Mar 202012
 
Sea Nettle

Sea Nettle - Monterey Bay Aquarium

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.

Red Moray Eel - Monterey Bay Aquarium

Red Moray Eel - Monterey Bay Aquarium ( Sony A77 / ISO 3200 )

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.

Beautiful Images

Hammer Head Shark - Monterey Bay Aquarium

Hammer Head Shark - Monterey Bay Aquarium ( Sony A77 / ISO 3200 )

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.

Jan 182012
 

The following photographs were made on the Sony Alpha A77 DSLT camera using the Rokinon 8mm aspherical fisheye lens.

[smugmug url="feed://gallery.wingtangwong.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=21092391_m5SNtW&format=rss200" imagecount="100" start="1" num="100" thumbsize="Th" link="lightbox" captions="false" sort="true" window="false" smugmug="false" size="L"]

 

Jan 162012
 

So, I’ve been the proud and fortunate owner of the Sony Alpha A77 for a few months now. Like many, one of my primary concerns with the camera was the EVF, or electronic view finder. Like so many, I was concerned about image quality, response speed, accuracy of colors and exposure, etc. etc. The list of fears went on and on.

8mm Shot of Brisbane Marina

8mm Shot of Brisbane Marina

My Vote: EVF preferred over OVF

My impressions of the EVF thus far is that it is superior to the A700 optical viewfinder, which already, was brighter and larger than most APS-C DSLR optical viewfinders, bested by the A900′s full frame optical viewfinder. When I say superior, I am referring to the following:

Accuracy of composition

  • With an EVF, you get 100% of the framed shot. With the A700, as great as it was, you would always end up with a mysterious border of a few pixels. Not enough to spoil most compositions, but leaves the door open to distracting elements getting in the shot, which you had thought were composed out.

Accuracy of exposure

  • The EVF does what the OVF can’t: give you a prediction of how your exposed shot will look. At 1/800th of a second, at 8 seconds, or at 18 seconds… darkness comes to life with an EVF. It isn’t perfect, no. But then again, neither is the OVF.

What most people complain about, however, are the following:

Refresh rate of the EVF

  • Yes, while the refresh rate is amazing, it isn’t so fast that you don’t notice pan lag or other factors. Physics is on OVF’s side here.

Blackout during shooting

  • True. Shoot sequential at slower speeds, and you will see screen blackout. If you do image review, you will get blackout and a flicker of the last image you shot. I turn off image review and shoot at 5fps, since 3fps will result in extended blackouts. However, blackouts were present with OVF(s), so this is really more an exchange than a new issue.

Noisey/Grainy/Color casts

  • You have simply replaced a view that was too dark to see anything in with one that is grainy and color casted because of gain amplification. I consider this to be an exchange of faults as well.

Continue reading »

Jan 152012
 

Recently, I started a little self-motivated project to produce one interesting photograph a week. Like the 365, photograph a day, projects, this aims to put a little foot to the rear end of my creativity. However, I opted to do one a week, allowing me to shoot when I can during the week, and produce a finale image at the end of the week, most likely on Sunday.

2012 Photography A Week : The Wave

2012 Photography A Week #1: The Wave

The first photograph, shown above, I call “The Wave”. This was shot along the biking paths and roads near the I-280 and 92. Shot with my Sony Alpha A77 with the Rokinon 8mm fisheye lens. Using the distortion to bend the road in interesting ways while taking advantage of the lens’ peculiar resistance to flare.

2012 Photography A Week : "Closing In"

2012 Photography A Week #2: Closing In

The second image, I call “Closing In”. Using the same Sony Alpha A77 and 8mm Rokinon combo’s fisheye distortion, I brought the branches of the silhouetted tree in against the backdrop of the sunset.

One thing I’ve found is that while I like the unique way in which the fisheye introduces curvature, it is repetitive. Prompts me to consider other options for week #3.

You can check out my 2012 Photography A Week photos on Flickr, SmugMug, and 500px!

Jan 112012
 
8mm Ultra Wide Angle Shot of Office Building in Brisbane, California

8mm Ultra Wide Angle Shot of Office Building in Brisbane, California

I recently acquired the Rokinon 8mm manual focus lens with a Sony Alpha mount. I’ve been shooting with this lens as often as I can.

I love the way the lens renders an amazing amount of detail in focus, whether the subject matter be near or far. I love the curvature that the lens lends to any straight edge, almost as if on some spring.

 

Cresting View

Cresting View

Valley View

Valley View

The way the world seems to converge or diverge based on the angle of the lens in relation to the horizon is just so much fun to play with!

 

Nov 212011
 

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

So, while walking around the greenery around the office buildings, I saw some mushrooms having pushed through the wood chips. I also noticed the light was rather poor, only some LED and flourescent lighting from the walkways. Sounded like a good time to give the higher ISO capabilities on the A77 a try, since up till now, it’s all been lower ISO(s) in good light.

The above was shot at ISO 3200, which would have been at the bleeding edge of unusable on the A700 in similar light. However, with the A77, the performance was such that I not only used higher ISO(s) to fairly good effect, I also hand held the shots.

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

The above shot was done with the Tamron at the wider focal length to bring in more of the scenery. It was amazing how much of the scene not only exposed well, but there were plenty of details being pulled out by LR3/ACR. Now, there was noise. Plenty of it, in fact. Much more luminous noise than I had gotten from the A700. However, the images are also much larger, and once scaled down to what would have been the A700 sizes, produced much more usable images than the A700 would have been able to provide.

