Raw and raw conversion

Supplied software

The Sony SLT-A99 is provided with the following software:

  • Play Memories Home (Windows) - This cataloging and browsing application replaces the previous Picture Motion Browser and is part of a suite of cloud-based apps designed to make your content available on both desktop and mobile devices with direct sharing to social media sites.
     
  • Image Data Lightbox SR 2.2 (Windows / Mac) - An image browsing and workflow
    application designed for rating and selecting images from a large collection. Provides synchronized
    side-by-side comparison of images.
     
  • Image Data Converter SR 4.2 (Windows / Mac) - A further development of the previously
    seen Image Data Converter SR, provides advanced raw conversion capabilities, adjustments
    include Creative Style, Sharpness (including overshoot / undershoot tuning), Highlight Color
    Distortion reduction and Noise Reduction.

Image Data Converter 4, the raw converter that is bundled with the A99, is relatively simple compared to most third party packages but nevertheless offers all the usual conversion parameters and is easy to use. It provides for the fine-tuning of brightness, color, white balance, sharpness, noise reduction and tone-curve and also lets you choose your preferred Creative Style, reduce the effects of vignetting and change the in-camera setting of the D-Range Optimizer. There are no browsing, tagging or catalogue functions.

Image Data Lightbox is a fairly sophisticated image browser with basic raw conversion capabilities.
Image Data Converter offers all the usual raw conversion parameters including white balance, tone curve, color and D-Range optimizer. The software offers a Peripheral Illumination feature that is not available in-camera as well as more customizable noise reduction settings.

Raw file conversion

As is normal in our reviews we like to compare the supplied raw conversion software, any optional manufacturer raw conversion software and some third party raw converter. As is often the case, the only converters available at the time of writing the review are the manufacturer's software and Adobe Camera raw. Here we compare these two converters to the camera's JPEG engine to see how each of them pulls detail out of the images.

  • JPEG - Large/Extra Fine, Default settings
  • IDC - Image Data Converter 4.2
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.3 (Beta)

Sharpness and Detail

Unsurprisingly, Image Data Converter gives almost identical results from raw files as the A99's in-camera JPEG processing, but it does provide a better starting point for further adjustments, including sharpening and white balance fine-tuning. Adobe Camera Raw gets more detail out of the A99's raw files at its default settings, doing a better job of rendering the fine striations in the brown feathers.

Adobe ACR 7.3 beta raw ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
Sony Image Data Converter ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, Extra Fine (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

Again we can see that Sony's supplied Image Data Converter software is extracting a similar level of fine detail as the A99's JPEG engine, although the raw converter is producing ever so slightly more pronounced edge halos. At its default settings, ACR manages to extract the most detail from the files while minimizing sharpening-induced edge halos. ACR also displays less moiré patterning than Sony's Image Data Converter, essentially matching the in-camera JPEG rendering in this regard.

Adobe Camera RAW 7.3 (beta) Sony Image Data Converter
 
JPEG Extra Fine  

Real-world advantages

The examples below illustrate the kind of real-world advantages you can get from shooting in raw mode. At low ISO sensitivity settings the A99 gives generally pleasing color and contrast in 'straight from camera' JPEGs. Viewed at 100%, however, there can be a lack of fine detail at the default sharpening settings. With a little careful adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw, more detail can be drawn out of the image.

Camera JPEG - ISO 100 RAW + ACR 7.3 (beta) with exposure tweaked, white balance shifted, contrast and sharpness settings adjusted 'to taste'.
100% crops

In the scene above, the default JPEG rendering is pretty good, with both exposure and sharpness that are perfectly acceptable for all but the most critical applications. But on a pixel level, there's more to be had from the sensor. Literally just a few moments spent in ACR yields finer detail, particularly in low-contrast areas like the blades of grass. A few contrast and brightness adjustments, combined with a slightly warmer white balance produce an edited file with greater richness than the camera JPEG.

Camera JPEG - ISO 6400 RAW + ACR 7.3 (beta) with exposure tweaked, white balance shifted and sharpness, contrast and noise reduction settings adjusted 'to taste'.
100% crops

In this high ISO example, you can see that shooting in Raw mode allows you to avoid the suppresion-induced smearing and artifacts introduced with the camera's default JPEG settings. At ISO 6400, the effects of noise are unavoidable, but the rendering in the edited raw file is more aesthetically similar to film grain.

Raw files for download

Don't just take our word for it - take a look at the A99's raw files for yourself, and run them through your own software and preferred conversion settings. Here, we provide you with a selection of raw files of 'real world' scenes, and if you want to take a closer look at the A99's studio scene shots, you can download original raw files from our compared to (raw) page.