Multiply by ten

A week and change later, I find myself on an airplane again. Hello from 34,000 feet!

Last time I typed, it was about moving away from the A-mount and making an investment in the E-mount. I decided to trade a whole bunch of A-mount stuff for a smaller amount of E-mount stuff on the A7s body.

I arrived at my house last Friday night, late, after flying home from Minneapolis and then picking up my equipment at a friend’s house. I had it shipped to his office as my typical delivery people are less than vigilant about requiring signatures. I drove back to my house quickly and unboxed everything.  My first surprise: The A7s package came with two batteries.      : )

And I could not get the batteries to charge fast enough. I got one battery to about 25%, dialed in my typical settings, and took my first shot. Here is the first jpeg from the RAW+JPEG combo.

ILCE-A7S, FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA  @ f/1.8, ISO 102400, 1/60s

The room was not nearly that bright. Here is a crop of my first swing at it in LR and the NIK Suite.


I put the RAW file through NIK DFine, with default settings, and dropped the exposure a stop and a half, and the shot is still brighter than the room. So I need to figure that stuff out, clearly. But ISO 102400!! The ISO speed in the default Windows 8.1 properties maxes out at 65535.


This tells me no one thought it could go higher. It also tells me there is another EXIF attribute ISO is stored in as Lightroom sees 102400. I think it is “Recommended Exposure Index” If you’re curious, this is what the unedited RAW looks like.


Also keep in mind, the 55mm f/1.8 Zeiss is wide open here.

I only shot two shots the first night. I let the batteries charge and fired a few more the next day. I set Auto ISO to 100-102400 and just let it ride. Here is one of the more impressive shots.

ILCE-A7S, FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS @ 177mm f/5, ISO 5000, 1/200s

You read it correctly. ISO 5000. Five thousand. Here is a closer look, unedited.


I’d say there’s a lot of detail in the ISO 5000 shot. All I did here is remove a little bit of white and brightness.


Again. Five Thousand. Here is a full-size unedited crop of a shot from my A99 at ISO 500.

SLT-A99V, 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f.4, ISO 500, 1/200s

So it appears ISO 5000 on the A7s has less noise than ISO 500 on the A99. I have more testing and shooting to do. But the preliminary results are promising. And I am not used to the balance yet and have yet to explore all of the new features.

ILCE-A7s, FE 70-200 f/4 OSS G @ 200mm f/5, ISO 1000, 1/250s

So far, I like the manual focus zoom feature the most. When you go to manual focus or use DMF, and spin the focus ring, your specified focus point is magnified 10x in the EVF. I still need to get a feel for it. There are a couple things I miss. I don’t think I am getting a geo tag anymore. And the LCD doesn’t oscillate like the A99. It is always exposed. I need to buy a cover for it. Finally, I am having a hard time getting used to using zoom lenses. I may have to force myself to use the zooms.

I’m being asked to put my tray table up. I guess this is a good stopping point. Have a good weekend!


Moving Forward

Hello from 32000 feet! I am on an Airbus 321 flying from Charlotte to Minneapolis.

What a year 2014 has turned out to be so far! I have had a major life change and I really haven’t taken photographs as much as I would like.

SLT-A99V Sony 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA @ f/2.5, ISO 250, 1/160s, EV-0.7

I foresee more photographs in my future, however….

Late last year, my manager at work took a stretch responsibility which left our team without a manager for a good part of half a year. In March the business unit I was a part of reorganized and some of the priorities shifted leaving me in an uncomfortable position. And a new manager was assigned to my team.

My spidey sense was telling me to find something else to do. I called in a couple of favors, leveraged my network and found a new role with the same company (I’ll be starting my fourteenth year on Wednesday). The new role is slightly different than my previous role, and as luck would have it, I am travelling a lot more, but to a single destination(Mostly Minneapolis to start). As much as I enjoy being the new guy again, I sure have to work much harder than the last time.  : ) I am finding myself wearing my polo shirts and slacks a lot less and my suits a lot more. Plus my hours are much longer. A good set of problems to have, I assure you.

