Today, Sony confirmed a rumour – no doubt started as a result of pre-production tester leaks – that the A7S would have a completely silent all-electronic shutter mode. This is not the same as the Electronic First Curtain shutter found on the A7, A99, A77, A6000 and so on but conspicuously absent on the A7R. Nor is it the same as the near-silent leaf shutter terminated exposure mode of the RX100 models, RX10, or RX1 models. It’s completely free of all mechanical action and totally silent.
A7S seen with LA-EA4 and 24mm f/2 Carl Zeiss. I’ve got the adaptor, and this lens – they do work well on the A7R, but I don’t use them as my tiny Voigtlander Color Skopar SL II 20mm f/3.5, mounted on a Nikon fit Kipon tilt-shift adaptor, delivers the goods without the bulk or the battery drain. The 24mm also works well on the LA-EA3 adaptor without SLT mirror, but focusing is excruciatingly slow.
The silent shutter has been implemented as a firmware upgrade to the early production samples and future stocks, along with several other important firmware enhancements – all of which will have Sony owners wondering why improvements to their six-month old or one-year old purchases are not equally forthcoming. These are however improvements to a £2,100 camera body which will not hit the shops until the end of July 2014.
The firmware fixes and upgrades are: α7S now offers a ‘Silent Shooting’ mode ISO range for Movie Shooting extended to ISO100 – 102400, expandable to ISO100 – 409600 Dynamic Range extended to 15.3 stops as sensor RAW output
The silent mode is an option, and we would guess it carries some penalty in terms of available shutter speeds or noise performance. They say “For situations where absolute silence is required on a shoot, such as nature shoots or behind the scenes at a movie production, the α7S will offer the user the ability to activate ‘Silent Shooting’, thus making the photographer as unobtrusive as possible.”
A further upgrade is the expansion of the ISO range when shooting movies (previously limited to the native range). The α7S now offers the ability to shoot between ISO 100 -102,400 (native range) and is expandable to ISO 100-409,600 whilst still shooting capability remains at a staggering ISO 100-102,400 (again, the native range) expandable to ISO 50-409,600. The sensor’s dynamic range has also been further extended to 15.3 stops sensor RAW output. Technical note: as the bit depth remains unchanged and is presumed to be 14-bit ARW, this enhancement implies a modified raw gamma curve.
Other system improvements
You may wonder why we’ve pretty much given up reporting on new Sony products. Despite running three photographic magazines, we can’t easily get hold of review samples as all three magazines are professional or enthusiast market only. I’ve now run out of money and can’t afford to buy any of the new cameras or lenses, as the rate at which they have been released and the price levels make this difficult, and the dramatic collapse in secondhand values has clobbered my recent workround of buying-testing-selling. Things like the 28-70mm FE OSS lens for the A7 are worth almost nothing (under £200 used even from a UK dealer now) and most gear is losing 35-40% of its launch month value within two or three months. Also, the performance of much of this kit tends to be flawed or just not that impressive. It’s really hard to justify spending thousands on Sony gear which then turns out to be very ordinary, when companies like Olympus, Fujfilm, Nikon and Canon only need an email or a phone call to send test kit out just as soon as it’s available.
To work further against Sony’s interests, so much of the older Minolta and other optical gear I have been trying – even something as basic as my 70-210mm f/4 ‘beercan’ on the A7R with LA-EA4 – produces such beautiful results. What money I have spent recently has been on adaptors and on vintage lenses including Voigtlander, Canon and Nikon. I’ve not lost a penny on buying and selling these to find the best choices.
Sony also has a habit of organising London press events starting at 10am which, because of the nature of London, pretty much demands an overnight hotel stay unless you happen to be based within the M25 ring. I’m 400 miles away with no intention of ever being closer. I’m willing to spend the two or three hundred pounds needed to be at a mid-day event in London, despite the fact that it generally only produces ten minutes with a product subject to a ‘no images may be used’ embargo, and all the major websites already had it a month before and the full details were all over the web before I boarded the early morning train. So that’s why I have not really felt an urgent need to work hard and put my company’s (my!) money into giving Sony free advertising.
Well, there’s a new Alpha 77 – the A77II. It has much improved AF, the new hotshoe, some WiFi stuff and the GPS has been removed. Neat though the WiFi and NFC may be, my main use of this is for remote control not tweeting photos, and for remote control rigs there are much better camera choices than a heavy A77 body with no possibility to control the zoom from an iPad/Android phone or whatever. The RX100 and RX10 hit the mark for this. The slightly gritty 24 megapixel sensor is still a slightly gritty 24 megapixels, and removing the GPS is just downright perverse. I have a Nikon D5300 sitting here which does everything I need in a gritty 24 megapixel APS-C format, with GPS, for a great deal less.
And there’s a great new RX100 MkIII which has a new Carl Zeiss 24-70mm equivalent f/1.8-2.8 zoom, a pop-up EVF, unbelievably good video (not far removed from the A7S 4K abilities and high bitrate encoding of HD1080p) and a more flexibly hinged screen. I do think this will be worth it for new buyers, but I didn’t bother with the MkII. The MkI only cost me £350 slightly used, it lives in pockets and shoves into compartments of bags, it has a lenscap adapted to ensure this treatment does not damage its fragile lens-front cover, and it goes to 100mm equivalent which is more use to me than extra lens speed at 70mm. The old MkI may only by f/4.9 at 100mm equivalent, but it is respectable f/4 at 70mm and the same f/1.8 at 28mm. It’s knockabout travel camera, a car glove-compartment camera, capable of delivering shots which any photo agency or library will accept.
The RX100 III will start shipping in Europe at the beginning of July 2014 and will be priced at approximately £700. I’ll get one when I break, wear out, or lose the original but I might just opt for a Nikon 1 system kit instead. At least they have a GPS you can add, unlike Sony – it will soon be two years since the Multi Function Accessory Shoe was unveiled, and the GPS module for it is still not even on the horizon.
The Sony E-mount (not FE) 10-18mm f/5 OSS lens can be used effectively on full frame for creative work and within limits for technically more demanding shots. Below, an uncropped A7R shot of the concourse at Abu Dhabi Airport, taken at 13mm setting, f/6.3 with my lens profile as provided below. Check the straight lines in the floor tiling, if you doubt that this lens would be of any use for architecture.
However, you don’t get this without a lens profile, and without due care to limit the focal length to a range of 13 to 16mm – not the full 10 to 18mm. Below, you could get this if you try 12mm straight out of camera…
This is a pretty awful case of vignetting and distortion – as you would expect. It’s from an APS-C format wide angle zoom, the 10-18mm f/4 SEL OSS lens for NEX, used on the Alpha 7R full frame mirrorless body. Early in the launch period of this camera, various far more attractive images appeared on-line using subjects like roads, rail lines, beaches and even shop counters where the lines look straight – rather like that drainpipe – because of where they fall in the shot. As you can see, anything with a horizon near the long edge of the framewould have given a very different impression.
However, Adobe offers a free utility which enables you to make lens profiles to correct vignetting and distortion.
I created a lens profile for ACR/LR using full frame and the 10-18mm on the A7R. The vignetting is such that the profile creator really can’t handle it, and overcorrects the extreme corners as a result. I’ve done f/4, f/8, f/16 at 12, 14, 16 and 18mm focal lengths using an A2 chart; for a lens like this, a much greater working distance and an A0 chart would really be desirable. The link below is to a zip file of the Adobe Lens Profiles I produced – for A7 and A7R, with .lcpp files for final use, and .lcp files for different settings of the 10 18mm I found useful.
At 12mm you can probably see the vignetting artefacts in the corners, the magenta corner shift and incomplete correction of the horizon line. You’ll also be quick to spot that the 12mm coverage has been reduced to something much less, lens profiles always reduce the field of view (they can not do otherwise).
The profiler simply can’t handle the degree of sudden fall-off in illumination given by the 10-18mm used on full frame. Manual distortion corrections can actually do a better job. At other focal lengths, the profile I’ve made works well enough, and if the frame is cropped slightly (still exceeding the APS-C area the lens is designed for) it’s possible to get good results and wider angles.
I have sold my Sigma 12-24mm HSM II which was used with the A99, and also sold a Voigltander 15mm f/4.5 I bought to test (zero cost fortunately, as it made a small profit between Gumtree source and eBay destination). The Sigma was not only very difficult to focus using CD, its HSM motor won’t play with Sony CD.
Just for good measure, here is an uncropped A7R 13mm focal length shot of the church of Maila Dumpara in Kerala taken to use dramatic converging verticals – which fail terribly unless the lines are properly corrected, the last thing you want in a strong upward angle is lens distortion. It’s very stiff test of any lens to do this. I have left the vignetting uncorrected. I rather like it. Click either this or the Abu Dhabi photo and you’ll get a larger image, about 1000 x 1500 pixels.
Samples produced for a dPreview forum question
There’s been a lot of discussion on dPreview forums of which lenses work on full frame E-mount, as Sony saw fit to put a Disable APS-C crop option in the menus of the A7 and A7R (almost as if they wanted owners to experiment). They have made other welcome changes of a similar kind which I’ll cover in a full review of the camera – which I can not do yet as I have no FE mount lenses for it, and with the current choice and prices, I can see I may never use FE mount lenses on this camera.
So, to answer some questions on dPreview’s E-mount forum, I posted these images and comments.
Here is a ‘native’ uncorrected shot of a local building taken on the 10-14mm on A7R at 11mm, f/10, ISO 100:
Here is the result of using the profile, doing a crop and some straighten of slight rotated tilt, and pulling the scale down (with the profile applied, the roof apex is clipped off at the top as the lens has so much distortion its 11mm probably becomes more like 15mm when corrected):
I’ve used some clarity and local burn adjustments on the sky to treat the image more or less as I would (except that I wouldn’t actually photograph this building at this time of day, with blinds drawn, etc).
For me, the 10-18mm on A7R with our without the profile correction offers the same options as using assorted lenses on 5 x 4 sheet film. It never mattered whether a 47mm didn’t cover the entire film, you got an image circle and could use whatever part of it you want. At 10mm the image, with the profile used, has strong corner cut-off but the overall circle of usable image greatly exceeds APS-C provided you stop down (f7.1 seems just OK, f/10 is maybe optimum, I’d certainly try f/16 despite fears of detail loss).
The red crop mark is square – my ‘Hasselblad SWC killer’, as the classic SWC had just a 38mm wide angle lens. You needed to get an Arcbody with 35mm Rodenstock to go any wider on 56 x 56mm film (6 x 6). With the A7R and 10-18mm at 10mm, you get the equivalent of a 24mm lens. Not a 24mm fisheye on 6 x 4.5 like the widest ever offered by Mamiya… a 24mm rectilinear on 6 x 6.
The yellow crop mark represents a significantly larger area than APS-C (which is actually just a little under the 24 x 24mm square in width). It is shifted vertically, as if the lens was being used as a shift lens. If only the APS-C area is considered, its approximately 16 x 24mm area can be positioned right to the top of the frame, equalling a 4mm rise, or the equivalent of using a 6mm rise on a full-frame PC lens (most actually go to 11 or 12mm rise). There is only one lens made which can compete with this, and that’s the Canon 17mm f/4 TS. Admittedly this is a superb lens and when stopped down to f/11 and used on the 6D (Canon’s most shift-friendly sensor) will blow this result away for clean rendering of detail toward the frame edges.
And then, you can still use the 10-18mm in APS-C crop mode as a snapshot wide angle with pretty much perfect correction (Adobe’s own Sony profile for APS-C), for videos too.
Although some of my information back in September was off-mark (writes David Kilpatrick), the post which I put up here was definitely right about the new A7 or rumoured ‘full frame NEX’ being based on the RX body design. I gather it was not the Alpha division, or the NEX division, which handed the prototype cameras to photojournalists from Magnum and Panos agencies. It was either Sony management at an even higher level, or the Cyber-shot division. The photographers involved had previously been using the RX1. They were given the pre-production A7 as a development of the RX1. It may even have been produced because Sony got the feedback that an RX with interchangeable lenses would be great.
Richard Kilpatrick attended the London launch event on Wednesday 16th October and has a small gallery of JPEG shots taken with prototype or pre-production bodies and lenses:
Richard also relays these comments (now finalised and properly written, evening of a busy day):
Both cameras are deceptive; you simply don’t expect this image quality out of something that light. It’s not like carrying a Leica, where you’re wielding something that might double as a weapon – the magnesium body and full-frame sensor feel solid yet after carrying my regular full-frame SLR, it’s a genuine shock.
The Zeiss lens on the Alpha 7R I used, the 55mm F1.8, looks to be exceptional. When first looking over the JPEGs, I went straight to the corners – the clarity, the even illumination, just instantly impressive. The kit lens I didn’t spend as much time with, and I tried it on the 24Mp Alpha 7 mostly investigating the AF, but I would be opting for primes anyway on this body. I’m curious to see how it handles Leica M-targeted lenses – there will undoubtedly be a 15mm or similar, but one of my favourite inexpensive lenses on the M9 was the Voigtländer Super Heliar II, which showed dramatic falloff and magenta tinges in one corner on that full-frame CCD. It was possible to correct, it seems Sony’s work on short registration full frame may be extremely successful, or their lenses are very well matched. Either way, it works.
