Sony Alpha A77 review
Sony Alpha A77 review - Performance
One of the big questions marks hanging over the Alpha A77 is the inclusion of the EVF. However good the rest of the camera may be, if the EVF is not up to scratch, then it's going to be at a real disadvantage. The A77's 2.4 million dot - almost double that found in the A35 and A55 - OLED viewfinder delivers a really clear and crisp image. Coverage is 100% and with a magnification of 1.09x, it feels far from tunnel like. It's the best EVF we've seen in any camera to date.
Issue that have plagued EVFs in the past, and that appear to have been partially rectified here, include tearing and ghosting lag. As you move the camera from side to side, such as when you're tracking a subject, a ‘tearing' effect can be a probelm with interlaced signals, while ghosting is common with fast moving subjects. Because the Alpha A77 has a progressive refresh, tearing isn't an issue, though fast movement hasn't fully eradicated ghosting in all circumstances. Overall, the EVF is a success. It's not quite a match for an optical one, but it does a very solid job. In day-to-day use you'll hardly notice you're using an EVF and only in certain high-contrast lighting conditions do you miss the more traditional optical viewfinder. It won't be for everyone and is worth trying out before you decide to part with your cash.
The A77's 19-point AF system is up against excellent AF systems found in both the Canon EOS 7D and Nikon D300s. The AF system may seem overshadowed by the 7D's 19-point (all cross-type) and the D300s's 51-point (15 cross-type) AF systems, but in practice, it works very well indeed. There're four AF area modes to choose from: wide, zone, spot and local, while AF point selection is quick thanks to the multi-directional joystick. In single-shot AF, the A77 locks on to static subjects with ease - paired with the 16-50mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 that we tested it with, AF was fast and precise with no hunting issues to cause concern. Switch to Continuous AF and it's a similar story. While it may not have the same level of AF fine-tuning and custom functions as its two rivals, it performed very well. Out in the field at a rugby match, and the AF kept focus with fast on-coming subjects without any problems.
Pair this with the ultra-fast 12fps, and you have a very desirable action camera. When shooting Raw, the Alpha A77 will allow you to shoot continuously for 12 frames before the buffer slows up, while 14 JPEGs are possible at the same rate. Quite a feat when you consider the large 6000x4000 pixel files the Alpha A77 has to crunch through.
Because the Alpha A77 uses full-time phase-detect autofocus, autofocus during Live View is excellent, and is a mirror of what you experience while shooting with the EVF. The design of the hinged-screen allows for a plethora of positions that suit both portrait and landscape format shooting, while the screen itself is crisp and sharp, allowing you to easily assess images on location.
For manual focus, the Smart Teleconverter button on the rear of the camera can be assigned as a Focus Magnifier - hit that, and the display zooms in on the focus area at approx 5.9x magnification, and further should you wish at 11.7x.
The camera itself is very easy to pick-up and start shooting with. Most controls are easily accessed, while the Function button allows you to tinker with a host of other commonly used controls. The menu system is split up into seven sub-sections - Record, Movie, Custom, Playback, Memory, Date and Time, and Setup. It's clear and easy to navigate via the joystick, and once you've got the camera set-up how you want, there's probably only very few occasions when you'll need to dive in to make any changes.
If there are any complaints, it's the start-up time and battery life. Switch the Alpha A77 on and it's not as immediate as its rivals, taking a shade longer to be primed and ready to shoot with. Because the battery is being kept busy with the EVF as well as the rear display, we found the battery drained quicker than its rivals. There is the option of the additional vertical grip (VG-C77AM) that'll accommodate two batteries for those not wanting to run out of juice on a busy day's shoot.