I made the job transition in June. Every single week I was carrying my A99 with me and a couple of lenses. Usually my 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA or my 85mm f/1.4. I found the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 really cheap and I brought it along a couple of times, but I was so busy I didn’t shoot as much as I wanted. I did manage to take my A99 and Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G to a Seattle Sounders game and catch Landon Donovan after he scored a goal.

SLT-A99V, Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G@f/4, ISO 500, 1/250s

Once I got assigned to a full-time customer through February, I was assigned a second computer to carry around so I felt the need to downsize. I tried out the Sony CyberShot RX100M3 and so far I have found it good enough to get me by. The RX100M3 has a 1” sensor and a 24-70mm-equivalent lens, but it is fast for a point and shoot and has an EVF on par with my A77 and as far as I can tell, better ISO 800 and higher than the A77. I’ve carried the RX100M3 for exactly a week and I haven’t been able to get a good enough sample. Below is one of the first shots I took with the RX100M3 to see how it looked, completely unedited.

DSC-RX100M3 8.8mm (24mm equivalent) @ f/1.8, ISO 125, 1/30s

Last week, I got an email from KEH, one of the best used shops on the internet, and according to the email they were going to be at Cardinal Camera in Charlotte last Saturday paying top dollar for used equipment. A thought popped into my head… I have two bodies I am not really using in the A77 and A900m as well as the A99 I parked because of needing to carry less. I have a ton of very nice glass sitting in a cabinet or in a pelican case. Why not get a quote for the equipment and see what I could trade it for?

Nothing groundbreaking was being released for the A-mount. I passed on the A77m2. I was cautiously waiting for the A99m2 to release. A few third party lenses from Sigma and Tamron hit the shelves. In terms of first party glass, absolutely nothing was in the pipeline I didn’t already have, mostly second revisions of lenses already available I had passed on the first round. Either it wasn’t my style or it wasn’t in my price range. As a prime shooter with most of the best primes the A-mount had to offer, I was looking in the resale market on eBay, KEH, Adorama, or B&H Photo and Video at the Minolta 300mm f/2.8 or 400mm f/4.5. The new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 looked promising. But nothing really told me to jump. I actually went 9 months in 2014 only spending $250 on the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 and I only took like 8 shots with it, including the photo below.

SLT-A99V, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/400s

The KEH representative was a kid. Maybe 22-23 years old on the low end. Couldn’t be older than 30 if he ages well. I brought a pelican case and two boxes of lenses, with all of the manuals and original boxes. The breakdown of what I had given the KEH rep, with original prices and what I estimated the condition is below.

A99 (SLT-A99V); 100,000+ actuations, purchased new for $2800 October 2012, EX-/EX

A900 (DSLR-A900); ~15,000 actuations, purchased used for $1300 October 2012; EX/EX+

A77 (SLT-A77V); ~50,000 actuations, purchased new for $1300 November 2011; EX/EX+

Sony 85mm f/1.4 ZA, purchased new for $1500 November 2011;  EX-/EX

Sony 50mm f/1.4 SSM ZA, purchased open box for $1300 December 2013; EX+/LN

Sony 24mm f/2 SSM ZA, purchased new for $1200 September 2012; EX+

Sony 135 f/2.8 [T4.5] STF, purchased open box for $1000 July 2013; EX+/LN

Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro, purchased used for $150 June 2013; EX

Minolta 200mm f/2.8 HS APO G, purchased used for $1100 December 2012; EX-/EX

Minolta 300mm f/4 HS APO G, purchased used for $1100 August 2013; EX/EX+

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, purchased new for $250 June 2014; LN

Sigma 600mm f/8 Mirror, purchased used for $300 sometime in 2011 or 2012; VG/EX-

Minolta 3600 HS flash, purchased used for $50 in October 2012; EX+/LN

TOTAL: 3 Bodies purchased for $5400; 9 lenses @ 7900; One flash @ $50.

Combined unmaintained value $13350

Thirteen grand. (I still drive a truck I paid $6500 cash for in 2006.) This doesn’t include maintenance costs like sensor swabs and fluid, the arctic butterfly, AA batteries for the flash, or the rubber eyepiece cushion I had to replace on the A99. If I played my eBay card right, I probably could have gotten a little more than half of my investment. But I knew half was probably ambitious. I had a number in mind for trade. It was $5000.

