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In a move which will not delight many owners of the 2012-released RX1 and RX100 cameras, Sony has chosen to update both of them in fairly subtle ways which improve performance without changing the basic lens specifications at the heart of each camera. The makeover to produce the RX100 II is more thorough, and includes a tilting rear screen, a new back-illuminated version of the 1.0 inch CMOS sensor, and a Multi Function Accessory Shoe which can power an electronic viewfinder or other accessories. It also features WiFi and Near Field Communication for transferring those tiny 20 megapixel files to your smartphone, perfect for direct upload to Facebook (just shoot Small JPEGs instead, keep the big raw files untransferred).
The RX1R is less thoroughly upgraded, as it’s basically an RX1 with the low-pass (AA) filter removed. Got to admit that we could have sworn Sony originally said, at photokina, the RX1 did not have an AA filter. Its performance seemed to back that up. Then, in the release version (which was very different from the September 2012 pre-production models, even in control details) this was moderated to say that there was a special low strength AA filter. Now, in the RX1R, the AA filter is definitely removed and some new processing added to combat the resulting increase in moiré and colour artefact production which always goes with the absence of the filter. Nothing else is changed; the two models are very similar to Nikon’s D800 and D800E, and like them will be available side by side. The RX1R does not replace the RX1. Whether owners of RX1 will see it quite that way, who knows?
At this level of camera, there will be plenty of buyers who want to have BOTH bodies. Just as, with the RX100, despite version II not having the imaginary extra lens range dreamed about by those who don’t realise what’s involved, there will be many buyers for the new model who will pass the original on to a family member or keep it as a spare.
Finally, there is a new HVL-F43M flashgun with the now familiar rotating head design first seen on the HVL-F58AM. This slightly smaller but almost as powerful flash unit has the Multi Function Accessory Shoe (and can now therefore be used with both the above Cyber-Shots as well as NEX-6, A99, A58 and future SLT/NEX/Cyber-Shot models). It has an LED light for video, also useful for modelling when using flash off camera – but get our latest issue of Cameracraft, No 4, to read my detailed article on how the quality of LED light compares to other sources!
A question which remain unanswered is – when will Sony introduce the shoe fitting GPS module which is already provided for in the pinouts of the Multi Function Shoe, on the NEX-6, RX1, Alpha 58 etc? Having this on the market would certainly make the RX100 II even more of a must-have upgrade.
Be warned (perhaps by our review of the Alpha 58) that the promoted Tri-Luminos colour display compatibility – a change in the camera’s RGB sensor filters and processing – may not necessarily make for better colour with other devices, or for printing. It’s a good reason to buy a new Sony television but not an especially good reason to prefer the new models over the old non-Tri-Luminos type.
Finally, having removed the AA filter from the RX1 to create the RX1R, we must await the arrival (or non-arrival…) of the Sony Alpha 99R. That would be logical now that a refresh to new models seems to be called for after only 6 to 12 months on the market. Perhaps that is a bit cynical. What often happens in this industry is that a product will be revised when stocks of all the components for the original batches are used up, and not enough finished product is in the pipeline to satsify predicted demand.
The RX1 and the RX100 have both been runaway successes worldwide and it may be that new production was commissioned and presented a chance for hardware changes. Firmware updates for existing owners? A second priority, but don’t give up hope…
- David Kilpatrick
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In the last year two cameras have been through my hands and impressed more than any others with the quality of their sensors. Those cameras were as different as they could be – the full frame Canon EOS 6D, and the pocketable Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100. They have one thing in common, 20 megapixel sensors.
Of course there is no connection; a 24 x 36mm Canon sensor and a 8.8 x 13mm Sony sensor are very different. But if you shoot at ISO 125 on both cameras, and process from raw with a normally exposed scene, you will be hard pressed to tell the results apart.
So, when Sony – proving a giant-killer with the 1.0” format RX100 sensor – creates a budget DSLT model with an APS-C 20 megapixel sensor it would be reasonable to expect that this would outperform the RX100 and in the process prove superior to the 24 megapixel Alpha 77, 65 and NEX-7. It might even match the Alpha 99.
The Alpha 58 was announced at the end of February 2013, and some major websites had still not reviewed it by June. This is the first new Sony APS-C silicon for two years. It’s not found in any other body. Why the lack of urgent interest?
Perhaps, like me, the entry-level grade of the A58 has been responsible. It’s by far the worst Alpha body ever manufactured, and the first to have a plastic lens mount where machined metal is normally used. The whole physical feel of this Thai-made camera is inferior; it even has a slightly rough external texture which picks up handling marks the moment a store customer (or cynical on-line orderer intending to try, but return for a refund) so much as touches it.
It has a relatively low-resolution, small rear screen (2.7 inches and 460,800 pixels) which is in the simplest and most restricted kind of up/down angle hinged mount. Against this economy, though, you need to balance a better OLED electronic viewfinder based on a one-inch 1,440,000 pixel display and a change to the new Sony Multi Function Accessory Shoe (without a protective cap, and without the adaptor for the Minolta/Sony Auto Lock shoe). It also uses the larger FM-500H battery common to all other current Alpha models, not the smaller FM-50H used by the NEX and also by some previous Alphas like the A55.
What is really new about the A58 is the price. I was not interested in the camera, though curious about the new sensor, because it was $600 US or £499 UK with the most basic lens , a new 18-5mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM II with quieter and improved internal focus motor (delivered, like Canon kit 18-55mms, without a lens hood). Then while helping a professional friend decide how to replace an A350 used for some unique underwater photography where the Quick Live View AF function has no equivalent in other makes, I looked into the A58.
It was on sale, in Britain, including VAT and properly sourced from Sony, for under £350. The actual price of the kit was only £291 before added VAT sales tax. This was £100 cheaper than the lowest price of the RX100, less than any other DSLR on the market with anything like the same specification. Bear in mind what a replacement Sony battery costs (around £50) and what an 18-55mm fetches (officially more, but in practice around £100 new) and this body was coming in at about £150. That’s a point and shoot compact price.
So I bought one.
The packaging for the A58 cuts down on many things – recent Alphas have been festooned with stickers, this one has a single swingtag and a sticker on the rear LCD promoting connection to Sony’s webserver to obtain PlayMemories Home, the kiddy-friendly name for what is probably quite functional software, if you happen to use a Windows PC.
When you have charged the battery and loaded it, the first time you turn on a similar message fills the rear screen. Everything works as you expect from an Alpha, though some mysterious glitch stepped the entered date back by two days. You can only set to complete minutes, not seconds. Some defaults are set to ‘on’ including Smile Shutter and Auto Object Framing, and for my use these were disabled and the recording mode set to shoot RAW+JPEG, sRGB.
The supplied lens is a cheap product glitzed up by the addition of a metal microskin on the front bezel, behind the rotating rubber rimmed zoom and focus tube, 55mm filter thread. The SAM focus is quieter than the original version. The plastic-on-plastic mounting action is smooth enough, but when changing between the 30mm SAM macro (very noisy and jerky motor in comparison) engagement of the contact array was not always positive and the lens had to be twisted back and forth once with the lock pressed to enable AF.
The A58 is set to use electronic first curtain and SteadyShot Inside sensor-based stabilisation, both switched via the main menus. The Function button, which can access most regularly used settings does not reach these directly (a second menu screen is involved, very easy to use). There are also direct access button-positions round the rear controller for the important Drive, Picture Effect and White Balance settings, and a dedicated ISO button close to the shutter release. These can be customised to a degree, like the stop-down/intelligent preview button on the camera front which can be changed to work as a focus magnifier.
