Build Quality and Ergonomics:
Moving on to build quality, the A77 is a nice step up from the A55, A35, and the A580. It should be for the price though. It feels much more solid than the other Sony models I tested so far and it’s much more on par with my Canon 40D. Not 5D Mark II rugged though. Size wise it fits in my hands great and the grip is excellent. There are tons of buttons so I can control everything while looking through the viewfinder, with no issues once I learned where the buttons were. A huge plus and welcomed benefit over the Nex style camera body. The A77 also has two adjustment wheels for quickly scrolling through settings. One in the front and one in the back. The adjustment wheels actually change functions depending on what you’re doing and/or what menu you are currently in. Sometimes both wheels do the same thing, and other times they do different things. Pretty nice set-up and well thought out Sony!!
Weather sealing is included so you can bring this camera out in some weather, but I would not go to crazy in that regard as I don’t with my Canon cameras either. Could be just me, but I’d hate to lose a camera do to shooting in the rain, because it claimed to be weather sealed. I would rather wait to take the shot or use an umbrella etc.. If you require a camera for shooting in the rain, I would not recommend this camera. Besides, I highly doubt and manufacture would give you a new camera if yours got wet and broke. That being said, the seams are tight and the tolerances are a nice step up in quality.
The LCD screen looks great, but the OLED viewfinder is incredible!! A huge improvement over the previous SLT’s viewfinders like in the a55 and a35. The dynamic range is now visible so you can see the highlight and shadow detail with much better accuracy and clarity. This made it much easier to get the correct exposure for me when shooting in tricky lighting like flowing water for ex.. The LCD screen articulates and rotates so you can get it in pretty much any position needed. It feels very sturdy and tight considering all the pivot points, so it stays put wherever you adjust it. Love the LCD Screen, but it’s tuff to see and use in the sun. That’s when you just use the awesome OLED Viewfinder instead and call it a day 😉
The a77 uses Phase Detection Auto Focus which takes advantage of the translucent mirror by reflecting some of light upwards towards the 19 focus sensors. 11 of which are cross sensors which helps with both vertical and horizontal subjects. The focusing system works pretty good in bright contrast scenes, but struggles in low light more than I would expect. It also focuses right past small subjects sometimes which seems weird. Even if I’m using a specific focus point it will still focus right past stuff. Like leaves in a tree for example. It will focus right past the leaf in front of the focus point then come back and maybe lock on. It seems to get confused more than I would expect for such an advanced AF system. As long as there is a human in the scene it can usually find something to focus on in Full Auto, but when you move to similar colors at different distances or a smooth surface with little contrast it just hunts forever sometimes. Based on the amount of sensors in this camera I would think the focus would be closer to my Canon 5D Mark II. I know they are on a different paying fields, but the focusing system on the 5D Mark II is not exactly great as far as Canon’s AF goes, and it’s relatively old. Perhaps the actual sensors themselves are of a different quality? Or I was thinking maybe the ~30% of light being reflected up towards the sensors is limiting the AF System a bit on the A77? I honestly don’t know and can’t find the answer anywhere, but I’m still doing re-search on this 😉
Update: 3/30/12 – The Latest Firmware Update fixed the AF issue mentioned above considerable!! Get it here >>
Sony went with a standard menu system on the a77 and I think that was a smart move! The picture influenced menu’s of the Nex cameras although easy to figure out for beginners can be a bit slow in comparison. The standard menu simple has tabs on the top from left to write divided up into categories that make sense. You can use either navigation wheel to scroll through the menu options in no time. Great job Sony!! Playback of photos is a tad bit laggy, but the firmware upgrade improved this significantly.
Overall the battery life is pretty good on the a77 compared to the any of the Nex cameras, the a35 and a55 which all use a smaller battery. Compared to my Canon 5D Mark II it’s realistically about half the life I would say. I didn’t actually time it or anything, but I use the cameras a lot the OLED and LCD screen both drain the battery quick. I would definitely carry a few spares with you on a day trip if you do a lot of shooting or video!!
