viewfinders, etc. For daytime photography, the mirrorless/evf combo is great. They display what the sensor sees rather than looking through a prism, so you can compose your shots perfectly in manual mode.....you see the changes as they happen.

For night stuff, there's no mirror, so no vibrations. There's no light leak. The sensor designs are well done with really great color reproduction.

The ONLY thing I've had issues with is on the a6000-my wife uses it sometimes for day things and when you record video, there is a known glitch with recording for long periods and sensor heating....but even at 2 minute exposures with a 20 second interval with my astro stuff u haven't had trouble. The a99 doesn't have these issues because it's more of a traditional DSLR.
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#5 fetoma

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 11:21 AM

I was eyeing up an NEX-5T for less than $200 new, but the only thing stopping me from pulling the trigger is the lack of software for it. I'd like to see USB tethering for "bulb" and a true "uncooked RAW" come from the sensor. If I knew how to code, I'd be all over this.



#6 tazer

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 05:42 PM

I'd like to see a BackYard release for Sony, perhaps BackYardAlpha? Seems like the newer Sony cameras have chipset-feature parity with the Nikons and Canons so it should be doable.

 

Mark



#7 GJJim

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 05:54 PM

I'd like to see a BackYard release for Sony, perhaps BackYardAlpha? Seems like the newer Sony cameras have chipset-feature parity with the Nikons and Canons so it should be doable.

 

Mark

They don't have SDK parity.



#8 tazer

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 05:59 PM

What are they lacking?



#9 Jon Rista

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 06:36 PM

While I hate to say it, as I was a Canon fan myself, I DO believe they are up to posturing, lots and lots of posturing, these days. They are well behind in sensor design and technology, and it's now going on three maybe even four generations of cameras since the new high sensitivity, low DR Sony Exmor sensors first found their way into other brands of cameras. That's a very long time for a company to sit on the same old technology. Only thing I can think is...Canon CAN'T improve their technology for some reason. Who knows what reason, but I can't think of any other reason why Canon keeps posturing, keeps coming up with ridiculous over-hyped marketing campaigns like "See Impossible", etc. I've been extremely disappointed in Canon the last couple of years, and more and more impressed by Sony.

 

I think the only advantage Canon currently has in the astrophotography world is compatibility and a rich SDK. Technologically...they just seem to keep falling farther and farther behind. 

 

I gave up on waiting for Canon last year. I've been sitting, waiting, and watching now. It isn't just Sony that's had some impressive leaps with sensor or camera technology. Toshiba has been making some inroads. Panasonic has made some very intriguing low light sensitivity innovations (namely their micro color splitters to replace bayer CFA for 100% light preservation...split instead of filter). Samsung has even done some impressive things. I'd LOVE to see a detailed review of how the Samsung NX1 performs for astrophotography. The biggest thing these companies lack is Canon's SDK and software support...and I hope that changes over time.



#10 GJJim

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Posted 18 January 2015 - 10:52 PM

What are they lacking?

Software developers want tools (SDK) that are consistent across different models of cameras. Unless the company is willing to open up, i.e. fully document and allow access to its camera control APIs, every program becomes a model-specific hack, subject to breaking whenever the firmware is updated. Another important item for our hobby is access to the unprocessed data from the sensor. Is it even possible to get raw data from a Sony camera? If the data are transformed by a "black box" process inside the camera, it is very difficult to apply the typical calibrations used in astrophotography.

 

The sad fact is that large companies see many of the things we deem important to our needs in this hobby as a nuisance. To their credit Canon is less inclined to see amateur astrophotography in that light, and manages to throw the scruffy dog a bone now and then.


Edited by GJJim, 18 January 2015 - 10:56 PM.

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#11 tazer

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 12:22 AM

Oh, I'm aware of what an SDK is I was more curious what the Sony SDK is lacking that prevents a tool like BYEOS to be created for it? You can remotely trigger the shutter, change ISO/exposure/white balance, view the live view, etc all from the SDK for newer BIONZ processors. Seems like that should be sufficient.

