More Notes On The Sony a77. MFNR. Good?

The interesting thing about modern cameras is the wealth of hidden features.  Most you think you'll never be interested in.  I remember when Nikon stuck video in the D90.  All the stodgy photographers groused about having "to pay extra for a feature no one will ever use."  Fast forward to today and now contemporary photographers are switching back and forth between video and still imaging with reckless abandon.  People laughed about "eye-selection" auto focus in the Olympus EP3 until they experienced perfect portrait focus with their 45mm 1.8 lenses.  The most recent burst of exuberant extras came to me in the form of a Sony a77 camera.  It has lots and lots of "extras." 

I played with one of them today.  It's called Multi-Frame Noise Reduction.  It does something that Kodak introduced in their SLR/n full frame digital camera in 2004 (go Kodak !!!).  You switch the ISO to MFNR, set the ISO you want to use, and then hold the camera still and point it at a non-moving subject. The camera shoots a fast burst of images and then electronically stacks and merges them to kick out anomalous noise.  Being an old fashion, conservative, stuck in the mud, photographer I presumed that I'd need a tripod to make this work which would confine the feature to studio shoots or low light landscapes, with the camera held rigid on a heavy perch.

But I was feeling all saucy and Hipsteramic and I set the camera's ISO menu to MFNB @ 3200 and I pointed it at my friend, Will, and blazed away. Handheld.  The camera banged through a bunch of frames in a fraction of a second and then went into "processing" mode.  When it finished I pressed the review button expecting to see a mess of frames (I had been drinking strong coffee...) but what I got was a perfect exposure of Will's face with no grain or noise.  None.  I converted the image to black and white in Lightroom, just for fun.

Now, here's the kicker:  I shot the image with an 80mm 2.8 Zeiss Planar.  I took it off the front of my Hasselblad. I used an adapter to put it on the Sony.  I like the focal length and the way it renders stuff so much I might have it spot welded to one of the a77 bodies (hyperbole alert for those with Asperger's Syndrome.  I won't have it spot welded to the camera.  I was using an extreme statement for emphasis about my positive feelings for the lens in question ).  

Where the image is in focus the sharpness on Will's image is high and the contrast is good.

And that led me on a shooting frenzy so the close by coffee cup and wine glass were easy targets....

 The sample of the two glasses above was done at ISO 250 with no MFNR.
The sample directly above was shot with the camera set to MFNR @ ISO 3200.  Works for me!

The neat thing about "extras" on cameras is that they are mostly just firmware that someone in the camera company has come up with.  The manufacturers don't need to add complexity in production or add more parts.  It doesn't really add cost the product but for some people it adds a valuable tool.  You can even use MFNR at low ISO's for potential absolutely noise free still life work.  How nice.
But if you fall profoundly into the gear curmudgeon, "you'll pry my eye from the optical viewfinder when I'm cold and dead" camp you can just ignore the feature and pretend that it doesn't exist.

I like it and it rocks.  I also like putting those MF lenses on the a77's.  They are cool to look at and they make a cool look.

There's more stuff to try.  Bye.


FotoEdge said...

I am glad you are sharing these experiments and images... I read so much negative opinions about high noise over 800 ASA on web reviews for the Sony A77. I would like to use a camera for stock I shoot for Getty & text book publishers that would give me larger files without all the expense of the new Canon and Nikon Full frames. I do like the articulating Screen and EVF and the 16-50mm F2.8 that comes in a kit for $2000... The menu system does seem logical as do all the controls and buttons. I shoot the E-P3 but often need larger images. This does seem like a great value that will have saturated colors and snappy pictures. Thanks for using an odd ball system that has been bad mouthed and ignored by so many. I would much rather not shoot with the same gear that 80% of the shooters use. I always question authorities and the status quo! PS... You do have a great eye and your pictures are memorable!

Art in LA said...

Wow, I was hoping to skip a generation of Sony cams ... been very happy with my A700 and A55. MFNR may push me over the edge. Just don't tell my wife!

Ann Mackay said...

I'm following your comments on the A77 with great interest and wondering what it would be like with my Mamiya 645 lenses... Looking forward to the next experiment!

kirk tuck said...

Reading the manual is a good way to unlock features. I recommend it. Often.

Neil Partridge said...

My (admittedly knee-jerk) reaction to many new features is that they are unnecessary and will get in the way of taking pictures. I am so often wrong.... eye focus & MFNR look like they allow you more time to look around you and work with the subject... which can only be a good thing.

Your friend Will is a real looker, the kind of face that makes me want to go shoot some pictures. No amount of photoshop jiggerypokery and "presets" can create that kind of patina in a face.

Have you ever thought of compiling a book of your "photographic philosophy"? A collection of essays of course punctuated with photos... something to pick up and dip into when one needs reassurance, guidance..... or something to disagree with. Thanks as always for the posts.

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Neil. Will is kind of a mentor to me and I love his face. I too have kneejerk reactions to new tech, but find that some of it sticks and workds.

My designer and I are currently selecting essays from the blog and images and designing them into an e-book. We're also looking at a "publishing on demand" solution for printed copies. Thanks for adding enthusiasm to our venture..

christopheru said...

My Fujifilm X-10 does the exact same trick (shoot a burst and blend them) and it works really well. So well in fact that it is my default for shooting non moving subjects in low light. I did not know (or clue in to anyway) that the Sony did the same thing. Interesting.

camerakungfu said...

Years ago I used to bemaon such "add ons". But I have to say I've been playing with my new NEX-7 and there are some things I'm using that I never though I would. The biggest one for me is the sweep panorama. I've never been a pano shooter and never had the will to combine images in post. The sweep makes it so easy and I get a large usable jpg. Hell, I've even sold a couple. It just takes letting go of tradition and trying something new, what could possibly go wrong?

ohnostudio said...

Geez now I'm going to have to pull out the manual on my old Kodak SLR/n. It's something I've never tried with the still trusty old camera. You're right "Go Kodak". I still love that old camera that I affectionately call the Fat Bastard.

toolfan421 said...

hello kirk and all. i atm own an a33 with a few lenses. i picked up my first dslr last fathers day and MFNR was one of the first features that caught my eye. perhaps it was necessity that was the driving force (a33 has beyond poor iso performance) but im glad its there either way. sure its not much for action photography, but it is amazing in its element. i have also begun combining it with PP work. i recently took 5 MFNR files, a total of 30 in camera shots, then i used photoshop to blend all 5 into one ultra low noise photo. i did use a tripod in order to get each seperate MFNR aligned, but it would b the same for any standard long exposure. all frames were at 12,800iso on one of the poorest low light models sony makes. heres the link, they r the two comparisons near the bottom of the thread. http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1036&thread=41124270 . really amazing stuff, why anybody wouldnt jump at this tech is beyond me.

The Raven said...

Good to find this, thank you, I'm off to a Christmas fair tonight in the dark and am wanting to try some street photography and this is a perfect way with my A65, thank you for the run through!