I guess that Zeiss must be working right now on full frame Touit lenses, because this is unprecedented value for those able to buy in dollars without steep shipping charges, duties or taxes – however, the links they emailed out today led to a wrong page on their USED section, and after a lot of digging to get the right URL, the offer is needless to say on back order – and B&H are taking a Jewish holiday from June 3rd to 5th so you’d better jump in quickly before close of biz on June 2nd.
BOTH the Carl Zeoss Touit 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 lenses for the E-mount for only $919 from B&H with free US expedited shipping (they do not cover full frame and I’ve tested them and found a fairly tight image circle). They are stunningly good for NEX-7, NEX-6, A6000, A3000, A5000.
Here are the actual image circles of the three Touit lenses (12mm, 32mm and 50mm f/2.8 macro which is not in this deal) on A7R, without applying any distortion or vignetting correction. All the lenses have an Adobe profile and in the case of the 12mm this enlarges the image circle substantially. Normally, this means the lens is a true 12mm equivalent with the profile applied and the actual focal lenth could be closer to 10.5mm.
First, the Touit 12mm without lens profile
Now, the Touit same shot but converted from raw applying the built-in lens profile (conclusion – the profile applies to an APS-C frame and does little good to the outer field on full frame – you are better off using the lens without the profile, including on APS-C, if you want maximum wide-angle coverage)
Then the 32mm f/1.8 on the A7R (like the shot above, at full aperture – image circles generally do not get larger when you stop down, if the edge is as well-defined as these Zeiss lenses)
Finally, the 50mm f/2.8 macro to complete the reference. All pictures taken from behind the counter of the Carl Zeiss stand at The Photography Show – hence the great lighting and subject-matter…
You have until November 3rd to grab a free download of a truly excellent utility for Mac OSX, created by DxO Optics Pro software team – DxO Perspective. It normally costs $19.95 (or local equivalent) as an Apple App store download, but they have made it free for a few days. It’s a fully working, standard version with no time limit.
“DxO Perspective corrects all kinds of perspective problems, even the most complex. Using its Rectangle tool, when a photo contains two perspective flaws, DxO Perspective’s Rectangle tool immediately reestablishes a full-frontal view of the object — essential when shooting a photo of a poster or painting! In 8-point correction mode, DxO Perspective handles even more complex perspectives: the independent placing of horizontal and vertical guidelines provides highly precise corrections on multiple planes.”
We can vouch for that. Here’s the software window with a straight shot, uncorrected, Sigma 12-24mm zoom on Alpha 99 at 12mm.
Now on this example, you have a choice of adding points to correct both vertical and horizontal perspective (four indexes clicked/moved) which I have done if you examine the faint blue lines, and this will produce an extreme result:
However, for this example, you would normally onle correct the verticals and omit the four-square connections. This produces a natural result relative to any other correction method:
This is a 100% correction. DxO Perspective lets you reduce the degree of correction. Here is what they describe as a ‘natural’ look, 75% strength:
I preferred the result between 90 and 95% correction.
You may ask how this differs from Adobe Camera Raw lens correction perspective control, or similar functions within Photoshop (without using special plug-ins). First, DxO Perspective is a stand alone program and does not need Photoshop, it only requires a JPEG to select and work on. Secondly, here’s the result from ACR/LR type correction, kept slightly on the ‘natural’ side of :
The greatest difference is that DxO Perspective makes automatic corrections to the vertical aspect and retains the sense of height, at the same time ensuring that the sky is not compressed.
So, enjoy this free download until November 3rd 2013.
At the same time, from 12.00 midnight Eastern Standard Time on October 31st, B&H in New York announced a drop in the price of the Bower (aka Samyang) 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens for NEX, MicroFourThirds, Samsung NX, Nikon, Canon EOS, Pentax and Alpha mounts – down to as little as $209 for Alpha or NEX:
Buy through this link and you support Photoclubalpha in a small way without paying anything extra yourself (indeed, buy any other B&H item after following this link and it will help us).
Here is some advice. The NEX model is basically an Alpha mount optical assembly with a permanently built in extension tube. We advise you to buy the Alpha version, as this is a manual focus manual aperture unchipped lens – use a NEX to Alpha adaptor, doesn’t have to be the expensive official LA-EA1 as this lens uses none of the connections. Then you have a lens which can be used on two systems.
DxO Perspective does not offer a de-fishing function but we’d make a guess that this would be a likely upgrade to the program in the near future and that’s why they are giving it away. DxO Optics Pro software itself is, after all, famous for the inclusion of lens profiles before any of the other programs (or cameras) got this facility.
SIGMA is going to start a new “Mount Conversion Service” which will enable Sigma to convert the mount of customers’ Sigma Art, Sports and Contemporary lenses from one camera fitting to another.
The ranges convertible include the new Sports models such as the 120-300mm f/2.8
“We believe that a lens is not only such a key device for photographic expression, but also an important resource for photographers”, they say. “It has been our hope to develop the lens system that is genuinely photographer-centered, and you can enjoy it for a longer period of time. As an experienced lens manufacturer that has been creating a diverse range of interchangeable lenses, our desire and know-how is crystalized in this unique service. With this service, the mount of your SIGMA lenses can be converted to another mount system, depending on the specification of camera bodies. This service will be available from September, 2013.”
Editor’s comment – this feature of the new Sigma lens designs was not even mentioned at photokina 2012. They have kept something under wraps which must have been planned from a very early date. The main lens unit of all Sigmas in these series has to be effectively independent of the mount, with electronic protocol conversion chips to handle aperture and focus operation while different rear assemblies change the bayonet.
“Interchangeable lens camera systems appear to be superior in offering photographers more options, allowing them to change lenses freely and have more flexible photographic expression”, states the Sigma release. “Nevertheless, each interchangeable lens is limited with the specification of different camera systems. In other words, you can’t use those lenses if you change it from one type to another. Although lenses are the key devices to create photographic expression, it is a shame that there is no system that purely sets the standard based on the functions and individual qualities of interchangeable lenses.
“In this circumstance, SIGMA is going to start the “Mount Conversion Service” from 2nd September 2013. Our goal is to provide more freedom for photographers so that they can select new camera bodies without worrying about the conventional limitation around the mount system of cameras, and keep on using their current lenses by adjusting them to fit with a new mechanism.”
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!).
Sigma Imaging, already one of our favourite lens makers, has announced upgrades and new functions for their entire system which will transform the way it works with all the major camera systems.
