The last four years have seen many camera manufacturers attempting to eliminate the ‘reflex’ with their innovative methods.
While Nikon, Olympus, and Panasonic eliminated the mirror itself in their interchangeable systems, Sony adapted the concept of the pellicle mirror, which they call Translucent Mirror Technology, thereby retaining the mirror, yet eliminating the problems associated with the reflex action. The Sony SLT A-77 (also known as Alpha-77) is the first in the SLT (Single Lens Translucent) series reviewed by Smart Photography.
Design and Build Quality
The Sony A-77 has a tough engineering plastic exterior. It has a broad hand grip and incorporates some design elements reminding you of Nikon and Pentax cameras. Some of these are the command dials at the front and back of the hand grip and the power switch mounted along with the shutter release button, typical of Nikon. The fully articulated LCD screen is designed intuitively and can be rotated and locked. The camera features metal lens and tripod mounts and a well-mounted built-in flash.
The 24.3 megapixel Sony SLT A-77 uses an Exmor APS (23.5 x 15.6mm) HD CMOS sensor for imaging. The sensor unit features a dust reduction system using charge protection coating on the low pass filter along with image-sensor shift mechanism that dislodges any dust that may settle on the sensor. The camera features an in-body sensor-shift image stabilisation system. The A-77 features TTL phase-detection autofocus system with a sensitivity range of -1 to +18 EV (ISO 100 equivalent). Focus modes available are Single shot AF, Auto AF, Continuous AF, and Manual Focus. Focus area options are wide-area, 19-point local frame, fixed centre spot, predictive focus, auto-tracking focus point, and focus lock. The 19 focus points include 11 cross type sensors for faster focus with fast lenses. The camera uses 1200-zone evaluative metering and the metering modes are Multi-segment, Centre-weighted, and Spot. Exposure can be compensated up to +/-5 EV with increment options of 1/3 and 1/2EV. Exposure bracketing provides the option of 3 or 5 bracketed frames in 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 2.0, or 3.0-stop increment. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 16,000, which can be expanded to ISO 50 if required. Shutter speeds range from 30 to 1/8000 sec, with the option of Bulb setting. The maximum flash sync speed is 1/250 sec. The built-in flash has a Guide Number of 12m at ISO100 and covers up to 16mm (24mm equivalent). It offers flash exposure compensation of +/-3 EV with options of 1/2 and 1/3 EV increments and has a recycling time of approximately 3 sec. The flash modes available are Auto (Flash off), Auto, Fill flash, Red-eye reduction, Rear-curtain sync, Slow sync, High-speed sync, and Wireless. For using the wireless mode, you have to couple the camera with a compatible flashgun. White Balance options are Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent (Warm White, Cool White, Day White), Flash, Custom Temp 2500 to 9900k with 15 steps, Custom Filter, Custom, and AWB Micro Adjustment. White Balance bracketing is available for three frames.
The SLT A-77 offers still image formats of JPEG, Raw, Raw+JPEG, and 3D still image in MPO, while the movies are recorded in AVCHD and MP4 formats. The maximum image size for still images is 6000 x 4000 pixels, whereas the best movie quality is 1920 x 1080 (50p/28Mbps or 50i/24Mbps). JPEG quality options are Standard, Fine, and Extra Fine. Creative styles available are Standard, Vivid, Neutral, Clear, Deep, Light, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Autumn Leaves, B/W, Sepia, Saturation, and Sharpness. Shooting modes are AUTO, AUTO Advanced (AUTO+), Scene Selection, Sweep Panorama (2D/3D), Tele-zoom Continuous Advance Priority AE, Movie, Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter-speed priority, and Manual. Scene selection further provides options of Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Sunset, Night view / Night portrait, and Hand-held Twilight. The camera can shoot continuously at up to 12 frames per second for a maximum of 13 JPEG images in Extra Fine quality, and 18 images in Fine quality. This, according to Sony, makes this the world’s fastest continuous shooting speed in comparison to conventional D-SLRs. Self-timer can be set to either 10 or 2 sec. It uses a Memory Stick Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo or an SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card for storage.The A-77 features an electronic viewfinder along with a 3.0-inch, 921,600-dot TFT Xtra Fine LCD. The camera is powered by a rechargeable NP-FM500H battery pack. It measures approximately 142.6 x 104.0 x 80.9mm and weighs approximately 653g without battery, memory card and accessories.
The Sony A-77 is designed well, adopting the better design elements of most D-SLRs in the market, and hence most users will find it comfortable to adjust the settings. When you get the camera in your hands, the first thing you are likely to notice would be the beautifully designed multi-aspect articulated LCD. This is an excellent component, allowing you to view the scene from practically any angle. The images appeared crisp on the LCD, though we observed some ‘pixel jitter’ in shadow areas, which seems to be common with most electronic displays. The placement of the command dials, and the shortcut buttons on top are all welcome measures. However, the camera has its share of problems. The small joystick on the back panel is troublesome to operate. Adding to the problem is the difficulty to navigate through the disorderly multitude of buttons. Also, the camera is on the bulky side, and the thickness of the hand grip could be a major problem for people with small and medium-sized hands.
The Sony A-77 was tested with the supplied Sony DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Autofocus was fast and precise, though not silent with the supplied lens. All metering modes performed as expected. The camera controlled noise brilliantly. Native print size was 13.33 x 20 inches at 300 ppi. At 25 percent screen size, images appeared noise-free up to ISO 3200. We would consider even ISO 6400 to be usable. Viewed at 50 percent, the images up to ISO 1600 appeared free of noise. At 100 percent screen size, we did not find any perceptible noise up to ISO 400. You can safely use sensitivities up to ISO 1600 with this camera. White Balance was good under daylight and shade, but the camera produced distinct casts under most other White Balance modes. So you might need to manually tweak the White Balance under other light sources.
The 16-105mm lens exhibited prominent darkening of corners on the A-77. Flare was observed with slight magenta fringing. It did not produce any barrel or pincushion distortion, which is good.
Movie recording was smooth and the continuous AF was a much needed relief from frustrating focussing problems associated with many other cameras in movie mode. But as I mentioned before, AF is audible, and more so in movies, especially if the lens is forced to hunt for focus. The 12 frames per second continuous shooting speed makes you feel like you are firing off a Kalashnikov (an AK-47 rifle fires approximately 10 rounds per second).
The non-reflex nature of the mirror made us believe that the camera has also eliminated the darkening of the frame during exposure caused by mirror flip. But contrary to this, we observed that the frame darkened out during exposure. The camera has a mechanical shutter mechanism, and not a full electronic one (which uses the read-out time to act as shutter speed), and this might be the cause of the viewfinder momentarily darkening during the exposure.
Value for Money
The Sony SLT A-77 retails at an MRP of Rs.69,990 (body only). At this price, the camera seems good value for money. The Sony DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, with which we tested the A-77, retails at an MRP of Rs.34,990. Sony’s range of lenses and accessories is, however, much more limited and considerably lesser than either Canon or Nikon.
+ Smooth shutter release
+ Impressive continuous burst rate (though only for 1 second!)
+ Tilt and swivel LCD
+ Good noise control
+ Continuous focussing even during movie recording
– Disorderly buttons
– Bulky hand grip
– Default White Balance settings need refinement
Design and Build Quality 17/20
Key Features 18/20
Noise Control 4/6
Value for Money 8/10
Grand Total 82/100
The Sony SLT A-77 greatly reduces camera shake and slamming noise associated with mirror flip. A 24-megapixel camera with competitive pricing, the A-77 is a good buy, especially if you are looking for high-quality HD movie capability in an interchangeable lens camera.