 

Mark



#12 whwang

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 02:52 AM

For people who mainly use telescopes rather than camera lenses, there is really no reason just sticking to a particular brand of camera.  All needed is an additional camera adapter.  From this point of view, Nikon DSLRs are as good as Sony ones.  They have Sony sensors, and BYN is changing the situation of lack of software support.  Of course, if you want mirrorless, Sony is the only choice.


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#13 TimN

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 07:52 AM

I agree with whwang. The issue for us is a combination of a suitable DSLR including sensor and good software support. It takes awhile for the astro community to accept a different DSLR brand and then - assuming SDK availability - for good software to be written. Nikon is now using sensors from different manufacturers including Sony and Toshiba. As long as they keep buying the best sensors - currently from Sony but in the future? - their SDK is currently available and  the software support is already here in programs like BYN and SGP.  



#14 garret

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 11:34 AM

My point being, is Canon lost? I don’t know what Canon has up its sleeve with its recent posturing, for example, discontinuing of 60Da? I hope Canon can surprise us with something even better than a7S in design and performance, else…

 

 

Maybe so for their sensors, but the new lenses from canon are always very, very good:  70-200 2.8 II; 24-70 2.8  II, 300mm 2.8  II, 400mm 2.8 II; 400mm 4.0 DO II; 500mm 2.8 II; 600mm 2.8 II; 18-55mm II; 100-400mm 4.5 II... they all need a 5Dmk 4 with Sony sensors!

 

Garrett van der Veen



#15 Jon Rista

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 01:30 PM

I agree that Canon lenses are very good. It's one of the reasons I've stuck with the brand as long as I have. For most astrophotography, though, I think that it's the sensor were after...and these days, Canon sensors (and more than that, their entire readout pipeline, including the off-die ADC units and DSP) are rapidly falling behind the competition.

I think most competitors have moved to non-die ADC units, highly parallelized if not per-column parallelized, are using much smaller transistors (some, like Samsung, are as small as 65nm!!!) and many are even using stacked or 3D fabrication to package all the image processing in the same die package as well. Canon is still using the same fundamental sensor fabrication technology (500nm transistors) and same fundamental system design (off-die ADC units and DSPs) that they have since the 10D (at least)!!! O_o

The problem with Canon's system design is the very long paths between pixel and ADC unit (since the units are off the sensor die on the PCB, the paths are VERY long indeed), and the high frequency of the ADC units (Canon cameras have 4, 8, or 16 ADC units, so each one has to process many multiples of columns worth of pixels). Long traces and high frequency components increase noise, and can lead to more patterned noise (rather than just random noise, which is easier to deal with.) Sony's Exmor sensor moved to column-parallel ADC units on the sensor die. So if there are 6000 columns, instead of each ADC having to process 6000/8 * 4000 or 6000/16 * 4000 pixels, each CP-ADC unit simply processes 4000 pixels. That allows lower operating frequency, which reduces noise. Since the ADC units are right at the bottom of each column, the path length between pixel and ADC is much lower as well, also reducing noise. Sony also reduced transistor size, to 180nm and I think even 90nm in their newest parts, which are significantly smaller than Canon's 500nm. That allows more die space to be contributed to light sensitive photodiode area, while concurrently allowing more on-die electronics.

Moving more logic onto the sensor die opens up the doors to a lot of other innovations as well, and Sony has employed a few in their Exmor sensor design, which is why their read noise curve was flattened (it's ~3e- across the board in most Exmor based cameras), and dynamic range at lower ISO increased by several fold.

One thing I do have to give Canon a hand for...they have done some amazing things with their old technology. They aren't exactly competitive today with their sensors, but they have somehow managed to keep their high ISO performance of their cameras overall competitive. I think with the 7D II that is more thanks to the DIGIC 6 processor, which does hardware NR on RAW pixel data, than to the sensor design itself. Still, it's surprising to me that Canon has remained that competitive with late 1990's/early 2000's sensor fabrication technology...technology that is over a decade old and which consumes a considerable amount of die space for transistors (lower fill factor than the competition.) I would love to see Canon move to a 180nm process...if they can eek as much performance out of that as they have with a 500nm process, they would be a force to be reckoned with...they just have to actually DO it, and stop all the posturing. :p