The new DC 17-70mm f/2.8-4 – DC (APS-C format) lenses have never been given the EX designation, even when they clearly matched the EX specifications. Now the EX name and its exterior finish are both going, replaced by one standard for all formats, and one finish.
The entire Sigma range is being restyled, with a new finish, and the old distinctions between EX DG and other lens ‘grades’ are disappearing. “All our lenses have become what we once called EX”, said Graham Armitage of Sigma UK, at photokina. “The demands made by digital systems with higher resolutions mean we have to produce perfect lenses for all the formats from MicroFourThirds to APS-C and full frame.
“Our greatest breakthrough is in MTF testing. We have designed new MTF equipment, which will be used on the production of new lenses from now on. The MTF testing system we use for development is too slow to be used in production, and we have had our own Bayer sensor based system for this purpose. But it was not proving high enough resolution for new camera sensors like the D800.
“Now we have built our own MTF testing system, based on the 46 megapixel Foveon Merrill sensor used in the latest cameras. This allows a much better MTF tests. It will be used to test the sharpness of every new lens that Sigma manufacturers.”
We asked Graham if this would only apply to expensive professional teles, zooms and specialist lenses. “No, it will apply to all lens types”, he said. “We have been able to use the data from the Foveon sensor based tests to improve the performance of all our lenses.” Because the sensor is true RGB not Bayer much better information about chromatic aberration has been gathered and Sigma is feeding this back into the design and manufacture process.
The new lenses have a robust feel, with machined metal barrel and mount components (a current trend for many lens makers) and a slightly soft-looking matt or silk finish. All Sigma lenses are assembled by hand, in Japan, using traditional construction methods.
But the most exceptional advance has been made inside the new lenses – sadly, it can’t be retro fitted to older ones.
The USB ‘dock in a cap’ has an LED activity indicator and we handled the real thing. This photo looks a bit over-retouched.
All new Sigma lenses will be compatible with a USB-connected dock allowing firmware updates to be made by the user. Sigma has honoured its relationship with users for decades by upgrading the chips inside lenses free of charge whenever the protocols used by camera makers created an incompatibility. Now they have developed a way in which users can do this themselves without the lens having to be returned or ‘operated on’ in a workshop.
“The USB dock will cost about the same as a filter”, Graham told us. I suggested this could mean £50. He indicated I was on the high side. This dock device, which resembles a thick rear lens cap, might be £30 or so.
“It does more than just upgrade the chip”, he continued. “With a PC program, you will be able to change the focusing speed of the lens. All AF systems are a compromise, a balance between speed and accuracy. You will be able to set the lens to suit your working style, increasing the focus speed if you shoot action or improving accuracy if you take subjects like landscapes and portraits.
“All DSLRs have problems with front and back focus. Some cameras offer AF calibration, but not all allow you to have different corrections for each focal length of the zoom lens and for different focusing distances. Using our program, you will be able to calibrate new Sigma lenses for the full range of settings so you don’t get front or back focus at any distance or focal length.
“Not only that, with new telephoto and macro lenses you will also be able to change the distance ranges used by focus limiter switches.”
The new-style 120-300mm f/2.8 – one of the first lenses compatible with the USB programming system, allowing perfect tuning of front and back focus corrections across the zoom and focus distance range.
This function sounds familiar, indeed it’s almost what the new Sony Alpha 99 offers with a restricted range of Sony lenses – on-camera setting of focus range limits. The difference with the Sigma option is that future lenses with a range setting switch can each have their individual far, middle and near limits set and there will be no need to go into camera menus to change the setting when shooting.
Along with Sigma’s recently introduction of nano-type hard coatings which resist water and dirt, their improvements in environmental and dust sealing of lenses, we look forward to testing Sigma products in future and finding them close to the blueprint for the optical design. These innovations draw a line between existing generations of Sigma lenses and the future, as they can’t be fitted to older models. They also take Sigma yet one more step ahead of the camera makers’ own aspirations.
Sigma has always shown the industry what can be done in terms of advanced optical design – often unmatched for many years, with such specifications as the 8-16mm and 12-24mm zooms, the 300mm-800mm and many others remaining unchallenged even by Nikon and Canon. Now they have set out to show what can be done by harnessing a simple standard interface and allowing communication to the lens IC through the contact-pin array.
Finally, Graham showed us the new 35mm f/1.4. “Nikon has done really well with their 35mm f/1.4”, he said. “We thought we would try to beat them with this one. We are hoping it turns out to be the best 35m f/1.4 on the market”. The new MTF testing may yet be proved! I mentioned that Samyang had also done pretty well with a 35mm f/1.4. To that there was no comment…
And then there’s the obligatory picture from any trade show – the man who can’t resist trying to find out what the butler saw, courtesy of the Sigmonster!
– David Kilpatrick
This post has been edited with Sigma’s help on October 3rd. The original reference to Zeiss MTF equipment was incorrect; this is used in design and prototype development, and will continue to be used. Sigma’s own production-line testing system is what’s been updated with new high speed Foveon-based MTF bench.
Made by Sony according to girl on photokina stand after asking bloke. But closer examination matte box/rig says Genius as the maker so pretty sure it’s third party. Similar shown on other cameras.
55-300mm SAM DT.
We were allowed to take test shots briefly with the Alpha 99 and 28-75mm SAM lens. The camera is just a little bigger than the A77 but feels much the same. The viewfinder seems slightly improved, maybe it’s just the optics used and not the OLED display – coatings or details of the assembly.
This is an ISO6400 in-camera JPEG, click it for full size. Shots with face out of focus look awful, the noise/NR on skin tones is not as good as on the dress made of flowers. Colour is excellent under tungsten with AWB, as usual.
Here’s an ISO 25600 image, same in-camera output. Not bad at all considering the ISO. In both cases, you can click on the image to get a full size version (5-6MB).
This is a 100% crop (click for full size) slightly overexposed, at iSO 400. The A99 showed a green face recognition square in this case, and focused at full f/2.8 aperture of the 28-75mm lens – sharp image core, but lots of softness glowing round it. Exposure was too generous for the dress, so I’ve cropped that out and just taken an 1800 pixel wide detail to show the quality at 400.
