Sony DSLR-A580 Image Quality
Sony A580 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Bright color and good color overall, though some minor oversaturation and hue shifts.
Saturation. The Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 produces images with vibrant color using the standard, default settings. The camera pushes bright reds and blues, darker greens and some oranges. Default saturation is 111.5% (11.5% oversaturated) which is pretty typical these days, though you can of course tweak saturation to your liking. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.
Skin tones. Here, when adjusted for the correct white balance, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 did well on lighter skin tones, which were only slightly on the pinkish side conveying a healthy looking glow. Darker skin tones, however, showed a shift toward orange. 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 580 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 smaller 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 A580 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 A580 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 A580OUTBSATx.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
Auto white balance was very warm, but good results with Incandescent and Manual settings. Average amount of positive exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under typical incandescent lighting, color balance was quite warm using the Auto setting, with a fairly strong orange cast. Incandescent white balance mode was pretty good, just slightly warmer than technically accurate, but it kept some of the mood of the lighting. The Manual white balance setting was the most accurate and neutral, while the 2,600 Kelvin temperature setting produced slightly cool results with a touch too much blue and green. The Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 required an average amount of positive exposure compensation here, at +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 color though slightly warm, with high default contrast but surprisingly good dynamic range. About average exposure accuracy.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 produced slightly warm color, though results still looked quite natural. The Sony A580 required +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get fairly bright facial tones on the model, which is about average for this shot. Despite the hot-looking highlights and high contrast, very few highlights were actually blown. Some specular highlights in the pendant and white balance card clip where blown, as well as the red channel in some of the flowers, but that's to be expected. There were hardly any blown highlights in her white shirt, which is very good for this harsh lighting, especially considering we had DRO turned off for these shots. Had DRO been left at Auto, shadows would have been lighter, with better overall exposure (see the Extremes: Sunlit section below). The Sony A580 underexposed the Far-field House shot leading to some dark midtones and shadows while it held onto most bright highlights in the white trim, though that's in part due to DRO being turned off. With DRO set to Auto, the camera did a a great job holding onto highlights while opening up the shadows (again, see the Extremes: Sunlit section below).
Very high resolution, 1,950 ~ 2,100 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, slightly more from RAW.
|Strong detail to
2,100 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,950 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
2,200 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
2,050 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 1,950 in the vertical direction. Complete extinction didn't occur until around 3,000 lines in both the horizontal and vertical directions. Adobe Camera Raw was able to extract a bit more detail, and extended complete extinction to about 3,400 lines in the horizontal direction, and to about 3,200 lines in the vertical direction. 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
Pretty good sharpness overall, though contrast is high and minor edge-enhancement artifacts appear around some high-contrast subjects. Mild to moderate noise suppression is visible in the shadows at base ISO.
Sharpness. The Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 captures fairly sharp images overall, though some minor edge enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the thicker branches, roof and trim in the crop above left. (Most noticeable on edges of white trim against the brick; note the light halo there.) Fine detail such as the smaller branches and twigs show very little edge enhancement. 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 fair amount of detail. Individual strands do merge together when local contrast is low, and as shadows deepen, though. Still, a good performance here, especially considering the high resolution. 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 A580 produces fairly sharp JPEG images with very good detail at default settings. However, 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 much 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 JPEGs. Adobe Camera RAW was able to extract more fine detail, especially noticeable in the pine needles, but it also shows a bit more noise at default noise reduction settings. Of course, you can always adjust the amount of noise reduction and decide for yourself what trade-off in detail you'd prefer when processing your own images. That's one of the advantages of shooting RAW.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very strong detail up to ISO 800, though higher noise and stronger blurring at higher ISOs.
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 Alpha DSLR-A580's images are quite clean at ISO 100 and 200, and really fairly clean even at ISO 400. Detail remains fairly strong at ISO 800, with only faint smudging becoming noticeable in the moderate shadows. Beginning at ISO 1,600, there is a noticeable increase in noise suppression efforts, as well as more visible chroma noise in the shadows. As expected, both noise suppression and noise pixels gain intensity as the sensitivity increases, reducing fine detail along the way. Still, ISO 3,200 and 6,400 have a fair amount of detail left, though ISO 12,800 is very soft with lots of chroma noise. Noise performance is however very good for a 16-megapixel APS-C sensor, but we do wish noise suppression was a bit lighter, or that Sony provided more control over noise reduction. We're pixel-peeping to the extreme here though, which isn't always representative of what you see in prints. 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 other recent Sony SLR and CSC models.
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Very high resolution with very good overall detail. High default contrast, but excellent highlight and shadow retention. Good low-light performance.
|+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV||+1.0 EV|
As mention previously, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 performed well with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test; much better than average. Despite the apparent brightness in the model's shirt, very few highlights were actually clipped, indicating a nice, gradual rolloff to the top of the tone curve. Shadow detail is very good as well, with low levels of noise. We preferred the +0.7 EV exposure overall, because the exposure at +1.0 EV was a bit too bright on the shirt and face, and the +0.3 EV exposure was somewhat dark in the face. Bottom line, the DSLR-A580 performed very well in harsh lighting, holding on to most highlights and providing very good shadow detail. See below for details on how the Sony A580's contrast, DRO and HDR settings worked in difficult lighting like this. To see how the Sony A580's dynamic range compares to other cameras when shooting a Stouffer 4110 density step target, see the Imatest Dynamic Range Analysis page.
