Recently, I’ve been getting to know the new Sony A500 and A550 DSLRs, which feature 12.3-megapixel and 14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensors, respectively. Sony has hyped these consumer-grade DSLRs as low-light and low noise shooters thanks to their BIONZ image processing. Both cameras cover a sensitivity range of ISO 200-12800, which is a pretty bold spec for cameras priced under $1000. So, I decided to take a closer look at the noise performance of the cameras side-by-side.
All images were captured in Large/Fine JPEG format.
Long exposure noise reduction was turned ON.
High ISO noise reduction was set to Normal.
Dynamic Range Optimizer was turned OFF.
Creative Style was set to Standard.
Lens used was the Sony SAL 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Custom white balance was set using the ColorRight white balance tool. Light source was a single, overhead household light fixture.
All images were shot at f/5.6 and the following shutter speeds at the respective ISOs:
- ISO 200 @ 4s
- ISO 400 @ 2s
- ISO 800 @ 1s
- ISO 1600 @ 1/2s
- ISO 3200 @ 1/4s
- ISO 6400 @ 1/8s
- ISO 12800 @ 1/15s
Here is the complete image shown at ISO 200. Below are 100% crop samples taken from the focus point of each image. 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.
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 200
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 400
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 800
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 1600
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 3200
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 6400
Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 12800
Now that I’ve used both cameras a little bit and taken a closer look at noise performance at higher ISOs, I am liking the A550 more than the A500. It simply outshines it in resolution and noise control, which I was a bit surprised due to the increase resolution. (Maybe Nikon should pick up this 14.2-megapixel CMOS chip for it’s next round of cameras? I expect that Nikon could even get more out of it.)
In the RAW files, noise is certainly evident in images at ISO 800 and above; however, these JPEG samples demonstrate that Sony is taking a sharp aim at in-camera noise reduction for consumers who aren’t as likely to shoot in RAW format and process their images from the ground up. I’ll talk a little more about the RAW images in a future post; however, I was not overly troubled by the noise appearing in the RAW files. The chroma noise, which is what I am mostly concerned about in my images, was not a real issue. It was really just a problem with luminance noise, which isn’t always a such a terrible thing.
For a consumer camera, I’m liking where Sony is heading with this series. I think most consumers will be happy with the straight-out-of-camera JPEGs that these produce throughout the ISO range – so long as they can show some restraint in the use of the higher ISO settings.
I’ll talk more about the functionality of each of these cameras after I’ve spent a little more time with each of them. As a preview of things to come, Sony nails the Live View again (Nikon, Canon . . . wake up), the in-camera HDR feature is promising, and the A550 is a real fast shooter at 7 frames per second.
The Sony A500 and A550 are each available from B&H Photo. You can order these cameras or search for other photo gear by using the following links:
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.