We were able to handle the RX1, it’s wonderfully smoothly engineered and feels great, but no pictures were allowed. They have no pre-production models able to produce an image they are happy to share. We saw a thumbrest which slots into the hot shoe (below the optical finder only, improves ergonomics; and an EVF for the RX1 –
Apart from that there was a great launch from Panasonic for a GH3 capable of 78Mbps video, waterproof, dustproof, magnesium body, new X-series lenses f/2.8 constant 24-70mm and 70-200mm equivalents; a funky new XF camera from Fuji which might appear a bit retro-consumer but actually is good to hold and use; and Samsung’s quite amazing Galaxy Camera, which has the biggest rear screen (and one of the best) ever seen plus a 21X zoom but won’t make phone calls. Yet…
Most Japanese camera companies have divisions, groups, and teams right down to the very last individual product. Even a single lens design may have its own small team, from R&D and design down to final assembly. What we are seeing happen in Sony right now is the result of complex competition and collaboration between several teams.
Take, for example, the new Sony 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II. You might assume this lens was mainly an Alpha division product from the former Minolta heritage, but in fact it’s been redesigned to work better with NEX and also with both consumer and professional HD video cameras from APS-C through Super-35 to full frame 35mm.
SLT/SLR system users gain with improvements like Nano AR coating (similar to new coatings introduced by Sigma, Nikon, Pentax and Canon), better MF control, and a better degree of weathersealing. It’s the complete update of the SSM motor (is it SSM II, or entire lens version II?) which provides compatibility with on-sensor PDAF and enhances CDAF, to offer the prospect of object-tracking AF during video. At £6,700 UK it needs to show major benefits to compete in the still field, but may have a market all to itself when fitted to the new NEX-VG900E full frame video camera.
It’s easy to think – ‘the first ever full frame video cam!’ but that is not the case. The Canon 5D MkII established the DSLR form as an acceptable professional video camera, and in the last three years a vast industry of shooting rigs, grips, follow focus devices, monitor screens and accessories has grown up all based on turning this video-unfriendly camera into something movie and TV crews are comfortable with.
Sony has implemented the sought-after 24 frames per second rate in all the new models just announced, not going for the European excuse of 25fps being close enough. This is to allow a so-called cinematic look, despite the fact that the movie industry has been trying to get away from 24fps just the same way as it threw off the shackles of 16 or 18fps many years before. Users want it, so they have at last provided it.
From the very start of reviewing HD capable cameras, we have emphasised the issues with audio – the *absolute* not optional need for audio fixed or adjustable manual gain control. I’ve done this for years in printed magazines. So has any other writer who ever had to use a camera with auto gain and nothing else. First Nikon (basic) then Canon (full control) and now Sony show they listened, if slowly and relunctantly, to something their own audio engineers would have told them was vital not a luxury.
End result – Sony enters the mainstream for HD video shooting with the Alpha and NEX systems.
The same technologies, in terms of sensor use and implementation of optical advances linked to Phase-Detection On Sensor (which I’ll call PDOS), now apply across the entire range of Sony digital imaging products from Handycam, through Cyber-Shot, through NEX, to Alpha. The Cyber-shot range is only missing an APS-C model.
What is particularly interesting is that this divided path is a parallel path now and not a divergent one. There’s no question of one straight and narrow path leading to heaven, one broad and easy road to hell, and winding ferny way to faery. Instead we get a four-lane highway joining Sony present to Sony future, with every option to change lane if you want to overtake.
Legacy and inheritance planning
Sony acquired a lot of old Minolta tech as a dowry in the 206 marriage to the Alpha system. Now having invested that legacy they have to make sure it still has value for future generations.
And example of what this really means can be found in the PDOS restrictions of the A99. The AF-D mode won’t work with some lenses, yet. For example – the 16mm f/2.8 fisheye, the 20mm f/2.8, the 16-35mm CZ f/2.8 zoom, any Konica Minolta zoom, any old Minolta AF system lens, the 35mm f/1.4, the 85mm f/1.4 CZ and G, the 135mm f/1.8 CZ and f/2.8 STF, the 200mm f/4 Apo G Macro, the 24-105mm D, any macro lens, the 400mm f/4.5, 600mm f/4, 200mm f/2.8 or the 300mm f/2.8 G SSM (pre-II). It is not even flagged as working with the 30mm f/2.8 SAM macro, 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8 or the 24mm f/2 Carl Zeiss SSM ZA. Or the 70-300mm G SSM, let alone the basic 75-300mm SAL.
It will only work with the 24-70mm f/2.8 CZ, the 28-75mm f/2.8 SAM, the 50mm f/1.4 current design, the 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM, the new 300mm f/2.8 G SSM II, 70-400mm f/4-5.6 G SSM and the new 500mm f/4 G SSM. Sony’s firmware requires that the user enter the focusing range involved. This is put forward as an advantage – making the system less likely to focus on a fence instead of the view through it – but in fact it’s an integral part of PDOS. Each of the 102 focus points spread across the sensor* is not a single pixel-pair, it’s a cluster of several pixel pairs tightly grouped. There may be the minimum of three differently pitched PDOS points per location, or perhaps more, to cope with the wide range of exit pupil conditions encountered when using Alpha-mount lenes.
For any one lens, the camera will need to know the broad focus range involved (hopefully the main PDAF array will normally provide this), the aperture at which focusing is taking place, and some further information about how the zoom or lens design influences the exit ray cone. From this, it will select the correct PDOS configuration and I think that for some lenses only a central zone will be active.
Sony states that firmware updates will add further lenses, but this technology only requires some relatively simple information based on the optical design. If they could have added more lenses from the start, they would have. Watch this space, because it may remain more of an empty space than you hope for.
* Sony imply that the PDOS area is large – actually it’s about 13mm square, within the APS-C zone, and does not extend towards the ends of the full frame much further than the cluster of regular PDAF points. These seem to be the same module as the A77, giving the A99 an AF ‘zone’ much smaller relative to its frame.
Zones and maps
The Alpha 99 also introduces something which almost has to happen if any of the above is going to work at all. Anti-aliasing filters do not have an even effect on sensors, especially full frame with wider angle lenses where the rear nodal point of the lens is relatively close. Geometry means that light passes through them at more of an angle towards the edges and corners, and there is therefore more distance between AA filter and sensor surface. With an AA filter having a single value diffraction-created diffusion of the image-forming light (aka blurring), the effect gets stronger as you move away from the centre (axis).
Since most lenses are also sharper in the centre and typical sensor microlenses are not ‘tuned’ from centre to edge, the overall result is to emphasise fall-off from centre to edge. Secondary results include a dramatic tendency for bright sources imaged in the extreme corners to have a strong, directional, surrounding glare. This is boosted by internal multiple reflection between the sensor surface and the inner face of the AA filter, especially if the incident rays are at 40° or less to the focal plane (where on-axis rays are described as being at 90°).
