Sony DSLR-A560 Image Quality
Sony A560 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall accuracy and saturation, with relatively minor shifts in hue and intensity.
Skin tones. Here, with the color balanced properly for the light source, the Alpha A560's skin tones looked pretty good. There were some slightly reddish tints in places and darker areas were a bit orange, but overall skin tones looked fairly natural. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. The Alpha 560 showed only a few small color shifts relative to the mathematically precise translation of colors in its subjects, but had pretty good accuracy overall. Most noticeable were shifts in reds toward orange, orange toward yellow, cyan toward blue, as well as some shifts in yellow and purples. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) Hue is "what color" the
The Sony A560 offers six preset "Creative Style" options. You can adjust contrast, saturation, and sharpness for any of the settings.
Mouse over the links above to see the effect of the presets on our Still Life target. Click on a link to load the full resolution image.
The Sony A560 has a total of seven saturation settings available, three above and three below the default saturation. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels, about as wide a range as you're likely to find photographically relevant, apart from special effects that are arguably better achieved in software. The fine steps between settings mean you can program the camera to just the level of saturation you prefer, a feature we look for in cameras.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with several saturation settings including the default and both limits. See the Thumbnails index page for more (look for the files named A560OUTBSATx.JPG). Click on any thumbnail above to see the full-sized image.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Very warm cast with Auto, but good color with the Incandescent setting. Manual was slightly greenish while 2,600 Kelvin had a slight blue cast. Slightly above average positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, the Sony Alpha 560 produced overly warm color with its Auto white balance setting. The Incandescent setting was pretty good, just slightly warm. The Manual white balance setting produced a slightly greenish tint, while the 2,600 Kelvin setting which should match our lighting had a bluish tint to it. Overall, we preferred the Incandescent setting as it conveyed some of the warmth in the lighting. At +0.7 EV, the exposure compensation required was slightly above the average for this shot. The average among cameras we've tested is +0.3 EV. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast, detail, and color, though default exposure is quite hot in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony Alpha 560 performed reasonably well, but produced a slightly overexposed image of our "sunlit" portrait shot without any exposure compensation. This is however better than average performance, since most cameras we've tested required +0.7 EV compensation to keep the model's face bright. Contrast is a little high, as you might expect under such harsh lighting, and there are quite a few highlights blown in the model's shirt. Only a few highlights were blown in the House shot at the default exposure, however. Color balance is good as well, with good white balance and saturation considering the bright lighting. Finally, the camera's contrast adjustment did a very nice job of toning down the exposure without creating any strong color variations in the skin (though skin tone did change slightly - See the Contrast series under the Extremes section below). Overall, a good performance.
Very high resolution, 1,900 ~ 2,100 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, slightly more from RAW.
|Strong detail to
2,100 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,900 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
2,150 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
2,000 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,100 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 1,900 in the vertical direction. Complete extinction didn't occur until around 3,000 lines in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,600 lines in the vertical. Adobe Camera Raw was able to extract a bit more detail, and extended complete extinction to the limit of our chart (4,000 lines) in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,800 lines in the vertical direction. Adobe Camera Raw also showed quite a bit more moire interference patterns than the camera JPEG near the limits of resolution. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Sharpness & Detail
Good detail but slightly soft images at default settings, with relatively minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Low to moderate noise suppression visible at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Sony A560 produced good detail, but softness in its kit lens didn't show off the camera's abilities to best advantage. The crop of the house and trees above is from an image shot with Sony's 24-70mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss zoom, a really excellent optic, and shows the good detail the A560 body is capable of. Though images are still slightly soft with the sharper lens, and some minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, overall results are still pretty good. (You can always adjust in-camera sharpening for sharper JPEGs, but best results would be obtained by dialing down the in-camera sharpening an using strong/tight unsharp masking in Photoshop or other image editing software, or by shooting RAW and using a good RAW converter.) Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.