What’s initially surprising is that the shutter sound is noisier than many cameras with flipping mirrors. It’s not a pleasant sound either, mechanical in a clockwork-motor way. It all happens after the shot has been captured, as you can tell if you make a long exposure. Maybe the lightweight mostly plastic construction of the body, with its minimal metal skeleton, fails to damp the sound.
The viewfinder has the same contrast and dark detail failings as the A77, and in some ways the old A55 finder provides a more useful view. The rear screen is not very bright, and there is no auto brightness setting, just a 5-step manual control. In return, whether you use the LCD or the EVF makes on a tiny 10 shot difference to the 700 frames expected from one battery using the former. This stamina is double that of an EVF camera using the smaller battery type and restores a more than acceptable battery life per charge to Sony’s consumer entry level.
What is excellent about the finder is the ocular. It has been designed to give extreme eye relief – 26.5mm from the eyepiece glass, 23mm from the rubber frame surround. This compares to 19mm/18mm for the same data on the A55 (eyepiece glass not well protected from dust and light ingress, but eye needs to be close) and 27mm/22mm for the A77 (very deeply recessed and shaded ocular, reasonable eye distance). Part of this is down to display module sizes: 1.0 inch for the A58, 1.2 inch for the A55, 1.3 inch for the A77. Matters are further confused by the A55 failing to use all its EVF for the image, so the eye also sees a large near-black surround except when using menus which then expand to fill it.
Overall, the EVF looks like a view which is A55 size but A77 quality, like using a cropped section of the A77/99 2.4 megapixel EVF module. Sony has made this much easier to use with spectacles, or with the camera held an inch away from your eye. So although it’s not the best finder ever, it may be one of the best choices for anyone who has trouble with eyepoint. I found the EVF very blue at its neutral point, and set two notches of warming up to match the eye’s view.
The controls are no different from any other Alpha, they don’t feel rough or weak, and every button push got a response as expected.
The cover for the single dual purpose SD/MSDuoPro card slot is not a tight seal, and does not need firm action to open. The synthetic rubber single seal door over the microphone jack (no manual level control), Micro USB matching the RX100, and Micro HDMI ports is a good flush fit. There is also a Minolta/Sony unique DC in socket with similar cover.
What’s missing is the old Minolta and later on Sony remote control socket. Instead there’s a pretty clunky wired remote which works via the micro USB port. It looks like a version of a Chinese generic. This connection offers the only way to get wireless remote control, with a suitable device, as the camera lacks the IR receiver and has no Drive Mode for it.
The body shape in the hand is just a little more cramped than the A55, far more so than the A580, both cameras we have and both ‘replaced’ in the Alpha line up by this one model. I’d say it was less of a good fit to my hand than the classic Minolta Dimage series bridge cameras, or the Nikon 1 V2. Both of these were around to compare directly.
The critical bit
Then after getting acquainted with the camera, comes the question of the sensor performance. Here, the viewfinder gave the first clue that unlike the ‘sweet sixteen’ CMOS this 20MP newcomer was not going to move any goalposts. In domestic lighting, the level of noise in the EVF is higher than the old A55 and comparable to the A77.
However, I chose to compare the A58 with the RX100, because of the great advances made in the RX100’s very small 2.7X sensor. The results show an interesting divergence from minimum (100 for A58, 125 native for RX100) ISO to maximum. There is almost no advantage to the A58 up to ISO 400. Both cameras, with similarly adjusted raw conversion, yield clean images and it’s not even easy to tell ISO 400 from 200 or 100. If you click the images below, you’ll access a full size original conversion from raw (ACR).
A58, ISO 100, full sun, shadow to highlight from raw
RX, ISO 100, deep shadow to full sun on white, from raw
A58, ISO 400, full sun on wide tone range, from raw
RX100, ISO 400, wide tone range in full sun, from raw
As you increase the speed, the 58 rapidly shows its advantage and by ISO 1600 has both a structure which looks finer in terms of granularity, and with far less chroma noise. Where a carefully processed ISO 800 from the RX100 might match a carelessly handled 800 from the Alpha, at 1600 it’s very difficult indeed to close the gap. By 6400 the RX100 is not really useful but the 58 can still deliver a fairly normal looking shot – it does begin to look like a desperate measure. Then you have 12,800 and the absolutely pointless 160,000 top setting which seems to be there for advertising purposes.
Taking into account differences in colour rendering, the advantage of the larger sensor is levelled if the RX100 file is reduced to 4500 x 3000 pixels and moderate chroma noise reduction applied. In relative terms, the small sensor is better, because it’s actually only a little over one quarter of the size of APS-C.
Compared to the 16 megapixel Sony sensor (NEX-5n, A55 and many later models as well as Pentax and Nikon variants) the 20 also fares pretty well. It has higher levels of luminance noise but minimal chroma noise. It’s not easy to reduce the luminance NR without softening detail, when using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. It does not harm sharp detail much if left alone; if this sensor actually has an AA filter, it’s very weak.
This a MacBeth ColorChecker rendered using the official sRGB values.
This is an ISO 200 shot on the A58 with the greyscale white balanced to match the above, Iridient Raw Developer conversion using Iridient’s A58 profile. See later comments on colour and reds.
As for dynamic range, it falls off as the ISO in increased. At ISO 100 or 400 a typical high contrast sunlit scene is perfectly recorded, with only bright specular highlights clipping to 255-255-255. It can handle everything from shadows on dark areas to direct light on white. A few practical comparison shots show that the RX100 can do exactly the same things – indeed, precisely the same areas clip at the highlight end.
This simply indicates to me that Sony has matched the processes used in the two cameras against a common exposure and contrast standard. I’d have the rate the JPEG engine of the RX100 a little better than the Alpha, and images seem to need less work. Against the Alpha 99, the 58 gains some significant processing speed in raw converters as it’s producing 20 megapixel 12-bit files compared to 24 megapixel 14-bit.
Click this for the full size to see detail.
Compare this RX100 shot. It’s interesting.
A hidden benefit of the 20 megapixel sensor is that if you use Adobe Camera Raw, this program offers a range of preset optimised output sizes converted directly from raw, which can be previewed at 100% of their actual pixel size before conversion. All 24 megapixel cameras have this as their largest output size, all you can do is downsample. 20 megapixel cameras offer a 25 megapixel output option, as do 16 or 18 megapixel models. The RX100 has already proved to me that it can make a 25 megapixel image that’s hard to tell from a native A77/99 image. The same goes for the Alpha 58. It can be set to export to this larger size, and if you use a top grade lens and low ISO, the result will be better than a native 24 megapixel at higher ISOs with a medium-quality lens.
Overall, I find it hard to rate the new 20 megapixel sensor as better than either the classic 16 megapixel ‘sweet spot’ sensor or the maximum 24 megapixel APS-C, but it is as competent as either of these in its own right. I guess the truth is that at all these resolutions, superb image quality is possible.
Other aspects of performance
Since the A58 uses the 15-point, 3-cross AF sensor which has been proven ever since it first appeared in the A580 and A55 it has identical performance; fast, very accurate AF down to EV -1 (50mm f/1.4). The exposure metering is, again, the familiar 1200-zone Sony system and works down to -2EV.