The best solution to this is the classic one – what Olympus called telecentric lens design, where you do your best to project the image on to the sensor from a relatively distant position keeping all rays, centre to edge, as close to 90° as possible. But that calls for new lens designs and also restricts the optical formulae, tending to produce much larger heavier lenses. It’s very practical on one-inch or smaller sensors, OK on MicroFourThirds, feasible for NEX but not much an option for a full-frame coverage.
So, Sony has introduced an AA filter which they describe as ‘multi-segment lo-pass’. It’s not one strength across the entire frame, but divided or graded to optimise performance towards the corners. At the same time, they have introduced a similar zoning to noise reduction, which we assume to mean the NR applies to the raw output before a raw file is saved. Combined with the usual sensor mapping, and lens profile based vignetting compensation, the overall effect of these refinements should be to:
Even out the apparent resolution and image acutance across the frame
Reduce the mapped peripheral gain effect, under which images appear to be noisier at the edges unless natural vignetting is allowed to be present
Remove artefacts such as corner streaking or softening, and fringes or flare from light sources towards the extremes
No doubt this is also combined with the detailed ‘repair’ function used to deal with PDOS. More on this later, as there’s an implication that the PDOS on the A99 is not the same as that on the NEX-5R or NEX-6, and may use a second layer of pixels leaving all 24.3 megapixels of the imaging layer untouched.
The area-specific NR is probably essential to achieve the high ISO range at 14-bit conversion, though it’s not unusual for cameras at this level which claim 14-bit conversion to have a variable true bit depth depending on ISO, image style and exposure conditions. We can assume that 14-bit will only be fully utilised under ideal conditions at ISO 100.
Exactly how Sony has managed to adjust AA values in ‘segments’ without visible transitions, we’ll have to find out. The same goes for NR.
The missing NEX-9
There is one camera absent from the September 12th launch – the 24 megapixel full frame NEX-9. The appearance of the HD video Handycam, NEX-VG900E, indicates that the model name for the full frame 24 megapixel NEX will be NEX-9. Images of the VG900 show it using an Alpha via the standard LA-EA2 adaptor, and we can be sure that this and not a special range of E-mount full frame lenses (almost pointless) will be how the NEX-9 takes A-mount glass.
In the meantime, the NEX-6 appears to be perfectly pitched in price, but see my comment below about GPS.
The missing GPS
While the A99 has GPS, we’re still left with no NEX model yet featuring GPS despite these being the ideal travel and walking companion. Nor is there a current SLT model with 16 megapixels and GPS, as the Alpha 55 replacement doesn’t have it and the ‘baby’ A77, the A65, is a 24 megapixel again. The Cyber-shot RX100 and RX1 models also don’t have GPS. Whether or not the new hot shoe will allow an add-on GPS remains to be seen.
The new 50mm f/1.4 SSM Carl Zeiss T* Planar
Whatever you think of Minolta glass, or new Sony glass, the Carl Zeiss name on a lens is a huge draw. Reactions to the otherwise rather pedestrian DSC-RX1 prove this. People will put up with being back in 1972 – the era of cameras like the Minolta Hi-Matics with fixed 40mm f/1.7 and similar Gauss design lenses of very high quality – if only it means getting rid of poor quality digital images. There was a time when you couldn’t sell a 50mm standard lens with a camera, and there was a time before that when every system was judged initially on the quality of its 50mm choices. We may be returning to that way of thinking.
Edit – at the 2006 launch of the Alpha 100, a 50mm f/1.4 CZ was briefly shown in Paul Genge’s presentation to UK/English language journalists. I did not report on this as none of the literature confirmed what we saw on the Powerpoint screen. I believe this lens has been planned for six years.
The new HVL-F60AM flash with rather weak video light and new hot shoe might seem an annoying departure, but remember, the A99 has no built-in flash and thus can not control wireless remotes without a commander. No HVL-F20AM style mini flash has been previewed, so the F60AM is the only commander. But your old flash will work fine off-camera controlled by your new one.
Parked on the hard shoulder
So, having looked at the four way road map for Sony, I must confess that I’m pulling into a rest area for a while. I did not sell my Alpha 900 or Alpha 77, and I’m glad I didn’t. Nor did I sell my 24mm f/2 even though it has been little used for a few months. It has been waiting for a 36 megapixel full-framer, which makes a 24mm a much better all-round lens because of the croppable image size.
I’m not one of those photographers obsessed by bokeh or the need to throw parts of my picture into extreme defocus. At 24 megapixels, APS-C is already seriously short of depth of field even at optimum apertures like f/9. I’m more likely to spend my money on a Samyang 24mm f/3.5 full frame tilt-shift lens to use with both the A900 and A77 than to invest in an A99. I have no use for a revised 300mm f/2.8, especially on full frame where it seems to me now to be a very conservative focal length, and though I’m sure a 50mm CZ will be wonderful I have no complaints about my Minolta-design Sony 50mm f/1.4. I do shoot video, but rarely in conditions which demand that I use full frame, and if Sony don’t put manual audio control into older models via a firmware fix, I’ll just buy a Canon 600D.
The price of the Alpha 99 is not as bad as people suggest, with UK stories launching it at £2082+VAT, or $3200. But I’ve got a very good quality pure still camera in the Alpha 900, with effectively noise-free imaging from ISO 100 to 320, excellent battery life and exactly the same maximum image size offered by the 99.
I think I’m in the market for the NEX-6 body but I do not care in the slightest about the WiFi aspect, or the downloadable apps. If the new remote control can actually trigger and end video shooting with the A77, NEX-5n (etc) I’ll definitely buy one. The RX1 is not for me either – had it been fitted with a 17mm, 20mm or even a conservative 24mm then it would have followed in the footsteps of the great wide-angle cameras I have worked with over the years from the Brooks Veriwide through the Plaubel 55W to Hasselblad SWC and Fujfilm G645SW. I would not even mind a separate optical finder for that, much; I was used to it!
Things we forget
The industry has put a huge effort into autofocus solutions ideal for interchangeable lenses and zooms, and apparently set aside the idea of external AF modules for good. With a fixed lens like the RX1, an AF module not working through the camera lens itself is a practical idea and could be far faster. We have also forgotten about those twin-lens compacts, with a switch to go from 35mm to 65mm (or whatever). Small sensor sizes, new lens design and ideas could make that concept work again.
