About ten days ago I had the privilege of visiting the home of Ron Martinsen of ronmartblog.com. Ron is the de facto leader of the photography community within our company. He has taken his approach and turned it into a second and third (and more) revenue stream between his day job, his photography, his blog, and private lessons. Watching him from afar has been inspirational.
About the Bookshelf
My goal in visiting Ron’s house: Shooting his bookshelf. He has shot his bookshelf with many different cameras and lenses. Here are a few examples:
The bookshelf has a variety of depth, color and texture, and is good for testing dynamic range as the room is very poorly lit. My goal was to add the A99, A900 and A77 to the list of bodies to shoot. Arguably great in his own time, Meatloaf once sang “Two out three ain’t bad”. Lesson #1 learned at Ron’s house: The A900 requires a second button push to fire in mirror lock-up mode. I only got 3 total shots from the A900 out of about 20 attempts, one usable, and I am guilty of not making sure the shot fired. I found this out three days after shooting, when I uploaded the photos. So now the asterisk in the title is explained.
I attached my 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens to the bodies and I shot using the following settings: Auto White Balance, Dynamic Range Optimization off, Aperture priority at f/8 (and f/5.6 for the A77 and A99), RAW+JPEG, SteadyShot off. Spot focus, Wide Metering. I hoped to shoot with the A99 at ISO 50, 100, 200, 1600, 6400, 16000, and 25600; with the A900 at ISO 100, 200, 1600, 6400; and with the A77 at 50, 100, 200, 1600, 6400, and 16000. Basically the low and high extended values of each body and the low and high non-extended values of each body. Instead I got one full example, ISO 1600 at f/8. But I got the entire range for the A99 and A77 so I will continue the comparison of those two as well.
Comparison: ISO 1600 JPEG
I’ll get the one actual comparison which I have out of the way. All three of these samples are straight off the body JPEG files. These are all ISO 1600. Click on the files to see the full-size original.
Comparison: ISO 1600 RAW
Here are the JPEG representations of the RAW files. I took the RAW files, imported them using Adobe Lightroom, and applied the Standard profiles from Maurizio Piraccini’s blog so I could have three consistent profiles. I then cropped all three to be as close as I possibly could get them to being identical in frame. There are slight differences as the frame of the A77 is slightly different being APS-C and the angle is slightly different.
Take the A900 results with a grain of salt. I didn’t set the A900 up to be successful. Even with Ron’s amazingly awesome tripod, I got one result and there is no way I could avoid shaking the frame, and SteadyShot was off. Pay more attention to the noise.
I zoomed in to three different areas of the frame using Adobe Lightroom in comparison view. Here are the results
A99 vs. A900 (not fair)
A99 vs. A77 (a little more fair)
A900 vs. A77 (not fair)
A77 vs. A99 (a little more fair)
A900 vs. A99 (not fair)
A77 vs. A900 (not fair)
These comparisons are not very fair to the A900 resolution and I think they should be thrown out until I get a better representation of the A900.
A77 vs. A99 BASELINE: ISO 50 @ f/5.6 and f/8 JPG
So now the A900 is out of the way for the time being, here is the A99 and A77 results at ISO 50. These are the JPEG files straight off the bodies.
This is a little more fair of a fight, though it is evident my aim could have been lower on the A99 shots (or higher on the A77 shots). I had to shoot with the A77 further out than normal. My depths of field for the A77 at f/5.6 is about 9 inches and at f/8 is about 12 inches. For the A99 we’re looking at about 6 inches at f/5.6 and about 8 inches at f/8. So those are fairly negligible in this test.
A77 vs. A99 BASELINE: ISO 50 Adjusted
I took the RAW images associated with the JPEG files above, applied the Piraccini Standard profiles for the A77 and A99 in Lightroom, and adjusted the framing to hug the top and bottom shelf, the black The American Ways book on the left and the white Visually Excel 2000 book on the right. What you see is the resultant export.
This really shows how sharp the bodies can be. The “sweet spot” in testing of the 85mm f/1.4 lens is at around f/5.6. So we have arguably the best lens Sony has to offer (arguments could be made for the 135mm f/1.8 ZA lens) at the sharpest settings on the latest APS-C and Full Frame bodies at the lowest ISO value. Really at this point the only excuse would be that I am terrible at staying still. The f/8 shot on the A99 was a 30 second exposure.
Here are some side-to side comparisons of some selected areas, the first three are f/5.6 and the last three are f/8
All of the above are f/5.6, ISO 50
These three are ISO 50 f/8. One thing to keep in mind when evaluating these tests is I didn’t use metering or white balance in my considerations here. For the f/8 shots, the A99 determined the white balance to be 2950 and the A77 determined the white balance to be 3400. This would explain the difference in color as seen in the middle example. I’d argue the A77 outresolved the A99 ever-so-slightly in the top of the three examples if you look at the light blue book. This could be that the focus points were slightly off, or the depth of field slightly different, or it could be a color profile issue or a shadow issue. In most other situations, the A99 is, as expected better.
I will continue the post tomorrow (another thing I learned from Ron was to try to post daily, which will be a challenge for me) with the all-up A99-A77 comparison. And then after that I have a bonus comparison, the 85mm f/1.4 ZA up against the 200mm f/2.8 High Speed APO G on the A99.