I’m not very familiar with Sony’s user interface, and I found some controls slightly unintuitive – on this pre-production model, I couldn’t change the ISO whilst the file was being written. That’s the sort of thing which if I’ve left it set to Auto, or simply hadn’t been paying attention between uses, I might want to do – noticing an incorrect exposure and wanting to rapidly correct my error and reshoot.
Other areas of the UI impressed. The animations for aperture and so forth as you adjust the wheels are quick, clear and unobtrusive, whilst still providing the feedback that would allow less experienced users to see which direction they’re heading and what options are available.
The main screen is very nice. Sharp, and I’m a big fan of articulated screens that allow the use of a camera in a “waist level finder” format. Felt solid, robust enough to cope with professional abuse.
Card door and battery compartment aren’t combined, which is a bonus on a compact body. It also has a well sculpted grip. Perhaps it’s unfair to make direct comparisons, but let’s say I prefer this sort of body design to the flatter, more ‘retro’ inspired mirrorless options on the market.
Can not mention this enough, it’s tiny. It’s properly tiny. Not tiny like “well, it’s as big as a classic SLR from X manufacturer, but it’s packing a tiny sensor in there” – it’s “35mm film era compact body” tiny. With a proper, serious sensor in it, the design compromises to achieve a digital, high-tech UI in a small form factor feel like a much better trade than if you’re working with small controls and sacrificing sensor area.
Port covers are hard plastic, hinged, a bit annoying (rubber ones will at least bend if you catch them by accident). Again, lack of familiarity with Sony catches me out here, as the accessories I’d often expect to hook into the ports use the hotshoe accessory port. An adaptor for the earlier hotshoe is available and about £25 apparently, I was more concerned that I wouldn’t be able to use a regular wireless trigger and thus finding a conventional – albeit very sophisticated – hotshoe was reassuring. I wonder how many regular professionals share that perception – that there will be a non-standard interface on the Sony body.
Shutter sound is very solid, mechanical. A really nice sound. There is not a fully electronic shutter mode available, so no silent shooting, but it’s discrete enough.
Ergonomics are really good. The wheels are logical, I found my way around it very quickly on the whole, though without the experience David has of Sony’s software I didn’t know where to find specific features right away. It was logical enough for the main features, such as setting file size and type. There’s an optional battery grip, though it’s really not vital for changing orientation – the camera is so light, one handed shooting and quick rotation is easy.
I am not a fan of EVFs, though I’m happy to work with them if that’s what I’ve got, an optical viewfinder will always be my preferred route. That said, the EVF really did impress. It’s very sharp, has an impressive refresh rate and of course, somewhere there’s a lot of data being shifted to generate that 2.4Mp image. Cannot deny the technical accomplishment! The overlaid virtual horizon was useful and unobtrusive, though I wasn’t clear on what focus point I was using due to my lack of familiarity with the interface.
Sensor exposed when lens detached. This is common on mirrorless bodies, but I’d really like the option for the shutter to close when detaching a lens. Pros do not treat their kit the way an enthusiast or amateur will cherish the substantial investment – the job, be it on sandy beaches, muddy fields or pouring with rain at a wedding, must take priority and the cameras and lenses get subjected to abuse.
I want one, in an abstract way. it’s really very nice. To expand on that – I’ve a feeling when I see what the finished firmware and raw files offer, and have had more experience with the Zeiss lenses in particular, the shift to an EVF is a change I’d willingly accept for the size and quality advantages, but it’s also just a lovely bit of design. Really appealing.
Sony want to move to pro market. Sony have pretty much always had good glass and bodies, but this offers something really unique that should appeal to many professionals – not least because of that 36Mp sensor.
NEX brand is no more. All models will be united under the Alpha brand, with A, E and FE mounts (Alpha, E and Fullframe E) – Richard Kilpatrick
That it should use the NEX E-mount (already used for full frame on the VG-900) was never in any real doubt, though other prototypes may have existed using a different approach. Today, worldwide, the A7 (24 megapixels full frame with Phase Detect focusing pixels on the sensor) and the A7r (36 megapixels without PDAF, but with AA filter) were officially announced.
Compare the body here with the RX1 below – and make a special point of looking at the film plane index mark on the left-hand top plate end. You’ll see that the sensor is positioned much further forward in the A7 body, as the FE mount has the same 18mm register as the original E-mount (including the RX-style decorative orange lens throat bezel) and the RX body is thicker than a NEX even before this is added. This enables a flush-mounted double hinged rear LCD screen, but it’s not a fully articulated or reversible screen, which is a pity.
You will also see that the entire body has been extended in length, despite the RX being full frame.
This is necessary to accommodate the mechanical drive for the focal plane shutter, which sits more or less between the lens and chunky right hand grip (the RX has no FP shutter as it uses an interlens design). All other principal aspects of the A7 stem from the RX design but the construction is not the same, with multiple magnesium body components sealed together and a different set of interface covers.
The cameras include WiFi and NFC (NearField) communication to enable cable free transfer of images. It does not have built-in GPS but a GPS module is expected for the Multi Function Accessory shoe. The cameras have 2.3K dot 0.71X 0.5 inch OLED EVFs, essentially the same as the A99 with a similar generous eyepiece size and auto switching.
There also appears to be some extra depth to the body. You could dream that the extra body depth, length and height conceal the required mechanism for in-body stabilisation… but it’s just what is needed for the focal plane shutter.
We had hoped that the 35mm f/2 lens would be replicated, but this was not to be despite some information that the 35mm being used on prototypes was ‘the same’ as the RX1. Instead, there’s a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss. I will admit to being underwhelmed by that, as it puts the A7/A7r into a category which almost every camera ever made matches (very few cameras can’t achieve a 60° view angle at f/2.8 – it’s what the cheapest compact 35mms used to start with). It is not stabilised.
One zoom lens also announced – a lower cost stabilised(?) Sony G 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 – also fails to set the heart racing (or the hands racing for the wallet) when you consider its modest aperture and fairly substantial size. Unlike the 35mm, it has a rear ring which is marked for aperture adjustment like the RX1 (silent or clicked at choice). The FE mount, while compatible with existing E-mount lenses and accessories and has the same ten-pin contact array, may have additional protocols to handle the on-lens aperture setting.
The 28-70mm zoom is not a true parfocal, it’s similar to lenses such as Canon’s 18-135mm sold with their EOS 70D which almost negates the value of on-sensor PDAF by having massive focus shift when zoomed.
If you want contrast detect focus to work, you need parfocal zooms. You need to keep the subject as close to being sharply focus when you zoom as you possibly can. This zoom does not have a constant aperture though setting it to f/5.6 or smaller may have that effect, and it has a large varifocal range (closest focus at 28mm is 0.30m, at 70mm, it’s 0.45m).
Looking at this, I feel that the 24-105mm Sony f/3.5-4.5 D I’m using on my A99 has real appeal.
This shot shows a Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 OSS lens, not a kit lens, but an option at a high price. This is a more realistic range. My guess is that this lens will not only be a constant aperture (regardless of setting) but also parfocal so zooming during video will not force a refocusing process.
The A7 models have audio manual level control during video and a conventional 3.5mm jack for mic input, clean HDMI output for professional external recorders, and for stills only (not video which remains 1080 50/60 or 25/24p – there is no 30p option) the camera will play back at 4K resolution for the new Triluminos gamut Sony 4K televisions.
The final lens of those released with the camera is a 55mm f/1.8 – again, a slightly odd choice for an expensive standard angle lens of reasonable speed without being special. Bear in mind all these lenses are weathersealed and built for professional use, with the kind of smooth focusing and aperture control required for video as well as stills. A 70-200mm f/4 is also released, putting a total of five lenses in the showcase for launch despite the absence of a true super-wide.
A brand new LA-EA4 Alpha mount lens adaptor provides phase detection AF via an SLT mirror, and has sufficient clearance internally to prevent image cut off (the LA-EA2 casts a shadow on the sensor as it has a smaller throat). A new 70-200mm SSM G II A-mount lens has been launched today as well as is picked out by Sony as compatible with this adaptor.
For most potential buyers, the preview of many other lens adaptors – for Leica and for Canon, as examples – will not just be an added attraction, it will be a essential function. It would be interesting if the FE-mount allows adaptors with their own aperture ring controlling lenes such as Nikon G, and reporting EXIF correctly to the A7’s CPU. That kind of detail we’ll have to wait to learn about; most early reviewers will have other concerns. Adaptors are vital because this camera is launched in sharp contrast to the original NEX-5 and 3 models, with at the best a semi-wide prime lens and a basic wide angle on its zoom.
The NEX system set off with a 24mm lens equivalent, an 84° angle of view considered to be the most desirable all-purpose wide angle, in the box. The NEX SEL 16mm f/2.8 may have had its critics and its QC problems, but it’s become a much-loved lens and got hundreds of thousands of NEX owners off to a great start needing no other wide angle lens. It also had the 12mm wide and 10.5mm fisheye adaptor options at modest cost, meaning that those who wanted true wide views had no reservations buying into the system.
The A7/r is in sharp contrast to this, without no prime in the launch range shorter than 35mm. Professionals would definitely want to have a fast 24mm (and a faster 35mm!) and a geometrically good 20 or 21mm. The Leica 21mm Super Angulon was almost the standard lens for photojournalists from as long ago as 50 years, reaching a peak of popularity in the 1970s, still considered vital when you’re in a tight situation with crowds. The A7 is an incomplete professional tool until it has a moderate sized, f/3.5 or f/2.8 20-21mm. Vignetting is acceptable as long it’s not accompanied by a colour shift. Vignetting actually helps with the look of the images!
The AA filter
The A7r with its D800 level resolution (but a sensor not related to the D800) has the AA filter removed, as in the RX1r. I have tested the RX1r against the RX1 for the British Journal of Photography and I’ll write here about the whole issue of AA filters and moiré only after the BJP has published my report. I will say that the moiré is not a minor issue, the RX1 standard version is already capable of throwing up moiré as it has a very weak AA filter, and the RX1r is bitingly sharp.
So why does Sony do this? It’s hostile to video though the scaling down from the 6000 pixel sensor to a 1920 pixel HD frame is accompanied by moiré removal. The answer lies in conventional contrast detection autofocus. AA filters reduce fine detail contrast and tend to smooth the luminance peaks and troughs used by contrast detect focusing to decide when the image is most sharp. Removing the AA filter has a small but significant effect on the speed and accuracy of contrast detection focusing, along with an improvement in many irregular textures like distant woodlands, lawn grass and human skin. So if you incorporate image processing able to remove some of the resulting moiré, it makes sense. This is the route being taken by most other makers now to get the best possible live view auto follow-focusing.
The A7r sensor has a sensitivity of 100-25,600 expandable to 50, and to 51,200 with multi-frame noise reduction.
The RX1, like the RX100, charges via micro USB and uses a very small battery., NP-BX1. This is fine for running a camera without a focal plane shutter, though pushing it for capacity when running the larger RX1 with EVF (you need spares). The A7 models have a large finger grip partly to accommodate a more substantial battery. The tiny NP-BX1 is really a consumer compact camera cell. The NP-FW50 used by the A7 models is the same cell used by NEX and Alpha 55 (etc).
A battery grip VG-C1EM accepts two of these cells for extended shooting. Charging remains in-camera despite the battery size, as with the Alpha 3000, the first camera to charge this battery type via USB. However, there is an external battery charger available.
As this image, released in the early hours of the morning, shows it’s a bridge camera with an 8.8-73.3mm f/2.8 lens which is equal to 24-200mm on a 1″ sensor (2.7X factor, 2:3 format shape). This is the spiritual heir to two cameras – the Konica Minolta A200 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-R1 – rolled into one. The A2/A200 was described as having a 28-200mm lens, but because it had a 4:3 format shape, the lens was actually equal to a 24mm if you wanted an 8 x 6″ print shape (the 28mm equivalent assumed you cropped the frame down to 2:3… not many people know that…). And that camera had a 7.2-56mm lens, which tells you that the 2/3 inch sensor is for some reason more like a 3/4 inch sensor relative to the 1″ standard.
The RX10 has a mechanical zoom just like the earlier Minolta/KM and Sony models. As long as the lens lives up to expectations, it’s going to be a great general purpose camera, with its 1/3rd click stopped aperture ring round the lens and its Alpha style mechanical AF mode switch. Why would you really want anything more than this for 90% of your out-and-about photography? It has Nearfield (NFC) connectivity but does not have WiFi, or GPS built-in. It does have the Multi Function Accessory shoe which can add many accessory functions in future.
One surprise is that this camera has a mini XLR balanced powered adaptor kit for microphones – this is the small XLR you may have seen on wireless mic sets, locking and more secure than the minijack which is built-in for regular use. This also has audio level metering and manual gain control (thus beating the Alpha 77, which remains hampered by forced auto gain for audio).