The story of development for all types of camera is not over as there are old ideas to be revisited, and new ideas yet to come.
A-mount flagship 35mm full-frame camera debuts Dual AF System and pro-style video features
Flagship camera with Translucent Mirror Technology and newly developed 24.3 effective megapixel full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor
World’s first full-frame camera1 with Dual AF System with 19 sensors (including 11 cross sensors) + 102 AF point system (focal plane) and a new AF range control function to set the distance range recognised by the AF system
Very wide sensitivity range ISO 50-25600 (at expanded sensitivity setting) with extremely low noise
Advanced Full HD 50p progressive movie shooting with non-stop Continuous AF and pro-style audio features
XGA OLED Tru-Finder with 100% frame coverage
Enthusiast-class handling with tough, light magnesium alloy body, weather seals and revised Quick Navi Pro interface
Ruggedly built to cope effortlessly with tough assignments, the α99 sets new standards of imaging performance, creative options, user-focused ergonomics and reliability to satisfy demanding enthusiasts.
Unsurpassed imaging performance and responses
Unique to the α99, a newly developed full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor with 24.3 effective megapixels is teamed with a highly advanced BIONZ image processing engine. This powerful sensor/processor combination guarantees unprecedented levels of imaging performance with still and video shooting.
Now advanced photographers can explore the creative possibilities of full-frame imaging plus the responsiveness of Translucent Mirror Technology.
The eagerly awaited successor to the flagship α900 DSLR, the new α99 is the first Translucent Mirror camera from Sony to feature a full-frame 35mm image sensor.
The full-frame sensor’s resolving power is enhanced by a newly developed separate multi-segment optical low-pass filter. Assisted by an all-new front-end LSI, the BIONZ engine processes massive amounts of image signal data from the Exmor CMOS Sensor at very high speeds. Together with a powerful new area-specific noise reduction (NR) algorithm, this achieves a 14-bit RAW output, rich gradation and low noise.
The evolved BIONZ processor boosts maximum sensitivity range (in expanded sensitivity mode) as wide as ISO 50-25600 – a range of 9 stops. Its unprecedented processing power also enables the α99 to shoot a burst of full-resolution images at up to 6 frames per second or 10 fps in Tele-zoom high speed shooting mode.
For the first time ever, the 19-point AF system with 11 cross sensors is complemented by a multi-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor. With no less than 102 AF points, this additional AF sensor overlays the main image sensor. Harnessing the power of Translucent Mirror Technology, this unique Dual AF System permits ultra-fast, accurate autofocusing that maintains tracking focus even if the subject leaves the 19-point AF frame.
The α99 also debuts an advanced new AF-D continuous autofocus mode that’s supremely effective with moving subjects. The 19-point AF system provides reliable depth focusing information. It’s complemented by the 102-point multi-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor that copes effortlessly with subjects traversing the focal plane.
From launch, new AF-D mode is supported by the SAL2470Z, SAL2875, SAL50F14, SAL300F28G2, SAL70400G and SAL500F4G lenses. More lenses will be supported via future firmware updates.
As a further focusing refinement, a new AF range control function allows users to set the distance range recognised by the AF system. This smart feature significantly aids operability if you’re focusing on distant sports action through a nearby wire mesh fence.
Crafted for videographers and movie-makers
The α99 inherits the world-leading ‘cinematic DNA’ from professional movie cameras and high-end camcorders by Sony. The unmatched resolving power and sensitivity of the full-frame sensor is complemented by advanced features optimised for professional video production.
The α99 supports the needs of professional movie-makers, offering full-frame Full HD 50p/25p (switchable to 60p/24p) progressive video recording to meet AVCHD Version 2.0 specifications. As introduced on the α77, Full-time Continuous AF Movie allows smooth, non-stop tracking of moving subjects. Other movie-oriented enhancements include real-time Full HD video output via HDMI, and uninterrupted ‘dual-card’ recording using both of the camera’s media slots.
For extra convenience during movie shooting, a silent new multi-controller is easily accessible via a dial on the front of the camera body. This allows smooth, silent adjustment of exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and metering method, shutter speed, aperture and audio record levels during Full HD video capture. Shooting stamina is tripled by partnering the camera with the new VG-C99AM Vertical Grip that houses up to three batteries in total (see below). It’s even possible to exchange batteries ‘on the fly’ without interrupting movie recording.
Audio features have also been significantly enhanced to meet the exacting needs of serious videographers. An audio level display and adjustable audio record levels are joined by a headphone jack for accurate in-the-field monitoring. The optional XLR-K1M adaptor kit adds a high-quality mono shotgun mic and pro-standard XLR connections for dependable audio acquisition.
Uncompromised handing for serious photographers
The XGA OLED Tru-Finder gives a detail-packed view of your subject, offering 100% frame coverage with exceptional brightness, contrast, clarity and resolution.
You’ll enjoy a full 100% view on the Tru-Finder screen, even if you’re shooting with a DT lens that’s optimised for cameras with an APS-C sensor. Angle of view is converted automatically for image recording and display. This viewfinder is completely compatible with the APS-C format and displays scenes using the entire finder screen.
Complementing the Tru-Finder, there’s also a three-way tiltable 1229k-dot (VGA equivalent) XtraFine LCD with WhiteMagic™ technology to boost screen brightness in outdoor conditions.
Despite its uncompromising pro-class credentials, the α99 is the world’s lightest1 35mm full-frame interchangeable-lens digital camera. A weight of just 733g (without lens and battery) is made possible by Translucent Mirror Technology, while high-rigidity magnesium alloy panels contribute to an extremely tough yet light design.
Weather-resistant seals protect against dust and moisture, while controls and buttons are ruggedized for years of unflinching operation on virtually any assignment. The camera’s stamina and reliability is underlined by a redesigned shutter block that’s tested to approximately 200,000 release cycles.
Ergonomics have been refined for a smooth, seamless workflow that doesn’t interrupt your creative focus. Enhancements include a re-designed grip, while switches and button shapes are differentiated for intuitive fingertip operation without taking an eye off your composition. There’s also a new exposure mode dial lock that prevents accidental rotation.
Further evolved from the acclaimed α700 and α900, the newly-developed Quick Navi Pro interface gives quick, intuitive one-handed access to shooting parameters.
