A99 interweb video test part 1 – Sony’s flagship A99 vs. the Olympus EM5

***NOTE*** This test was performed with TWO separate copies of the A99.  Yes, I was so disappointed by the video from my first A99, I thought it was defective.  So I returned it and got the same crappy results with A99 #2.  Looking at other A99 videos across the web, its not me or my two copies, it’s the A99.  On to my story…

I discovered some issues with the video output of the Sony A99 after shooting some test video.  I alluded to this in my last A99 post, but I didn’t mention specifics beyond the fact that its absolutely terrible.  The issue is twofold – its really, really soft and the aliasing (straight lines look jagged, not smooth) and moiré (fine patterns like fabrics or roof shingles create that weird wave of color) is the worst I’ve ever seen.  Some complain about how soft the 5d3’s video looks out of the camera, but it can be sharpened nicely in post.  The A99’s video gets a little better after sharpening, but its still really bad.

To make matters worse, Sony chooses to milk the outdated AVCHD codec for another generation of cameras instead of offering a new video codec with higher bitrates.   Canon and Panasonic upped the bitrates with the 5d3 and GH3 respectively and it shows in post, you have more latitude for sharpening and color correction.  Compared to the 5d3, I can only apply about half the amount of sharpening with the A99’s video before artifacts show up.  Part of Canon’s softness is the aggressive stance Canon took against moiré and aliasing – video from the 5d3 is the best of any DSLR in that regard.  With the A99 it’s the worst of both worlds – its soft and full of aliasing and moiré.

I wanted something more concrete than just plugging the camera into my TV and being very disappointed by what I see, so I decided to have another interweb shootout while working on my mega EVIL camera shootout.  I decided to shoot the same subjects with the A99 and the Olympus EM5.  The A99 had a $2000 Zeiss 24-70/2.8 zoom while the EM5 had the cheap 14-42mm plastic kit lens.  I figured it would be a complete beat down – and it was – just not the results one would expect.

I kept it simple by with a few wide shots outside and a still life I threw together with random items from the recycle bin and a few books.  I just wanted to see how each camera renders fine detail.  I took a manually focused still frame, using focus magnify to confirm critical focus, before hitting the video record button to make sure each shot had optimal sharpness.  Watch at full screen, 1080p or on a TV to see the difference.  The moiré on the roof is horrible on the A99, and there’s absolutely no detail.  It looks like a watercolor, not full HD video. Blech.  Compare the foliage and trees, there’s so much more detail in the EM5 shots.  I even ran through the focal range, if you really want to nit-pick you can scroll frame-by-frame to find the sharpest point of the sequence.  Its pretty easy with the A99, just look for the moiré pattern on the roof, that’s the sharpest part of the focal range.  Blech again.  In the still life, bounce between the A99 sharpened shot and the EM5 shot, the difference is easy to see.

The EM5 was easily better in every way; it’s a surprisingly capable video machine.  The little Olympus, with its very limited video capabilities, completely trounced the A99.  I tend to shoot mostly wide shots with deep depth of field (DOF) and close-ups with shallow DOF.  The A99 looked good in the shallow DOF shots, but wide shots are dreadful.  The A99 will leave a bad taste in your mouth if you plan on shooting wide, especially when you think about what it costs compared to its little brother – the Nex5n.  Yes the little Nex’s video also trounces the A99… at one-tenth the price and I have the video to prove it. Ouch.

For some reason the Sony defenders on the web want to try and find flaws with my test, but its pretty straight forward — for video the A99 flat out sucks.  Period.  I have more tests that show similar results.  Its sad really, because Sony got so much right with the design and shooting ergonomics of the A99.  Control-wise it’s one of the best cameras I’ve ever used, simply brilliant.  Stay tuned…

So tell me what you think of the EM5 video vs. the A99.  Thanks for stopping by.

chris

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