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Sony Alpha 77 - user first impressions

Discussion in 'Sony Chat' started by Molendinar, Sep 25, 2011.

  1. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    So I’ve had my Alpha 77 since Friday evening. As a user of the A700 since 2007, I’ve waited a long time for this replacement to appear. I’ve also been discouraged in the past year or so by rumours that the replacement would be a DSLT, not a DSLR. I tried EVF once, and did not like it, to say the least, so I thought Sony were cocking up my future prospects of upgrade. We’ll come to that below, but this is a first impressions report from one who was certainly the ‘target market’ for this new camera.

    Handling – I’d say the A77 is much the same size & weight as the A700, so if you’re happy with the old one, you’ll be fine with the new. There are many more buttons on the A77, but they all fall neatly to hand under the fingers, and you can really make changes to ISO, exposure, WB, drive mode, etc, without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Some buttons are programmable if you want to customize it further. Some I’ve yet to figure out what they do; a button marked “?” isn’t instantly comprehensible!

    There’s only a single slot for a memory card, unlike the dual slots of recent Sony DSLRs. This one looked to be for SD cards only, but I later found in the manual that it takes Memory Stick Pro Duo cards too – you put SD in facing one way, or Memory Stick in facing the other way. But with a single slot only, a bigger memory card may be in order, given file sizes. A RAW file weighs in at 25Mb, the extra-fine JPEG size varies, but my largest was 16Mb. For comparison, the A700 largest JPEG was 12.58Mb at 72ppi resolution, the A77 is around 15-16Mb at 350ppi resolution. Converting an A77 RAW file to TIFF took it up to 68.71Mb, so more hard disc capacity may be in order too!

    In terms of RAW files, Adobe ACR does not recognize A77 RAWs yet, so Lightroom & Photoshop won’t ‘see’ them, and neither will Aperture or iPhoto. Sony’s own Image Data Converter works, and so does the free program Raw Therapee. The A77 has all sorts of special effects in-built, which will work only on JPEGs - auto-HDR, auto-DRO, various in-camera effects for colour, ‘miniature’, ‘pop photo’, ‘retro’, selective colour effects (e.g. in B&W except for red objects, or green, blue or yellow objects), and so on. All very clever, but unlikely to be on my personal must-use list.

    Likewise, it has focus tracking for moving objects, and 12fps, but as landscapes and macro don’t whizz past me at those speeds, those are not a priority for me personally. Nor is video. If I wanted a video camera, I’d have bought a video camera, and I don’t, so I didn’t. So I haven’t tried any of those yet.

    There’s also an in-camera lens-correction capability (for JPEGs) to reduce distortion/aberration, but it only appears to work with the kit lens and two or three other new/forthcoming ones, so won’t be of use to those of us with slightly older glass, unless Sony move back to include them in future.

    So I’ve looked at exposure, noise, and obvious fringing, since those are what pertain most to my own work. I’m not a pixel-peeper, and also not a technical expert, so I leave the in-depth technical reviews to AP’s experts, but as an average user comparing A700 and A77 directly – same subject, lens, settings, conditions – I can report that undoubtedly as would be expected, the A77 comes out better.

    If anything, the A77 exposes slightly more to the left than the A700, so highlights are less clipped. It’s not dramatic until you get to higher ISO. At ISO above 800 or so, JPEGS straight from the camera, the A77 images show better exposure on my monitor, and more contrast, whereas the A700 shots are lighter and less rich. I can see no obvious fringing on A77 shots, but since I’ve only been as far as the back garden in cloudy conditions yet, I wouldn’t call that entirely conclusive! :)

    For noise, the A77 is distinctly better than the A700 as you go up the ISO scale. Both are fine up to about 400. At 800, the A77 is showing better exposure/contrast and less noise. At 3200, the A77 is much better exposed and shows significantly less noise than its predecessor … it’s so noticeable even I can see and comment on it.