Detail. The crop above right shows low to moderate noise suppression, as the darker areas of the model's hair still show a lot of detail. Individual strands do merge together when local contrast is low, and as shadows deepen. All in all, a good performance here, especially considering the high resolution. (Sony seems to have made real strides in their noise-reduction processing in the last year or so, as the 2010 Alphas do a much better job of holding onto subtle subject detail than did last year's models.) Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Sony A560 produces slightly soft JPEG images at default settings. More detail can usually be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, without introducing additional sharpening artifacts. Take a look below, to see what we mean:
In the table above, mousing over a link at the bottom will load the corresponding crop in the area above, and clicking on the link will load the full resolution image. Examples include (from left to right): an in-camera Fine JPEG, RAW file processed through Sony's Image Data Converter SR version 3.2 software at default settings, another processed with IDC's sharpening turned up to +100, and one processed in Adobe Camera RAW 6.3, and sharpened in Photoshop using unsharp mask of 300% with radius 0.3 pixels.
As you can see, the Sony IDC version at default settings is somewhat softer than the in-camera JPEG. (Color rendering is also slightly different, which is a bit of a surprise.) Increasing the sharpness helped, but the resulting image doesn't really show any additional detail. There is also an odd green coloration along some of the white trim on the house that's not present in the camera JPEG, so it's possible IDC still needs some work to properly support the Sony A560's ARW files. Adobe Camera RAW was able to extract more fine detail, especially noticeable in the pine needles, but it also shows a bit more noise.
ISO & Noise Performance
Better high ISO noise performance than previous generation Sony APS-C SLRs, with very good results up to ISO 800.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800|
The Sony A560's images are quite clean at ISOs 100 and 200, and ISO 400 is almost as good. Some noise "grain" is noticeable at ISO 800, and there's a bit of chroma noise in the shadows, but the camera doesn't smudge away as much fine detail as most others at this ISO. There's some stronger smudging of fine detail at ISO 1,600, but the A560 still does better than most at this ISO for its resolution. At ISO 3,200, fine detail suffers from more aggressive noise reduction, but there is still some detail left, and chroma noise really isn't an issue. Detail takes larger hit at ISO 6,400, and above. There's also quite a bit of chroma noise in the form of purple and yellow blotching, especially at ISO 12,800. Overall though, these are very good results, similar to the NEX-3 and NEX-5, which is no surprise since they likely share the same sensor. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, usually using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
High ISO NR = Auto
High ISO NR = Weak
Noise Reduction Oddity. The "Weak" high ISO NR setting smudges the red leaf pattern in our Still Life target setting more than the "Auto" setting at higher ISOs. The Auto setting does reduce chroma noise compared to the Weak setting though (lower crops), and we confirmed the filenames are correct. We saw similar behavior with previous models such as the NEX-5/3 and A550/A500.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with excellent shadow detail, though highlights are quite hot at default exposure. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness, however manual exposure was required and autofocus struggled at lower light levels.
|Default||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
The Sony Alpha 560 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. The default exposure did the best job here, as the model's face was properly exposed, though quite a few highlights were blown. The camera's contrast adjustment did a good job of decreasing overall contrast without producing strong color variations; see the section below. These shots were captured with the Sony A560's DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) control set to its default of "Off". See below to see how Contrast and DRO settings helped with the high contrast in this shot. Also, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Sony A560's contrast setting meets both challenges.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the A560 did a good job of preserving highlight detail, maintaining natural-looking skin tones, and holding nice detail in the shadows, though ideally this shot should have been taken with some negative exposure compensation. The A560 captures good color outdoors, though just slightly on the warm side. Overall, good results here, especially when the contrast setting is tweaked.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The series of shots above shows results with several different contrast adjustment settings, showing the minimum step size around the default, as well as both extremes. While you can see the extremes, it's hard to really evaluate contrast on small thumbnails like these, click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
One very nice feature of Sony's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on color saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. Sony did a good job here.
|DRO Off||DRO Auto||DRO Level 1||DRO Level 5|
|Shadow Detail / Noise
(Levels adjusted equally in Photoshop on the right-hand side to show noise)
Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony A560. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only available for JPEG files.
The above images and crops show the effects of DRO disabled, set to Auto (the default), Level 1 ("weak") and Level 5 ("strong") for our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. As you can from the crops, Auto DRO had only a slight effect on the highlights in this shot, with higher levels clipping just slightly more highlights. You'll want to expose for the highlights by using some negative exposure compensation in cases like this. The bulk of the difference between different levels of DRO is found in the shadow areas. The stronger the level, the more boost is applied to the shadows. Along with that boost is an increase in shadow noise, though noise is not as much of an issue as we expected for a 14-megapixel subframe sensor.
