The Sony Alpha SLT-A77 is an interchangeable lens camera for the semi-professional and enthusiast set, with a high-resolution 24.3-megapixel APS-C image sensor. It features Sony's pellicle mirror design, which is a little different than a traditional DSLR (more on that here), but opens up a world of tricks for the A77 to call upon. The camera also features a phenomenal grip, OLED XGA viewfinder, articulating rear monitor, and 12fps full-resolution burst shooting. Those are some very serious specs on paper, especially when you consider that the whole camera can be had for a body-only price of $1399. The camera is available now, though with initial demand being so high (and the flood in Thailand delaying production), the camera is expected to resume shipping at the end of January.
The Sony A77 is made of high-grade plastic over a magnesium alloy chassis, with a plush hand grip that has been curved to fit the hand. The rear of the camera has the articulating rear LCD, OLED viewfinder, along with the main control layout including control dial and four-way joystick for navigating the menu. The LCD is particularly interesting, as it has the ability to swivel in nearly every direction, while situated on an arm that swings out from the body entirely. The result is a screen that can face just about anywhere—including toward your subject on either the top or bottom of the camera.
The top plate of the camera has the mode dial on the left side of the viewfinder, secondary LCD, primary control dial, and more controls for altering shooting parameters. The front of the camera includes a dedicated depth-of-field preview button, lens release, lens mount/contacts, IR remote sensor, autofocus illuminator lamp, and flash release button. The camera's outward design is not particularly radical, though the shape of the grip is more pointed than other interchangeable lens cameras.
The menu on the A77 is bright and legible, thanks to the high-resolution rear screen. It's comprised of tabs aligned vertically along the top edge of the screen, with lists of options below. Each category in the menu has a symbol associated with it, which sometimes expand into numbered pages so that you can quickly scroll through pages of options without having to scroll all the way to the bottom. So if you want to find the option for, say, noise reduction, you only have to scroll to the right one page rather than down through 10 more options. With a menu this complicated, that saves a ton of time, as you can see every option in the menu with less than 15 keystrokes.
The Sony Alpha A77 is not exactly a simple camera, replacing the semi-professional A700. The camera features oodles of controls to pore over and learn, so a true beginner will likely be overwhelmed simply by choice. The A77 does offer automatic modes for those stepping up from lower level cameras who aren't yet comfortable taking more direct control over exposure. You can still expect a pretty hefty learning curve if you're new to advanced camera terminology, however. One other very nice touch that Sony has included is a horizon level indicator that functions both in the viewfinder and on the rear LCD in live view, letting you know when your shots are slightly askew. It seems minor, but it often saves an editing step later when you're shooting handheld.
The Sony A77 is not a lightweight camera, but its magnesium alloy chassis is durable and the camera's entire construction feels sturdy. The camera rings in at around 25.7oz with card and battery included. You'll feel that hanging around your neck all day, but it's in line with other cameras in this class.
The grip is a real joy to use, though people with petite hands may find the large construction cumbersome. For us large-handed folk, the camera's ergonomic shape slots in perfectly with the hand, giving complete security when shooting with telephoto lenses. Grips simply don't get much better than this on current DSLRs.
Another small issue is when shooting with a tripod, as the rear LCD on the A77 has a vertical-travel hinge that
The SLT-A77 has a physical mode dial located on the left of the top plate of the camera. The dial has 12 settings in total, including: program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual, scene mode, auto, auto+, sweep panorama, 3D panorama, video, and memory modes. The scene modes include portrait, action, macro, sunset, landscape, night scene, handheld twilight, and night portrait.
The A77's full complement of automatic modes make it a pretty attractive camera for those looking to take a serious step up from a basic DSLR without totally taking the training wheels off. The camera includes both an auto and auto+ mode. The auto+ mode will automatically recognize a scene and enable the appropriate function to counter act it.
The A77 is one of the few interchangeable lens cameras on the market to offer 1080/60p as part of the new AVCHD standard. The camera has a dedicated video button as well as a specific movie mode on the shooting dial itself. The movie mode on the dial allows for selection of program, manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority exposure modes, offering more control when shooting video. Autofocus is also available when shooting video, but only when shooting in the automatic exposure modes.