Image Quality in the Real World:
I did extensive real world testing with the Sony A77 and took 1000’s of photos and lots of video in all sorts of scenarios looking for faults and seeing how the Sony handles things in comparison to my Canon gear and other Sony cameras I’ve tested so far. Out of the gate I was very impressed! I also have a nice Gallery set-up on Google Plus with a ton more sample pics if you want to check it out 😉
Raw Image Files:
The image quality when shooting Raw is outstanding at ISO 800 and below. Beyond that it’s pretty noisy and you will need to reduce the noise a bit in post processing. Adjustments in Lightroom to the raw files are taken well and you can push it pretty far before noticing banding and other issues. Coming from Canon I must say the Sony sensors are better in the Highlights department for sure. The detail is retained in the highlights better than my Canon 5D Mark II. In the shadows the A77 also does a great job retaining shadow detail and when using the Dynamic Range Optimizer you can really lighten up the shadows a lot!! DRO is set to Auto by default on the A77 just so you know. I tuned it off for most of the time though.
Lets move on to some real world images and will get more into specifics about image quality as we go through them.
For starters lets focus on the dynamic range of the 24.3 megapixel Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor. Check out the excellent highlight detail on Sadie’s white fur in direct sunlight. Also be sure to Click on the pics for a larger version!!
Here’s the Histogram of the Raw file from Lightroom 3 showing all the info captured in the Shadows and Highlights. Excellent Dynamic Range!
A closer look at Sadie’s white fur and Highlight Detail
Here is another scenario with extreme dynamic range. Again the Sony a77 performed very well on both fronts especially in the highlights department. The shadows did clip a bit in the lower left, but that is easily recoverable in Lightroom if you shoot raw. The 16-50mm kit lens also performed quite well despite all the negative press I’ve read over the past few weeks. Perhaps I got a sharper version than some others or maybe a batch was let out mis-calibrated?
Here is another scene from the same town with some serious dynamic range. I would normally shoot these scenes using HDR if I was using my Canon 5D mark II, because it would probably clip the highlights. To be fair I did not measure the dynamic range so the 5d mark II may have been able to handle the scenes. The Sony a77 can handle the dynamic range no problem though and notice in the histogram how it protects those highlights.
Having some fun before work I managed to get a bunch of photos during the Golden Hour I really like the vibrant colors that the Sony Alpha 77 pumps out. The depth of field and bokeh with the kit lens is also not bad at all in my opinion. Even at f/3.5 in the image below it’s very sharp in the center where I focused and the highlight detail is still retained in the out of focus extremely bright background on the left side. Check out the histogram and you see the reds just barely clip and the blacks clip a bit more on the shadow under the fence cross member. I shot this image Raw so I could easily recover the slightly clipped areas, but it’s fine for my purposes in this review.
There is a little bit of noise in these raw files even at ISO 100, but there is no noise reduction applied at all so it’s really not bad at all in my opinion and about the same as the Canon 5D mark II. I remember when I first got that camera and saw the noise at ISO 100 I was like what the?? However, when shooting raw you need to post process at least somewhat, so keep that in mind. These images have the default Adobe raw profile applied as they were imported into lightroom 3, so they are technically processed to some degree similar to the jpeg images, but it’s in a non destructive way. In Lightroom you can actually zero out your raw file if you like, but it looks really flat and dull. Adobe engineers do a great job and you can always tweak the settings as needed.
Moving on check this fall foliage color and Bokeh out. The 16-50mm f/2.8 lens is also notable sharp at f/8 and 50mm.
Sharp at 100%!!
This is a cool old gear mechanism used for something back in the day, but I have no idea what for. In any event it has great textures and colors so I took a few different angles in the early morning.
Sharp at 100%!!
Pretty sharp at 100%