Sony A77 Preview

August 25, 2011

Sony has finally announced the long awaited SLT-A77 Translucent Mirror digital camera. The A77 replaces the A700 which was announced four years ago. Many has referred to this camera has a game changer, after many of its specs has been leaked to the web through out 2011. Now that it’s here, it’s time to get a closer look at what seems to be one of the most interesting DSLR cameras to date.

Introduction to Sony A77

The Sony A77  (α77) is the latest and most advanced digital camera carrying Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology. For those who don’t know, this technology takes advantage of a semi-transparent fixed mirror, which transmits thirty percent of the light to the AF sensor and seventy percent of the light to the 24-megapixel Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor.

Sony Alpha SLT-A77 Digital camera

The Sony SLT-A77 Camera with 85mm f1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* lens attached

By utilizing this Translucent Mirror technology, the a77 can continuously autofocus on moving subjects when shooting in a fast 12fps burst rate or while shooting movie clips. Indeed, other DSLR cameras do that as well, but there is a marginal difference. The A77 has a much faster and accurate continuous focus, and it utilizes a phase-detection sensor, compared to a contrast-detection sensor on DSLR cameras.

That leads to a much faster and more accurate continuous AF, and allows the camera to capture sequence images in a much faster frame-rate. The Sony SLT-A77 can capture sequenced images at an astonishing speed of 12 frames-per-second. Remember that we are talking about an enthusiast camera, not a professional DSLR, where you expect to see such performance. In fact, the a77 has the fastest continuous shooting speed in any ASP-C cameras on the market today.

This is just a glimpse of what you can expect to get when you put your money and invest in such a beautiful digital imaging masterpiece. In this article, I want to go over the key specs and features of this brand-new SLT Alpha digital camera from Sony, and help you decide whether this is the next camera that you should purchase for yourself this year (or next year).


Brand New 24.3 MP Sensor

Sensor and mirror of the Sony A77

A77 A-mount & sensor

One of the specs highlights of the a77 is a new Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor (23.5 X 15.6mm) populated with 24.3-megapixels (Effective). This is the highest resolution on any APS-C size sensor to-date.

At the time you are reading those lines, you probably asking yourself why Sony had decided to so many pixels, instead of being satisfied with 16MP or 18MP? – I personally don’t have a scientific answer for that, but I can just assume that many enthusiast photographers wanted to have this in a high-end SLT camera.

The thing is with ultra-high resolution sensors, is that you get more pixel density (considering the same sensor size), which means smaller pixels that each one is less sensitive to light. In general, this could lead to an increase of noise, especially when shooting photos in high ISO sensitivities.

According to Sony, the new Exmor™ APS HD CMOS represents a new generation of highly sensitive sensors. For you, the photographer, it means that not just that you get more image resolution, but the image quality won’t be degraded compared to other models with fewer pixels. Even more than that, one of Sony’s representative said on Sony’s blog that the image quality was actually improved.

So what you can do with such a high resolution photo? – well, you can have more room for cropping your photos if that’s what you like. You can order very large prints and get to capture very small details that sometimes cannot be seen on lower resolution sensors. So it’s all about high quality and detailed image. I can just imagine how 1:1 macro images will look when captured with the A77 – should look pretty awesome.

The sensor sensitivity starts from ISO 100 and climbs up to ISO 16000. ISO50 is also available as expanded ISO range. The upgraded BIONZ™ image processor promises very low noise and updated algorithms that should reduce noise in High ISO and long-exposure shots. So it seems that with every new-generation digital camera, we get to raise the pixel limit but at the same time maintaining and even improving the image quality as well.


Camera Design

Sony A77 camera top view

Redesigned, weather resistant and modern camera body

The design of the Sony SLT-A77 has changed considerable, although it still maintains some of the design characteristics of the A700 which this camera replaces. The camera has a much more curvy/rounded design and doesn’t look like a brick as the A700 which it replaces.

This is a camera that Sony is very proud of. I personally think that the a77 is probably the most important camera that was announced by Sony since it entered the DSLR business in 2005. I actually admire Sony for keeping up and maintaining this line of cameras, that in comparison to Olympus, who has decided to focus on mirrorless cameras and ditch its efforts in the DSLR business.

At the top-right part of the a77 camera you can see an information LCD panel, a pop-up flash, stereo microphone, buttons and the mode-dial on the left side. At the rear, we get to see buttons that allow us quick access to popular functions and the buttons are spread nicely on the right side of the camera.

