Updated: Sony a9 samples with Raw support

Introduction

Out-of-camera JPEG Processed to taste from Adobe Camera Raw
We’ve found with some consistency that overall color rendition and auto white balance performance could stand to be improved on the Sony a9 for its out-of-camera files.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Sony a9 by now – indeed, we’ve been covering as many details as we responsibly can before having a final review unit of our own. But since we’ve just been given full support from Adobe, it’s time for a closer look at the a9’s image quality, but this time we can compare the Raw files to the out-of-camera JPEGs to see how they stack up.

To start, the Raw files from the Sony a9 are just what we’d expect from a latest-generation Sony sensor. Noise appears to be well-controlled, and they’re very malleable, even at the high ISO values we found ourselves shooting at. However, processing the Raws has also given me a greater perspective on both the strong and weak points of Sony’s JPEG engine.

The noise (or lack thereof)

Sony’s context-sensitive noise reduction works very well at keeping noise in check while retaining detail at its default settings. However, I found that the a9’s processing can at times look a little heavy-handed to me at its default settings, which we typically use. In processing out the Raws in Adobe Camera Raw, I ended up with an image that is technically noisier because its processing isn’t as sophisticated, but it comes with a little more ‘bite’ (though this may well be due to the increase in perceived sharpness that a bit of grain can provide).

At smaller viewing sizes, I found the Raw-processed images which have more visible grain to have just a bit more ‘bite,’ with the out-of-camera JPEG looking a little ‘waxy’ in comparison. That said, Sony’s algorithm does an outstanding job controlling distracting noise in the background and maintaining crisp edges, like along the athlete’s shirt and arm (and this is an ISO 8000 image).

It comes down to personal taste of course, but I personally don’t mind trading a little noise for a crisper image, and given the time, it’s likely I would be able to find a better balance of in-camera settings. If you’re going to be using the JPEGs from the a9, it’s worth spending some time with the a9’s noise reduction and sharpening settings to find what works best for you.

The noise reduction isn’t likely to be a deal breaker for a lot of people who need to shoot JPEGs for web viewing. No, the real trouble continues to lie in Sony’s color output.

The color

Out-of-camera JPEG Processed to taste from Adobe Camera Raw
The out-of-camera file shows a purple ping-pong table – it was not purple. It was a deep blue.

We’ve not been wild about Sony’s color for a while now, which generally skew towards greenish yellows and cool greens – for an example of the latter, simply look at the track in the background in the above image (and there’s many more examples in the gallery). And as we’ve seen from the noise example in the previous section, sophisticated sharpening algorithms are of more limited importance when viewing at small sizes on the web, while quality of color is arguably going to have more of an impact.

These issues with color are exacerbated with auto white balance that struggled under artificial light (see the skaters at the top of the page). Sure, it’s not difficult to dial in a custom white balance for a sideline photographer shooting under the same light all evening, but it’s something to note nonetheless as auto white balance can be valuable for fast-moving photographers in fast-changing situations.

Updated samples gallery

And that brings us to our samples gallery, which has been updated and re-ordered to make it easy to compare the out-of-camera images (which come first) and the JPEGs processed out from Raw files. 

Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don’t abuse it.

Sony a9 real world samples gallery

100 images • Posted on Apr 27, 2017 • View album
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