The eagerly anticipated Sony a77 is the first mid-range model in the Alpha range to adopt the translucent mirror design from its lower-spec cousin, the a35, and is an example of Sony’s dedication to this technology over the long-term in higher-spec models. Promising to deliver uninterrupted focusing and fast, continuous shooting, the a77 sounds like Sony’s most advanced D-SLT to date.
Features & build
With the a77, it’s clear Sony has gone back to the drawing board; gone is the square, blocky D-SLR design we’re used to seeing – this is one of the most attractive cameras Sony has produced.
However, looks aren’t everything and at its heart lies an all-new 24.3Mp CMOS APS-C sized-sensor, destined to work alongside Sony’s improved BIONZ image processing engine.
Producing 6000x4000 pixel files, the a77’s chip captures images in a native 3:2 aspect ratio, though 16:9 is also available, and augmenting this is an ISO range, which runs from 100 to 16,000. This can be expanded to ISO 50 and ISO 25,600 is also available in Multi Frame mode, which captures six images and then merges them, subtracting the irregular information to reduce the effects of Noise.
The newly-designed 16-50mm f/2.8 lens that comes with the a77 kit offers a 24-75mm film equivalent focal length and, as in previous generations of Sony D-SLRs, image stabilisation is in the form of the sensor-shift type rather than optical, allowing you to capture sharp images at shutter speeds of up to 4.5 stops slower than otherwise possible.
The significant technological development is the a77’s XGA OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF). Transmitting exactly what the sensor sees by offering 100% frame coverage, the EVF features an impressive 2,369k-dot resolution, and there’s a sensor just above it that detects when the camera is lifted to the eye. There’s still a Finder/LCD button though, if you prefer to select the EVF or the LCD screen manually. The screen itself is a 3in, 921k-dot model with a unique 3-way tilting design. It can be turned inwards for protection when not in use and it can be pulled out to practically any angle.
Elsewhere, there’s an LCD on the top-plate for referring to camera settings, with the menu button positioned below the Mode dial for quick access. New features don’t end here and the 19-point AF system with 11 cross-type sensors is out to impress. Designed with four AF area modes (Wide, Spot, Local and Zone), there’s the same amount of AF modes, selectable from the Focus Mode dial on the edge of the body. These include AF-A (Auto), AF-C (Continuous), AF-S (Single Shot) and MF (Manual Focus). To top it all, the a77 shoots at lightning speed, capable of an 8fps burst (RAW & JPEG) in Hi Drive mode and 12fps (RAW & JPEG) using Continuous Advance Priority AE mode. To give an idea of just how quick this is, it’s faster than Nikon’s professional D-SLR, the D3S (priced around £3550) that’s capable of 11fps in DX Crop mode.
Performance & handling
The initial impression is how comfortable and robust it feels in the hand; it offers an extremely high-end, robust feel and the handgrip is perfectly moulded with mottled, rubberised material stretching around to the buttons at the rear. The re-arrangement of buttons across the body is also well received. The On/Off switch has finally been paired with the shutter button on the top-plate, freeing up room for Function (Fn) and Display buttons. The latter will be used if you want to take advantage of the a77’s digital level gauge, while the Fn button is great for instant access to 13 commonly-used settings including ISO, AF area and Metering Mode.
Sceptical of how the a77’s buffer would cope with 12fps shooting, we gave it a thorough workout to find out how it performed. Loaded with an 8GB SanDisk Extreme Pro card, it rattled out a burst of 12 RAW files at 8fps in the Hi Speed Drive mode and recorded a burst of 12 RAWs at 12fps using the Continuous Advance Priority AE mode. The latter mode applies a 1.4x crop to the focal length and after a burst of 12 frames at 12fps we had a 10secs wait while the buffer cleared and the data was written. It’s fair to say the layout of 19 AF points are fairly close to one another and central in the frame, yet we found it quick to move between them using the joystick dial. AF performance was first-class and wasn’t compromised by dim light or fast-moving subjects.
Another excellent feature was the EVF; this provides fabulous sharpness, excellent clarity and it’s the clearest of any electronic viewfinder we’ve used. Complementing this is the 3in screen, which also resolves bright, faithful colour at an excellent level of sharpness.
Our only criticism from using the a77 over a prolonged period was the slight delay switching between EVF and LCD screen and the way it’s not instantly ready to fire as soon as it’s switched on – we found there was an infuriating 1.5secs delay.
The a77 is certainly Sony’s most advanced D-SLT to date and its high-speed capabilities and strong image quality results make it an excellent photographic tool. No other camera in this area of the market (or at this price point) offers 24.3Mp full-resolution 12fps RAW shooting, and the reason is no other manufacturer has the translucent mirror up its sleeve! This system rules out the mirror movement found in all SLRs, resulting in a lightning-fast performance.
At £1099 (body only), it’s £350 more than Canon’s EOS 60D and £150 more than Nikon’s D7000. Neither of these models shoots as quickly, though, with the 60D restricted to 5.3fps and the D7000 limited to 6fps, so if you already own Sony Alpha lenses, or are looking for the next step up from an entry-level model, the a77 makes a very tempting proposition. The resolution is huge and the Noise performance up to ISO 3200 is outstanding when you consider the high pixel count. For the price, the features and the quality of its build, there’s little to fault, making it a serious contender in its field.
- Street price: £449 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- (with 16-50mm lens)
- Resolution: 24.3Mp
- (6000x4000 pixels)
- Lens mount: Sony A-mount
- Focusing system: 19-point AF Phase-detect
- Focusing modes: Single, Continuous, AF tracking, MF
- Burst rate: 8fps (Hi Setting) 12 RAWS, 15 JPEGS 12fps (Continuous Priority AE mode) 12 RAWS, 12 JPEGS
- Write speed: 1.6secs (JPEG)
- 2.3secs (RAW)
- ISO range: 100-16000
- Image stabilisation: Sensor Shift
- Shutter range: 30secs-1/8000sec
- Viewfinder: EVF (2.4million dot)
- Monitor: 3in, 921,600k-dot
- Live View: Yes
- HD video: Full HD (1920x1080)
- Storage: Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo, SD,
- SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 653g
- Dimensions: 142.6x104.0x80.9mm
- Visit: www.sony.co.uk
This review was first published in the February 2012 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.