Local noise reduction
All the new Sony models have improved sensors and processors. The A7r has the microlenses moulded directly to the sensor, rather than added in an overlay layer as it normal, and they are gapless. The RX10 has a back-illuminated sensor. All have ‘local noise reduction’ which sets alarm bells ringing. If it’s a function that only affects JPEGs, all very well; if we have adaptive local NR affecting raw files, it will only be acceptable if it can be turned off (at least, to some users).
The A3000 is an E-mount camera which looks like an SLR but takes all your E-mount lenses and has a pretty good 20 megapixel sensor. It even has a metal lens mount. So what has been saved? You can now (2018) find these five-year old bodies for as little as £100. The saving is mainly in the expensive EVF innards – it uses a tiny 0.2″ display and a high power eyepiece, more like a consumer compact with a token EVF.
There’s not much really, in a difference of just three tenths of an inch. There’s even less when the inch isn’t a proper inch, but the sort of inch used to express the size of sensors or display chips. Except, that is, when the difference is between 0.5 inch and 0.2 inch and you’re comparing the electronic viewfinder of cameras like the A6000, NEX-6 or Alpha 77 with the EVF found in the entry-level Alpha 3000 (above and below, from both sides).
Here’s our 2013 review:
I’ve had the Alpha 3000 (ILCE-3000, Sony model reference number) now for a few weeks (writing in 2013), and used it as much as my eyesight and patience would permit, given a wide choice of other cameras to use instead during the same period. I can now say without fear of being shot down in flames that it has the most inadequate electronic viewfinder I can remember using, including finders on various bridge cameras of the distant past.
The viewfinder of the vintage Konica Minolta Dimage A2 used a 0.44 inch 922,000 pixel display chip with a generous eyepiece size and accommodation latitude. That is, anyone able to focus their eyes comfortably between 1m and 3m, with or without specs, would rarely need to touch the dioptre control. The Alpha 55 used an 0.46 inch and the Alpha 77 (and accessory EVFs) 0.5 inch.
The A3000 eyepiece has a hard plastic surround and small, only slightly recessed ocular. The accessory shoe is over the eyepiece unit not over the camera body, and the eyepiece assembly sticks out well clear of the screen.
The Sony A3000’s EVF has 201,600 pixels, not even equal to one-quarter of the 2004 Dimage A2 bridge camera’s display. Because it is such a small chip – a mere 2.88 x 2.15mm which compares to a match-head or a grain of rice – the viewfinder eyepiece has to be a low powered microscope. Like any cheap microscope, it only looks sharp if your eye is precisely centered and the slightest nudge to the focus (dioptre) blurs the image. I found that the click-stops of the dioptre control on the A3000 were so crude it was possible to have a sharp image between them, yet uncomfortably unsharp when set to the clicked position either side. I can’t put a graphic of the actual size of the display chip here, because different screen resolutions would change its size.
To make it worse, the quality of the ocular lens is very poor, with distortion and smeary blurring together with considerable flare from the brightly illuminated display chip; it does not have the level of multicoating or internal light baffles to present a crisp clear view. Since the main selling point of the A3000 over any comparable camera is that it has a built-in EVF, the extremely ‘stretched’ design parameters of this EVF will cost it sales in actual stores where it can be tried out.
The A3000 kit box. This unit is made for more than one country’s market.
Inside there’s no software CD, and that super fat looking manual is actually a minimal introduction to the camera printed in 12 languages. It is the Rosetta Stone for a future alien civilisation discovering the remains of Earth!
The bonus for buying a multi-zone package is that you get stubby cable UK and European mains leads. There is no battery charger, instead you get a 5v USB transformer (as with the RX100 and RX1 models) and a USB cable to charge the battery in-camera. The neckstrap is Sony’s standard chafing and scratching type.
Children, young women and most people under 40 in bright weather will find they can accommodate just enough to use the finder comfortably, though the vague smudge which represents the scene is only to be considered as a composition guide. If you are male, over 40, have typical Western rather than Japanese eyesight age-related changes and try the camera out in a dimly-lit environment you’ll hand it back to the salesman and buy something else which is easy to view through and shows a clear sharp image.
That said, the entire camera and its 18-55mm SEL black metal skinned E-mount lens costs a bit less than the accessory EVF for the RX1/100II. And you read that right, this is an Alpha (so are all NEX cameras, as anyone able to see the Greek letter on them will realise) but it’s not an Alpha A-mount. And though it looks like a DSLR or a DSLT, it is neither.
The A3000 is nothing more than a rather appealing sensor upgrade to the NEX range, accidentally fitted into a NEX-3 body, dressed in a hollow plastic sumo suit. In Spain you can see parades with impressive giants, twice life size, concealing a very strong young man who can make them dance. That’s rather what the A3000 is like.
On an iMac 27″ screen you will see the NEX-5n and A3000 precisely life size. The front face of the mounts has been aligned.
My photograph doesn’t just show the relative sizes of the 5-series NEX body and the A3000 together. I have positioned the front face of the lens mounts to coincide. This enables you to see how much space is wasted BEHIND the sensor in the A3000. There should be no cooling problems for extended video shooting with so much air circulation! The A3000 has an focal plane index mark to show where the sensor actually sits inside the body (hard to see – right hand end above the strap fitting) but it’s ahead of the middle of the 38mm thick body, as the mount to sensor distance is 18mm leaving 20mm behind it.
The whole body, though it can claim to be small by SLR standards and therefore get a ‘smallest lightest’ accolade, is just a big plastic skin inside which the intestines of a much smaller NEX have been concealed. You get the same 3-inch rear screen, though without any kind of articulation or touch function and only 230,000 pixels like much earlier generation cameras.
You get a genuine metal lens bayonet mount not a cheap plastic version like the A-mount Alpha 58, presumably because the entire NEX system has always been of much higher overall precision than the A-mount range (just as the 1990s Vectis APS cameras were built to finer tolerances).
You also get a metal tripod bush, though this is in an odd position for panorama fans, located close to the focal plane but well centered on the lens axis; a really well-shaped right hand grip taking advantage of the larger body size.
It uses NEX-3 style controls lacking any front or rear wheels and just using the back mounted dial-rocker and unmarked soft-function buttons.
There is a super-simple interface on the left end of the camera with a single SD/MSPro card slot and a versatile USB connector which is remote release compatible.
The big bonus is on the camera’s fake prism top (which does have a GN4 flash, unable to control wireless flash, but giving excellent exposure and coverage with the 18-55mm). Here you find the Sony Multi Function Accessory Shoe, reassuringly metal and hiding an array of contacts under its forward edge. The A3000 has no HDMI port, no microphone input despite pretty good built-in stereo mics, no remote release socket, no wifi, no GPS, no wireless flash, no studio flash sync socket. It can or will have all of these through the Multi Function shoe. I have not been able to check whether it can also support one of the superior EVFs which would fit (I do know that the Alpha 99, for example, does not support an RX1 EVF mounted in its similar shoe). Perhaps Sony’s expectation is to sell barrowloads of these extremely cheap (£299/$399) entry level interchangeable lens cameras and see the new owners buy two or three lenses, flash, microphones and more.
It’s about time they actually launched the GPS module which this shoe is contact-pinned to accept.
Against all the minimal feature set and basic menu-driven user interface must be set one of the best sensors around, the 20 megapixel APS-C seen earlier in the Alpha 58. It is not a stunning sensor, in that some noise can be seen even at minimum ISO, but that may be because it’s got a very weak AA filter (helps with contrast detect focusing) and decent colour discrimination. Applying just a little raw conversion NR keeps the images clean up to 1600 and allows usable (professional, on-line library etc) ISO 3200. It can go beyond this right up to 16,000 but if you need this sensitivity, you’ll find the EVF so noisy and dark it’s hard to see anything at all.
At ISO 800 (click these sample images for the full size file) you can see the general focus accuracy and sharpness of the 18-55mm used wide open, f/5.6 at 55mm, and also the quality of the flash for shots like this.
This is an ISO 12,800 in-camera JPEG at default settings.
This is the same shot carefully processed using Adobe Camera Raw Photoshop CC.
Here’s a shot at f/8 and 18mm, at ISO 100 (minimum) processed without any NR or sharpening from raw. The sky blue does show some noise even at this low setting. The sharpness of the focused zone (to the left side) is excellent.
Inside the Castle Restaurant, Edinburgh, the light is natural window-light, looking good but fairly low. This is 1/30th at f/9 with ISO 3200, processed from raw with some sharpening and some NR. I’d say nice colour and tones, a little soft because of limited depth of field, but sharp where it can be expected to be.
This one is also ISO 3200, but it’s been put through Photoshop CC Noise Reduction filter (NIK Dfine 2.0 looked superficially better but created artificial looking tone breaks) and then downsized to 3600 x 2400 pixels.
There is no phase detect focus on this sensor, and the only focus method is contrast detection, as on earlier NEX models. It carries this out quickly and extremely accurately. Anyone used to the vague calibration of traditional DSLRs will be amazed by the lens quality the A3000 can reveal just through its pinpoint focus ability. No doubt this is helped by the rigid mounting of the sensor, which has no SteadyShot stabilisation and no vibration to clean off dust. The only self-cleaning is an anti static cover glass. A rigidly mounted sensor requires none of the complex carriage supports and adjustments found in Alpha DSLRs and DSLTs right from the Konica Minolta Dynax 7D onwards. It is probably more accurately parallel to the lens mount than an Alpha 900 or 99, let alone any of the lesser models.
Since the camera has an electronic first curtain focal plane shutter speeded 30 seconds to 1/4,000th and full PASM controls (with a little difficulty) with fully auto mode, scene modes and respectable plus-minus override and bracketing/HDR functions there is nothing an Alpha 99 or 77, NEX-7 or any other high end model can do to exceed its abilities except in some cases achieve a 1/8,000th top speed and shoot burst sequences faster and longer.
Contrast and dynamic range from raw as exposed without any adjustment in raw processing.
With adjustments for black, highlights, shadows, exposure the sensor shows that it has recorded plenty of detail in all zones.
Used for single exposures, it’s just as much a professional tool as a Nikon D4 even though it might not last a week in the hands of a pressman. For £299 perhaps that pressman might consider buying a couple of these just to get into the next urban war zone street demonstration, or to cover a Spanish tomato fight. The pictures will probably be just as good and if the camera gets kicked into touch, the light plastic half empty body skin could well survive better than a crackable alloy jam-packed top model NEX.
Without accurate focusing and exposure, the 20 megapixel sensor would be of little value. Since both focus and exposure are read directly from the sensor, they are about as accurate as you can get. The raw files also show a very good dynamic range and as expected it’s just a little better in ISO performance and DR than the Alpha 58, because there is no SLT mirror in the way.
Again, despite being an entry-level camera probably designed for a huge Chinese and Indian potential market but sold worldwide to ensure it’s taken seriously, the A3000 has vital functions which Sony could have omitted in a purely consumer model.
It has a setting for shutter release without lens, which makes it suitable for use with the vast range adaptors and third party lenses for the E-mount (almost every lens ever made for any format larger than half-frame, whether rangefinder or SLR). Will A3000 buyers want to spend as much again on Novoflex, Kipon or Metabones adaptors and legacy lenses? Maybe not, but they can, and they will work well on this body.
It has a ‘Setting Effect Off’ option – that is for the LCD screen and the EVF, disabling the accurate simulation of exposure/contrast/colour, and permitting use with modelling lights and studio flash. It’s got AF Calibration, usable with the LA-EA2 phase detect Alpha lens adaptor, and the contrast-detect AF is compatible with many SSM and SAM focus motor lenses used on the LA-EA1.
It has focus peaking for manual focus, with magnification, but the low resolution of both the EVF and the rear screen render this less functional than it is in some other models.
A criticism has been made of a very faint click generated, apparently through the audio speaker, when the shutter is pressed. I thought this was a mechanical or electrical relay click connected to the operation of the E-mount aperture, but someone has determined that if the circuit to the speaker is cut (beep off does not work) the click disappears.
Actually, the click indicates the moment of capture for brief exposures and the start of exposure for longer ones (like 1/15th). The first shutter curtain on this camera makes no noise, so you would press the shutter and hear nothing at all. Even ‘silent’ cameras like the RX1 and RX100 do make some noise from leaf shutters. This click is similar in volume or less.
To me this indicates proper concern for the user in a camera where there may be no image displayed on the rear screen and the eye may be away from the viewfinder. You can tell when the exposure is made because the finder blacks out, but if you are not studying the finder, you would have no idea. The shutter button does not have a very obvious point of resistance after first pressure for focusing and you do not have to jab it down. Very gentle pressure will take the shot.
Electronic first curtain shutters are slightly confusing because all the mechanical shutter sound you hear happens AFTER the shot is taken. It is valuable to have this tiny audible clue, which no subject is likely to hear, that you have timed the shot as intended.