Why would I settle for less than half? Convenience, first and foremost. They were in Charlotte. I could get the money and turn it around and get something new. No boxes to pack, no shipping labels. I bill my customers at over $300 an hour. $5 a minute. Of course, I don’t make $300 an hour, just a small fraction. My rate covers the cost of the people selling my time, my management, my salary and insurance, and a wealth of other costs. We’re lucky to break even sometimes. Fortunately I am a cog in a bigger machine where profits are found elsewhere. But despite my role in the rate, I am very aware of how much my time is worth and my customers do not let me forget. Posting on eBay takes time. Packing boxes and printing shipping labels takes time. I am travelling four and five days a week lately. KEH wins with convenience. Every minute is another burning Lincoln.

I had a lot on my side. I take good care of my equipment. The 85mm f/1.4 ZA had been on three continents, nine countries, and more than half the US states. The hood was unsellable. There was dust inside the front element. The paint on the outside was chipped in a couple of places. But the IQ was as good as the first day I bought it. The A99 had nearly 100,000 actuations on it. I presume with video taken into account, the shutter had over 100,000 clicks. I didn’t check. The outside was still very clean. Only a little wear on the grip and a couple small scratches on the bottom corners. The LCD had a protector on it from day 1. And I cleaned that thing (and everything else) with a Q-tip before I brought it in. The photo below shows the work the KEH rep had ahead of him.

DSC-RX100M3 8.8mm (24mm equivalent) @f/1.8, ISO 250, 1/30s

The KEH rep carefully inspected everything. It took nearly an hour. He knew the 85mm f/1.4 was my baby and he looked at it last. Admittedly I was sad. After he was done, tagging each item, he gave me the verdict. Over $6400. Done. Gone. 48+% return with almost two solid years on the A99, almost three on the A77, and I had catalogued those almost three years in 6000×4000 resolution for myself and my family, and had a lot of fun along the way. I even made a little money with the shots I took.

What to spend the $6400 on? Well, the tough part was over. I am a very loyal person. I was married to the A-mount. I couldn’t move forward. I still liked Sony. Although with $6000+ (and a good amount of cash I was willing to spend out of pocket), I was tempted to look at Medium Format with the Pentax 645Z (it has a Sony sensor), but I would have been stuck with a small selection of glass. And giant files. So I really had three choices. A7, A7R, A7S; plenty of options for glass, plus endless options for adaptation.

With the three bodies I had just sold, I was previously sitting at 6000×4000 (the A900 was slightly more at 6048×4032) resolution. The A7 would be about the same. The lower price point was attractive. I could get more glass. The A7R would be a hike in resolution 36+ MP versus the 24 MP I was used to. But then again, I am losing the stabilization. I would need to be faster and I was losing two f/1.4 lenses with the widest released lens being the 55mm f/1.8 Z FE. The A7S was the most expensive by about $200, and I would cut my resolution in half at 12MP, but for the undisputed low-light champion on DXOMark. It was between the A7R and A7S. Cardinal Camera didn’t have either in stock, nor did they have any of the lenses. They would have to order all of it. So my instant gratification buzz was not going to happen. I was going to have to wait. I got to thinking. I could have a super-resolution 36mp camera and have to depend on a sure hand. Or I could get the 12MP low-light champ and the apertures on the lenses I could purchase could be much smaller. The quality E-mount zooms mostly have f/4 apertures.

It was clear to me. I went with the A7s, the 24-70mm f/4 SSM OSS Z FE, the 70-200mm f/4 SSM OSS G FE, and the 55mm f/1.8 SSM Z FE. The 55mm would be the prime I am used to, and I could use two quality Zeiss zoom lenses to wipe out an entire range. The kicker being I had just purchased the RX100M3 with the 24-70 range and I was enjoying having a zoom after all that time with primes. Plus if I wanted to get really nasty in the future, I could mount one of the Mikaton Superprime lenses (50mm f/0.95 !!) on the A7s and with expansion to ISO 409,600 I would have night vision. I would reduce the amount of space taken in my office, and I would simplify my life. After they added it all up, I walked out with a gift card with more than $160 on it… And the A7s and lenses are being shipped and should arrive later this week. I feel almost naked until I remember I have the RX100M3 to lean on until I get back home (and this photo I took of the A7s at the Sony demo table).