The actual focusing mechanism works no better with SAM or SSM lenses than with screw drive. It’s not the best ‘old’ mechanism in there and it lacks fast/slow AF setting, but it’s fast for certain. In low light although AF will lock, it needs a good target. Throughout my use of the camera I found the focus the least accurate and consistent of any Alpha body I’ve used, leading me to question whether I had accidentally set the lens to MF, so many pictures were clearly focused on some other plane than the subject, nearly always a definite back focus. The AF module is officially the same as the A55, A580 and so on. I can’t help thinking it is the same design but perhaps, like the rest of the camera, built to a budget.
The A58 couldn’t really back focus this shot at f/8 but it took three shots to get one sharp.
Click the RX100 (f/5.6) example too, to see the real difference.
Switching between rear screen and EVF using the eye sensors, or if you have the rear screen off just turning on the EVF, is good on this camera. Its balance tends to prevent the eyepiece sitting against your chest, and thus avoids accidental activation, but it’s always brought the EVF into action by the time your eye is close enough to use the finder.
Regrettably the EVF and rear screen both lack the instantly visible high resolution needed to know whether your image is pin-sharp. Even the far superior finders and screens of the A77 and A99 do not give you the same awareness of this as an optical finder. The good news is that Focus Peaking can be turned on. This really isn’t sensitive or accurate enough unless you magnify the image, and much of the time, you simply don’t have time to do this.
So, the A58 is capable of pin-sharp images and you can be sure under the right conditions with the right technique that you won’t be short changed out the 20 megapixels you expected. But a lot of the time for everyday shooting it’s not very good at getting AF pin-sharp, and those same 20 megapixels do their best to show any error clearly.
In practical situations, ISO 400 is as noise-free as ISO 100 and gives you the chance to use a smaller aperture for more depth of field. The 18-55mm SAM II lens is not very sharp at 55mm wide open, and it proved optimistic to expect f/6.3 or f/7.2 to be much better. The old ‘one stop down for zooms’ rule works well enough. The 20 megapixel sensor shows signs of slightly softening at f/11 so the sweet spot for me has to be around f/9 or f/10.
The A58 has slightly warm tones overall and pinkish flesh colour
The RX100 on the same scene is more neutral or cool
You can click the images above for full size versions (same applies to all those shown in link frames like this).
As for colour, you’ll be happy if you have always like Canon DSLRs. not so happy if you were either a Sony (sunny!) or Minolta (full spectrum) sensor colour fan. This sensor shows every sign of having relatively weak RGB colour filters and a non-linear response, with underexposed shadows on higher ISOs in daylight tending towards magenta. It’s rather too easy to get putty-pink skin tones and a certain lack of subtelty in sky gradations, though blues and greens are not bad. Subjects like red flowers test the colour discrimination of the sensor to the limit.
It’s truly intense – but is it realistic? Camera profiles for raw conversion may tame this.
Let’s just say that every other current Sony Alpha model, and many past ones, will yield more visible difference between close hues. This is what you might expect from the more densely populated 20 megapixel sensor but, as ever, I’m left wondering why the little RX100 seems able to yield better colour (whatever DxOMark.com may say – but they also put the low light ability of the RX100 way below its actual performance).
At present there are no camera profiles available when converting files using Adobe Camera Raw, and the Adobe Standard colour seems to handle reds from the A58 badly (this is why I refer to Canon – the reds look much the same as problem Canon reds of the past). I don’t believe that red paint, red clothes, red street signs and red flowers are all are one type of red and when clipping warning is turned on, almost all the reds clip.
Shutter and flash
The shutter of the A58 is able to synchronise short-duration fast triggered flash, such as a thyristor camera top gun, up to 1/250th on manual without any shutter curtain clipping; at 1/320th, a shadow intrudes slightly on the frame. This is a better performance than indicated in the specifications, but for studio flash (mains powered) I would recommend working at 1/125th and for Sony/Minolta dedicated flash at 1/160th.
The shutter itself does not operate or make any noise whatsoever until AFTER the picture is captured when you use ‘Electronic First Curtain ON’ setting. The capping shutter blind has a cycle (close and return) of approximately 230ms overall in single frame mode resetting the camera ready for the next shot, or 115ms for continuous shooting which fits in with 8 frames a second fastest (cropped) frame rate. If you use the mechanical first shutter curtain, this adds exactly 50ms or 1/20th of a second to your release lag, which is not as easy to measure but seems to be in the order of only 20ms (1/50th).
Overall, this makes the A58 one of the most hair-trigger responsive cameras you can possibly own for capturing action – or would if the AF were faster and more reliable. Pre-set focus, use manual exposure, and you can trigger exposures with this camera as fast as you can think – just like the A99.
With its built-in flash or dedicated Sony flash, there’s the usual small delay caused by preflash. You may think the shot is being delayed more, because the shutter operates after the exposure, and then as the finder returns to life you get about 1/30th of a second of ‘review’ of the shot taken even with the 2s or 5s (etc) image review disabled. This happens all the time with the camera, the first frame or two of the finder refresh is a fleeting glimpse of your captured shot, and it’s useful. With flash you may be viewing a dark scene, the finder itself is blacked out when your flash fires, but this sudden bright image looks almost like a delayed flash through the eyepiece. Of course it is not, this is just an impression.
The built-in pop up flash becomes a rather aggressive AF illuminator when flash is active and the camera has trouble finding enough light for an AF lock. You certainly do see the effect of this through the finder, a surprisingly long and bright burst of light. It must drain the battery fast.
Flash exposure, long a problem with Alphas, seems predictable. A pile of black camera bags produces a full exposure (histogram hitting the buffers at the right hand end) while a white paper document in the middle of the frame results in one stop under. No doubt users will find specific flashguns or situations which produce wildcard exposure. That’s why you should always enable DRO+ Automatic or something like level 3 when shooting with flash. This dynamic range contrast optimisation process can produce great flash pictures out of the camera but remember it only works well at lower ISO settings, do not go over 800 and expect DRO+ to keep you smooth noise-free image.
The A58 appears to allow DRO to be used at higher ISOs, which earlier cameras often lock out because of its effect on shadow noise. However, both the printed manual and the downloadable handbook contain many inaccuracies and ambiguities; even Sony’s specification for the camera on-line has problems, listing standard and magnified views in the finder instead of eyepiece glass and surround against the two eye-point figures.
Wireless flash operates in the usual way, with the pop-up flash acting as a commander once paired by first fitting the remote flash, turning on, selecting WL Flash mode, and removing the remote. This is now a 20-year old Minolta technology updated – something which took Canon fifteen years to catch up with, after which they progressed further. The Alpha wireless flash works but it’s frozen in time. At least, with the optional adaptor, you can use earlier Minolta and Sony flashguns of the HS(D) generation and later.
HS is the high speed burst mode (long duration resembling continuous light) and the A58 can use HS flash at all shutter speeds up to 1/4,000th. The A58 has a useful Slow Sync function which delivers and automatic dragged shutter setting according to the available light, and a Rear Curtain sync as well. The camera may, with the built-in flash, switch to a slow longer recycling time even if you load a fresh battery when shooting flash intensively. This is to prevent the camera (not the flash) from overheating.
