CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
At the top end of Sony's SLT camera range sits the A77, oozing "semi-professional" vibes from every one of its magnesium-alloy and plastic pores.
Sony's strength in the camera arena has long been adding a range of class-leading features that leave the other manufacturers scratching their heads. The A77 is no exception in this regard, being one of the first high-end cameras to have a GPS locator built in to automatically tag images.
The innovation isn't just limited to geotagging; there's also a 3-inch flip-down LCD screen, resplendent with a 921,000-dot resolution. Given that this camera uses translucent mirror technology (for more on this, see our review of the Sony A65), there's an electronic, rather than optical, viewfinder. It's an OLED version with XGA resolution, and provides 100 per cent frame coverage.
The body itself also feels particularly pro-like, with chunky grips flanking a myriad of dials and buttons. A small joystick at the back helps you to navigate the menus, while there is a front and rear scroll wheel for adjusting exposure values and other options in manual modes. A dual-axis level gauge helps orient shots either through the viewfinder or on the LCD screen. The body is weather and dust sealed.
At the top of the camera is a display panel that shows all of the key data, so you don't have to look at the LCD screen: shutter, aperture, ISO and so on. The mode dial looks just like that found on the A65, the companion camera to the A77 with a few less features. Full PASM control is supplied, as well as two automatic modes, sweep panorama in 2D and 3D, scene modes and movie modes.
The A77 has the same picture modes as those found on a range of other Sony cameras, such as monochrome, toy camera and partial colour to name a few. Aspect ratios are limited to 3:2 (at full resolution) and 16:9. Like all other Sony SLT cameras, the A77 features in-body image stabilisation, meaning that any lens mounted on the front (including old Minolta lenses) is stabilised.
The A77 has a range of artistic filters that produce the same effects as those on other Sony cameras like the NEX-C3, including toy camera, monochrome, selective colour and high key, just to mention a few.
There are more than enough connectivity options to keep just about anyone happy, from remote port to an external mic port to mini-HDMI and a remote port.
|Nikon D300s||Sony Alpha SLT-A77||Canon EOS 7D|
|12.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor||24-megapixel Exmor APS-C sensor||18-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor|
|51-point AF, 15 cross-type||19-point AF, 11 cross-type||19-point AF, all cross-type|
|3-inch fixed||3-inch, flip-down||3-inch fixed|
|Full HD video (1080p)||Full HD video (1080p)||HD video (720p)|
|800 shots battery||470 shots battery||950 shots battery|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The A77 slows down to process shots after the initial 12-frames burst, but still continues to take full-resolution shots at approximately two frames per second thereafter.
Thanks to the resource-intensive features, like the EVF and GPS, the battery of the A77 does tend to drain a lot more quickly than other SLRs. We found that when fully charged, the A77 averaged around 150 shots and 10 short HD videos before the battery was three-quarters empty. Like the A65 before it, the A77 lags just a tad in menu selections and when waking up from sleep modes. It's something that can hopefully be resolved by a simple firmware upgrade in the future.
Given the sensor is shared with the A65, image quality is reasonably consistent between the two cameras. However, the A77 does offer one string to its bow that makes images even better than those of its sibling: the 16-50mm f/2.8 kit lens. This is an excellent lens, able to resolve a lot more detail than the kit version that appears on the A65. Considering the cameras use many of the same internals, it just goes to show how important a quality piece of glass is on the front of a camera with such a high-megapixel count.
The beautiful, smooth bokeh on f/2.8 images taken with the 16-50mm lens.
That said, the issues that we found with the A65's images are somewhat present on the A77, though definitely not as pronounced. There is a degree of over-processing on some JPEG and RAW photos visible at 100 per cent magnification, although shooting at lower ISO levels does help mitigate this quite a lot. Images taken at high-ISO sensitivities also have a much softer noise profile, with prominent noise and colour shifts only occurring at ISO 6400 and above. Overall, we are incredibly impressed with the performance of the A77.
The A77 does deliver punchy colours and excellent JPEG images on default settings. As with the A65, it's debatable whether consumers need such a high-megapixel count, but it makes more sense on the A77, given its prosumer focus. In short, you'll find it difficult to be disappointed in the photos from the A77.
A 100 per cent crop (inset) of a photo from the A77 at ISO 100 showing an almost-clean JPEG.
Autofocus is superbly quick for stills photography, even in low-light situations. Video quality is also excellent. The AF does hunt a little too much during video recording, but it's relatively speedy in resolving focus. Audio from the built-in microphone is also excellent, with good definition between the channels. The only real issue with video recording is the A77 automatically cropping in to a 16:9 format when shooting in 3:2 stills mode, changing the composition of your image.
Exposure: 1/320, f/8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/60, f/4, ISO 320
Exposure: 1/5000, f/8, ISO 1600
Exposure: 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 320
This top-end Sony camera ticks all the right boxes from image quality to blisteringly fast shooting. If only it had a better battery and was a little more snappy in everyday use, we would have no qualms in recommending it wholeheartedly.
The Sony Alpha SLT-A77 is available for AU$2799 with the kit 16-50mm f/2.8 lens, or AU$1899 for the body only.