DSC-RX100M3 23.14mm (63mm equivalent) @ f/2.8, ISO 1600, 1/80s

I am being asked to put my seat back up and return my tray table to the upright and locked position. I am excited about starting anew with the A7s. Friday really could get here much sooner. My old job was replaced by the new one. And the A-mount is gone in my world and the E-mount will be my immediate future.

Catch Up Post (Series 2, Number 1): The Nokia Lumia 1020

As promised in my previous post, I have some catching up to do. I am going to do the catching up in a different order than I would have implied, but I will catch up nonetheless.

So there’s a lot of hype around the Nokia Lumia 1020 and its 41 Megapixel camera. I’m here to say the Lumia 1020 lives up to the hype for the most part. It is a Windows Phone, so it has a very similar application experience to the tiles in Windows 8 and it integrates seamlessly with any setups you already have through Windows on other devices. I use a Surface Pro as my travel computer and I am able to immediately see a 5 MP sample of the photos I take on the Lumia 1020 on my computer as soon as I take it as long as I haven’t disabled synchronization (more on this later).

My wife has a Lumia 920 and it is a good phone and has an above-average cell phone camera on its own, the 1020 is almost the exact same size except for one thing, there is a giant bulge where the camera lens and flash live. It does not lie down flat on the table.

Enough about the unimportant stuff, right? What about the photos? A regular reader of my blog (which there are maybe 3 or 4 total now since I have been slacking off) knows I carry 24MP Sony Alpha bodies with an array of prime lenses, two of which are Sony Zeiss lenses. This phone has a 28mm equivalent f/2.2 fixed aperture Zeiss lens with six elements and claims a 41 MP sensor. The resultant shots are 38MP, and the shots posted to Facebook, Twitter, Text Message, or automatically to the cloud are 5 MP copies or crops of the original 38 MP shot. I suspect the other 3 MP is dedicated to stabilization. In order to get the 38MP shot I have had to attach my phone to my computer using a USB cable. I imagine I could use Bluetooth as well but haven’t tried.

Here is the first shot I took with the phone as soon as the battery had enough charge.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/230s

Not bad. Here is a full resolution crop of the same shot.


Definitely not bad for a cell phone. And think, this crop above is only 636 pixels wide. The original is 7712×4352!!

The camera claims a digital zoom, which is actually not a zoom, it is a crop. So if you don’t zoom, a 5MP copy of the 38MP shot posts. If you do zoom, a 5MP copy of a smaller portion of the 38 MP shot posts. The cool part is, the original pre-zoom 38MP shot stays on the body, and only the cropped shot is viewable in the default UI. You can adjust the shot if you zoom/crop too much or align incorrectly in the Nokia Pro Camera application.

Here is an example of the 2.5x “Zoom” 5mp shot seen on the camera.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 320, 1/60s

And the 38 MP shot saved on the phone:


I received the phone the day before release as I was lucky enough to live close to the shipping origin and the package arrived the day before it was supposed to. This is a good thing because I was able to bring the phone on my trip to Germany and Austria and I had plenty of time on airplanes and trains to figure the camera out and plenty of subjects to shoot.

The phone comes with a handful of applications to shoot with. There is the native Windows application, which gives you one or two settings to toggle and the rest is automatic. But the default is the Nokia Pro application, which gives you an array of settings to toggle. You can adjust the flash/focus light settings (on, off, focus light only, no focus light, auto), white balance (auto, cloudy, sunny, florescent, incandescent), focus (auto or about 6-7 inches to infinity), ISO (100-4000), shutter speed (auto or 4s-1/16000s!), and exposure compensation (-3EV to 3 EV in 1/3 increments). Here is a shot I used Exposure Compensation on.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/1600s EV-0.3

There are other applications installed by default on the 1020; Nokia Smart Cam, Panorama, Nokia Cinemagraph, and Creative Studio. And you can download many others free in the Windows Store. I haven’t had much time to play with any of these. I mainly used the default Nokia Pro Cam application.

