Cameras

Sony Alpha A77 Digital Camera Review

Sony's blazing fast SLT A77 has just about everything we could ask for in a modern system camera.

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Video Review

Introduction

Mirrorless system cameras get all the attention these days, but some of the most innovative cameras still have one. The Sony Alpha A77 is one of Sony's so-called "single-lens translucent" cameras, the top model in the line that includes the A65 and the just-announced A37 and A57 cameras.

It's a mid-sized, mid-level camera for enthusiasts (and "pro-sumers" if you can stomach saying that word out loud) that looks, handles, and acts a lot like a DSLR, but with a twist. If you need to get up to speed on the technology, head to the Hardware page. In a nutshell, the design enables quick, accurate, and (most importantly) full-time autofocus, as well as incredibly speedy burst shooting.

The A77 is Sony's most advanced SLT camera yet, the first to move definitively out of the entry level and into serious enthusiast territory. It uses some serious components, including a 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, 2.4-million OLED electronic viewfinder, and a 3-inch, 921,000-pixel LCD mounted on a hinge and an extending arm for extra articulation.

Those chops can compete with the division's heavy hitters, including the Nikon D7000 and Pentax K-5, and the dash of new technology lends it an air of added excitement. Let's see how it holds up under scrutiny.

The Sony Alpha A77 is available now with a 16-50mm kit lens for $1999, or without a lens for $1399.

Front

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Back

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Sides

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Top

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Bottom

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In the Box

Box Photo

Sony A77, kit lens, and strap. Retail package also includes battery, charger, manual, and software.

• Sony Alpha SLT-A77 digital camera

• Sony DT 2.8/16-50mm A-mount lens

• body cap

• front & rear element lens caps

• neck strap

• rechargeable lithium-ion battery (Sony InfoLithium type M)

• battery charger

• USB cable

• software CD-ROM

• user manual

Kit Lens & Mount

Translucent Mirror

Since there's no dedicated section for "mirror technology," we'll get to it here: The A77's defining feature is its translucent (sometimes called a pellicle) mirror. Like a regular DSLR, this mirror reflects the light coming through the lens up into a phase-detection autofocus system (faster and more accurate than the contrast-detection AF in other cameras). But it also lets light pass straight through to the sensor, so unlike a DSLR, the mirror can stay in place even when the camera exposes a photo.

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Basically, the A77 can focus quickly and accurately at all times, even while shooting video. And because the mirror never has to move, the burst shooting rates are incredibly fast.

One disadvantage is that less light reaches the sensor, though this hasn't proven to be a major problem in any of Sony's "single lens translucent" (SLT) cameras so far. SLT cameras also use electronic viewfinders rather than traditional optical viewfinders. It's tough to replace the feel of an OVF—an actual reflection of the image in front of you—but EVFs have come a long way.

Lens

The most common A77 kit includes a 16-50mm (24-75mm equivalent) lens, at a consistent f/2.8 throughout the focal range (SAL 1650). This is the lens we used for our testing. It has a focus mode AF/MF switch on the side, a focus window on the top, and a switch to lock the wide-angle setting in place. This is a brigher, wider lens than most consumer-grade cameras ship with. It's a sturdy unit, with a textured focus ring and zoom ring. It has 16 elements in 13 groups.

The A77 features an A-mount. Carried over from Minolta Alpha (or Maxxum) cameras, A-mount lenses aren't quite as ubiquitous as Canon or Nikon glass, but there's a healthy selection of lenses for a wide variety of purposes. Adapters are available for most common lens mounts as well.

Lens Mount Photo

The A77 is equipped with an A-mount.

Sensor

The A77 is built around a 24.3 effective megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor. The crop factor is about 1.5x. It's the same size as the chips used in a bunch of system cameras, from consumer-grade Canon, Nikon, and Pentax DSLRs to Sony, Samsung, and Fuji system cameras. This particular sensor is almost certainly the same sensor used in the Sony NEX-7 compact system camera.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

Viewfinder

The A77 has a 2.4-million pixel OLED electronic viewfinder—the nicest EVF we've ever encountered. Details are sharp, motion is smooth, colors pop, and lag is barely there. It doesn't quite match the feel of a proper optical viewfinder, but it's as close as we've come.

