Sony A3000 Exposure
Sony A3000 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels and hue accuracy.
|In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click on the links for larger images.|
Saturation. The Sony A3000's overall default color saturation is oversaturated by 10.2% at base ISO in our tests, which is about average these days. Saturation remains fairly consistent across the ISO range, except at ISO 6400 where it dips to 104.3%. Reds and dark blues are boosted the most, but not as much as we often see. Most other colors are pushed just a bit or are pretty close to ideal, though yellow, light green and cyan are slightly undersaturated. Overall, saturation levels are quite pleasing to our eyes, and you can of course tweak saturation more 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. The Sony A3000 does fairly well with Caucasian skin tones. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy pinkish tint, though darker areas are nudged toward orange. Still, pretty good results here. 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. Like many cameras, the Sony A3000 shifts cyan toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, but shifts are relatively minor. (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.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 4.94 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is about average, with accuracy only moderately lower at higher ISOs. Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Sony A3000 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. Saturation also has almost no effect on contrast, which is how it should work.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with five of the seven saturation settings, including the default and the two extremes. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Slightly warm casts with Auto and Incandescent, good with Manual, but too cool with Kelvin white balance settings. Average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is a bit warm and orange with the Auto white balance setting, though results here are better than average. Results with the Incandescent setting are a bit better but still somewhat warm and orange/yellow. The Manual setting is quite accurate, just slightly on the cool side. The 2,600 Kelvin setting which should match the color temperature of our lights is too cool and bluish. (Though it's nice a camera at this price range even offers a Kelvin setting.) The Sony A3000 required +0.3 EV positive exposure compensation here, about average for this shot, though images are just a touch bright (but default exposure is too dim). (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.)
Very good results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast, color and exposure.
|Auto White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony A3000 performed very well. No exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is much better than average among the cameras we've tested. (Most cameras require about +0.7 EV here.) Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but the camera does a good job of holding onto detail in both the shadows and bright highlights, even without the help of DRO (see below). Both Auto and Manual while balance produced decent skintones, with lighter tones slightly pinkish while darker ones slightly warm, with a slight orange tint. Default exposure is quite good for our Far-field shot as well, just a touch underexposed but with very few highlights blown, again with DRO disabled. There are quite a few dark shadows in the trees, however only very dark shadows are noisy and posterized, but that's not usually an issue as we're talking *very* dark shadows. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has very good color, just a touch on the cool side. Overall, a very good performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.
Very high resolution, ~2,550 to ~2,600 lines of strong detail from both JPEGs and RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,550 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,600 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
|Strong detail to
~2,550 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW
In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,550 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but aliasing and sharpening artifacts start to interfere at this resolution. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,300 lines. Some color moiré is evident in JPEGs, though that's not uncommon. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more lines of resolution here from a matching RAW file, and it generated stronger color moiré, so the Sony A3000 does a good job holding on to high-contrast detail at base ISO in its JPEGs. 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 default sharpness, though with moderate sharpening artifacts. Mild to moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.
|Good definition of high-contrast
elements with moderate
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Sony A3000 captures sharp, detailed images overall, though there are some visible edge enhancement artifacts seen around high-contrast elements such as sharpening halos around the lettering and lines in our bottle labels. While they look slightly excessive on screen at 100% magnification, they should lead to crisp-looking prints straight out of the camera which is probably what Sony had in mind for this target market. 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 mild to moderate noise suppression in the darker areas of the model's hair. A number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, though higher contrast strands are still distinct. Still, pretty good results here, especially for a high-resolution APS-C sensor. 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 A3000 produces in-camera JPEGs with lots of crisp detail, though default sharpening is a bit high. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter.
In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.3 using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (250%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).
As is frequently the case, demosaicing in Adobe Camera Raw and sharpening in Photoshop delivers finer detail than the camera, with fewer sharpening artifacts. Looking closely at the images, ACR extracted quite a bit more detail that wasn't present in the JPEGs from the camera particularly in the red-leaf swatch where the thread pattern is treated as noise in by the JPEG engine. Fine detail in the mosaic is also improved, but as is often the case, more noise can be seen in the bottle crop. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff.
Aliasing Artifacts. It's not always easy to see without doing an A to B comparison by flipping between images, but the red-leaf swatch shows moiré patterns, an indication that the A3000's anti-alias filter is quite weak. In the table at right, mouse over a two links at the bottom to compare an in-camera JPEG to a conversion made with Sony's bundled Image Data Converter 4 software at default settings.
As you can see, the wavy moiré patterns move relative to the fabric, making it much easier to spot. We've also seen aliasing artifacts in some of our other A3000 shots. We don't think it's a deal-breaker as quite a few cameras produce similar artifacts these days, but it is something to be aware of especially if you shoot a lot of man-made subjects with repeating patterns, such as buildings, fabrics, etc. Techniques than can be used to reduce or avoid false colors and moiré patterns include shooting at a smaller aperture so that lens diffraction acts as an anti-alias filter, defocusing slightly, shooting at higher ISOs, and post-processing particularly with RAW files.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good noise versus detail performance up to ISO 1,600.
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||ISO 16,000|
The Sony A3000's JPEG images are very clean up to ISO 400. There are minor demosaicing errors in the hair above the mannequin's forehead, though that's pretty common these days, especially with a sharp lens. We start to see some minor softening at ISO 400 where stronger noise reduction kicks in, but fine detail is excellent and chroma noise very low. ISO 800 is a bit noisier and softer, but detail is still excellent. ISO 1,600 is slightly softer though fine detail is still very good. ISO 3,200 is noticeably softer with stronger smudging and more noticeable noise "grain", and image quality continues to fall rapidly from there. ISO 6,400 still shows some fine detail, but 12,800 and especially 16,000 suffer from much stronger blurring from aggressive noise reduction and more noticeable luma noise accentuated by the camera's sharpening. Chroma noise is also stronger at these high ISOs, producing blotchy purple and yellow patches. Overall, though, these are very good results especially considering the A3000's price point and resolution.
