Sony has been playing with the translucent technology since the release of their SLT-A55(V) no more than 2 years ago. The Sony SLT cameras look like a cross between a traditional DSLR and a mirrorless compact, and the A55 was like an offspring of the marriage of these two types of digital still cameras. It behaves very much like one too. Without any optical viewfinder, and instead of using contrast AF to acquire its subjects, the A55 takes the power of phase detection AF of a conventional DSLR and combined it with the live view convenience of a mirrorless compact. Although Sony already has a very fast live-view system on their DLSRs as far back as the DSLR-A350, the combination of the above technologies allow the SLT-A55 to react with so much more fluidity than even the more recent live-view model, the DSLR-A580, with specifications that rival DSLRs that cost twice as much.
With the SLT-A77(V), Sony has taken a step forward in introducing a camera even traditional photographers who primarily shoots with view finders cannot ignore, and at the same time revealed to hobbyists and the world over what a powerful imaging tool an SLT camera can be.
The A77 is loaded with one of Sony’s most advanced software for a DSLR or SLT to date, with enough customization to make sure its owner will not throw the instruction manual away without actually reading it first. Adjustable ISO range up to the second highest limit of ISO 12,800 (max is 16,000), assignable physical buttons, focus fine tuning for individual lenses, lighting ratio control, lens correction control – for JPEG (light fall off compensation, distortion control, color fringing reduction) are all found within this tightly packed aluminum body. Sony even threw 3D panorama (plus regular) stitching and special picture effects just to make sure there is nothing the A77 cannot do.
The A77, when coupled with a very fast SD card, can shoot and store faster than most photographers can compose an image, whether using the LCD or the viewfinder. It is important to use a UHS-1 card for the A77. One should never feed the A77 with a Class 4 or Class 10 SD card, or even one of Sony’s very own memory sticks slower than 50 MB/sec. They are simply too slow. There are currently two types of UHS-1 cards, one is the 45 MB/sec variant, and there is a newer 90 MB/sec variant.
Continuous use of the 45 MB/sec card shows that the A77 needs at least a card of this speed to clear its buffer in time to shoot at least a full 12 fps burst. The auto-focusing matrix of the A77 may not be the most impressive one out there, but it is by far the fastest and most powerful within the Sony DSLR/SLT family.
The SLT-A77 may not have the best on-board noise reduction algorithm for its JPEG outputs, but the sheer pixel density of its 24 MP imager is enough to make any digital photographer rethink the limitations of an APS-C body for super high resolution studio photography that used to be limited to full frame bodies and medium format cameras. It is also worth noting that the SLT-A65, the A77’s less intimidating sister, shares this incredible high resolution sensor.
After spending almost six months with this camera, it is without question that the camera’s sensor performs magnificently in daylight, where the sensitivity runs from a bright ISO 100 all the way up to the hazy ISO 1600.
In studio environments where lighting is abundant and well distributed, the A77’s sensor has at least two advantages over its full frame peers boasting the same resolution:
1)Deeper depth of field at the same aperture setting and distance. This is important for stock photographers who shoot small objects, where it is usually very difficult to get the entire object in focus because the DOF was simply too shallow to overcome.
2)Lighter and cheaper lenses. Full frame lenses, with their added size and weight always mean heftier price tags. APS-C bodies with its smaller imagine circle requirement means the photographer can afford higher quality lenses (like Sony’s Carl Zeiss DT zoom SAL1680CZ) that are simply cheaper because they are made for smaller APS-C bodies. Lighter lenses also mean a general lighter system to lug around, even if it is from one tripod to the next, or for those candid in-between shots. Most photographers welcome the weight and heft of a good system, but their assistants would welcome any kind of weight reduction that they can get so they can go home after a hard day’s work without a sprained back.
The A77 suffers visibly more chroma and luminance noise compared to the A55 once the surrounding goes dark, especially in the shadows. Most camera reviewers around the world have agreed that, if measured side by side, the A77’s noise output is no more than the A55’s all the way up to ISO 6400, but, unfortunately for the A77, the added resolution only serves to reveal all that captured noise with additional clarity.
The Adobe’s RAW Converter (6.5 and above) is an essential tool if one were to use the A77 primarily handheld in mixed environments. High ISO noise is very well controlled when A77’s RAW files are processed that way. Although it is not everyone’s cup of tea (to shoot RAW), the A77’s default JPEG noise reduction engine, even at firmware V1.04, does not impress, when compared to what the ACR 6.5 can do.
So far, there is only one known and verified quirk on the SLT-A77V that may bother some photographers, and here it is:
The A77, for some reason, behaves very strangely when paired with any original Sony flash units, HVL-20AM, HVL-42AM, HVL-43AM or the HVL-52AM. When the ISO range is set to auto, and the ISO range is set to the widest, from 100 to 12,800, and the flash lights are set to bounce, the camera has the tendency to overexpose. The camera does this by selecting an unusually high ISO setting, given the power of the flash attached, whether the flash power is set to auto or manual. The end result is images that are simply too bright. There are currently no known solutions for this, and it presents a challenge for photographers who chase brides and grooms around wedding days where lighting conditions can change drastically from one place to another.
With digital camera technology evolving faster than some mutating flu viruses, a flagship DSLR or SLT today can easily be outgunned by a mid-range model a year later. The alpha rumor website has already long announced the arrival of a flagship SLT full frame body. With Sony’s APC-S imagers reaching the impossible 24 MP mark just last year, it only stands to reason that the first full frame SLT body will undoubtedly breach the 30 MP mark, since Nikon will be releasing its D800 with a 36 MP full frame sensor.
For now, Sony is slated to release another revision of the A77’s firmware by 29 March 2012, and has promised to address a few more issues that currently plagues the A77. A lot of the issues, such as the slow shut down time, will be addressed with this latest update. Since Sony has promised to continue to update its lens correction data (for internal JPEG processing only) for the A77, it is quite likely that, even without additional major bug fixes in the foreseeable future, further firmware updates will be released to at least complete the lens correction data for the A77 to cater for all existing Sony lenses.
Happy shooting everyone, and let there be light.