Display(s)

A nice 3-inch, 921,000-pixel articulating LCD complements that excellent EVF. The screen tilts on a hinge and can extend from the body and rotate on an arm. It's versatile enough to frame a self-portrait above or below the camera, and the flexibility enables a bunch of unexpected shooting angles. The screen stays visible in all but direct sunlight, with punchy colors and smooth motion.

Secondary Display

The A77 also has a secondary LCD on the top of the camera. It displays info like shutter speed, aperture, white balance setting, ISO setting, number of shots left, and so on.

Secondary Display Photo

Secondary LCD, with backlight turned on.

Flash

A pop-up flash sits on the crest of the camera. In either auto shooting mode, it can pop up on its own when the scene calls for a flash, but in PASM modes, a manual release on the left side of the crest release it. It's effective to 12 meters at ISO 100 (guide number 12). Controls like red-eye reduction, slow synchro, flash intensity, and flash exposure compensation are available as well.

Flash Photo

The pop-up flash has a guide number of 12.

Connectivity

Like most cameras today, the A77 has mini-HDMI and a USB ports. It also offers a DC input, a microphone input, an external flash hookup, and a remote control port.

All ports are on the left side of the body, concealed under rubberized flaps designed to keep dust and moisture out of the jacks.

Durability

The A77 is moisture and dust resistant. It should be able to withstand some time in light rain or a day at the beach. It's also a solid, sturdy piece of magnesium alloy and plastic, so it should be able to withstand some bumps that come along with active photography. But it isn't advertised as waterproof, shockproof, dustproof, or freezeproof, so still be sure to treat it with respect and care.

Image Quality

Image quality scores for the A77 are strong, but could be better. Dynamic range performance and stabilization are particularly excellent, while sharpness and color scores are both quite good. Lens-based problems like distortion, vignetting, and aberration pop up, but in-camera corrections nip them in the bud. Noise is really the weak link, as aggressive noise reduction exacerbates the problems caused by a slightly noisy sensor. In JPEGs at high ISO settings, it looks like the full resolution of the 24-megapixel sensor is a bit wasted.

Sharpness

Overall, the A77's sharpness results were quite good. We measured an average of about 1580 MTF50s across all focal lengths, apertures, and areas of the frame. At 24.3 megapixels, the sensor can resolve a heck of a lot of detail, though the 16-50mm f/2.8 kit lens obviously has a big part in the overall score.

With that in mind, we noted wide variations in sharpness, which dragged down the final score. At the widest, brightest setting, (16mm f/2.8) we measured both the sharpest and softest results in our resolution test. It produced over 2300 MTF50s at the center of the frame, which is fantastic, but as little as 560 MTF50s midway between the edge and the center. That's an incredible variation (we reproduced it in other shots, too).

As the aperture stopped down and focal length increased, we saw much more consistent results across the frame, with edge results in the same ballpark as the center, and midway sharpness still lagging, but not as notably. The most reliably sharp details come in the middle of the aperture range at any focal length, weighing in at about 1800-1900 MTF50s. The smallest aperture (f/22) is never particularly sharp.

A bit of in-camera edge enhancement is at work—the borders are slightly darker than the rest of the black wedges in our crops below, with a slight halo effect. We left in-camera sharpening and contrast at the default settings, but they can be turned down for a softer, more natural look, or ramped up for a punchier, more contrasty look. (Most of the fuzziness in our crops below is due to chromatic aberration rather than poor sharpness—a problem that the camera can correct with one setting.) More on how we test sharpness.

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Image Stabilization

The in-body SteadyShot stabilization is very effective. We measured a 58 percent improvement in sharpness when stabilization was activated compared to no stabilization (tested in continuous shooting mode at the telephoto setting). This should keep handheld shots crisp at shutter speeds a bit lower than 1/30, which allows for lower ISOs in dark settings and overall crisper, cleaner shots.

Color

The A77 captures reasonably accurate JPEG colors by default. The most realistic color profile is Standard. We measured a minimum average color error of 2.6 (quite good by system-camera standard) with 106.5 percent saturation, which incurs a tiny penalty. Oversaturation is pretty typical of all Sony cameras, and it can be adjusted for individual color modes in the camera. Greens, blues, and yellows are all pretty much spot-on, though reds are pushed a bit for extra intensity. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

All of the cameras in this comparison group display mostly realistic colors. We measured a minimum color error below 3.0—our line in the sand for reasonably accurate colors—for every camera. The A77 falls in the middle of the field, outdone by the NEX-7 and Nikon D7000, but finishing ahead of the Pentax K-5 and Olympus OM-D E-M5.

