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Sunday, 20 December 2015


Hey Mike,
I was hoping you would throw some Fuji into a test like this. Can the X-T1 and 23mm 1.4 play on the same level as these full frame cameras?

[The Nikon has to go back tomorrow, so the Sony with the 35mm Sigma vs. the X-T1 with the 23mm is next on the docket. --Mike]

Thanks, Mike! Very interesting, and a great idea. I'd like to hear more about this pair of cameras.

And may I say, what little bits you've shown of your house, inside and out, it looks and feels great!

The one thing I sometimes feel is missing from my Nikon SLR + prime lenses combination is some form of stabilization other than my tripod. That Tamron 35mm f/1.8 is looking mighty tempting for that reason, though it seems a sub-par solution compared to the A900's IBIS.
The blue blocking in the black letters of the A900 crop looks to me to be a reflection. It's less apparent, but still visible in the D750 crop slightly to the left, which lines up with the blue reflection in the silver label being further to the left in the D750 crop.

I was attacked to use sony camera without using zeiss lens - call eating the veggie due to the Cantonese sound.

The tuning is for zeiss lens and not far ...

Not sure it is true.

So now we have further proof that most of Sony's development effort went into improving noise performance of their sensors. Not exactly breaking news.
We also become aware that photography was pushed too far into artificiality, as the files taken with the Sony camera indeed look more true to life, despite the greater amount of noise. (Though noise reduction seems a bit overcompensated in the Nikon files.)
You know what? If this test were absolutely conclusive, allowing me to make a choice confidently, I'd take the Sony over the Nikon. Despite the poorer noise performance and the (very marginal) dynamic range limitation, the pictures simply look more authentic. That's no surprise, because at this level the evolution is leading towards more detail ("resolution") and more of what people call "dynamic range", making pictures look more clinical and unauthentic. A bit of noise seems to be an acceptable tradeoff if the pictures have a little more soul. (And maybe that noise can work favourably in black and white by emulating film grain, who knows...)

When hand holding at low shutter speeds use the drive option and shoot a sequence of images. Invariably you will find a near perfect image. Digital is cheap and easy to delete.

As a film shooter, I am never too worried about high ISO performance, since 1600 is way above the usual film ratings. I find that the Sony A900 to be perfectly usable today, still way way better than anything but pro cameras. The Zeiss glass is lovely, as well as the 1.4/35mm from Sony which has a little something special to it. What I really like is the dynamic range, which is very good, close to black and white film. I have lugged mine on various trips, and wear starts to show, but it is still perfectly working. At the end of the day, when counting keeper files of the past year, many of them are with the Sony.

Did you have the vibration control activated on the Tamron?

[Hi Rob, I didn't use the Tamron for this post. Both cameras had the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lenses on them. --Mike]

Thanks for the comparison. Most interesting.

Like a couple of other posters I have been a bit unhappy with the photos from my latest generation of cameras compared to the ones they replace. (Panasonic, in my case.) To my eye the the modern files are a bit "crunchy" or "edgy" - they look a bit oversharpened to me. Also the noise reduction seems overdone, even after I turned it down. The old files have more happening in the darker areas which to me gives more life and appears to give a tiny bit more detail. On close examination it seems to be about half detail, half noise, but it still looks better in a print than smooth flat gray.

From what my friends are doing and what I see online this seems to be a general trend. I wonder if the drive for sharpness and low noise may have gone too far.

Thanks for a backwards glance at a camera some would write off as "obsolete," simply because it isn't optimal any more. My Sony a850, recently sold, was a noisy beast when viewing he files at 100%. It wasn't smooth, grain-like luminance noise, but blotchy color noise. But it never was apparent in prints, erased by either downsizing or noise reduction. Image quality wasn't the reason I left it behind. It needed repair twice in two years, and no successor OVF camera was coming to support my choice Maxxum lenses.

Sensor progress is real, though. My new DSLR proves that, with little noise showing at ISO 3200. Even stepping down from 24 to 16 megapixies was no loss, since the new camera loses the AA filter that's been blurring our images since digital's dawn.