The camera can also be operated via remote PC connection. Supported functions include switching between still/movie shooting, plus automatic transfer of still images from camera to PC for enhanced studio workflow. *Editor’s note: betcha there’s no Mac app given Sony’s historic attitude to Apple!
Designed for professionals: new lens and accessories
The full-frame imaging capabilities of the α99 make an ideal complement for the new 300mm F2.8 G SSM II (SAL300F28G2) lens. Designed for demanding sports and wildlife applications, this bright super-telephoto offers a significantly uprated optical design and improved handling compared with its predecessor. The Sony-developed Nano AR Coating on optical surfaces assures flawless still images and HD video with reduced flare and ghosting, offering enhanced contrast with crisp black, while a new LSI drive circuit offers faster, more accurate autofocus with enhanced tracking AF. The dust- and moisture-resistant design makes the lens ideal for the toughest outdoor shooting assignments.
In addition, a new wide-aperture Carl Zeiss A-mount prime lens is now under development. Optimised for superb results with the camera’s 35mm full frame image sensor, the Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM will be available in Spring 2013.
Offered exclusively as an option for the α99, the brand-new VG-C99AM vertical grip can house and manage three batteries in total (including the camera’s own on-board battery). Resistant to dust and moisture, the grip is ideal for lengthy shooting sessions in the studio or outdoors.
The range-leading HVL-F60M is a powerful flash (GN60, in metres at ISO 100) with built-in LED light that’s ideal for creative applications with stills or movie shooting. Smart functions include wireless multi-flash ratio control and Sony’s unique Quick Shift Bounce adjustment, while operation can be controlled quickly via the flash’s intuitive Quick Navi system. Resistant to dust and moisture, the HVL-F60M comes supplied with a bounce adaptor for flash, and a colour conversion filter for use with LED lighting. Ideal for the α99 and other cameras featuring the new Multi Interface Shoe, the HVL-F60M can also be used with Auto-lock Accessory Shoe cameras via the supplied ADP-AMA Shoe Adaptor.
Compatible with 49mm and 55mm diameter lenses, the HVL-RL1 Ring Light offers highly effective LED illumination of small subjects that’s ideal for macro shooting. Its high output level (approx. 700 lx/0.3m) is approximately four times brighter than the previous model. Brightness can be adjusted steplessly for precise control of creative lighting effects. Operation can also be switched between full-ring illumination for shadowless lighting and half-ring illumination to create shadow effects. The optional FA-MA1AM Macro Light Adaptor is required when using the Ring Light with SAL30M28 or SAL50F18 lenses. Compatible with the Multi Interface Shoe of the α99, the HVL-RL1 can also be used with cameras that have an Auto-lock Accessory Shoe via the supplied ADP-AMA Shoe Adaptor.
The new XLR-K1M XLR Adaptor Kit meets the demanding audio needs of professional movie production. It provides two pro-standard XLR terminals for connecting the α99 with professional microphones and mixing consoles. Operating flexibility is maximised by MIC/LINE input selection and separate adjustment of two channel levels. The adaptor kit comes supplied with the ECM-XM1 monaural shotgun microphone, but may also be used with a wide range of professional microphones. An optional bracket is required when using the XLR-K1M with the α99.
The RMT-DSLR2 Remote Commander allows wireless shutter release for still images and start/stop control of video shooting. As well as the α99, it’s also compatible with other α A-mount and E-mount cameras that include a remote control receiver. (Our highlighting in red – this may NOT mean that it can operate video on other cameras, just that it will operate their existing remote functions – dependent perhaps on firmware updates)
Styled to reduce carrying fatigue, the LCS-BP3 Backpack is designed to meet the stringent demands of professional photographers. Its generous capacity can hold the α99 camera body plus Vertical Grip and attached telephoto zoom lens, together with 3-4 spare lenses, accessories and a 15.5” laptop.
The ADP-MAA is a new shoe adaptor that allows Multi Interface Shoe2 cameras to be used with Auto-lock Accessory Shoe accessories. Conversely, the ADP-AMA she adaptor allows Auto-lock Accessory Shoe cameras to be used with Multi Interface Shoe accessories.
The PCK-LM14 Screen Protector Semi Hard Sheet safeguards the camera’s LCD screen against dust, scratches. It’s supplied with a separate protector sheet for the top display panel.
Sony’s new SDXC UHS-I memory card, SF-64UX(64GB) with ultra-high speed interface (UHS-I) compatibility, offers significantly higher transfer speeds up to 94MB/s (read) and 43MB/s (write). The SF-64UX is ideal for burst shooting with the α99, without missing the moment. It also enables rapid data rates when transferring content including large RAW images or video files to your PC.
The new cards have been subjected to rigorous Sony testing, in order to achieve high levels of reliability and data integrity. Additionally, the new cards are water-resistant, and are designed to perform under a wide range of operating temperatures. Users can also shoot with ease knowing their photos and videos are protected thanks to Sony’s File Rescue Software* which can help recover photos and videos that may have been accidentally deleted.
(*This software is available for Sony memory media products customers through free download at www.sony.net/memorycard)
The new α99 full-frame Translucent Mirror camera from Sony is available in the UK from early November 2012.
1 Among interchangeable-lens digital cameras with a full-frame image sensor (as of 12th September 2012). According to Sony internal survey.
2 The α99 is equipped with Sony’s newly-developed Multi Interface Shoe. This is capable of accommodating various accessories for photo and movie shooting such as flash and microphones, while drawing power from the camera. It’s also compatible with Sony accessories that use the standard ISO 518 accessory shoe. The Multi Interface Shoe was developed as a common shoe for imaging products by Sony – such as digital still cameras, digital video cameras and interchangeable lens cameras – promoting compatibility among accessories and offering an enhanced shooting experience for users.
Compatible with full-frame A-mount lenses via supplied adaptor (also compatible with growing range of E-mount lenses)
Full HD 50p/25p/24p progressive movie recording
Extensive manual controls and ‘seesaw’ zoom lever
Quad Capsule Spatial Array Microphone for high-quality stereo and 5.1ch sound
High contrast XGA OLED Tru-Finder
7.5 cm (3.0”) XtraFine touch panel LCD
Video makers can embrace the limitless expressive power of full-frame imaging with the new Handycam® NEX-VG900E E-mount interchangeable lens Full HD camcorder from Sony.
It’s joined by the Handycam® NEX-VG30E that builds on the success of the NEX-VG20E, sharing the same APS-C image sensor as its predecessor while adding several enhancements.
