A quest for the ultimate, beautiful, meaningful picture

Sony A700

Arabian conference –“And now for something completely different”

A conference room in an Arabian country. The contrast with the pictures shown here in the last couple of months could hardly be bigger. Monty Python’s famous phrase “And now for something completely different!” certainly applies!

Plenary session in ANQAHE's first conference

For the photo camera fans: this is the first picture I enter here taken with the new Sony A77 camera and the equally new 16-50 f/2.8 objective, and that is something completely different, too! The electronic viewfinder takes some getting used to, but has some great pluses: it shows the actual brightness of the picture you are going to take, so you see if in the conference room some exposure compensation is necessary; it gives 100% of the picture so there are no surprising heads entering the edge of the picture, etc. Besides, the camera is incredibly silent and fast, since there is no flapping mirror. The 2.8 lens is a joy to work with, as well: with the large amount of light that it picks up you need the flash less often (in combination with the camera’s 24 megapixel sensor, making ISO1600 a very acceptable high speed to work with), and the lens also seems to have very little distortion compared with my previous Sony 16-105 one.

Another technical advance of the A77 over the Sony A700 is that the RAW mode seems to interpret colour temperature much better in the automatic white balance mode, making post-processing a much lighter and faster exercise too.


Stairs and shadows: irrestistible

No comment or explanation needed, as far as I am concerned.

Sony A77: great but not the best when light is low

On camerageek website DPReview they always do very serious tests, and the Web community reacts very seriously. Verdict on studio pictures made with the Sony A77: the experts do not all agree (otherwise they would not be experts), but there seems to be a majority opinion that the Sony A77 has great performance for a camera of its size and price. In fact, it can hold out with the best cameras at any price, give or take a pixel here or there. Except when it gets dark: then the loss of light through the new semi-translucent mirror results in more noise, less sharpness.

Sadly, the (excellent!) comparison tool on the DPReview site does not include samples made with my current camera, because that is of course the real question: I am not considering buying a whole new system from any camera brand, I am just considering if it is worthwhile to upgrade from my current Sony A700. And then even without direct comparisons there is little doubt: this is going to be a huge improvement! When can I get it….?

More on Sony A77 (in Dutch): Eerste indrukken Sony Alpha 77, Alpha 65 en Nex 7 – Photofacts

Eerste indrukken Sony Alpha 77, Alpha 65 en Nex 7 – Photofacts

Preview of Sony A77

Why did they announce this while I was on vacation? The review in the link below is on a pre-production camera, but a few days later it was announced officially: the Sony A77 SLT.

This Sony A77 promises to be veeerrry attractive to the likes of me who still think of Sony as ‘the new Minolta’, yet want state-of-the-art technology. The idea of replacing the good old mechanical mirror flipflopping up and down with a fixed, semitransparent construction has great potential, I think. And I’m glad that after the A55 mid-range camera with which this “SLT” technology was introduced, they are now moving up. There was already an A65 and now the A77.

Another strong point is said to be its electronic viewfinder. I was of the conservative opinion that an optical viewfinder has better resolution and less electronic colour distortion/interpretation, but this one promises to be real good, with 2.3 M pixels (there were times when 2M pixels made a decent camera!).

One of the package options, moreover, is the camera body with a “kit lens” of truly interesting specs: 2.8/16-50mm. That is not a kit lens, but could be a really good one! I have grown very fond of my 2.8 telezoom, and am already looking forward to a standard zoom with the same large opening.

Only two questions remain. First, can I afford it? Sub-question: any reader making an offer on my Sony A700 (used but good-looking!)?
And second, should I go for it, or wait for the full-frame A99?

Sony SLT-A77 Preview: 1. Introduction: Digital Photography Review

HDR built-in: New Sony camera A550

Rumours had been around in the internet for more than half a year already, so I am a bit late to discover that the recently released Sony α550 camera has a trick inbuilt to make HDR pictures. HDR = High Dynamic Range and means that you can get pictures that show detail in the dark parts as well as in the light parts. Without HDR you’d get details in the dark parts but a pure white spot of clouds, or the other way around: well-deatiled clouds but completely black shadows. The α550 takes two pictures successively and combines them automatically to an HDR picture! That is almost the ideal I was waiting for, as I admitted some time ago: an HDR-sensor. Anyone interested in my “old” α700? 😉

Noise reduced: firmware update Sony A700

Good to have a photoclub, for I had not been paying attention to the Sony website lately: a new version of the firmware for the A700 was published already in September! Version 4 is meant to tackle my main issue with the A700: noise in high sensitivity settings. Or more completely (from Sony Europe):

* The choice to select auto exposure bracketing (single & continuous) with 3 shots in 2 EV steps has been added. [That is nice for HDR pictures! I’d like to start that discipline once.]
* The choice to turn [Off] the High ISO NR feature has been added. [Great! I want to be in control.]
* Improvement of the image quality in high ISO setting. [This is the main improvement for me]
* Improvement of the auto white balance and D-Range Optimizer performance. [One of my reasons for always shooting RAW is that the auto-white was not always to be trusted. I’ll keep shooting RAW, though. I don’t use the D-range optimiser; also a matter of wanting to control things myself.]
* Improvement of reliability for communication between camera body and vertical grip. [Don’t have that thing.]

Of course I immediately made a quick try of higher ISO settings. My impression is that ISO 1600 is as good now as ISO 800 was: quite usable. There is a visible reduction in quality from ISO 1600 to 3200. See first set of compared photos. This (out-of-focus) detail from the top-left corner of a picture shows this effect.

The settings of the noise reduction do make a difference. My impression is that setting the noise reduction to ‘high’ is a big improvement for larger areas, but may make edges and shadows a bit too ‘rough’. Look at the left side of the picture frame in the comparison of two photos below.

Thanks to Dieter for telling me about the firmware update!

Dynamic Range

Did I say somewhere that there is no magic in ever larger numbers of pixels? I just bought myself a new camera, a Sony A700, with 12M pixels, double the number of my old & true KonicaMinolta 7D. And the first picture that I printed is amazingly sharp, even at A3-size! (A little example will be added in due course–it’s in the next entry.)

But the real puzzle with this new camera is the DRO, the ‘dynamic range optimizer’. It’s supposed to give more detail in dark areas of pictures, before they are compressed in-camera to JPEGs. A nice test is given by one Gamin, with a range of pictures using different settings. If I understand things well, what it does is changing the tonal curve that you encounter in your Gimp, Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or what have you: it makes the shadows and darks lighter. It can’t add to the total range of tones, can it? If that is true, it can’t be of any importance to the RAW photographer, right? Then why does Sony add a dynamic range thingy in its RAW conversion software for the PC? If there is anyone out there who can explain the logic to me, please do!

Until then I uninstalled the Sony converter, because it has a hopelessly cluttered set of panels to make adjustments to the RAW picture, which then is saved as a TIFF file. I like Lightroom’s ‘virtual’ changes much better (as well as it’s clear screen layout, once you’ve changed the funny panel end marks to simple boxes), storing all my adaptations and post-processing, but always giving access to the original RAW file until I decide to export the file in the format I wish.