Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

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David Kilpatrick
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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby David Kilpatrick » Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:40 am

On the Alpha 900, ISO 320 is a sweet spot and ISO 160 is the optimum setting. I won't revisit to quote the charts, but DxO's tests showed that the settings below 200 on the A900 are non-linear; there's not really much difference between 100, 125 and 160. The same broadly applies to the A77 settings from 50 to 80, the sensor is being overexposed and the gain adusted to compensate.

For some reason, the A to D gain seems to be adjusted in full steps only - 200, 400, 800, 1600 - on the A700/900/850. The intermediate steps are achieved by changing the digital gain which comes after A to D stage. From 2000 to 6400, all gain is digital. I don't know exactly why this happens, but it seems that 320 is achieved by reducing gain from 400, 160 by reducing gain from 200 (I use 640 as well for the same reason). The effect is to improve the noise more than you would expect, so much that 320 can look smoother than 200. Certainly there's no real point in using 200 as a setting, 320 generally looks just as good, and 160 is as good as 100 for noise but with slightly less risk of clipping the highlights - better recovery from raw, maximum dynamic range.

What really gets me about the A900 is the difference in colours. I quite like the A77, but there's a quality to the saturated reds and greens which is artificial looking compared to the A900. Canon's colours in the 5D Mk III are not pleasant at all (the earlier 5D models were both better).

Generally, I don't like Nikon colours as much as Sony. That's the dilemma. New cameras can give me higher ISOs, greater resolution, but no matter what colour profiles I apply and what processing settings I use, I can not get the same effortlessly fine accurate colour rendering the A900 provides.

I suspect this is because the A900 uses denser RGB filtration. Actually, I know this is the case. That is what my very first comparison test of the Nikon D3X and the A900 showed. All the extra high ISO noise of the A900 was caused by two things - first of all, the high ISO was a truer setting, the Nikon typically giving 1/3 to 2/3rds more actual exposure to get the same brightness values; secondly, the chroma content of the Nikon files was reduced.

Since then, every maker including Sony has taken the route of using lower density colour filters on the sensor, producing less discrimination but paradoxically lower Delta-E values (colour error - with less colour to start with, colour errors are reduced in their deviation). Fuji has even doubled the number of green sensors in the X-Pro1 etc chip. Colour is constructed in software. It's even reduced in intensity as the ISO goes above A-to-D gain levels, normally over 1600 or 3200, in all camera models - low light shots have a monochromatic look. Sony has resisted this trend as much as possible and even with changes, keeps pretty good colour across the normal range of ISO equivalents.

But... the Alpha 900/850 and 700, the 100/200/300 series with CCDs, the Sony DSC-R1 - all of these use full strength RGB on the sensor, just like the KM7D and 5D did before. The first model with a visibly different colour filter array was the Alpha 350, and for that camera, they didn't try to boost the colour artificially. It has a naturally more pastel rendering which is very subtle, like a portrait-type neg film. They also didn't try to optimise its high ISO.

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby artington » Tue Oct 09, 2012 1:12 pm

bfitzgerald wrote:Price is the problem Sony are asking £2500 odd (so much for that SLT=save money on the mirror box/prism) I can't see it working at that price.
Ok the Canon 5dMkIII is around the same price, but Canon have a fairly notable entrenched based to sell it to, Sony have a lot less.

D800 has just nipped under the £2000 mark for a body only. I think at this stage they will run away with things..not that I'd need/want 36mp, but you can't ignore the price gap. It's the first time I've really seen Canon struggling under pressure, their prices are just out of whack on this one.


http://www.procamerashop.co.uk/product/ ... Body_37717

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby David Kilpatrick » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:41 pm

Here is how the A900 looks at 100% using the latest ACR raw conversion, with the usual settings I would pick for 3200 on any camera - Sharp 25strength/0.5radius/25detail/0mask, NR 25strength/50detail/0contrast Luminance plus 50strength/50detail colour. I have further applies 0.40 EV exposure increase and set the black point to 25 not 0, which has the effect of making the true ISO definitely above 3200 not below.
a900-3200newacr.jpg
a900-3200newacr.jpg (451.1 KiB) Viewed 2867 times

This is a pretty severe test of noise, with a dark subject and some OOF areas, and a hand-held 1/80th at f/5 on a macro lens by ambient light - a quick snap to show the rear display of a flash head.

The Canon 5D MkIII under identical conditions - a camera produced 3.5 years later, and with a slightly lower pixel count - is much finer in noise at a comparable exposure level (1/50th at f/6.3):
canon5dmkIII-3200newacr.jpg
canon5dmkIII-3200newacr.jpg (259.21 KiB) Viewed 2867 times

All the settings have been made identical.

But there's one problem I can not resolve between these two images. The A900 shot was taken in a deliberately darkened room use faint window light through a closed Venetian blind, not a condition where I would try to shoot without adding lighting. The Canon shot was taken in a room being used to view prints for qualifications, illuminated using a bank of fluorescent tubes. The setting was auto ISO where the A900 was manually set. Everything tells me that the Canon shot was really taken in much brighter conditions and indeed faces in the shot are overexposed, I've picked a dark area comparable to the A900 tones.

I've also had much worse results from the 5D MkIII and can't get to the bottom of this. It seems to be very sensitive to exposures longer than 1/20th, with hidden banding in dark areas even around ISO 1600 once you get down to 1/8th or 1/4. I have used two bodies, serial numbers three units apart, and can't find a consistent pattern. I think I would trust a new Sony sensor, as in the D600, more. But the A900 is great at low ISO.

