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.

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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.

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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.

Capture

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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 DXOMark.com 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.

dxo-comp

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.

dxo-comp-iso

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.

ISO

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.

ISO2

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.

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A99 ISO 25600 f/8

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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.

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A99 f/8

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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.

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A77 f/8

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A77 f/5.6

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A99 f/8

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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.

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A77 f/8

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A77 f/5.6

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A99 f/8

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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.

99-77-16000-8

99-77-16000-56

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.

99-77-25600-16000-8

99-77-25600-16000-8-2

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.

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.

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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:

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And a little closer:

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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.

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A99 vs. A900 vs. A77 update

I attempted a re-rest and failed miserably. Not only did I get the white balance wrong on the A99 shots, I couldn’t get the A77 to cooperate as I tried the same prime lens at different distances. I did learn a couple of things… Mirror lockup mode on the A900 is the bomb, the A900 has a ton of mirror slap evident with SteadyShot off. And if you copy crop settings from the A99 to the A900 in Lightroom, it adjusts for the additional size of the shot (6000×4000 vs. 6048×4032)

I did get a couple of interesting comparisons, so not all is gone.

SONY DSC 

Above is ISO 6400 on the A900, upper left, and A99 on the upper right. Below is ISO 12800 and 25600 respectively on the A99. These were all shot using the 85mm f/1.4 ZA lens stopped down to f/5.6.

Here is another interesting comparison.

WrapAround

Left to right, ISO 1600 on the A99, ISO 1600 on the A900, ISO 3200 on the A99.

I have to cut it short today… More later.

A99 vs. A900 vs. A77 (part II): Tale of the tape

This post focuses on the light metering of the A99, A900 and A77 and other measurable values like file sizes. Since most of the testing I wanted to do was qualitative, I figured I would get the quantitative parts out of the way, right off the bat. But as I’ve found out, the numbers may not tell the whole story…

WP_001469
A99 w/ 85mm f/1.4 ZA, A77 w/24mm f/2 SSM ZA, A900 w/ 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G SSM
I wanted to get a shot of the three bodies side by side. Unfortunately I had no good camera left to shoot with, so I used my cell phone to get them all in one shot.

I took all of the best untouched RAW files, changed nothing on them, and I exported them using identical settings in Lightroom to JPEG format. Then I used Windows Explorer to add the columns with the data I wanted to display, sorted by file size, took a couple of screen shots and added some lines in Microsoft Paint. The horizontal yellow line is above the first appearance of a body/file type combo reading top-down. The horizontal green line is the first appearance of a body/file type combo reading bottom-up. The extreme quickest and slowest shutter speeds for each body are in the orange boxes. The A900 has an ISO range of 100-6400, where the A77 can go 50-16000 (I only tested up to 12800), and the A99 can go 50-25600.  The A900 had shutter speeds ranging from 1/160th of a second at ISO 6400 and f/5.6 to 8/10ths of a second at ISO 100 and f/8. The A77 had speeds ranging from 1/400th of a second at ISO 12800 and f/5.6 to 1.3 seconds at ISO 50 and f/8. Finally, the A99 had speeds ranging from 1/500th of a second at ISO 25600 and f/5.6 to 2 full seconds at ISO 50 and f/8.

Base

As you can see from the table, the A900 is the winner when it comes to files taking up the most disk space, with the A77 shortly behind. (Update: I now have a pretty good idea why the A900 shots are larger) The surprise winner of the lightest files is the A99. Surprising, to say the least. The two sharpest A99 files took up the least amount of hard drive space in JPEG format. The A900 actually had smaller JPEG exports at ISO 100, despite the extra pixels. Apples-to-apples, the A77 has the biggest JPEG exports at ISO 100 through ISO 6400 versus both bodies and larger than all of the A99 ISO 12800 and 25600 with the A77 ISO set at 12800. The ISO 12800 export of the A77 at f/8 is around 34 megabytes. Here are the extreme high ends of all three bodies, all at f/8. The A900 at ISO 6400, A77 at ISO 12800, and A99 at ISO 25600.

SONY DSC

This isn’t a fair “apples to apples” comparison. The ISO values are not equal, but this example shows me a couple things. The first thing I noticed was the A77 depth of field is much wider than the two full-frame bodies. Much more of the paintbrush grain is evident in the shot. The words on the rightmost yellow crayon are barely distinguishable on the A900 sample, completely blurred on the A77 sample, and you can make out individual letters, even a diacritic on the A99 sample. A fiber present between the middle two crayons is evident on the A99 and A900 sample, but you really have to look on the A77 sample. On the middle yellow crayon, the A99 and A77 samples show the word “lemon” where the A900 sample is a bit bright.

Out of curiosity, I am putting the f/5.6 A77 sample here to show a shallower depth of field.

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The f/5.6 sample still shows more of the paintbrush grain, though to my eye, the word “lemon” is a bit brighter.

For anyone annoyed by the noise I have made you witness, here is some eye relief.

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Hopefully your eyes feel better.