So I can say without a doubt this is the best camera I have used on a cell phone. I will even go as far to say it is better than any point and shoot I have ever owned. It isn’t a replacement for my Sony Alphas. Anyone who says it has DSLR quality is probably only talking about ideal shooting situations. One little bit of oddness I noticed from the Lumia on the trains in Europe or riding in cars is a slant in the subject. I am not sure if it is an effect of the shutter or an effect of their stabilization compensating for the movement.

This shot was fixed at 1/2000s

This photo was taken with a cell phone while sitting on a moving train.
Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 125, 1/2000s

Initially I didn’t think anything of the shot, I was pleased with the color saturation straight off the phone. I was on a train moving approximately 50-60 km/h at the time pulling away from a station. The next day I attempted the same shot with my A99 and my 24mm Zeiss lens.

SLT-A99V, 24mm f/2 SSM ZA@ f/4, ISO 200, 1/2000s

Whoa. Now I notice the difference. If you aren’t quite sure, here is a closer look. Here is the Lumia:


And the Sony Alpha:


A little bit of a slant is apparent, even at 1/2000s. The Sony gives straight lines. This was the same train on two different days. I wonder why this occurs. The color saturation is a tad higher on the Nokia than the Sony, though I didn’t pay attention to the white balance or my color profile on the Sony, I am sure I could oversaturate the colors a bit to get the same effect.

So a minor flaw. It is what it is. A cell phone camera. A damn good one nonetheless.

How does the camera do with low light? This shot was taken without flash with only a little bit of light in the sewers of Vienna. Notice the shutter speed.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 2500, 1/4s

I can’t complain about that. I think it may have added a bit of light compared to available with raising ISO but it added a neat visual effect. I would only attempt to use my 24mm Zeiss at 1/4s handheld. My other lenses I’d need something rigid to set my camera or elbows against to shoot.

The color rendition is very good, maybe a bit oversaturated which I have expected with cell phones. You can use an array of applications to reduce the saturation. Here is a good test of the colors.

Nokia Lumia 1020 (28mm f/2.2), ISO 100, 1/50s

Nice colors, nothing to complain about.

I am sure there is more to come with the Lumia 1020. Does it replace my Sony bodies? No. Does it keep my Sony bodies at home when I am going on a short trip to the store? Absolutely. There are a few situations I would bring my camera “just in case” and now I am OK with the Lumia 1020 in its place.

A99 vs. A900* vs. A77 (part IV-b): Book Shelf Continued

ISO Fudge Factor

Before I continue I want to see if I can explain one needs to take what a manufacturer says with a grain of salt as they say. Most camera manufacturers lie. Yeah, I said it. They are big fat liars. They overstate ISO values compared to actual ISO. In some cases drastically. Recently did their A99 test and didn’t do so well in the “Sports (High ISO)” test and I was a bit skeptical of the results. I maintained the A99 was about a half to full stop better than the A900 and easily a full stop better than the A77. After digging a bit, I am coming to the realization the DXO Labs data is actually probably closer to the truth than I think.

The following is a screen shot of the DXO Labs comparison tool of the A99, A77 and A900 respectively. You can click on the screen shot to go to the actual comparison.


According to the DXO Labs data, the Sports (Low-Light ISO) of the A99 is almost a full stop better than the A77, which is slightly lower than I originally though and fractionally better than the A900 which is drastically lower than I originally thought.

Digging further into the DXO Labs data, you see the measurement chart for ISO. You can click on the screenshot to see more details.


The vertical measurement, Measured ISO, is what DXO Labs measured as the actual ISO for a given setting. The horizontal columns are the manufacturer ISO settings. In other words, when DXO Labs set the body to ISO 100, they got a value fractionally different than 100. On the DXOMark site, if you mouse over the little red, yellow, or orange dots, you can see the values. I put these in a spreadsheet and calculated the differences for your consumption.


