Sony gets serious with its SLT camera line

It's been a while since Sony played in this ballpark, but the SLT-A77V and SLT-A65V look like strong contenders in their respective classes.

Sony Alpha SLT-A77V Sony Electronics

Editor's note 10/6/2011: Sony has delayed shipment of the A65 until mid-November.

Though not as sleek as theNEX models announced at the same time, Sony's translucent mirror, dSLR-style cameras are more-mainstream workhorses. And with the Alpha SLT-A77V, it's the first time that Sony's trotted a real weather-and-dust-sealed model onto the field; plus, it's packed full of new technology that ostensibly make it faster and better than ever. But despite comparisons with models like the Canon EOS 7D, Sony reps were very emphatic that this is an enthusiast-targeted model, not pro. Whether that's because it's got as-yet unknown limitations or because Sony's planning to release a subsequent even higher-end model, I don't know.

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The design (and price) certainly seems pro oriented, with a top informational display and 150,000-cycle shutter rating. And the camera pretty much includes a new everything: autofocus system, OLED viewfinder, AVCHD 2.0 progressive video capture with full-time AF, 24-plus-megapixel sensor, and articulated LCD. Plus it's got a built-in GPS, which is absent from competing models. Sony also claims class-leading performance, in part because of what Sony refers to as a "electronic first curtain" release. (In essence, since the camera has to keep the shutter open in order for you to view the image through the viewfinder, it would normally have to close the shutter before it could initiate exposure. Instead, it simulates a shutter close via the sensor, which of course is faster. It will be interesting to see if this introduces any artifacts during, say, panning.)

Here's where it fits into the current Sony lineup:

 Sony Alpha SLT-A35Sony Alpha SLT-A55VSony Alpha SLT-A65V Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sensor (effective resolution)16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
23.5mm x 15.6mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier1.5x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 12,800ISO 100 - ISO 1,600/ 12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 16,000ISO 50 (expanded)/ 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting5.5fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
6fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
20 raw/35 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
8fps (12fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/14 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
19-pt phase-detection
11 cross-type
Shutter speed1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync
Metering1,200 zone1,200 zone1,200 zone1,200 zone
Image stabilizationSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shiftSensor shift
VideoAVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Manual aperture and shutter in videoNoNoYesYes
AudioStereo; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic input
LCD size3 inches fixed
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating)420 shots330 shots510 shots470 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)4.9 x 3.6 x 3.34.9 x 3.6 x 3.35.3 x 3.9 x 3.35.8 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces)16.117.822 (est)26 (est)
Mfr. pricen/a$749.99 (body only)$899.99 (body only)$1,399.99 (body only)
$699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$849.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$1,999.99 (with 16-50mm lens)
n/an/an/an/a
Ship dateAugust 2011September 2010October November 2011October 2011

There's obviously a big price gap between the A65V and A77V, but I think there's enough of a design and build quality difference between the two cameras that it shouldn't be too difficult to distinguish them when confronted with a buying decision.

More interesting is how it stacks up to competitors. It's priced in between options from Canon and Nikon; there are no similarly priced models.

 Canon EOS 7DCanon EOS 60DNikon D7000Sony Alpha SLT-A65V Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megpaixel CMOS18-megapixel CMOS16.2-megapixel CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3mm x 14.9mm22.3 mm x 14.9mm23.6 x 15.6mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Bit depth14-bit14-bit14-bitn/an/a
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.6x1.5x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/ 12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 16,000ISO 50 (expanded)/ 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting8fps
94 JPEG/15 raw
5.3fps
16 raw/58 JPEG
6fps
n/a
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
8fps (12fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/14 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
100% coverage
1.0x/0.63x
96% coverage
0.95x/0.59x
Optical
100% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus19-pt AF
all cross-type; center cross-type to f2.8
9-pt AF all cross-type; center cross to f2.851-pt phase- detection AF
15 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
19-pt phase-detection
11 cross-type
Shutter speed1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync
Metering63 zone63-zone iFCL1,005-pixel 3D color matrix Metering II1,200 zone1,200 zone
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shift
Video1080/30p/ 25p/24p; H.264 QuickTime MOVH.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p1080/24p/25p H.264 QuickTime MOV AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12MbpsAVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesYesYesYesYes
AudioMono; mic inputn/aMono; mic inputStereo; mic inputStereo; mic input
LCD size3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flashYesYesYesYesYes
Memory slotsSDXC x 1SDXC x 1SDXC x 2SDXC x 1SDXC x 1
Battery life (CIPA rating)640 shots1,100 shots1,050 shots510 shots470 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD)5.7 x 4.2 x 2.95.7 x 4.1 x 3.15.2 x 4.2 x 3.05.3 x 3.9 x 3.35.8 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces)29.82727.322 (est)26 (est)
Mfr. price$1,699.00 (body only$999.99 (body only)$1,199.95 (body only)$899.99 (body only)$1,399.99 (body only)
n/an/a$1,499.95 (with 18-105mm lens)$999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)$1,999.99 (with 16-50mm lens)
n/an/an/an/an/a
Ship dateOctober 2009November 2010October 2010October November 2011October 2011

