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Thread: The A7r versus MFDB

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    The A7r versus MFDB

    Ever since I got the A7r five months ago, I've been wondering how well its files would print compared to my Phase DF and IQ180 back. Today, being a bit bored with our poor weather, I decided to find out.



    I mounted the FE 55 mm f1.8 on the Sony and exposed at f8, ISO 200.
    The Phase was equipped with SK 80 mm LS lens also set at f8 and ISO 200. Although both cameras were Gitzo-and-Cube mounted I felt the higher ISO was needed because it was a bit breezy and I wanted to freeze the trees.

    As you can see, the horizontal field of view is almost identical with the 80 mm SK lens providing a slightly wider field of view. Exposure was "the right" as light as possible without losing the detail of the white lighthouse. Both files were processed in C1 at defaults; no additional sharpening was performed.

    Because most of the prints I sell are around 30-50 inches wide I decided (arbitrarily) to print to 36 inches at 300 dpi on a 16 inch roll, cropping the pics to 7 inches high. As most of the rest of the frames were sky or water there didn't seem much point in printing those bits too.

    I printed on a Canon Image Prograf at 16 bits on Epson Premium Luster.

    Here's what I see in the prints.

    1. To my surprise, given the DXO scores, the MFDB file has clearly greater dynamic range - I think one can see this even in the jpeg above.

    2. There is better detail and micro contrast in the MF file - but the difference is not huge. The Sony files hold up extremely well.

    3. The MF file is more accurate as respects colour.

    4. A 36 inch print isn't far off the native size of the Sony file but as size increases the MF will surpass it. I made several prints from a 50% crop and MF was clearly ahead as one would expect.

    My conclusion is that up to 36 inches, the Sony file is just about as good as the MF for resolution. Beyond that, no contest!

    Just some fun !
    Bill CB

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Thank you for investing this effort and sharing the findings with us!

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Bill,

    Of course, the question is how many people print bigger than 36" wide? Thats roughly the max width of a print on an Epson 7900 printer. As a Hassy owner I'm glad MF wins out, but the A7r is more versatile day to day. With a future 50mp A8r or whatever, I can see little purpose to MF in many outdoor situations unless tilt / shift is needed.

    Interesting.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Good question Quentin, I'd say 50% of my prints are in the 30x40 range while the other 50% are 40x50, 30x60 or larger panos. A lot depends on the subject matter.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    thanks for the comparison. It is good to know the A7r is getting up there with MF cameras

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Tests I did a while back with the D800 versus IQ 180 suggested strongly to me that the smaller sensor had better DR but that it was distributed differently and required different curves in post to bring it out, and usually a different exposure too...
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    The fact that a D800, D800E, or A7R with good glass and good technique 'gets there' on large prints (or very close) when compared to late model MFD, is really quite something, isn't it? Given the cavernous price delta between these systems, I would expect the MFD rig to maybe make me dinner once in a while.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    I should remind you all that the FE 55mm I used in the test is one of the sharpest available in this format.

    I have found making large prints with the FE 24-70 OSS is more problematic. This shot (which I have shown here before) begins to fall apart at 36 inches!

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Even at such a small size you can see a high difference in detail. It would be nice to see how the A7r compares to the 40MP backs as the resolution is a bit closer. I'm sure the MF would still win but wonder by how much.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Caulfeild-Browne View Post

    beautiful picture, Bill
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Bill, I'd be interested in your comments on the accuracy of reported ISO levels on the DxO website, which indicate huge overstatement by P1 at ISO 200; and everywhere else for that matter:

    Sony A7R versus Phase One IQ180 Digital Back - Side by side camera comparison - DxOMark

    I know less than nothing about MFD - in the DxO chart, the a7r at measured ISO73 (claimed ISO100) gives a DR of 14.07 stops; the P1 at measured ISO60 (claimed ISO200) gives a DR figure of 12.55 stops.

    At the same aperture, the s/speeds or histograms might tell you a story, as Sony's ISO200 is actual 148, very different to P1's 60. Or else DxO's data are suspect, of course. Come what may, I keep advising users to use the lowest ISO they can on the a7r (or any Sony FF), you pick up a stop going from 200 to 100, and get a 'denser' looking file, very robust too.

