For Short Attention Spans, My Impressions of the Sony Alpha A77

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The Hook

I'm a Nikon shooter. I shoot landscapes - inanimate objects and try, unsuccessfully to call it art. I do a lot of postprocessing gobblty-goop to try to make the mundane photos that I take, look interesting. I also shoot little kids.

um, with the camera, usually.

When I heard about Sony's Nex-7 and Alpha-77, I'll admit to getting Sony-curious.

I owned a Nex-5. I liked it, generally more than chores, housework and paying bills but generally less than sex, food, the internet and my D7000. But this isn't about the Nex-5.

It's about the A77

It's about 24.3 frikkin megapixels crammed into a 23.5x15.6mm sensor. 1/10 of a millimeter smaller than but still qualified as a APS-C Sensor. Sony's marketing goons refer to it as Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor.

Whatever that means.

It's about 19 point autofocus. 11 of them cross-type.

It's about a whopping 12 fps shooting capacity, a respectable ISO range of 100-12800 plus "expandable" for lower/higher values.

It's about Full 1080p HD (60p, 60i, 24p) movies of your little ones hugging on Mickey Mouse.

It's about Sony's Translucent Mirror, a decent tech with a few small shortcomings, in theory.

..It's about a pretty kick ass little camera that nature has conspired to keep out of your hands through floods and natural disaster.

The Switch

I got my hands on this A77 through one of those backdoor eBay transactions. I emailed a guy that had listed several, came to terms off eBay and paypal'd him the necessary $2k "gift" and did lots of praying to not be ripped off.

A few days later to my surprise and great comfort, a new-unopened Sony A77VQ Kit showed at my door.

<sidebar>
I'd been looking for a replacement camera, something to accompany my (one day: D800) for photo walks. The idea, for me was to get two cameras with the highest possible resolution to support my habit of HDR, tone map plus Photoshop. The plan was to have the A77 on a sling and the D800 on a tripod. Nerd Photo Walk, ENGAGE!

I've been a Nikon guy and I was very happy with the D7000 until I sold mine, preemptively anticipating a D7100 to reduce its' value and with foolish hopes to apply said fundage to a D800.

I digress.
</sidebar>

The Goods

The camera is well built, feels comparably "strong" to the D7000. One note, the grip is quite epic. Like, if when the guy from FPS Russia picks up a Sniper Rifle and stares at the camera with that "Oh yeah..." nod -- the blissful look of scooping something up that was designed to feel right in your hand. The A77's grip can't be overstated. It is really, that good.

This Lens is a Sleeper..

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This kit, came with Sony's 16-50mm f2.8 Lens, which frankly, I intended to never use in lieu of their more versatile 18-250mm all-in-one lens. Jeez was I ever wrong. The 16-50mm is a crisp, fast & super-well-built lens that surprises the heck out of me every time I use it. I honestly feel compelled to apologize to it when switching lenses, which I find myself doing less and less.

The Autofocus on the camera is excellent. Fast and works well with tracking. Video on my D7000 was unusable because of focus tracking weakness. The Translucent mirror allows the A77 to stalk its image with surprising effectiveness. Finally, a great video experience from a DSLR. In stills, the autofocus surprises me in that it can generally grab subjects at the far extremes of the frame and track them well as they cross the frame. Great job, Sony. You solved the Autofocus DSLR problem. Nikon, Canon, take note.

The camera shoots the advertised 12 fps for up to the 12 frames, even shooting RAW. A few frames after the twelve however, the buffer begins to fill and you start to get more like 3-4 frames a second as the buffer clears during the write operation to the card. This happened with RAW and JPG, extra-fine typically - writing to my Class 10 Card.

Try not to fill the buffer for the full twelve frames.

The flash works reasonably well, although it feels a little too powerful in this lens combination. As if Tim Taylor gave the flash "more power." Auto-White balance is smart enough.

Good Button Layouts, Good Thumb stick, Neat Swivelly ScreenP1000887-m_medium

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The menus are pretty good. The FN button gets you to a quick menu of the common shooting aspects. The Menu button gets you to the full, million-page, million-option menu that you'll spend hours learning. The thumbstick pointer-thing is pretty good. The button layout is good. I'd like Play to be somewhere else but that's just me. The screen swivels and contorts in more positions than your High School gymnastics team captain.

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Did I mention, the lens is great?

..

Live View Actually Worth Using, A Very Good OLED ViewFinderP1000879-m_medium

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Sony put an actual OLED screen inside the viewfinder. It's cool. You get all of the heads up-info that live view gives you and.. unlike the D7000, live view on the A77 works as you would expect in terms of autofocus and shutter action. The OLED Viewfinder flips back and fourth from the live view screen with a clever little sensor that detects your eye as it gets close. Sort of like my iPhone, that sensor could use a little refinement but it isn't bad.

The Bads

Not the best Battery experience. To preface this, when I bought the D7000, I ordered two of the kit batteries. Didn't need to. The D7000 apparently imprisoned a small hampster and wheel mechanism magically keeping their batteries charged. Shooting 900 shots a-week, I'd charge that Nikon battery every other week, at worst.

The A77.. Not so much. One day of shooting and you're done. Get another battery.

..I'm sure the very bright display, and OLED viewfinder contribute to the battery life. I haven't even tried with the integrated GPS for fear of battery drain.

Bracketing, kinda fail for my use. The camera will autobracket the way I'd like to shoot (3 frames, +-2 ev) and it is enabled, easily, through the "Drive mode" menu option. Two clicks and you are going. You can do Continuous Shooting Bracketing or Single Shot. At first I thought that option was trivial but I've found the Single Shot Bracketing to be useful in trying to do the "hold really still, crap I wish I had my tripod, bit."

The feature that's missing (and I'd happily send Sony a check today to implement) is the ability to pair bracketing with the timer. I'm pretty sure it won't do this since the timer is also lumped in the drive mode- category. If I'm wrong here, please someone let me know and I'll send you a check instead.

Conclusion and Sample Shots

This camera is a really great competitor to the D7000 or even, in my opinion, the 5Dmk2. I, personally think it's a little better than the D7000 at most things.

You are free to browse some galleries of shots taken of and taken using the A77,

on my smugmug gallery here: http://smu.gs/yuRDQ4

All of those shots are straight out of the camera, saved for one HDR'd final jpg.

Please don't click and buy any of these sample gallery shots.. because.. that would be.. awkward and strange. Who does that?

In the end.. the A77 is a great camera. It is hands down my choice for someone looking for a APS-C sized shooter and willing to brave a somewhat less-proven brand. I'm sure, it's little brother, the Nex-7 will be a treat as well.