Yesterday, I posted an article comparing the banding noise on today’s mirrorless cameras. The results showed the Canon EOS R to have a bit more such noise than Nikon or Sony. However, one Photography Life reader, Todd (thanks!), noted Canon released a firmware update last week to fix horizontal linear noise. I downloaded it and re-ran the test today, and the results turned out much *worse* – our analysis is below. For now, don’t update your EOS R firmware.
To start, here is the image I posted yesterday from the EOS R with the original firmware, 1.0.0. I underexposed this shot by six stops for the test, which, of course, is a laughable thing to do in real-world shooting. Although there is some horizontal noise, it is likely nothing you will see in the realm of actual photography (which was the whole point of yesterday’s article in the first place):
However, under these extreme conditions, the Canon’s banding was still a bit worse than that of the Sony A7 III, Nikon Z6, and Nikon Z7. So, I assumed there was a real possibility that Canon’s “horizontal linear noise” fix in their most recent firmware update would put it on par with the others, or at least offer some improvements. I downloaded version 1.1.0, retested the camera today, and got this result:
Not good at all. The new version has some gigantic lines of banding that didn’t exist at all in the original, especially the copper-colored streak of banding that goes across all four color swatches at the top of this crop. A wider crop of these two photos shows the problem even more (ignore the shifting figures in the background; I didn’t expect to do crops this wide):
My first thought was that the studio light might be doing something strange. So, I shot a different test outside to eliminate any confounding variables from artificial light. Same result:
(And here’s the properly exposed version just so you can see which lines are due to banding and which are due to the subject):
Then I wanted to double check that the process of converting to DNG and opening in RawDigger wasn’t causing any problems. It shouldn’t, but to make sure, I opened the original CR3 file in Capture One. Naturally, some of the colors changed, but the noise pattern did not:
I ran more tests with silent shutter on and off, and then anti-flicker shooting on and off, but the results were always the same. When recovering shadow detail from the EOS R’s new firmware, banding appeared no matter what settings I picked.
To me, that settled it. From the relatively clean file yesterday to the extreme banding today, the only thing that changed is that I updated the firmware. I really wish I had the original firmware back on the EOS R to run more side by side tests. Unfortunately, I only have one other comparable file, which is the same ColorChecker shot but with five stops of underexposure. The difference is not quite as drastic here, but the new version (“After” in the slider below) is still clearly worse. It has essentially a rainbow pattern in the shadows outside the area of the ColorChecker:
My takeaway is that you definitely shouldn’t upgrade the Canon firmware to version 1.1.0 just yet. Who knows? It might only be my specific EOS R that is experiencing this problem. I only have one copy at the moment to test. Then again, better safe than sorry; at least on my version, it seems highly likely that the cause of the new banding is the firmware update. So, if you are a Canon EOS R user who has not yet switched to 1.1.0, don’t. Keep 1.0.0 at least until other photographers have looked into this issue in more detail. After searching for a bit, I unfortunately did not find a way to revert to 1.0.0; I couldn’t find that version floating around anywhere online.
Yesterday, I was the one saying how silly it is to look at files that are six stops underexposed, and how unrealistic that is in practice. That remains true. If this noise is mainly visible in photos that are five or six shots underexposed, it’s essentially a non-issue. In my brief real-world tests today with the EOS R’s new firmware version, I still see some of this noise in photos that are four stops underexposed, and there remains a small bit in photos that are three stops underexposed. I don’t yet know how visible it is in properly exposed photos with significant shadow recovery and other post-processing (say, clarity adjustments), or in photos at higher ISOs with any sort of recovery, but I will update this article if I find it to be visible there too.
Have any Photography Life readers with an EOS R updated their firmware and noticed something similar? I’m just one person with a single copy of the EOS R, and I can’t generalize my results beyond that. I’d love to post more before/after comparisons, or even just images after the update (which would help determine if it’s something weird with my single EOS R copy) – but I don’t want anyone else to update their firmware just for the sake of this test. It’s not possible to say when Canon will take note of this issue and fix it in a future firmware update, but until then, keep version 1.0.0 if you haven’t changed it already.
UPDATE: Some readers below suggested that the reason may be that I haven’t yet updated the lens firmware, only the camera firmware. So, I downloaded the RF 24-105mm f/4 firmware and tried another sample, but the issue unfortunately remained just as strong as before. The following image is completely uncropped, same process as above:
Below, it seems that most readers are not experiencing this problem, which is very good to see. Hopefully this issue only affects a small number of EOS R cameras.