    Either way, we can very likely agree the a7r sensor has huge reserves of DR, and on the other measures it matches or beats the back at higher than ISO100, both being very linear. It also has fine shadow recovery if you wish to expose more normally to retain more of the highlight tone range, and lift shadows a little. I like the topmost of these images, but I 'see blue' due to decades in the back country in low light.

    It's a fine little camera, and a very fine 55mm lens - if they can produce just a few more as good, FE is likely to have a very rosy future. Thanks so much for posting!

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Bill

    Great that you are able to use both side by side, exciting times for all photographers, the equipment is so good at both ends of the scale, shame I don't get help with what I point it at!

    I have a question regarding your process and I guess for all you guys who test this stuff. I often see statements like "Both files were processed in C1 at defaults; no additional sharpening was performed" and "straight from the camera" or whatever, is there a reason for that? I ask because to my mind, the camera technology has improved greatly but it's nothing without proper processing and by not working to optimise a shot in post then all you're really showing is C1's or Lightrooms default processing of a RAW file. Having done a lot of experimenting with my own images, I have found that the biggest change in my own work has been switching to C1, it blows me away but not necessarily when I open the file.

    I could be wrong but to my mind, modern software gives you the tools but doesn't necessarily do the job for you, just opening the file and printing it seems like such a waste.

    Why don't people testing stuff just process the file to it's full potential? I want to see what the A7r and 180 can really do side by side, I want to see the finished image and see what the differences are on a shot you'd be happy to sell. As it is, what's being shown is simply the processors interpretation of the file with no input from the shooter. In these shots Bill, is the difference with proper curves, sharpening and processing bigger or smaller between the 2 files, it would seem more relevant?

    I may be missing the point with these tests and I'm sorry if that's the case, I get frustrated when I see posts that proudly show a file straight from the camera, surely having spent huge amounts of money on a camera people would want to process it properly? Why do people show a finished shot and then show what they call "the RAW file unprocessed" it just seems so irrelevant, it's data and all they are showing is their processing softwares starting point.

    That sounds like a rant, not meant to be honestly, just a question about how people test!

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Thanks for that Bill.

    As for the economic side of things, the IQ180 alone leaves a 45K hole in your account if I am not mistaken, gaining what percentage in return in image quality?

    I think you answered this from a quite practical point of view here. As for the larger print requirements, Chiek's technical A7R adaptation would be one possible answer.

    The next iteration of the A7R might close that already small gap even further, I would not be astonished.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    I was thinking the same at Mat. The colour profile for the A7r in C1 is IMO awful and the sharpening, as with every camera, needs to be carefully controlled. The curve provided by C1 as standard for either camera can hardly be assumed to be the last word as to the DR of the camera. The test is useful but not using C1 defaults as a baseline.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Y'all make good points! My original goal was to do a quick & dirty comparison with as little human intervention as possible - but of course the results are heavily influenced by the raw converter. For example, the shadows in the Sony file could have been easily lifted to make it resemble the MF file more closely.

    I'm going to do a further comparison where I'll expose at the best ISO for each camera, the optimum aperture for each lens and then process each the best way I know how!

    Interesting though, that when my wife happened to glance at the prints I made yesterday, she exclaimed "Isn't that one so much clearer!". She was looking at the MF print.

    Stay tuned.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    OK, so here's another approach! A rather dull misty day but very little wind to move the trees around. I set up the cameras with their optimum ISOs and apertures. I exposed so the lighthouse was on the verge of clipping.

    Note that my qualitative comments are from poring over the prints, not the screen.

    A7r with FE 55, at F 5.6, ISO 100.
    IQ180 with SK 80 LS at F8, ISO 35.

    In both cases I used C1 to wring the most out of the files (bringing up shadow detail primarily.) I corrected for purple fringing and aberrations though the SK lens was automatically adjusted in C1. I sharpened for inkjet printing. I think the files were about as good resolution-wise as I could make them.

    The 36 inch prints, like yesterday, were hard to tell apart and I haven't shown them again. The DR is excellent in both cases, holding all the detail in the lighthouse and in the dark areas under the trees. The Phase file is superior with a loupe but at normal viewing distance there's little discernible difference.

    I then printed a crop of roughly half the frame, which would be the equivalent of a 60 inch print.



    This time there is no contest. The Phase file is crisp and clean and the sign on the left side is easily legible, whereas it cannot be read in the Sony file. The sky has a subtle gradation not present in the Sony file. The bare trees and the communication mast are a bit fuzzy in the Sony print but crystal clear in the Phase print.