Color Modes

The A77 has six preset color modes. Standard is the most accurate. Vivid intensifies and oversaturates. Neutral mutes and undersaturates. Portrait pushes yellows and reds, ostensibly for more radiant skin tones. Landscape pushes reds, blues, and greens. A black and white profile rounds out the options.

White Balance

White balance is reasonably accurate in the A77, with a decent auto mode, strong custom white balance, and a large handful of presets.

Automatic White Balance ()

Auto white balance works very well in daylight and other medium color temperatures. It struggles in warm, incandescent lighting, which is common, but also in cooler fluorescent lighting, which is unusual.

Custom White Balance ()

A manual white balance should work well in just about any lighting. It balanced out daylight, fluorescent light, and incandescent light quite well in our tests. It isn't perfect, but close enough for quick work.

There isn't really a bad camera in this bunch for white balance; they all earned reasonably similar scores. The A77 is better than most at custom white balances, though auto white balance is somewhat less effective, particularly in warm lighting.

White Balance Options

Aside from auto white balance, presets include daylight, shade, cloudy, incandescent, warm fluorescent, cool fluorescent, day white fluorescent, daylight fluorescent, and flash settings. There's a direct color temperature entry (in Kelvin). Three custom settings are available as well.

Noise Reduction

Noise performance is a weak point with the A77. The overall score is fine, but the sensor gets pretty noisy at higher ISOs and aggressive noise reduction starts to degrade fine detail as low as ISO 800.
More on how we test noise.

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Detail Loss

Even at the lowest noise reduction setting, fine details like hair and tight patterns in fabrics get mushy at ISO 800 and totally sloppy by ISO 3200. The effect is even more exaggerated at the normal and high NR levels; even at ISO 400 with NR set to high, crispness starts to suffer.

Science Section 3 Images

ISO Options

The A77 offers ISO settingsfrom ISO 50 through ISO 16000. We started our tests at ISO 100, since that's the lowest native setting; the settings below that are really just ISO 100 with an exaggerated highlight curve. Users can select ISOs in steps of 1/3EV, and set high and low caps on the automatic ISO system. All ISO settings are available at full resolution.

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.

Dynamic Range

The A77 handles wide dynamic ranges very well. At ISO 100, it can capture upwards of 7 EV stops without crossing a signal-to-noise ratio of 10:1. It dips slightly below 7 stops at ISOs 200 and 400, and then below 6 stops at ISOs 800 and 1600, but those stats are all very impressive. It can still capture over 3 stops at ISO 12800. (This chart may or may not be displaying the results accurately; defer to the text if there's a discrepancy.)

It's worth noting that we test JPEGs, so raw files will have even more headroom to work with. More on how we test dynamic range.

The A77's dynamic range performance is bested only by the NEX-7. It uses the same sensor as the A77, but doesn't lose light to a translucent mirror. It actually captures an entire extra stop at the base ISO setting. But otherwise, the A77 outclasses the D7000, K-5, and smaller-sensored OM-D E-M5.

Low Light Performance

There are better low-light cameras than the A77. The in-body stabilization is very effective, which allows for longer shutter speeds with hand-held shooting, which in turn allows for lower ISO settings in the dark. Autofocus is quick and accurate even without much light. And there are very bright A-mount lenses available, too.

But there's the inescapable fact that the A77 is noisier than most other enthusiast-level system cameras at high ISOs. Results are decent up through ISO 1600 and acceptable at ISO 3200, but cameras like the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000 do a better job. The A77 will work in the dark, especially if you shoot in raw and take the time to manually reduce the noise. But if you do most of your shooting in clubs, bars, and other dimly lit environments, look elsewhere.

Noise Reduction

Noise performance is a weak point with the A77. The overall score is fine, but the sensor gets pretty noisy at higher ISOs and aggressive noise reduction starts to degrade fine detail as low as ISO 800.
More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The A77 offers ISO settingsfrom ISO 50 through ISO 16000. We started our tests at ISO 100, since that's the lowest native setting; the settings below that are really just ISO 100 with an exaggerated highlight curve. Users can select ISOs in steps of 1/3EV, and set high and low caps on the automatic ISO system. All ISO settings are available at full resolution.