The practical side of the A3000 includes a weight so minimal (281g body only) you can take it on a Thomson package deal flight and still carry your wallet and toothbrush as well. The bulk means you are unlikely to mistake it for your iPhone, and the shape means that some people will take your seriously as a photographer while others who would have ignored a NEX will shy away or physically assault you. However, if you hold it out and use the rear screen to compose, no-one will do either as they will assume you are a beginner and ignore you.
To do this, you must press a button on the top. The camera has no eye sensors (it does not even have a rubber eyepiece surround and its 21mm eyepoint just helps to avoid the regularly clattering on spectacle lenses against hard plastic). This means that you can lift the camera to do a rear screen frame-up and the screen is, of course, dead. You get used to it.
The mode dial appears to be metallic and has raised markings. Note the Finder/LCD manual switching button and the safe position of the Movie button away from accidental pressure (it can also be disabled completely).
The camera lacks any kind of finger or thumb wheel so the adjustments are all made after the fashion of the most basic NEX (3 or 5 series models). This is only a bit of a nuisance when setting shutter speed and aperture manually. It does have a lockout for the movie button, a lesson learned from the notoriously free triggering of video shooting by the badly placed red button on countless previous Sony models. The button is actually placed where you wouldn’t hit it by mistake anyway – belt and braces.
The 3 inch rear screen seems to have a very good quality finish – a better acrylic, or might it even be glass? Mine seems to be remaining unscratched to the same degree as Gorilla Glass protectors do.
The EVF is only just acceptable in bright sunshine, when it is also most useful as the rear screen may become unusable. It does not really show the tones of the scene (take a shot and play it back and the difference is obvious) and it shows very little detail. You can make out all the larger shapes in a composition. In some ways it probably encourages good composition. You can’t really tell if the focus is sharp but green confirmation rectangles or a wide zone will activate, with beep if requested, and the shutter release won’t operate until focus is OK. It has optional grid line display and 25 focus points so the little display can get pretty busy.
I have no interest in medium rate burst sequences personally as there’s hardly any action or subject where I do not prefer to time individual shots. A modest 2.5fps is no different to 3.5fps or even 5fps or 1.5fps for me. Really fast stuff like 8 or 10fps or Nikon’s incredible 60fps on the 1 V2 and AW1 has some appeal as this does give you a chance of optimum timing for sports and general action. The A3000 doesn’t. OK, photograph your toddler stumbling towards the camera, just don’t try to advertise the kid on Facebook. Try eBay instead, it’s a far surer way to get rid of them before they become too much trouble.
The worst experience I’ve had with the A3000 has been EVF use in extremely dim indoor conditions, with or without flash, regardless of ISO set and lens used. The rear screen performs much better so it is not just a matter of the sensor’s live view feed. However, in typical well-lit interiors its only failing is that Auto White Balance doesn’t seem to work even if Setting Effect is enabled – it will look brighter than an optical finder, and reasonably clean and clear, but often show a strong colour cast which is not present in the final shot.
I’ve shot a few video clips with acoustic performers and found the sound to be good but very prone to auto gain ducking and boosting. To make decent videos with sound, you have to buy the shoe fitting accessory microphone or audio preamp unit. This is no great surprise as to date only the Alpha 99 has the right functions to control levels and use a conventional plug-in condensor mic directly.
And back to those small differences
I started out by observing the miniscule size of the EVF display chip. I’m going to end with something unexpected. Snapsort.com’s camera comparer states that the A3000 has a larger than normal APS-C sensor, 25.1 x 16.7mm instead of the normal 23.5 x 15.6mm. If this was the case, the camera would gain a huge bonus point, as 1.6mm in 23.5mm would ‘turn’ your Sigma 8-16mm zoom into 7.5mm-15mm.
But the handbook clearly states the A3000 actually has a smaller than normal sensor, 23.2 x 15.4mm. The Sony website says that it has a 23.5 x 15.6mm sensor. Amazon incorrectly lists the size of the original APS-C film format.
The handbook also claims that the EVF is 0.7X when Snapsort comparison specifications gives 0.49X – without knowing where this figure comes from, I can only confirm that the EVF is visually a fraction smaller than a typical 0.72X APS-C like the Alpha 580 (this is easily established by holding two cameras, one to the left and one to the right eye, and seeing how the finder windows compare). So don’t believe everything you read about the A3000. The 0.70X is true. The specs also show an extreme dioptre range (-4.0 to +3.5) for the eyepiece, which is necessary given the critical viewing conditions produced by such a high powered ocular and small display chip.
Actually the Snapsort comparator is very badly written, as it also claims a normal Sony Alpha body is 3.5 inches deep (it’s actually 2.55, 65mm mount to back, compared to the A3000’s 38mm) and that the A3000 is 4.7X smaller than an Alpha 57. This is based on measuring the A57 including prism and grip, and the A3000 on mount to back body thickness only. The A3000 is volumetrically 1.35X smaller including all external air space – the ‘box’ it can fit in – and in linear terms it’s only about 4mm less tall and 102mm long as opposed to 132mm. It’s small but there is a fair amount of bad measurement and worse measurement floating around the net.
Don’t tell me stabilisation would not be a bonus even for the 16mm. If not, why did they make the 10-18m an OSS lens?The 16mm chrome lens looks rather odd on this body.
Snapsort also lists the lack of in-body stabilisation as an advantage compared to the Alpha 57 because apparently in-lens stabilisation gives ‘less risk of blur’. In my experience the two methods are equally effective and our many Alpha bodies offer the choice between using IBIS and lens IS. The A3000 with IBIS (SS) would have been a great companion for the 16mm, new 20mm f/2.8, Zeiss 24mm f/1.8, SEL 30mm Macro, SEL 35mm f/1.8 and the Zeiss TOUIT 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 – not to mention the Sigma 19mm f/2.8, 30mm f/2.8 and 60mm f/2.8. All these excellent lenses currently must survive with no stabilisation other than pixel-shift electronic processing for video work on some cameras.
The A3000 is very small, but the saving is mostly on width left to right, and on the thickness of the body disregarding the ‘prism’ overhang and the right hand grip. The grip extends nearly as far as any other Alpha, meaning that you actually get a much deeper inside surface so your fingers wrap right round. It gives the A3000 the most secure right hand grip of any E-mount camera I know, almost 30mm of sculptured rubber-skinned moulding. Like the rear of the body, this appears to be completely empty. It’s just a moulded grip with a few connections in the top for the shutter button and on-off switch. It does not even house the battery (NEX type) which sits well behind it.
The cheapest kit for the camera includes a black 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SEL OSS. Well, I might as well admit I sold the black 18-55mm which came with my original NEX-7 for £200. Previous 18-55mms were chrome, I bought a Tamron VC DiIII 18-200mm, and the black lenses were in high demand. Now, I get one again, but in with an A300 body and the brand new price was only £349 – one month later, cut to £299. So does that mean I really only paid £99 for this body?
I was not over-impressed by the performance of the 18-55mm on NEX-7. Now I find this latest 18-55mm seems much better. It is made in Thailand, not Japan or China, just like the camera body. Sony must have opened a new plant or recovered the factory which was swamped by two metres of floodwater a couple of years ago. Whatever the case, the Thai contractors (whose story started with the Nikon Pronea APS SLR) have a highly skilled workforce now with almost two decades of experience.
The A3000 looks great with the 18-200mm, whether Sony or Tamron branded.
This lens is so good it compares with the Fujinon 16-50mm I was using recently, and Fuji’s lenses are generally a level above Sony in quality as well as cost. I have found the A3000 body to be a great companion for my 18-200mm as well. It just looks much better on this body, handles better with the right-hand grip, and focuses better than on my NEX-5n. The EVF with the VC stabilisation is better to use than any rear LCD screen when a lens can be extended to 200mm on this format.
The final dilemma
As you will gather, I have big problems with the very poor EVF of this camera. I don’t really have any issue with the relatively low resolution rear LCD. The only other thing which causes me any problems is that I’ve been using Olympus OM-D E-M5 for a while alongside my Sony kit, and I have come to value its in-body stabilisation. I felt able to buy a Sigma 60mm f/2.8 for the Olympus – this is a truly wonderful lens, equivalent to a 120mm on the MicroFourThirds format. I don’t feel able to buy one for the NEX as I know the combination of a 90mm equivalent lens and no stabilisation at all will result in poor sharpness from a super-sharp optic, in many of the conditions I like to use such a lens.
Had Sony decided to put SteadyShot into this body, I think it would have made a great difference. The NEX mount market is just waiting for a stabilised-sensor body able to guarantee the best results from the hundreds of adapted lenses around (Olympus, of course, has a menu to let you enter the focal length of any adapted lens and thus ensure correct IS). But the price point would then have been missed and the precision of the assembly might have been compromised without even greater expense in manufacturing.
I have been using the OM-D more often; its 12-50mm standard zoom is a very good lens, I have a 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens and now the Sigma 60mm which is semi-macro with a great working distance for flowers and fungi. The 5-axis stabilisation works well. I have a drawer full of legacy lenses, adaptors and accessories for NEX but all of them are let down by the lack in sensor stabilisation. The only thing stopping me from ditching NEX and shifting to MicroFourThirds is the lack of a decent wide-angle within that system. I have access to 12mm (16mm+ converter) or 8mm (Sigma zoom with LA-EA1) but for the Olympus I really would need a 6mm lens and no such thing is made.
So, do I sell the A3000? I like to buy rather than beg and borrow cameras for test purposes. Borrowed cameras are OK when it’s not possible – there’s a Canon EOS 70D kit about to land for a couple of weeks – but bought cameras don’t half focus the keyboard fingers. It is easy to be too kind to a camera lent to you for a couple of weeks. It is not so easy to be kind to one you have paid for, unless you are dishonest and think that writing it up favourably will make a camera you don’t like easier to sell on!
Take the Nikon D600. We couldn’t lie about the showers of stuff deposited on the sensor by the shutter. We had bought a full kit. My reviews didn’t hestitate to mention the shutter issue. Nikon replaced the shutter in the camera under warranty and we immediately sold it, the buyer getting a considerable bargain (effectively, a 28-300mm Nikon lens, a GPS unit and a Sigma 17-35mm of proven performance thrown in free with a body that included a transferrable warranty). The buyer also knew who was selling it and could read the reviews. Now we see the Nikon D610 launched with an entirely new shutter mechanism, though Nikon has never once admitted the problem with the original D600. Reviewers and critics and technicians, 1, Nikon 0. Reviewer’s bank balance, -1.
My inclination is to keep this camera despite no GPS and a poor EVF. It’s so cheap that it is really only a swap for the NEX-3 kit I sold this year. I’ve written one paid review which writes off part of the cost of the camera (we make nothing from this website now unless visitors decide to subscribe to Cameracraft magazine which is not all that directly related). I can use it alongside my NEX-5n which is so much better with the 16mm f/2.8 – that lens just looks silly on the A3000. I can maybe even fit my optical finder to the 5n for the 16mm now. I have recently bought some extension tubes.
The A3000 has all the contacts – but are they all wired?
If only the A3000 had a tilting rear screen…or the NEX-6 had the 20 megapixel sensor… or the NEX-7 had the new hot shoe… if any one of the them had on-board GPS like my A55, A77 and A99… if the GPS module for the new hot shoe existed…
What a mess! Sony does not offer choice. It offers buyers’ dilemmas and buyers’ remorse, as in ‘did I buy the right model?’ or ‘did I pick the wrong system?’. Sony is doing just the same with the Alpha A-mount system. You have to pick a sensor you trust over a viewfinder which is great or a format and lens kit change or controllable audio input or having GPS or missing your built-in flash. No way can you have it all in one body.
(below – my conclusion written in October – we now know of course what was launched, and also that there will be an A5000)
Sony must surely follow this up with an A5000, or whatever, adding a few missing refinements to the camera and making it a £499 kit. That is what I would really like. But for the moment, the results from this cheap entry-level ILC are so good I have not touched the NEX-5n or the Alpha 77 since it arrived. And that is maybe the last word.
Except for the full-frame NEX or the interchangeable lens RX1 or the NEX fitted with Olympus-derived 5-axis IBIS – or whatever mid-October brings.
(added below – a comment at the end of 2013)
The A3000 is now sold for as little as £220 including in the UK (£185 before tax) and for $300 US. It is also sold with incentive deals for the 55-210mm E OSS lens, an excellent telephoto option, in addition to the 18-55mm. Am I upset that my camera’s value has been reduced? Well, I often sell cameras I buy to review, eventually. This one I decided to keep. It’s got the best imaging quality of ALL my APS-C cameras and so far, the 20 megapixel sensor responsible for this has not appeared in anything else except the plastic-bayonet A58. It’s a remarkable bargain now and it’s almost being given away.
(added below – a comment in September 2018)
I’m struck by how Canon’s way of making the new EOS R full frame mirrorless system look rather DSLR-like resembles what Sony did in the A3000!
Reporting from Perpignan, one of our good friends in the biz was enjoying the usual wine and sunshine with photojournalists from a French agency (or two). Turns out that right now there’s an RX1 with interchangeable lenses, just what we asked for when the camera was first seen at photokina, roaming the night-time streets of Paris in the hands of no small Magnum name.
