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Raw and Raw Conversion

Supplied software

The Sony SLT-A55 is provided with the following software:

  • Picture Motion Browser 5.3 (Windows) - An easy to use and fast image cataloging and browsing application with a fairly unique calendar based animated interface and - new with version 5.3 - an interface to display images on Google maps.
     
  • 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 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 A55, 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 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.
Geo-tagged (taken with activated GPS function on the A55) images can be dragged from Picture Motion Browser's main window into the Map View application where the location at which the image was taken is pinpointed on Google Maps.

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 6.2

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. Just as we saw with images from the NEX-5, Adobe Camera Raw is pulling out much more detail than either the camera or Image Data Converter. This is in part because of its more subtle response to the browns in this scene.

Sony Image Data Converter ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
Adobe ACR 6.2 RAW ->JPEG (Default settings)
ISO 200 studio scene 100% crop
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

Here we can see that Sony's supplied Image Data Converter software is extracting similar levels of fine detail to the A55's JPEG engine. The camera's JPEG output is slightly more heavily sharpened, making everything look crisper. At default settings, 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, and without the level of moiré patterning which Sony's Image Data Converter has introduced.

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

Real world advantages

The other advantages to processing from RAW are that you get a little bit of extra highlight dynamic range (although the A55's metering is so reliable that highlight clipping isn't an issue in most situations) and you can use the more powerful processing of your computer to apply more sophisticated sharpening and noise reduction.

The A55 gives very good image quality at its default JPEG settings but it's a fairly simple matter 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 more convincing representation of detail in this scene.Bear in mind that these particular settings may be a little harsh for some subjects - particularly portraits. The amount of sharpening you choose to apply will also depend on your output method.

JPEG from Camera
(default settings - ISO 100)
Adobe Camera Raw conversion
(Sharpening set to 0, Unsharp Mask in Photoshop - Radius 0.4 pixels, Amount 300, threshold 3)

RAW headroom

The A55 has an excellent dynamic range, but there are situations in which you will see some highlight clipping in JPEG files. This scene is a good example of a situation in which shooting in RAW mode can rescue detail which might otherwise be lost. Here, 1EV of post-capture digital exposure compensation in Adobe Camera RAW reveals a lot of detail in the clouds in this landscape scene - detail which simply isn't present in the simultaneously captured JPEG file, which shows obvious posterization. Analysis of the RAW files from our dynamic range test confirm that the SLT-A55 offers approximately 1EV RAW headroom.

JPEG from Camera
(default settings - ISO 100)
Adobe Camera Raw conversion
(default settings)
JPEG from Camera
−1EV exposure compensation applied in Adobe Camera RAW
Adobe Camera Raw conversion
−1EV exposure compensation applied

RAW files for download

Because the A55 was only released very recently, there is at present very limited support for its .ARW RAW files from third-part converters. However, if you use Photoshop CS5/Lightroom 3, or you want to experiment with one of the more obscure converters out there here we provide some RAW files, both from the review and the sample shots we take.

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Comments

MARMITE
By MARMITE (2 months ago)

I have not had a good time with this camera. Just over a year after buying it the camera stopped working and SONY charged me £117 for the repair. Now just 7 months later the camera has a different fault and will not focus or take photos. Sony want a further £117 for repairs!! I feel this is not what i expected from a camera at this price and SONY are not interested in the fact that possibly I have a poor quality camera. I would NEVER recommend a Sony camera to anyone

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