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.

Focus Performance

One of the best aspects of the A77's translucent-mirror design is the full-time phase-detection autofocus. It's as quick and accurate as a regular DSLR, but doesn't have to drop focus every time it exposes a photo. It even works at the fastest burst setting, and in video mode, too.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

Here's one area where we're sure the translucent mirror hurt the video results: The A77 crossed our sensitivity threshold at just 28 lux, in the ballpark of most point-and-shoots.

Chromatic Aberration

The kit lens suffers from some problematic chromatic aberration. Take a look at the crops; there's some severe color fringing, more so than most enthusiast cameras. It isn't particularly surprising, since the lens is brighter (f/2.8 rather than the typical f/3.5), wider (starting at 16mm rather than 18mm), and just as zoomy (about 3x) as most other kit lenses, all of which present some design challenges.

The problem is particularly pronounced at the wide-angle setting at the edges and midway sections of the frame, and the wider the aperture, the more severe the fringing. The center of the frame is generally free from aberration at any setting, and toward the telephoto end of the lens, aberration diminishes to the point where it's only noticeable at the very edges of the frame.

The A77 does offer in-camera aberration correct for many A-mount lenses (including this kit glass), and we did not use the correction in our testing. JPEGs are much crisper with that option turned on. Most decent raw file converters should be able to correct the fringing as well (just make sure it supports the A77 and whichever lens you use—check for updates if you're using older software).

Distortion

Since the wide-angle is so wide (16mm, a 24mm equivalent), it's no surprise that it shows some serious barrel distortion—about 3.5 percent, easily visible to anyone with a set of eyes. It evens out at the middle and telephoto settings, though, to a point where its negligible.

Like aberration (and vignetting), the A77 offers in-camera distortion correction for most A-mount lenses, including this kit lens. We obviously didn't activate that setting for our tests. Any decent raw converter will have a correction profile for this camera and lens combination as well.

Motion

The A77 reproduces motion very nicely for a consumer SLR. Moving objects are smooth with only very slight trailing. There's a bit of noisy artifacting especially in the blue channel, and some interference in high-contrast areas. Autofocus is very quick and accurate. Overall, motion is really quite good. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The two mirrorless cameras in our comparison group showed the best motion results, thought the A77 outpaces the Nikon D7000.

Video Sharpness

As good as the motion was, the sharpness results are weaker than we had hoped for. At rest, we spotted 600 horizontal and vertical lw/ph, dropping to 575 and 550 lw/ph respectively when in motion. That's notably worse than any cameras in our comparison group. We have a hunch that a part of it is the translucent mirror, which allows less light to the sensor than a mirrorless camera or a DSLR with a locked-up mirror. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low-light sharpness is similar to bright-light sharpness: 600 horizontal and vertical lw/ph at rest, dropping to 475 and 450 lw/ph respectively in motion. The NEX-7 and OM-D E-M5 both outperform the A77, though we didn't run this test on the D7000 last year.

Low Light Sensitivity

Here's one area where we're sure the translucent mirror hurt the video results: The A77 crossed our sensitivity threshold at just 28 lux, in the ballpark of most point-and-shoots.

Usability

The A77 is incredibly fast in every way; it's the main reason to buy this camera. Alphas used to have a reputation for clunky interfaces, but the SLT series turned that around. The A77 is a charm to handle and just fun to use. The button layout is comfy and the menus make sense. The quality of the OLED viewfinder and articulating LCD can’t be understated; for the first time ever, we felt comfortable using manual focus with a live-view system.

Automatic Features

The A77 is not designed for beginners, but any good camera should have a decent auto mode as well. The A77 has two: regular Auto mode, which leaves all of the metering and exposure settings up to the camera but sticks with single-shot exposures, and Auto+, which leaves all of the metering and exposure settings up to the camera but is more likely to use a multi-shot composite mode for dynamic range or noise correction.

Buttons & Dials

The button layout is great. At a glance, it looks a bit haphazard: no neat columns of keys like most DSLRs have. But all the keys, dials, and joysticks fall under the fingers comfortably.