    My conclusion is the same as yesterday - up to 36 inches, with the FE 55 lens, the Sony holds it's own. For the bigger print, let's just say I'm not giving up my MFDB!
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Morning Bill

    Sorry if I sounded a little short in my post yesterday, maybe I just don't understand the whole approach to testing but to my mind, this is so much more valuable as a guide to what can be produced by the different equipment.

    In the real world we'd only ever shoot at optimum aperture for the scene and equipment and we'd process the file to our taste, testing by not doing that in an effort to get a standard shot to compare against just doesn't make any sense to me.

    In this case, even on these small jpegs you posted it's clear there's a difference, it's great to know that printed up to 36" there is little in it and for those not printing larger than that then if final print is the main consideration it's clear that MF is not the only option, great for all of us who don't have the cash for these higher mp backs.

    Thanks for going to the effort!

    Mat

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Caulfeild-Browne View Post
    The sky has a subtle gradation not present in the Sony file.
    Perhaps I am wrong, I would explain this with the higher bit depth of the Phase files, as a result there is a smoother color graduation.

    With 14 bit you get 16,383 tones per channel per pixel, and with 16 bit a significant higher count of 65,532.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by Georg Baumann View Post
    Perhaps I am wrong, I would explain this with the higher bit depth of the Phase files, as a result there is a smoother color graduation.

    With 14 bit you get 16,383 tones per channel per pixel, and with 16 bit a significant higher count of 65,532.

    I'm not so sure, because the 16bits in MFDB is pretty much a marketing thing: Digital Medium Format / 35mm equiv difference - FM Forums

    That being said, the A7R's raw files are compressed, and that could be the difference. They are essentially what the "cRAW" option used to be on the A900.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by douglasf13 View Post
    ... the A7R's raw files are compressed, and that could be the difference.
    That could be at least one of contributing factors, if not only one.
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Thanks Bill for the second test! I also believe the compression really isn't helping. I've noticed the highlight graduations too in my own tests between the D800e and the Aptus II-8. It's very subtle but there. I wonder if it's just bigger pixels on a bigger chip? Or is it CCD?
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    To me, looking at the images above, the most important difference is the colors. The Phase colors are more natural.

    Now, this could have everything to do with the color profile(s) used while developing. I've stopped using the "Adobe Standard" color profile w/ the A7 because it's just not realistic (I know Bill was using C1 so that's not directly applicable).
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor Sherman View Post
    To me, looking at the images above, the most important difference is the colors. The Phase colors are more natural.

    Now, this could have everything to do with the color profile(s) used while developing. I've stopped using the "Adobe Standard" color profile w/ the A7 because it's just not realistic (I know Bill was using C1 so that's not directly applicable).
    I would agree with this,the Phase color looks better...

    Rob

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Needless to say, Phase One's profile for the IQ180 OUGHT to be perfect!
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Thanks for the final processing version, Bill, a clear difference. I see it as more photorealism - a higher level of 'being there', that comes with higher resolution. The Phase sensor is a (very) low ISO monster.

    These guys below got similar results using a D800e against the IQ180:

    D800(E) vs IQ180 | The Circle of Confusion

    The next big thing arrives with the 44x33mm 50Mp Sony MF sensor, presumably with the same level of tech development as the a7r, so very nice ISO 6400 - but with 68% more sensor real estate - pixel dimensions will equal those of a 30Mp 24x36 camera.

    So please Sony, are you making an MF RX2 with a leaf-shuttered 45/2 Sonnar lens on that one, just scaled up a little? Everyone says you make cameras not lenses, so don't disappoint them - or us. MFD in your hand, an everywhere carry, choice of compressed files or not. Sony could thus keep their MFD customers happy and still own the high end compact camera market.

    And stick the 36Mp sensor in the present RX1 for good measure, so they can offer RX1/RX1r (24Mp) - RX1/RX1r (36mp) - RX2r (50Mp).

    Phase must be happy with any trade-off at the low end of ISO in this new sensor for them - gaining versatility for any loss in low ISO performance, unless Sony has made a further breakthrough, of course.

