Sony A77: First Impressions from a Nikon User’s Perspective

Here it is, the lovely Sony A77. I have this camera in my hands for a few weeks, and will be doing a full review on it, including tons of sample shots, and looking at 3 different A-mount lenses. In the mean time I wanted to tackle my first impressions and initial thoughts on the A77 from a Nikon D7000 user’s perspective. How does it feel to me?

Editor’s Note: When this was written, it was with the older firmware. We have updated it and noticed less lag. But with our unit, it doesn’t seem entirely gone.

Ergonomics and Build Quality

As soon as I picked it up for the first time, I thought, “wow, this camera is huge”. It dwarfs my D7000, and it’s size rivals that of even some full-frame DSLRs, despite this only having an APS-C sensor inside. The grip on this camera is chunky, and feels very good in the hand–much better and more secure than my D7000. It even has a nice little lip on the back for your thumb to hang onto for an even more secure grip.

Build quality seems decent, and while the camera is made mostly of magnesium alloy, it doesn’t quite seem to have the same high quality feel of some high end Nikons or Canons. The rubber covering on the grip is slightly loose, and seems to move around a bit, which doesn’t instill much confidence in it’s lasting ability. Nothing about this camera feels cheap, but it doesn’t necessarily scream “$2,000 camera” to me.

The “kit” lens, a 16–50mm f/2.8, feels absolutely fantastic in the hand. I put “kit” in quotes because Sony chooses not to call this a “kit” lens, as it seems to have a bit of a negative connotation to it. This certainly doesn’t feel like your ordinary kit lens, with it’s very hefty, high-quality feel, and it even has a reasonably fast constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range. Rare to find something like that in a kit lens, regardless of price.

The articulating screen is smooth to use, and I could certainly see that being useful, particularly when shooting video with this camera, as I imagine many are likely to do. It does, however, stick out from the body of the camera slightly to accomodate the articulating mechanism, which results in increased nose grease marks on your screen after looking through the viewfinder. Not a big deal, but a small annoyance.

Overall I feel that the build quality is fine, but definitely not anything to write home about. I can’t help but feel like a camera in this price range should feel a little more solid, and I believe that there are many even less expensive cameras from Nikon and Canon that feel better. At the end of the day though, that’s not why you choose a camera, and it’s certainly not going to fall apart, so let’s move on.

In Use

I’ve only had this camera for a few days, and I will be doing a full review on image quality and features, but in the mean time I’ve shot a few images with the A77 and the “kit” 16–50mm f/2.8 lens, and I can report that I’m pretty impressed with it so far.

Because this is a translucent mirror “DSLT” camera, the mirror doesn’t move, but instead is able to reflect the light onto a phase-detection autofocus sensor, along with passing light through the mirror to the image sensor. The result is lightning quick autofocus all the time, even in video mode, where most DSLRs fall short, due to their use of the inferior contrast-detection autofocus system.

The issue with Sony’s translucent mirror system though, is that you lose the optical viewfinder. Instead, it’s been replaced with Sony’s brilliant OLED electronic viewfinder that has received a lot of praise from reviewers of the new Sony NEX–7. It’s the very same viewfinder in every way, and for an EVF, it’s really quite good. Colors are accurate, response is quick, and I didn’t often find myself longing for the “old fashioned” optical viewfinder on my D7000.

The problem though, is when you’ve spent so much time with an OVF, you’ve become very accustomed to the act of bringing the camera to your eye and immediately having an image in your viewfinder. The EVF on the Sony A77 uses an eye sensor to tell when you’ve brought the camera to your eye, and it introduces a split second delay before turning on the viewfinder. This is jarring at first, but I found I quickly become comfortable with it, and it rarely bothers me at this point.

The speed of this A77 is a bit confusing. On one hand, shooting with the camera is lightning fast. It can shoot up to 12fps in burst mode, and autofocus is brilliantly quick, particularly with this lens. On the other hand, almost everything else about the camera seems incredibly sluggish. Moving through menus, I always felt like it was one step behind me, and couldn’t really keep up with where I was trying to navigate. Even simple things like changing the aperture or shutter speed lag a second or so behind your finger twisting the dial. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but it does feel strange that such a quick camera to shoot with can be so sluggish in other aspects.

When shooting though, it’s brilliant. Because the mirror doesn’t move when you take a shot, the shutter sound is nothing but the sound of the actual curtain in front of the sensor. It’s a very quiet camera, and feels right at home in street use. It’s not at all your typical DSLR sound, but it’s very refreshing.

I don’t want to make any true conclusions on image quality yet, as I haven’t had nearly enough time to shoot with it. Fortunately though, what I’ve seen so far has been awfully impressive. There will be a more in-depth look at image quality in the next post.

Looking Forward

I’ve been a Nikon shooter for years, and not until recently would I have ever considered Sony a viable alternative to the big guys. Sony has created something pretty interesting with the A77, and I believe it’s enough to make people think twice before diving into the Nikon or Canon systems. For me, it’s refreshing to know that there’s good alternatives out there. Options are good, and competition drives innovation. Sony’s diving into a pretty competetive market with the A77, and I’m happy to see them taking a slightly different approach.

I’ll be making more in-depth conclusions about the A77 in my future posts, but for now, I can say that I’m pretty impressed, and really excited to shoot with it some more.

Stay tuned for more coverage on the Sony A77, the 16–50mm f/2.8, 70–300 f/4.5–5.6, and the 50mm f/1.4.

Check out the Sony A77 on Amazon or B&H.

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