|Outdoor Portrait HDR Examples|
|HDR Off||HDR Auto||HDR 1 EV||HDR 6 EV|
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A560's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed , one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically. Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined in-camera with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with increased dynamic range. The camera then saves a single composite image, as well as the nominally exposure image. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If it can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should not move or blink, so it's not really intended for portraits. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures. As you can see, the Auto setting produced an image that looks a little flat and unnatural with this scene. The higher the setting, the more highlights were toned-down, and shadows opened up. The lowest manual setting of 1 EV did a great job at preserving clipped highlights and boosting shadows. Surprisingly, there was more noise noticeable in the shadows with the Auto setting. Looking at the highest setting (6 EV), shadow noise appears to be better controlled. In fact, shadow noise is lower since the overexposed image would have less noise in the shadows than the nominally exposed image.
Low light. The Sony A560 was able to capture bright images at the lowest light level with the lowest sensitivity setting (ISO 100), but required the use of manual exposure mode. The A560's auto exposure (metering) did not work well at all at lower light levels, resulting in very underexposed images. Noise is quite low up to ISO 800, and at higher ISOs noise grain is pretty fine, but chroma noise gets a little blotchy at the highest ISOs. There's no sign of any banding issues or uncorrected hot pixels. Color balance looked good with the Auto white balance setting, though chroma noise impacts the color of darker midtones and shadows at higher ISOs. The right-most column shows the results with Multi-frame NR active. It works really well at reducing noise compared to a single frame, and allows ISO sensitivity to be expanded to 25,600 equivalent.
The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on the subject down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted, which is excellent. The Sony A560 was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled. Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement, Sony's SteadyShot not withstanding. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their phase-detect AF systems, digital SLRs like the Sony A560 tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)
|Low Light Hand-Held Twilight|
|Manual, 1/30s, ISO 6400||Hand-Held Twilight, 1/40s, ISO 6400|
Hand-Held Twilight. A feature inherited from Sony's Cyber-shot point-and-shoot cameras, Hand-held Twilight mode shoots a burst of six images with a single press of the shutter button, using high enough sensitivity to hand-hold the camera in fairly low light. The A560 then combines all six source images into one image with reduced noise in static areas, as compared to a single shot taken with the equivalent exposure settings. In the example above, Hand-Held Twilight mode chose ISO 6400 at a shutter speed of 1/40s. As you can see, the camera managed to get an image almost as sharp with similar noise while being hand-held (on right) as with the same ISO on a sturdy tripod.
|Low Light Multi-frame NR|
|Manual, 1/4s, ISO 12,800||Multi-frame NR, 1/4s, ISO 12,800|
Multi-frame Noise Reduction. This new feature is similar to Hand-held Twilight mode, but gives you control over the ISO used, so you may still need to use a tripod depending on the ISO you select. (We frankly don't see the value to this mode when using a tripod, as selecting a lower ISO and longer shutter speed will produce a clean image as well.) As you can see, the image captured with Multi-frame Noise Reduction (right) is cleaner than the standard image (left) despite both being shot at ISO 12,800. An added bonus is that ISO 25,600 equivalent is available with MF NR.
Excellent 20x30-inch prints from ISO 100 to 400; ISO 800 and 1,600 look good at 16x24; ISO 12,800 prints look great at 5x7.
ISO 200 shots soften a bit at 20x30, looking better at 16x24 inches.
ISO 400 images look quite good at 16x24 inches, though detail in our red leaf swatch starts to soften.
ISO 800 gets a little softer at 16x24 inches, but maintains good detail, with only slight luminance noise in the shadows.
ISO 1,600 is a little too soft for 16x24, but looks quite good at 13x19 inches.
ISO 3,200 images look a little smudgy at 13x19, with a slight yellow tinge around the shadows. Printing at 11x14 improves the detail and noise, but that yellow tinge remains.
ISO 6,400 looks poor at 11x14, but comes back together at 8x12, with some noise in the shadows, but the chroma noise is reduced and saturation pumped just a bit.
ISO 12,800 are way too noisy and blotchy at 8x12, looking more like a sand painting; reduce resolution to 5x7 and they look like a different image, with very usable detail and good color.
Overall, the Sony A560 looks quite good at every ISO, starting out at 20x30, but requiring a size reduction sooner than the A580 did. In the end, though, their highest ISO setting still produced an impressive quality 5x7-inch print. Quite usable at every ISO setting, which is as good an outcome as one could desire.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
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