Sony A850, A900 & Canon 5D Mark II ISO Comparisons

Sony A850, Sony A900, Canon 5D Mark II

The Sony A850 is the newest full frame DSLR from Sony.  It’s based largely on the Sony A900; however, its a couple of notches below on feature sets.  Since the A850 uses the same 24.6-megapixel sensor as found in the A900, we shouldn’t expect any real difference in image quality between the two.

Although, comparing these two cameras to the Canon 5D Mark II, which is the current prosumer state of the art for low-light performance, is another story.  You’ll also see some Canon 7D samples at higher ISOs for the sake of comparing a crop-sensor camera to these full framers.  To see how the Sony A850 and A900 stack up, read on.

Testing Details

All images were captured in Large/Fine JPEG format.

Long exposure noise reduction, high ISO noise reduction, auto lighting optimizer, and highlight tone priority settings were turned OFF.

Picture Style/Control was set to Standard.

Lenses used were the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 and Sony 50mm f/1.4.

Custom white balance was set on each camera using the ColorRight white balance tool.

All images were shot at f/8 and the following shutter speeds at the respective ISOs:

  • ISO 100 @ 15s
  • ISO 200 @ 8s
  • ISO 400 @ 4s
  • ISO 800 @ 2s
  • ISO 1600 @ 1s
  • ISO 3200 @ 1/2s
  • ISO 6400 @ 1/4s
  • ISO 12800 @ 1/8s (where applicable)

The Sony A850 and A900 have a sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400; however, I included a sample from the Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 12800 for comparison purposes.

Sample Images

Here is a sample the complete scene captured.

Below are 100% crop samples taken from the respective images throughout the ISO range.  The focus point is near the upper left corner of these crops.  No post processing was performed on any of these images other than the crops shown below.

You may download samples of each image for personal inspection by clicking on the links below each sample (right-click and choose “Save as…”).  Do not republish the images on the Internet or elsewhere without express written permission.

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 100

Sony A850 ISO 100 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 100 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 100 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 200

Sony A850 ISO 200 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 200 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 200 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 400

Sony A850 ISO 400 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 400 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 400 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 800

Sony A850 ISO 800 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 800 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 800 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 1600

Sony A850 ISO 1600 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 1600 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 1600 Full-res Sample

Canon 7D ISO 1600 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 3200

Sony A850 ISO 3200 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 3200 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 3200 Full-res Sample

Canon 7D ISO 3200 Full-res Sample

A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 6400

Sony A850 ISO 6400 Full-res Sample

Sony A900 ISO 6400 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 6400 Full-res Sample

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 12800 Full-res Sample

Canon 7D ISO 6400 Full-res Sample

Even though a crop isn’t featured above, here’s a sample of the 7D at ISO 12800 taken at the same time if you want to download and compare for yourself:

Canon 7D ISO 12800 Full-res Sample

Conclusion

Sony A850

While the Sony A850 and A900 have a whole lot of resolution, the really don’t hold up that well when coping with noise at higher ISOs. I was also surprised, again, to see how well the Canon 7D stacked up against the Sony full frame cameras, in spite of its smaller sensor.

I feel pretty good about everyday use with the A850 and A900 at ISO 1600 and below, which covers most shooting conditions for most people, particularly when coupled with a fast lens like the Sony 50mm f/1.4 lens that I’ve been using. However, wedding and event photographers who venture into available light shooting in dimmer environments may balk at the results from ISO 3200 and above.

Sony A900

That said, I really like the A850 and A900 and will delve beyond noise performance evaluations soon with each of them. I think Sony’s got a good thing going with its Alpha DSLRs, but it has some hurdles ahead in taming noise at higher ISOs to the degree that Canon and Nikon have done with the 5D Mark II and D700, respectively.

Stay tuned for some more on the A850 and A900, including some more samples using various noise reduction settings.

The Sony A850, Sony A900, Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 7D are available from B&H Photo at the following links:

Sony A850 at B&H Photo

Sony A900 at B&H Photo

Canon 5D Mark II at B&H Photo

Canon 7D at B&H Photo

By making your photography purchases at B&H Photo through these links, you are helping Photography Bay to continue bring quality camera tests, news and reviews. Thanks for your continued support.

