Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sony A77 - First test: High ISO

Sony A77 - First test: High ISO

This is a test - only a test. Yes, I'm testing my readers' interest in camera technology and I'm testing to see whether other Sony Alpha photographers will be interested in seeing the results of my first days and weeks with the new Sony Alpha 77, which I purchased at Fotohaus Sänger in Stuttgart on Friday. 
Frau Sänger called me when the camera came in because I told her I wanted to buy one from her. She received only two that she had ordered, the rest having been delayed indefinitely due to the flooding in Thailand. "So you're lucky you got this one. There won't be any more deliveries to Germany until after Christmas," she told me. The purchaser of the first of the two cameras was still at the cash register when I held my new camera in my hands. It felt good. A bit lighter than the A700, which I've been using every day for the last two-and-a-half years. 
I was excited about the possibility of being able to make (HD) videos with the new camera and thought the specifications looked appealing. I had watched all the promotion videos and read all the available material before Friday afternoon, so I didn't hesitate. I took it straight home. 
I spent the good part of Saturday at a good friend's 40th birthday party, which included an organ recital in the church where she celebrated with nearly 100 guests. I took the new camera and tested it in all sorts of different situations.
I was thinking that since the Sony (and Nikon and Canon etc.) technology has progressed so far in the past couple of years, I'd probably end up shooting jpeg files with this camera, if for no other reason than to save space on the memory card (and my hard drives). With the A700 I shot only RAW files, which averaged about 18MB per 12MP photo. With a 24MP APC-S sensor, the A77 files are nearly twice as large (24MB for RAW and 14MB for jpeg extra fine files). I post-process nearly every decent picture I take, so I am partial to RAW files and will probably remain so, but will either have to delete more before doing the back-up or be somewhat more frugal on the front end when taking pictures. However, that is difficult with this camera because it shoots 10-12 frames per second! 
This first picture is an extra fine quality jpeg from the camera which I've processed a bit in Lightroom 3. I've uploaded the next three photos in full quality here so you can download them and peep at the pixels if you like.

1/40 sec, f4, ISO 1600, jpeg, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
1/40 sec, f4, ISO 1600, RAW, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
1/80 sec, f4.5, ISO 3200, jpeg, Tamron 2.8/17-50mm lens at 50mm
Here on the screen, you can't really tell a difference, can you? I have posted high-ISO pictures first because that is what interests me and most of the other Sony users at this point. How good is it in low-light situations? Well, it isn't a Nikon D3s, but then it only cost €1299 and not €3700. The jpeg shows globlike noise not dissimilar to the Panasonic Lumix FZ38 bridge camera I had for a while. The noise in the RAW files consists of fine dots of grain. Neither is what pixel peepers like to see, but after smoothing it out a bit in post-processing, it pretty much disappears.
Yes, you say, and with it disappears the sharpness of the image. True. You come out with a somewhat water-colory wash, but it's better than grain, most would say. 
Grain. In the good old days of film photography, I usually used 400 ISO Ilford black-and-white film. I think I may have "pushed" a few rolls to 800 ISO. Then I had to write that on the roll of film so the processor would add an appropriate amount of developer to the mixture. And boy could you see the grain in the dark parts of those pictures! But back then (1989) people called it "artistic" and "interesting". There were even grainy filters you could put on pictures to make them look like that in print. And yet everyone is trying to fight it now.
These were the first three pictures in a series of test shots with the new Sony Alpha 77. Further shots will follow with various lenses, in different lighting situations and with different settings.

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