Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs


 

Sony F828 Experience Report

A review diary by Uwe Steinmueller @Digital Outback Photo

Also photos by Bettina Steinmueller

 

Part 1

 
This review will be written again in the form of a diary. Most recent findings on top.
 
 
 
 

 
12/31/2003 Printing and Sharpening
 

Qimage with "3D-Effect Sharpening" released

Mike Chaney is improving his excellent printing program Qimage constantly. Mike is known for his creative new concepts. Now he implemented a new sharpening that that reflects some shortcomings of today's Bayer sensors. Best you read Mike's posting at DPR where he explains the basic idea. We tested the new sharpening and find it more than just interesting.

Check his sharpening out for your F828 images!

Here is an example:


Bear Cafe in Los Gatos

As usual on our tour through Los Gatos we photographed the Bear Cafe. At about 100mm (35mm equivalent) there seems to be a sweetspot of the lens as there is hardly any CA visible. The colors are spot on and also the details are there.

This time we sharpened with Qimage (2/300/Sharpening Equalizer 100%):


before


after

Using the F828 at 5MP

It is also worth trying to use the F828 at the 5MP setting. Here is a crop from an ISO 200 shot:


ISO 200 and 5MP settings (sharpened)

We find the noise level at ISO 200 very much ok. Also 5 MP files also hold a lot of information.

 

 
12/30/2003 White Balance Correction for JPGs
 

The strength of using raw files is mainly that you can correct the white balance and some exposure later.

With the live histogram in the Sony F828 you have a great tool to nail exposure more often than not. If in doubt use the cameras bracketing feature (+/- 0.7EV). For white balance we rely on the cameras auto WB feature and it is really not bad. But sometime you might want to use the so called "white/gray click" method that nearly all good raw converters have. Here we find the tool iCorrect Editlab very helpful. Here is a sample session:


Pacific Beach photo direct as JPG from F828 (auto WB)


Click on white in iCorrect Editlab corrects WB


WB corrected image

Note: It is difficult to correct major color shifts (auto WB should prevent this anyway) as you are working in 8 bit color mode and strong color operations can introduce color posterization in your images.

There is a cheaper stand-alone application iCorrect 4.0 that will work as well. It is just not that well integrated into Photoshop like the plugin.

 

 
12/29/2003 Minimize the CA from F828 Pictures
 

Here is a technique to minimize the CA from F828 images:

First get a version of panorama tools (you have to search the web where to find it, we have no right to distribute this free software so please do not ask where you can get the software).

The following is working on the not sharpened original (here is the file)


Original with strong CA

Step 1: Using Panorama tools to remove some CA


Correct radial shift in Panorama Tools

These parameters may vary with the focal length.


After Panorama Tools

This step removes some purple and even more the green CA fringing.

Step 2: Reduce purple

Use Photoshop Hue/Saturation tool to reduce the purple:


Selectively reduce a narrow color range of purple

 

Will leave desaturated areas in the picture but not as bad as purple.


Result

Step 3 (Optional): Reducing Magenta


Reduce the magenta tint

We keep you updated if we find better techniques.

 

If you want to learn more about the digital workflow have a look at our booklets. Even if you don't use raw files you learn all the principles to improve your images.

 

What do you learn in our booklets?

  • What are raw files and why raw files gets you better image quality
  • What is the responsibility of a raw converter
  • Basic understanding of color management
  • Learn to read histograms
  • The essential workflow steps
  • Mastering your raw converter
  • Adjust exposure, white balance, contrast and colors
  • Essential Photoshop techniques
  • Working with Photoshop Layers (DOP1007 and up)
  • We try to make the workflow as simple as possible but not simpler
  • Pure B&W workflow (DOP1008 and up)
 
Using the builtin flash
 
A highlight is the focussing aid by the F828 electronic viewfinder. If you use flash in low light the F828 boosts the gain of the EVF as if it would be a night vision device. Here the Sony EVF outclasses any SLR.
 

 
12/28/2003 Sony F828 first Impressions
 

Some of our regular readers may ask: why is Digital Outback Photo now reviewing Digicams? The simple answer is that we actually do not care that much about the cameras as about the results. But because we care about the results from the content and technical side we look only into cameras that we feel are up to the job. Please read our short essay "The Digital Camera and the Photographer". We wrote this essay when we started using the Canon 300D Digital Rebel. You probably see that most of the ideas also relate to the Sony F828.

The Sony F828 is the first Sony camera that seems to challenge traditional digital SLRs and at its price point of about $999 the main contender is the Canon 300D (Nikon's D70 is on its way). We found this camera so important that we bought it to check its merits and failures.

We never really approach a camera as a test object. The goal is to get the best images we are able to produce out of any camera. If we fail this is often our fault. But we also share what we think is in our way to produce the results we like. This may or may not be a problem for you.

Expectations

Every review starts with expectations and measures the review object against these criteria. We use SLRs for 30 years and digital SLRs for nearly 4 years. We measure the Sony F828 against the entry level of digital SLRs and this is at this time the Canon 300D. This means if you come from a digicam background your judgment may differ.

Sony F828 is Cool

The Sony F828 is very nicely built (Sony Style), is very different from other cameras and feels well. Also the Zeiss lens adds to the coolness factor. But this lens has to be excellent to resolve the tiny 2.7 micron pixels in the 8MP four color 11mm wide CCD.

