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Sony A9 Banding Issue | The First Guy Through The Wall Always Gets Bloodied

By Kishore Sawh on June 29th 2017

We’ve covered the Sony A9 since its launch, and have continued to report on it more than we have almost any other camera ever, and for good reason. This is evidenced in my initial review/overview of the A9 where there was much energy and copy directed to the importance of this camera, and the appetite for information about it seems insatiable. The thing is though, this heightened level of interest seems to be viewed by some as a goldmine for attention, perhaps even at a cost of credibility.

Let’s get something straight here, the first guy through the wall always gets bloodied, and that’s the scenario with the A9 without question. You can’t break barriers or even challenge them unscathed, and the A9 has been subject to a level of scrutiny only familiar to a foreign national going through US immigration. But while the A9 is by no means the ‘perfect’ camera, much criticism of it has been unfair, and some of it, as I’ve said before, impetuous or flat out incorrect. It’s important to sort the wheat from the chaff, which brings us to the chaff of ‘banding’.

[RELATED: The Sony A9 Is ‘Gonna Overheat’ In 20 Minutes? Probably Not]

The A9, it would appear at this stage, does not have a banding issue. There’s a popular video floating around that suggests it does and many have been quick to align themselves with this notion, but I would caution against it because the evidence doesn’t support the claim, however loud and juicy it may seem.

There are those of us who have used numerous A9 bodies at this point in conditions as varied as a skittles bag and banding has not reared its hideous head. What you’re seeing in this video is not banding in the traditional sense, but rather an interlacing consequence of electronic shutter behavior mixed with the behavior of certain types of lights.

This is not novel, nor is it unique to the A9. You can expect that same behavior from any camera with electronic shutter in the same scenarios, or at higher speeds. Essentially, all artificial lights pulse to a degree –some more than others– and because electronic shutters read information from the sensor in lines (progressively), depending on the speed it is reading while the light is pulsing, at certain rates you see what you’ve got here. We can probably expect this behavior until global shutter arrives in all its glory.

If you’d like a good breakdown of this, Byron DL of Sony Mirrorless Pro, does a good job breaking it down into something easily digestible, and you can check that out here.

DxOMark Sony A9 Review Finally Clarifies Where The A9’s Sensor Ranks, & It’s Important

Sony A9 vs Adapted Long Lenses | Reality Vs Expectations

Sony A9 Sample Images & Initial Thoughts On A9 Raw Files

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Roberto Pavan

    This appears to be more of a modern lighting problem. There is a discussion on the DPR forum involving a 1DX II shooter who encountered the same problem with a 1DX Mark II during NY Fashion Week. Maybe you’ll see this more often with electronic shutters, but it would appear that mechanically shuttered cameras are not immune.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Banding of some type is not restricted to electronic shutters, and you can see from my reply below from a few days ago I’ve said just that. That said, OSPDAF artifacts are there to  be seen…but again, it’s just not what was described in the video. There was a clear lack of understanding. 

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  2. Michael Donaldson

    Great, it’s not “banding”, but it’s still a big ass problem if you get bands across your images, no matter the cause.  I’d be really pissed off if I took a photo that I would otherwise consider to be my “mona lisa” only for it to have lines across it because my camera cannot take pictures correctly under certain artificial lighting.  

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    • Eric Salas

      the problem is that if you are getting images like this, it’s you own fault, not the camera’s. 

      You should learn about white balance to correct your artificial lighting problems.

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  3. Pete Tapang

    wow… not a sony fan, but duh…. like they mention in this article, electronic shutter does this….

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  4. adam sanford

    Also, K, your top picture above — you trust your Peak Design CaptureLENS clip to hold those pricey GM lenses?  Wow.

    (P.S.  Why does your CaptureLENS clip have a viewfinder?)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Ha, I have no idea what you’re talking about here man. You’re probably talking about the middle photo and that cable. That was actually taken at the launch event and they were securing the camera to the table there.

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  5. adam sanford

    From your DL Byron link:

    “To return to the problem with Fro’s “the sky is falling” video, the
    “banding” problem isn’t a problem. It’s a tradeoff of using an
    electronic shutter. When operating under some artificial light sources, the flicker of the light will be recorded as stripes of differing
    exposure lines, which he called banding.”

    1) Who cares what he calls it?  It not appealing and (I’d imagine) next to impossible to back out in post.  No one pays $4500 for that output.

    2)  Great — it’s only with the electronic shutter…  except that’s the only way to shoot the A9 faster than 5 fps!!!

    The sky is not falling for this rig for most folks– it remains a technological marvel — but consider the pro sports/action folks this rig was built for and what limitations they *don’t* have with their 12-16 fps CaNikon SLRs today.

