Sony A99 II Image Quality


Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels and hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
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 a link for a larger version.

Saturation. The Sony A99 II's mean default color saturation is 110.3% at base ISO or in other words, oversaturated by 10.3%. That's about average for cameras we've tested these days. Mean saturation remains very stable across up to ISO 1600, after which is begins to gradually drop as sensitivity rises to a minimum of 106.1% at maximum ISO. Reds, dark blues and dark green are boosted the most, which is again typical. Most other colors are pushed just a bit, though light green is slightly undersaturated, and yellow is moderately undersaturated. Overall, saturation levels are quite pleasing to our eyes, and you can of course tweak saturation if you wish. 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 A99 II does fairly well with Caucasian skin tones. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy-looking pinkish tint, though darker areas are nudged slightly toward orange. Still, pretty realistic 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 A99 II 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 actually fairly minor and very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors. The yellow to green shift combined with its desaturation is however unfortunate, as it can produce somewhat dingy-looking yellows.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 5.31 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is about average, with accuracy only falling slightly at higher ISOs. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images


Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm casts with Standard and Ambience Auto white balance; Incandescent is pretty good, and Manual is very good. Less than average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance (Standard)
0 EV
Auto White Balance (Ambience)
0 EV
Auto White Balance (White)
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was a bit too warm and orange with the default Standard Auto white balance setting, though results with the White Auto setting were pretty good with just a slight magenta tint. The Ambience Auto white balance setting was very warm, as expected. Results with the Incandescent setting were quite good and only slightly warm and yellow. Results with the Manual setting were the most accurate, though just slightly cool. The Sony A99 II required no exposure compensation here, while +0.3 EV is about average for this shot. (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.)

Outdoors, daylight
Very good handling of contrast, color, and exposure under harsh lighting.

Manual White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Sony A99 II performed extremely well. +0.7 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is about average among the cameras we've tested. Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but despite the bright appearance, the camera does a great job of holding onto detail in both the highlights and shadows, even without the help of DRO. We preferred Manual color balance for our "Portrait" shot, though Auto white balance produced very similar and pleasing results. Default exposure is pretty good in our Far-field shot; perhaps just a touch dim, but as a result almost no highlights were blown however there are some dark shadows that can be a little noisy and discolored at the lowest levels. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has pleasing color, though a bit cool. Overall, very good performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

~3,700 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, about the same from RAW files.

Strong detail to
~3,700 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
Strong detail to
~3,700 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW

An in-camera JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 3,700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction and to about 3,700 lines per picture height in the vertical direction, though some minor aliasing can be seen starting as low as about 2,800 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the 4,000 line limit of our chart in both directions. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more resolution here from matching RAW files, but it produced more color moiré and false colors as it often does. 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.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Remarkable detail and sharpness, with very few sharpening artifacts. Mild noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.

Excellent definition of
high-contrast elements with very
low sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Sony A99 II captures incredibly sharp, crisp and detailed images overall, and it doesn't leave behind heavy sharpening halos around edges with high contrast that we often see around the lines and letters of our bottle label crop (above left). The A99 II's RAW images don't need a lot of sharpening because of the lack of an optical low pass filter, but Sony really has done an excellent job with the A99 II's low-ISO JPEG processing. 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 fairly mild noise suppression in the darker areas of the mannequin's hair. A number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, though higher contrast strands are distinct, though as you can see some suffer from the "jaggies" and other aliasing artifacts (see below). Still, outstanding results here considering the 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.

Camera JPEG, defaults RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

Aliasing Artifacts. As mentioned previously the Sony A99 II captures incredibly sharp, detailed images thanks to its very high resolution and lack of an optical low pass filter, but that means it's also susceptible to moiré and other aliasing artifacts when used with a sharp lens. As you can see in our Still Life shots, moiré patterns can for instance be seen in the red-leaf fabric as well as in the Samuel Smith bottle label as shown in the crops above.

With the increasing trend of using either a very weak or no optical low pass filter, quite a few cameras produce similar artifacts these days, and the A99 II's JPEG processing engine actually does a good job at suppressing aliasing-related false colors in our Resolution target. But it's not fool proof as we've shown, and luminance moiré is much more difficult to deal with. That's 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 aliasing include shooting at a smaller aperture so that lens diffraction acts as an anti-alias filter, defocusing slightly, shooting at higher ISOs, as well as trying different RAW converters and processing tools.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Sony A99 II produces in-camera JPEGs with incredible amounts of crisp detail. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter, so let's have a look at base ISO:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

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 9.1 via DNG Converter 9.9 using default noise reduction with some moderate but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (250%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, the Adobe Camera Raw conversion renders a touch more detail than the camera, while higher contrast and saturation makes the in-camera image pop a bit more, but the ACR conversion also reveals a bit more luminance noise in flat areas. You can always turn up the luminance noise reduction (default of zero was used here), though noise levels are already quite low. Also note the moiré pattern in the red-leaf pattern in both images.