A couple of takeaways from this chart. DXO Labs measured the A99 at ISO 48 when they set the body at 50. That’s pretty impressive. If you go to their site and look at other bodies at ISO 50, including some from Canon or Nikon, they usually measure higher than 50 at 50 as the A77 did.

You dig further and you can see a little better what’s really going on here. Below 50, and really above 100, the A99 has measured ISO consistently around 57% below the ISO setting and 54.9% below at ISO 800. So, if you take these settings to heart, Sony is adding almost a full stop “fudge factor” into the ISO calculation above 50. The average is 42.5%. Now, this may be required to compensate for the Translucent Mirror to ensure the body jives with the Sunny 16 rule and meters in an expected manner. But in terms of raw measurement, the A99 just doesn’t do as well as I thought. It still isn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, it just isn’t as good as I thought.

The values for the A77 above ISO 50 is between 79.4 and 84.6%, generically around a 20% “fudge factor”, with the average of measured values being 18.3%. Fairly consistent data. The A900 “fudge factor” above 100 is around 25% with measured ISO values 73.5-79% below Manufacturer Settings. The average measured value below ISO 100 for the A900 is 24.1% below.

It appears DXO Labs only measures full stops above ISO 50, except in the case where a body’s highest value is a fractional stop above one of the settings as the A77 is at ISO 16000. So I have taken the average “fudge factor” above the single anomaly (ISO 50 for the A77 and A99 and ISO 100 for the A900) and applied them to the third stop values to get an estimated ISO for the fractional stops and put them in the table below with complimentary columns reiterating the DXO Labs measured values.


As you can see, the estimated measured ISO values taking the “fudge factor” into account is fairly accurate compared to the DXO Labs measured ISO values. The values are linear. Looking at this chart, the value one would set on the A99 would be more than two-thirds of a full stop higher than the measured value. The A77 is a hair under a third of a stop higher. And the A99 is slightly over a third of a stop over.

So what does this tell me about the DXO Labs “Sports (Low-Light ISO)” score? By their definition the score is “The highest ISO setting for a camera that allows it to achieve an [Signal to Noise Ratio] of 30dB while keeping a good dynamic range of 9 EVs and a color depth of 18bits”. If they are true to the definition where “The highest ISO setting for a camera” implied the Manufacturer ISO, then the A99 and A900 have negligible difference at Manufacturer ISO 1600, where they would go under the defined settings of 30db SNR, 9EV’s of dynamic range, and 18 bits of color depth and the average quality would set the A900 at 8% lower than the A99. Flipping the numbers around, the A99 would be 9% better than the A900. It would also imply, taking the “fudge factor” into account, the measured ISO of the A900 would actually be almost a half stop better than the A99! This for a sensor 4 years older.

This is not consistent with what I have seen. I have a feeling the DXO Labs measurement definition reworded to “The highest measured ISO setting for a camera that allows it to achieve an [Signal to Noise Ratio] of 30dB while keeping a good dynamic range of 9 EVs and a color depth of 18bits” is closer to the truth. If this is the case, the A99 at a particular ISO setting would be a tad better than the A900 at an ISO setting a third of a stop lower. For instance, A99 at Manufacturer ISO 1600 (Measured 913) would be slightly better than the A900 at ISO 1250 (Estimated Measured at 948.8).

This would also imply to get similar SNR, Dynamic Range, and Color Depth with all three bodies around the 30dB/9EV/18bits threshold; where the A99 would need to be set to ISO 2500, and the A900 would need to be set to ISO 2000, the A77 would need to be set to ISO 1000. This is a little closer to what I have seen.

What about the Book Shelf?

OK, now we have this out of the way we can focus on the A99 and A77 test results. Since I messed up, I don’t have good A900 results to look at, hence the asterisk in the title.

A99 ISO 25600 JPEG Samples

I figured I would continue with the noisy high ISO samples. Here are the unmatched A99 ISO 25600 JPEG files straight off the body. Click on the photo to see the full-size shot.


