Sony A550 Review
The Alpha 550 has the latest version of Sony's proprietary dynamic range optimization feature, DRO (similar features are now appearing on most SLRs, most based on technology developed by Apical). DRO works by altering the tone curve of the image to brighten the shadows without significantly altering the highlights. The Alpha 550's version offers both automatic and manual control over the amount of DRO applied (though as we've seen before, the auto setting is very conservative, often showing no effect at all). The highest setting is useful for dealing with very high contrast situations (such as shooting in a dim room with a lot of light coming through the windows), but it does significantly increase shadow noise at the higher settings.
DRO doesn't interact with the camera's exposure metering, so it makes no attempt to capture additional highlight information - it's all about the shadows. As a result, users who shoot exclusively in RAW mode will not see any effect of DRO (it's a post-shot processing step so it only appears in JPEGs), and to get the best effect you really need to expose for the highlights. The best idea for more advanced users is probably to shoot raw and use the included software, which offers even more control over the DRO function (and offers independent control of the highlights and shadows).
|DRO Off||DRO Auto|
|DRO Lv1||DRO Lv2|
|DRO Lv3||DRO Lv4|
DRO effect on dynamic range / tone curve
Looking at the tone curves for the various DRO settings it's easy to see exactly what Sony is doing. The Lv5 setting produces shadows that are around four stops brighter than standard (DRO off) JPEGs, which explains the increased noise.
The most intriguing new feature on the Sony Alpha 550 is its Auto HDR mode. DRO is great for lifting shadows and dealing with high contrast shooting situations, but it can't actually increase the dynamic range of the captured image. That's where the Auto HDR feature comes in. The principle is simple: two shots are taken in rapid succession at different exposure settings (up to 3 stops different to be precise) and the powerful Bionz processor then merges them to create a single image.
This is hardly a new idea: it's the basis of all HDR photography techniques - it's not even the first camera to offer in-camera HDR merging (in fact the Pentax K-7 not only beat Sony to the gate on this feature, but it offers even wider dynamic range since it uses 3 shots per image). Where the Alpha 550's mode is unique is that you can use the camera hand-held as the processor can compensate for any small movements between the shots. Inevitably if you move the camera too much (or use a shutter speed slow enough for camera shake or subject movement to appear) you will get some weird effects (where there's too much difference between the shots).
Compared to some of the wild HDR effects produced by enthusiasts using multiple exposures covering 20 or more stops the Alpha 550's Auto HDR mode produces a relatively subtle result (with a maximum 3 EV between the exposures that's to be expected), but for balancing out scenes with a dynamic range too large to be captured in a single exposure, it works well. I can imagine landscape photographers playing with this feature a lot (when the sky needs 1/500th sec and the foreground needs 1/60th there's not a lot else you can do to preserve both shadow and highlight tones).
There are a few things to watch out for. Firstly, as mentioned above, you'll get some very odd results if there are moving objects in the scene or if you move the camera too much between exposures. Secondly there are situations where the second exposure is actually quite long, meaning camera shake is a risk (though in our experience the SteadyShot worked well enough to avoid this being an issue in most cases). Finally the effectiveness of this (and any other similar) system relies very much on the accuracy of the metering the two exposures are based on. In our experience this aspect of the Alpha 550's performance was far from foolproof, so be prepared to use exposure compensation (or AE lock) if you don't get the result you hoped for. The problem is most obvious with scenes that require more than 3 extra stops of dynamic range (such as when shooting inside a dimly-lit building with a large window looking out onto a bright day. In these cases it's almost always better to meter off the brightest area (i.e. the window) or you'll end up with an image that looks over-exposed.
Overall though, this is that increasingly rare thing - a novel, clever new feature that not only works as advertised, but is likely to prove genuinely useful in many situations.
Auto HDR examples (handheld, using the 3.0EV maximum setting)
|DRO and Auto HDR Off||Auto HDR On|
|DRO and Auto HDR Off||Auto HDR On|
|DRO and Auto HDR Off||Auto HDR On|
Auto HDR (3.0 EV) vs DRO (Lv5) vs OFF
There are some fairly important differences between the two dynamic range options (kind of obvious really, since they're entirely different technologies), though with careful exposure you can get very similar results out of them in many situations, especially if you apply DRO (the purely digital 'one shot' dynamic range expansion) to raw files rather than letting the camera do its (irreversible) work on JPEGs.
The most obvious difference between the DRO and Auto HDR modes is that DRO really does push up noise in the shadows as it boosts them, and it can (as seen below) result in some color shifts (mainly seen as an increase in saturation of primary colors in anything darker than middle grey). It's also worth pointing out that there's nothing in DRO that you can't do with raw files, but for the novice user it's obviously handy to have all this done for you in-camera.