F828 Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

To get us right, we believe that electronic viewfinders with the live preview are the future for digital cameras. But the current crop of EVFs are hardly close to that goal. The viewfinder is the composition device and we love MF cameras just for that reason. We have problems using this viewfinder (Bettina was shocked: "How should I do critical compositions?"). Also the low refresh rate of the viewfinder image does not allow to follow movements easily (e.g. emotions in faces, be it people of wildlife).

(Not) Using Raw

The F828 is the first Sony camera that also supports raw format. Our readers know that we use raw with all cameras. But Sony managed to create a camera that makes raw not useful. When you shoot raw the you could get 1 shot probably every 10-15 seconds as the F828 blocks to write the raw files to the CF card (we don't care about Memorysticks). Even if this speed issue would be solved using raw with the F828 would not be rosy:

  • The poor functionality of Sony raw converter demonstrates that Sony does not really take raw seriously. Otherwise they would build software that would let their raw format shine and we are sure that Sony could produce such a software if they wanted.
  • Raw converter only saves in 8 bit
  • Raw converter is slooow!

Ok, now some Sony fans have found that we just want to bash Sony. This is not the case as we like the idea that digicams challenge digital SLRs and this will happen anyway.

Actually even if this is a bad start it is just the beginning. We will use the F828 only in JPG and try to get the best out of it. The points we mentioned do not mean that a camera cannot produce stunning photos. We just feel that digicams need way better EVFs and also excellent support for raw.

Canon 300D vs. Sony F828

We spent the whole day to photograph with the Canon 300D and F828 side by side. The F828 was as is and the Canon 300D with the 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (a medium quality lens from Canon). The value of the F828 was about $1000 and the Canon combo about $1300 (if you buy the 300D kit).

The Sony F828is lighter and more compact than the Canon 300D with the 28-135mm lens.

Noise

The following shots are a 100% pixel crop from the following scene:

Note: The 300D raw file was white balanced in Adobe Camera Raw 2.0. Changing white balance in JPG files is not as convenient. But we have to say that the subjective colors from the F828 were very good. This test is only about noise and not comparing colors.

Here are our standard camera settings for the Sony F828:

  • Color: real
  • Saturation: normal
  • Contrast: normal
  • Sharpness: minus
Sony F828
Canon 300D

ISO 64
 

ISO 100

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 400

There is no doubt that the Canon 300D is the clear winner in terms of noise. But you can also see that the F828 produces a lot of details.

Note: Up to ISO 200 this noise will hardly be visible in reasonable sized prints (e.g. 11x14"). Also cameras with smaller sensors and shorter focal length produce more DOF:

Pro: Lower f-stops produce more DOF

Con: Harder to blur backgrounds for portrait and bird shots

Then there are also tools like Noise Ninja (read our review) that help remove some of this noise. Here is a quick example:


David Elias at San Gregorio (his CDs are great)

This is an ISO 400 shot and we used noise Ninja to reduce the noise:

  
before and after Noise Ninja

Chromatic Aberration

The main issue with images from the F828 is actually chromatic aberration (CA). At least with all shots at 200mm and at more contrasty scenes we get a lot CA (the contrast was not even extreme). This CA is also easily visible to the naked eye in prints at 11x14".


Pigeon Point Light House (CA, Pacific Coast)

here are 2 crops that show strong CA:

  

The same shot from the Canon 300D with the 28-135mm lens showed also CA but by no means at this level and also only in the corners.

Currently in the news groups you find many recipes how to remove the F828 CA. We are sure that it is hard to remove most of the CA (e.g. using Photoshop Hue/Saturation on selected colors) and probably impossible to remove all CA in postprocessing.

In scenes with lower contrast (we try to work in low contrast as much as possible anyway as digital cameras are today limited in capturing high dynamic range) the F828 can produce great results:


Sea Lions at Santa Cruz Pier


ISO 200 at 100% pixels

Colors & Resolution

So far we find the colors very good and the auto white balance does a pretty good job. Also the resolution is clearly good.


Earth Frame at Pebble Beach CA (not the golf course)


B&W conversion

In lower contrast the F828 pictures show less CA. Then the F828 can produce images that can easily be part of our portfolios. Actually the greater depth of field (DOF) of the F828 (compared to 35mm digital SLR designs) helps to create sharper images.

Many F828 photographers will prove that the photographer matters and the camera is just a tool.

The Zeiss Lens and Sharpness

We think that the Zeiss lens is good in terms of detail and delivers sharper results than the 28-135mm lens we used from Canon. It is known that the 28-135mm lens is soft especially at the 135mm end. Why did we not use our L glass lenses? With the top Canon L lenses is a huge price difference to the F828. If the CA is tamed by either low contrast scenes or some Photoshop post processing the F828 can deliver results that rival most of today's digital SLRs.

Miscellaneous

The live histogram is a great help to get a proper exposure for the JPGs. The speed and framing burst modes are nice features. Speed burst allow you to cature nearly 3 frames per second.

First Summary

For us the CA is the main issue we need to deal with if we want to get quality results from the F828 camera. We also realized that the viewfinder gives us a hard time for composing images. The viewfinder is also very busy with all the symbols. Could be better organized at the bottom or to the side of the image.

 
 
 
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