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Raw and Raw Conversion

Supplied software

The Sony DSLR-A550 is provided with the following software:

  • Picture Motion Browser 4.2.13 (Windows) - An easy to use and fast image cataloging and browsing application with a fairly unique calendar based animated interface.
     
  • Image Data Lightbox SR 2.1 (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 3.1 (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 SR 3.1, the RAW converter that is bundled with the A550, is, compared to most third party packages, a relatively simple RAW converter that 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 functionalities.

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 conversion

As is normal in our digital SLR reviews we like to compare the supplied RAW conversion software, any optional manufacturer RAW conversion software and some third party RAW converter. In the case of the A550 we used the supplied Image Data Converter SR 3.1 and Adobe Camera RAW 5.6. At the moment Capture One doesn't support the Alpha 550, but just before we published we did find one application based on DCRaw (Iridient Digital Raw Developer for Mac OS X) that produced marginally better output than our usual developers.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, Default settings
  • ACR - Adobe Camera RAW 5.4
  • IDC - Image Data Converter 3.1
  • IRD - Iridient Digital Raw Developer 1.8.6

Color reproduction

Place your mouse over the label below the image to see the color from a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart produced using each RAW converter. As we would expect there is virtually no difference between JPEG from the camera and Image Data Converter. Adobe Camera RAW's default settings take a slightly less vivid approach to color response. The tone-curves are very similar though.

Sony Alpha 550 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardLandscapeVividPortrait
SunsetBlack & White

Sharpness and Detail

At default settings both RAW converters visibly improve the image detail compared to the out-of-camera JPEG with ACR being slightly ahead of Sony's Image Data Converter.

JPEG out of camera , High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
Adobe ACR RAW -> JPEG (Default settings, manual WB)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
IDC RAW -> JPEG (Default settings, manual WB)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
IRD RAW -> JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops

Resolution

Surprisingly on the resolution chart the out-of-camera JPEG delivers a higher resolution than the RAW converters in this comparison. Adobe Camera RAW and Image Data Converter produce very similar results but the ACR image is slightly cleaner, showing less moire than IDC.

JPEG from camera Adobe Camera RAW (RAW)
Image Data Converter (RAW) Raw Developer (RAW)

Real world advantages

What we've seen on the test charts can of course be translated into real life scenarios. Some careful sharpening in the RAW conversion will generate visibly better detail, especially in low-contrast areas where Sony's JPEG processing / noise reduction (even at base ISO) can cause some smudging. However, the distinction is fairly subtle and you'll struggle to spot the difference at a magnification lower then 100%.

JPEG from Camera
(default sharpening)
ACR conversion
(manual sharpening)
JPEG from Camera
(default sharpening)
ACR conversion
(manual sharpening)

RAW files for download

Here we provide RAW files, both from the review and the sample shots we take, to allow you to apply your own workflow techniques and see whether your experiences match ours.

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