Sony SLT-A77 Camera Review

Sony has not had the success of Nikon and Canon in the digital SLR market. Their older A700 was a complete flop, getting little attention when it was released a few years ago. For the A77, Sony went back to the drawing board and built something that is technically impressive and advanced. While it might look like a traditional digital SLR it is definitely something else—Sony’s “translucent mirror” technology is the bedrock of the A77. Most impressive is an electronic view finder (EVF) that actually works, allowing users to see what images will look like before they are shot.

The A77 comes with an impress specification sheet. At the top of the list is a 24 megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor, followed by the 2.4m dot OLED view finder. It will also shoot at an impressive 12 frames-per-second accurately thanks to a 19-point AF sensor with 11 cross-type points. The autofocus really shines on this camera—it is able to use phase-detection autofocus all the time. It can focus while shooting 10-12 fps and it will track moving subjects while shooting in live view and in video mode.

There were 56 real customer reviews of the Sony SLT-A77 all giving it 4-5 star rating if you would like to read these reviews you can do so here

For the media and social network savvy crowd, the A77 includes in-camera GPS. Images shot can be geographically located in social media tagging. This feature defines the heart of Sony’s SLT-A77 concept. They want to appeal to the consumer who shoots photos for fun and is familiar with the technology offered in point-and-shoot cameras and smart phones. The A77 is going to appeal to the photographer who might be moving up from a point and shoot into the world of digital SLR photography. It offers a huge sensor and image quality that rivals most all of its main competitors. It does not hold back when it comes to technological innovation. The Sony system is, however, underdeveloped so this camera is not going to be for the working professional. It is a great platform for someone new to photography who likes shooting in live view mode and previewing what images will look like through an EVF. The A77 have good potential as a learning tool because you will be able to more immediately see the results of exposure setting adjustments.

Sony A77 24.3 MP Digital SLR with Translucent Mirror Technology - Body Only

Specifications:

-24 megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor

-12 frames-per-second continuous shooting (works with autofocus)

-high definition 1080p video at 60fps (works with autofocus)

-2,400,000 dot OLED viewfinder

-1/8000th max shutter speed

-ISO 100-16000 (multi-image option of 25600)

-tilt/swivel/pull out 920,000 dot LCD screen

-built-in GPS

-Stereo microphone onboard and external mic input

Technical Notes:

Most functions can be controlled by external controls that adjust various exposure and camera settings. Sony added a top-panel LCD that allows you to see exposure information in a more traditional area. The A77 has an Alpha hotshoe for external flash, connectors for flash sync, an external mic, remote and HDMI. The battery is an FM500H. It is older but it is still tested at 530 exposures while using the rear display or 470 with using the electronic viewfinder.

Electronic View Finder Performance

Sony has been waiting for a while on the development of a functional full-featured EVF. Electronic view finders have never performed well enough to rival the optical view finders of high-end SLRs. The A77 breaks this trend. Older EVFs only displayed 800x600 pixels. When the camera was moved quickly, these view finders would show streaks of color that were distracting and problematic. The new EVF provides a 1024x768 display and it doesn’t streak when moved quickly.

SONY_SLT-A77_html_mfb32391The best feature of the EVF, and the true advantage over optical viewfinders, is the ability to preview images before they are shot. The EVF in the A77 transmits all of the exposure settings—aperture, white balance, ISO, etc—to your eye so you can view the final image before you click the shutter release. It is an excellent feature that optical view finders will never be able to match.

Another interesting aspect of the EVF is that is offers 100% coverage of the final image. What you see in the view finder is what your image is going to be. In the APS-C sensor rivals of the SLR world, the viewfinder crops the image slightly. This effect is present even on full-frame digital SLRs. A slight cropping effect in the viewfinder makes the image you see before you shoot larger after it is exposed. The result of a non-cropping 100% view EVF on the A77 is that you will be able to compose shots that appear in the viewfinder exactly how they will appear later in post-processing. This is a great feature for photographers who really take the time to compose images properly and another step toward making the A77 a quality learning tool.

Handling and Body Style

The SLT-A77 is comfortable to hold and use, even for long periods of time. The filp/tilt live view screen makes waist level video or still shooting a breeze and a good creative tool. Full-time live view is an interesting addition for video shooting. It makes a world of difference to have two view options while shooting video.

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There are a ton of controls on the A77, but they are well organized and logically positioned. There is a little bit of lag, however, when using the menu to change settings. It also takes a half second for the top and rear LCD to display information changed by analog input. T

General Performance and Image Quality

The operational speed of the A77 is a definite bonus. A 12 frame-per-second max frame rate is a feature that impresses just about everyone. Sony accomplishes 12 fps through its fixed mirror SLT design and the location of its phase-detection AF sensor. Phase-detection and cross-type AF points are already fast—they are features the digital SLR market has been going to for speed for a while now.