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Comments

  1. says

    One thing that seems to be forgotten here is the built in stabilisation. I realise this doesn’t help with fast moving objects (where high ISO really is your only choice), but it does allow you to lower your ISO siginificantly, in cases. Plus, you have a stabilised 50/1.4 lens, 85/1.4, 135/1.8, etc.

    Also, the RAW converter makes a big differnce. I know most people would use LightRoom (CameraRaw), but unfortunatly their performance has been more than sub-par with Sony cameras. Fortunately, this has changed (!) — it’d be great to see such a comparison based on the LightRoom 3 beta. For me, there’s more than a world of difference between the images.

    Lastly, the Sony images seem to be less sharp than the others — you might want to sharpen them slightly to make the comparison more conclusive…

  2. Sony-Canada says

    To be fair none of the Sonys have had a Firmware update so do this test after a firmware update

  3. Nate says

    “All images were captured in Large/Fine JPEG format.”

    This is where the test should have stopped. Sony’s jpeg engine on the a900 and a850 has long been known to be well below standards. Comparisons of raw files exhibit a much more competitive model.

  4. Robb Mann says

    This sites HUGE Canon Bias is becoming unbearable. First, they skip the D5000 in favor of a vastly inferior Rebel for a $1000 camera choice, now this “Canon 5D Mark II, which is the current prosumer state of the art for low-light performance”? Hello, check out DXO scores for ISO performance. The D700 spanks the 5DII.

  5. Bob Roundtree says

    I think comparing noise using jpeg totally misrepresents what these pro or semipro cameras are capable of. Surely a professional review would focus on the RAW quality? Or is this aimed at amateur jpeg snappers?

  6. Suffi says

    Here is the problem: A900 and A850 are not low-light high-ISO cameras. These are studio and/or landcape cameras with incredible 25 MP resolution. The dynamic range, colors, and image quality at ISO 400 and lower beats the crap out of all other DSLRs, with the exception of $8000 Nikon D3x that has the same sensor that is in A900/A850.

  7. ossme says

    I only wish that the tests includes information about the firmware version used. This is a fairly recent test so I would suppose that all cameras have their latest firmware updates.

  8. David says

    As a professional, I have never and will never shoot above ISO 400 regardless of what camera I use. That’s what wide aperture lenses are made for…to shoot well in low light without having to increase ISO or manually increase shutter speed. I only use f/2.8 to f/1.4 lenses. No professional would intentionally shoot anything at ISO 800 or above unless it was for a relative’s baby shower. High ISO comparisons are ridiculous in nature. I would rather spend the enormous amount of money saved in purchasing a Sony Alpha 850 and spend it on lenses…which do not have to be image stabilized by the way. RAW images from the Alpha are absolutely breathtaking…JPEGS aren’t that bad either.

    • says

      @David – I appreciate your weighing in on the topic; however, to say that “No professional would intentionally shoot anything at ISO 800 or above unless it was for a relative’s baby shower” is a bit of a stretch. To the contrary, many professionals user higher ISO settings everyday.

      For instance, look at Mark Rebilas’ recent NASCAR coverage: http://markjrebilas.com/blog/?p=6975

      If you’ll take a look at some of his images and what ISO that he’s using, you’ll find that he’s taking publishable images at ISO 5000 in some cases, and is frequently using ISO 1250 and above on his Nikon D700 to get the shot. If you scroll to the bottom of Mark’s post, you’ll find that many of these images (intentionally shot at ISO settings well beyond what you would use) are published by USA Today, ESPN and Los Angeles Times. That’s a far cry from a baby shower…

      While most portrait photographers won’t find these comparisons useful, many other photographers find them very relevant to the way they use a camera.

      Finally, I agree with your sentiments toward the A850 (and the A900 for that matter). Both are excellent cameras and noise control at higher ISO settings is just one part of a very large equation in evaluating a camera’s worth and personal fit with the photographer. However, neither camera is quite ready to rival the Canon 5D Mark II and the equally great Nikon D700 in the high ISO performance category. I’ll have a more in-depth look at the A850 and A900 soon and delve into other points of concern with them.

