The nickname "Star Eater" might sound awesome if you're say, a sci-fi villain building a Death Star-like monstrosity. For Sony, however, it's how its range of digital cameras are referred to in astrophotography circles. So, how did the company's shooters end up with this moniker and is it still an issue in its latest gadget, the A7R III?
First off, a history lesson. As Ian Norman on Loney Speck explains, the issue appears to have been introduced via firmware updates released towards the end of 2016:
The “Star Eater” problem is a form of software spatial filtering designed to reduce noise in photos, particularly hot pixels. Unfortunately, the rather rudimentary filtering algorithm that Sony is using easily mistakes sharp pinpoint stars for noise, deleting them from the image or greatly reducing their brightness.
No problem, you might think — just shoot in RAW mode! Unfortunately, this filtering also affects RAW too, effectively making Sony's DSLR range useless for snapping the stars. If you'd like to see some examples, Norman has a few on his blog.
Star Eater plagued Sony's cameras for 12 months, until the release of the A7R III this year. According to photographer Alan Dyer, the problem has been "largely vanquished" with the new hardware... as long as your exposure times are 3.2 seconds or below.
However, Norman isn't convinced. While he admits improvements — slight as they are — have been made, the A7R III is still not a good camera for astrophotography buffs:
...I can confirm that the a7RIII also eats stars for exposures 4 seconds and longer. Dpreview’s comparisons show a small improvement versus the older a7RII but it’s clear that there is still spatial filtering being applied to long exposure raw files.
If you're considering a Sony DSLR and think you'll indulge in some night-time photography, I'd recommend checking out the comparisons yourself before taking the plunge.
For three years now I've been using the Sony A7S as my primary camera. It's compact and it's incredible in low-light, but in certain regards the camera is starting to show its age and doesn't really fit all my needs: It's limited to 12-megapixel photos, and it can't shoot 4K video without an external recorder.