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.)
The camera's contrast adjustment worked mostly on the shadows in this harsh lighting.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
When compared to the default contrast at the same default (Auto) exposure, we can see that the Sony A580's contrast adjust works mostly on the shadows and midtones, brightening up the face and background on the "Sunlit" Portrait shot. On the Far-field House shot, both shadow and highlight detail improved.
|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. As usual, Sony did a good job here.
Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison
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 A580. 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 thumbnails and histograms show the effects of the various levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with +0.3 EV exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, DRO had only a slight effect on the highlights in this shot, with higher levels clipping just slightly more highlights. The bulk of the difference between different levels of DRO is found in the shadows and darker midtones. The stronger the DRO level, the more boost is applied to darker areas. That usually results in more visible noise in boosted areas of the image, but the A580 produces images with pretty low shadow noise, so increased noise wasn't really an issue even at the highest DRO levels. The default Auto DRO setting did a pretty good job here, choosing somewhere between level 1 and level 2, though we probably would have selected a slightly higher manual level for this shot.
Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field House shot. The default Auto setting produced a good exposure overall, despite the harsh lighting.
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A580'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 exposed 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.
Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting produced an image that looked flat and unnatural with this scene, similar to the 6 EV setting. The higher the setting, the more highlights were toned-down, and shadows opened up. The middle manual settings did a pretty good job at boosting shadows while reducing highlights, though there weren't many clipped highlights to begin with, so higher exposure compensation would have likely produced better results. (The above shots were taken with +0.3 EV exposure compensation.)
Above, you can see the effect of HDR settings on our Far-field House shot. Here, the Auto setting produced a shot with very good highlight and shadow retention that wasn't too flat looking. (No exposure compensation was used here.)
|Full Auto Mode
|Face Detection On
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A580 has the ability to detect faces, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see above, the image with face detection enabled is much better exposed for the face without having to use exposure compensation. While the face is just slightly overexposed, and highlights in the shirt and flowers are a little hot, the exposure is much better than when no exposure compensation was used. Auto exposure mode also did a better job than Aperture Priority.
Low Light. The Sony A580 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 A580'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 the second and last columns show the results with Multi-frame NR mode enabled, which takes and combines multiple images in-camera to reduce noise. It works really well at reducing noise compared to a single frame, and allows ISO sensitivity to be expanded to 25,600 equivalent. (See below for more details.)
The camera's phase-detect 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 A580 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 A580 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 Sony A580 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 right, Hand-Held Twilight mode chose ISO 6,400 at a shutter speed of 1/40s. Compare that to a standard shot at the same light level and ISO on the left. As you can see, the Sony A580 managed to get an image with similar sharpness but less noise while being hand-held (with image stabilization on) than manual exposure mode on a sturdy tripod. Impressive.
|Low Light Multi-frame NR|
|Manual, 1/4s, ISO 12,800||Multi-frame NR, 1/4s, ISO 12,800|
Multi-frame Noise Reduction. This feature is similar to Sony's Hand-held Twilight mode however, unlike Hand-held Twilight, Multi-frame Noise Reduction gives you control over the ISO used, so you may still need to use a tripod depending on the exposure. (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.) It also functions in the A580's Program, Aperture- or Shutter-Priority, and Manual modes, as opposed to being a fully automatic scene mode like Hand-held Twilight. As you can see above, the image captured with Multi-frame Noise Reduction (right) is cleaner than the standard image (left) despite both being shot at ISO 12,800 at the same light level. 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 also look great at 20x30, little different from ISO 100.
ISO 400 images look quite good in most areas at 20x30, though detail in some reds starts to soften.
ISO 800 is where 20x30 starts to look a little hazy and soft across all detail. Slight luminance noise appears in the shadows. Reducing the image size to 16x24 improves detail noticeably.
ISO 1,600 still looks pretty good at 16x24 inches, with good detail, though shadows look a little snowy with luminance noise.
ISO 3,200 images don't look good at 16x24, but come back together at 13x19 inches, with good detail and only minor luminance noise in the shadows.
ISO 6,400 sees image detail drop fairly dramatically, especially among reds. Shadow noise is strong. Reduction to 11x14 brings most of the image back into the realm of acceptable, but the image's increased saturation and contrast still show.
ISO 12,800 images are usable, but rough at 11x14. Reduction to 8x10 brings them back to good, but with noisy shadows. Reduction to 5x7, though, makes the image look quite good; sharp, even.
Overall, the Sony A580 looks very good at every ISO, performing similarly to other popular peer SLRs on the market, even ones with higher resolution. An excellent performance, able to produce a usable print above 4x6 at every ISO setting.
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 the Canon Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)
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