Sony gets ahead by removing the prism that is needed for an optical viewfinder. They put the AF sensor array at the top of the camera, in the place of the prism the A77 does not need due to an EVF. There is a fixed semi-transparent mirror which constantly sends images to the AF sensor. Previously, digital SLRs had to wait for a mirror to get out of the way because making an exposure. Sony discovered that it is easier to make a shutter that opens and closes quickly—at 10 or 12 fps—than it is to make a mirror that can flip out of the way at that speed. The result is a camera that is blazing fast.

The autofocus performance of the A77 is good. When subjects and backgrounds have similar patterns and colors, it starts to have trouble. This is particularly a problem when shooting action shots. The Object Tracking Function provided works OK. It is far from perfect. When shooting fast subjects it cannot track at all. Basically, the A77 is not going to work for action photography. The autofocus will get you by, but it is a big step away from being as good a tracking action subjects as a cameras like the Nikon D7000 or the Canon 7D.

Image quality with the A77 is suburb—but that is to be expected from an expensive camera. It has one of the largest image sensors offered in an APS-C camera—the same sensor that produces great images in the Sony NEX-7. Photos are sharp—they fall off a little bit at the corners, becoming softer; colors are crisp and clear; shadows and details are well reproduced.

In camera image stabilization works to keep your pictures crisp even while shooting at long focal lengths or hand holding in low-light situations. Overall low-light performance meets expectations, but does not set any new standards for digital photography. While native ISO reaches up to 16000, images produced there are far from ideal. At around ISO 800 and one stop up at 1600, high ISO noise starts to become visible. It is a real problem above ISO 8000—where images essentially become unusable even for most web publishing applications.

Lens Compensation” Corrections

The Sony SLT-A77 includes several in-camera corrections that reduces various optical problems present in the Sony line of lenses. All corrections work as advertised and improve the quality of final images. Chromatic aberration (CA) compensation is automatically applied to images. It works to reduce color fringing in images. Lens distortion compensation is automatic as well and significantly reduces lens barrel distortion. It is not turned on by default. Vignetting and Shading compensation works to produce images of solid continuous brightness. Some lenses in the Sony lineup produce significant darkness at the sides and corners and shading compensation does a good job of removing these brightness inconsistencies.

Video Performance

HD video at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second is definitely a wow factor. The A77 delivers good video quality and a variety of shooting modes. While there are several manual and priority modes, you can oly use the autofocus continuously while shooting in priority AE mode. The AF does work well and tracks subjects without losing focus. It is a good feature to have after you get over the fact that you can only use AE priority more.

An advantage to having an EVF is that video can be shot using live view or the view finder. This is something that can’t be accomplished in a traditional digital SLR and it is a great feature that improves video handling by a fair margin.

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Conclusion

The Sony SLT-A77 is an impressive camera. The electronic viewfinder is what really makes it shine—it is the first time a camera has included an EVF that functions just as well as a high-end optical viewfinder. Autofocus that is fast and responsive is a good benefit, even if it does not track fast and erratic subjects well. Continuous shooting performance is great—as it has to be with a maximum 12 fps. The in-camera GPS is an interesting feature that will make social networking users happy. The camera is overall, fast and responsive. It is built tell and feels like a quality photography instrument.

The A77 does have a few downfalls. Despite a high frame rate you shouldn’t consider this camera for sports or action photography. Not only does it lack the ability to track fast moving subjects with the reliability of similarly priced digital SLRs from Nikon and Canon, but it lacks the large number of lens options and accessories that the major brands have. Don’t let the 12 frames-per-second fool you. A Canon EOS 7D might not have 12 fps, but it is definitely fast enough for most every sports application. It is also pretty noisy at high ISO settings, with images being just about unusable over ISO 8000. The menu system is difficult to work through and the A77 lags when you change setting through the menu.

This camera is perfect for someone invested in the Sony alpha system. A current Alpha SLT photographer looking to upgrade to a new body will be well at home with the new features of the A77. There aren’t very many photographers that will run out and switch systems to get this camera. The EVF is perhaps the most impressive feature. It would be the 12 fps continuous shooting, but the camera just can’t keep up when it comes to focus tracking and disseminating between subject and background.

Moviemakers might like the 1080p video mode at 60 frames-per-second, but it is difficult to recommend this camera for extensive creative video operation due to the challenging exposure settings. If you can only shoot video on program AE mode, it is going to eventually be creatively limiting.

Overall, the A77 is a quality camera. Its big image sensor produces sharp images at normal ISO ranges. The EVF is an innovation in photography. It just might take a few more years of development before the Alpha system really takes off. If you are a current Alpha user, this camera is great. If you aren’t then the only reason to switch to a Sony camera is to use a platform that is great for learning photography or to experience the electronic view finder.

All photos © 2012 Sony Corporation of America