One reason I obtained an A58 to look at was because Ian Cartwright, a friend of mine who shoots models and babies underwater, had obtained an Alpha 580 on my advice to replace an A350 only to find that this camera forces a strange blackout delay of almost half a second when using any dedicated flash. The A350’s otherwise similar Quick Live View does not have this peculiar firmware fault. I can confirm that the A58 fires in real time, and unlike either of the other two models, can be used with PocketWizard or an infrared trigger. That’s because the finder view can be switched to ‘Setting Effect OFF’ which defeats exposure simulation and gives you a bright view even in manual with setting like 1/125 and f/11 under dim modelling or ambient light. The A58 can be used in the studio as easily as the A99, because of its ISO hot shot compatibility and this feature.
For this studio shot I chose not to use flash, it was lit by my Interfit 3200 tungsten outfit (great for video) instead. The colour rendering matters little because the image is adjusted in processing to give this look.
As to whether you would ever want to use an EVF camera for studio work, that’s another matter. I have bought a replacement Alpha 900 after three months trying to use EVF for studio set-ups and temporarily reverting to my A700. It’s not just the quality of what you see when composing and adjusting your studio shot (stray hairs over a face or a clothing fibre landing on your still life are just not visible with EVF) it’s the need to have power saving permanently turned off to keep the screen or finder awake as you do all the lighting and reflectors, background and subject adjustments. Nothing is more annoying than having to half-press the shutter to wake up your camera every time you go back to check – and with the A58, the shutter release is so light it’s easy to take a shot instead of waking the finder view.
The A99 can be used tethered and plugged in to AC, with a USB cable to a remote capture Mac or PC, and a live feed to an HDTV monitor. Do that and the business of setting up and adjusting a studio shoot becomes far easier with live view. I just don’t do enough work of any kind to justify that, it’s quicker to keep using the old familiar glass prism. It looks as if the A58 can be used the same way, joining the A77 and A99 by having PC Remote capability and HDMI previewing, while the A900/850/700 are the only other choices in Alpha history able to use PC Remote.
This does open the door to using a netbook, for example, as an intervalometer timer or remote release. There is no App for iOS or Android but the PC Remote control panel is well designed to fit a smartphone. There is no Wifi in the camera (it has good compatibility with EyeFi cards, invoking special display icons).
Due to the softness and lack of AF sensitivity of the 18-55mm SAM II lens, my couple of quick test videos in real situations were not stunning but also not too bad. The sound quality is reasonable without plugging in my Rode Video Mic, stabilisation of video is very good indeed, and by using the dedicated video setting I was able to set my own shutter and aperture. You can also lock out the movie button except when the mode dial is set to video, preventing accidental video clips.
If you want the camera for video, either the 18-135mm SAM lens or even better the 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM (quiet fast focus) will do much better than the 18-55mm. The A58 lacks the highest quality video encoding of the A77 and A99, but you can get the vital requirement of 25/30fps at 1080p, the second highest level found on other Alphas. The clip above is at best quality with the 18-55mm; it took some fairly extreme action (the car driving right towards the lens) to persuade the AF to bother to try to track, most of the time it was telling me, hey, that’s good enough, no need to refocus… or even focus to start with.
Although the A58 has been trimmed down in some ways, other aspects have been improved, compared to past entry-level cameras. There is no wireless remote drive mode, and no 2sec self-timer, so unless you buy the unusual Micro USB wired release you have to use a 10sec timer for shake-free tripod work.
Bracketing is only three frames, but the range is now large – 0.3EV, 0.7EV, 1EV, 2EV or 3EV steps. HDR Auto can also use a 6EV span (±3EV). You can not control the auto ISO range, but it’s a reasonable 100-3200. If you shoot JPEG and choose multishot noise reduction, an auto 6400 may be selected, and some of the Scene modes may also enter this range. But if you shoot raw, you have to select ISOs from 4000 to 160,000 manually which makes them harder to get by mistake.
There are many picture effects, both single and multi-shot, in the A58. One of the more interesting is Rich Tone Black and White, which uses three shots to build a gradation resembling a traditional darkroom print.
The sensor does not appear to support sub-frames, or cropped raw files, in the same way the A99 or Nikon D600 can do. The maximum frame rate for continuous shooting is 5fps for full size raws, but the buffer is minimal and the best I could get was four frames in a burst before a major pause and intermittent resumption, never at 5fps. On raw you get click-click-click, off to make coffee, click, take a walk round the block, click, remember to turn the lights off before going to bed. It’s that bad. JPEG Fine, which delivers 4 frames at 5fps, then becomes intermittent and variable in capture speed but a little faster than raw.
To get anything better, you must convert the camera into a 5 megapixel 3X factor (2X crop of the 1.5X sensor) by setting it to T8 (Tele 8fps) continuous mode on the main control dial. This delivers about 8.1fps for 24 frames on a 95MB/s SanDisk card, then slows to capture around 5-6fps in a regular pattern of two frames at 8fps, hesitation, two more and so on. On a slower card, Transcend SDHC, I got 12 frames continuous and a slower more regular tail. Memory card speed is clearly critical for getting the best from the A58.
Since you can’t get a 5MB cropped raw, exactly how this mode functions is a bit of a mystery as JPEG images are produced via an intermediate raw file – that’s how things work. So inside the camera, 24 frames can be processed and cropped in 2 seconds – but it can’t even manage one second of unprocessed raws at 5fps. This indicates the processor is fast and the input buffer big enough, it’s the output buffer and card interface which causes the bottleneck. Card interfaces and drive assemblies are third party products normally bought in by the camera maker, while the main processor is their own (or a dedicated design based on a Fujitsu module or other OEM).
This camera is extremely low cost and I think this is simply one area where cost savings ended up reducing what could have been a great specifiction and performance.
Digital and Clear Image Zoom
The A58 has a Zoom button, like a Cyber-shot DSC RX100’s zoom control that goes beyond the mechanical range of the zoom. Since you can’t go beyond the zoom on the lens itself, you go to the tele extreme, press the zoom button and a bar appears on the displays. Up to 1.4X magnification, you get a cropped shot (JPEG only) but this crop fills the EVF/screen and is enlarged by interpolation to 20MP. Up to 2X, you get Clear Image Zoom which is profiled or custom interpolation, similar to software packages which can enlarge JPEGs better if they have a profile for the camera used. Up to 4X, the rest is ordinary Digital Zoom which means the resulting 20MP image has really been created from a 1.25MP area of the sensor, and it shows.
Fine JPEG, normal shot
Interpolated Zoom 1.4X. 18-55mm at 55mm.
Clear Image at 1.9X (all at f/8)
Digital zoom to 4X.
I made some tests with the 18-55mm and its vague focusing and overall modest quality lowered the bar for the digitally zoomed range. Then I tried with my extremely sharp Sigma 70mm macro. I think the 1.4X range is acceptable for all normal uses, the 2X range is almost acceptable, beyond this the softness overpowers any possible reason to want a 20MP output file. There is a mark on the zoom bar showing the change from resized and Clear Image (1.0-2X) to Digital Zoom (2.0-4.0X) but I was unable to get the zoom to fix on 2.0X, instead it insisted on using 1.9X or 2.1X but placed the 2.1X on the ‘safe’ side of the mark.
70mm macro, raw shot at f/10
Fine JPEG of same ISO 200 shot.
1.4X interpolated zoom.
2X Clear Image zoom
4X Digital Zoom. Still 20MP…
As expected, the A58 has Sony’s excellent sweep panorama mode, and just about every other Sony original technology around from face recognition and smile shutter through to auto framing (an intelligent crop which keeps a copy of your uncropped JPEG too) and AF object tracking. Its Intelligent Auto and Super Auto modes will serve the beginner and general family photographer well.