    IQ250 Back Announced

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by douglasf13 View Post
    I'm not so sure, because the 16bits in MFDB is pretty much a marketing thing: Digital Medium Format / 35mm equiv difference - FM Forums

    That being said, the A7R's raw files are compressed, and that could be the difference. They are essentially what the "cRAW" option used to be on the A900.
    Pheew. Thanks Douglas, I guess I have to revisit this thread after breakfast, it is a little hard to digest on an empty stomach.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Listening to that LL interview re the new 50Mp sensor, the Phase team remark that the noise even at high ISO (with some paraphrasing):

    "the behaviour, the nature and how we treat the noise, it's interesting noise, like a silky noise that (waves arms) seems to merge with the image rather than ugly noise...old one I would not use at more than 200 to 400, now I am easily shooting at 6400...that's 32 times up."

    On CCD to CMOS: we can achieve exactly the same thing, when you see it you will really get blown away...we would of course very much prefer to have a full size (MFD) CMOS chip...I shoot at ISOs so I can capture things I have never been able to capture, before I had to use a tripod...it's really amazing...it will help wedding photographers...heat is not a problem, not at all, compared with CCD...we've started to explore into the video world...this is like 8k...we are not there yet...14 stops DR (a7r=14.1 stops)"

    So the feedback from these guys is very enthusiastic.
    What Sony could do with optimisation for an 'RX1' type of camera would appear to be pretty special wrt microlenses and assembly. The noise character is a good description of the 24mp and 36mp sensors, as well. It looks like being a 68% higher res version of the a7r part.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Yup that's the second thing I noticed ;
    Quote Originally Posted by Taylor Sherman View Post
    To me, looking at the images above, the most important difference is the colors.
    In fact to my eyes the top prints (from both tests) look "purple", and that's something that very often pops out at me from a wide range of Sony photos ... and it shouldn't because everyone's processing them differently. and whitebalance can't be blamed in files processed from RAW.
    But still ... I see it often.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    It took me about a week to find my setup for the Sony A7r.
    I tried Aperture first, then switched to CaptureOne and finally landed at Lightroom. That worked by far best.
    Especially as I am now using a lot of old Canon FD Glass which is amazing but has some longitudinal chromas and lightroom´s new chroma control is totally superior to both Aperture and C1.

    The sharpening needs also twiddling and the curves for the lower ISO´s of the Sony also need tweeking, but after that ....?

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Given the cavernous price delta between these systems, I would expect the MFD rig to maybe make me dinner once in a while.

    How many of us take perfect shots every time? Yes, this is more likely to happen when there is no pressure, no imposition of other demands apart from following the light, and no need to try and squeeze orange juice out of a lemon if the light happens to be awful, the distractions too many, the client too stupid, or the concentration not what it should be.

    For this reason I would be quite interested to know how the A7 file compares to the MFDB file when you have to squeeze and twist curves, exposure, etc etc in post to salvage an image that in the original form leaves a lot to be desired?

    Now if one of these two camera types can do that significantly better than the other then it would really make me dinner once in a while

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Quote Originally Posted by mjr View Post
    I have a question regarding your process and I guess for all you guys who test this stuff. I often see statements like "Both files were processed in C1 at defaults; no additional sharpening was performed" and "straight from the camera" or whatever, is there a reason for that? I ask because to my mind, the camera technology has improved greatly but it's nothing without proper processing and by not working to optimise a shot in post then all you're really showing is C1's or Lightrooms default processing of a RAW file. Having done a lot of experimenting with my own images, I have found that the biggest change in my own work has been switching to C1, it blows me away but not necessarily when I open the file.

    I could be wrong but to my mind, modern software gives you the tools but doesn't necessarily do the job for you, just opening the file and printing it seems like such a waste.
    Mat, because you want to see what each camera does. If each is processed, you have no idea what was the camera/lens and what was the processing. The idea is not to make an ideal or even final image, but to make a baseline image that shows the difference in how each camera performs.

    Then comes the analysis of the images, which will be based on the experience of the observer (you) to know whether the difference is significant and could be improved with processing or just whether one is actually "better" than the other. One problem I have with all these test is I have no idea what the original conditions or colors are. This is what makes testing like at DPreview preferable as the condition is far more standard and consistent. But Bill does not have that target and I am grateful for his time and effort.