The Auto HDR mode produces images with far lower noise, and the results look a lot more natural - or at least as natural as HDR images can look (I should declare at this point that I'm not a big fan of HDR unless it's absolutely essential). The biggest problem we had was anything that moved significantly between the exposures produces inconsistent results, though to be fair this only happened in low light at longer shutter speeds. We also found that the system produces some very odd images when it meets chromatic aberration and blooming (such as you get with the kit lens, used here, in overexposed areas), and occasionally with out of focus areas.
|Auto HDR (3.0 EV)||DRO and Auto HDR Off||DRO Lv5|
- 15 Photographic tests (DR)
- 16 Photographic tests (DR)
- 17 Photographic tests
- 18 Compared to
- 19 Compared to (JPEG)
- 20 Compared to (JPEG)
- 21 Compared to (RAW)
- 22 Compared to (RAW)
- 23 Compared to (Higher ISO)
- 24 Compared to (Resolution)
- 25 Compared to (Resolution)
- 26 Kit Lens test
- 27 Conclusion
- 28 Samples
Dec 9, 2009
Aug 27, 2009
Dec 5, 2012
Dec 7, 2012
|Montréal Dépaneur Out of Business DP by MarioSS|
from Your City - Out of Business
|Wish You Were Here by Dutch Newchurch|
from Street musician playing
|Flight of a Puffin by cjf2|
Adobe's move to a subscription model is treating it very well indeed. The company has posted record revenue for the second quarter in a row, hauling in a mind-boggling $1.84 billion.
More details have emerged about the potential sale of Blackstone's 45% stake in iconic camera brand Leica.
Popular mobile editing app Snapseed just got a major update that includes a new interface and 11 new presets for both Android and iOS, as well as adding the Perspective tool to the iOS version.
It might sound like a strange idea, but taking macro photos of boiling water can actually result in some really cool photographs. A good photo experiment for a rainy day.
The database was created to "break with the narrow lens through which history… has been recorded" by equipping those who commission photography with "the resources to discover photographers of color available for assignments.
Lensbaby has released two new optics for their special "optic swap system." The Lensbaby Sweet 80 Optic gives you that trademark sweet spot of focus, while the Creative Bokeh optic gives you 9 different drop in aperture plate options to play with.
TechCrunch has already posted their review of the upcoming iPhone 8 (not yet the iPhone X), and they're calling it "a look into the augmented future of photography."
Affinity Photo is a $50 photo editing software with no subscriptions. That's it – pay for it once and you're done. And we think it's actually pretty darn good.
Instagram is currently testing a major change to the app's profile layout: replacing the 3-photo across grid with a 4-photo grid... and some users are NOT taking the news well.
A report by USSRPhoto is shedding some light on the return of the famed Zenit camera brand. It seems the full-frame mirrorless camera they're working on will be made in part by Leica using components from the Leica SL.
According to a reliable Korean report, Samsung is developing a smartphone sensor that's capable of super slow motion. Translation: Samsung's next batch of Galaxy smartphones may be able to shoot 1,000fps.
This simple photograph of a seahorse and Q-tip has taken the internet by storm. We spoke to photographer Justin Hofman about how it was captured, and what it means to him.
After a massive leak last week, Profoto has officially debuted the Profoto A1: the company's first on-camera flash system that they're calling "the world's smallest studio flash."
"When the first hyperfocal distance charts were designed, someone decided that an acceptably sharp background contained some blur — enough to notice in a medium-sized print [...] After that point, nearly every other hyperfocal chart followed suit."
The Canon EOS Rebel SL2 (also known as the EOS 200D) is the company's impressively compact entry-level DSLR. Packing a 24MP APS-C sensor, DIGIC 7 processor and Dual Pixel AF, it promises a lot of bang for the buck. And while not mind-blowing, it handles most tasks very well.
Correct these four common composition mistakes and your photos will be more balanced, tell a better story, and lead your viewer's eye where you want it to go.
The rugged, compact 360° action camera Kodak unveiled at Photokina in 2016, the Kodak PixPro Orbit 360, is finally available in the United States.
iOS 11 launches tomorrow, and it'll save all of your pictures in a new high efficiency image format called HEIC. Fortunately, there's now a converter that will let you turn those photos back into JPEGs.
Photo protection company ImageRights recently released a new service that lets non-subscribers take advantage of their streamlined copyright registration system that checks for errors and fills out all the required forms for you.
What's the difference between a $200 circular polarizing filter and a $100 circular polarizing filter? Roger Cicala at Lens Rentals put six different filters through a few tests to find out.
A flurry of leaks reveal that GoPro's upcoming Hero6 will shoot 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps, will cost $500, and is scheduled for announcement/release on September 28th.
Before he became the iconic director whose name we've all heard, a teenage Stanley Kubrick struck up a business relationship with New York’s Look magazine. No surprise: he was an incredibly talented photographer.
WD's new G-Technology G-Drive mobile SSD R-Series is a portable solid state option for photographers who want the reliability of an SSD in a rugged water and dust-resistant package.
Fast, stabilized and affordable is an appealing combination when it comes to lenses. With its latest 24-70mm F2.8, Tamron aims to upgrade autofocus speed and stabilization. We've got a full gallery from this updated full-frame zoom.
Photographer Clay Cook tells the story of his most ambitious photographic dream and career goal coming true: photographing A-list actress Jennifer Lawrence.
In an interview with a Chinese website, Nikon Japan's Director of Development dropped a bombshell, saying that a Nikon mirrorless camera "must be full-frame."
Here's a side-by-side spec comparison of two flagship devices with particular attention to the things that really matter – at least to people who prioritize photography features.
A month and a half after revealing the finalists of the 2017 EyeEm Awards, the photo sharing community and licensing marketplace has finally revealed the winners.
Photographer Josselin Cornou tells the breathtaking story behind two beautiful photos captured while snorkeling with humpback whales in Tonga.
The Sony RX10 IV is a fixed lens camera with a 1"-type sensor and 24-600mm equivalent lens that can shoot 4K video or stills at 24 fps, but that's not what we think is interesting about it. The addition of phase detection autofocus is pivotal to all those features.