    Going up the A77 ISO range, I’d say 50-200 are good. 400 is OK. At 800, you start to get some noise, but it’s not dreadful. Up to about 3200, it gets no worse and you can probably use it. 6400 up to 16000 (16000? seriously?!) I would not consider using for images I wanted to print at A4 or A3, as they appear far too ‘painterly’ by that stage, at actual-pixel level. I probably wouldn’t go beyond 3200 personally unless it was the difference between getting the shot-of-a-lifetime or not, or unless I knew it was only for small / web images, where you could in fact get away with it. My Adobe Bridge thumbnails are maybe 2.5 inches x 1.5 inches on screen, and look fine even at ISO 16000. And if you run them through something like Dfine or Noise Ninja, I’m sure they’d be acceptable at somewhat larger size too.

    So, the biggie …. the electronic viewfinder. This was my big worry, buying sight-unseen, as I’ve only ever used one EVF on the Minolta A2 about 6 or 7 years ago, and I didn’t get along with it at all. I’ve been really worried that Sony are heading in a direction that abandons OVFs, and I’d never be able to upgrade my cameras again if the EVFs were awful. But I decided to take the risk, and I could always sell on the A77 if I hated it. So were my fears justified?

    I’m pleased to say no, probably not. In fact if I’m honest, I rather suspect I may come to like this EVF quite a bit. I’m still discovering what it can do, but even after only 24hrs, I already like the fact that you can literally see all your information in the EVF, everything from basic data, to the actual menus, plus a selection of grid lines (great for those of us who always had to buy different focus screens before), and an electronic level, which tells you when the horizon is horizontal and whether you’re tilted up or down. Brilliant for landscapes. You can also see a live histogram before you shoot, and can see the effects that will be applied to the shot by any settings you alter. In other words, you can see ‘depth of field’ without having to squint into an all-but-black OVF, you can immediately see exposure compensation effect on the histogram, white balance change, or any in-camera effect applied. All before you press the shutter. And the EVF is actually brighter than the OVF on the A700, and does not get darker when the light begins to go. “LargeFormat” - You don’t get a ‘night sight’ effect as such in dim light, although the image does go dark and grainy and sort of red overall, but you can still see image data figures and menu data at full illumination. “Steve52” - I haven’t done any low light / lots of movement shots, I’m afraid, but I’m guessing the tracking focus capability and higher ISO options would be useful there, if you find an acceptable noise balance.

    The back LCD screen is pretty good, and the image switches between that and the EVF as you raise or lower the camera to your eye – something akin to the old ‘eye start’ sensor, I guess. (and eye start is still a menu option) The back screen twists and turns to just about any angle, and can be stored face-in when not in use, to prevent damage.

    There’s also built-in GPS, which will be useful for those of us who never take location notes on trips, and 10 years later end up trying to scan vast numbers of slides it turns out we have no idea where they actually were.

    So is it all roses? Well, I find a few niggles, but they’re minor, and I’m sure I’ll learn to live with them. When you fire the shutter, there’s a fractional black-out of the EVF, before the image returns. It’s not long, but it’s total, and if you’re not expecting it, it’s very disconcerting the first half-dozen times. The shutter noise, without a mirror to go ‘clunk’, is very discreet, and I’m not sure I’d hear it if I were setting it off remotely. When you have the camera in your lap to fiddle with the settings, if you pass your hand too near the EVF, the back LCD screen cuts out. I thought the whole thing was switching off, and it took me about an hour to realize that it was merely the image switching from the LCD screen to the EVF, because it thought my ‘eye’ was approaching the camera. I guess I can learn to keep my hands away from the sensor, but it’s irritating. The good news is you can turn that auto-switching feature off and do it manually, but then I’d wonder why I was looking through the EVF and not seeing an image.

