SONY has, one week after the leak of a final version of Firmare v4 for the Alpha 700, placed authorised download links on their support websites along with an updated Image Data Suite 3 which can handle Alpha 900 raw files. Quick download links are given here with key features.
Firmware Version 4
Although Sony creates both Mac and Windows ‘versions’ the .APP file contained in the archives is identical and you can download the Mac version to any machine (Unix, Linux, Vista – etc) which supports industry standard archive extraction. This includes many PDAs. The Windows version is an .EXE file and can only be used on Windows machines. The Mac version can also be used on most modern Windows installations and may be a faster download if you find traffic heavy.
The Alpha 700 is NOT country specific for firmware so downloading from the European site will work perfectly for readers in the USA, Asia or anywhere else.
The stated upgrade features are:
- The choice to select auto exposure bracketing (single & continuous) with 3 shots in 2 EV steps has been added.
- The choice to turn [Off] the High ISO NR feature has been added.
- Improvement of the image quality in high ISO setting.
- Improvement of the auto white balance and D-Range Optimizer performance.
- Improvement of reliability for communication between camera body and vertical grip.
Some improvement in quality has been noted in low ISO raw files, possibly due to changes in the WB/DRO implementation. Both WB and DRO depend on the raw file being unclipped – headroom is needed for both functions to work properly. If Sony has been able to fine-tune the relationship between ISO (EI) setting, physical exposure (metering) and A-to-D transfer functions, a more efficient use may have been made of headroom. This would also have the effect of improving high ISO files. Since it looks as if around 1/3rd of a stop extra exposure may now be given (images are appearing slightly brighter in the midtones) the three middle points above (NR, high ISO, WB/DRO) may all be related to single ‘root’ change.
Image Data Suite 3.0
The Windows update is more comprehensive than the Mac update, and there are options for enhancing remote control (tethered) A700 operation including an intervalometer function which is omitted on the Mac. It can’t be that difficult as Konica Minolta had it for the Mac with the Dimage 7/A series!
The great news is that Image Data Converter 3.0 will process Alpha 900 raw files, despite the Sony download saying it is only for A100-A700 models. While the speed of IDC 3 has been enhanced and the controls improved with a Peripheral Shading function that appears to pick up lens data and set itself automatically, it remains painfully slow and processor-intensive, even slowing down other programs if you set it developing an image then switch tasks. You must set the program to Standard Mode, which is slow, if you want to open a full resolution image from the A900 into Photoshop; when set to Quick Mode, it not only views the image at a maximum of 50% size, it also sends it Photoshop as a 16-bit, 6 megapixel TIFF.
IDC 3 with an Alpha 900 image shot on the 24-105mm KM (D) zoom showing DRO and Peripheral shading applied – click the image to open a full 1920 x 1080 resolution screen shot JPEG.
GPS Image Tracker update upgrades Windows-only Image Tracker software to recognise A200, A300, A350 and A700 JPEGs.