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 16000

The shot above was photographed at ISO 16000. Yes, it was quite noisy. No, in its current level of quality, I would not use it for general use… perhaps in those “it’s either get the shot or get fired” kind of situations. I’m really hoping that the quality will improve with the upcoming version 1.04 firmware for the Sony DSLT-A77, which is supposed to address some of the image quality issues at higher ISO(s).

Sony DSLT-A77, Tamron 17-50/2.8, ISO 3200

As with most things, however, it really comes down to what you intend to use the tool for and whether you can live with the issues and faults of the tool. I knew about the noise issue going in. But I also knew I was going to be able to get much more serviceable shots with the A77 because of the improved handling of the camera. Given that only a small fraction of of what I shoot falls into the low light/high ISO range, this was a more than acceptable tradeoff. When the Sony DSLT-A99 comes out, it will have a lower sensor density and thus better low light/high iso performance. I might trade up for the improved ISO IQ and the full frame, but the A77 is a joy to photograph with.

No regrets other than wishing I had gone with the body and 16-50/2.8/SSM Sony “kit” lens, which would have provided weather sealing and silent autofocus for video.

Speaking of video, will be posting some in the near future.

You can check out higher resolution shots at my gallery.

Nov 132011
 

Handheld shot of Mustard blossoms with 70-200mm/2.8 G lens and Sony Alpha SLT-A77V DSLR. Rear LCD display was extended and flipped up so I could shoot looking down. Focusing was done via focus peaking and manual focus.

I recently got my Sony Alpha A77 DSLT. I’ve been quite anxious about this camera for several reasons:

  • It will be replacing my reliable A700 DSLR
  • There have been serious concerns regarding image quality coming out of the A77
  • Shipping delays due to flooding in Thailand
  • Firmware issues with shipped units
  • Cameras crashing
  • Fast enough SDHC cards

Well, I got my camera. Most of the concerns were addressed, save one: image quality.

The very night I received the camera, I took some high iso, low light test shots. What I saw really gave me a sharp jab to the gut. The images looked bad. Really really bad. Shooting even at moderate ISO levels was revealing noise where I not previously not expected noise before.

Well, today, I got a chance to walk around a local park with my new A77. Here are my thoughts:

  • Focus peaking, the highlighting of areas of high contrast to aid in manual focus, ROCKS!!! Seriously, it was an absolute joy to use.
  • Articulated LCD screen makes low angle shooting a pain free experience, at least for my neck.
  • Auto focus is fast. Lock on is quick and solid, though I would have preferred for all of my lenses to be SSM/USM/HSM, for totally silent focusing, only one lens is blessed with SSM. Focusing was fast on all lenses I tried. Though I will be going through the micro-AF adjustment for each lens before too long, to get the most out of what I have.
  • Buffering and shot to shot performance was great. I was using the Sandisk Extreme Pro 16GB UHS-I 95MB/second SDXC cards. They basically made sure that whatever was in the buffer would clear out ASAP.
  • 24MP allows for ALOT of cropping options.

Original 24mp shot scaled down.

Cropped 6mp shot from 24mp original

Here is a shot I took. It is unprocessed and is a straight conversion from RAW to a JPEG. Had this been shot with the 12MP A700, I would have tried to crop it, but ended up with an image without much room for adjustments…

With the A77′s 24MP image output, however, it is possible to perform a tighter crop and make adjustments on the resulting cropped image, and still have something you could print at a good size. The tighter crop, while a rather small crop of the original, comes in at around 5-6MP. That’s alot of cropping headroom provided by the A77′s 24MP sensor.

However, having said that, 24MP is alot of photosites to shove onto an APS-C sized sensor… And the penalty is noise. Even at ISO 100, there is luminous noise that shows up in the image, when you zoom in. This can be handled via processing, but it’s something I would like to see Sony improve on with a firmware update… perhaps allow for in-camera photosite binning.

Below is an example shot and two progressively cropped images. It was shot with the 70-200/2.8 lens, hand held, articulated screen up, and focus peaking on. This allowed me to place the camera literally on the ground to get a very low angle view.

Low angle rock shot. Sony A77, 70-200/2.8G. (original, dimension: 6000x4000)

The same shot from above, but cropped, and slightly post processed:

Rock shot, cropped and post processed. (cropped to: 4600x3000)

And the above shot, even further cropped:

Further Cropped Rock Shot (cropped to: 3000x2000)

What I love about this is that given a well exposed shot, properly focused, and developed well, you will be able to get a good deal of detail from a shot, even when cropped severely.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this camera can do in a variety of other environments. Dark aquariums in particular…. but so far, it seems that so long as I work within the strengths of the camera, it will produce amazing shots with rich detail, even when cropped down to a 6MP in the final image.

The A77 is a strong camera. However, given that it is prone to noise, it is a camera that will require some care in getting the best possible image out of it… not unlike how the A700 was, when it was first released. It will take some time to get used to the camera’s uniqueness, but I’m confident that it will serve me well for the next 4+ years, just as the A700 had for the past 4 years.

Notes:

  • All images posted here were shot at ISO 100
  • No external flash was used
  • No tripod was used
  • Camera used: Sony SLT-A77V
  • Lens used: Sony 70-200/2.8 G SSM
  • Memory Card: Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-I 16GB 95MB/second SDHC/SDXC
  • Post processing: Adobe Lightroom 3
  • While the original exported JPG(s) from LR3 contained the GPS data in the EXIF headers, they got munged after being uploaded and processed by the site. :(