Sweep Panorama and 3D Sweep Panorama

The A580 features the same Sweep Panaroma and 3D Sweep Panorama functions that were first introduced with the Sony NEX. 3D Sweep Panorama essentially creates a stereo pair of panoramic JPEGs which can be played back on Sony's 3D Bravia TVs. The camera records both a conventional panoramic JPEG, and alongside it an 'MPO' file (Multi-Picture Object - sometimes known as 'Multi-Picture Format', proposed as a standard 3D file format in 2009 by CIPA) containing the stereoscopic image pair that's precisely double in size. If you have a Bravia television or other compatible viewing device, you can download a .MPO file from the link given below.

In 3D mode you gain an additional 16:9 option in the Image Size menu, alongside Normal and Wide settings with similar aspect ratios as before; all three produce images that are 1080 pixels high to match HD TVs. You get the same limited exposure controls as before, but the camera will only allow you to pan left-right (or vice versa). The image sizes created are as follows:

1920 x 1080 (2Mp)
4912 x 1080 (5Mp, 4.5:1)
7152 x 1080 (7.3 Mp, 6.6:1)

Sweep Panorama ('Wide'/'Left', 8192 x 1856 px, 18-55mm lens)
3D Sweep Panorama ('Wide'/'Left', 8192 x 1856 px, 16-105mm lens)
click here to download .MPO file

Conventional Sweep Panorama mode in the A580 works in exactly the same way as it does in the NEX series and the A55 (on which the lower of these two samples was shot). You can read our conclusions on the relevant section of the NEX-3/5 review here.

Auto HDR

The DSLR-A580 offers the' Auto HDR' feature that we've seen on the A55 before. It takes three shots of the same scene at different exposures, then combines them to produce a single image that incorporates a larger range of tones than would be possible from a single exposure. The breadth of the exposure gap between these three shots can either be chosen automatically by the camera or set manually. Here, we've shown you an example of the +6EV HDR effect.

This shot was taken with all dynamic range enhancement features disabled. The dynamic range of the scene, with the bright sky and dark forest, would be a challenge for any metering system and sensor. The A580 does a decent job exposing the scene but the contrast between the bright and darker portions of the scene is very strong.
This is an image of the same scene, taken with the A580's HDR mode at the maximum +6EV setting. As you can see the result is slightly flat and showing low contrast (an inevitable result of trying to squeeze greater tonal range into an image) but there's visibly more shadow detail while the highlight detail in the clouds is being retained.
By applying a simple levels correction in post production you can ensure the image contains the full tonal range from black to pure white. The resulting image looks more natural than the out-of-camera HDR but also shows better shadow detail than the picture that was taken without any dynamic range features enabled.

Auto HDR on the DSLR-A580 does a very good job. It enables users to easily capture high-contrast scenes and maintain highlight and shadow detail without having to use expensive and/or complicated HDR software applications. There's no need to bracket shots or even use a tripod, the fully automatic hand-held HDR shooting works surprisingly well. Understandably, because the end result is a composite of three exposures, there can be ghosting effects where subjects have moved between the three exposures, but the system does remarkably well at canceling out movement. Although some moving objects can be a little blurred, most usually appear frozen in a single exposure.

Multi-frame NR

Multi-shot NR is a new mode on the SLT-A55 and DSLR-A580, which becomes effectively an 'extension' ISO setting available in JPEG capture mode. When set to multi-shot NR, the A580 takes 6 frames in a fast burst, then automatically aligns them to cancel out any camera shake, and blends them together to produce a final image.

Please note that the sample below has been taken from the Sony SLT-A55 review as the multi-frame NR mode is identical on the A580.

ISO 25,600 (using Multi-Shot NR). Click the magnifying glass for the full size original (opens in a new window). 100% crop of ISO 25,600 (top) and 12,800 (bottom). Click the magnifying glass for the full size original (opens in a new window).

Because high ISO noise is random, blending multiple images together it is possible to 'cancel out' the worst of it. If you have some time on your hands you can do the same thing in Photoshop, but as you can see here, the Sony does an excellent job. Assuming that your subject is static and your hands don't shake too much, JPEG image quality at ISO 25,600 using multi-shot NR is slightly superior to ISO 12,800.