My camera change had no costs in missing features, except for missing the widescreen view of the a850's lovely FF OVF. I didn't have to give up stabilization with all lenses, either. Nikon's in-lens VR approach may suit the supertelephoto specialists and the single-zoom masses, but it doesn't satisfy my needs. Like the moment on an Indian reservation (no tripods, please) where with a long exposure, the Sony photographed softly blurred tourists walking past timeless adobe buildings, all with an ultrawide lens. The new camera's IBIS even works with my few stray MF Takumars I sometimes used with the Sony. And soon, next year, I might even get that big viewfinder back.

Can you guess my new camera? The Pentax K5IIs, also "obsolete" and superseded by two new models. That's life in our real world- few of us, usually only novices, are choosing between several brand-new cameras. Instead, we're weighing that new one against the ones we already own. That's why comparisons like this are so useful, but rare, because professional reviewers only follow the newest gear.

A few years ago (maybe 2010 or 11?) I commented on one of your blog posts about dslr's that all I really wanted was a Minolta SRt with a digital sensor. You replied that I should buy a Sony a850 or a900. I bought an a850 body and have used nothing but Minolta a-mount lenses on it (mostly that I already owned).

It was good advice, and I have no reason to upgrade until this camera dies. Although when I do, it's likely to be a much smaller mirrorless, somewhere between the Sony and my little Lumix LX7!

The question is not do they compare, they shouldn't and couldn't, sensor development goes in leaps not in strides. The question is do you notice it in an exhibition, with a skilled editor and great printer (both man and machine). What you see in a comparison will get lost, both camera's will turn out outstanding pictures for their respective owners.

Greets, Ed.

I can't say I am at all surprised at your results, Mike. What this tells me is that we reached a point of sufficiency for resolution and overall performance a while back. In my Six Sigma parlance, I would say that you observed a statistical difference between the two cameras, but probably not practical one.

Regarding the Canon 5D, fully agreed. That camera did something magical to files, and my Fuji X-Pro1 was the first camera I shot with that recreated that same magic.

Sensors might not have improved >all< that much (though for those of us shooting m4/3, I think they probably have over that period), but the responsiveness and resolution of electronic viewfinders has seen them go from near unusable to indispensible (for some of us)...
...which is why the otherwise splendid Nikon, its siblings, and its Canon competitors are of no interest to me.

A personal view, I acknowledge. And an interesting comparison nonetheless.

These days, they're ALL good.
Just find one that's comfortable to use.

The gifts of latter day digital photography are usable high iso ranges and image stabilization, in-body or otherwise.

These let us take good pictures in marginal lighting that would have been technically impossible ten years ago.

The curse of latter day digital photography is high resolution, which makes us zoom in at 100% and makes us technically critical and dissatisfied even if there in no discernible aesthetic impact on a photograph. Also, high resolution encourages a 'crop later' mentality, which severely corrodes visual discipline in the photographer.

For this reason, it seems to me that cameras with 12 or 16 megapixel sensors are a good compromise, whether the expensive Sony A7SII, the now discontinued Nikon D700 or a variety of Dx and micro-four thirds cameras.

Me, I miss my 6 megapixel Nikon D100, with which I learned discipline in framing, and which encouraged me to seek out good light, which is usually synonymous with brighter light. Available light is, well, available, but almost always unsatisfactory from a light quality standpoint.

Still like the ergonomics (and look, even though that is not so meaningful)of the Sony (I had the A850---partly from your recommendation, Mike...). The A850 was one of the nicest handling cameras I ever had. A shame I had to trade it in.

Watch for the new Pentax FF. I've seen it in person (seen, not handled...). Looks to be quite impressive.

I've recently gone back to some of my older digital images captured more than 12 years back with the original Canon Eos-1Ds. Yes, anything above ISO 200 shows pretty dreadful noise. But it's amazing how well the files actually stand up with some careful processing. And it's remarkable how much better Photoshop CC is for 'developing' these files than the release I was using back then.

No question I can print a lot larger with new images shot at 50 mp, but it's the whole imaging chain that matters in the end, from the glass in front of the sensor to the solid tripod under it. And most of all the eye behind the viewfinder! I find I have to be shooting for at least a week before I get back to any semblance of skill.