The A58 has sensor cleaning and does vibrate the sensor on shutdown, not on switch on; this is not listed in the specification, which just mentions the anti-static coating. Manual cleaning is possible and Sony make two notes of interest – they advise blower cleaning the back of the mirror before lowering it (so clean both this and the sensor in one step) and they say that you can not shoot with the mirror raised. My camera had no sensor spots on delivery.
The A58 shares with the NEX-6 and Cyber-shot DSC RX1 the new Multi Function Shoe, and some of the accessories for this shoe are futureware. All these cameras lack the GPS found in the A99. The Multi Function Shoe’s interface includes pins to connect a GPS device and record location data as you shoot.
Despite my affection for the robust qualities of the little Alpha 55, the Alpha 58 does more and when armed with my 16-80mm CZ lens makes a good travel camera. For that, I want to have GPS. So of all the possible future accessories for the shoe, this is the one I hope Sony will produce soon. Other possible accessories are a Wifi remote shooting module (the interface could allow image preview remotely) and a PocketWizard or similar wireless flash trigger. The shoe interface might even enable uncompressed video streaming to external recording devices, or back up between the camera and an external SD card or USB stick. It can also feed an external larger video monitor or a mic/headphone module which might have auto gain over-ride for sound recording – or perhaps these functions may be combined one day in a video/audio adaptor.
These are the prospects which this one change in the Alpha system brings, yet there is no sign that Sony is rolling out MFAS accessories. It’s also true that each camera’s own MFAS may have missing pins, or differently assigned pins (that would be seriously bad planning). You can not, for example, use the EVF of the RX1 on the A99 shoe, though both cameras have 24 megapixel sensors and the same EVF display resolution. The camera does not recognise it.
Made in Thailand – not a bad thing, and Thailand has a big camera industry with Nikon, Sony and others. But this does feel like the lowest cost, most pared-down offering ever in the Sony DSLR/SLT lineage.
Changing the market
It is a pity that a camera with a brand new sensor and many advanced features and functions should ever have been designed down to the lowest price-level by reducing the specification of far too many components, from the lens mount and body itself to the displays and the buffer and card interface.
Sony’s manual and general approach to the camera menus and built-in help indicate that it’s targeted at what Americans would call a ‘soccer mom’ market. Well, your own kids are always beautiful even if the rest of the internet community groans inwardly every time another snapshot of infant overfeeding is posted to support how wonderful dad’s new camera is. They are always polite and agree.
Same goes for this camera – for those who acquire it as a new addition to the family, it will be the best thing ever made. And in some ways they will be right, nothing else comes close for the money. Unlike the sprogs, the Alpha 58 has inherited many desirable genes but suffered from malnutrition during its gestation. It could have been a robust, capable semi-pro camera in the tradition of the A580, the last Sony Alpha to have an optical finder.
Perhaps the 20 megapixel sensor will appear in a higher level body. How about an A68? For me that would be close to home (look it up on a UK road map!).
We shall be sending Frank Doorhof one of our original and rare Alpha Male T-shirts, in black, though I’m not sure we have anything quite large enough to fit him – which goes for his personality too. He’s a great workshop presenter, overcoming technical problems by just cracking on with whatever will work best. At Edinburgh for The Flash Centre’s full day fashion seminar with Frank on May 24th, the last thing I expected was to be using the same camera as Frank. All workshop leaders use Canon, right?
Frank now uses Sony Alpha 99, and he had a lot to say about it. Since we already know the benefits of the Alpha system and the current Sony full frame 24MP sensor with its extreme 14-bit dynamic range, most of what he said was not new, but it’s rare to hear a course leader extol the virtues of a system which not one of his delegates (apart from me) was using. He did rather talk down the value of CZ lenses (while using a 24-70mm CZ) and praised the quality of his vintage Minolta 85mm f/1.4 and 35-200mm xi, but I can’t argue with that as I’ve made similar decisions. Indeed, the 35-200mm owes much of its reputation to results we published seven years ago. I was beating him at his own game by using my SAM 28-75mm f/2.8 – cheaper by half than the CZ 24-70mm, and extremely sharp.
We had a rare sunny clear day in a run of mixed weather, though it was cold and windy on the roof terrace of the Glasshouse Hotel in central Edinburgh. The location provided strong backgrounds and details. Simon Burfoot and Chris Whittle from The Flash Centre brought along the Ranger (battery location) and Ranger Quadra (lightweight version) flash systems with Elinchrom Skyport wireless triggers. Of course, in the past if you turned up to a workshop with an Alpha body, you were unable to use the wireless flash connection unless you also remembered to bring a standard hotshoe adaptor. With the A99 (and NEX-6, RX1 and future models) the new Alpha multi function accessory shoe works directly with triggers.
Frank put everything into using just one light source, and used no reflectors, aiming instead for dramatic lighting by underexposing the main scene but lifting his model subject Nadine by local flash. This was achieved with the 44cm rigid square softbox, newly re-introduced to the Elinchrom system (I have used the original grey one for over 20 years – you only need to buy these expensive accessories once in a lifetime). Fitted with a honeycomb but no diffusing scrim, the single lighting head with this light shaper put a tightly controlled pool of light on to his subject. Though it’s easy to use digital SLRs as a pre-test light metering and flash balancing method, Frank works with a Sekonic flash and ambient light meter able to take incident, reflected and partial spot readings. It is very similar to the discontinued classic Minolta Flashmeter IV/V, with the same 1/10th stop accuracy and display of contrast and memorised values. If I was doing this type of work, I would use my Flashmeter IV, but I would also use its calibration function to match it to specific ISO settings on the A99.
Frank’s wife Annewiek used multiple video cameras to film the workshop, as Frank provides his on-line tutorial material through Scott Kelby’s training site. Here you can see one set-up as he explains how he’s seeing the location, addressing the used of the glass window wall, avoiding unwanted reflections, placing Nadine in the shade then adding the flash to match an underexposed daylight scene. To achieve the required settings, he used ISO 100 at apertures around f/16 to f/22, with a 1/160th shutter speed, and mechanical first curtain shutter. I also followed these settings, which are not kind to sensor dust spots. Anyone using a Nikon D600 would have been in serious trouble! Even my ‘clean’ A99 which never needs any spot removal at my regular optimum working apertures between f/8 and f/13 showed a few visible spots at f/18. I would have used ISO 50, which I consider to be an advantage of the A99, and trusted shutter speeds to 1/250th with this camera for flash sync. But Frank was dealing with photographers some of whom had cameras incapable of shooting at less than ISO 200 or synchronising with studio flash at 1/250th without a slight second curtain crop to the frame. It would not have been fair to demonstrate using the advantages of the Alpha 99…
I did have in my bag, and normally carry, a 4X ND filter. With the Alpha 99, fitting an ND filter has absolutely zero effect on the viewfinder brightness, or the quality of view in sunlight. After all, sunshine with a 4X ND is just like a cloudy day in brightness, and you have no problems on a cloudy day. You can work with an ND just as ‘transparently’ as you can use an UV filter. An alternative would have been to use a polarising filter, which can also enhance the dramatic ‘dark sky – bright subject’ mix. However, Frank wisely kept clear of this. Polarisers have some pretty horrible effects on fabrics, skin and hair. Use them on portrait or fashion shots only with great care. Digital sensors are usually able to do deep blue skies without help.
Here’s the Elinchrom Ranger head as used. Frank asked delegates to restrict themselves to three shots per situation, a request generally ignored. I took some before the flash had recycled, to show the effect of the scene without flash, and with flash.
