Author Topic: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th  (Read 5456 times)

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Offline Stef.

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Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« on: October 02, 2008, 06:16:50 PM »
Might be of interest to some of you. Pasted the text in here as you need to sign up for their eNewsletter:

The Sony Alpha 900

What Does 24 Megapixels Look Like, and Why Would You Need It?


by George Schaub

First off, you won’t see any images with this piece. The reason is that when I first got to shoot with the camera in August, Sony made me sign a blood oath that no images from the preproduction sample could be published. Understandable, I guess, as they wanted to be sure to tweak any problems before the camera hit the street, and wanted to be sure that I, and the rest of the press given this initial glimpse of the camera, wouldn’t make any judgments prior to their final adjustments, if any. And, there was no Raw converter available, from Sony or anyone else, so all I got to examine were my JPEGs. Indeed, showing you examples in this venue would result in images on your monitor that for all intents and purposes would not look much different than those produced by a good 8 megapixel camera. Rest assured that by the time you read this we will have a release sample in test, and will publish our findings in Shutterbug as soon as those tests are done. And specs for the camera are available on our News Desk.

So why, you might ask, bother writing about it at all? The topic for me here is not dissecting image results, which were quite exciting, but the size of the files the camera produces. At 24+ megapixels, and near 70MB files (opened) per frame, I thought it brought up what’s come to be called the megapixel horserace, and how we have come to think about that count as a measure of digital camera advancement. In addition, this is a so-called full-frame camera, which means image quality is supposed to be superior to any produced by smaller sensor size D-SLRs. In short, the Alpha 900 has it all, if you buy into the full-frame sensor/major megapixel argument.

Some folks have posited that this is the opening salvo in the next phase of the horserace, that we will eventually see 40MP sensors in the D-SLR format. In short, the advancements in image processing will break the boundaries, again, of what we might have considered the limits of resolution on certain size sensors in the past. Now that we have digicams at 12 megapixels, the expectation that D-SLRs have to make the next leap are legion. After all, we saw a similar evolution in film, where ISO 400 was once a true dog of a film, and then became the “universal” ISO, soon to be followed by even higher ISO emulsions that always seemed to match the lower ISO results of the recent past. And full-frame sensors are now routinely delivering ISO settings that would previously make images look as if they were made in a color-fractured blizzard of noise. Having shot with the Alpha 900 at ISO 2500 I can attest to the fact that the image processor does yeoman duty on noise reduction, as well as contrast controls that apply gain into shadows and tame highlights in difficult ambient lighting conditions.

One thing a near 70MB file gives you is the ability to crop into the frame, which you may or may not need to do, but even if you drop a few dozen MB you still can get a pretty large print from the file. And when you go to a 13x19 on a crop you still can print out at 300dpi, which some purists insist is the right way to go. But a full file will get you a 20x24 with no sweat, for those who go that large. In other words, this might be the D-SLR that convinces everyone that shooting and scanning medium format film is no longer the way to ultimate image quality. And it might become the favorite of the portrait and wedding crowd. Oddly, Sony does not envision this camera as a “pro” model, but one for enthusiasts and advanced photographers seeking to get the most from their luscious Carl Zeiss lenses. Just what a Sony pro model might offer above and beyond the 900 is hard to imagine, at least at this point.

If you shoot with this camera and want to work in Raw+JPEG you better get yourself some big old memory cards (CF, still) and make sure you have some back-up drives at the ready, as those size files really do take up space. And if you do some intense Photoshopping and add Layers and such, which increase file size, you better have the RAM to back it up. In other words, working with a camera that produces files this size means you might have to upgrade your image-editing setup to handle the load, or be prepared to while away the time while images get the treatment. Yes, big files can be useful to some, but to others it will mean the daunting task of rethinking the old workflow, and just what hardware and software you might need to do the job.

In the end, you have to ask yourself just how large you need those image files, and just what a near 70MB opened file will do for you, your prints and your vision. True, the Sony A900 offers more than just big image files and all that you can do with them. But there are implications to stepping up in size, ones you might not think about in the rush to have the biggest sensor on the block. While I will defer any final conclusions about image quality until I get the full Raw converter and put the camera to the test, I can only say that the A900 is a breakthrough camera that pushes high ISO quality, and certainly image size, to new limits.


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Offline Clive

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2008, 09:18:12 PM »
Thanks Stef.

Sorta reiterates what we've written and read here before.

I'll go there on day, but not for a while. Quite happy actually.

Cheers!

Clive
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Offline Bill

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2008, 11:10:20 PM »
HEHEHEHE

Clive, how many times DID we siscuss this very matter about full frame prior to my buying the a700 last year!

