Sony A9 Samples
Digital Cameras - Sony Alpha ILCE-A9 Test Images
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This is our new "Still Life" test target. We're combining some of the elements from previous shots (DaveBox and Res Chart) into this and the "Multi Target" shot below, plus added a number of elements that are very revealing of various camera characteristics and foibles.
Here's what to look for in this target:
Our new "Multi Target" was first put into use in April, 2009, replacing the earlier "interim" design. This target incorporates a number of elements that combine aspects of the previous Multi target, as well as the previous Viewfinder Accuracy or "VFA" chart. Here's some of what you'll find in this target:
Framing marks: This chart evolved from the earlier Viewfinder Accuracy chart, so one of its major uses is to measure viewfinder accuracy. (See notes in the Viewfinder Accuracy section, at the bottom of this page, for more information on this.)
USAF resolution targets: An important use of this target is in evaluating lens quality, looking how well sharpness holds up as you move from the center to the corners of the frame. The little "USAF" resolution targets arranged at the center, in the corners, and along the diagonals are very useful for making fine judgements about blur, flare and aberrations in the image. We generally show crops of a USAF chip from a corner of the target and from the center, to show how lenses hold sharpness at wide and telephoto focal lengths.
Alignment "bullseyes:" We find these graphics from the graphic arts world (used to align sheets of film in the old film-based prepress days) very useful for seeing chromatic aberration in lenses. The bold black/white elements are good for seeing the colored fringes caused by CA in the corners of the frame.
MacBeth ColorChecker Chart: This is about as common a color standard as you can get these days, very widely available for only mildly exorbitant cost, and quite well controlled in its production. It thus serves as a good basis of comparison between cameras and between test setups. Imatest also understands the MacBeth colors very well, and uses them to produce its color accuracy map that we feature in all our reviews.
MacBeth ColorChecker SG Chart: The ColorChecker SG chart provides a wider range of colors, to give a more detailed map of a camera's color handling. We haven't begun using this chart in the color-accuracy graphs we routinely offer, but expect to do so at some point in the future. In the meantime, we sometimes refer to this chart internally, to get a more complete idea of what a camera's color map looks like.
Log C/F Target: The progressive resolution pattern located just below the center of the target is a Log C/F (logarithmic contrast vs spatial frequency) chart. Digital camera noise reduction routines work by looking at levels of local contrast, flattening-out detail at progressively lower spatial frequencies as the local contrast decreases. (This is very commonly seen in human hair, grass, foliage, and other subjects with subtly-contrasting fine detail.) This chart lets Imatest analyze just how a camera makes the tradeoff between contrast, detail, and image noise.
Color Starbursts: The six circular starburst elements arranged around the target are intended to reveal de-mosaicing artifacts and color-dependent resolution issues. The six starbursts provide examples of each combination of RGB colors intersecting each other. (That is, red, green, and blue against black, plus red against green, green against blue, and blue against red.) Given that the most common sensor RGB color filter pattern (the so-called Bayer) pattern has twice as many green pixels as red or blue, you'll generally see that the green/black starburst shows the best resolution, while the blue/red one shows the worst. The effects of different sensor geometries and color filter array patterns will be revealed here.
Musicians Image: Synthetic test patterns only tell you so much. While we have a lot of pictorial images in our other test targets, we thought it would be useful to include a small "natural" image here as well.
Part of the impetus in developing the new Multi Target in April 2009 was to switch to using a new 2x target for the resolution measurements, since the original ISO 12233 chart we'd used since the site first began in 1998(!) had become inadequate for testing the highest-resolution cameras. We'd for quite some time had a "homemade" 2x target, employing a shrunk version of the ISO 12233 chart, shot at 1/2 size. The resolution numbers on that chart all needed to be doubled to convert to the actual values, though, so we decided to go with a commercial 2x target to eliminate possible confusion on the part of our readers. Numbers on this new 2x resolution chart now read directly in hundreds of lines/picture height. (Because almost all of the area of this new resolution chart is now meaningful for resolution measurements, there was no longer space on it to overlay the MacBeth and other color targets on our prior Multi chart; hence the simultaneous change in our Multi target.)
The lighting in this shot is deliberately awful, about what you'd expect from noontime sunshine here in the Atlanta, GA area. (In fact, the color balance has been chosen to pretty well match the hazy sunshine here in mid-August.)