  9. Malik says

    What is the purpose of this test? The A850/900 aren’t made for high iso shooting.Why not compare the 5dII to a Hasselblad or Phase one back with their poor high iso performance i.e. anything above 400.You might want to also bash their lack of jpeg capabilities.The Sony bodies are the budget minded photographers digital medium format system.Same sensor as 8k D3x for 1/3 price!The D3x has been said to have poor high iso capabilities,but it’s not an available light camera.Get a tripod.Sony 24mp full frame with Zeiss glass.Can you say,”40×60 gallery wrap”?What’s not to like.And if you really want better high iso shots from the Sony bodies google Agorabasta settings.It’s on DPReview. Seems to work wonders.

  10. juancarlosvasquez says

    i will apreciate your help, this week i have to choose between sony a900 or a850 and ths canon 5d, help me thankss i need your feedback to take the best decision

  11. says

    Thanks for the test you did, as I am also deciding between those two.
    But you test the Sony 50mm 1.4 on the fullframe. But this lense is not made for this fullframe body. Sony doesnt have a 50mm yet to get the best possible options. I belive if you take a Zeiss 85mm on the 850 I am sure the pictures would be different.

  12. alex says

    I’m considering getting an a850 but wonder if I could use other full frame lenses that have gotten great reviews, like SIGMA or TAMRON which are cheaper too, without affecting the camera’s capabilities, since we all know one lens won’t do and there are plenty other things to get when you are starting but still want great results.

    Any suggestions for this serious amateur but still financially concious?

    • says

      @alex – I really like the A850 and think it would be a great, cost-conscious choice. I wouldn’t have any problems using some of the better lenses from Sigma and Tamron. You have to start building a kit somewhere and I think the A850 body would be a great place to start.

  13. Russ says

    I would like to see an ISO comparison between all four cameras using DxO Optics Pro Elite to suppress noise in the RAW image files. My own experience with DxO suggests that it is possible to obtain low-noise images at ISO 3200 with the A900. How do the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D compare to the Sony A850 and A900 under these conditions?

  14. Stve says

    I would have liked to have seen a Raw photo at ISO 3200 from the Sony processed in Lightroom with no noise reduction & then treated in Photoshop with a good noise reduction plugin. If you can get good results with a plugin in Photoshop or direct from Lightroom 3 or another raw converter
    that is what really counts not the poor Jpeg conversions Sony provide in camera.

    I enjoyed looking at http://markjrebilas.com/blog/?p=6975 the quality at ISO 5000 with the Nikon D700 is amazing & now there’s the D3s that can go maybe 2 stops faster.

  15. John says

    Two comments:
    1) If you want to do ISO comparisons you should include the class leader ie Nikon D700….. Just call your website Canon R us.

    2) Comparing camera produced jpegs with NR and everything else swithced off is a pointless exercise. You need to be comparing RAW converted images.

  16. Sam Wang says

    I really relied on your nice work here to inform me about Sony A850. I now have a Sony A850. But it gives me noticeable noises even at ISO 100. Is there something wrong with my copy? Should I return it for repair? I need to find a base line or reference point to judge whether mine is out of the standard.
    How were the objects in your picture lit? 15s shutter speed at ISO100 with f8 seems pretty dark. I cannot imagine my A850 perform anywhere near your pictures show at any ISO. Please help.

  17. Chris says

    i have my 7D n alpha 550, and i compare both preciosly…, with speed aperture and same iso… n many conditions.. low light normal n highlight.. some shots on people, macro, n landscape shot… every detail i had compared 7D with my cheap alpha 550 sony, and the fact is 550 have little bit more than 7D, and noise of iso effect much less than 7D, so.., what that’s compare mean???

    but honestly i had not tried alpha 850 n 900…
    i thinks alpha850 n 900 have a higher class than 550..

    so … please give the truth comparing result brother..
    don’t fake many people about this result… its SIN!!

  18. Miguel says

    But you test the Sony 50mm 1.4 on the fullframe. But this lense is not made for this fullframe body. Sony doesnt have a 50mm yet to get the best possible options. I belive if you take a Zeiss 85mm on the 850 I am sure the pictures would be different.