As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO, as printed performance often doesn't correlate well to what's seen on-screen at 100%.
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.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very high resolution with very good highlight and shadow detail. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|0 EV||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
Sunlight. The Sony A3000 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the default (0 EV) exposure here as the face is reasonably bright while almost no highlights are blown in the white shirt. Some may prefer the +0.3 EV exposure for its brighter exposure in the face, though, while the +0.7 EV exposure is definitely too bright. It's really up to the photographer. Folks printing directly from the camera will likely want the +0.3 EV image, while people post processing will likely prefer the default exposure for its slightly better highlight retention (though +0.3 EV only blew a few highlights, mostly in the flowers). As mentioned previously, contrast is a little high, but highlight detail is very good at default exposure. There are some deep shadows however they contain good detail, though very deep shadows are posterized as is usually the case.
For best results, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible. See below for results with Dynamic Range Optimization and High Dynamic Range features enabled.
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. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)
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 A3000's contrast setting meets both challenges.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the A3000 does a really excellent job of toning down highlights and opening up shadows while maintaining natural-looking skin tones. Very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows five of the seven contrast setting, including the default and two extremes. It's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, so 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.
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 tone curve and other image processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. DRO does not boost ISO like some systems, so increased noise is less of an issue, though existing noise may be more visible in boosted shadows. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony A3000, but 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 available levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no 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 histograms, DRO worked as expected, boosting shadows and mid-tones without blowing additional highlights, yielding more balanced exposures. Auto DRO setting did a good job here, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A3000'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 with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with compressed tonal 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 from 1 EV ("weak") up 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 did a decent job boosting shadows and mid-tones while reigning back highlights, however we prefer the lower manual settings for this subject. The higher the manual setting, the more highlights are toned-down and shadows opened up, but higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results with this scene. Still, it's nice that Sony provides six manual levels, giving quite a bit of control over the effect.
Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.
In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.
It was a little tough to choose which cameras to compare the Sony A3000 to, as not many ILCs have an MSRP of only $400 with a kit lens. It really is a terrific bargain for what you get. While the Canon EOS-M and Olympus E-PM2 have higher MSRPs ($600 and $500 respectively), they can often be found on sale for around $400 or less, so we decided to go with them, and you can always compare to other models on DxOMark.com.
As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), at low ISOs the A3000's dynamic range bests both competitors, particularly the Canon. At base ISO, the A3000's dynamic range is about 1.6 EV higher than the EOS-M's (12.8 vs 11.2), and slightly better than the E-PM2's (12.2 EV). The Olympus catches up to the Sony at ISO 200, but the EOS-M continues to lag behind significantly up to ISO 800. As sensitivity increases further, though, the differences are so minor that all three cameras perform essentially the same. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A3000 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
Low Light. The Sony A3000 was able to capture bright images down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 fc) at all ISO settings. Noise is well-controlled up to ISO 3,200, though as expected, at higher ISOs there are moderate to high amounts of fine luminance noise and some blotchy chroma noise.
Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance.
We didn't detect any significant banding (pattern noise), even at high ISOs. A few hot pixels can be seen at higher ISOs and lower light levels, particularly with long exposure noise reduction turned off (the right-most column), but nothing out of the ordinary. Some heat blooming (the reddish tint) can be seen emanating from the bottom of the frame at the highest ISO and lower light levels, but that's not unusual either.
The Sony A3000's autofocus system was able to focus on our test subject down to just above the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens in our tests, which is very good. And the A3000 was able to focus in complete darkness with its built-in focus assist lamp enabled.
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 larger pixels, compact system cameras like the Sony A3000 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.)
Very good printed image quality, with ISO 100 producing terrific 24 x 36 inch prints; ISO 6,400 images look good at 8 x 10, and even 12,800 prints a good 5 x 7.
ISO 400 images are almost as good, with just a little softening beginning in low-contrast red areas. Detail is still nice and crisp at 20 x 30 inches and wall display prints look good up to 36 x 48 inches.
ISO 800 shots look good at 20 x 30 inches, only red areas continue to soften. We'd still call it good, and a relatively large print for this ISO.
ISO 1,600 prints are good at 13 x 19 inches, again with softening in red areas, and some cloudy noise appearing in the shadows, but they're still good. 16 x 19s here may be usable for less critical applications.
ISO 3,200 takes a sharp downward turn in potential size and really only look good at 8 x 10 inches. Still, not bad, especially at this camera's price range.
ISO 6,400 shots are also good at 8 x 10 inches, as the noise levels in flatter areas are still kept in check for the most part, and color saturation is still quite good.
ISO 12,800 produces a reasonable 5 x 7, which not many cameras in this price range can do!
ISO 16,000 yields a good 4 x 6. which is yet again out of the range for most cameras in this price range.
The Sony A3000 gets a lot right in the print quality department. For starters, it delivers low ISO images at 24 x 36 inches that rival much more expensive cameras. And, it delivers a good 20 x 30 inch print at ISO 800, which is rare for a camera costing under $500. Also rare are the sizes possible at ISOs 6,400, 12,800 and 16,000. The sharp turn by ISO 3,200 is the only small gripe for this performance, but that is a common phenomenon until you reach a substantially higher price point. Great job delivering image quality of this caliber at this price point.
About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"
The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.
See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.
*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCE-A3000 Photo Gallery .
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Alpha ILCE-A3000 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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