Sony a9 Full Review: Mirrorless Redefined
In this test we look to see how tolerant of pushing exposure the a9's Raw files are. We've done this by exposing our scene with increasingly lower exposures, then pushed them back to the correct brightness using Adobe Camera Raw. Examining what happens in the shadows allows you to assess the exposure latitude (essentially the dynamic range) of the Raw files.
Because the changes in this test noise are primarily caused by shot noise and this is mainly determined by the amount of light the camera has had access to, the results are only directly comparable between cameras of the same sensor size. However, this will also be the case in real-world shooting if you're limited by what shutter speed you can keep steady, so this test gives you an idea of the amount of processing latitude different formats give.
Compared to its peers, the a9 fares better than the Nikon D5, but falls slightly behind the Canon 1D X II and more so compared to the a7R II. There's an odd, almost horizontal pattern to the noise in the deepest shadows, while in Bill Claff corroborates in quantitative studies.this is less evident. In fact, in these areas, the a9 and 1D X II appear neck-to-neck, which
At smallerpushes, there's barely a difference between the cameras, but by you begin to notice a tiny bit of noise creeping into all cameras save for the a7R II. Progressively higher pushes of , , and really start to separate the cameras from one another, with the a7R II well ahead of the pack, with the D5 performing the worst.
Theat up to +3EV pushes, but +4EV or higher pushes from base ISO reveal a sort of patterned noise in shadows that may prove unacceptable to demanding users. Notably, this is an issue for all the high-end sports cameras presented here, likely due to constraints placed on sensors read out at high speeds. Our tests indicate the 1D X II fares the best amongst the current high-end sports cameras due its lack of patterned noise in the shadows. The (non-sports) a7R II, optimized for image quality, provides usable images even after a +6EV push at base ISO (at equivalent viewing size).
A camera with a very low noise floor is able to capture a large amount of dynamic range, since it adds very little noise to the detail captured in the shadow regions of the image. This has an interesting implication: it minimizes the need to amplify the sensor's signal in order to keep it above that noise floor (which is what ISO amplification conventionally does). This provides an alternate way of working in situations that would traditionally demand higher ISO settings.
Here we've done something that may seem counter-intuitive: we've used the same aperture and shutter speed at different ISO settings to see how much difference there is between shooting at a particular ISO setting (and using hardware amplification) vs. digitally correcting the brightness, later. This has the advantage that all the shots should exhibit the same shot noise and any differences must have been contributed by the camera's circuitry.
It's immediately obvious the a9 is not ISO-invariant (what is 'ISO-invariance'?). This means the camera is adding a fair amount of read noise that results in noisy shadows, limiting dynamic range at base ISO. That's why, for the same focal plane exposure, performing analog amplification by increasing ISO in-camera gets you a cleaner image than performing that amplification (or brightening) in post-processing.
It's not the typical performance we've come to expect from Sony cameras, but it's similar to most sports oriented cameras (). the 1D X II fares a bit better, the D5 somewhat worse. Meanwhile, the a7R II pulls well ahead of the pack. The a9's advantage over the D5 drops away at a push less than , and with as little as all the speed demons are performing similarly. Shooting natively at , all cameras even out in performance.
Ultimately, like its sporting peers, the a9 sensor is optimized for speed and the high readout speeds of its sensor leads to higher read noise levels. This limits low ISO dynamic range by adding noise to the lowest signals the sensor captures.
Effect of Drive mode
There is little to no difference in base ISO dynamic range in different drive modes. So the good news is that the drop to 12-bit in continuous drive comes at no cost. The not-so-good news? 14-bit Raws aren't any better than the 12-bit ones, they're just bigger.
Click here to load the above as an interactive widget.
As we published earlier, it's interesting to note that there's no visual change in shadow noise levels as you switch drive modes: single mechanical to continuous electronic all look the same. This is particularly interesting because all Single drive modes, including fully electronic, support full 14-bit Raw. The Continuous drive modes, however, switch the image pipeline into a 12-bit* mode which, by definition, means files with no more than ~12 stops of dynamic range.
This indicates that even the 14-bit Raws have at most ~12 EV of dynamic range at the pixel level, placing base ISO dynamic range nearly a full stop behind the a7R II at similar (normalized) viewing size. Indeed, this is what Bill Claff found when we sent him a9 files for analysis, with little to no difference in dynamic range across drive modes.