A99 ISO 25600 f/8


A99 ISO 25600 f/5.6

A99 ISO 25600 Adjusted RAW

And here are the adjusted RAW files, where they have been uploaded to Adobe Lightroom, the Standard profiles from Maurizio Piraccini’s blog are applied, the frame is cropped to the top and bottom of the shelf, with the book The American Ways on the left side, and Visually Excel 2000 on the right side of the frame.


A99 f/8


All things considered, I am fairly pleased with the out-of-body JPEG files at ISO 25600, especially after looking at the RAW files. Even if I apply Luminance to the RAW file in Lightroom, I don’t get results close to the JPEG files.

A99 vs. A77 ISO 16000 JPEG Comparison

The A77 has a high threshold manufacturer setting of ISO 16000, so I tested both the A77 and A99 at this setting. Here are the JPEG files straight off the bodies.


A77 f/8


A77 f/5.6


A99 f/8


A99 f/5.6

The in-body JPEGs are just plain nasty on the A77. I think the ISO 16000 setting on the A77 is basically the “In case of dire emergency” setting. If you have to get the shot, and you have no other choice in adding light or dropping shutter speed, use the setting. An alternative is the hand-held twilight preset which should reduce the amount of noise.

A99 vs. A77 ISO 16000 Adjusted RAW Comparison

Since I now presume the actual ISO on the A99 is around 9200 and the A77 is around 13417, and assuming the A99 is presumably a full stop better regardless, this would explain the vast difference between settings. This difference seems even greater with the adjusted RAW files.


A77 f/8


A77 f/5.6


A99 f/8


A99 f/5.6

As you can see, even in the 640 pixel wide shots, ISO 16000 on the A77 looks like someone tried to screen print onto a sweater and then threw it into the dryer. For how good the A77 is at ISO 50, it is not good at all at 16000.

Here are some comparison panels of selected areas of the shelf, first at f/8 and then at f/5.6.



This is what happens when you have a better sensor, a fuller frame (the A77 is further away), and then you add in the fudge factor. The A99 has less noise and retains much more detail. The A99 quality isn’t that great. The A77 quality is just plain awful.

A99 ISO 25600 vs. A77 ISO 16000 Adjusted RAW

To account for the fudge factor a bit here is a comparison with the A99 at ISO 25600 (measured at 14801) and the A77 at ISO 16000 (measured at 13417). All things considered, if the DXO Labs “Sports (High-ISO)” results are consistent and the assumption is made the measured ISO is used, the A99 ISO 25600 shot should be about 2/3 of a stop better than the A77.



If it isn’t apparent in the first example, look at the IBSN number of the blue book on the right panel compared to the left panel. I’m convinced the DXO Labs measurements are a lot closer to truth than I thought.

To Be Continued…

If you’ve read down this far, I commend you. Unfortunately, if I am going to try to post daily, I need to conclude this in a post tomorrow (if possible) as this took far too much time than I had hoped but I wanted to include the information regarding the DXO Labs Measured ISO vs. Manufacturer ISO. A side effect of this is I had a lot more A900-specific information for this post and I didn’t have to turn on the body to get it! I thank DXO Labs for doing all their hard work. I admit I may have been wrong about them in the past, though I still need to make sure I look at their data qualitatively, and use the data quantitatively by example as I did above. With electronic image sensors, I imagine there is a degree of variance between one sensor and another even with the same manufacturer or even body or sensor. I also imagine there is a small amount of variance between testing. The tests performed on the A900 in 2008 may have slight variance compared to the tests performed on the A99 in late 2012. We trust DXO Labs keeps it consistent enough. I look at it all like those folks who listen to music look at various recording mediums. The music is recorded using an instrument live, and recorded to a tape. An analog representation like vinyl has variances digital representations do not and vice-versa. Even the difference between CD and MP3 can’t be understated and then you have varied qualities of MP3. Most people can’t hear the difference from step to step, but trained ears can. You don’t have to convince anyone who uses film there is a difference between film and digital. One of the biggest things I have learned so far in testing these bodies is the slightest change in light actually makes a difference in the end. Whether it is a reflection off of your belt buckle, a little bit of light peering through the blinds, or the sun being at 40 degrees or 42 degrees. I can try to keep things the same by using the same light, making sure the blinds are shut or making sure I shoot at night. I can try to isolate the camera and subject. But in the end, there will still be a tiny variance.