At least on paper, it looks pretty compelling, with better performance and video options, plus some of the benefits conferred by the EVF. A lot will be riding on how well Sony can pull off image quality on that crammed sensor. One drawback looks like battery life; all Sony's models have worse performance when you use the EVF than the LCD.

That said, both Canon and Nikon are due for updates to the models in this price class; it will be interesting to see whether they'll try to push midrange dSLR technology to rise to this level.

The SLT-A65 isn't as interesting a camera; though it does use the same sensor and image processing as the A77, the autofocus system comes from the A55, and the body looks a lot less functionally designed.

Compared with its competitors:

 Canon EOS Rebel T3iNikon D5100Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2Pentax K-rSony Alpha SLT-A65V
Sensor (effective resolution)18-megapixel CMOS16.2-megapixel CMOS16.1-megapixel Live MOS12.4-megapixel CMOS24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6 x 15.6mm17.3 x 13.0mm23.6 x 15.8mm23.5 mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier1.6x1.5x2.0x1.5x1.5x
Sensitivity rangeISO 100 - ISO 6,400/12,800 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded)ISO 160 - ISO 12,800ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 6,400/25,600 (expanded)ISO 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting3.7fps
6 raw/34 JPEG
4 fps
n/a raw/100 JPEG
5fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
6fps
n/a raw/25 JPEG
8fps (10fps with fixed exposure)
13 raw/17 JPEG
Viewfinder (magnification/ effective magnification)Optical
95% coverage
0.85x/0.53x
95% coverage
0.78x/0.63x
Electronic
n/a/1.5 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x magnification
Optical
96% coverage
0.85x/0.57x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inches/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus9-pt AF
center cross-type to f2.8
11-pt AF
center cross-type to f5.6
23-area contrast AF11-pt AF
9 cross-type
(SAFOX IX)
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
Shutter speed1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync1/4,000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync1/6,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering63-zone iFCL420-pixel 3D color matrix metering II144 zone16 segment1,200 zone
VideoH.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/24p/ 25p/30p; 720/50p/60p1080/30p/24p; 720/30p/ 25p/24p H.264 QuickTime MOVAVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13Mbps; 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbsp; 720/60p/50p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV, Motion JPEG
720/30p
720/25p Motion JPEG AVI
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps
AudioMono; mic inputMono; mic inputStereo, mic jackMonoStereo; mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in videoYesYesYesn/aYes
Maximum best-quality recording time4GB/12 minutes20 minutes29m59s4GB/25 minutesn/a
(likely 29m59s)
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalSensor shiftSensor shift
LCD size3 inches articulated
1.04 megapixels
3 inches articulated
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC1 x SDXC/SDHC
(SDXC requires firmware upgrade)
1 x SDXC
Wireless flashYesYesNoYesYes
Battery life (CIPA rating)470 shots660 shots 340 shots560 shots (NiMH batteries)510 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)5.1 x 3.8 x 3.05.0 x 3.8 x 3.14.9 x 3.5 x 3.04.8 x 3.6 x 2.75.3 x 3.9 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces)2019.615.720.4 (est)22 (est)
Mfr. price$799.99 (body only)$799.95 (body only)$899.95 (body only)n/a$899.99 (body only)
$899.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$899.95 (with 18-55mm VR lens)$999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)$749.95 (with 18-55mm lens)$999.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$1,099.99 (with 18-135mm IS lens)n/a$1,499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)n/an/a
Release dateMarch 2011April 2011December 2010October 2010October November 2011
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