This was my ‘take’ on this setup and it’s probably different from most as I used a 12-24mm Sigma HSM lens at 12mm. Now Frank did not explain to the photographers how he was using his electronic viewfinder, and I didn’t ask, but I’m sure he had it set to over-ride manual setting gain, as he was shooting on manual (M) with a degree of underexposure that would have made the finder extremely dark. I didn’t change my setting and though for all the other situations I was able to compose well enough, for this set-up my EVF showed nothing but solid black where the model was. As a result, I did not see what an ungainly shape was made by the extreme angle of the 12mm lens for a couple of poses.
The left hand side is very much how my finder looked. I don’t like this result, but I could not tell until after it was taken. Nadine was changing poses rapidly. This is one case where the optical viewfinder of my Alpha 900 would have been a better choice.
If you have a Sony/Minolta wireless flash set-up, you can overcome this whole problem. Your remote flash would perhaps need a softbox, or more realistically a small umbrella to match Frank’s localised soft flash and also receive the control signal from the on-camera flash. You would simply set the remote flash to Manual power not TTL, set the A99 (or other EVF DSLR) to Aperture Priority (A), set f/20, and rely on the flash’s auto communication with the camera body to set 1/160th flash sync and ignore the ambient light. You can also do the same with a slave cell triggered by a small camera top unit converted to invisible IR using a gel filter or old transparency unexposed film-end. You can not do this with the sync cable (PC socket) or flash triggers, as these connections do not tell the camera there is a charged flash fitted, and set the shutter speed.
Elinchrom! We need, for Sony and other EVF or LCD screen-only cameras, a flash trigger designed to provide a signal to the pin which the camera’s own flash system uses to auto-set flash sync speed when using Aperture priority. When this is live, the viewfinder brightness is set to auto gain regardless of the exposure mode (PASM) used.
For his first set-up, Frank was actually shooting full lengths from a distance with Nadine making a small element in a large view. I liked the structure she was posing under, and prefer in general to get pictures which are not a copy of the course leader’s work. Although this was also slightly underexposed for the background, I had no problem with the EVF when the subject was in a normally lit area.
You may say, the subject was in sunlight anyway, so why use flash? The dual lighting gives a filmic look, like a movie set lit in Californian sunshine (and Scotland’s legendary blue skies complete the illusion). This essentially sidelight from the sun, with a frontal fill you can see most clearly on the fingers of the left hand glove.
For a further set-up, Frank moved to the roof terrace view over the north of Edinburgh towards Leith and the Forth (first image on this page). He had demonstrated sets suitable for normal to wide angle lenses, using the 24-70mm, and switched to the 70-200mm f/2.8 Sony SSM G for a different relationship between the model and the background.
This was the view without flash – not a bad set-up as it stands. When processing my images, I found that the in-camera standard JPEGs of the A99 handled the red of the dress better than almost any setting or camera profile using Adobe Camera Raw. Colours like this are a good case for trying alternative raw converters, such as DxO Optics Pro or Capture One Pro. Their camera profiles are generally closer to the in-camera conversions than Adobe’s. Frank demonstrated how to use the MacBeth ColorChecker Passport colour patch target and its camera profiling software to create an on-the-spot profile for better ACR/LR conversions.
This is the shot with flash, again, in-camera JPEG sRGB. AdobeRGB would retain more potential detail in the red, raw conversion to 16-bit using ProPhotoRGB the maximum. But for that you also need something like a Eizo 10-bit monitor with a matching video driver, and no Apple Mac made comes with that. Build yourself a tower system and it’s just about possible to get 10-bit colour… but not using Mac OSX! My monitor is a regular old 27 inch iMac and if it’s 8-bit it’s having a good day. The colour looks lovely, but accurate it certainly is not. I don’t mind as 99% of all the screens any of my images will ever be seen on are no better, and the printed page is far inferior. Putting the above pictures into print would almost guarantee the differences you see here are lost.
Because the Glasshouse’s rooftop function suite has a white translucent fabric roof, the overhead projector could not be used. So, Frank sat down with his laptop and the photographers. Later on in the day, the group moved to an inside room, and he demonstrated a series of processing steps in Lightroom with special attention to the use of plugins producing Clarity, pseudo-HDR and ‘image look’ and to fashion and beauty retouching.
To read more about Frank’s work, visit his own website www.frankdoorhof.com or follow him via Kelby Training. He regularly does workshop tours. I’ll be reporting on some of his views and hints for professional photographers, specifically, in the June 2013 edition of Master Photography magazine (you can subscribe here for this 10X a year magazine which we also produce).
For more information on the Elinchrom flash system, Skyport wireless triggering and battery powered Ranger/Ranger Quadra location flash, see The Flash Centre website.
Light Shaft and Motion Shot are two new apps for the NEX-5R and NEX-6 – one of which looks almost unacceptable (sure way to get your images disqualified from competitions, however much fun) and the other really innovative, bringing a motion clip function to the NEX range which it was lacking before.
There is also a new version of PlayMemories Online mobile app with Photo Book feature now available
Available to buy from www.sony.net/pmca, both apps let you instantly create a huge range of in-camera picture effects, with no special PC software or image editing skills needed.
Light Shaft adds a ‘dramatic ray of light, like sunshine bursting through cloudy skies’. Position your light source and choose from Ray, Star, Flare or Beam effects then tweak the angle, intensity, length and number of rays. The original photo is automatically saved as a copy alongside the amended version. Now you can say you have been shafted by Sony
Motion Shot ‘identifies your moving subject in a high-speed burst of frames, capturing each moment of the subject’s motion into a single image. Press the shutter button and track the split-second action of that wild snowboarding trick or pole-vault. Freeze the beauty of wild birds landing on a lake or just have fun capturing friends, family and pets on the move. Fine-tune each shot by choosing your sequence length, start/end frames and fade-in or out.’ Alongside the composite image (?), your original frames will be recorded in continuous shooting mode and remain untouched.
New PlayMemories Camera Apps™ for the NEX-5R and NEX-6 are available now in the UK.
PlayMemories Online: New Android app and Photo Book feature
A new Android app* adds fresh features to PlayMemories Online, the photo and video cloud service from Sony. There’s also a new Photo Book feature that lets you have fun creating beautiful online photo books in a few simple steps.
The new app automatically selects memorable shots from all your uploaded photos, organising them by date. Each day you launch the app on your mobile device, you’ll see different photos from the past to rekindle those priceless memories.
Photo Book lets you organise and enjoy all the photos you’ve uploaded to PlayMemories. Just pick the photos that you want to be included into your photo book, select from a choice of eight themes and personalise your photo book with text and decorations. Once your book is ready you can view it at any time on your smartphone, tablet or PC; better still, share all those memories with friends and family by Facebook or e-mail.
Gary has just returned from Malaysia and Singapore, where he was running workshops including one for Sony themselves. He’s also just finished signing off the proofs for the latest Cameracraft quarterly magazine, published by Photoclubalpha’s owners Icon Publications Ltd, edited by David Kilpatrick with Gary as US Associate Editor.
Issue No 3, 2nd Quarter 2013, will be available from the first week of April and includes a great story on Gary’s period working in China, a portfolio proving that pinhole photography does not have be soft and murky, a look at viewpoints and the camera, the best ‘historical battle recreation’ set we’ve ever seen, and more.