A99 vs. A900* vs. A77 (part IV-a): Book Shelf Test


About ten days ago I had the privilege of visiting the home of Ron Martinsen of 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:

Sony RX-100

Canon EOS-M

Canon 6D, 5D3, Nikon D600

Sony Nex-7

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. 


A900 (Adjusted)


A77 (Adjusted)


A99 (Adjusted)

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.


A77 f/5.6


A77 f/8


A99 f/5.6


A99 f/8

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.


A77 f/5.6


A77 f/8


A99 f/5.6


A99 f/8

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.

The Irony

I shipped my 70-300G lens yesterday, actually re-shipped it as I guess the automated system grossly underestimated the postage and the post office returned the package as postage was due.

Today I had this eagle in my back yard and only 85mm of lens to capture it.


This is 455×417. I didn’t really have time to make any adjustments, so I had SteadyShot off from the color calibrations I was doing and I was at ISO 100 and I wished I was at 400 as I missed a shot of the eagle flying away with its meal, which you can barely see in its left claw. I will say, I am happy to have gotten what I got.

In other news, the DXOMark results for the A99 posted today. I’d have to say, I wonder about the “Sports (low-light ISO)” score and how their testing is performed. Looking at their FAQ, they use a 120mm + lens, I wonder which one they used and their subject matter as the score was only slightly higher than the A900 but in my experience there is a marked improvement in the A99 over the A900. The sensor scored 89, ten full points above the A900, eleven above the A77, and it is their fifth highest score ever, with the Nikon lineup of D800 and D800E, D600 ahead of a Phase One medium format body. It is tied with the Nikon D4 and blows the Canon 1DX and 5D3 out of the water. The Canon bodies were also higher in the “Sports (low-light ISO)” category but suffered in the portrait and dynamic range testing. Interesting. I’d like to see how they get the results they get. Frankly, I like the eye test better myself. DPreview seems to have a good thing going with their comparison widget. All I know is I am happy with the A99.

I’ve got your low light ISO, RIGHT HERE! Shot at 210mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 3200:


And a little closer:


All it needs is a little luminance. But for being in the 23rd row at the opposite end of the theatre, I am pretty happy with the detail. I probably could have used a little faster shutter speed to stop the fan a little better, but it gets the point across. I can see thread detail from that far away.


A99 vs. A900 vs. A77 (part III-A): Guess the body

I figured I would try something a little different today so I took the three bodies and three lenses and shot three subjects. I first shot some holly berries which hang low on one of the bushes in my yard with the 85mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 and f/4. Finally I zoomed in on a treetop at 300mm on the A99 and A900 and at 200mm on the A77 with the 70-300 G SSM lens at f/5.6 and f/8. Definitely not a scientific test as I guessed on the distance differences and I know the depth of field will be wider on the A77. All three bodies were set to 5000k for white balance, wide focus areas, wide metering, ISO 200 with SteadyShot on.

Since the tests aren’t scientific, and I definitely saw a difference in light as the sun and shadows moved, I figured I would put the shots in random order and if anyone wants to guess which one is which, feel free to comment.

Here is the first set of 85mm f/1.4 shots. Can you tell which one is which?


As you can tell, the light was slightly different as was my position. This is where I learned to shoot with the A99/A900 first and the A77 last as I shot A900-A77-A99.

I didn’t pick a determined focus point, and at f/1.4 I’m shooting with a very narrow depth of field, but the colors and other factors are still relevant. Here is a closer look. They may be in a different order.




All three render the red berries slightly different. It could be the light, it could be softness in the lens wide open. Who knows. A more fair comparison is the f/4 shots.




Here is the Zoom shot. The A99/A900 shots are at 300mm and the A77 shot is at 200mm. These were shot at f/8. I didn’t have a predetermined focus point.  The point of this exercise is color interpretation and noise.




One of the bodies metered the shot significantly brighter than the other two. Here are some zoomed details.


And three others


And finally for kicks, the f/5.6 shots:



And closer:


So what are the guesses? I’ll post answers as well as metering information on the next test-specific post.