What Ed said ^^^ ...

What you see in a comparison will get lost, both camera's will turn out outstanding pictures for their respective owners.

Really a comment about the featured comment and TOP reply; I finally parted ways with my 5D yesterday after eight years of pleasant and trouble-free friendship and some decent earnings too. My take on the 5D; No digital file since those produced by that camera have better replicated the look of film. Strange, I know, but that's how I felt about it. It was a digital/film platypus.

It's always interesting to overlay the DXOMark ratings against personal observations.

Sensors most certainly have improved in recent years. In this case it seems that the low-light performance of the Nikon represents the biggest measurable improvement. No surprise there, as that's where most sensors have seen their greatest generational improvements.

Overall I think we've reached an asymptote on the curve of sensor performance. We're unlikely to see the performance / resolution leaps we've experienced over the past decade.

And here I soldier on with my trusty 5D. Its 10 year old technology is good enough enough for me--except for the auto focus, but that's not what we are discussing here. The files I get from the camera are just fine. Properly exposed photos are quite manageable at any ISO. The key, though, is 'properly exposed.'

A few years back I nearly nearly bought an A900 new... Probably due to your review.

Why? Not on megapixels and other purely technical merits, but on the image results. I know this is mostly down to the photographer, but A900 has a way with sunlit skin tones and translucence that is really appealing. Much in the same way the original 5D has a great tonal range and the FUJI's make skin lovely.

Still might get an A900 second hand with 85mm...

Overall I think we've reached an asymptote on the curve of sensor performance. We're unlikely to see the performance / resolution leap..

I'm not sure that's true; resolution might well increase until the area of a four pixel RGB array is below the diffraction limit even for the fastest lenses,.

And as far as 'performance' is concerned, it depends what you mean.
Note the under sampling/oversampling conundrum & potential solution(s) outlined here:

The A900 (and A850) used the Sony IMX028 CMOS sensor that was also used in the Nikon D3x (and Nikon seemed to get more out of the same sensor).



Both came out in 2008 after Sony's CMOS EXMOR "great leap forward" with on-chip column ADCs after they moved from the previous "Super HAD" CCD sensors with off-chip ADCs.

That's the big dividing line between "old cameras" and "new cameras".

Comparable APS-C Sony CMOS sensor IMX021 (with rather similar sized pixels) being used in the Nikon D90, D300 and Fuji X100 have similar performance (i.e. better than most people expect).

The takeaway is Sony CMOS sensors started to get "really good" in 2008.

Although the sensors are not the current state of the art they are very usable even though the cameras seem "old" to many. This is especially true if you shoot in "film-like" lighting conditions for film-like exposures (think ISO 200, 400, 800 or even 1600 but no higher).

The main difference to more recent sensors is improved read noise that will show up at higher ISOs (3200 and above) and the (smaller) difference in QE that will show up in midtone noise. The latter is rather less noticeable.

As with Ulf ... I love the original X100 Fuji files ...very filmic .... Subtle ... And of course a Bayer Sensor and "only" 12 mp.

I love the results and personally like the fuji lenses with the Bayer sensor. For that reason the XA1 is a bargain and I hope they will bring out a XTA 2 with a ? 20-24 mp bayer sensor.

BUT I will keep the X100 indefinitely

I don't understand the meaning of these tests, and these ludicrous comparisons probably sit better on other sites, where bad photographers compare noise levels on their terrible photos to no effect. How often would the blue blotching on the jar make the difference between a good and bad photo? The number would approach - probably reach zero. what does it mean exactly that this lens with this camera has a slightly different response? The times when any of this crap made the slightest difference to any kind of photograph is never. Zero. It has never made any difference and it never will.

Very useful and above all real life observations instead of the usual graphs. I use the Sony A900 all the time and even added an a850 now that these animals can be bought from US$ 550-700 here in Europe as almost everyone seems to climb over the fence where the E-mount land seems so much greener. I will probably stick to the old ones for some time to come though and this review certainly supports that feeling.

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