Bottom line: Although Adobe Camera Raw is able to extract a little more detail, there's really very little to complain about the Sony A99 II's JPEG engine at low ISOs. It provides a great balance of fine, crisp detail, low noise, and low sharpening artifacts straight out of the camera, and some may actually prefer it over the default ACR conversion.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 50 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600
ISO 3200 ISO 6400 ISO 12,800
ISO 25,600 ISO 51,200 ISO 102,400

The Sony A99 II's JPEG images are quite clean and extremely detailed at ISOs 50 though 400, with very little image degradation, and image quality drops in a nice, very gradual manner up to ISO 1600. ISO 3200 produces a more noticeable drop in image quality with higher luma noise and some minor noise reduction artifacts, however fine detail is still quite good, and chroma noise is very low. ISO 6400 shows more noise and artifacts from noise reduction, but fine detail is still pretty good, and the often more objectional chroma noise remains low. ISO 12,800 is significantly noisier and sharpening combined with strong noise reduction give the image a slightly hammered look in darker areas and shadows, and chroma noise is now visible in the form of subtle purple and yellow blotches, though fine detail is still fair. Image quality drops rapidly from ISO 25,600 on, though, with images that look almost like paintings with a stippled effect and strong chroma blotching becomes an issue as well.

Overall, the A99 II offers very good high ISO performance especially considering its resolution and pixel size. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO.

A note about focus for this shot: We used to shoot this image at f/4, however depth of field became so shallow with larger, high-resolution sensors that it was difficult to keep important areas of this shot in focus, so we have since started shooting at f/8, the best compromise between depth of field and sharpness.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Excellent highlight and shadow detail. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Sony A99 II handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the +0.7 EV exposure here, as the default 0 EV and +0.3 EV exposures are too dim in the face while the +1.0 EV exposure has a few too many blown highlights. Contrast is a little high, but shadow and highlight detail are both very good. Despite the bright appearance, few highlights are blown in the model's shirt and face at +0.7 EV, though the red channel is clipped in some of the flowers as is often the case, and in specular highlights where you'd expect clipping. There are some dark shadows however they have lots of detail, though very deep shadows are a bit noisy, posterized and discolored as expected. Overall, excellent performance here.

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.)

Face Detection
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection Off
Aperture Priority, 0 EV
Face Detection On
Auto Mode,
0 EV

Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Sony A99 II has the ability to detect faces (up to 8 in a scene), and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection worked as expected in Aperture Priority at f/8, producing a much brighter image than without it by reducing the shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/15s (that's quite slow for handheld and the type of subject, but the camera had little choice since the aperture and ISO was manually selected). Full Auto mode did a bit better than Aperture Priority without face detection, though it's still too dim despite detecting a face. It selected a larger aperture of f/4.5 while maintaining a relatively fast shutter speed of 1/100s, and automatically applied DRO (see below) to reduce overall contrast.

Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison



Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

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 A99 II. 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 no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links on the right to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and associated histograms, increasing DRO progressively boosts shadows and midtones while leaving highlights essentially intact, though boosting shadows does make noise slightly more visible. The Auto setting did an okay job overall though results were still a bit too dim, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.

Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. A useful feature that works well.

Outdoor Portrait HDR Comparison



1 EV

2 EV

3 EV

4 EV

5 EV

6 EV

High Dynamic Range. The Sony A99 II'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 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 even 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 link to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a decent job, similar to the 3 EV manual setting. The higher the manual setting, the more highlights were toned-down and shadows opened up, but as you can see higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results with this subject.

Far-field HDR Comparison

Above, you can see the effect of HDR settings on our Far-field shot. Watch out for ghost images from subject movement during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in some of the shots above. It appears that the A99 II attempts to eliminate them during the merging process, but isn't always 100% successful.

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.

Here, we compare the Sony A99 II's dynamic range to its predecessor's, the A99 as well as to the Nikon D810's, the current full-frame dynamic range champion.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the A99 II's dynamic range (orange) isn't quite as high as the A99's (yellow) at the lowest ISOs. The A99 II's dynamic range at its ISO 100 setting is 13.35 EV, while the A99 managed 13.95 EV at its lower base ISO of 50, and even at ISO 100, the A99 bests the A99 II by 0.3 EV. But look what happens above the ISO 400 setting -- the A99 II overtakes the A99, and offers about an EV advantage at most ISOs above 800, and almost two stops at the top shared ISO setting of 25,600.