Articulating LCD screen, Sony A77 camera

3-inch three-hinge tilt/swivel LCD screen

At the left side we have the 3.0” TFT Xtra Fine™ LCD (921,600 pixels) TruBlack™ technology LCD. This is a unique articulating screen, which tilt up 150 degrees and down 180 degrees, and it can rotate 180 degrees clockwise and 90 degrees counterclockwise. That gives the photographer a complete freedom for controlling the positioning of the LCD while composing images or shooting video clips.

This is a very high-quality display that complements this 2nd generation Translucent Mirror Camera design and the company’s vision for coming up with one of the most exciting enthusiast cameras on the market.

The body of the camera was built to last. It’s made with magnesium-alloy which is both very durable, but light weight at the same time. The body is weather-resistant, so does the official complementary vertical battery grip (VG-C77AM) that was designed exclusively for the a77.

The a77 is has well-defined ergonomic shape and has good depth for improved ergonomics for shooting hand-held. So as you can see, quite a lot of effort was invested into the design of the Sony A77, and the result looks very great, both in terms of ergonomics, usability, style and durability.


World’s First OLED Viewfinder

OLED eye-level electronic viewfinder

OLED eye-level electronic viewfinder

Yes, you are reading the above title correctly. The Sony α77 is the first camera to use an OLED electronic viewfinder. This Tru-Finder™ OLED EVF features 2359k-dot (XGA) resolution and provides bright, high contrast and precise 100% frame coverage. From what I’ve read, many people won’t even notice that they are viewing the scene via an electronic viewfinder and not through an optical one.

Having an EVF brings some new qualities and improves the composition facilities available for the advanced photographer. For example, you can preview white balance and exposure effect in real-time via the viewfinder, which wasn’t available on DSLR cameras with optical viewfinder.

This is a great improvement over previous models where you could spot the pixels due to a lower-resolution LCD. This brand-new OLED viewfinder gives the photographer better control over the composition and being able to predict the final imaeg output. This is a very clear and bright viewfinder that will make shooting with the a77 a great joy.


12 fps Burst at Full Resolution

Sports photographers will love to hear that the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 can shoot 12 frames-per-second at Full 24.3MP resolution. That’s an astonishing achievement, and we need to give the credit to the translucent mirror technology, which brings professional class leading burst rates to an enthusiast-level camera. Furthermore, you can shoot at 12fps and the camera will utilize the continuous AF even in continuous shooting mode. According to Sony (and I believe Sony), that this is the world’s fastest shooting speed for an APS-C camera to-date.

So who will enjoy this blazing-fast burst rate? – Well, will start with sports photographers, who can take advantage of every single frame to stop the subject and capture gorgeous sports photos. You can use it to capture sequenced photos of surfing, basketball, football, Ski, baseball, racing cars or any other sports activity where the subjects moves fast across the frame.

So there you have it, a blazing fast continuous shooting at 12 frames-per-second that answers the needs of the most enthusiast sports photographer. You don’t need to purchase a very expensive pro-grade DSLR to enjoy this speed. Another great achievement from Sony.

Want to know how 12 fps sounds like? – Go to 3:25 in the timeline and just listen to the marvelous sound of the A77 machine gun!

Amazing, isn’t it?

Also worth mentioning that the camera can shoot at a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec and the shutter was tested for up to 150,000 cycles – another great reason why sports photographers should look into this new camera.


Full HD Progressive 60p and 24p Movies

The video is another area where Sony wanted to improve upon with the release of the a77. With the a77 you can now record movie clips at Full HD 1920×1080 resolution in 60p (progressive), 60i (interlaces) or at 24p cinematic frame-rate. Previous models were only capable of shooting in 60i (interlaced). It means that the sensor recorded the video at 30p but the camera output the file in a 60i wrapper for better smooth looking video.

“Interlaced” means that only half of the image resolution lines is available for each frame, while in progressive mode, all the lines are there for each single frame in the video. That means that you get better IQ, while still maintaining the smooth viewing experience of 60 fps.

The SLT-A77 incorporates the latest AVCHD™ Progressive (Ver. 2.0) format for improved image quality and still maintain relatively smaller files so you can easily upload the videos to the web.

The a77 has a built-in stereo microphone for recording videos with high quality, crystal-clear stereo sound, Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC audio format.