Notably, the a7R II's 14-bit Raws have significantly less noise compared to its 12-bit Raws. Given the striking similarity between 14-bit and 12-bit Raws from the a9, we wonder if the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) is always being run in 12-bit mode regardless of drive mode. If the ADC truly is being driven in 14-bit mode, there are enough other sources of read noise to make sampling at anything above 12 bits unnecessary, according to our (and Bill's) results.
'Dual Gain' helps improve high ISO dynamic range
In our ISO-invariance widget above, you may have noticed that noise dramatically increases as you go from ISO 800 to ISO 400 (how's that for sounding completely back-to-front?). Below you'll see this more clearly as we 'zoom in' to this ISO range: shadow noise dramatically clears up as you go from an ISO 500 image (with 3.7 EV push) to an ISO 640 image (with 3.3 EV push):
Things clean up at ISO 640 (as with the a7R II) because of the sensor's 'dual gain' architecture, where the camera increases the conversion gain (effectively in-pixel amplification) during readout, helping overcome the camera's relatively high (for a Sony design) read noise.
Above ISO 640, the camera is fairly ISO-invariant, since it's overcome most of its downstream read noise, but there's still some benefit to increasing ISO to keep noise levels low if your scene demands it. Below ISO 640, the lower conversion gain means that you'll start to see more (read) noise if you push shadows as opposed to having them pushed in-camera by increasing ISO gain.
The good news is that those worried about the camera dropping to 12-bit readout in continuous shooting needn't worry: there's no decrease in quality, since a 12 bit file can contain all its dynamic range.** The not-so-good news is that this is because the a9 doesn't appear to have more around 12 EV pixel-level dynamic range to begin with, putting its normalized base ISO dynamic range at least a stop behind that of the a7R II.
A more relevant comparison might be to the a9's direct peers: it performs neck-and-neck with the Canon 1D X II (and perhaps a bit better at ISOs above 640 thanks to its dual-gain design), and a full stop better than the Nikon D5 at base ISO. Note though that extremely pushed shadows from the a9 exhibit a visually-distracting horizontal pattern in dark tones that the other cameras compared here don't.
By high ISO, general image quality catches up across all cameras, as downstream read noise becomes less important and the a9's dual gain architecture gives its performance a boost.
Ultimately, the a9's lower ISO dynamic range limits the exposure latitude of its Raws, so you'll have some limited ability to expose high contrast scenes for the highlights, then tonemap*** (raise) shadows in post. For most sports photographers this won't matter much, but those shooting high contrast scenes may require workarounds other cameras - such as the a7R II - don't.
* We confirmed that continuous modes were 12-bit, while single shot modes were 14-bit, by comparing histograms of respective Raw files. The 14-bit single drive files have 14-bits of data compared to the 12-bit files (the histogram shows Raw values 1, 2, and 3 are vacant while the 14-bit files do have pixels with these values).
** Interestingly, this means there's little advantage to those large (47MB) uncompressed 14-bit Raw files, save for the lack of compression artifacts. In a perfect world, Sony would have offered a 12-bit Raw mode with an effectively lossless compression curve (without that second stage of localized compression that leads to edge artifacts) for smaller file sizes with no visual loss in quality.
*** There's a very specific reason I like to use the word 'tonemap' instead of 'raise the shadows'. We're forced to raise shadows of high contrast Raw files exposed for the highlights today because of the limited brightness of most current displays. Future displays capable of far higher brightnesses (perhaps even ten-fold) will need less shadow pushing, or tone-mapping, to make visible what you currently see as 'shadows' in such traditionally underexposed Raw files. For example, shadows you currently push +4 EV will likely be visible without any pushing at all on a 4,000 nit-capable display.
The sensors vary in specification, but hint at interesting cameras to come, from more manufacturers than just Sony.
The quality of the ‘scans’ won’t hold a torch to lab-scanned negatives, but if it's simplicity or novelty you're going for, this thing is more than good enough.
Instagram users across the globe are teaming up for good to help ‘protect’ the accounts of users whose accounts have been the target of trolls for various reasons.