I am extremely happy to be done with the film scanners.  My original Minolta Scan Elite 5400II scanned pictures at 5400dpi, or 43.75Mp.  My next scanner was a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED that scanned at 4000dpi, or 24Mp.  The Minolta scanned at 48 bit depth and the files were outrageous, something like 170Mb!

The a700 produces fantastic pictures.  Its resolution is not any better than some of the best films, but when the film is scanned, the grain appears, making the a700 the winner.  As far as I am concerned, the only real difference between the a700 and a900 results is the field of view.  If one cropped the a900 picture by 1/3 in each direction, I would bet that the resulting crop would be indistinguishable from the a700 full frame pic.

Bill
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Offline Stef.

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #3 on: October 03, 2008, 03:45:06 AM »
Quote
I am extremely happy to be done with the film scanners.

I wish I was... :(
Have to prepare an AV show next week where the images come mostly from negatives which need to be scanned, dust spotted; repaired; adjusted; sharpened- in short which need to have a lot of work done before they can be used... we are talking somewhere around 80 scans... :( :( :( :( :(
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Offline Simon [aka springtide]

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #4 on: October 03, 2008, 11:48:49 AM »
[part 1 - file sizes and processing]
It's funny about the files sizes, because it really doesn't bother me at all.  Thats not saying I'm going to buy the A900, just that the file sizes I don't really see as an issue.

So file sizes (based on how many photos per 1GB flash card - from the manuals) for the A700 and A900 are:

A700:  RAW: 21MB ; cRAW: 14MB
A900:  RAW: 39MB ; cRAW: 26MB

So currently I take exclusively RAW at 21MB.  With 25MP from the A900, I could switch to cRAW for everyday use and RAW for when you might need 25MP (probably never!) would only increase my files by 20%.  I'd also have a nice bright viewfinder in a camera not that much bigger than my old KM 7D (which I prefered in size to the A700).

I currently have in the region of around 150GB of photos, but I also have around 500GB of SD Video from my DV camcorder, and I hardly use the camcorder compared to my DSLR.  I'd like to get a High Def camcorder at some point, but my data growth with Standard Def video is huge already!

So from a file/data size point of view, switching from an A700 to the A900 will be insignificant compared to my switch from a SD camcoder to a HD camcorder at some point.

I'm pretty ruthless about what I keep and what I delete with photos and video - and deleting feels like keeping your 'house' tidy.

I have a friend with a D300 who's been trying to add his work to 'Alamy' - with very little joy. His main issue seems to be trying to scale the images up to a 40MB TIFF file, as he's had many failed attempts for various reasons, which meanly seem to be down to sharpness, or sharpening (when he's tried to sharpen) and scaling artifacts.
It seems a 25MP native resolution would fit the bill perfectly for these situations.

I guess we've all read that when working with 25MP files will need 4GB of RAM in our computers, which seems a huge amount of RAM, but 4GB is just £50.  We used to pay £100 for RAM in the old days.
What I'm saying is that even a very modest new PC today will be able to process 25MP files with ease.  And the 'power users' will have to go 64bit sooner rather than later. The take up of 64bit OS's has been really slow (no real demand), but it's inevitable that we will all go 64bit at some point.

One thing that I did read is that there is still no 64bit support for Apple's OSX in CS4, and AFAIK Adobe we not giving a timeline for 64bit support on OSX.  This is kind of leaving Apple users a little stuffed if they need to work with very large files.

« Last Edit: October 03, 2008, 02:13:43 PM by springtide »
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Offline Simon [aka springtide]

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #5 on: October 03, 2008, 11:58:19 AM »
[part 2 - lenses]

What's really tempting me to the A900 are the lenses.  The CZ 16-35....  I'm very fond of my wide angle, but I'm not happy with the sharpness of the Tam 11-18.  It's OK, but it's not great compared to say the CZ16-80 - and there are no real alternatives.  The Sigma 10-20 isn't much better, the new Tamron just looks like it will give a better range, none give a constant fast aperture apart from the new Tokina (which looks like it rocks!), which isn't available in 'A Mount'.

The Tam 17-50 isn't sharp at f2.8, and there are no alternatives if you want f2.8 with that focal range.
I'm now at the point where I'm willing to wait a year to invest in a single lens.  And I'd be happy with just three zooms, 17-35, 24-70 & 70-200 or 70-300. 
I just think the constant aperture lenses in A Mount are much better covered in FF than APS-C.  I guess Sony have been putting their efforts into FF lenses the last couple of years for the A900 release.
And then you get the added bonus of an extra f stop in DOF, so f2.8 will become the equiv of f2

I guess when I'm looking at what the three lenses will give you in terms of length and equiv DOF...