The reason for the harsh lighting is to provide a real "torture test" of how cameras handle conditions of extreme contrast; and in particular, how well they do holding onto highlight detail.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files A9OUTMP0.HTM through A9OUTBMP3.HTM on the thumbnail
Indoor Portrait, No Flash:
The incandescent lighting used in most US homes actually has a very strong yellow color to it. Our eyes have an amazing ability to ignore color casts like this, something digital cameras struggle to emulate.
The incandescent lighting used for this shot is thus not only very common here in the US, but also very difficult for most digital cameras to deal with. While we probably want a little yellow color to remain in the image (to convey some of the mood of the original scene), too much will look unnatural and distort colors.
Most cameras' auto white balance systems have a great deal of difficulty with this shot, but many incandescent white balance settings struggle as well. (It seems that many cameras' incandescent settings are actually calibrated to the tungsten lighting used in professional studio systems, which isn't nearly as warm-toned as typical household lighting.)
If you intend to do much shooting indoors after dark, pay careful attention to this test, as cameras vary widely in this regard.
To view the entire exposure series from zero to +1.0 EV, see files A9INBMP0.HTM through A9INBMP3.HTM on the thumbnail
One additional note about this particular test series though: Because these images are shot under household incandescent lighting, the camera has to boost its blue-channel signal quite a bit to get back to a neutral color balance. Since the blue channel is generally the one with the most noise, this makes this shot a real acid test of noise performance. Noise levels in high-ISO shots taken under daylight conditions usually won't show as much noise. (See the "Far Field" test for examples of high ISO shots captured in daylight.)
Far-Field Test 2
While the House poster in the shot above provides absolute repeatability from test to test, it doesn't offer the range of brightness (dynamic range) that the original scene had, nor does it contain the nearly infinite range of fine detail found in nature. For these reasons, we shoot an outdoor photo of a building, to provide a more challenging (if more variable) subject for the cameras. Until Summer of 2011, we used the original house from the House poster for this "Far Field" shot, but the ever-encroaching trees made it less and less useful. The coup de grace for that subject was when the neighbor across the street relandscaped his yard so we could no longer shoot from our original position.
In place of the original house, we've switched to using the Roswell, GA City Hall building, which offers many of the elements of the original Far Field subject, but in a setting where we're guaranteed access into the future, and without the threat of trees eventually obscuring the building. In this shot, we look at how the camera handles rendering of subtle detail (the bricks, both in the sunlight and in the deep shadows under the entryway roof), how it handles bright highlights (the white columns and reflections from the dome), and shadow detail (in the dark areas beneath the shrubs on either side of the steps).
Note though, that because this is shot outdoors, the character of the light is unavoidably going to change quite a bit, depending on the atmospheric humidity and the time of year. - You thus shouldn't rely on it for absolute comparisons between cameras, since it's unlikely that conditions will be exactly the same from one test to the next.
Low light photography is an area where there are really enormous differences between digital camera models. We used to shoot this test at all ISOs (in one EV steps) and five light levels but because cameras now often offer over a dozen ISO settings, the number of shots required was becoming unreasonable. So, this test is now shot at only three ISO settings (low, medium and high) and at the highest and lowest light levels we used to test at (a light level about equivalent to typical city street lighting at night (one foot-candle), and at 1/16 foot-candle where many cameras struggle). Shots in the rightmost column of the table below are taken with long exposure noise reduction disabled and high ISO noise reduction minimized. You may also see the effect of poor low-light autofocus in some of these shots, although we use a different test setup to check autofocus performance more directly. (The results of which are reported on in the main Test Results section.) Things to look for here include:
(Note: If you'd like to use a light meter to check light levels
for subjects you might be interested in shooting, a light level of one
foot-candle corresponds to a normal exposure of two seconds at f/2.8 and
Viewfinder accuracy is an important parameter, especially for shots where framing is critical. The optical viewfinders on most digital cameras match the (poor) accuracy of those on film cameras, typically showing only about 85% of the actual final frame area. It's likely that this is a deliberate design choice by the camera engineers, to help avoid users accidentally cutting off the heads of their subjects. We disagree with this approach, or at least feel that it should be mitigated a bit, perhaps by increasing the accuracy to 90 to 95%.
Unlike the optical viewfinders, the LCD viewfinders on most digital cameras tend to be quite accurate. There are exceptions though, and it's unfortunately not uncommon to find an LCD monitor that only shows 90% or less of the final frame.
Things to look for on this test chart are: