Sony a850 - poor at high ISO - NOT! plus Fuji X100 samples.

Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


Another myth. Sometimes I wonder exactly what certain camera review websites do with the cameras they get given to assess. Virtually everybody seems to think that the a850 has poor high ISO performance. I posted some shots at ISO 1600 and 3200 on an earlier post and thought they were actually OK. Since upgrading the firmware I've taken some more. Here's a selection at 3200-6400.


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Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


Sony a850 28-75 f/2.8 SAM lens


These may look as if they were taken in good light, but they weren't. It was pretty dark. Very similar to the kind of poor natural light that might be encountered at a wedding or indoor event.
Do they look terrible to you? Is ISO 6400 unusable? Well they look pretty good to me. This is with the often criticised noise reduction turned on. These are raw files with a little bit of luminance smoothing in Photoshop ACR.


The immediate thing that strikes me is how sharp they are. Even with the in-camera noise reduction and that which I've added myself, there's still an excellent level of detail at the point of focus. 


Here's what a Canon 7D produced at a wedding at ISO 1250.





Here's a shot with a Canon 5DMkII at another wedding at ISO 2500.





The a850 images stand up pretty well to me. Plus they were taken in worse light, though it doesn't look it.  There's no doubt that a 5DMkII or Nikon D3S will give optimum high ISO results but as I wrote in a previous post, I would have no problem whatsoever using the a850 in a low-light situation. Nor on the evidence of the tests I've done would I be reluctant to use it at ISO 3200 or 6400. 


This of course makes me even more frustrated that I haven't been using Sony full-frame for the last 2 years. If had seen results like this when the a900 came out I would have bought one then. There would have been no D3X, 550D, 7D or K-5 and I would have saved myself a whole lot of money and hassle.


So what's going on? Does the a850 have a better sensor than the a900? Apparently its exactly the same. Has the new firmware made a difference? Well it's not supposed to have any effect on high ISO. 


Some of these issues and discrepancies are highlighted in the latest batch of samples from the Fuji X100 at Dpreview. http://www.dpreview.com/news/1102/11022510fujifilmx100betasamples.asp 
Some of these are are incredible, like the ISO 6400 shots which are so clean and sharp as to be almost unbelievable. However in common with some of the other sample sets that have been posted, there are some disappointing shots. Again there are far too many images that look soft and flat to me. 


The only real way to assess this properly is to see some raw files. I was virtually 100% sure that I was going to buy this camera, but now I'm not so sure. The retro chic design has me weak at the knees, but I'm reluctant to go down the Olympus E-P2 route again, when I buy a camera mostly because of its looks. The E-P2 is a gorgeous camera that takes decent pictures, though inferior to those produced on my Panasonics to my eyes, but its an absolute pig to use. It has a menu system from hell and the wonderful EVF and its potential for using manual focus lenses is sabotaged by an extremely difficult method of getting in and out of the magnified focusing screen. I put up with it for so long, because I enjoyed the look and feel of the E-P2, but eventually my patience wore out with it. 


Some posts from people who have used the X100 seem to be indicating that there is a fair amount of fiddling about to be done on the camera. One of the things I've enjoyed about the a850 is its simplicity. Also the M9, despite all its little idiosyncracies is very simple to use. 


The other thing that bothers me about the X100 is 12MP. Though its obviously much better at high ISO's, I've seen nothing in the images at low ISO's that are better than a GF1, and I've got one of those. This may sound like reasons to try and stop myself buying one, and that may be right. I'm not sure I can resist it. My head says no, but my heart is screaming buy it, buy it, buy it...... The latter usually wins, which is unfortunate for my bank account, but good for my soul!


David