Offering supreme imaging quality and generous creative options, it’s the first Handycam® with a 35mm sensor to fully exploit the artistic potential of interchangeable lenses by Sony and Carl Zeiss.
With a resolution of 24.3 effective megapixels, the Sony-developed Exmor CMOS sensor inside the NEX-VG900E is around 40 times larger than the equivalent in ordinary consumer camcorders. It’s also more than twice the size of the APS-C sized sensor found in other interchangeable lens Handycam® models.
As well as permitting beautiful ‘bokeh’ (defocus) effects with the growing range of α lenses, its high sensitivity assures extremely clear, low-noise images. The large sensor size assures effortless reproduction of the finest tonal gradations, helping the most demanding cinematographer fully realise their creative vision.
The sensor also allows the NEX-VG900E to shoot full-frame 24.0 effective megapixel still photos, with all the quality you’d expect from a pro-class DSLR camera. Still images can be shot in RAW format for total post-processing freedom.
Beautiful, film-like results can be achieved by shooting video in 25p/24p progressive mode, with Cinema Tone Gamma™ and Cinema Tone Colour™ offering precise control over cinematic colour grading effects. AVCHD version 2.0 standard 50p recording is additionally supported, maximising the range of creative options for movie-makers to explore. Even greater flexibility is provided by a choice of new Picture Effect modes, enabling easy creation of artistic ‘in-camera’ treatments whether you’re shooting HD video or stills.
Video shooting is further enhanced by a ‘seesaw’ lever that allows smooth, polished electronic zoom control. The lever adjusts optical zoom when using compatible E-mount lenses that feature built-in zoom drive. The lever controls electronic zoom when using the camcorder with fixed focal lenses for impressive creative results.
As an extra refinement, the NEX-VG900E switches automatically from full-frame operation to APS-C mode when an E-mount or A-mount DT lens is attached. This allows users to get the most out of their collection of DT lenses that are optimised for cameras with a smaller APS-C image sensor.
The camcorder also comes supplied with the LA-EA3 adaptor that lets photographers use full-frame A-mount DSLR lenses at their designated focal length.
There’s a generous palette of control options and manual settings to satisfy the demanding video enthusiast. Aperture priority, shutter speed priority or manual exposure, are all selectable and white balance can be adjusted manually to suit the demands of any scene. Iris, shutter speed, and gain adjustments can be easily made via logically-positioned direct access keys. Accurate manual focusing is assisted by the camcorder’s pro-style display peaking function, complemented by a one-touch focus magnification button on the top of the grip.
Serious videographers will welcome the detail-packed XGA OLED Tru-Finder that offers high-contrast image monitoring with superbly natural colour rendition. Complementing the Tru-Finder, there’s an adjustable XtraFine touch-panel LCD monitor, with Sony’s unique technology for high contrast images with rich, deep blacks.
High-quality audio is a crucial part of the HD video experience with the NEX-VG900E. A unique Quad Capsule Spatial Array Microphone features four omnidirectional capsules that can be switched for stereo or 5.1ch surround recording. Recording levels are adjustable, with accurate visual confirmation provided by an audio level meter on the LCD display. There’s also a headphone jack for direct monitoring of sounds being recorded.
The new Multi Interface Shoe provides compatibility with accessories including the optional XLR-K1M adaptor kit that adds a high-quality mono shotgun mic and pro-standard XLR connections.
Sharing many of the pro-oriented enhancements of the NEX-VG900E, the Handycam® NEX-VG30E succeeds the acclaimed NEX-VG20E. With a resolution of 16.1 effective megapixels, the new camcorder’s Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor assures outstanding image quality with the range of interchangeable E-mount lenses.
Like the NEX-VG900E, it’s possible to shoot smooth, cinematic Full HD video footage at either 50p, 25p or 24p (progressive) frame rates, supported by a palette of artistic Picture Effect modes.
The NEX-VG30E also features the same XGA OLED Tru-Finder, comprehensive manual controls and ‘seesaw’ style zoom lever as the NEX-VG900E.
The NEX-VG30EH comes supplied as a kit with the new E PZ (Power Zoom) 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OSS (Optical SteadyShot) lens that provides a versatile range from wide angle to telephoto. Offering smooth, quiet AF operation and Optical SteadyShot image stabilisation, the lens also features an additional ‘seesaw’ lever on the barrel for smooth, professional-style zoom control with adjustable speeds.
The Handycam® NEX-VG900E and NEX-VG30E camcorders from Sony are available in the UK from November and December respectively.
For almost a decade the Sigma 12-24mm full frame ultra wide angle zoom has been unrivalled by any other makers – not Nikon, not Canon, not Tamron, not Tokina, not Sony. No maker has ventured where Sigma went, to the extremes of over 120° coverage combined with well corrected straight line geometry.
Today, the original 12-24mm is in its fourth incarnation, having progressed through EX to EX DG (digital) and then with added HSM hypersonic motor focusing, which never arrived for Alpha mount in the original design. The fourth version is an entirely new design, and does have HSM for Alpha. It is very similar to the new 8-16mm design, introduced three years ago for APS-C cameras, which also offers HSM focusing in Alpha mount.
Update five years later, 2017: there is now a constant aperture 12-24mm f/4 ART lens. This is a completely new design and has an almost-perfect performance, especially in terms of corner detail wide open. I’ve tested it in Cameracraft magzine. However, I did not have the various older models to make direct comparisons. The MkII remains available as the current non-ART, lower priced Sigma option.
Here you can see, from left to right, the EX DG 12-24mm f/4.5-56, the DC 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6, and the DG HSM II 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6. Don’t be fooled into thinking the original is wider in diameter, it actually shares exactly the same lens cap module as the new design; it’s smaller and around 100 grams lighter. Both the 8-16mm and new 12-24mm are surprisingly solid items.
First, we’ll look at the difference between old and new 12-24mms. I have used the old one in several versions on several different camera makes. and I’ve never had one which was truly sharp at all point across the frame wide open. The field is not perfectly flat, and autofocus modules are very bad at getting an exact focus at 12mm. Combined with lens mount tolerances, sensor flatness problems (mostly in Canon full-frame, which historically have not had very ‘plane’ sensors), sensor parallelism problems (all makes, Sony not excepted)… it was always a good idea to stop this lens down to f/11.
How bad is that? Perfectly normal for any lens covering over 85°. Even the best large format lenses, single focal lengths like Super Angulons, have always been used in the awareness that full aperture is for focusing and you stop down to between f/11 and f/32 for the actual shot. On 35mm format digital, using anything much below f/16 is counter productive for sharpness and my normal choices on the Alpha 900 have been f/10, f/11, or f/13.