A total of 12 shooting modes earn a slot on the mode dial: Both auto modes, the PASM modes, the scene preset index, a memory recall index, and specialized shooting modes including manual video recording, 12fps burst, 3D capture, and sweep panorama modes all make an appearance. It's a tried and true way to get what you need quickly and easily.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Though the A77 is a serious camera for enthusiasts, it still includes a number of scene presets, effects, and special shooting modes.

Shooting with the A77 is a pleasure in large part because of its menu system. With so many hotkeys, we didn't have to spend too much time in the menu system. When we did, it was fine. The Fn menu is a bit cluttered, but all of the most useful settings are on that control panel. The deep menu system is legible and logical. The rear control dial scrolls through pages, while the joystick controls vertical scrolling and changing settings.

Instruction Manual

Aside from the helpful in-camera guide, the A77 has an in-depth manual. We didn't receive a retail version of the camera, but we believe that it comes with a paper copy of the guide. It's also available for download from Sony's website.

Handling

The A77's large grip and comfortable contours make it possible to shoot with one hand (given the weight, two hands make it much easier). Aside from the finder/LCD toggle, main menu button, and mode dial, all of the buttons are within a finger's reach—either the thumb, index finger, or in the case of the preview button, the right pinky. The layout may not look as clean as the columns of buttons on some DSLRs, but it's more comfortable this way.

Handling Photo 1

As a mid-level DSLR-styled camera with a bright kit lens, the A77 is a hefty piece of magnesium alloy and plastic. The shoulder-strap is a must, and a dedicated bag is a good idea, especially if you plan to carry a few lenses.

Handling Photo 2

The articulating LCD—on an arm as well as a twisting hinge—takes the guesswork out of odd-angle shooting. The viewfinder is comfy and has a diopter adjustment, too. One advantage of the translucent mirror design was supposed to be smaller bodies, and we wish Sony had shaved a few ounces off of the A77 if they could have, but all things considered, it's a good design.

Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

The button layout is great. At a glance, it looks a bit haphazard: no neat columns of keys like most DSLRs have. But all the keys, dials, and joysticks fall under the fingers comfortably.

A total of 12 shooting modes earn a slot on the mode dial: Both auto modes, the PASM modes, the scene preset index, a memory recall index, and specialized shooting modes including manual video recording, 12fps burst, 3D capture, and sweep panorama modes all make an appearance. It's a tried and true way to get what you need quickly and easily.

Buttons Photo 1

Rear control panel.

The two-dial setup is great for manual shooting, allowing control over the shutter and aperture, and working as secondary navigators in the menu and playback systems. The joystick is a good primary control for the menus, with good tactile response.

In general, the button setup is easy to use by default, but with a high level of customizability. Some keys are fixed in their functions: the Fn menu (quick menu) and standard menu buttons, the display toggle, the finder/LCD toggle, movie button, magnification key, playback button, and help button.

Most of the commonly adjusted shooting options have their own hotkey: drive mode and timer, white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO setting.

Many of the buttons can be reassigned to other functions; the auto-exposure lock, ISO button, AF/MF toggle, and preview button (tucked on the front of the camera to the bottom-right of the lens) can all be reassigned to other functions.

Buttons Photo 2

Top-side control panel.

Display(s)

A nice 3-inch, 921,000-pixel articulating LCD complements that excellent EVF. The screen tilts on a hinge and can extend from the body and rotate on an arm. It's versatile enough to frame a self-portrait above or below the camera, and the flexibility enables a bunch of unexpected shooting angles. The screen stays visible in all but direct sunlight, with punchy colors and smooth motion.

Secondary Display

The A77 also has a secondary LCD on the top of the camera. It displays info like shutter speed, aperture, white balance setting, ISO setting, number of shots left, and so on.

Secondary Display Photo

Secondary LCD, with backlight turned on.

Viewfinder

The A77 has a 2.4-million pixel OLED electronic viewfinder—the nicest EVF we've ever encountered. Details are sharp, motion is smooth, colors pop, and lag is barely there. It doesn't quite match the feel of a proper optical viewfinder, but it's as close as we've come.

Image Stabilization

The in-body SteadyShot stabilization is very effective. We measured a 58 percent improvement in sharpness when stabilization was activated compared to no stabilization (tested in continuous shooting mode at the telephoto setting). This should keep handheld shots crisp at shutter speeds a bit lower than 1/30, which allows for lower ISOs in dark settings and overall crisper, cleaner shots.