    If this is confirmed as an issue, Sony will need to give a *much much much* better answer to professional action/sports photographers than “please slow your shutter down or consider 5 fps mode”.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      So there seems to be sooo much confusion about this right now Adam, but it’s really not a ‘sky is falling’ issue. It’s a non-issue in my mind, and here’s why. Yes the Sony shoots mostly in electronic shutter, but this also isn’t really just an electronic shutter issue – so let’s clarify that right now. 

      What it would appear to be is also a matter of curtain and shutter speed, but again, DSLRs are not immune to this. I believe he was shooting at high shutter speed, and not just high frame rate, probably around 1/4000 or 1/2000. You take a DSLR with mechanical shutter and set to 1/4000, go in a hallway or somewhere with florescent lighting, set to continuous and fire off some 20 or 30 shots. I’ll bet you see banding and probably worse color distortion that what was present in the examples. Suffice to day, mechanical shutter won’t always save the day. 

      It’s imperative, however, to also have a clear thought and explanation behind what was appearing. Perhaps we’ll do a post on banding but there are lots of sources online directed at banding as an issue (not A9 specific) which really do go far into detail and will even break down certain light frequencies in the US vs the UE and how to adjust for each place (often in the EU many will use a shutter speed divisible by/in 60Hz. So, for example, 1/30, 1/60, 1/120 and on. Stateside by/in 50Hz, so 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 et cetera). 

      Really, I just don’t think this is an issue. I shot with the A9 electronic shutter, under such lighting conditions on two occasions, with shutter speeds up to 1/1000 (After a quick check) with no banding present. No one else shooting there had any either. If it was pushed to 1/4000 maybe, but again DSLRs aren’t necessarily immune here. Now if the A9 was doing it at like 1/60, then that’s an issue. But it’s not, which leads me and others to believe there was a lack of understanding how this all works.

      – also, refer to Eric’s comment below. It’s a bit different when dealing with HSS

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    • Anders Madsen

      Kishore is right – if you shoot with an ordinary DSLR at 1/1000 or somewhere in that neighbourhood under fluorescent lights, you may not see banding but you will see some very ugly yellow/greenish discolouration in parts of the image.

      I had never seen this before when helping out someone with setting up a borrowed Nikon D3 for her first sports session and we honestly both thought that the sensor was broken until I tried the same settings with my D610 and got the same hideous result.

      So, while the issue isn’t identical to what the A9 crowd using electronic shutter may experience, the same conditions definitely causes just as nasty an issue for those using a mechanical shutter – pro sports body or not.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Anders Madsen – You’re right, it’s not exactly the same thing (well, it can be) but I’m hoping to have a look at this by a man much smarter than I in these matters who will explain it clearer and with definition. For now, DPReview has done a more detailed look if you’re interested.  Cheers Anders

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    • adam sanford

      Anders, what you wrote — that this affects mechanical shutters as well — needs to be Sony’s defense of this, and they (or their surrogates) are not effectively making that case. 

      DPR finally framed up the problem well here:

      But it’s still just a theoretical exercise with some rough assessment of JP’s shots as verification.  I think DPR’s read is correct, but someone needs to shoot a sporting event with a mechanical and electronic shutter side by side at the same settings, walking the shutter speed down to the sync speed, and compare the % of banding/artifact found. 

      If both cameras demonstrate the banding, it’s a painful modern lighting problem.  If only the electronic shutter demonstrates the banding…  Ouch.

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    • Anders Madsen

      Adam, I’m pretty sure that the banding issue is pretty specific to electronic shutters, at least if DPReview’s assessment is correct (and from what I’ve read, it most likely is). 

      However, my point was more that once you pass the 1/1000 mark on your shutter dial and are photographing under artificial lighting, you are basically entering living hell as a photographer since all kinds of weird things are starting to affect your images – regardless of the technology used. 

      I’m not defending Sony and their relevance as a pro-sports-shooting alternative to Canon and Nikon as such (I’m a portrait and commercial photographer and rarely go above 1/160 and uses studio flashes so I have no dog in that fight), but on the other hand I think that sometimes we tend to want everything to work perfectly at every opportunity, and sometimes we simply have to accept that some technologies may be at odds with each other, like LED-panels and electronic shutters seems to be in this case. Or mechanical shutters and fluorescent lights as I experienced it.

      Oh, and yes – a Phase One with a leaf shutter lens would probably cure the banding and discolouration, but the AF might mean that you will be in for a rough ride… ;-)

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  6. Eric Salas

    I thought I was the only one to relate this to electronic shutter and why you don’t use it when shooting in HSS. 

    It’s nice to see this called out because I watched the first 2 mins of the video in question and was confused on why it was even made.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Well, I’m glad to hear Eric. I think this is just not something, clearly, most people are familiar with. Cheers

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