    What else? It uses a different USB cable from the A700. Come on guys, it’s a standard output, use a standard socket on the camera end. (At least they’ve kept the battery the same) And after you switch the A77 off, it takes a full 5 seconds before going ‘whirrrr’ and shutting down entirely. So don’t use the off switch and immediately take the lens off to change – I did that before it whirrrred, and wondered if I’d broken it. Thankfully not, but it’s probably best to let it do its thing for the 5 sec, before taking it apart. And finally, unlike the A700, the A77’s display of information does not rotate when you turn into vertical mode. Yes, it’s a different kind of display entirely, I know, but trying to read ‘sideways’ information for shutter and aperture in the EVF in vertical orientation, will take some getting used to.

    But that’s the worst I can say thus far. Not a thorough nor very scientific test, but after an initial 24hr, I’m very pleased indeed with the beast, and my fears about the EVF have all but vanished. It was a long wait, but I think Sony have done a good job, and I say that as a die-hard Minolta fan. If you were also waiting years for the A700 replacement and wondered about the A77, I’d say once it reaches a price you’re happy to pay, go for it. The EVF is not at all dreadful, and might just actually be the way of the future. And you wouldn’t have found me saying that to you two days ago!! :D
  2. LargeFormat

    LargeFormat Well-Known Member

    Thanks for all the trouble you have gone to. Now use it and post.:D
  3. Steve52

    Steve52 Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that review.

    With the other reviews I've read (admitttedly not many), it looks an exceptional camera. I have not owned the A700 (my latest being the A550), so I am guessing it would be like driving a roller after being in a mini.

    Is that the in camera 'help' function? The A550 has that (it can be turned off), so that it shows you on the LCD screen what the function does.

    So some questions:

    1. I calculate 655 shots on a 16GB card?
    2. Will I need to upgrade Elements 8 to read the RAW files?
    3. Will Elements 10 (I may purchase this next year) or CS5 (if I win the lottery) read the RAW files (I cant get the hang of Sony's imaging software at all)?
    4. For someone with an A550, better pictures than the A700 (which I have considered purchasing, as the price should drop)?
    5. Is it the same battery as the A550/A350?

    Once many thanks for an informative review
  4. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    I have an 8Gb memory stick in it, formatting out at 311 Raw, or 424 Xfine. There's some room on the card taken up by folders for video files, whether you've shot any or not.

    The current ACR plugin in Photoshop/Lightroom/Elements 9 does not see these ARW files yet. I presume the next update will incorporate them, but who knows when that will be, or now that Elements 10 is out, how far back it will be compatible. I intend to shoot RAW+JPEG for now, so that I have the RAWs when ACR finally catches up, but can also use Lightroom (my normal catalogue) for now too.

    The battery is NP-FM500H, which is the same as for A700 and A580, so possibly A550 as well?

    Yes, all I need is some holiday time now to get cracking seriously. Looking forward to going to Scotland in 4 weeks :D :D
  5. LargeFormat

    LargeFormat Well-Known Member

    Now that's quite interesting. My a900 has much the same resolution and an 8GB card only gives me 211 raw files and, of course, no space taken up for video folders.
  6. Mark

    Mark Well-Known Member

    I thought the same. I've just reformatted an 8GB CF card, and it says 216 (raw) shots available. I wonder what causes the differences?
  7. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    Worse than the mirror flip of a normal SLR? I also wonder does it do the same in continuous shooting (not video) mode? I thought that one of the selling points of the SLT was the ability to keep autofocus active at all times - not going to work if you lose track of the subject due to finder black out...
  8. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    No, I suppose it's not actually worse than a mirror-flip, it's just that for some reason I wasn't really expecting it. I've now tried a couple of 12fps bursts out of curiosity, and no, it doesn't black out during those, it tracks fine, but it does take a good few seconds to process the burst thereafter, so you wouldn't be able to do two bursts in quick succession. Not really my area, but I'd guess that holds true for all SLRs to some extent.
  9. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    No idea on that one. I just formatted an 8Gb SD card, to see if the media type makes a difference (can't see why it would, but...) - that comes out at 309 RAW or 420 Xfine, so a couple of shots less than on an 8Gb memory stick for some reason, but in the same ballpark.

