Sony SLT-A57 In-Depth Review
Raw and raw conversion
The Sony SLT-A57 comes with the Image Data Converter SR 4.0 raw processing software. Available for Windows and Mac, the application 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.
In our reviews we like to compare the supplied raw conversion software against some third party raw converters. Below we show results from three raw converters alongside 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 4
- ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.2
- DxO - DxO Optics Pro 7.5.3
Sharpness and Detail
As you'd expect, Image Data Converter outputs color and contrast that is similar to the A57's in-camera JPEG processing. It does, however, provide a better starting point for further sharpening adjustments. Adobe Camera Raw output shows less saturation and contrast, but also very little in the way of artifacts. It is able to get more detail out of the A57's raw files, in particular(as you can see below) it does a much better job of the fine detail in the brown feathers.
DxO Optics Pro manages to deliver contrast and saturation more closely aligned with the in-camera JPEG. And it gains a slight nod over ACR in rendering low-contrast fine detail edges. We would like to remind you that these 100% crops are the equivalent of viewing a small section of a large print. Many of the differences between raw converters you see below will be minimized when prints or web images are viewed at typical distances.
|JPEG out of camera, Fine quality setting (all settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|Sony Image Data Converter (Raw conversion at default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|Adobe ACR 7.2 (Raw conversion at default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
|DxO Optics Pro 7.5.3 (Raw conversion at default settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop
Looking at the comparisons using our standard resolution chart, we see much the same thing in terms of edge detail. Sony's supplied Image Data Converter software is extracting similar levels of fine detail to the A57's JPEG engine while displaying more prominent moiré patterning. At default settings, ACR produces perhaps a touch more resolution and without edge halos. DxO Optics Pro provides crisp, high contrast edges with the least amount of color moiré . While this does not necessarily lead to an increase in actual resolution, there is little doubt that its default output is perceptually 'sharper' than that of the other raw converters.
|JPEG from camera||Sony Image Data Converter (Raw)|
|Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 (Raw)||DxO Optics Pro 7.5.3 (Raw)|
RAW vs JPEG
One long-standing criticism we've had is that Sony's JPEG engine tends to obscure detail with rather aggressive noise reduction and prominent edge artifacts. While the A57 is far from the worst offender in this regard, there's no escaping the fact that if you're after maximum detail and files free of edge halos, shooting and processing raw files offers clear benefits.
In the examples below we compare two versions of the same capture; an in-camera JPEG and a raw file with a slight white balance adjustment and a fairly conservative sharpening move in ACR 7. In the default Standard 'creative style' configuration, you can see that JPEG output is soft and mushy in comparison to the converted raw file. The ability to adjust sharpening intensity and radius independently in ACR leads to better-defined edges without the obvious halos that appear in the camera-generated JPEG.
|JPEG from camera ISO 100||Adobe Camera Raw (raw) ISO 100
Custom WB with Sharpening set to Amount 65, Radius .5 and Detail 33
|100% crop||100% crop|
The image quality of the A57's JPEG processing closely mimics that of the A55 (outside of the former's slightly greater noise reduction at higher ISOs), with both cameras delivering virtually identical performance with Raw files. And you can see a more detailed analysis of raw vs JPEG image quality in our review of the Sony SLT-A55.
Raw files for download
Don't just take our word for it - take a look at the A57'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 A57's studio scene shots, you can download original raw files from our compared to (raw) page.
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