Shadow noise

The latest generation of sensor (as seen in the Sony A580, Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5), has gained a great deal of dynamic range at low ISOs with a new design that offers much lower (sensor/electronics-derived) read noise. This means that much of the detail captured in shadow regions can be pulled back into images without bringing too much noise at the same time, giving tremendous latitude in post-processing.

In the example below we've illustrated this by pulling up the shadows using Adobe Camera Raw with all noise reduction turned off, to give the closest possible representation of the two sensors' inherent capabilities. As expected the shadow noise levels are essentially identical on the A580 and Nikon D7000 and substantially lower than on cameras with more conventional sensors. The A580 captures its image information in 12 bit RAW files vs the Nikon D7000's 14 bit. In theory this means the Sony records less shadow detail but in practice, when playing with these Raw files, we could not notice any difference.

Sony DSLR-A580 - ACR+3.0EV Nikon D7000 - ACR+3.0EV
100% crop 100% crop
100% crop 100% crop

Raw shooting

The Sony DSLR-A580 comes with the same software bundle as the SLT-A55. It includes the cataloging and browsing application Picture Motion Browser (Windows), the browsing and workflow application Image Data Lightbox (Windows / Mac) and the RAW converter Image Data Converter (Windows / Mac). You can read more about the software package on the RAW page of our A55-review. The samples below have been converted using Adobe ACR 6.4.

On the left is the out-of-camera jpeg, on the right hand side is the same image with custom sharpening applied during RAW conversion in Adobe ACR 6.4 (amount 30, radius 0.5, detail 50, masking 0). As you can see there is some additional fine detail in the converted image (most visibly in the foliage) but the difference is marginal and only visible at a 100% magnification.

As you can see in the sample shot above converting the A580 output in ACR does not get you an awful lot of additional detail. However, RAW conversion is of course about much more than only sharpening. It allows you to take control over white balance and noise reduction and, to a degree, even exposure. This is demonstrated in the sample image below.

The A580's metering system and Auto White Balance somewhat struggled with this ISO 1600 shot in relatively low artificial light. The shot is underexposed and has a very strong yellow-brown cast. However, the image could be saved using a RAW converter. We lifted the exposure by 1.5 EV and used Auto WB to color correct. The resulting jpeg is correctly exposed with neutral colors. Despite the digital exposure compensation noise is well under control and could be further reduced by applying a more heavy-handed noise reduction.

Overall Image Quality / Specifics

As we've mentioned before the Sony DSLR-A580's uses a sensor and imaging pipeline that is very similar to its translucent mirror sibling SLT-A55. It's therefore not a surprise that the output of the two cameras is very close. Of course the A580, which comes with a traditional moving mirror design, doesn't show any of the (hardly noticeable) ghosting effects that are inherent to the A55's fixed mirror design but other than that (assuming you can spot it) you'd struggle to distinguish the two Sonys' image output.

The A580's 16.2MP sensor and the BIONZ processor produce good JPEG results across the ISO range, only low-contrast areas, such as distant foliage, can appear a little 'mushy'. Other than that the images show good detail and are generally usable straight out of the camera. The multi-segment metering and the 15-point AF-system are usually doing a reliable job but in low artificial light the Auto White Balance can occasionally produce very strong (mostly warm) color casts. In these situations it's a good idea to shoot RAW or choose one of the White Balance presets.

High ISO performance is among the best APS-C cameras. Up to ISO 1600 you don't really need to worry much about noise or loss of detail through noise reduction and while at the higher settings noise and detail smearing get visibly more intrusive the output is still good enough for at least the family album or web use, even at ISO 12800. Like the A55 the A580 also has a very good dynamic range in JPEG mode which means that assuming metering is accurate, highlight clipping is not a problem in all but the most challenging of scenes.

As we've demonstrated in the section above shooting RAW and spending some time processing your .ARW files will only get you a marginal amount of additional detail. It will however get you a lot of flexibility in terms of white balance and noise reduction as both these parameters can easily be modified in the process. Thanks to the A580's sensor producing very low levels of shadow noise at low ISOs it also gives you the option to alter the tone curve without introducing unacceptable amounts of noise to the exposure.