The class-leading Nikon D810 (in red) easily outperforms the Sony A99 II at lower ISOs, with about a 1.4 EV advantage at base ISO (14.76 vs 13.35), but the Sony gradually catches up at about the ISO 800 setting, and then slightly exceeds or matches the Nikon at higher ISOs.

Bottom line: Excellent dynamic range from the Sony A99 II at higher ISOs, however it lags behind its predecessor and some other leading full-frame competitors at lower ISOs. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A99 II for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc

2.5s, f2.8

30s, f2.8

30s, f2.8

1/13s, f2.8

1.3s, f2.8

1.3s, f2.8

1/100s, f2.8

1/6s, f2.8

1/6s, f2.8

Low Light. The Sony A99 II performed very well in our low light tests, producing usable exposures with very low noise down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 fc) at base ISO of 100. Noise is very low at base ISO and still fairly low at ISO 3200, though as expected, at the highest native ISO of 25,600 noise is a bit high but images are still usable.

Banding in deep shadows (fixed pattern noise) is almost nonexistent and we didn't detect any issues with heat blooming or hot pixels. We did spot some slightly bright pixels in deep shadows especially when long exposure noise reduction is turned off (rightmost column above) where you'd expect to see them, though that's not unusual.

Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance at one foot-candle that warmed up slightly at 1/16 foot-candle.

Low-light AF: The Sony A99 II's autofocus system was only able to focus on our low-contrast AF target down to -0.5 EV or about 1/6 foot-candle with an f/2.8 lens which isn't great, however it was about to focus down to -4.7 EV on our high-contrast AF target which is quite good. The Sony A99 II does not have a built-in AF assist illuminator, however it can make use of one provided by a compatible flash unit attached.

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. (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.)

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 its larger sensor and Hybrid AF, compact system cameras like the Sony A99 II tend to do better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints all the way up to ISO 800; Very good 13 x 19 inch print at ISO 6400; Usable 5 x 7 at ISO 25,600.

ISO 50 through 800 prints are amazing, with the Sony A99 II capable of providing huge prints up to 30 x 40 inches that are crisp, sharp and vibrant at any of these ISOs. ISO 50-200 images look nearly identical, while ISO 400-800 do show just a hint of shadow noise, but not nearly enough to affect print size. 30 x 40 is the largest print size we test, so it really depends on how much you're willing to push the sensor's resolution in creating larger prints. Overall, though, stunning print quality at these lower ISOs!

ISO 1600 images start to show a bit more shadow noise, which softens up some very fine detail. However, there's still an exceptional amount of detail throughout and pleasing colors in these prints, making for a healthy 24 x 36 inch print at this ISO.

ISO 3200 prints top-out at an impressively large 20 x 30 inches. Noise and the effects of default noise reduction are more apparent now in the shadow areas, but there's still a lot of fine, low-contrast detail, such as in our fabric swatches and even visible moiré patterns in one of the bottle labels.

ISO 6400 images show an increase in noise and noise reduction processing, which hurts fine detail for larger print sizes. However, the A99 II is still capable of nice prints at this ISO up to 13 x 19 inches.

ISO 12,800 prints offer an impressive level of detail up to 8 x 10 inches. Noise, especially in shadow areas, is much stronger now and prevents us from accepting larger print sizes.

ISO 25,600 images show pretty strong noise and a lack of fine detail up to any print size larger than 5 x 7 inches.

ISO 51,200 and 102,400 prints, unfortunately, are simply too soft and too noisy for us to consider usable for prints. Perhaps for less critical applications, a 4 x 6 at ISO 51,200 might be usable, but we'd recommend avoiding these two upper ISO settings for prints.

As with previous full-frame 42-megapixel Sony cameras, the A99 Mark II does extremely well in our print quality testing. From expanded low ISO 50 all the way up to ISO 800, you're pretty much free to print as large as you need to. The fine detail and pleasing colors look fantastic up to our maximum 30 x 40 inch print test -- the 42MP sensor really shows off its resolving power. Thanks to the large sensor and good image processing, the A99 II is also capable of excellent, impressively large prints, even as the ISO rises. ISO 3200 nets you up to 20 x 30 inch prints, while even ISO 12,800 works for a solid 8 x 10. For us, we'd recommend stopping at ISO 25,600 for prints, which tops-out at 5 x 7 inches, as the two higher ISOs available produce prints that are too noisy and too soft for our tastes.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCA-A99 II 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 ILCA-A99 II 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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