The body is exactly the same size and the mount is thought to be a modified E-mount with additional contacts to enable the silent leaf-shutter and iris action which is the hallmark of the RX1 as a ‘stealth’ shooter. It’s possible that the RX1-N (not necessarily its name) lenses will fit other E-mount bodies, but existing E-mount lenses won’t fit the new mini-Leica-style body. But it may also contain a focal plane shutter, as there is such a high potential demand to retrofit Leica M and other vintage lenses to a full frame body of this size.
More we can’t say. The two international press agencies testing the camera right now are keeping very quiet – just like the camera. In fact it’s hard to imagine the RX1 becoming as ‘noisy’ when fired as a NEX (and they are pretty silent when first curtain electronic shutter is used). So a completely new, or partially compatible, mount may be involved. It would be quite fun though if it turned out that over 30 years after the end of the Minolta CLE, a decade after the demise of the Konica RF, and fully 55 years after Minolta’s first abortive bid to make a Leica M body system camera… that Sony put a plain old Leica M mount on the front instead.
Whatever the case, we gather only ONE lens has so far been released for trials and it’s probably exactly the same 35mm f/2 as the regular RX1/RX1X. A second lens is due by the October launch window and the informed guess is that it will be between 50mm and 90mm, our bets are on the most attractive Leica-heritage option, a 75mm between f/2.5 and f/1.4 in aperture. Those 75mms would have been far more popular on Leica bodies if the viewfinders had been better designed to use them. With electronic viewing, that problem disappears and there is no longer any need to keep to fixed steps like 35mm, 50mm, 90mm, 135mm.
In the meantime Hasselblad is having fun selling their STELLAR alongside the earlier LUNAR – the Stellar is of course an RX100 (Mark 1) with an exotic wood (eco-friendly, folks?) or carbon fibre handgrip and some funky styling in return for a 50% higher price tag. They’ve even opened a new Hasselblad brand shop in Japan to sell these luxury bits of luggage to connoisseurs.
I’ve been using the RX100II. Strikes me the STELLAR is light years behind before it even got of the launch pad. Maybe there will be a Stellar II by Christmas. Make mine an African Zebrawood grip please.
– David Kilpatrick
Our comments system is not working properly so I’ll add this here:
Our contact was sure it was an RX1-type camera rather than a NEX and that two lenses are involved, one in existence, the second to be tested shortly. There are two test bodies in existence, being trialled by two different picture agencies. However, this is third-hand info – other photographers in the agencies involved were talking about something they had seen in the hands of colleagues, and were in turn overheard by a journalist who is not a hardware specialist, who called me with what he had heard. If this was a full-frame NEX, I think it would have been identified as such and the RX1 would not have been referenced. However, it is also possible that the full-frame NEX (already rumoured) could simply be styled like an RX1. I did ask whether it had an eye-level finder but this was not mentioned and therefore not known. It would be great if it was just a full-frame NEX, able to do cropped images with existing E-mount lenses and to use the LA-EA3 (full frame compatible adaptor for Alpha A-mount lenses. It would also be great if it did turn out to use the near-silent leaf shutter mechanism. Both possibilities are speculation. We’ll know in maybe four weeks’ time.
The long-rumoured Alpha 3000 was announced earlier in August but placed under a n embargo until August 27th. At the same time, the Press was given an insight into new smartphone related products (also widely rumoured) but again, not allowed to print anything officially.
The A3000 is a DSLR-like body with an electronic 1.44MP viewfinder in a prism-style top bulge, but the body is much slimmer at the lens mount and built to the smallest Alpha form factor as the 3 series indicates (smaller than the A57). Indeed, it’s not so different from the relationship of the very first Alpha 3000 series cameras back at the end of the 1980s. The mount is a regular NEX E-mount and the camera lacks any form of Phase Detection AF, depending on Contrast Detection matched to both existing (18-55mm SEL, etc) and new E-mount lenses. The rear screen is a 230KP fixed type.
Along with this first Alpha E-mount body, Sony announced three new E-mount lenses – a 50mm f/1.8 E OSS (£249) in black, CZ Vario-Tessar T* SEL 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS (£800) and a Sony SEL Power Zoom 18-105mm f/4 G OSS (£500, and also destined to be matched to the next generation of NEX camcorders, with its friendly left hand operated PZ switch and quiet, controllable action). There may also be another power zoom, probably 16-50mm f/2.8 or a similar short wide aperture range, maybe even the 10-18mm in a power zoom housing. The reason these new lenses are made with constant apertures has nothing to do with the ‘Canon f/4 L’ obsession; it’s entirely to do with video work, to enable zooming without brightness change. The power zoom function is also there for video.
Caveat: the 18-105mm has a close focus of 45cm at 18mm, 95cm at 105mm. This indicates that the lens is not a true zoom but a varifocal. Varifocals are not of much use for zooming during a take in video, which goes against the constant aperture and power zoom features. So either the lens has an automatic compensation system which can refocus intelligently during power zoom, or a physical limiter on focus travel (unlikely – what would happen if you focused on 45cm at 18mm, then zoomed to 105mm?). The 16-70mm focuses to 35cm over its zoom range, and is actually capable of close-ups with better than double the image scale (less than a quarter of the frame enlarged) relative to the best the 18-105mm can offer, at 0.23X.
The relatively high level specification of the 16-70mm ZA does not necessarily indicate that there is a higher level of Alpha E-mount body on the way quite yet; at 20.1 megapixels (the same size sensor as the Alpha 58, with some improvements) the performance in terms of imaging may be optimal for a while. photokina 2014 should be when any professional body appears. But this is no way professional – it’s a mere £370 kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 E OSS, ISO range 100-16000, full HD video, A58-like viewfinder and general performance. You’ll see it in the shops before the end of September.
Much has been made of Sony’s relationship with Olympus and the possible inclusion of OM-style 5-axis sensor stabilisation in E-mount bodies. Though the A3000 seems to have SteadyShot Inside (not confirmed by our man at the press conference, and not one of the features shown on the swingtags of the first cameras photographed by others) Carl Zeiss, traditionally wary of stabilised lens design, would not be issuing the 16-70mm with OSS unless fixed sensors were going to around in NEX and Alpha E-mount bodies for some time.
Whatever type of in-body stabilisation it has, the A3000 with SS looks like a good companion for existing un-stabilised lenses such as the Sigma 60mm, 30mm and 19mm f/2.8 designs or specialities like the Voigtlander Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95. However, I’m writing this prior to the big release of information this morning. Despite many statements that the camera does have IBIS, I see no rock-solid evidence that it does and I’m very aware that Sony staff if asked whether it has stabilisation could well say ‘yes’ on the basis of the OSS present in the kit 18-55mm lens. So, I treat this information with caution. It would not be the first time an expected feature has not materialised. Check the Sony site if you are reading soon after 5am GMT, I’ll amend this article later in the day.
In the meantime, we know that Sony has been increasingly close to Sigma (a company which also works with Zeiss) and that some ideas may be shared between the two companies. One of the most important ideas promises to end the way your camera system choice locks you in to one company’s products. Sigma has taken the first visible step with its mount switching service. Future Sigma DSLR lenses can be returned to the workshop and their entire rear mount changed, at a cost, to another mount. So you will be able to own your 300-800mm (2014 version…) and if you switch from Canon to Nikon, the lens can switch with you. Now that many regular lenses cost £1000 or more and Sigma’s quality is so highly regarded (35mm f/1.4, MFT and E-mount lenses, DP series) it will make sense to keep the glass for longer. The new USB-interfaced lens calibration kit will also enable such lenses to be user tuned to work with their new host bodies.
The second idea is the switch to E-mount for more products by Sony. There is already a full frame E-mount Sony, the NEX VG-900E, and it’s actually a 24 megapixel still camera shooting raw, as well as a high-end full frame camcorder. It just gets very little attention because it does not look like an SLR or a NEX. This camera has adaptors for other systems of full-frame DSLR lens, as well as a specialised full-frame version of the Alpha mount plain adaptor (LA-EA3 without APS-C internal baffles found in the LA-EA1). However, third party makers have not yet gone the distance. Prime lenses from Samyang and Carl Zeiss are the main E-mount full frame offerings, made for video.
With the Alpha 3000 we see the introduction of an idea I sketched out for film cameras in the 1970s based on discovering the Contarex with its interchangeable 35mm backs. My concept was a camera body with a shutter unit, and a mechanical linkage for slot-in modules including a rangefinder mount, an SLR mirror-box with prism, and a pro mirror-box with interchangeable finders, plus several further front components to switch between Pentax, Minolta, Nikon, Canon and other lenses. Alpa came close to managing this with their very slim bodies and mount adaptors, plus a combination of optical direct finder and prism.
Sony’s future, like Sigma’s, lies in crossing all boundaries. The eventual full-frame, E-mount DSLR-style camera may well have the rumoured 36-50 megapixel sensor, 4K electronic viewfinder, and five-axis sensor stabilisation. It will also have an Alpha lens adaptor and firmware lens recognition good enough to let SSM and SAM in-lens focus motor lenses function adequately with on-sensor focusing. But what it will also have, for certain, is a range of adaptors for other mounts including Canon EF and Nikon G with translated control of AF and aperture (exactly what Sigma has now built in to the front ends of its ‘switchable mount’ new lens series). These will likely be third party products, but Sony has already shown (in 2010, at photokina and other shows) that it has no difficulty welcoming makers such as Metabones and Novoflex on board as co-operative vendors.
What’s more, in theory there will room to build a phase-detect mirror system (SLT) into some adaptors and even to add a focus drive motor. With the right chipset to translate the protocols from body to lenses, or to mechanical functions in the adaptor, almost any lens ever made for any SLR or rangefinder from the last century of miniature camera development will find a home on Alpha E-mount bodies.
Then you will have the ‘DSLR-CSC’ hybrid to end all – the body which can be sold with a Nikon mount, or a Canon mount, or an A-mount – or use its highly optimised future full-frame E-mount optics. To some degree the NEX has already done this but the real impact of the 18mm thick body, compatible with full frame lenses, has yet to be seen.
Caveat – if a full frame model does use sensor stabilisation, mechanical obstructions could mean that a crop factor of somewhere around 1.2X was needed. Sony already has pixel-shifting electronic stabilisation for video, not stills, and this also needs a crop factor to work. It would be easy to imagine the full-frame NEX accepting this limitation, and providing electronic stabilisation on-sensor only, removing moving parts and improving precision/calibration.
The NEX-5T has the same forward flippable rear screen mechanism as the 5R, one of the advanced over the earlier 5 and 5N designs.
The NEX-5T is the successor to the NEX-5R (5n, 5 etc), available as a black or white body. The 16.1 MP APS-C CMOS sensor NEX-5T will sell for around £600 and adds Near Field Connectivity technology to WiFi. Fifteen of Sony’s PlayMemories ‘apps’ are now available. Features include Hybrid AF (CD-PD on sensor), 180° tilting LCD, and maximum sensitivity of ISO 25600.
In a move which will not delight many owners of the 2012-released RX1 and RX100 cameras, Sony has chosen to update both of them in fairly subtle ways which improve performance without changing the basic lens specifications at the heart of each camera. The makeover to produce the RX100 II is more thorough, and includes a tilting rear screen, a new back-illuminated version of the 1.0 inch CMOS sensor, and a Multi Function Accessory Shoe which can power an electronic viewfinder or other accessories. It also features WiFi and Near Field Communication for transferring those tiny 20 megapixel files to your smartphone, perfect for direct upload to Facebook (just shoot Small JPEGs instead, keep the big raw files untransferred).
The RX1R is less thoroughly upgraded, as it’s basically an RX1 with the low-pass (AA) filter removed. Got to admit that we could have sworn Sony originally said, at photokina, the RX1 did not have an AA filter. Its performance seemed to back that up. Then, in the release version (which was very different from the September 2012 pre-production models, even in control details) this was moderated to say that there was a special low strength AA filter. Now, in the RX1R, the AA filter is definitely removed and some new processing added to combat the resulting increase in moiré and colour artefact production which always goes with the absence of the filter. Nothing else is changed; the two models are very similar to Nikon’s D800 and D800E, and like them will be available side by side. The RX1R does not replace the RX1. Whether owners of RX1 will see it quite that way, who knows?
At this level of camera, there will be plenty of buyers who want to have BOTH bodies. Just as, with the RX100, despite version II not having the imaginary extra lens range dreamed about by those who don’t realise what’s involved, there will be many buyers for the new model who will pass the original on to a family member or keep it as a spare.
Finally, there is a new HVL-F43M flashgun with the now familiar rotating head design first seen on the HVL-F58AM. This slightly smaller but almost as powerful flash unit has the Multi Function Accessory Shoe (and can now therefore be used with both the above Cyber-Shots as well as NEX-6, A99, A58 and future SLT/NEX/Cyber-Shot models). It has an LED light for video, also useful for modelling when using flash off camera – but get our latest issue of Cameracraft, No 4, to read my detailed article on how the quality of LED light compares to other sources!