The Cintiq 22 doesn't come with all the bells and whistles of Wacom's Pro series, but it could be a decent options for amateurs and enthusiasts.
DPReview's Carey Rose got in some quality time with Sigma's brand-new 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art while traveling through Japan. Have a look at the gallery for a range of wide-open shots, as well as comparative aperture progressions.
We've started our Sigma DG DN 14-24mm F2.8 Art sample gallery with photos from Japan taken shortly after its launch. The photos in this initial gallery were captured with the Sony version of the lens on a7R III, and we hope to have the L-mount version in our hands soon.
After initial reports of disappearing stock, a spokesperson from Parrot has confirmed the company is planning to exit the toy drone market.
The Sigma 45mm F2.8 isn't the fastest of the three full-frame mirrorless lenses recently launched for Sony E-mount and Sigma/Panasonic/Leica L-mount, but it is is a compact, lightweight piece of glass perfect for walking around. And we did just that with it – have a look.
Sony just announced the a7R IV, its new high resolution flagship camera. DPReview TV was on hand for the launch and Jordan is here with a preview. Chris picked this week to go fishing, but we know a great website where he can learn more about the camera when he gets home.
The National Audubon Society has announced the winners of its 2019 Audubon Photography Awards, showcasing some of the most incredible bird photography from around the world.
Technically, it's an all-in-one camera system that can deliver prints. But don't expect them to be instant and plan on having a parking lot on hand to put it in.
First introduced in May, the Senate Senate Judiciary Committee has passed the Copyright Alternative in Small Claims Enforcement (CASE) Act legislation.
Alotech says the modular, ergonomic backpack is ‘designed for wildlife photographers by wildlife photographers.’
We've been eager to continue shooting with the brand-new Sony FE 35mm F1.8. As a result, our sample gallery has been updated with a fresh batch of images.
A hungry bald eagle became a little too opportunistic when it took the camera for a ride over the sea before safely returning it to shore.
Instagram says it plans to crack down on more accounts, but notes it'll be handing out warnings first before the account is disabled.
The special edition ‘Moon Landing’ kit includes the 907X camera and the CFV II 50C digital back, and gives us a clue about the price of the regular production models.
In April Instagram launched an experiment hiding like counts for some of its users in Canada. Now the trial has been expanded to more regions.
DJI's new Ronin-SC is a compact, single-handed 3-axis gimbal designed for mirrorless cameras. It's very similar to the company's popular Ronin-S gimbal, but smaller, lighter, and with a few notable differences.
Fujifilm's XF 16-80mm F4 jumps off the roadmap and into reality in a couple of months, promising 6 stops of stabilization and weather-resistance. With an equivalent focal length of 24-122mm, this 16-80 sounds like a nice kit lens replacement, at least on paper.
Fujifilm has announced the Fujinon GF 50mm F3.5 R LM WR lens for its GFX medium format system. This compact (relatively speaking) lens weighs just 335g (11.8oz) and is fully weather-sealed. One of the lens's nine elements is aspherical, and it also has a nine-blade aperture and linear autofocus motor.
It's not going to win any image quality contest, but it's a clever idea that doesn't take itself too seriously.
Earlier this year, Nikkei reported Canon was anticipating a 20 percent profit decrease for its 2019 fiscal year. Now the decrease is expected to be 40 percent year-over-year.
The new adapters work with Aurora Aperture's full range of drop-in filters.
Alphabet's Wing introduced OpenSky, the first release in a planned ecosystem of apps, to ensure safe and compliant drone operations.
The Ronin-SC features a more lightweight, compact form-factor than its Ronin-S predecessor and includes new features from DJI including ‘Force Mobile’ and ActiveTrack 3.0.
Our team is at the launch event for the new Sony a7R IV and they're ready to share their initial thoughts. Find out what excites them about this camera, and get some more nuanced insight into some key features.
The Sony a7R IV is the company's fourth-generation ultra-high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera that sports a whopping 61 Megapixel sensor. We spent a few hours with the camera today and have some first impressions to share.
The micro to full-size HDMI adapter features a 90-degree angle and protective housing to simplify and protect the X-T3's built-in micro HDMI port.
We've got a lot more shooting to do with the a7R IV, but in the meantime, here are our very first shots with the 61MP beast.