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!!