SteadyShot INSIDE™

SteadyShot Inside text on camera

Sony SteadyShot INSIDE in every Alpha Camera

Sony’s SteadyShot INSIDE refers to the in-camera image stabilization mechanism that incorporated into all Sony’s DSLR cameras in the Alpha range. This mechanism combats camera shake and helps to minimize blurring in your images while shooting in low-shutter speeds. I doesn’t matter which lens you use (ie. Macro , telephoto , old Konica-Minolta, wide-angle lenses, etc.), Sony SteadyShot INSIDE will stabilize the image while shooting hand-held.

This mechanism works in a way that it cancels camera shake by moving the sensor in the opposite direction of the camera movement. This unique mechanism is also referred to as Sensor-shift image stabilization, opposed to lens-shift, where the correction is made inside the lens, by moving the lens elements to compensate the camera movement in the opposite direction.

The SteadyShot INSIDE on the A77 is the latest generation of this system, that was improved to be more energy-efficient and more compact in size. Sony continues to improve this mechanism to allow better stop advantage and improving the overall performance and accuracy of this mechanism.

Here’s a video that talks about this mechanism that was also incorporated in the Sony A55 and of course in all Sony’s Alpha DSLR and SLT cameras.


The advantages of sensor-shift image stabilization and IS in general:

  1. Stabilize any lens that is mounted on the camera, including old Konica-Minolta lenses
  2. Saves you money, because you don’t need to pay more to get a stabilized lens
  3. Combats camera shake, with is very useful when shooting with long telephoto-zoom lenses and when shooting with slow shutter speeds
Notice: that it’s recommended to turn the image stabilization off when mounting the camera on a tripod, because the tiny movements of the mechanism can actually cause the camera to shake slightly, which can blur your photos.

Embedded GPS for Geo-Tagging Photos

Map and compass

Remembers where you took your photos

Sony Alpha SLT-A77 features an in-camera GPS receiver. This GPS connects to satellites where the camera can receive location coordinates and use that data to automatically embed the location data for each photo taken with the a77. This is called geo-tagging, and it became a very demanded and popular function when software and online photo sharing services start using this GPS metadata for arranging, managing and displaying photos, whether online or offline.

For example,  Flickr, an online photo sharing community website, allows photographers to upload photos and display them on a map. That can help you find specific photos that were shot at a specific location, by location them on a large map. This feature available to any Flickr member.

Geo-tagging becomes a problem when you don’t have a GPS receiver in your camera that can automatically geo-tag your photos. If you don’t have an internal GPS, you’ll need to use an external receiver and then embed that data in your photos using an external computer program. In fact, you can use your iPhone or any mobile phone with a GPS to track your location and then synchronize the location data with your photos.

Again, this is a hard work, and I personally don’t geo-tag my photos when I shoot with my Nikon D3100 (Although I want to). Having an embedded GPS antenna in your camera really simplifies things considerably. All you need to do is to continue doing what you enjoy doing, taking photos, and the camera will make sure that all your photos are geo-tagged – It’s Simple and it works right out-of-the-box.

So there you go, another useful feature that we wanted to have, and now we have it on the SLT-A77. Enthusiast photographers will certainly appreciate this.


Should you Buy It?

The A77 is a really unique camera, not revolutionary but indeed evolutionary for the reasons I’ve stated above. I still haven’t mentioned the 3D Sweep Panorama™ Mode, Sweep Panorama™ Mode, in-camera HDR, Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) and 6-image layering option to shoot six images for one clean multi-frame image. There are also a wide range of nice effects which you can apply to both stills and videos.

However, when you buy a camera like the Sony A77, you probably have some degree of experience as a photographer. You know your way around using the camera and your search for an advanced gear that will help you become more creative. The Sony SLT-A77 is exactly the camera that many enthusiast photographers will be looking for in 2011/2012.

I do believe that some Canon and Nikon photographers will make a switch and try experimenting with this new magnificent piece of equipment. We still need to stay alerted because Canon and Nikon still haven’t introduced the replacement for their cameras, including the Nikon D300s (Nikon D400?), Canon 5D Mark II (5D MK III?) or Canon EOS 7D (7D MK II?). Some people might prefer to wait a bit to see what Canon and Nikon are planning. I think that waiting can take forever, and the Sony did an amazing job with the A77 with all the amazing features and come with it.

I have a good feeling that reviews will do justice with this camera, and the image quality will stand at the same level with the magnificent wide arsenal of features that the A77 offers. The A77 is certainly a camera that you should consider buying this year.

Let’s not forget the excellent range of high optical quality lenses in the Alpha range, including Carl-Zeiss brand lenses. If you want to jump onto the Sony wagon, this is the best time to do so with the A77.

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