    Processing is rather subjective. And to get two images from two different system to an ideal, it would require different processing. And would would still end up with two different results. And this starts to get more problematic as we don't know the skill of the person doing the processing. Those images would tell me nothing about the cameras. This is the problem with really slick images from a camera company--it tells you more about the skill of the photographer and nothing about the camera.

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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Hi Will

    I sort of understand what you are saying but honestly, I'm happy to accept that i don't get it!

    I don't believe that "to make a baseline image that shows the difference in how each camera performs"does in fact show how each camera performs, it's just showing how good or bad C1's default processing of RAW data is, it's showing no more than that. I read and see lots of images from different camera makes that are made or broken by which processor is used, producing a baseline image to see how each camera performs is impossible, especially in this case where it's a landscape. Saying that, it's only the rest of us that can get little but anecdotal information from a test like this, for Bill it's extremely important for all the reasons you mention, it's his scene, processed in his way and printed on his machine, he knows what he saw and what he wants from the shot. As he wanted to test what if any differences where visible in a good sized print, the only way to do it in my view is to process the shot how he wanted to, any other reference point is irrelevant because surely we all want the best from our files?

    I'm not against testing, in fact I agree that the target type of testing is more relevant in certain situations although I never do it myself. The target stuff removes interpretation from the equation, it's only showing resolution, sharpness etc. I understand those tests but I shoot what's relevant to me and process in my own way and decide based on that, mainly because the variables are so wide and varied that a single test means nothing. For example...

    I have a D800, D800E, Sony RX1 and a couple of older Canon bodies and lenses, in perfect light, landscape scene, the RX1 produces a nicer file to my eye than anything other than the Zeiss 21mm or 135mm on the D800E, any other combination is flat in comparison, thats as long as I want the 35mm focal length. If I'm shooting a portrait, the 135f2 beats everything in natural light, amazing but in the studio under strobes, the cheap 85 1.8 is incredibly sharp, in daylight it's flat and I hate it. etc. etc. I understand my kit enough to know that a certain situation benefits a certain piece of kit that may not work in another situation. I have a ipf6400 and I'm now printing a fairly large amount of images, at 24x36 I can get a nice image from all of my cameras, including my old Canon 20d if I take a shot that plays to its strengths.

    Anyway, I'm rambling. The test is great for Bill and interesting to comment on for the rest of us who aren't lucky enough to handle both cameras, I do lots of testing but see no relevance for others. The goal I guess for all of us is to do what we can with what we have and also to enjoy looking and discussing stuff that other people produce, it's all good!

    Enjoy your Sunday.

    Mat
    http://matrichardson.com/
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    Re: The A7r versus MFDB

    Considering my first digital SLR was a Fuji S1, with a 3.2mp sensor and only Jpeg files (no RAW), I'd say were are starting to see some progress


    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Caulfeild-Browne View Post
    OK, so here's another approach! A rather dull misty day but very little wind to move the trees around. I set up the cameras with their optimum ISOs and apertures. I exposed so the lighthouse was on the verge of clipping.

    Note that my qualitative comments are from poring over the prints, not the screen.

    A7r with FE 55, at F 5.6, ISO 100.
    IQ180 with SK 80 LS at F8, ISO 35.

    In both cases I used C1 to wring the most out of the files (bringing up shadow detail primarily.) I corrected for purple fringing and aberrations though the SK lens was automatically adjusted in C1. I sharpened for inkjet printing. I think the files were about as good resolution-wise as I could make them.

    The 36 inch prints, like yesterday, were hard to tell apart and I haven't shown them again. The DR is excellent in both cases, holding all the detail in the lighthouse and in the dark areas under the trees. The Phase file is superior with a loupe but at normal viewing distance there's little discernible difference.

    I then printed a crop of roughly half the frame, which would be the equivalent of a 60 inch print.



    This time there is no contest. The Phase file is crisp and clean and the sign on the left side is easily legible, whereas it cannot be read in the Sony file. The sky has a subtle gradation not present in the Sony file. The bare trees and the communication mast are a bit fuzzy in the Sony print but crystal clear in the Phase print.

    My conclusion is the same as yesterday - up to 36 inches, with the FE 55 lens, the Sony holds it's own. For the bigger print, let's just say I'm not giving up my MFDB!
    Quentin Bargate
    Director of Bargate Murray, Law Firm of the Year 2012 - 2017, ”leading individual”, Chambers HNW guide, 2017, Photographer
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