If speed is at the top of your wishlist for a DSLR, then the A77 is certainly worth looking at. With up to 12fps full-resolution image capture available, the A77 can keep up with just about any subject. The camera's drive menu includes options for single shot as well as continuous, self-timer (10 or two second delay), continuous exposure bracket, single exposure bracket, white balance bracket, dynamic range bracket, and remote controlled shooting.
The A77's mode dial includes an MR mode, for memory recall. This lets the user store up to three sets of options. The camera will prompt the user to select which memory slot they want to load when they turn to the MR mode. These can be cleared for space at any time.
The A77 doesn't include a great deal of playback functionality beyond simply reviewing images to check focus and specific details. You can zoom in on one particular image our out to view an array of image thumbnails. Alternatively, users can use the menu to delete, protect, or print images. Also, through the menu you can choose a particular viewing mode, activate autorotation for portrait images, activate a slideshow or 3D viewing, and alter the volume.
With 24.3-megapixel images to work with, the A77 has quite a few image size options for you to choose from. You can select to shoot at aspect ratios of 16:9, 3:2, or in a 2D or 3D panoramic size. The 16:9 and 3:2 ratios have options for small, medium, and large images and range from a maximum of 6000x4000 (3:2) down to just 3008x1688 (16:9). Images can be shot in RAW, JPEG or RAW+JPEG, with JPEG quality settings of fine, standard and extra fine available.
The A77's use of a pellicle mirror is centered almost entirely around the ability to use its phase-detection autofocus system in video and live view shooting. The AF system has 19 focus points, with 11 cross-type sensors. The camera can focus in single-shot, continuous AF, automatic selectable, or by direct manual focus. The camera can be told to focus in a "wide" area, by zone, by spot (just the center point), or in local selectable mode (lets you pick an area of AF points).
The AF system is sensitive from EV -1 to 18 EV at ISO 100 with an f/2.8 lens or faster attached. It also features predictive control, focus lock, and eye-start AF. For you manual focus people, the A77 also includes focus peaking, which highlights in-focus areas in a bright color (default is red but others are available). With the pellicle mirror technology this can even be done in the EVF.
The A77 meters using a 1200-zone system, with multi-segment, center-weighted and spot metering available. The metering system is sensitive between -2 EV and 17 EV, with exposure compensation of +/- 5 stops in 1/2- and 1/3-stop increments. The camera also features an auto exposure lock button (or you can half-press the shutter button to lock exposure and focus).
If you like to take over control of how your camera meters, the A77 of course includes a full complement of program, priority, and manual exposure modes.
The 24.3-megapixel CMOS sensor on the A77 allows for an ISO sensitivty of 100-16000. ISO 25600 is selectable, but only in the multi-frame noise reduction setting. This isn't included in the normal ISO range because it requires creating a composite of several frames in order to keep noise to an acceptable level.
When encountering difficult lighting conditions the A77 can balance for color temperature in several modes. The user can choose from automatic WB, daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent (warm white, cool white, day white, and daylight sub-settings), flash, color filter, direct kelvin entry, and custom white balance. You can also adjust the automatic white balance modes with magenta/green bias (seven steps in any direction available).
The A77 includes SteadyShot image stabilization built into the body itself, which means it will function with any lens you attach to the camera. The fact that the camera uses an electronic viewfinder means it will be stabilized even in the EVF, though it will not be engineered specifically to any particular lens.
The Sony A77 lets you take some creative control over the tone of your images with the camera's 11 picture effects settings. These include posterization (color or black and white), pop color, retro photo, partial color (RGBY selectable), high contrast monochrome, toy camera, soft high-key, soft focus, HDR painting, rich-tone monochrome, and miniature.
The headlining feature on the latest range of Sony interchangeable lens cameras is their pellicle mirror design (designated by the SLT in the model name). But what is a pellicle mirror? Most traditional DSLRs divert the light from the lens into the optical viewfinder, swinging the mirror up to allow that light to strike the image sensor when the shutter button is pressed. The pellicle mirror design doesn't do this, instead using a material that reflects only a small percentage of the incoming light, letting most of the light pass through and hit the image sensor directly. The small amount of light that is diverted off the sensor is used to determine autofocus, even when shooting video.
