Before the launch of the NEX models, the last camera we reviewed here was the Alpha 550. The final review pages dealt with the high ISO performance.
Following the release of Adobe Camera Raw 6.1 and 6.2, the new ’2010 Process’ has replaced the ’2003 Process’ in conversions (you can select either option). The 2010 Process used with manual adjustment of the Noise Reduction controls can produce really exceptional ISO 6400 results.
This changes any previous conclusions about the usefulness of Alpha 550 high ISO settings, and indeed brings them into line with the results we have seen from NEX – which of course defaults to the 2010 process, and can not be processed using earlier Adobe Camera Raw versions.
Here is the old process, top, seen at a reduced scale of a 100% view at ISO 6400:
Click the Process 2003 image above to open the original 100% size screen shot.
Below is the new 2010 process, which is more than just a minor tweak – it’s an entirely different way of getting the data out of the raw file.
Click this image to see the Adobe Process 2010 result full size. All the settings were identical for these two conversions. The improvement is on such a level that ANY test reports on the Alpha 550 produced in 2009 using CS4 and Adobe Camera Raw 5.x are invalid.
The NR can be moderated to produce more detail on the 2010 process midtones at the expense of more visible grain (but it’s nothing like the 2003 pattern – it remains mainly a fine luminance pattern). I have used a setting which produced a clear comparison. Entirely different NR settings are actually better, with the two processes, but no matter how you adjust the ‘2003’ version it never looks anything like as fine as the 2010 one.
Should dPreview and others update their RAW sample images because the old process was so badly matched to the .ARW format? Nothing like the same difference is made for example to Nikon raw files, 2010 is better, but 2003 didn’t mess up the higher ISOs in the way it always did for Minolta/Sony raws.
Please note that if you don’t want to get CS5, you can still get the benefit of this new conversion with Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.
– David Kilpatrick
SONY has released a new alogrithm for raw conversion (deBayer) which offers improve high ISO noise. IDC (Image Data Converter) is the program issued with all Sony DSLRs. Up to now, no maker has ever revised their ‘house’ converter to offer high ISO improvement as a specific feature. The new version can be downloaded free by existing users (download link is provided at end of story). We have direct download links now for Windows and Mac OSX versions.
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Sony has come up with a zany idea to overcome problems in their reputation for high ISO and low light capability – showcase cameras, including the Alpha range with its legendary high ISO noise reduction, by shooting an essentially unphotogenic subject in almost non-existent light. But they are picking exceptional locations to do so. Sony Europe is currently obsessed by football, which for two decades Canon has claimed as its own territory.
What’s in it for photographers? Less than there is for amateur footie players, as it seems unlikely the public will be able to join the ‘specially selected’ teams of still and movie shooters.
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Using a light level typical for tungsten light shots at 1600 (1/60th at f8 = 1/500th at f2.8 for action, 1/250th at f4 for concerts etc) I have made a quick first day – D3X arrived this afternoon – comparison which, in the process, also evaluates two lenses (24-120mm VR Nikkor and 28-105mm RS Minolta) and two anti-shake systems. Sadly, my 5DMkII test kit went back on the same City Link van which brought the Nikon kit. Look out for my Nikon review/s in the British Journal of Photography soon.
There are caption notes to each image. The point of targeted focus was the end of the fingerboard with the spattered rosin on it. Feel free to download and print. The red rosin cloth is interesting, so is the sharpness of the point of focus. Clicking on the small images here will open a full size 24 megapixel file in each case!
Ref the exposure difference: these were locked down manual exposures. The Sony does not appear to achieve a true ISO 1600. However, when shooting the same subject using auto exposure, the Sony image is perfectly exposed and the Nikon consistently overexposes. Here, I have set the exposure to the correct density for the Nikon.
Following the review on dPreview – more than anywhere else – Sony’s extremely poor JPEG engine with its associated wide radius chroma blur and strong luminance smoothing noise reduction has proved to be a dog well capable of biting its master. Definitely a dog, anyway. But this performance is not what the camera can really achieve. In fact it’s perfectly capable of delivering good high ISO shots in typical situations.
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