Lensmate produce an ultra lightweight filter adapter for the Sony Cyber-shot RX100, as well as selling some related accessories. We ordered from them a filter adapter kit including the 49mm threaded filter ring ($32.95) and to this order added Richard Franiec’s beautiful CNC machined aluminium custom body grip ($34.95) and a JJC Polycarbonate screen protector ($5.95).
The filter holder was the main purchase, but in the end least likely to be used – the grip, on the other hand (the right hand…) will be used for ever. Here’s the content of the filter package:
From the left: 49mm lens cap with retaining lanyard; white box for whole kit; thread for use if the adaptor needs to be removed, together with alcohol wipe for cleaning before fixing; the 49mm adaptor; the lens-mounted adaptor ring (with yellow tape); a circular template, used to position this perfectly. As an alternative or an extra, you can choose a 52mm filter ring.
To do it perfectly the tape should actually be parallel to the camera body. It’s not that important but looks a little neater when fixed. The adhesive is uncovered on the back of the adaptor, it is placed in the centre of the positioning guide, and pressed home. To extend the lens and keep it firm, the camera is switched on, and the battery removed; this leaves the lens in this position. Only light pressure is needed. The yellow tape and the positioning ring are then removed.
The marks visible on the lens were left by the alcohol wipe, and cleaned off afterwards with a lens cleaning wipe. In this shot, the 49mm filter ring is bayonet fitted into place (a little less than a half-turn). The fit is very positive and the action is light but firm. The whole item weighs such a small amount it adds no strain and can be left fitted permanently.
Here are two filters – a 49mm Minolta polariser and a 49mm No 1 Minolta close-up (not a 1 dioptre, but stronger, and a double element achromat with coating – one of the best close-up lenses you can still find around on the used market).
The polariser is flared to allow wide-angle coverage. This makes it ideal for lenses like the NEX SEL 16mm f/2.8. But you can’t fit a lens cap of standard size (it widens out to accept a 57mm push-on, similar to a 55mm screw-in in size).
Lensmate provide a centre pinch fit lens cap with a retaining lanyard. It is not needed as the camera has its own lens cover shutter, but if you fit a filter, you may want to add the cap to protect the filter.
This is a Minolta lens hood for the old MC 45mm f/2 Rokkor. It’s very light and is ideal for the RX1 (we’ve sold a good few of these on eBay for exactly that purpose). There’s no great benefit on the RX100, as the lens flare this camera suffers from is rarely to do with stray light, nearly always with light sources within the frame.
The overall thickness of the adapter for filters is less than 3mm. It does not affect operation. Once fitted you forget it, and it becomes part of the camera, but it must also add some protection.
Here is the closest at wide-angle using the Minolta CU lens.
And this is at the longest focal length (where close focusing is most restricted with the RX100). More powerful close up lenses – this one is about 1.5 dioptre – will produce a more dramatic result.
In the photos above, you’ll see the body shape is rather enhanced. The workout to add this muscle is brief and easy.
Start with a cleaned RX100 body.
Take the Franiec precision grip, and remove the two 3M permanent adhesive release papers.
Position on the camera and firmly press into place. It isn’t going to shift after you do this.
And that’s it. A great product, a perfect finish, and it really does make the RX100 much easier to hold securely. It also tends to position your thumb correctly on the back and your index finger over the shutter. It is perfectly designed and manufactured.
Finally, here is the JJC Polycarbonate (not Gorilla Glass) LCD screen protector.
This is simple enough to fit and one fitted is invisible. The tab for the release paper didn’t work all that well and nor did the tab to remove the protective layer, but a bit of fingernail prising helped peel both off. The adhesive is only round the edge, and the protector can be removed easily.
Beta (release candidate) versions of new Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw can be downloaded free now from Adobe Labs. You won’t get these updates using the normal search for updates in Adobe apps, as they are not the final release and can not be found on Adobe.com Downloads yet.
These updates will work until April 30th by which time there will be a full release version. For Sony users, the updates provide better lens correction for the RX-1, support for the Hasselbad Lunar (NEX-7 based luxury camera), and lens profiles for the new type Sigma 18-250mm HSM Macro and 180mm prime macro lenses. There are also some improvements to the conversion and controls.
Sony has now released full details of the Alpha 58. Although I don’t think the camera is a game-changer or a vital upgrade for owners of Alpha 55 and 57 (the 55 will leave me only when it expires, with its useful GPS, 6fps/10fps and fully articulated reversible rear screen) there are hidden bonuses for anyone investing in the 58.
Firstly, the new OLED finder – probably a step better visually – is a league better in power consumption. The penalty for using the EVF instead of the rear LCD on the Alpha 77 and is siblings has been a sharp reduction in the battery stamina for shots, 470 versus 530 official figures for the 77 as an example. The new finder on the 58 gives a reduction for 700 to 690 – not just an overall improvement, but a minimal difference you can ignore. The smaller, non-reversile tilting rear 2.7″ LCD screen may also be less power-hungry than 3″ types.
Secondly, the camera supports an extended TriLuminos colour gamut. The colour gamut of existing Sony DSLRs and SLTs (and NEX) equipped with HDMI output does not need to exceed AdobeRGB (52.1% of the recognised visual gamut for a ‘Standard Observer’, CIE 1931 vintage). That’s because regular HDTV throws away a stack of this colour, showing only 35.9% of the gamut. That’s why it looks so colourful and bright. The less gamut you show, the brighter and more saturated colours look, for the capabilities of any given display. That may sound the reverse of what you would believe to be the case, until you apply a bit of thought to it.
TriLuminos gamut is the larger triangle, regular HDTV is the smaller (similar to sRGB) while AdobeRGB falls between the two. One colour space you can use when processing raw files – ProPhotoRGB – is so large is exceeds part of the CIE 1931 colour space.
The TriLuminos gamut is massive. Unlike HDTV, it’s bigger than AdobeRGB and much bigger than regular sRGB (what most computer screens can show). It is 75.8% of the CIE 1931 colour space. That, by the way, is simply a standard based on what a bunch of test subjects could perceive back in 1931 and it’s been criticised for failing to include a wide enough range of genetic backgrounds and learned visual abilities. We all see colour differently (men notably with far less accuracy and discrimination than women, young better than old). If you’re a teenage girl you’ll love the TriLuminos displays. If you’re an old bloke you may not notice…
Sony claims that the A58 can output colours to the TriLuminos TV sets which show “a dramatically expanded palette of vivid, ultra-realistic colours when videos and still images (are played back)”. In theory since AdobeRGB (offered by all Sony models to date) would already show an expanded palette, this might not mean any big change in the sensor. But TriLuminos uses a colour space which requires 12-bit depth and it can’t be used effectively unless the sensor itself is going beyond the range of AdobeRGB. You can’t get out what you do not put in. Then again, if you’re using a normal printer or computer, you can’t get it out anyway. The camera captures colours you can’t see on its own rear screen, in its viewfinder, on your computer screen or in a print.
We can therefore deduce that the Bayer filter colours on the new 20 megapixel sensor may be changed, along with the BIONZ processing and the JPEG colour management and compression (after all, the JPEGs will still be 8-bit and going beyond AdobeRGB risks significant banding in smooth graded colours such as skyn blues). Sony say this is the first ever A-mount camera to offer this colour ability. Will DxO Mark have to change their colour measurements to cope with it?
