So… Just How Bad Is The Noise?
Recently, I got to spend some time shooting in low light conditions with the Sony Alpha A77 at ISO 1600+.
So, when I got the images home and started looking at the previews… I felt an overwhelming urge to throw my camera through the window. Seriously, it was pretty disheartening. The low light performance of the camera isn’t all that great. There is a good deal of noise and after noise reduction, I feel like 24MP was in name only. Let’s just say… I was wondering if it wasn’t too late to swap out for the D800… but then again, aside from the high iso performance issue… I love the A77, so giving it a day to sit, I gave processing the images a second try.
The first thing to remember is that the A77 is NOT the A700. I know I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but it bears repeating. The images have more luminance noise. Using LR defaults will give you some really bad looking previews.
The above image was shot at ISO 3200. Given enough light, the shots come out clean. However, when you have more challenging scenes, the amount of noise and somewhat heavy handed noise reduction can obliterate detail, resulting in the “painterly” effect.
The photograph of the Hammerhead shark above was shot handheld at ISO 3200 from the big two story tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s pretty dark, shooting hand held with the 70-200/2.8 was a bit of a challenge. However, it was significantly easier with the A77 than it was with the A700, thanks to the EVF and articulated LCD. It was thankfully, literally painless.
At the end of the day, you choose the right tool for the job. For low light, high iso, settings, I’m not convince that the A77 is the best camera for the job. I’m looking forward to the A99, which may potentially bring better high ISO performance. But I’m also keeping an eye on the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D MK-III, both of which boasts better high iso performance, albeit at a much steeper price and without the ergonomic benefits of the A77’s articulated LCD display.
After processing some of the images from the aquarium, I went back and compared the images from the A77 and those from the A700. The difference is evident: there is more detail in the A77 shots vs the A700 shots. Yes, there is more noise, due to the number of pixels for the same area. However, there is definitely more information there and it shows.
Is it the best it can be? No. There is enough detail robbing noise that the output will annoy more than a few photographers. For me, however, while annoying, the benefits of the A77 overall outweighs the weaknesses of the camera’s high ISO low-light performance.