The more things change…

Bruce
October 28, 2009

As listeners to Shutters Inc would be aware, I have been salivating of late over Sony’s alpha 850.
My reasons for considering the upgrade are these:
At the 2 workshops I’ve attended (the weekend in Echuca, and the wedding workshop in Melbourne), I have stood shoulder to shoulder with photographers who own cameras less than 12 months old. We have taken the same shots, using almost identical exposure settings, and when you compare the image on the back of my 7D with the images displayed on the backs of some of these newer cameras, the difference has been like chalk and cheese.

So, I had convinced myself that my 7D was getting a bit long in the tooth, that the white balance was not as accurate, that the dynamic range was not as wide, and so on and so on.
Last Saturday, I decided to go to my local camera store and have a ‘hands on’ with the alpha 850 and compare it, specifically, against my 7D.
I explained to the sales girl that I was not planning on buying the camera today, but that I am in the research stage, and wanted to compare. She was ok with me putting one of my CF cards into the alpha so I could take some test shots.
So I grabbed my 135mm f2.8 lens and slapped it on the alpha.
I set a manual white balance (in degrees Kelvin), set the ISO to 400, and set manual exposure at 1/100sec at f2.8.
I took a shot.
I then took that lens and put it on my 7D.
Dialled in all the same settings.
Took the same shot.
Then, I looked at the 2 images on the LCD screens on the backs of the 2 cameras.
The difference was mind-blowing.
The image on the alpha absolutely blew me out of the water, while the image on the back of the 7D just seemed to lack… everything.
So, at that point, I was feeling justified in my desire to upgrade to a newer body.
But, I was going to reserve judgement until I got the 2 images home and into Lightroom.
And that my friends, is where the real story begins.
Upon getting the 2 images into Lightroom and comparing them side by side, I COULD NOT TELL THEM APART.
I kid you not.
They were almost identical.
I did say ‘almost’, right?
Remember that the 7D uses an APS-C size sensor, while the alpha 850 is a 35mm sensor, so the image captured by the 7D was cropped in comparison to the “wider” view of the alpha.
Hence why I’ve cropped the alpha version of the image to be similar in its scope to the 7D image.
With the exception of the cropping of the alpha-generated image, these are both straight out of camera.
Actually, there’s one thing I did do in Lightroom which I did equally to both images.
And that was to set the ‘contrast’ and ‘brightness’ values to zero. I don’t know if it’s a Lightroom thing, or something that the Konica Minolta and Sony bodies do automatically, but I notice that whenever I bring images in to Lightroom, they ALWAYS have a contrast value of 50 and a brightness value of 25.
Not sure why.
So on both of these images, I returned those values to zero, which has made them look REALLY flat, but at least they are equal!
Anyway, below are the 2 images, labelled ‘sample1’ and ‘sample2’.
I’ve done that deliberately so you can’t tell from the filename which image is which.
However, both images have EXIF metadata attached, so you can look to see which image is from which body.
But my point is, WITHOUT cheating, can you tell me which image came from which camera?
To me, this has been both a shock, but also a huge revelation.
What I have learned from this is that what has changed over the last 5 years is not so much the image PROCESSOR technology, but LCD screen technology!
Shelton looked at these before he left for India, and he did make the comment that this was probably not the “be all and end all” test. It’s not exactly challenging lighting, it’s not a high-contrast environment, etc etc, and I totally agree with him on that. Perhaps I need to do some more test shots comparing both bodies under more challenging lighting conditions.
But this simple comparison has been an extremely eye-opening experience for me.
Suffice is to say that had I not done this test, I would have happily gone and dropped A$3k on the alpha 850, believing that it was going to provide a huge increase in quality, and would have then become quite melancholy to discover that that was not the case.
Does this mean I won’t buy the alpha 850?
Probably not.
I’ll more than likely still go that route.
But at least I now have a better idea of what to expect from it when I do.

sample-1.jpg
sample-2.jpg
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4 Comments

  1. Those brightness and contrast settings are default in lightroom for any raw image no matter the camera, its the same for my canon.
    The reason they look different to the screen of the camera is that what you see on the camera screen is a jpg with contrast, saturation settings applied, as well as the manufacturers colour profile for the camera.
    Lightroom shows the raw RAW file which has none of this (though adobe have colour profiles for many cameras, which by the way are not that good but you can make your own with a passport or similar)

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