Breaking the files down by shutter speed (or Exposure time as Windows Explorer states) shows something totally different.

ss1

Admittedly, there is a lot going on here, and I was nice enough to provide a key this time. The A77 had the quickest exposure times all-up. Between the A99 and A900, there were a few ties, however the A900 was faster a few times. The A99 never experienced the fastest shutter speed. I imagine since the A77 is at a different focal length the discrepancy is explained. I am more interested in seeing the difference in exposure between an A99 and A900 tie versus when the A900 is faster than the A99.

image

Here is the tie at ISO 200 f/8. Admittedly, I may have been slightly out of focus on the A900, or experienced a little bit of mirror slap as the A99 shot just murders the A900 shot in sharpness. But the point of this exercise is exposure. I also cropped less of the rook on the A99 shot so it appears larger when downsampled to 320px wide. Again, the exposure is the key. At the same shutter speed, I’d say the A99 has a slight edge between these two in brightness if you look at the orange wood blending into the blue clear plastic, but the white of the magic marker looks brighter on the A900 sample.

For completeness here is the same shot on the A77

compA772

To me it is inconclusive. Maybe I need to look at all three side-by-side.

rooks 

Ahh. Now I can tell. The A77 is a tad darker than both, it seems. Maybe the A77 tried to be a little too fast.

DiffSpeed 

This sample shows again I may have been out of focus on the A900 a tad, but the point is not necessarily the focus more than the exposure. At 1/30s, the A99 is slower than the A900 at 1/40s. But you can see the A99 is much brighter. And at ISO 1600, I am thrilled with the noise. Just for kicks here is the A77 sample at the same metrics, ISO 1600, f/5.6 but at 1/50s.

compA77

To me, the brown in the background is slightly brighter, so the A77 may, in fact be overexposing these shots. Here is another example at ISO 800 and f/5.6. The A99 and A900 tied at 1/20s where the A77 shot at 1/25s.

Allthree 

On this shot, the A77 is a tad brighter than the A900, which seems to be brighter than the A99. Now I am completely confused.

So this wraps up part II of this excursion. I’ve learned I may need to reshoot with the A900 and compensate for mirror slap, and I may need to put the A99 in Aperture Priority, take note of the metering and then put the A900 and A77 in manual and meter accordingly. The next post in this test will be the ISO noise test. I have a feeling I know who the winner will be here, however I think there may be some surprises along the way.

I am planning on posting the full size samples shortly. I need to find a place to put the files, they are very large.

A99 vs. A900 vs. A77 (part I)

I am a slacker. I admit it. I haven’t posted anything of real substance this week. I will say I did complete my A77-A99-A900 testing and I am currently sorting through over 1000 jpg photos all of the same subject to get apples-to-apples comparisons of all three at various ISO values and two different F-stops with the same lens. I ended up shooting the A77 at 100mm and A99/A900 at 150mm using the same 70-300 G lens with the tripod posted at the same spot. Here is a sample of the subject, which was approximately eight feet away.

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This was a shot from the A99. I used 4500K as the white balance value. I set up all three bodies to have Spot-Focus, Steady-Shot off, Spot metering, and I shot at f/5.6 and f/8 at ISO 50 and doubled up to 25600 for the A99, 50-12800 for the A77, and 100-6400 for the A900. The rook’s helmet was the center focus point. The photos are fairly close in size, with slight deviations in angle due to small movements in the tripod and positioning of the ball head. The tests did accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. The glasses have different tones of violet, yellow, oranges, browns and greens with the color names from the labels nearly in line with the focal plane. The paintbrush has fine bristles, just outside the depth of field at f/5.6 and on the outside edge of the depth of field at f/8. The chess pieces show the differences as depth of field increases and decreases. And four basic colors, green, red, blue, and yellow are represented by the markers. The wood grain on the old radio is also a detail not to be overlooked. This is a representation of one of the final outcomes.

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Notice there is a fiber or two around the purple crayons. Details like these may determine the winner or loser.

There will be some differences. The Depth of Field for the A77 at f/5.6 is about 5 inches and at f/8 is about 7 inches. For the A99 and A900 at f/5.6 the depth of field is a little over 3 inches and at f/8 is slightly under 5 inches. So the A77 will have more depth of field.

Can you tell which one is the A77 shot?

preview

There is a small fiber on the knight’s head. One shows up quite a bit better than the other two. The color is better on one of the three, in my opinion. The contrast between browns and yellows is also up for debate.

I shot at least 2 shots at each ISO value at f/5.6 and f/8 and for some of the values there were up to 6 different shots if I felt like something went wrong. I then took 5 different sections of the subject and selected the best of the candidates for each section, as well as a best all-around.

None of the shots have been altered in Lightroom for color, exposure, or noise. Some straightening was done based on the bottom of the chess board, but not enough to really matter. This ISO 12800 shot came from either the A77 or the A99. It looks like a chalk drawing.

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I hope to display all I need to display in 3-4 posts. My next comparison post will be the tale of the tape. It will compare the metered shutter speeds and jpeg export sizes for the values.

I am going to the Denver Broncos/Carolina Panthers American Football game today, I hope to post about that as well as what I learned this week shooting a waterfall with Neutral Density filters.