The A77 is Sony’s new top-of-the-range enthusiast SLR. It uses the same APS-C sensor size as entry-level SLRs rather than the full-frame sensors found in professional SLRs, but while we can’t expect the absolute highest image quality money can buy, it’s hard to imagine a camera with a better range of features.
There’s 12fps shooting with continuous autofocus, AVCHD video capture up to 1080/50p, sensor-based stabilisation, HDMI, microphone and flash sync sockets, built-in GPS, a digital spirit level and Sony’s usual collection of advanced shooting modes for capturing 3D panoramas, HDR photos and so on. Typically at this price, it’s bulkier and heavier than entry-level SLRs, but it is comfortable to hold and the magnesium alloy body is tougher than cheaper plastic bodies. It’s littered with controls, including dual command dials, lots of single-function buttons, a mini joystick that replaces the usual navigation pad and a top-mounted passive LCD screen for displaying settings. The main 3in screen is hinged at three points and can be positioned above or below the camera and pointed in virtually any direction.
The controls are generally well laid out, although we prefer the way the Nikon D7000’s are designed for two-handed operation. Unfortunately, apart from the shutter release, the A77 took half a second to respond to button presses and dial adjustments. This is a big disappointment, undermining the benefit of having so many physical controls that should deliver quick operation. On a more positive note, there’s ample scope to customise camera settings, and we’re delighted that you can adjust the Auto ISO mode’s upper and lower limits – an extremely useful feature that’s notably absent from other Sony cameras.
Reviewing shots was awkward because photos, AVCHD videos and MPEG-4 videos are stored in separate folders which have to be selected separately – there’s no option to browse them all chronologically. This also made copying files off the card a little cumbersome, although that’s true of any AVCHD camera. However, we really didn’t like how deleting individual ACVHD files on a PC caused a playback error on the camera because it couldn’t find the file, but wiping the card on a PC caused another error when it was reinserted into the camera without the expected folder structure. Restoring these folders took about 15 seconds – a ridiculous amount of time – and often meant we missed a photo opportunity. It’s a common problem with all recent Sony cameras, and frankly, it’s really beginning to get on our nerves.