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
LCD, Viewfinder and Video
During this test I was particularly interested in the EVF. There are some obvious advantages to this type of viewfinder, not least the ability to display a digital level (akin to a flight simulation), peaking and a histogram. Furthermore, the screen can be set to display what the image will look like with the current aperture and shutter speed settings. This is particularly useful for pre-shooting with long exposures, such as when capturing moving water.
EVFs are not without their downsides, though. Until now, the pixel count has been too low to show satisfactory levels of smooth and crisp detail; the refresh rate immediately after capture gives a brief moment where the viewfinder is black; and motion blur can also be visible during quick panning movements.
On the Alpha 77, the EVF is a genuine pleasure to use and easily the best of its type to date. More important than the wealth of display information available is that by and large the EVF is bright (although in strong sunlight it benefits from being adjusted to its brightest setting). At 1.1x, it offers a similar magnification to that of the Alpha 55, but the OLED type boasts greater contrast, and the higher 2.359-million-dot resolution gives a finer and smoother level of detail. While the usual signs are there, such as digital displays, at times it is easy to forget that this is an EVF and not an optical one.
The EVF and LCD screen are made all the more viewable when the focus magnifier is employed in manual focus mode. This is achieved by changing the teleconverter button on the rear of the camera to control focus magnification. This is an area that an optical viewfinder just cannot match.
Given that a major advantage of the Alpha 77 is its fast frame rate, a big concern with regard to the previous EVF was the refresh rate after image capture, which can render tracking a moving object very difficult. Well, here it is much quicker, although for such situations users should still turn off the image review so it is not shown on the EVF between frames.
The 921,600-dot LCD screen is perfectly sufficient for all but the most extreme bright light, thanks to the versatile tilt-and-swivel angles and its bright, high-contrast display. This combines two screen movements into one, in line with the central point of the viewfinder, meaning the screen can be placed above the camera, rather than to the side of it. This is another area where Sony has laid down the gauntlet to its competitors.
Like before, the only downside to the LCD screen is that it does pick up smudges very easily, requiring regular cleaning for clear viewing.
Sony appears to be placing an equally great emphasis on the video function in this range of cameras. Up to full HD (1080p) video files can be recorded at 25p or 50p for cinematic quality, with continuous phase-detection AF. Full PASM control is available, as well as many of the picture effects.
Video clips can be made up to 29mins and the overheating issue that limited clips to 9mins in the previous generation of SLT cameras has been resolved. According to Sony, this is achieved through a new SteadyShot engine. I shot a video well over 15mins in length and did not experience any such problems.