After a four-year wait, Sony has returned to the enthusiast/semi-pro end of the DSLR market. Having made little impact in that market with the A700 that very closely resembled the conventional DSLRs made by Canon and Nikon, Sony has spent the intervening time developing something a bit different. The A77 builds on the company’s ‘translucent mirror’ technology, and uses an electronic rather than optical viewfinder. The final result is a product that may look traditional, but is able to promise the unconventional.
Spec-wise the A77 is impressive: it features a new 24MP APS-C CMOS sensor, 12fps full-resolution shooting and the highest resolution EVF we’ve ever encountered (a 2.4M dot OLED finder). It also uses a new 19-point AF sensor, 11 points of which are cross-type (sensitive to detail in both the vertical and horizontal axis). Clever use of the main sensor’s live view allows the A77 to track objects as they move across the frame, enabling the camera to have a better understanding of which AF point it should be using at any given time.
Last year’s SLT-A55 gave some clues about how Sony hoped to bring its electronics know-how to bear in a high-end camera. Its fixed, semi-transparent mirror design meant Sony could do away with a conventional optical viewfinder and use an electronic display. It also meant that the phase-detection autofocus that gives DSLRs much of their immediacy could be used all the time. The result was a camera that could shoot at an impressive 10fps, could focus quickly in video mode and offered full-time live view with consistent DSLR-like behaviour in a way that no camera had really managed before.
Unsurprisingly the A77 takes all these capabilities a lot further than the consumer-level A55 – it combines the latest processor with an electronic first curtain shutter to offer the level of responsiveness the more demanding enthusiast/semi-pro users will expect. The A77’s massively improved viewfinder is also key to ensuring the A77 can hold its own against the very stiff competition it faces from the likes of Canon’s 7D. (You don’t have to read particularly far between the lines to conclude it was this feature Sony wanted to perfect before launching an SLT into this market.)
And, as with the A55 and a handful of other recent Sony cameras, the A77 offers in-camera GPS. It can be a really useful feature for organising and retreiving images, as allowing tagged images to be geo-located on sites such as Flickr. As with all GPS settings, it can take a while to locate enough satellites, or struggle to find them at all in built-up areas. Then, of course, there’s a battery penalty to be paid.
In addition to the technological advances, Sony has clearly been listening to its audience when developing the camera’s firmware – the A77 is not just the most customizable Sony we’ve ever encountered, but that customization includes a number of long asked-for features. In addition to the ability to fine-adjust the AF tuning, Sony has added the ability to define the upper and lower extremes that the Auto ISO system will use – a step we suspect many users will welcome.
But despite all this technological wizardry, the A77 is actually a remarkably conventional-feeling camera. It may have a plastic top-plate, rather than the A700’s tank-like magnesium-alloy construction, and use SD rather than CF cards, but in pretty much every other respect it looks and behaves like a logical progression of the series. Overall, despite the fact that it embraces a rather different set of technologies, it feels and behaves much like a conventional semi-pro DSLR.
Sony SLT-A77 key specifications:
- 24MP CMOS Sensor
- 12fps continuous shooting with autofocus
- 1080p60 movies with autofocus
- 2.4M dot OLED viewfinder
- 1/8000th maximum shutter speed, shutter rated for 150,000 actuations
- ISO 100 – 16,000 (25,600 with multi-image combination. Expands down to ISO 50)
- Auto ISO with customisable lower and upper limits
- Optional, profile-based correction of vignetting, chromatic aberrations and geometric distortion
- Pull-out three-hinge tilt/swivel 920k dot LCD screen
- Built-in GPS
- Top panel LCD
- Stereo microphone and external mic socket
- AF Micro Adjust
- Dust shake sensor cleaning
Sony’s A77 translucent mirror DSLR is equipped with a new Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor loaded with a whopping 24.3 megapixels. Coupled with a new BIONZ image processor, it offers an ISO range of 100-16000 and full 60p 1080 HD video recording. For a more cinematic look, 24p is also available. A new 19-point AF system has been incorporated into the translucent mirror system with 11 cross-type points.
The most impressive number might be the A77’s burst shooting rate. With a new electronic shutter, the new Alpha is capable of 12 fps at full 24 megapixel resolution – a boost from the A55’s already impressive 10 fps rate. Like the pioneering Translucent Mirror cameras before it, the A77 uses a pellicle mirror to maintain auto focus as image capture takes place. Sony touts the new electronic shutter curtain as capable of a lag time of just 50 milliseconds.
Introduced in both the A77 and A65 is an OLED viewfinder of 2359k-dot resolution (referred to by Sony as XGA). The A77 provides a three-way adjustable 3.0-inch LCD with a 921k-dot resolution.
Also introduced is a new DT 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM Alpha mount lens. It will be offered as a bundle option with the A77. Users can also add a new VG-C77AM Vertical Grip accessory with room for two additional batteries.
Sony Alpha SLT-A65
The Alpha A65 will offer many of the same updates as the A77 starting with that new 24.3 megapixel sensor. Along with the sensor, the same 1080 HD 60p AVCHD video capability will be available. The continuous shooting rate is somewhat slower at 10 fps full resolution.
The A65’s AF chip will use 15 points, three of them cross-type sensors – the same AF sensor utilized by the A55. Both the A77 and A65 will utilize a 1200 zone metering system and in-camera sensor-shift image stabilization. A variety of processing effects will be available to the user including Retro Photo, HDR Painting and Miniature modes.
New Translucent Mirror cameras in hand
The DCR staff spent a little time with some pre-production A77 and A65 models recently. In terms of AF speed, the new cameras are everything they’re hyped up to be. We were impressed by the A55 last year and the A77 and A65 are no exception.
The Sony Alpha A77 will be offered as a kit with the new 16-55mm lens for an estimated $2000; body-only it will cost $1400. Expect the lens to sell separately for around $700. The Sony Alpha A65 will ring up for about $1000 with standard 18-55mm kit lens or $900 body-only. Both cameras are slated for October availability.