A question which remain unanswered is – when will Sony introduce the shoe fitting GPS module which is already provided for in the pinouts of the Multi Function Shoe, on the NEX-6, RX1, Alpha 58 etc? Having this on the market would certainly make the RX100 II even more of a must-have upgrade.
Be warned (perhaps by our review of the Alpha 58) that the promoted Tri-Luminos colour display compatibility – a change in the camera’s RGB sensor filters and processing – may not necessarily make for better colour with other devices, or for printing. It’s a good reason to buy a new Sony television but not an especially good reason to prefer the new models over the old non-Tri-Luminos type.
Finally, having removed the AA filter from the RX1 to create the RX1R, we must await the arrival (or non-arrival…) of the Sony Alpha 99R. That would be logical now that a refresh to new models seems to be called for after only 6 to 12 months on the market. Perhaps that is a bit cynical. What often happens in this industry is that a product will be revised when stocks of all the components for the original batches are used up, and not enough finished product is in the pipeline to satsify predicted demand.
The RX1 and the RX100 have both been runaway successes worldwide and it may be that new production was commissioned and presented a chance for hardware changes. Firmware updates for existing owners? A second priority, but don’t give up hope…
– David Kilpatrick
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In the last year two cameras have been through my hands and impressed more than any others with the quality of their sensors. Those cameras were as different as they could be – the full frame Canon EOS 6D, and the pocketable Sony Cyber-shot DSC RX100. They have one thing in common, 20 megapixel sensors.
Of course there is no connection; a 24 x 36mm Canon sensor and a 8.8 x 13mm Sony sensor are very different. But if you shoot at ISO 125 on both cameras, and process from raw with a normally exposed scene, you will be hard pressed to tell the results apart.
So, when Sony – proving a giant-killer with the 1.0” format RX100 sensor – creates a budget DSLT model with an APS-C 20 megapixel sensor it would be reasonable to expect that this would outperform the RX100 and in the process prove superior to the 24 megapixel Alpha 77, 65 and NEX-7. It might even match the Alpha 99.
The Alpha 58 was announced at the end of February 2013, and some major websites had still not reviewed it by June. This is the first new Sony APS-C silicon for two years. It’s not found in any other body. Why the lack of urgent interest?
Perhaps, like me, the entry-level grade of the A58 has been responsible. It’s by far the worst Alpha body ever manufactured, and the first to have a plastic lens mount where machined metal is normally used. The whole physical feel of this Thai-made camera is inferior; it even has a slightly rough external texture which picks up handling marks the moment a store customer (or cynical on-line orderer intending to try, but return for a refund) so much as touches it.
It has a relatively low-resolution, small rear screen (2.7 inches and 460,800 pixels) which is in the simplest and most restricted kind of up/down angle hinged mount. Against this economy, though, you need to balance a better OLED electronic viewfinder based on a one-inch 1,440,000 pixel display and a change to the new Sony Multi Function Accessory Shoe (without a protective cap, and without the adaptor for the Minolta/Sony Auto Lock shoe). It also uses the larger FM-500H battery common to all other current Alpha models, not the smaller FM-50H used by the NEX and also by some previous Alphas like the A55.
What is really new about the A58 is the price. I was not interested in the camera, though curious about the new sensor, because it was $600 US or £499 UK with the most basic lens , a new 18-5mm f/3.5-5.6 SAM II with quieter and improved internal focus motor (delivered, like Canon kit 18-55mms, without a lens hood). Then while helping a professional friend decide how to replace an A350 used for some unique underwater photography where the Quick Live View AF function has no equivalent in other makes, I looked into the A58.
It was on sale, in Britain, including VAT and properly sourced from Sony, for under £350. The actual price of the kit was only £291 before added VAT sales tax. This was £100 cheaper than the lowest price of the RX100, less than any other DSLR on the market with anything like the same specification. Bear in mind what a replacement Sony battery costs (around £50) and what an 18-55mm fetches (officially more, but in practice around £100 new) and this body was coming in at about £150. That’s a point and shoot compact price.
So I bought one.
The packaging for the A58 cuts down on many things – recent Alphas have been festooned with stickers, this one has a single swingtag and a sticker on the rear LCD promoting connection to Sony’s webserver to obtain PlayMemories Home, the kiddy-friendly name for what is probably quite functional software, if you happen to use a Windows PC.
When you have charged the battery and loaded it, the first time you turn on a similar message fills the rear screen. Everything works as you expect from an Alpha, though some mysterious glitch stepped the entered date back by two days. You can only set to complete minutes, not seconds. Some defaults are set to ‘on’ including Smile Shutter and Auto Object Framing, and for my use these were disabled and the recording mode set to shoot RAW+JPEG, sRGB.
The supplied lens is a cheap product glitzed up by the addition of a metal microskin on the front bezel, behind the rotating rubber rimmed zoom and focus tube, 55mm filter thread. The SAM focus is quieter than the original version. The plastic-on-plastic mounting action is smooth enough, but when changing between the 30mm SAM macro (very noisy and jerky motor in comparison) engagement of the contact array was not always positive and the lens had to be twisted back and forth once with the lock pressed to enable AF.
The A58 is set to use electronic first curtain and SteadyShot Inside sensor-based stabilisation, both switched via the main menus. The Function button, which can access most regularly used settings does not reach these directly (a second menu screen is involved, very easy to use). There are also direct access button-positions round the rear controller for the important Drive, Picture Effect and White Balance settings, and a dedicated ISO button close to the shutter release. These can be customised to a degree, like the stop-down/intelligent preview button on the camera front which can be changed to work as a focus magnifier.
What’s initially surprising is that the shutter sound is noisier than many cameras with flipping mirrors. It’s not a pleasant sound either, mechanical in a clockwork-motor way. It all happens after the shot has been captured, as you can tell if you make a long exposure. Maybe the lightweight mostly plastic construction of the body, with its minimal metal skeleton, fails to damp the sound.
The viewfinder has the same contrast and dark detail failings as the A77, and in some ways the old A55 finder provides a more useful view. The rear screen is not very bright, and there is no auto brightness setting, just a 5-step manual control. In return, whether you use the LCD or the EVF makes on a tiny 10 shot difference to the 700 frames expected from one battery using the former. This stamina is double that of an EVF camera using the smaller battery type and restores a more than acceptable battery life per charge to Sony’s consumer entry level.
What is excellent about the finder is the ocular. It has been designed to give extreme eye relief – 26.5mm from the eyepiece glass, 23mm from the rubber frame surround. This compares to 19mm/18mm for the same data on the A55 (eyepiece glass not well protected from dust and light ingress, but eye needs to be close) and 27mm/22mm for the A77 (very deeply recessed and shaded ocular, reasonable eye distance). Part of this is down to display module sizes: 1.0 inch for the A58, 1.2 inch for the A55, 1.3 inch for the A77. Matters are further confused by the A55 failing to use all its EVF for the image, so the eye also sees a large near-black surround except when using menus which then expand to fill it.
Overall, the EVF looks like a view which is A55 size but A77 quality, like using a cropped section of the A77/99 2.4 megapixel EVF module. Sony has made this much easier to use with spectacles, or with the camera held an inch away from your eye. So although it’s not the best finder ever, it may be one of the best choices for anyone who has trouble with eyepoint. I found the EVF very blue at its neutral point, and set two notches of warming up to match the eye’s view.
The controls are no different from any other Alpha, they don’t feel rough or weak, and every button push got a response as expected.
The cover for the single dual purpose SD/MSDuoPro card slot is not a tight seal, and does not need firm action to open. The synthetic rubber single seal door over the microphone jack (no manual level control), Micro USB matching the RX100, and Micro HDMI ports is a good flush fit. There is also a Minolta/Sony unique DC in socket with similar cover.
What’s missing is the old Minolta and later on Sony remote control socket. Instead there’s a pretty clunky wired remote which works via the micro USB port. It looks like a version of a Chinese generic. This connection offers the only way to get wireless remote control, with a suitable device, as the camera lacks the IR receiver and has no Drive Mode for it.
The body shape in the hand is just a little more cramped than the A55, far more so than the A580, both cameras we have and both ‘replaced’ in the Alpha line up by this one model. I’d say it was less of a good fit to my hand than the classic Minolta Dimage series bridge cameras, or the Nikon 1 V2. Both of these were around to compare directly.
The critical bit
Then after getting acquainted with the camera, comes the question of the sensor performance. Here, the viewfinder gave the first clue that unlike the ‘sweet sixteen’ CMOS this 20MP newcomer was not going to move any goalposts. In domestic lighting, the level of noise in the EVF is higher than the old A55 and comparable to the A77.
However, I chose to compare the A58 with the RX100, because of the great advances made in the RX100’s very small 2.7X sensor. The results show an interesting divergence from minimum (100 for A58, 125 native for RX100) ISO to maximum. There is almost no advantage to the A58 up to ISO 400. Both cameras, with similarly adjusted raw conversion, yield clean images and it’s not even easy to tell ISO 400 from 200 or 100. If you click the images below, you’ll access a full size original conversion from raw (ACR).
A58, ISO 100, full sun, shadow to highlight from raw
RX, ISO 100, deep shadow to full sun on white, from raw
A58, ISO 400, full sun on wide tone range, from raw
RX100, ISO 400, wide tone range in full sun, from raw
As you increase the speed, the 58 rapidly shows its advantage and by ISO 1600 has both a structure which looks finer in terms of granularity, and with far less chroma noise. Where a carefully processed ISO 800 from the RX100 might match a carelessly handled 800 from the Alpha, at 1600 it’s very difficult indeed to close the gap. By 6400 the RX100 is not really useful but the 58 can still deliver a fairly normal looking shot – it does begin to look like a desperate measure. Then you have 12,800 and the absolutely pointless 160,000 top setting which seems to be there for advertising purposes.
Taking into account differences in colour rendering, the advantage of the larger sensor is levelled if the RX100 file is reduced to 4500 x 3000 pixels and moderate chroma noise reduction applied. In relative terms, the small sensor is better, because it’s actually only a little over one quarter of the size of APS-C.
Compared to the 16 megapixel Sony sensor (NEX-5n, A55 and many later models as well as Pentax and Nikon variants) the 20 also fares pretty well. It has higher levels of luminance noise but minimal chroma noise. It’s not easy to reduce the luminance NR without softening detail, when using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. It does not harm sharp detail much if left alone; if this sensor actually has an AA filter, it’s very weak.
This a MacBeth ColorChecker rendered using the official sRGB values.
This is an ISO 200 shot on the A58 with the greyscale white balanced to match the above, Iridient Raw Developer conversion using Iridient’s A58 profile. See later comments on colour and reds.
As for dynamic range, it falls off as the ISO in increased. At ISO 100 or 400 a typical high contrast sunlit scene is perfectly recorded, with only bright specular highlights clipping to 255-255-255. It can handle everything from shadows on dark areas to direct light on white. A few practical comparison shots show that the RX100 can do exactly the same things – indeed, precisely the same areas clip at the highlight end.
This simply indicates to me that Sony has matched the processes used in the two cameras against a common exposure and contrast standard. I’d have the rate the JPEG engine of the RX100 a little better than the Alpha, and images seem to need less work. Against the Alpha 99, the 58 gains some significant processing speed in raw converters as it’s producing 20 megapixel 12-bit files compared to 24 megapixel 14-bit.
Click this for the full size to see detail.
Compare this RX100 shot. It’s interesting.
A hidden benefit of the 20 megapixel sensor is that if you use Adobe Camera Raw, this program offers a range of preset optimised output sizes converted directly from raw, which can be previewed at 100% of their actual pixel size before conversion. All 24 megapixel cameras have this as their largest output size, all you can do is downsample. 20 megapixel cameras offer a 25 megapixel output option, as do 16 or 18 megapixel models. The RX100 has already proved to me that it can make a 25 megapixel image that’s hard to tell from a native A77/99 image. The same goes for the Alpha 58. It can be set to export to this larger size, and if you use a top grade lens and low ISO, the result will be better than a native 24 megapixel at higher ISOs with a medium-quality lens.
Overall, I find it hard to rate the new 20 megapixel sensor as better than either the classic 16 megapixel ‘sweet spot’ sensor or the maximum 24 megapixel APS-C, but it is as competent as either of these in its own right. I guess the truth is that at all these resolutions, superb image quality is possible.
Other aspects of performance
Since the A58 uses the 15-point, 3-cross AF sensor which has been proven ever since it first appeared in the A580 and A55 it has identical performance; fast, very accurate AF down to EV -1 (50mm f/1.4). The exposure metering is, again, the familiar 1200-zone Sony system and works down to -2EV.
The actual focusing mechanism works no better with SAM or SSM lenses than with screw drive. It’s not the best ‘old’ mechanism in there and it lacks fast/slow AF setting, but it’s fast for certain. In low light although AF will lock, it needs a good target. Throughout my use of the camera I found the focus the least accurate and consistent of any Alpha body I’ve used, leading me to question whether I had accidentally set the lens to MF, so many pictures were clearly focused on some other plane than the subject, nearly always a definite back focus. The AF module is officially the same as the A55, A580 and so on. I can’t help thinking it is the same design but perhaps, like the rest of the camera, built to a budget.
