The many ‘world firsts’ on the Sony Alpha 77 include a 24.3-million-pixel APS-C sensor and a 2.4-million-pixel XGA OLED electronic viewfinder. In fact, there’s much to be excited about
Not only is the Alpha 77 a departure from the Alpha 700, but it also demonstrates a bold onward step from the previous flagship SLT, the Alpha 55. The headline grabber is, of course, the 24.3-million-pixel sensor, which, at the time of writing, is the highest resolution available for a Bayer-type, APS-C model.
With around 50% extra pixels on the same-sized sensor, it is more crowded than the 16.2-million-pixel sensors of Sony’s Alpha 35 and 55, the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000. I hope this does not compromise the Alpha 77’s ability to handle noise levels effectively in low light, especially given that its fixed mirror directs a small portion of the light entering the camera away from the imaging sensor to the AF sensor.
The Alpha 77 uses SteadyShot image stabilisation to give an extra 2.5-4.5EV of usable shutter speeds for sharp handheld shooting. The system shifts the sensor inside the camera to compensate for vertical and horizontal movement, which means that lenses used with the camera do not need to be stabilised.
At the heart of the new camera is the latest Bionz processor. It is the company’s fastest yet, and it needs to be. When the Alpha 77 is pushed to its limits, such as with 24.3-million-pixel, full-resolution files at a maximum 12fps in a 13-frame burst, it has a lot of data to process in what users will desire to be a short space of time.
A downside to the pellicle mirror diverting some light to the AF sensor is that less light will reach the viewfinder. In the Canon Pellix (the first camera to use this type of mirror almost 50 years ago), it resulted in a darker and more-difficult-to-view optical viewfinder. However, Sony’s use of an electronic viewfinder (EVF) eliminates this issue.
Sony has developed its latest EVF completely in-house, and it can be found in the Alpha 77 and 65, the NEX-7 and as an external unit for the new NEX-5N. It has a 2.359-million-dot XGA OLED monitor, which is almost twice the resolution of the EVF used in the Alpha 55, and the first OLED type.
The company claims this delivers 10x higher contrast than conventional EVFs. It has 100% coverage and also the full benefit of display information, including active AF points, histogram and two-dimensional level gauge.
Of course, the alternative way to view and compose images is through an LCD screen. Prior to the Alpha 77, a moving LCD screen has worked on a tilt or articulated basis, typically from a hinge on the left, or at the bottom, of the screen. Here, both of these movements work together for flexible tilt-and-swivel movements, in line with the viewfinder. Combined with Sony’s TruBlack technology for crisp and high-contrast detail, the LCD screen should deliver clear viewing.
All the key shooting modes remain, and on the shooting-mode dial 3D sweep panorama (at full resolution) can be found, along with 12fps high-speed shooting modes. This is quicker than the Alpha 55 by two frames, which means the Alpha 77 offers the fastest full-resolution shooting of a camera at this level.
Here, it is clearly beneficial that the translucent mirror is fixed and does not move in between frames. Some user controls, such as object tracking AF, are sacrificed in this mode, as is aperture, which is set to f/3.5 or the lens’s maximum. In continuous high-speed drive mode, these controls are available and the frame rate is up to 8fps.
Four new picture effects include HDR painting, soft focus, miniature and rich tone monochrome. This now adds up to 11 modes in all, with 15 different effects. All but the new modes operate in the video function.
A completely revised AF system now includes 19 points, of which 11 are the more sensitive cross-type and work with f/5.6 lenses or faster. Many other cross-type sensors work only with f/2.8 optics or faster, and such lenses are typically more expensive. Therefore, this means that the more responsive AF is available with cheaper lenses.
Perhaps the most significant benefit to the fixed translucent mirror is that continuous (full-time) phase-detection AF is possible in any shooting mode, including video. Certainly for the latter, this places the Alpha 77 a cut above many other cameras.
Plaudits must go to Sony for its boldness in risking new technology in its SLT cameras and continuing to enhance it. Truly, this is a glittering specification and one that in several areas ups the bar for the rest to follow.
Features in use: Built-in teleconverter
I used the 16-50mm f/2.8 kit lens (24-75mm equivalent) and 70-400mm f/4-5.6 telephoto optic (105-600mm equivalent) during my test of the Alpha 77. The kit lens makes for good all-purpose use, but it can be further extended at the touch of a button using the teleconverter, for 1.4x and 2x magnification. This extends the 75mm length to 105mm and 150mm respectively. The direct access can be found on the rear to the right of the LCD screen.
Likewise, with the 2x converter employed, the 70-400mm lens offers a maximum effective focal length of 1,200mm! Not only is the lens ideal for sports, but now also wildlife photography. Such focal lengths for a compact set-up like this are usually reserved for the digiscoping enthusiast or for those with several thousands of pounds at their disposal. Image quality is always going to be better here than with digiscoping. These heron images were taken from a considerable distance, as you can see from the widest 105mm telephoto image.
The catch is that the teleconverter is available in JPEG format only and at a reduced resolution, but considering the Alpha 77’s maximum resolution is 24.3 million pixels, these reductions come at a very respectable 12 million pixels for 1.4x and 6 million pixels at 2x.