The good news is that the latest version has a different kind of field flatness. The old one tended to have a zone, like a doughnut, of closer effective focus surrounding a sharp middle. At 24mm, where this older lens performed at its worst, this zone was pushed out to the far edges and could result in the corners looking softer than they do at 12mm. The new one has a simple barrel distortion in place of a wave-form distortion, and along with this goes a simple curvature of field.
The bad news is that the overall level of distortion is much higher than the old design. At 12mm, it’s close to needing the fingers of two hands. Adobe Camera Raw had a correction profile for this lens from Sigma almost the day it became available. That profile fixed the distortion perfectly but leaves you slightly less of a 12mm than you’ve paid for, because it reduces the angle of view.
Here are some comparative views. First of all, I’ve used only 10 megapixels of the Alpha 900 frame, cropping from the top of a vertical shot, to get this architecturally correct view. This is like using the 12-24mm as an extreme 12mm shift lens on an APS-C camera. As and when we get a 36 megapixel Alpha full framer, the crop to do so will be more like 16 megapixels. This is the full frame:
Below you can see the crop used to 10 megapixels, and by rolling your cursor over the image, the change between a profiled conversion and a raw conversion with no lens corrections. On this crop it does not look extreme.
But this is a relatively kind way to use the new lens. Here is an example pushing straight lines into places where extreme wide angles don’t like ’em:
This is an uncorrected 12-24mm DG II HSM shot out of the Alpha 900 at 12mm. It’s not exactly what you want, and in fact, it’s not as ‘good’ as the old design despite being sharper. Hovering your cursor over the image shows the same raw file with the Adobe Camera Raw Sigma-generated Lens Profile (also works in Lightroom) applied. As you will see, straight lines have been restored along with even illumination. But – how much of that 12mm, 122° angle has been lost? Is it now really only a 12.5mm?
In practice, the new 12-24mm gives you a great range of creative choices when confronted with a building. Here is a revisit to the first subject, taken at different focal lengths, getting closer to the building with each shot:
When it comes to comparisons with the older design, the new one is much sharper at the edges. It does not need stopping down to f/16 to pull in the worst aberrations, though it does still display some around f/8 to f/11. Here’s an original 12-24mm EX DG design shot (12mm, f/9, vignetting corrected but distortion not corrected):
And here’s the new 12-24mm under the same conditions (small exposure difference due to changing light) processed similarly, without any geometric corrections:
On this shot, the corrugated barn sides have clean ribbing to the extreme ends, with some softening; on the old design, they begin to look a bit of a mess in the outer quarter of the frame.
Trying the 8-16mm extreme
But when doing these tests, I decided to throw a novelty into the mix. What if I put my 8-16m APS-C format Sigma DC HSM zoom on to the Alpha 900? Because it is not an Alpha lens, the 900 does not automatically crop the full frame. This is what I actually got with the lens set to 8mm:
And in Adobe Camera Raw, I just dialled up the Scale in Lens Correction to 146%, which blew up the central 12 or so megapixels of the frame to become a full 24 megapixel image:
And here, for comparison, is what the 12-24mm set to 12mm could produce:
This is a little tighter than the 8mm using the maximum I could get (including some extra image height), so the 8-16mm used this way can produce something closer to an 11.5mm full frame lens. However, I have not yet done the obvious – to get an engineer to remove the petal lens shade from the 8-16mm (it appears to be part of the front element assembly). This would enable even more angle without shading, and the possibility of square or 10 x 8 shape format crops.
What was particularly interesting about this experiment was the quality of the 24 megapixel file extracted from a smaller section of the Alpha 900 sensor by Adobe Camera Raw upscaling. Full size files are available to download for subscribers to Photoclubalpha – it’s well worth the $10 for a full year of access to any of the extras we provide. See the download links at the end of the article, which will become visible if you are a registered subscriber to the site.
The 8-16mm also achieves full frame coverage on the Alpha 900 when set to 16mm, though with fairly marked vignetting:
Here are some more samples from the 12-24mm DG II HSM: first, 17mm at f/8 – no geometry correction:
Next, at 12mm at f/13 which on the A900 seems to be the limit for good detail sharpness without extra effort in processing:
And 17mm at f/22 – beyond the diffraction limit, but processed carefully for detail:
And 12mm at f/9, an optimum setting for detail with plenty of depth of field for this subject:
So, what was my own decision? I own the 8-16mm and an Alpha 77. That’s what I use for travel and general work. I own an original EX DG 12-24mm. I decided not to buy the new 12-24mm because I concluded that the 8-16mm used on APS-C was effectively as good. The angle is not quite a match for the 12-24mm on full frame, as APS-C is not a true 16 x 24mm. For those occasions where a 12-24mm on full frame is needed, I’m nearly always able to work on a tripod at f/13 and focus manually (which overcomes most of the issues with the earlier lens). Since it needs less drastic geometric correction, it offers a very small angle of view advantage over the new lens in return for the risk of poor sharpness if not used well stopped down. I have no doubt the new lens is better, but it’s not £400 better which is what the ‘trade-up’ would cost – and the old lens is lighter and smaller, which I appreciate.
The test made me even happier with the 8-16mm, especially with the thought that some modification could make it a unique lens to use on the Alpha 900 or a future full frame EVF model (A99). After doing these tests, I decided it was not necessary to take the Alpha 900 and a 12-24mm despite the investment in two weeks’ shooting in the Sierras and Pacific Coast of California – the A77 and 8-16mm would do everything I needed.
But for those buying a 12-24mm, for full frame on any system, the new Sigma represents even better performance than the 8-16mm (better edge and corner sharpness at one stop down from wide open) and has none of the failings of the older lens even if it does need more post-process geometry correction.
Download full size images [private] 24 megapixels 12-24mm EX DG at 12mm f/9 Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 12-24mm DGII HSM same as above Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 8-16mm lens scaled to 24 megapixels from A900 ‘crop’ Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 12-24mm DGII at 12mm compared to 8-16mm at 8mm cropped Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 8-16mm at 16mm filling full A900 sensor Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 17mm f/8 fence example shot boat Download Link
Download full size image 24 megapixels 12mm f/13 sequoia tree example shot Download Link
Download full size image24 megapixels 17mm f/22 boat Download Link
Download full size image24 megapixels 12mm f/9 riverside tree Download Link [/private]