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Raw

Supplied software

The Sony NEXs are provided with the following software:

  • Picture Motion Browser 5.2 (Windows) - An easy to use and fast image and move 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 3.2 (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 SR 3.2, the RAW converter that is bundled with the NEX, 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 - these are handled by Picture Motion Browser (PMB), which can open Image Data Converter when needed.

Image Data Converter offers all the usual RAW conversion parameters including all the in-camera parameters, 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. Plus a 'version stack' option to allow you to experiment and compare different conversion settings.

When you install Picture Motion Browser, it asks you to connect your camera and then installs the relevant tools - movie trimming for the NEX-3 and a handful of AVCHD tools for the NEX-5.

Picture Motion Browser will import and catalogue your images, allowing you to recall them by date, face or location, if you tag the images appropriately. The movie trim feature allows you to cut your video clips down to the most interesting sections.

The AVCHD tools that come with the NEX-5 allow you to browse and trim videos but you cannot convert them to other formats. You get the option of creating DVDs of your videos but you first have to 'authenticate' your device with Sony in order to download the DVD-Video Add-on for PMB.

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. 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/Fine, Default settings
  • IDC - Image Data Converter
  • ACR - Adobe Camera RAW 6.1 beta

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.

Sony NEX-3 Compare to:  
      
      
      
      
StandardVividPortraitLandscape
SunsetB&WAdobeRGB

Not surprisingly Sony's IDC produces pretty well identical color to the camera JPEGs. Adobe Camera Raw is also very similar, just a little muted in comparison, especially in the reds.

Sharpness and Detail

Here you can see that the supplied software is applying much lower levels of sharpening, by default, than either the camera JPEGs or Adobe Camera Raw. Adobe Camera Raw, in part because of its more subtle response to the browns in this scene, it pulling out much more detail than either the camera or Image Data Converter.

Sony Image Data Converter ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
Adobe ACR 6.X RAW ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

In this more readily comparable example, it can be seen that the supplied raw converter is extracting similar levels of fine detail to the JPEG engine. Both are showing some degree of pattern in the chart up to about 2500 lph but the camera's JPEG output is much more heavily sharpened, making everything look crisper (though staying impressively free from haloing). ACR treads a path somewhere between the two, in terms of sharpening but manages to extract a fraction more detail from the files than the others.

JPEG from camera Sony Image Data Converter (RAW)
 
Adobe Camera RAW (RAW)  

Highlight recovery

As is usual upon experimenting with Adobe Camera Raw we found that we could recover highlight detail for around 1EV beyond the point at which it would appear to have clipped to white in the JPEGs. However, as you get to the top of this range there's a risk of a second color channel clipping, at which point you can only expect to recover detail but not color accuracy.

JPEG from Camera
(F6.3, 1/200th seconds)
Adobe Camera Raw recovery
(F6.3, 1/120th seconds)

These images compare one JPEG that is starting to show signs of clipping to a shot exposed two thirds of a stop brighter, then pulled back in Adobe Camera Raw. The recovered raw shows a similar amount of highlight detail to the JPEG, but we found that on overexposing further, highlight color accuracy started to be lost. So you can use raw to pull back highlights that have been lost by the camera's JPEG processing, but (as usual) you're only likely to gain a stop at best.

Real world advantages

The other advantage to processing from RAW is that you can use the more powerful processing of your computer to apply more sophisticated sharpening and noise reduction. The NEXs both offer pretty good noise reduction but it's fairly simple to get more out of your images by applying different sharpening. Here we've applied a fine radius unsharp mask in Photoshop and got a much more convincing representation of the scene. The amount of sharpening you choose to apply will depend on your output method.

JPEG from Camera
(default settings - ISO 200)
Adobe Camera Raw conversion
(Sharpening set to 0, Unsharp Mask in Photoshop - Radius 0.6 pixels, Amount 150)

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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Comments

Total comments: 2
prossi

Silver award...really?

Comment edited 25 seconds after posting
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Rowland Scherman

Sony NEX-5TL?

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Total comments: 2