Sony A77 - User Experience - Part 3 - Some bad Mostly good

Lets get the bad out of the way first.


There is this button that blows up the image for a 12MP file and a 6MP file. Its basically a digital zoom and a crop feature. Its jpg. only and its a complete waste of time as far as I'm concerned. Note to Sony - We know how to crop an image! It doesn't work in video. It also functions as a magnifier for manual focusing, BUT - it doesn't work for video where it would be really useful and if you want to use it for stills, you have to deselect the raw or raw + jpg options because it doesn't work with them either!!

Panorama function.

This is getting worse! The camera tells me that it can't create a panorama because I need to move the camera faster, then when I do that it produces a blurred image. I never managed to get a wide panorama at all, as it always stopped before I'd finished. Its hit and miss, impossible to predict what you are going to get and also a waste of time as far as I'm concerned.

Auto-Everything Video.


Camera makers are still trying to persude us that we can use these cameras as auto everything video cameras. Presumably to video the kids on the beach, sports days, family events etc. They make a great play of how they AF doing recording. However because of the larger sensors, and the fancy AF systems, they rarely work well for this. I shot the above using auto-everything. As you can see there's lots of AF "hunting" and exposure changing. The little AF point squares were constantly flickering, moving about and trying to find something to focus on. Admittedly this all happened very quickly and smoother than most, but the final result is not particularly pleasant to watch.

This is all the more annoying because the actual quality of the footage is truly breathtaking. Easily the best I've ever seen on a stills camera equipped with video. With the largest sensor used in any DSLR-type camera to do this, the A77 produces beautiful, high resolution movies that are a joy to behold. Fortunately its possible to use full manual control. When I've worked out how to do it properly, I'll shoot something better to show what it can do. It also has the super steady shot function, which combined with iMovie produces very stable hand held footage, as you can see from the above example.

Out of Camera jpgs.

All of the following are taken from out of camera jpgs. While these very usefully remove most of the CA, fringing and help with lens distortion, they also soften the images. This is fairly commonplace with jpgs. and to a large extent they are no better and no worse than anything else.

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8
All images - Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8
Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

On the raw front I'm gradually starting to work out how to get the best from the raw files. My reservations about the 16-50mm lens have been somewhat dispelled by approaching the raw development in Photoshop / Adobe Camera raw from a different angle. I basically zeroed everything out and started from scratch. I got a great improvement in CA, by removing all of the "correction" parameters and discovered that on many of the images, there was virtually none. Sharpening for this lens / sensor combination is still something I'm trying to get right. The massively popululated APS-C sensor responds in much the same way as the Panasonic sensor on the GH2 / G3 in that increasing sharpening tends to increase the luminance noise. I'm getting there, but I haven't got it right yet.

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8
Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

Sony A77 16-50mm f/2.8

The last shot was taken using the articulated screen, which following on from my comments yesterday, is an amazing contraption. It does seem possible to put it in any position. I haven't been able to stump it yet. Its certainly a step on from Sonys previous offerings and indeed its more versatile than the Panasonic system and the Canon and Nikon copies of that.

Some initial impressions

The a77 isn't the game changing, DSLR alternative, great camera that perhaps Sony would like it to be, but it shows amazing potential. There's a few gimmicky features for the gadget heads that could do with either being removed or worked on, but there is certainly enough here that shows what this technology and engineering is capable of. 

This is a camera designed for photographers, there's no doubt of that. Many of the headline features, OLED EVF, articulated screen, high speed drive and lots of MP's are really useful and work well. The video output is simply stunning and with some more attention to this Sony could give Canon and Panasonic a real run for their money. 

So, not a great camera yet, but the potential for Sony to produce something that is truly ground breaking is there. Things like the incredibly fast, yet relatively quiet motordrive, and more importantly the lightness and low price, make this a very attractive option for many professional photographers. In its current state I think wedding and event photographers will love this. Though I have to say that I haven't checked out the high ISO performance yet.

The a77 has certainly displaced the D7000 as the "best" camera I've ever owned. It does the things I really want a camera to do, really well. It produces high resolution "punchy" images, it covers the majority of my handling and operating requirements and it doesn't make my back any worse (thats the best I can hope for I think!) and it certainly doesn't break the bank.

A 25MP Nikon D3X with a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom costs £6200 and weighs 2122g. The Sony a77 plus 16-50mm f/2.8 cost me £1660 and weighs 1230g. Both camera / lens combinations are weathersealed. So just over 1/4 of the price and 1/2 the weight. Plus video, plus articulated screen, plus full-time live view. Its new, so judgement on long-term use is impossible, but the numbers will make a lot of sense to a lot of photographers, as they do to me. Sony's ambition to become a big player is starting to show good results, and the NEX-7 has yet to arrive.