In addition to Sony, I think Samsung's new Backside Illuminated APS-C sensor that they have used in the NX1 mirrorless is something we should keep an eye on. That sensor has already tested very well, and technologically it is one of the most advanced sensor's out there. With 65nm transistors and the BSI design, it is putting far more light-sensitive space into the path of the light, so it's fill factor, and thus overall Q.E., should be higher than any other APS-C sensor on the market (including Sony's). I'd love to see Mike tear one of those apart and see what it is capable of. I would readily replace my 7D with an NX1, rather than a 7D II, if it is astro moddable and has the kind of sensitivity I think it does.
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#16 garret

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 02:26 PM

 

In addition to Sony, I think Samsung's new Backside Illuminated APS-C sensor that they have used in the NX1 mirrorless is something we should keep an eye on

 

If you follow Canon-Rumours.com (and you do) you know Canon has a patent on a full size back illuminated CCD, see here

 

Garrett van der Veen



#17 Jon Rista

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 02:58 PM

Indeed, I've read CR for years. I've also researched and read Canon patents for years. Sure, Canon has had patents for BSI sensors for a few years now (including FF BSI patents, which is pretty cutting edge stuff). First filing for the first one was back in 2008 (!!) I believe...that is six, nearly seven years ago. Canon also has patents for CP-ADC (including a dual-scale on-die ramp ADC), as well as patents for layered sensor design (full RGB at every pixel), patents to improve the sensitivity of deep layer photodiodes in layered sensors (both anti-reflective coatings and micro-structures), patents that could potentially eliminate leakage current (reducing dark current to obscenely low levels...lower than the 7D II, if I understood the patent correctly), etc.

The problem with Canon is not innovation. The problem with Canon is the lack of any implementation of the technology they innovate. Why is Canon sitting on so much lucrative technology? That's just something I don't understand... :\ Makes it tough not to be repeatedly disappointed in Canon whenever a competitor releases new technology, especially technology Canon may well have had many years ago. Just like what Mike said...Canon showed an ultra low light video sensor capable of recording fireflys in real time... Poof, never heard about it again. Then Sony comes out with the A7s, which seems even BETTER than Canon's technology.
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#18 GJJim

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 03:28 PM

Oh, I'm aware of what an SDK is I was more curious what the Sony SDK is lacking that prevents a tool like BYEOS to be created for it? You can remotely trigger the shutter, change ISO/exposure/white balance, view the live view, etc all from the SDK for newer BIONZ processors. Seems like that should be sufficient.

 

Mark

And the latest BIONZ chips give us data like this. A state of the art sensor crippled by a data compression scheme geared more for video.



#19 tazer

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 07:00 PM

Well, it's not the BIONZ chip itself but the firmware that's giving us lossy-compressed RAW's (just pointing out that I think the processor and SDK are probably sound enough for AP purposes). That's my biggest beef with Sony is they do stuff like this and instead of releasing a firmware fix they just abandon the old hardware and force the users to upgrade. Love the form factor and weight of the mirrorless cameras. They come with wireless built-in and can be completely controlled like that, but the code writers on Sony's end are making some bizarre choices. To be fair to Sony, their files are ARW's so maybe they're trying to sneak one by on a technicality. ;)

 

Mark



#20 Jon Rista

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Posted 19 January 2015 - 10:53 PM

I am wondering when the compression artifacts actually kick in. I rented an A7r last year, and took a number of shots with it. I never noticed any compression artifacts in any of my images. I think star trails may be one of the few unique cases where the problem presents. I don't know if round stars would present with artifacts or not, but I've seen some people who use the A7s for astro, and I haven't seen any artifacts in the images I've found. (Of course, I haven't found full size versions, just smaller stuff online.) 

 

Sony's programming choices are rather confusing at times, though. It is very odd to use a lossy compression scheme on a RAW file...makes it tough to actually call it RAW, as it's not. :p 



#21 mmalik

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 02:44 AM

...they all need a 5Dmk 4 with Sony sensors!

