Sony Alpha SLT-A77V review: Sony Alpha SLT-A77V

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MSRP: $1,999.99
4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars 7 user reviews

The Good A well-designed camera that's enjoyable to shoot, partly thanks to a great viewfinder, the fixed-mirror Sony Alpha SLT-A77V bests the competition with features like a cleverly articulated display, built-in GPS for geotagging, and very good 1080/60p video.

The Bad There are some annoying omissions in the A77V's feature set, including odd limitations for raw and video shooting, plus battery life is subpar.

The Bottom Line The Sony Alpha SLT-A77V is an excellent, well-designed camera for deep-pocketed amateurs; it nevertheless has a few limitations that may make it impractical for professionals.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 8.0

I'll lead off by saying that I enjoyed shooting with the Sony Alpha SLT-A77V more than any camera since the Nikon D7000. It's heavy, especially with the 16-50mm kit lens (which, by the way, has become my favorite Sony lens), but the grip is comfy, it feels well balanced, and with only a few exceptions, it has the controls in the right places. The EVF is a pleasure to use. It's packed full of solid features, although still missing a couple key ones. And of course the photo quality and performance are what they need to be for its price class, with the bonus of really nice video.

Overall, the SLT-A77V delivers a solid noise profile for its class, and generally excellent photo and video. On JPEGs, you can see just a hair of degradation on edges at ISO 800, but casually noticeable noise-suppression artifacts don't kick in until ISO 1600. However, in photos with a lot of detail--that is, a lot of edges--the aforementioned degradation makes photos look a little mushier than I'd like. If you process raw, the camera's good up to ISO 3200--possibly ISO 6400, depending upon subject matter. If you shoot raw, it delivers roughly comparable photo quality to the Canon EOS 7D.

The dynamic range is fairly broad; though I had more unrecoverable clipped highlights than I like, it does an excellent job with shadow detail. For the most part, the camera does a good job of sharpening JPEGs without going overboard, at least at the default settings. And while I don't like the way Sony's default Creative Style color setting pushes the hues until they shift, the A77's Neutral setting works quite well, so it's possible to get accurate colors if you want them. The built-in flash is also one of the better implementations I've seen; though it seems to overexpose by default, it delivers even coverage.

Despite the sometimes bewildering press for moar pixels!, the large images can occasionally be a liability; for instance, I shot in a situation in which I had to print directly from the card to a 4x6 printer and it took forever to load the large photos into printer memory to select for printing. But while the A77V has an option for downsized JPEGs, there's no support for medium or small raw/raw+JPEG--a key feature for a camera in this class. That lack disqualifies the A77V for my needs when live-blogging press conferences, for example. In another bizarre example of anti-raw sentiment, the focus magnifier (for easier manual focus) doesn't work with raw either. (I suspect that may be a bug.)

For shooting video, the A77V does a great job, rendering very nice tones with no noticeable artifacts like moiré or rolling shutter. I attribute part of the enjoyability of shooting video with the A77V to the lens; the autofocus works smoothly and quietly. The zoom ring is a little tighter than I like, but otherwise it's very well-implemented, and pretty easy to maneuver while shooting video, even without a rig.

But.

You can only use autofocus in what's essentially automatic mode. It's unavailable in shutter/aperture-priority or manual modes. And I'm not crazy about the automatic gain/ISO sensitivity decisions the camera makes, or the fact that it lacks any audio controls. The less-expensive Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 delivers better video capabilities and quality, even unhacked. However, the SLT-A77V is still far superior to Nikon's options, and probably a bit better than the 7D.

The A77V isn't the fastest in its class--that honor remains with the 7D--and even lags behind the Nikon D7000, but it does pretty well considering it's processing so much more image data. And except for the annoying "processing" message it throws up when you're in automatic review mode, it feels quite fluid and zippy to shoot. It is noticeably slower than others to start up and shoot, taking half a second, possibly in part because it has to initialize two LCD displays. The time to focus and shoot in good light is a class-typical 0.3 second, and in dim light rises to a still-reasonable 0.6 second. Shooting two sequential JPEG or raw images runs 0.6 second as well; using flash bumps that up to 0.8 second. And it jets past the rest of the field with a standard burst of 8.5fps.

The caveat for continuous shooting is that the buffer can only handle about 14 JPEGs before it slows a bit to a more erratic burst, and that's with one of the fastest SD cards currently available, SanDisk's 95MBps Extreme Pro. On the other hand, when I initially tested it and was disappointed by a slowdown after 14 shots, it turned out I had actually been shooting raw+JPEG--and couldn't tell the difference. That was pretty impressive. The only real disappointment is battery life, which is rated at 470 shots, and that's without GPS active. Those OLED displays seem toxic to battery life. The A77V's GPS doesn't include a logger feature (which tracks your travels even when the camera's off), but those suck the battery dry.

The new autofocus system seems to work extremely well, and I've always liked Sony's interface for selecting among the focus areas, and the Zone focus (which clumps AF areas in the center, left, or right) is the only mode I like to use better than simply leaving it on the center spot (what Sony refers to as Local). The AF is fast and responsive, too.


  Canon EOS 7D Nikon D300S Nikon D7000 Sony Alpha SLT-A65V Sony Alpha SLT-A77V
Sensor (effective resolution) 18-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel CMOS 16.2-megapixel CMOS 24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS 24.3-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 23.6 x 15.8mm 23.6 x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Bit depth 14-bit 14-bit 14-bit n/a n/a
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400/12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 16,000 ISO 50 (expanded)/ 100 - ISO 16,000
Continuous shooting 8fps
94 JPEG/15 raw
7fps
100 JPEG/n/a raw
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
Optical
100% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
Optical
100% coverage
0.94x/0.63x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Electronic OLED
0.5 inch/2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 19-pt AF
all cross-type; center cross-type to f2.8
51-pt phase-detection AF
15 cross-type
51-pt phase-detection AF
15 cross-type
15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
19-pt phase-detection
11 cross-type
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 x-sync
Metering 63 zone 1,005-pixel 3D color matrix Metering II 1,005-pixel 3D color matrix Metering II 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Video 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/24p Motion JPEG AVI 1080/24p/25p H.264 QuickTime MOV AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/30p @ 12Mbps
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Audio Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Mono; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Memory slots SDXC x 1 CF x 1, SDHC x 1 SDXC x 2 SDXC x 1 SDXC x 1
Battery life (CIPA rating) 640 shots 950 shots 1,050 shots 510 shots 470 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 5.2 x 4.2 x 3.0 5.3 x 3.9 x 3.3 5.8 x 4.1 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 29.8 34.2 27.3 22 (est.) 25.9
Mfr. price $1,699 (body only) $1,699.95 (body only) $1,199.95 (body only) $899.99 (body only) $1,399.99 (body only)
n/a $1,699.95 (est street, with 18-200mm lens) $1,499.95 (with 18-105mm lens) $999.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,999.99 (with 16-50mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date October 2009 August 2009 October 2010 October 2011 October 2011

Though it's actually lighter than its competitors, the A77V is still a relatively heavy camera, especially when equipped with the also-heavy 16-50mm lens. It's sturdily built: the body is dust- and weather-resistant, with a magnesium alloy chassis and a competitive 150,000-cycle rating for the shutter.

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