17-35 f2.8  FF          ~~ 11-24 f2 DOF
24-70 f2.8  FF          ~~ 16-47 f2 DOF
70-300G f4.5-5.6  FF ~~ 47-200 f3.5-4 DOF

So the first two zooms become replacement for f2 primes, and the 70-300G becomes a new SSM Beercan.
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Offline mtiller

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #6 on: October 03, 2008, 12:58:17 PM »
And it might become the favorite of the portrait and wedding crowd. Oddly, Sony does not envision this camera as a “pro” model, but one for enthusiasts and advanced photographers seeking to get the most from their luscious Carl Zeiss lenses. Just what a Sony pro model might offer above and beyond the 900 is hard to imagine, at least at this point.
Stef. :P

Yopu know I'm not sure that's correct about not seeing it as a Wedding/Portrait combo.  If that is the case, why did they have a professional Studio photographer, Miss Germany and a couple of other fashion models as well at Photokina?  Why else bring out a Zeiss 24-70?

It's certainly not a Sports Camera with only 5 FPS nor are the long lenses available to provide the reach for a Sports photographer although that mya change in the next few months as they still have released some of the lenses announced last year.

Cheers

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Offline keith_h

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2008, 01:37:47 PM »
For those of us posting mostly images to the web it seems a luxury and makes no sense. For those with the budget and a penchant for nice stuff I say "why not?".
Keith
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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #8 on: October 03, 2008, 07:43:22 PM »
Springtide- once you open up the fies on your computer from the A900 they are nearly 70mb! And that's where it gets tricky! In post-processing you usually duplicate the background layer...that's 140mb... then apply some adjustment layer another xyz mbs... and then at the end apply a filter- and you can go shopping while it is working... reminds me of PS2 when you could really make a coffee in the meantime.
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Offline Simon [aka springtide]

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2008, 08:38:14 PM »
Springtide- once you open up the fies on your computer from the A900 they are nearly 70mb! And that's where it gets tricky! In post-processing you usually duplicate the background layer...that's 140mb... then apply some adjustment layer another xyz mbs... and then at the end apply a filter- and you can go shopping while it is working... reminds me of PS2 when you could really make a coffee in the meantime.
Stef. :P

I guess working in IT these figures still seem small by todays standards. 5 years ago would have been a different story, but today I kind of assume that a basic desktop computer will have 4GM RAM, a high performance desktop 8GB RAM.  And big scary number crunching servers have in excess of 128GB RAM.

I've done a few tests working with 24MP files (upsampling the A700 images), with multiple layers (10+) in CS3 and it doesn't seem to be a problem with performance (Core Duo 2.4Ghz, 4GB RAM).  I did 'while being silly with layers' manage to get CS3 to crash when I hit the 1800MB 32bit memory limit, but I wouldn't ever use that many layers normally.

I even tried working with 48MP images (A700 x4), and to be honest apart from the filters being a bit slow it was pretty workable (much better than video editing 10 years ago!)

I guess what I'm saying is, even if I wanted to keep the same performance as I have today working with 12MP files, then I would need to double my CPU performance and memory - which would cost about £200 (Quad Core + 8GB RAM) - which is a tiny fraction of what an A900 + FF lenses would cost.
Obviously if I didn't have a new computer then I'd have to start from scratch, but even £500 buys you a lot for your money nowadays.
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Offline Stef.

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2008, 09:00:11 PM »
Springtide- I guess it boils down to what your set-up is. While yours and mine is fine- some people might forget about this part when running to get the newest camera on the block. The A900 might mean not only an upgrade in lenses but for some people also an upgrade of their computer set up. So it's perhaps good to be aware of that?
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Offline Simon [aka springtide]

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Re: Review from Shutterbug Sept. 30th
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2008, 08:41:39 PM »
Springtide- I guess it boils down to what your set-up is. While yours and mine is fine- some people might forget about this part when running to get the newest camera on the block. The A900 might mean not only an upgrade in lenses but for some people also an upgrade of their computer set up. So it's perhaps good to be aware of that?
Stef.

You are right that with a few people that the leap from 12 to 24MP will be 'the straw that broke the camel's back' that will force people to have to upgrade their PC.

What I don't get is why people are making such a big issue out of this compared to when we upgraded our cameras from 3MP to 6MP or from 6MP (7D) to 12MP (A700).  This doubling of technology is very similar to Moore's Law with computing.

But lets have another take on this....  when the 6MP KM 7D was released, you would have had to spent more on the computer, as well as the computer needing to be a high specification relative to the technology available at the time (i.e.  it would have needed to be a higher end computer for processing the 6MP 7D files)

[KM 7D is 4 years old, and computing technology is doubling approx every 18 months]

Anyway, I'm now running Vista 64 with 8GB RAM now that we found out that CS3 and Lightroom support 64bit.  I say, bring it on ;)
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