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby artington » Tue Oct 09, 2012 2:47 pm

Thanks for those interesting comments, David. As I have mentioned before the colours I get from my Sony a900 / Minolta 17-35/3.5G combo are outstanding so I can agree with you.

As I mentioned earlier it seems to me that the so-called gains in the new generation of DSLRs are incremental at best for still photographers but clearly video technology is moving at a faster rate if that is important to you. Of course, elsewhere in the spectrum , the technology is moving fast for small bodied cameras like the NEX and, more recently, the RX-100. The latter is a splendid walk-around camera and I have been very impressed with its IQ, which is amazing for such a small box. The big excitement right now seems to be with the RX-1. This may be the way forward. Clearly the price is very high but that will change quickly (the RX-100 is down by 15% already) and it does after all buy you a Zeiss 35/2 along with your full frame camera for the same cost as an a99 body alone. A lot cheaper, too, than an M9 with 35/2, Zeiss or Leica. I don't know whether the sensor is the same as on the a99 but it seems to be remarkably noise free at high ISOs if these examples are anything to go by:

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2012/10/0 ... o-samples/

http://www.dpreview.com/galleries/revie ... /slideshow

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby bfitzgerald » Tue Oct 09, 2012 6:54 pm

Canon have had issues with banding for a while, least if you read the forum posts. I have seen this myself on shots..though not as much as it used to be.
Sony's chunky grain is like that partly down to the NR effect on RAW which does not seem to be able to be completely shut off.

I have never heard of pro camera shop, maybe they are legit but they are suspiciously under the price of most rivals
http://www.camerapricebuster.co.uk/prod ... ody&p=2676

Whatever your thoughts I think the A99 is a £1700 body or under and not a £2500 one.

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby peterottaway » Wed Oct 10, 2012 5:35 am

Whatever your thoughts I think the A99 is a £1700 body or under and not a £2500 one.[/quote]

As I said the price in Australia including tax is $2990 which is less than what either the D800 or EOS 5D is selling for. However I think that it is a bit on the high side and something in the range $2495 to $2695 is closer to what I would consider true value. With my opinion of many things Canon including the 650 and the new mirror less, giving a suggested price would probably be defamatory.

The chief problem for UK pricing is that the AUD earlier this morning was GBP 0.6382, roughly 2 : 3. So yes by Australian standards you are being had by both Sony and Canon UK. Nikon is the only one decently priced.

But this is a different argument to whether Sonys international pricing should be the same as the D600 or the D800.

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby Atgets_Apprentice » Wed Oct 10, 2012 10:34 am

Sony's UK pricing strategy is quite simple: Overprice the a99 so that when the price does drop, everyone thinks they are getting a bargain, and they still make a profit.
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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby Greg Beetham » Wed Oct 10, 2012 1:21 pm

Atgets_Apprentice wrote:Sony's UK pricing strategy is quite simple: Overprice the a99 so that when the price does drop, everyone thinks they are getting a bargain, and they still make a profit.


I think you guys get reamed even worse than we do, it could be just your VAT tax but it’s difficult to say for sure, even allowing for that the price there seems greatly inflated by comparison with US prices, when you look at the current exchange rates £1 = $1.60 roughly (the £ has lost about 2 or 3 cents in the last couple of weeks) so anyone paying with Pounds should be a factor of 1.6 better off than the US price, a straight conversion of $2800US = £1750.
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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby Philip » Wed Oct 10, 2012 4:34 pm

Which when you factor in the VAT still only comes to £2100.00 ......... :(

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby pakodominguez » Wed Oct 10, 2012 5:37 pm

Atgets_Apprentice wrote:Sony's UK pricing strategy is quite simple: Overprice the a99 so that when the price does drop, everyone thinks they are getting a bargain, and they still make a profit.

I thought prices in the EU and UK were higher because warranty services (you get a better warranty overall than in the USA), taxes (other than "VAT") and so. Not because Sony wants to "overprice" items...
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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby artington » Wed Oct 10, 2012 6:28 pm

As with most of these decisions it's probably based on what Sony thinks the market will bear. We shall see!

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby bfitzgerald » Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:34 am

What better UK warranty? Unless I missed something

I see a nice A99 tear-down thread on Dyxum punches flying all over the place!
http://www.dyxum.com/dforum/a99-feature ... 92243.html

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby peterottaway » Thu Oct 11, 2012 4:31 am

bfitzgerald wrote:What better UK warranty? Unless I missed something

I see a nice A99 tear-down thread on Dyxum punches flying all over the place!
http://www.dyxum.com/dforum/a99-feature ... 92243.html


And surprise,surprise initiated by a sys admin and contributor of a certain ideological bent !

Oh well back to spring cleaning and getting the garden set up for summer.

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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby Dr. Harout » Thu Oct 11, 2012 7:03 pm

bfitzgerald wrote:What better UK warranty? Unless I missed something

I see a nice A99 tear-down thread on Dyxum punches flying all over the place!
http://www.dyxum.com/dforum/a99-feature ... 92243.html

And all those nonsense there on that thread make me want an a99 :roll:
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Re: Sony Alpha A99 Field Test Report

Unread postby bfitzgerald » Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:01 pm

I agree some of the complaints are nit picking (even by my standards) though some reasonable points are also made.


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