Shooting Modes

The A77 has two automatic modes: Auto and Auto+. The usual program, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual exposure modes are available in still photo mode (PASM) and movie mode (under the film-strip symbol). There's a dedicated 12fps burst setting, regular sweep panorama and 3D sweep panorama modes too.

Manual Controls

The A77 has two control dials, one on the front and one on the rear. The obvious application is that one adjusts the aperture and the other controls the shutter. With the default firmware, the dials are sluggish, but they become much more responsive with the latest edition (v1.05). The functions and directions of each dial can be swapped as well.

Focus

One of the best aspects of the A77's translucent-mirror design is the full-time phase-detection autofocus. It's as quick and accurate as a regular DSLR, but doesn't have to drop focus every time it exposes a photo. It even works at the fastest burst setting, and in video mode, too.

Thanks to the excellent 2.4-megapixel OLED electronic viewfinder and focus peaking feature, even manual focus is great. Sony even takes a perceived weakness—the lack of an optical viewfinder—and turns it into a strength. Focus peaking highlights the edges of in-focus portions of the image in the EVF (or LCD). The threshold is adjustable, as is the color of the outline. It's sensitive enough to pick up lines of text on a piece of paper. Better photography through technology. We can understand why most folks would still prefer OVFs, but with developments like this, the case against keeps EVFs getting weaker.

Recording Options

The A77 tops out at a mighty 24 megapixels of resolution in a 3:2 aspect ratio (6000 x 4000 pixels). It can shoot medium (12MP) and small (6MP) sizes as well in a 3:2 format, as well as large (20MP), medium (10MP), and small (5.1MP) sizes in a 16:9 widescreen format.

Other Controls

The A77 offers a few high-level JPEG controls in addition to the typical exposure controls.

Saturation

Color saturation is adjustable in seven steps in each color mode. It's set to 0 by default, and can move +/- 3 steps.

Contrast

Contrast is adjustable in seven steps in each color mode. It's set to 0 by default, and can move +/- 3 steps.

Sharpness

Edge sharpness is adjustable in seven steps in each color mode. It's set to 0 by default, and can move +/- 3 steps.

High ISO NR

The noise reduction filter has three intensity settings: low, normal, and high. Though it's supposedly a high ISO noise reduction filter, we measured it kicking in as low as ISO 400.

Long Exposure NR

This is a noise-reduction filter for photos with an exposure of one second or longer. It can be set to on or off.

Speed and Timing

Burst shooting is one of the A77's main selling points, and it has a handful of continuous drive and burst options. Other typical features are included, like a self-timer and bracketing options.

Burst modes come in three varities: High, Low, and 12. As you probably guessed, 12 is the fastest mode, capturing an advertised 12fps. This setting is a bit quirky; it won't automatically adjust the settings to capture 12fps. If your ISO setting is too low or aperture too narrow, you'll have to adjust those manually until the shutter speed is quick enough. The Continuous High setting grabs around 8 frames per second (still very fast).

In the 12fps mode, we actually measured a top speed of about 13fps, though that was over the course of just five frames. This is the fastest burst mode on any consumer DSLR or mirrorless system camera.

The self-timer function is pretty bare-bones, just 2-second and 10-second options; no multi-shot or interval settings.

Focus Speed

One of the best aspects of the A77's translucent-mirror design is the full-time phase-detection autofocus. It's as quick and accurate as a regular DSLR, but doesn't have to drop focus every time it exposes a photo. It even works at the fastest burst setting, and in video mode, too.

Thanks to the excellent 2.4-megapixel OLED electronic viewfinder and focus peaking feature, even manual focus is great. Sony even takes a perceived weakness—the lack of an optical viewfinder—and turns it into a strength. Focus peaking highlights the edges of in-focus portions of the image in the EVF (or LCD). The threshold is adjustable, as is the color of the outline. It's sensitive enough to pick up lines of text on a piece of paper. Better photography through technology. We can understand why most folks would still prefer OVFs, but with developments like this, the case against keeps EVFs getting weaker.