The result is a small loss of light compared to a traditional DSLR design, but a camera that has much more accurate autofocus in video and when shooting in "live view" on the rear screen. It also enables the camera to shoot at a much faster burst rate, as there's no need to constantly flip a mirror up and down. Theoretically, it should also result in a more durable capture mechanism, as only the shutter moves while the mirror stays still.
The rear monitor is a 3-inch 921k-dot resolution TFT LCD with an articulating hinge attached to an extension arm that allows the screen to be oriented in practically any direction. The rear LCD hinge lets you face the sceen directly upward or downward, but also toward your subject either above or below the camera itself. With the LCD extending so far from the body, it should also fix issues with certain tripod designs that have snookered vertically-traveling screens before, such as on the Nikon D5000.
The electronic viewfinder on the A77 is a 0.5-inch XGA OLED display, with a resolution of 2.359M dots. The screen has 100% coverage, with a magnification of 1.09x, with a 50mm lens focused to infinity. The EVF has an integrated eye-level sensor that detects when you've brought the camera to your eye, switching instantly from the LCD to the EVF. The viewfinder has a diopter adjustment available, with settings from -4.0m-1 to +3.0m-1.
The built-in flash on the A77 can reach subjects up to 12 meters away at ISO 100, with the ability to set flash power automatically and manually. The flash can be fired in auto or used as a fill-flash, in slow sync, rear sync, hi-speed sync, red-eye reduction, wireless flash control modes, or turned off entirely.
The side of the A77 houses the camera's many ports and plugs for power and connectivity. The A77 includes a standard mini-USB connectivity port, HDMI output, 3.5mm microphone jack, flash sync terminal, remote release terminal, and DC power input. The A77 does not support tethered shooting, which is a shame for certain workflows and studio photographers.
the A77 has a removable, rechargeable lithium-ion battery, model no. NP-FM500H. The battery's capacity is not listed, but it has a voltage of 7.2v and Sony rates it to 530 images by CIPA standard. That drops slightly to 470 when shooting with the electronic viewfinder, however.
The Sony A77 can make use of SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, which slot into a compartment on the right side of the camera body, behind a small plastic door. If you're a true Sony fanboy (or you just happen to have a bunch left over) you can go with Sony's proprietary memory cards, including Memory Stick PRO Duo and PRO-HG Duo cards.
Like the A55v, Sony has a GPS-enabled variant of the A77, called the A77v. The A77v has a built-in GPS unit that can record the location and time of every shot taken. There is also software that will then allow you to arrange these shots by location, as all the information is directly on each image.
Holding the A77 in your hand, it's clear that the camera is the sum of Sony's tinkering with their DSLRs the last few years; the controls are more refined, the technology as impressive as ever. Sony's camera design process has clearly advanced beyond what what will look good on a spec sheet, with a clear focus on usability for the high-end shooter—be they professional or enthusiast.
The Sony Alpha SLT-A77 is the latest in the company's line of interchangeable lens cameras to use their semi-transparent mirror technology. Because of that technology, the A77 can shoot full-resolution images at up to 12fps, use a startlingly bright OLED electronic viewfinder, and achieve highly accurate autofocus even while recording video.
The A77 is also one of the best handling interchangeable lens cameras we've had the chance to use in the past year, with a plush grip designed to align with the contours of the hand. The camera is the replacement for the A700, but brings a whole new bag of tricks, including a rather ridiculous 24.3-megapixel APS-C image sensor.
It's telling that it appears Sony spent as much time crafting their grips and control layouts on the latest series of Alpha cameras as they did on adding new "wow" features. The A77 is a camera that is the product of a much more mature design philosophy than earlier digital Alphas. It manages a fine balance between Sony's willingness to buck the trend in DSLR design while still appealing to a more traditional set.
We're very excited to see what the A77 can do in our battery of performance tests, with a sensor that (at least in the NEX-7) is already making waves around the web. There are bound to be some hiccups, but it's no stretch to say that the potential for the camera could deservedly put Sony at the head of the mid-range DSLR game.
Meet the tester
TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.
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