    You would think a Mb was a Mb in anyone's terms, but apparently not. I'm sure there's a fiendishly complex explanation that's way above my head.... :confused:
  10. Myrdhinn

    Myrdhinn Member

    Supposedly the A77/65 uses cRAW instead of RAW so the files would be a bit smaller than the A900. Whether true or not, I'll leave it to anyone more knowledgeable.
  11. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    Makes sense. There were/are two options on the A700, RAW and cRAW, so maybe the latter is the new standard. Although since RAW is supposed to be the 'as is' data unprocessed, you wonder how it can be both 'RAW' and compressed...
  12. El_Sid

    El_Sid Well-Known Member

    All RAW means is that the data from the sensor is stored as it came from the camera rather than having been permanently processed into a 'fixed' form as with a JPEG. Alongside the sensor data the file also contains all the various settings data from the camera and lens.

    As far as compressing the file goes there are a number of algorithms which perform lossless compression of files and essentially what these do is to analyse the data as supplied and arrange it in the most efficient manner possible. Compared to JPEG which uses a lossy method the space saved is much smaller - try saving a TIFF file with lossless and then JPEG compression applied to see the kind of difference - but all the data is preserved intact, ready to be read by the conversion software.

    I suspect that most OEM's use some compression in their RAW file formats.
  13. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    Ah, OK. So 'RAW' doesn't mean 'completely untouched' then. Fair enough.

    I see that Adobe has just updated Camera Raw to support the A65/A77 and the latest NEX. I'll update this evening, and be able to have a look at my test shots in Lightroom/PS, since I don't care for Sony's own converter much.

    It also looks like a firmware update is fairly imminent for the A77, to fix one or two 'issues', which I confess I hadn't noticed! Maybe the slow shut-down was one of them. Version 1 of anything is never perfect right out the box, but at least Sony seem to be fixing the minor bugs promptly enough. I'll get my first serious test-drive at the weekend, and post some shots thereafter.
  14. LargeFormat

    LargeFormat Well-Known Member

    If lossless compression is applied the information is completely untouched. It is just the way the information is stored that changes. Just like Zip.
  15. Steve52

    Steve52 Well-Known Member

    I ordered my A77 last night on line. Will this 'firmware update' be readily available? Also, I see that Adobe are adressing the .ARW files. Can I take it that if I purchase Elements 10, it will read them without me having to get an update as I did with my A550 and Elements 8?
  16. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    Good on you! ;) ;)

    Firmware updates are usually to be found on the Sony 'support' area of their website. I usually keep an eye on 'sonyalpharumors' to hear when these things issue, and they usually provide a link. If your A77 has not been updated before they send it to you, it's a simple DIY job when the update comes out - download it to a memory card and the camera does the rest.

    Googling "Elements 10" and "camera raw" found this on the Adobe site:

    Camera Raw 6.5 update for Elements 10

    This new version of the Camera Raw plug-in replaces the original Camera Raw plug-in that was installed with Adobe® Photoshop Elements 10 software.

    So you'll need to update ACR either way...
  17. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    Right. With you now.
  18. Steve52

    Steve52 Well-Known Member

    Sony A77 now got (amazing, with just a couple of hours play in the sitting room last night) and just waiting for delivery of Elements 10.
  19. Molendinar

    Molendinar Well-Known Member

    I hope you'll be very happy together! :D

    I'm still working my way through the various menus, trying things out, but am generally very pleased with it, and have had none of the technical issues a few other early users seem to have had. Thought the review in this week's mag was spot-on too.
  20. roscopecotrain

    roscopecotrain Active Member

    Yes after reading the review in the mag i really would like one but budget will not stretch.

    What are the key differences between the A65 and the A77?

    Also is the A65 similar in size and shape to the A35 and A55?

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