 

While a good hypothetical (Canon with Sony sensors?), I would still like Canon to step up to the plate and face Sony head on in sensor wars, sooner than later. After all Canon has been around, and are quite capable if they really wanted to or if it really came down to it. I just don't want Canon to become Nikon and make Sony the monopoly. 5DIV will be a good one if they can shock the world? Or why not just come up with a real astro/low-light capable out of the box (no mod required) reply to a7S just to make the point? After all Sony did that with a7S as a side project.

 

 

Besides sensors, I would like Canon to redesign their bodies; big, heavy, all magnesium fashion needs a resign in my opinion. I didn't much care about Canon bodies up until I held an alpha in my hand; now reaching out for that big bulky piece of alloy in my bag makes me 'think' every time.

 

 

One thing for which I can slap Canon upside the head is going back to fixed LCDs; what's up with that? No brainer to make them rigid enough so they look and feel fixed if that's the intension.

 

 

My point being Canon may be losing on more fronts than one! Regards


Edited by mmalik, 20 January 2015 - 02:47 AM.


#22 David Pavlich

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 09:38 AM

 

My point being, is Canon lost? I don’t know what Canon has up its sleeve with its recent posturing, for example, discontinuing of 60Da? I hope Canon can surprise us with something even better than a7S in design and performance, else…

 

 

Maybe so for their sensors, but the new lenses from canon are always very, very good:  70-200 2.8 II; 24-70 2.8  II, 300mm 2.8  II, 400mm 2.8 II; 400mm 4.0 DO II; 500mm 2.8 II; 600mm 2.8 II; 18-55mm II; 100-400mm 4.5 II... they all need a 5Dmk 4 with Sony sensors!

 

Garrett van der Veen

 

What Garrett said!  Sony's lens selection is in its infancy and needs a LOT of work to compete.

 

David



#23 GJJim

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 10:52 AM

Besides sensors, I would like Canon to redesign their bodies; big, heavy, all magnesium fashion needs a resign in my opinion. I didn't much care about Canon bodies up until I held an alpha in my hand; now reaching out for that big bulky piece of alloy in my bag makes me 'think' every time.

 

What about the Canon EOS M? You can't say they didn't give it a try.  :grin:



#24 garret

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 11:32 AM

 

...they all need a 5Dmk 4 with Sony sensors!

 

Canon + Sony = Cany A5D mk IV :grin:

 

We all want the best, but what sensor do you find in many cooled CCD cameras? yes a very old 11002 or the 8300! both sensors have limitations, (poor ha sensitivity, small pixels), and yet 90 % (I guess) of the best astronomical images are made with these sensors.

You don't need 70% QE for a fine astronomical image, you need clear sky and no moon.

 

Garrett van der Veen


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#25 alan.dang

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Posted 20 January 2015 - 12:58 PM

I'd LOVE to see a detailed review of how the Samsung NX1 performs for astrophotography. 

 

No detailed review yet partly because I'm stuck in a white zone but I did run a couple of quick tests w/Comet Lovejoy.

http://www.slrlounge...ull-frame-cmos/

 

Read noise is definitely very low.   Sony like rather than Canon like.  No posterization in the RAW.

 

NX1
ISO100 3.14 e-/pixel (SD 7.9 e-)
ISO1600 1.68 e-/pixel (SD 4.0 e-)

 

I don't know the full well capacity of the NX1 since I only know how to measure it to the nearest 1/3 stop and that doesn't seem to be entirely accurate.  Thermal noise is also pretty good.  

 

ISO 1600 NX1
Two 1/8000 bias frames: StdDev 11.4 ADUs
Two 30 second dark frames: StdDev of 22.3 ADUs

The median difference is 0 or 1.

 

So for 3.6 micron pixels, that's pretty impressive I think.

Attached: M42 10 second subs, ~30 minutes of integration.  Polar alignment through compass+inclinometer. 180mm lens.  No flats/darks.  Taken indoors.  On a 50mm lens, the left side of the frame would show the window sill and the right would have the window frame.  This gives you a sense of the Ha sensitivity for unmodified.

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Edited by alan.dang, 20 January 2015 - 12:59 PM.

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