Features

If you count speed as a feature, the A77 has plenty of it—the 12fps burst shooting makes it the fastest consumer DSLR out there. A bunch of extra shooting modes like sweep panoramas, digital effects, and 3D capture are supported as well. The A77V also has a built-in GPS unit, though we were sent a non-GPS version for testing.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

Though the A77 is a serious camera for enthusiasts, it still includes a number of scene presets, effects, and special shooting modes.

Other Features

Hot Shoe

The A77 has a hot shoe accessory port, most likely to be used with an external flash.

GPS

The A77V comes with a GPS unit built in for geo-tagging photos. The standard A77 model we received from Sony for review did not include GPS, so we can't evaluate the effectiveness. But from what we understand, most A77s do come with this feature.

Recording Options

Name a video compression codec, and the A77 probably supports it. It can record up to 1080p, 60fps video under the AVCHD 2.0 standard, as well as 1080/60i and 1080/24p AVCHD clips, each in two different quality options. It can also record 1080/30p and VGA quality in MP4 format. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

Most manual controls that are available for still photography are also available in video mode. Users can choose to record in program, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual exposure, or auto video modes. Aside from the dedicated movie button, the controls work the same way for video as they do for still photos.

Auto Controls

Auto mode is quick and easy to use. Just hit the red movie button on the back of the camera, and it kicks into video recording.

Focus

Autofocus and manual focus are both supported. Because of the translucent mirror design, the A77 can autofocus at all times, so in-video autofocus is incredibly quick and accurate by consumer DSLR standards. Manual focus also works in conjunction with the focus peaking feature, which can be incredibly helpful when manually focusing on the fly with the LCD.

Exposure Controls

Exposure compensation, ISO, aperture, shutter, white balance, color modes and digital effects can all be adjusted prior to filming clips.

Audio Features

The A77 has a built-in stereo microphone on the crest of the camera and a connection for an external microphone. There's a wind-cut option as well. But higher-end controls like a level monitor or volume control are not available.

Conclusion

Sony deserves a high-five for the A77, even without thinking about performance. It’s a familiar design packed with fresh, useful, well-executed new technology that enhances the shooting experience without really changing the traditional feel that photographers love. It’s a reward for loyal A-mount shooters, and temptation for others to enter the system.

The chief reason to buy the A77 over any other DSLR is pure speed. The fixed, translucent mirror is a brilliant design. It's ready to fire at any time in any scenario, and the 12fps burst shooting is amazing—and those are crisp, in-focus frames, too.

Image quality is strong. Dynamic range performance is a highlight, and the 24-megapixel sensor can resolve a heck of a lot of detail, mostly useful for cropping. Colors are mostly accurate right out of the box, and the in-body stabilization is very effective.

Alphas used to have a reputation for clunky interfaces, but the SLT series turned that around. The A77 is a charm to handle and just fun to use. The button layout is comfy and the menus make sense. The quality of the OLED viewfinder and articulating LCD can’t be understated; for the first time ever, we felt comfortable using manual focus with a live-view system.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the JPEG quality at higher ISO settings. By enthusiast DSLR standards, details are pretty sloppy at ISO 1600. Raw files suggest that the sensor is noisy, but the JPEG processing isn’t doing itself any favors. Even at the lowest intensity, noise reduction muddles details to the point where the 24 megapixels seem a bit wasted.

At low and mid sensitivities, shots look great. Downscaling helps too. But current standards have led us to expect crisper, cleaner JPEGs than what the A77 produces. We know it can be done; the mirrorless NEX-7 uses the same sensor with better JPEG results. Raw developers have plenty of room to work with.

We knew that the A77 was great while we were testing it, but we didn’t realize just how well it would rank until we finished filling out its scoresheet. It blows away all of the other mid-level DSLRs that we've tested, and holds its own against the pro-level Canon 5D Mk. III.

The A77 really is a complete package. It has the features and performance that camera fans value in a modern system. It's fast, it's fun, it infuses new tech into a familiar design, and it takes great photos. The only place where it really falls short is low-light photography.

It’s exciting to see Sony carve a path for the A-mount rather than just follow in the stream created by Canon and Nikon. There's room for improvement, but the A77 is good enough to buy right now. Also take a look at the A65, which shares many of the same specs, packaged for less-serious users. We haven't tested it, but at $999 with a kit lens, it should be a great value for those who don't mind giving up a chunk of user control. With a full-frame SLT heavily rumored to be in the pipeline, the Alpha system is looking like a good place to be.

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