The A58 couldn’t really back focus this shot at f/8 but it took three shots to get one sharp.
Click the RX100 (f/5.6) example too, to see the real difference.
Switching between rear screen and EVF using the eye sensors, or if you have the rear screen off just turning on the EVF, is good on this camera. Its balance tends to prevent the eyepiece sitting against your chest, and thus avoids accidental activation, but it’s always brought the EVF into action by the time your eye is close enough to use the finder.
Regrettably the EVF and rear screen both lack the instantly visible high resolution needed to know whether your image is pin-sharp. Even the far superior finders and screens of the A77 and A99 do not give you the same awareness of this as an optical finder. The good news is that Focus Peaking can be turned on. This really isn’t sensitive or accurate enough unless you magnify the image, and much of the time, you simply don’t have time to do this.
So, the A58 is capable of pin-sharp images and you can be sure under the right conditions with the right technique that you won’t be short changed out the 20 megapixels you expected. But a lot of the time for everyday shooting it’s not very good at getting AF pin-sharp, and those same 20 megapixels do their best to show any error clearly.
In practical situations, ISO 400 is as noise-free as ISO 100 and gives you the chance to use a smaller aperture for more depth of field. The 18-55mm SAM II lens is not very sharp at 55mm wide open, and it proved optimistic to expect f/6.3 or f/7.2 to be much better. The old ‘one stop down for zooms’ rule works well enough. The 20 megapixel sensor shows signs of slightly softening at f/11 so the sweet spot for me has to be around f/9 or f/10.
The A58 has slightly warm tones overall and pinkish flesh colour
The RX100 on the same scene is more neutral or cool
You can click the images above for full size versions (same applies to all those shown in link frames like this).
As for colour, you’ll be happy if you have always like Canon DSLRs. not so happy if you were either a Sony (sunny!) or Minolta (full spectrum) sensor colour fan. This sensor shows every sign of having relatively weak RGB colour filters and a non-linear response, with underexposed shadows on higher ISOs in daylight tending towards magenta. It’s rather too easy to get putty-pink skin tones and a certain lack of subtelty in sky gradations, though blues and greens are not bad. Subjects like red flowers test the colour discrimination of the sensor to the limit.
It’s truly intense – but is it realistic? Camera profiles for raw conversion may tame this.
Let’s just say that every other current Sony Alpha model, and many past ones, will yield more visible difference between close hues. This is what you might expect from the more densely populated 20 megapixel sensor but, as ever, I’m left wondering why the little RX100 seems able to yield better colour (whatever DxOMark.com may say – but they also put the low light ability of the RX100 way below its actual performance).
At present there are no camera profiles available when converting files using Adobe Camera Raw, and the Adobe Standard colour seems to handle reds from the A58 badly (this is why I refer to Canon – the reds look much the same as problem Canon reds of the past). I don’t believe that red paint, red clothes, red street signs and red flowers are all are one type of red and when clipping warning is turned on, almost all the reds clip.
Shutter and flash
The shutter of the A58 is able to synchronise short-duration fast triggered flash, such as a thyristor camera top gun, up to 1/250th on manual without any shutter curtain clipping; at 1/320th, a shadow intrudes slightly on the frame. This is a better performance than indicated in the specifications, but for studio flash (mains powered) I would recommend working at 1/125th and for Sony/Minolta dedicated flash at 1/160th.
The shutter itself does not operate or make any noise whatsoever until AFTER the picture is captured when you use ‘Electronic First Curtain ON’ setting. The capping shutter blind has a cycle (close and return) of approximately 230ms overall in single frame mode resetting the camera ready for the next shot, or 115ms for continuous shooting which fits in with 8 frames a second fastest (cropped) frame rate. If you use the mechanical first shutter curtain, this adds exactly 50ms or 1/20th of a second to your release lag, which is not as easy to measure but seems to be in the order of only 20ms (1/50th).
Overall, this makes the A58 one of the most hair-trigger responsive cameras you can possibly own for capturing action – or would if the AF were faster and more reliable. Pre-set focus, use manual exposure, and you can trigger exposures with this camera as fast as you can think – just like the A99.
With its built-in flash or dedicated Sony flash, there’s the usual small delay caused by preflash. You may think the shot is being delayed more, because the shutter operates after the exposure, and then as the finder returns to life you get about 1/30th of a second of ‘review’ of the shot taken even with the 2s or 5s (etc) image review disabled. This happens all the time with the camera, the first frame or two of the finder refresh is a fleeting glimpse of your captured shot, and it’s useful. With flash you may be viewing a dark scene, the finder itself is blacked out when your flash fires, but this sudden bright image looks almost like a delayed flash through the eyepiece. Of course it is not, this is just an impression.
The built-in pop up flash becomes a rather aggressive AF illuminator when flash is active and the camera has trouble finding enough light for an AF lock. You certainly do see the effect of this through the finder, a surprisingly long and bright burst of light. It must drain the battery fast.
Flash exposure, long a problem with Alphas, seems predictable. A pile of black camera bags produces a full exposure (histogram hitting the buffers at the right hand end) while a white paper document in the middle of the frame results in one stop under. No doubt users will find specific flashguns or situations which produce wildcard exposure. That’s why you should always enable DRO+ Automatic or something like level 3 when shooting with flash. This dynamic range contrast optimisation process can produce great flash pictures out of the camera but remember it only works well at lower ISO settings, do not go over 800 and expect DRO+ to keep you smooth noise-free image.
The A58 appears to allow DRO to be used at higher ISOs, which earlier cameras often lock out because of its effect on shadow noise. However, both the printed manual and the downloadable handbook contain many inaccuracies and ambiguities; even Sony’s specification for the camera on-line has problems, listing standard and magnified views in the finder instead of eyepiece glass and surround against the two eye-point figures.
Wireless flash operates in the usual way, with the pop-up flash acting as a commander once paired by first fitting the remote flash, turning on, selecting WL Flash mode, and removing the remote. This is now a 20-year old Minolta technology updated – something which took Canon fifteen years to catch up with, after which they progressed further. The Alpha wireless flash works but it’s frozen in time. At least, with the optional adaptor, you can use earlier Minolta and Sony flashguns of the HS(D) generation and later.
HS is the high speed burst mode (long duration resembling continuous light) and the A58 can use HS flash at all shutter speeds up to 1/4,000th. The A58 has a useful Slow Sync function which delivers and automatic dragged shutter setting according to the available light, and a Rear Curtain sync as well. The camera may, with the built-in flash, switch to a slow longer recycling time even if you load a fresh battery when shooting flash intensively. This is to prevent the camera (not the flash) from overheating.
One reason I obtained an A58 to look at was because Ian Cartwright, a friend of mine who shoots models and babies underwater, had obtained an Alpha 580 on my advice to replace an A350 only to find that this camera forces a strange blackout delay of almost half a second when using any dedicated flash. The A350’s otherwise similar Quick Live View does not have this peculiar firmware fault. I can confirm that the A58 fires in real time, and unlike either of the other two models, can be used with PocketWizard or an infrared trigger. That’s because the finder view can be switched to ‘Setting Effect OFF’ which defeats exposure simulation and gives you a bright view even in manual with setting like 1/125 and f/11 under dim modelling or ambient light. The A58 can be used in the studio as easily as the A99, because of its ISO hot shot compatibility and this feature.
For this studio shot I chose not to use flash, it was lit by my Interfit 3200 tungsten outfit (great for video) instead. The colour rendering matters little because the image is adjusted in processing to give this look.
As to whether you would ever want to use an EVF camera for studio work, that’s another matter. I have bought a replacement Alpha 900 after three months trying to use EVF for studio set-ups and temporarily reverting to my A700. It’s not just the quality of what you see when composing and adjusting your studio shot (stray hairs over a face or a clothing fibre landing on your still life are just not visible with EVF) it’s the need to have power saving permanently turned off to keep the screen or finder awake as you do all the lighting and reflectors, background and subject adjustments. Nothing is more annoying than having to half-press the shutter to wake up your camera every time you go back to check – and with the A58, the shutter release is so light it’s easy to take a shot instead of waking the finder view.
The A99 can be used tethered and plugged in to AC, with a USB cable to a remote capture Mac or PC, and a live feed to an HDTV monitor. Do that and the business of setting up and adjusting a studio shoot becomes far easier with live view. I just don’t do enough work of any kind to justify that, it’s quicker to keep using the old familiar glass prism. It looks as if the A58 can be used the same way, joining the A77 and A99 by having PC Remote capability and HDMI previewing, while the A900/850/700 are the only other choices in Alpha history able to use PC Remote.
This does open the door to using a netbook, for example, as an intervalometer timer or remote release. There is no App for iOS or Android but the PC Remote control panel is well designed to fit a smartphone. There is no Wifi in the camera (it has good compatibility with EyeFi cards, invoking special display icons).
Due to the softness and lack of AF sensitivity of the 18-55mm SAM II lens, my couple of quick test videos in real situations were not stunning but also not too bad. The sound quality is reasonable without plugging in my Rode Video Mic, stabilisation of video is very good indeed, and by using the dedicated video setting I was able to set my own shutter and aperture. You can also lock out the movie button except when the mode dial is set to video, preventing accidental video clips.
If you want the camera for video, either the 18-135mm SAM lens or even better the 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM (quiet fast focus) will do much better than the 18-55mm. The A58 lacks the highest quality video encoding of the A77 and A99, but you can get the vital requirement of 25/30fps at 1080p, the second highest level found on other Alphas. The clip above is at best quality with the 18-55mm; it took some fairly extreme action (the car driving right towards the lens) to persuade the AF to bother to try to track, most of the time it was telling me, hey, that’s good enough, no need to refocus… or even focus to start with.
Although the A58 has been trimmed down in some ways, other aspects have been improved, compared to past entry-level cameras. There is no wireless remote drive mode, and no 2sec self-timer, so unless you buy the unusual Micro USB wired release you have to use a 10sec timer for shake-free tripod work.
Bracketing is only three frames, but the range is now large – 0.3EV, 0.7EV, 1EV, 2EV or 3EV steps. HDR Auto can also use a 6EV span (±3EV). You can not control the auto ISO range, but it’s a reasonable 100-3200. If you shoot JPEG and choose multishot noise reduction, an auto 6400 may be selected, and some of the Scene modes may also enter this range. But if you shoot raw, you have to select ISOs from 4000 to 160,000 manually which makes them harder to get by mistake.
There are many picture effects, both single and multi-shot, in the A58. One of the more interesting is Rich Tone Black and White, which uses three shots to build a gradation resembling a traditional darkroom print.
The sensor does not appear to support sub-frames, or cropped raw files, in the same way the A99 or Nikon D600 can do. The maximum frame rate for continuous shooting is 5fps for full size raws, but the buffer is minimal and the best I could get was four frames in a burst before a major pause and intermittent resumption, never at 5fps. On raw you get click-click-click, off to make coffee, click, take a walk round the block, click, remember to turn the lights off before going to bed. It’s that bad. JPEG Fine, which delivers 4 frames at 5fps, then becomes intermittent and variable in capture speed but a little faster than raw.
To get anything better, you must convert the camera into a 5 megapixel 3X factor (2X crop of the 1.5X sensor) by setting it to T8 (Tele 8fps) continuous mode on the main control dial. This delivers about 8.1fps for 24 frames on a 95MB/s SanDisk card, then slows to capture around 5-6fps in a regular pattern of two frames at 8fps, hesitation, two more and so on. On a slower card, Transcend SDHC, I got 12 frames continuous and a slower more regular tail. Memory card speed is clearly critical for getting the best from the A58.
Since you can’t get a 5MB cropped raw, exactly how this mode functions is a bit of a mystery as JPEG images are produced via an intermediate raw file – that’s how things work. So inside the camera, 24 frames can be processed and cropped in 2 seconds – but it can’t even manage one second of unprocessed raws at 5fps. This indicates the processor is fast and the input buffer big enough, it’s the output buffer and card interface which causes the bottleneck. Card interfaces and drive assemblies are third party products normally bought in by the camera maker, while the main processor is their own (or a dedicated design based on a Fujitsu module or other OEM).
This camera is extremely low cost and I think this is simply one area where cost savings ended up reducing what could have been a great specifiction and performance.
Digital and Clear Image Zoom
The A58 has a Zoom button, like a Cyber-shot DSC RX100’s zoom control that goes beyond the mechanical range of the zoom. Since you can’t go beyond the zoom on the lens itself, you go to the tele extreme, press the zoom button and a bar appears on the displays. Up to 1.4X magnification, you get a cropped shot (JPEG only) but this crop fills the EVF/screen and is enlarged by interpolation to 20MP. Up to 2X, you get Clear Image Zoom which is profiled or custom interpolation, similar to software packages which can enlarge JPEGs better if they have a profile for the camera used. Up to 4X, the rest is ordinary Digital Zoom which means the resulting 20MP image has really been created from a 1.25MP area of the sensor, and it shows.
