The Sony A850 is the newest full frame DSLR from Sony. It’s based largely on the Sony A900; however, its a couple of notches below on feature sets. Since the A850 uses the same 24.6-megapixel sensor as found in the A900, we shouldn’t expect any real difference in image quality between the two.
Although, comparing these two cameras to the Canon 5D Mark II, which is the current prosumer state of the art for low-light performance, is another story. You’ll also see some Canon 7D samples at higher ISOs for the sake of comparing a crop-sensor camera to these full framers. To see how the Sony A850 and A900 stack up, read on.
All images were captured in Large/Fine JPEG format.
Long exposure noise reduction, high ISO noise reduction, auto lighting optimizer, and highlight tone priority settings were turned OFF.
Picture Style/Control was set to Standard.
Custom white balance was set on each camera using the ColorRight white balance tool.
All images were shot at f/8 and the following shutter speeds at the respective ISOs:
- ISO 100 @ 15s
- ISO 200 @ 8s
- ISO 400 @ 4s
- ISO 800 @ 2s
- ISO 1600 @ 1s
- ISO 3200 @ 1/2s
- ISO 6400 @ 1/4s
- ISO 12800 @ 1/8s (where applicable)
The Sony A850 and A900 have a sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400; however, I included a sample from the Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 12800 for comparison purposes.
Here is a sample the complete scene captured.
Below are 100% crop samples taken from the respective images throughout the ISO range. The focus point is near the upper left corner of these crops. No post processing was performed on any of these images other than the crops shown below.
You may download samples of each image for personal inspection by clicking on the links below each sample (right-click and choose “Save as…”). Do not republish the images on the Internet or elsewhere without express written permission.
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 100
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 200
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 400
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II – ISO 800
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 1600
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 3200
A850 v. A900 v. 5D Mark II v. 7D – ISO 6400
Even though a crop isn’t featured above, here’s a sample of the 7D at ISO 12800 taken at the same time if you want to download and compare for yourself:
While the Sony A850 and A900 have a whole lot of resolution, the really don’t hold up that well when coping with noise at higher ISOs. I was also surprised, again, to see how well the Canon 7D stacked up against the Sony full frame cameras, in spite of its smaller sensor.
I feel pretty good about everyday use with the A850 and A900 at ISO 1600 and below, which covers most shooting conditions for most people, particularly when coupled with a fast lens like the Sony 50mm f/1.4 lens that I’ve been using. However, wedding and event photographers who venture into available light shooting in dimmer environments may balk at the results from ISO 3200 and above.
That said, I really like the A850 and A900 and will delve beyond noise performance evaluations soon with each of them. I think Sony’s got a good thing going with its Alpha DSLRs, but it has some hurdles ahead in taming noise at higher ISOs to the degree that Canon and Nikon have done with the 5D Mark II and D700, respectively.
Stay tuned for some more on the A850 and A900, including some more samples using various noise reduction settings.
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