It is possible the sensor has no colour gamut benefits and that all Sony is doing is expanding AdobeRGB (or the native gamut, which is close enough to AdobeRGB) to fill the wider space of the TriLuminos TV screens, making certain colours appear dramatic in the process, but not realistic. Obviously what we should all hope for is that this improvement starts with the sensor itself.
Since the NEX-3n (possibly not the camera rumoured by Nippon Camera as NEX-F3R) also offers TriLuminos extended gamut but has a regular 16 megapixel sensor, I’m going to have to wait to see what the real colour science experts at DxO, and our various friends in Russia with special knowledge of this field, find. We do have a resident colour scientist but sadly none of the gear needed to analyse this properly.
Whatever the case, we appear to be getting a camera whose new 20 megapixel sensor will have significantly better power consumption which almost certainly also means lower heat generation, in turn meaning lower noise and longer ‘safe’ durations for video. Sony is gearing up for the next phase of HDTV – 4K – and the UHDTV beyond this going to 8K. They will eventually need to produce 39 megapixel sensors for uninterpolated 8K, and this will be the target for both APS-C/Super35 and full-frame between now and 2015 when the industry expects to see the first 8K UHDTV retail sales (those in the UK, don’t hold your breath, we’re likely only to get 4K and may not see that become the standard until 2020).
Nikon has stolen an interesting march by enabling a 1.3X, 15 megapixel crop for 7fps shooting in the new 24 megapixel D7100 – a very useful size almost equal to a 2X crop from full frame. Sony has an unspecified ‘tele-zoom’ feature in the A58 to achieve 8fps. But no-one has so far been able to reveal what the tele-zoom crop is; Sony’s ‘technical specifications’ so far released for the A58 are minimal.
If the same 24.1 megapixel, AA-filter-less sensor is used in an A78 (as some rumour sites think likely) then perhaps sub-frame readout aka tele-zoom will be implemented on that too.
The A58 has a new 18-55mm SAM lens with improved build quality and a redesign to the rear element configuration. Sony says this is to avoid ghosting. We’d be surprised if it was not also to change the exit pupil geometry slightly, in order to work better with current and future phase-detection on sensor models.
The Japanese industry magazine, Nippon Camera, has posted its calendar of new product releases for 2013. This does not include the Alpha 58, a 20-megapixel revision of the 57 which is not expected to make any significant difference to the choices for DSLR/SLT system owners (that is – it’s not likely to be an imperative choice).
The A58 has already been previewed by some websites, but no opinion has any meaning until the sensor has been thoroughly tested. It may be significantly better than the 24 megapixel sensor in some ways, and better than the 16 megapixel sensor; or it may just be a compromise which has neither the clear benefit of low light performance, or ultimate resolution.
In March, a NEX-7R is expected – this, following Sony numbering, will be a 7 with on-sensor PDAF added and compatible with the revised and new lenses which work with on-sensor PDAF in the NEX-5R and NEX-6. The next month, a budget model NEX-F3R will complete this compatibility at entry level.
The model numbers given by Nippon Camera are different from those rumoured on the web. 7n would indicate no PDAF on sensor, no touch screen where 7R would indicate both. Either way, a new 7 will have the new Multi Function Accessory shoe. F3R indicates built-in flash, PDAF and touch-screen.
In September, Sony is tabled to launch a NEX-9. This is widely assumed, because of the numbering consistency shown so far, to be a full-frame (probably 24 megapixel) NEX E-mount body just as the VG-900E video camera is a full frame E-mount aimed at that market. We believe that Sony will either bundle an Alpha mount adaptor with the 9, as Canon has done for EF lenses with the EOS M, or will wait until the first flush of sales is complete before using this as a price/value incentive.
Listing this as plain NEX-9 may not mean it’s lacking the ‘n’ or ‘r’ or other aspects. After all, the NEX-6 has almost everything new and it’s a plain 6. So a 9 may also have more functions than the VG-900E.
However, it’s very hard to beat Canon’s approach – at airport duty free last week, Canon’s EOS M was selling for £499 complete with kit 18-55mm lens, EOS EF/EF-S lens adaptor, and a medium powered bounce flash.
Nippon Camera does not place any further NEX or Alpha models on their 2013 calendar of predicted launches, despite every indication there should be further A-mount models.
New lenses announced this week include an 18-55mm SAM II (updated focus motor for better PDAF on sensor, hopefully improved optical and mechanical design); a Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar SSM at a very high retail price; and a revised 70-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM II, again probably optimised for on-sensor PDAF performance.
With new firmware for the Alpha 77 and 99 and most current models now up for download, the promised rush of new firmware is probably complete. The Alpha 77 firmware has errors in the web page for Europe, referring to the Alpha 57 and showing pictures of the 57. This is probably because the page has been based on another used as a template. The firmware, we can confirm, is for A77 and updates correctly.
Note that when using a Windows PC, 64-bit doesn’t work with Windows 8. You have to read the asterisk info carefully to see this. Mac OSX 10.8.x Mountain Lion does work in 64-bit and there is no need to reboot to do the upgrades; older Mac systems must be in 32-bit mode.
The firmware is specified as updating the on-board lens correction list, and for the A99 (v1.01) the ability to use sensor assisted PDAF with some lenses: Provides support for the following ”Dual AF” function compliant lenses:
SAL24F20Z, SAL85F14Z, SAL135F18Z, SAL70300G, SAL70200G, SAL35F14G, SAL1635Z, SAL100M28, SAL50M28, SAL85F28, SAL300F28G Provides support for the following automatic compensation compliant lenses:
SAL100M28, SAL50M28, SAL85F28, SAL18200, SAL20F28, SAL28F28
You can find the A77, 99 updates and some other software via these links:
To find the updates for other cameras change the URLs to include SLT-A57 (to version 1.04), SLT-A65 (to version 1.07), SLT-A37 (to 1.04). There are no updates for the A33, A35, or A37 and no updates for DSLR models such as the A580.
There are also firmware updates for the NEX series, including the 5N:
Makes “SELP1650” retract immediately after turning off the camera
Improves autofocus operation stability
Enhancement of AF response: When subject distance changes enormously.
Improved stability in certain camera operations:
When setting [Lens Compensation: Distortion] “Auto” and [Picture Effect] “Miniature” at the same time.
When setting [Exposure Compensation], [Intelligent AF] operation improves.
Again, to find your updates, just change the model number – there are updates for the NEX-F3, NEX-5R, NEX-6, NEX-7 but not for the NEX-3, NEX-C3 or NEX-5. Improvements are given in the instructions and include correction for the 16-50mm on all cameras.
There is one software update – Alpha 99 compatible Remote Control 3 (USB control, shooting and image transfer from PC or Mac) is now released:
The same software can also be used as before (RC2) with Alpha 700, 900 and 850, reinforcing the value of these excellent DSLRs which were Sony’s three most professionally specified optical viewfinder models in their time (2007-2009) and remain so. The Alpha 77 is not supported. Settings can be changed on your computer, the camera can be triggered, and the resulting files stored on the computer.
RC3 is a stand-alone program now and does not require to be part of the Image Data Suite. It is Mac OS 10.8 (Mountain Lion, on Intel systems) and Windows 8 compatible (but not 64-bit Windows 8).
There is also a NEX lens firmware update, which can only be installed using an updated NEX-6 or NEX-5R (not a 7, or any other model).
Each lens is a separate updater so you need a well-charged battery and a little patience in order to update all your lenses. At the time of checking, there are no firmware updates for the LA-EA1, LA-EA2 or LA-EA3 Alpha lens adaptors for NEX.