Fine JPEG, normal shot
Interpolated Zoom 1.4X. 18-55mm at 55mm.
Clear Image at 1.9X (all at f/8)
Digital zoom to 4X.
I made some tests with the 18-55mm and its vague focusing and overall modest quality lowered the bar for the digitally zoomed range. Then I tried with my extremely sharp Sigma 70mm macro. I think the 1.4X range is acceptable for all normal uses, the 2X range is almost acceptable, beyond this the softness overpowers any possible reason to want a 20MP output file. There is a mark on the zoom bar showing the change from resized and Clear Image (1.0-2X) to Digital Zoom (2.0-4.0X) but I was unable to get the zoom to fix on 2.0X, instead it insisted on using 1.9X or 2.1X but placed the 2.1X on the ‘safe’ side of the mark.
70mm macro, raw shot at f/10
Fine JPEG of same ISO 200 shot.
1.4X interpolated zoom.
2X Clear Image zoom
4X Digital Zoom. Still 20MP…
As expected, the A58 has Sony’s excellent sweep panorama mode, and just about every other Sony original technology around from face recognition and smile shutter through to auto framing (an intelligent crop which keeps a copy of your uncropped JPEG too) and AF object tracking. Its Intelligent Auto and Super Auto modes will serve the beginner and general family photographer well.
The A58 has sensor cleaning and does vibrate the sensor on shutdown, not on switch on; this is not listed in the specification, which just mentions the anti-static coating. Manual cleaning is possible and Sony make two notes of interest – they advise blower cleaning the back of the mirror before lowering it (so clean both this and the sensor in one step) and they say that you can not shoot with the mirror raised. My camera had no sensor spots on delivery.
The A58 shares with the NEX-6 and Cyber-shot DSC RX1 the new Multi Function Shoe, and some of the accessories for this shoe are futureware. All these cameras lack the GPS found in the A99. The Multi Function Shoe’s interface includes pins to connect a GPS device and record location data as you shoot.
Despite my affection for the robust qualities of the little Alpha 55, the Alpha 58 does more and when armed with my 16-80mm CZ lens makes a good travel camera. For that, I want to have GPS. So of all the possible future accessories for the shoe, this is the one I hope Sony will produce soon. Other possible accessories are a Wifi remote shooting module (the interface could allow image preview remotely) and a PocketWizard or similar wireless flash trigger. The shoe interface might even enable uncompressed video streaming to external recording devices, or back up between the camera and an external SD card or USB stick. It can also feed an external larger video monitor or a mic/headphone module which might have auto gain over-ride for sound recording – or perhaps these functions may be combined one day in a video/audio adaptor.
These are the prospects which this one change in the Alpha system brings, yet there is no sign that Sony is rolling out MFAS accessories. It’s also true that each camera’s own MFAS may have missing pins, or differently assigned pins (that would be seriously bad planning). You can not, for example, use the EVF of the RX1 on the A99 shoe, though both cameras have 24 megapixel sensors and the same EVF display resolution. The camera does not recognise it.
Made in Thailand – not a bad thing, and Thailand has a big camera industry with Nikon, Sony and others. But this does feel like the lowest cost, most pared-down offering ever in the Sony DSLR/SLT lineage.
Changing the market
It is a pity that a camera with a brand new sensor and many advanced features and functions should ever have been designed down to the lowest price-level by reducing the specification of far too many components, from the lens mount and body itself to the displays and the buffer and card interface.
Sony’s manual and general approach to the camera menus and built-in help indicate that it’s targeted at what Americans would call a ‘soccer mom’ market. Well, your own kids are always beautiful even if the rest of the internet community groans inwardly every time another snapshot of infant overfeeding is posted to support how wonderful dad’s new camera is. They are always polite and agree.
Same goes for this camera – for those who acquire it as a new addition to the family, it will be the best thing ever made. And in some ways they will be right, nothing else comes close for the money. Unlike the sprogs, the Alpha 58 has inherited many desirable genes but suffered from malnutrition during its gestation. It could have been a robust, capable semi-pro camera in the tradition of the A580, the last Sony Alpha to have an optical finder.
Perhaps the 20 megapixel sensor will appear in a higher level body. How about an A68? For me that would be close to home (look it up on a UK road map!).
Lensmate produce an ultra lightweight filter adapter for the Sony Cyber-shot RX100, as well as selling some related accessories. We ordered from them a filter adapter kit including the 49mm threaded filter ring ($32.95) and to this order added Richard Franiec’s beautiful CNC machined aluminium custom body grip ($34.95) and a JJC Polycarbonate screen protector ($5.95).
The filter holder was the main purchase, but in the end least likely to be used – the grip, on the other hand (the right hand…) will be used for ever. Here’s the content of the filter package:
From the left: 49mm lens cap with retaining lanyard; white box for whole kit; thread for use if the adaptor needs to be removed, together with alcohol wipe for cleaning before fixing; the 49mm adaptor; the lens-mounted adaptor ring (with yellow tape); a circular template, used to position this perfectly. As an alternative or an extra, you can choose a 52mm filter ring.
To do it perfectly the tape should actually be parallel to the camera body. It’s not that important but looks a little neater when fixed. The adhesive is uncovered on the back of the adaptor, it is placed in the centre of the positioning guide, and pressed home. To extend the lens and keep it firm, the camera is switched on, and the battery removed; this leaves the lens in this position. Only light pressure is needed. The yellow tape and the positioning ring are then removed.
The marks visible on the lens were left by the alcohol wipe, and cleaned off afterwards with a lens cleaning wipe. In this shot, the 49mm filter ring is bayonet fitted into place (a little less than a half-turn). The fit is very positive and the action is light but firm. The whole item weighs such a small amount it adds no strain and can be left fitted permanently.
Here are two filters – a 49mm Minolta polariser and a 49mm No 1 Minolta close-up (not a 1 dioptre, but stronger, and a double element achromat with coating – one of the best close-up lenses you can still find around on the used market).
The polariser is flared to allow wide-angle coverage. This makes it ideal for lenses like the NEX SEL 16mm f/2.8. But you can’t fit a lens cap of standard size (it widens out to accept a 57mm push-on, similar to a 55mm screw-in in size).
Lensmate provide a centre pinch fit lens cap with a retaining lanyard. It is not needed as the camera has its own lens cover shutter, but if you fit a filter, you may want to add the cap to protect the filter.
This is a Minolta lens hood for the old MC 45mm f/2 Rokkor. It’s very light and is ideal for the RX1 (we’ve sold a good few of these on eBay for exactly that purpose). There’s no great benefit on the RX100, as the lens flare this camera suffers from is rarely to do with stray light, nearly always with light sources within the frame.
The overall thickness of the adapter for filters is less than 3mm. It does not affect operation. Once fitted you forget it, and it becomes part of the camera, but it must also add some protection.
Here is the closest at wide-angle using the Minolta CU lens.
And this is at the longest focal length (where close focusing is most restricted with the RX100). More powerful close up lenses – this one is about 1.5 dioptre – will produce a more dramatic result.
In the photos above, you’ll see the body shape is rather enhanced. The workout to add this muscle is brief and easy.
Start with a cleaned RX100 body.
Take the Franiec precision grip, and remove the two 3M permanent adhesive release papers.
Position on the camera and firmly press into place. It isn’t going to shift after you do this.
And that’s it. A great product, a perfect finish, and it really does make the RX100 much easier to hold securely. It also tends to position your thumb correctly on the back and your index finger over the shutter. It is perfectly designed and manufactured.
Finally, here is the JJC Polycarbonate (not Gorilla Glass) LCD screen protector.
This is simple enough to fit and one fitted is invisible. The tab for the release paper didn’t work all that well and nor did the tab to remove the protective layer, but a bit of fingernail prising helped peel both off. The adhesive is only round the edge, and the protector can be removed easily.
Sony has now released full details of the Alpha 58. Although I don’t think the camera is a game-changer or a vital upgrade for owners of Alpha 55 and 57 (the 55 will leave me only when it expires, with its useful GPS, 6fps/10fps and fully articulated reversible rear screen) there are hidden bonuses for anyone investing in the 58.
Firstly, the new OLED finder – probably a step better visually – is a league better in power consumption. The penalty for using the EVF instead of the rear LCD on the Alpha 77 and is siblings has been a sharp reduction in the battery stamina for shots, 470 versus 530 official figures for the 77 as an example. The new finder on the 58 gives a reduction for 700 to 690 – not just an overall improvement, but a minimal difference you can ignore. The smaller, non-reversile tilting rear 2.7″ LCD screen may also be less power-hungry than 3″ types.
Secondly, the camera supports an extended TriLuminos colour gamut. The colour gamut of existing Sony DSLRs and SLTs (and NEX) equipped with HDMI output does not need to exceed AdobeRGB (52.1% of the recognised visual gamut for a ‘Standard Observer’, CIE 1931 vintage). That’s because regular HDTV throws away a stack of this colour, showing only 35.9% of the gamut. That’s why it looks so colourful and bright. The less gamut you show, the brighter and more saturated colours look, for the capabilities of any given display. That may sound the reverse of what you would believe to be the case, until you apply a bit of thought to it.
TriLuminos gamut is the larger triangle, regular HDTV is the smaller (similar to sRGB) while AdobeRGB falls between the two. One colour space you can use when processing raw files – ProPhotoRGB – is so large is exceeds part of the CIE 1931 colour space.
The TriLuminos gamut is massive. Unlike HDTV, it’s bigger than AdobeRGB and much bigger than regular sRGB (what most computer screens can show). It is 75.8% of the CIE 1931 colour space. That, by the way, is simply a standard based on what a bunch of test subjects could perceive back in 1931 and it’s been criticised for failing to include a wide enough range of genetic backgrounds and learned visual abilities. We all see colour differently (men notably with far less accuracy and discrimination than women, young better than old). If you’re a teenage girl you’ll love the TriLuminos displays. If you’re an old bloke you may not notice…
Sony claims that the A58 can output colours to the TriLuminos TV sets which show “a dramatically expanded palette of vivid, ultra-realistic colours when videos and still images (are played back)”. In theory since AdobeRGB (offered by all Sony models to date) would already show an expanded palette, this might not mean any big change in the sensor. But TriLuminos uses a colour space which requires 12-bit depth and it can’t be used effectively unless the sensor itself is going beyond the range of AdobeRGB. You can’t get out what you do not put in. Then again, if you’re using a normal printer or computer, you can’t get it out anyway. The camera captures colours you can’t see on its own rear screen, in its viewfinder, on your computer screen or in a print.
We can therefore deduce that the Bayer filter colours on the new 20 megapixel sensor may be changed, along with the BIONZ processing and the JPEG colour management and compression (after all, the JPEGs will still be 8-bit and going beyond AdobeRGB risks significant banding in smooth graded colours such as skyn blues). Sony say this is the first ever A-mount camera to offer this colour ability. Will DxO Mark have to change their colour measurements to cope with it?
It is possible the sensor has no colour gamut benefits and that all Sony is doing is expanding AdobeRGB (or the native gamut, which is close enough to AdobeRGB) to fill the wider space of the TriLuminos TV screens, making certain colours appear dramatic in the process, but not realistic. Obviously what we should all hope for is that this improvement starts with the sensor itself.
Since the NEX-3n (possibly not the camera rumoured by Nippon Camera as NEX-F3R) also offers TriLuminos extended gamut but has a regular 16 megapixel sensor, I’m going to have to wait to see what the real colour science experts at DxO, and our various friends in Russia with special knowledge of this field, find. We do have a resident colour scientist but sadly none of the gear needed to analyse this properly.
Whatever the case, we appear to be getting a camera whose new 20 megapixel sensor will have significantly better power consumption which almost certainly also means lower heat generation, in turn meaning lower noise and longer ‘safe’ durations for video. Sony is gearing up for the next phase of HDTV – 4K – and the UHDTV beyond this going to 8K. They will eventually need to produce 39 megapixel sensors for uninterpolated 8K, and this will be the target for both APS-C/Super35 and full-frame between now and 2015 when the industry expects to see the first 8K UHDTV retail sales (those in the UK, don’t hold your breath, we’re likely only to get 4K and may not see that become the standard until 2020).
Nikon has stolen an interesting march by enabling a 1.3X, 15 megapixel crop for 7fps shooting in the new 24 megapixel D7100 – a very useful size almost equal to a 2X crop from full frame. Sony has an unspecified ‘tele-zoom’ feature in the A58 to achieve 8fps. But no-one has so far been able to reveal what the tele-zoom crop is; Sony’s ‘technical specifications’ so far released for the A58 are minimal.
If the same 24.1 megapixel, AA-filter-less sensor is used in an A78 (as some rumour sites think likely) then perhaps sub-frame readout aka tele-zoom will be implemented on that too.
The A58 has a new 18-55mm SAM lens with improved build quality and a redesign to the rear element configuration. Sony says this is to avoid ghosting. We’d be surprised if it was not also to change the exit pupil geometry slightly, in order to work better with current and future phase-detection on sensor models.