Sony's ghosting problem (A6000, A6300, A6500, A7)

So a few days ago while writing my review of the Sony A6500 I noticed something in a few of my shots.  Something that brought back some memories of the A6000 when I shot with it two years ago.  You know when you catch a scent sometimes and it reminds you of a trip you had taken to a forest or beach.  You see a photo that reminds you of an amazing trip you had taken to Paris, or NYC or Kyoto?  Well this was nothing like any of that.  This was bad....really bad (depending on your point of view and needs I guess).

This was one of first photos I had taken with the A6000 at night.  It was shot with the Sigma 15mm Fisheye and the metabones 3 adapter.

 

I immediately noticed a bunch of lens flare and ghosting in the shot, but chalked it up to either the lens the adapter and just bad placement of the crane lights.  It wasn't until a few nights ago when I was out shooting with my A7R2 and the A6500 when I noticed something strange happening.  It wasn't quite normal lens flare.  It was as if bright blown out lights in the night scene were ghosting.  So I started digging thru my Lightroom catalogs of previous years.  First I sorted by Sony A6000 and started looking for night shots.  First thing one stuck out:

Nothing special of a shot...but if we zoom in on the left size we notice this ghosting....

Not only can you see the obvious duplicates of each light source then there's a second. what looks like a slight flare coming from most of the lights.  The closer anything is to the center of the frame, the less noticeable (to the point of nonexistent).  The further from the center of frame, the further from the real light the ghosted light appears.

Now, let me first say a few things before I start getting emails or comments on the subject.  

  • This may not be a big deal to some folks - much like any camera's flaws, you have to decide if this is a factor for you.  Light leaks on the Canon 5D3, shutter shock on the A7r, 4K video over heating on the A6300...these are all issues that don't affect ALL users.

  • Yes, you might like the look it gives...that's your choice.  I do not and this is something Sony should have addressed.

  • Yes I've tried multiple lenses.  From kit lenses to expensive native mount and adapted lenses.  This is not a lens problem, but a camera problem.

I suspect the cause of this is the anti aliasing filter.  I've reached out to Sony and if they are willing to provide an "official" answer, I will update with their reply.  My A7r and A7R2 do not have an AA filter nor do any of the x-trans Fuji cameras.  However, I dug back thru some 2012-2013 photos with my old Canon 5D3 and didn't have any evidence of this.

The theory is that the light is reflecting off of the sensor then off of the AA filter and back into the sensor.  You'll read below that there was at least one camera case where this was resolved.  But was it by accident?  Was there some coating change?  A design change?  Was it specifically addressed by some Sony engineer's "to do" list?

Here's another example shot with the A6000

Not overly noticeable at first (when viewing 2048px images on the web)...but when looking at the full size files at 200%, the flaws are rather obvious.  You can see it in the red lights and the large white/blue light.

Now to be fair, this has improved slightly on the A6500 and I suspect on the A6300.  I over exposed the shot here by a stop just to make it easier to see.  

This isn't just limited to spot lights blow out in otherwise dark scenes (aka...pretty much all night time photography in the city) but even lit signs get a ghosting like can be seen below.

Any blown out light will have a little bit of this, on any camera, but not anywhere near this much.  Here is the same sign taken  with the A7R2 straight out of camera. (F7.1 vs F8, but that difference is negligible)

The brighter it is...the move obvious it is, but it's always there unless you actually expose for the brightness of the lights themselves but them you've left with a useless nightscape.  Even when the entire scene is underexposed by a few stops, the problem exists.

The only time I've come across where it's almost not noticeable is when shooting wide open.  It's still present, but you have to really pixel peep in order to see it.  The below three photos were shot with the A6500 and the Voigtlander 21/1.8 Ultron.  F1.8, F4, F8.  Depending on if you're viewing this on a mobile device or monitor...but even at 1.8 there is a slightly visible ring to the right of the lights.  It decreases in size and increases in brightness as you close the aperture.

So I started digging around online to see if any of the other A7 series cameras that have AA filters were affected.  And it seems they were.  First I came across this blog and found a photo taken with the Sony A7.  Specifically this photo.

Without even zooming in much you can spot the ghosting.  The PWC sign on the left.  Just above the Province sign and the the three red lights center right.  A quick google search will yield many more results.  So what about the other full frame Sony mirrorless cameras.  Well I didn't have quick access to either of the S cameras and google results have been inconclusive.  However, I snagged an A72 from a friend and hit the road with it, the A7R, A7R2 and the A6500.  I shot each camera with a the Sony 35/1.4, Samyang 50/1.4, Zeiss Batis 85/1.8 and Voigtlander 21/1.8 to rule out the lenses.  Of those 4 cameras, only the A6500 had this very specific ghosting.  Some of the others would occasionally have a flare, but it was easily discounted.

I shot everything at F8 just to keep it consistent.  Once I went thru all the lenses on the A6500 I didn't bother going thru each lens on each body.  The lens makes almost zero difference going from 21 to 85 millimeters.  

The following four shots were taken with the Sony 35mm/1.4 on the full frame A7's and the Samyang 50/1.4 on the a6500.  I cropped in on the right side of the photo.  You can see the A72 has a VERY slight hint of the ghosting which really confirms that it's the AA filter that's causing this phenomenon.  Or it's just a little bit of lens flare.  You'll see two small dots in the A7R photo, but looking thru all the rest of the shots this is the only one where there was anything like this so it could just bit a bit of a flare (and probably applies to the A72).  I've also shot a few thousands of night shots with the A7R over the past three years and going thru my LR catalogs I've seen no signs of this anywhere else unless it was lens flare.

Sorry about the white balance/tint differences...too lazy to go back and make them all the same.  These were all straight out of camera RAW files, cropped and exported.  

A7R2

A72

What's interesting to me is the problem existed on the A7 but does not on the A7S (or is VERY VERY minimal...I can't spot any obvious showings from all of tonight's photos).  So...was this a happy accident by Sony?  Was there some change made in some coating or design between the A7 and A72?  Or was it a deliberate fix?  I'm curious to see if the A7S/A7S2 have this at all.  From some quick googling I didn't find any clear cut evidence.  

Is it just not a big enough deal to address in the A Six thousand something cameras?  The 6500 is $1500...not exactly cheap.  As stated above, was it actually addressed in the A72 or just a happy accident?  There's no reason this wouldn't affect other types of photography like clubs or concerts.  It will be less obvious as those are generally shot wide open hand held...but nonetheless, it's there.  While this isn't something that affects all/most camera users, (as evidence by the lack of the internets talking about it) it's a hell of an oversight in my opinion to not get fixed after over 2 years.

I hope to hear back from Sony with an official statement, but I'm not holding my breath.  In the mean time...if shooting at night with bright lights is your cup of tea....I suggest not picking up a A6000 series camera.  Or if you just don't care...then more power to ya.

If you work for Sony and would like to reach out to me: sebastian@sebimagery.com 

I leave you with one last example.

If you're interested in seeing more of my work I am most active on Instagram.  You can find me here or click below.