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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Noise

Raw vs. JPEG, ISO 1,600

Noise, ISO 6,400

Noise, ISO 12,800

Sharpness

Sharpness

Color

Color

Color, A500 vs. A550

Overall, the A500's noise reduction fares pretty well at midrange ISOs, though it still can't top that of the class-leading Pentax K-x. You can start seeing a little bit of detail degradation at ISO 800, but it's not bad through ISO 1,600. After that, the quality degrades visibly.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
You can probably eke a stop out of the A500 by shooting raw and not relying on the in-camera noise reduction; as is true of its generation of Sony dSLRs, the in-camera noise reduction isn't very good. This is a quick-and-dirty version processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
As you can see, by ISO 6400 there's not much you can do about the inherent noise in the photos except change your tradeoffs. But if you're going to use the images scaled down, they still look pretty good. (Top JPEG, bottom Raw. 1/60 sec, f5, spot meter, AWB, ISO 6400, 18-55mm lens at 18mm. ACR defaults plus Luminance NR 30, Luminance Detail 1, Color NR 35, Color Detail 50)
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
In a pinch, and for much smaller sizes--even at 50 percent it's visibly soft and noisy--ISO 12,800 can be serviceable. (1/60, f7.1, spot meter, AWB, ISO 12,800, 18-55mm lens at 27mm)
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The A500's kit lens can be quite sharp, though it's prone to a little bit of fringing on the highlights. (1/60 sec, f5, spot meter, AWB, ISO 200, 18-55mm lens at 35mm)
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Lens sharpness from a distance (as opposed to close up, like the previous shot) is OK, but not quite as good as I'd like. (1/400 sec, f13, evaluative metering, AWB, Standard Creative Style, 18-55mm lens at 55mm)
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Surprisingly The A500's JPEG color accuracy is a lot better than most of Sony's other consumer dSLRs, though like its siblings, the camera doesn't offer a natural/accurate color mode or a way to strip out all the color "enhancement" for JPEGs.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The A500 certainly renders nicely saturated and pleasing colors, though it has a bit of trouble with the deep pinks.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
I'm not sure what the actual algorithmic differences are between the A550 and A500's color handling, but the A500 renders significantly more accurate colors. Look at the purple flower (pink for the A550!) and the various reds. The A500's exposure is slightly darker, but that doesn't account for the hue shifts.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
Updated:
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