Sony A500 and A550 ISO Comparisons

Sony A500 and A550

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.

Testing Details

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

Sample Images

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 200

Sony A500 ISO 200 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 200 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 400

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 400

Sony A500 ISO 400 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 400 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 800

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 800

Sony A500 ISO 800 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 800 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 1600

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 1600

Sony A500 ISO 1600 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 1600 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 3200

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 3200

Sony A500 ISO 3200 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 3200 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 6400

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 6400

Sony A500 ISO 6400 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 6400 Full-Res Sample

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 12800

Sony A500 vs. A550 ISO 12800

Sony A500 ISO 12800 Full-Res Sample

Sony A550 ISO 12800 Full-Res Sample


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:

Sony A500 at B&H Photo

Sony A550 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.



  1. says

    Sony is really trying hard to make a name of itself.
    But Sony better put a movie mode in as well.

    Sony usually does innovation, But the DSLRs are very retro.

    Waiting to hear more from you mate.

  2. Sky says

    wow… A550 is really THAT better? Nice… and I thought that ISOs will be the only thing A500 gonna win with A550 – yet it didn’t. Hehe, seems that A550 is worth it’s money.

    BTW: I’ve heard that A550/500 tend to loose much more details from red color than any other while applying NR – is that true?

  3. mike2008 says

    Interesting. There is an +0.75 EV adjustment in the A550 shot at iso12800, which the A500 doesn’t have. Why is this? Was the lighting identical?

    • says

      @mike2008 – The exposures are the same. I just used the A550’s settings as a baseline. I shot the A550 in AV mode and chimped on the histogram to get it balanced. Because of all the white in the scene, the A550’s metering was underexposing. To get the exposure more balanced, I gave it a 2/3-stop EV bump. I then took the exposure settings and shot the same with the A500 in Manual mode. So, the exposure settings are exactly the same. Oddly enough, the A500 metered the same scene a little different, so that’s the reason for shooting in Manual on it.

  4. Suffi says


    I think your A500 has focus issue. Same thing happened when you previously posted A500 vs 7D shots. Maybe you can ask for a different body if true?

    • says

      @Suffi – I wondered about the same thing. I wondered if mirror slap might be a problem (there’s no MLU on these cameras); however, the A550 didn’t have the same problem. I’m going to take a closer look at it soon.

  5. Suffi says

    Check the HDR function in A5xx. It can be used to improve high ISO performance and it’s possible handheld.

  6. Suffi says

    Try D300s, A550, and Canon 7D. This time with in-camera HDR for A550. For still subjects, HDR can boost high ISO performance. Could that be a ligitimate use of HDR, i.e improving high ISO performance for still subjetcs? Perhaps A550 might beat 7D with HDR.

  7. Chilly says

    Look at the background of each comparison, notice how the back of the playing card is much more detailed for the a500 across the whole ISO range. The colour of the card is also closer to that shown in the complete image. Maybe the a500 is the better choice after all? Thoughts?

  8. Keith says

    Looks like the a500 was back focusing… I have an a500 and love it… I don’t see would the a550 could have better noise control.. Same sensor less pixels… I thought that ment better noise? Anyway, the a500 is a great camera.

  9. Rob says

    I’m enjoying my A550, but really waiting for the A700 update. I don’t care for movie mode. I want a photographers camera, like most of us are expecting in the A7XX.

  10. Marinus says

    Chilly is right – the playing card is sharper with the A500 – it’s a focusing issue. Next time do the same test with f/8 so focusing and lens quality don’t influence the result that much.