Back in the hazy days of 2007, we remember seeing Sony present its first ever expert SLR—the Alpha 700—at the Salon de la Photo alongside the Nikon D300 and the Canon EOS 40D. Four years later, the firm's original semi-pro SLR still hadn't been updated with a replacement model—until now, that is—as we're only too pleased to see the Alpha 77 announced today.
To reassure traditionalists who may be disturbed by the lack of optical viewfinder, Sony has pulled out all the stops to develop a new electronic viewfinder with an OLED screen rather than the traditional LCD or LCoS displays. Its contrast tops 3000:1 and definition reaches over 2.36 million dots, which is 60% sharper than the best electronic viewfinders seen in Olympus and Panasonic interchangeable lens compacts that we raved about last year. The viewfinder is surprising in size too, as the eyepiece shows a large field of view with magnification comparable to the likes of the Canon EOS 5D Mk II and Nikon D3.
What's more, Sony has boosted the response time of the viewfinder to virtually eliminate any noticeable delay. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised to see that lining up a shot with this new system is really no less pleasant than with the legendary Alpha 900. Manual focusing is perfectly possible and there are several handy extra functions on offer, such as an enhanced image in low light to make indoor photography a breeze.
New SensorSony has gone all out with the Alpha 77, equipping it with some exceptional electronics. For starters, the sensor resolution has been upped to 24 Megapixels but, unlike the Alpha 850, the pixels are packed onto a smaller APS-C format surface. Sony is, however, promising better results at high-sensitivity settings with this new camera, largely thanks to extensive technological progress since the days of the Alpha 850. The new sensor also lets you reduce the definition to crop pictures and extend the equivalent focal length, so at 12-Megapixels, a 300 mm setting will behave like a 635 mm setting in a 35 mm camera. That could be very tempting for sports and wildlife photographers, for example.
This sensor is very speedy too, as the Alpha 77 can snap 12 pictures per second—and that's with continuous autofocus and subject tracking thank you very much! These performances outdo the Nikon D3s and Canon EOS 1D Mk IV professional SLRs, which are models of choice for sports photographers.
Video has inevitably been upped to Full HD at 50 frames per second and comes with fully operational manual modes. This is accompanied by a stereo microphone with noise reduction, although a socket for an external mic is on hand for those who prefer.
Camera BodyFor lining up pictures at all kinds of inventive angles, the screen is mounted on a hinge system that's part-way between the swivel screen in the Alpha 55 and the vertical-tilt LCD of an NEX. You can therefore flip the screen down towards the ground, spin it around or flip it up above the viewfinder, almost like you could in the Sony R1.
The Alpha 77 has been treated to a weatherproof casing, so it should withstand splashes and dust—a nice touch!
On a more light-hearted note, the Alpha 77 has a built-in GPS and a face-detection function that can recognise up to eight different people. However, it doesn't seem to have a tagging system for easily finding all your pictures of a certain person. On top of that, Sony has equipped this camera with a selection of effects, such as HDR painting, soft focus etc. These can be used in both photo and video mode.
A Pro Camera?All in all, the Alpha 77 largely exceeds its role as a replacement for the Alpha 700 since, on paper at least, it has what it takes to win over specialist photographers (sports, wildlife, etc.) and rival the likes of the Canon EOS 1D Mk IV and Nikon D3s pro SLRs (it's just missing a wider autofocus coverage)—even though it's really designed as a competitor for the Nikon D300s and Canon EOS 7D. With good-quality lenses, this high-resolution SLT could even make a viable and cheaper alternative to 24 x 36 mm cameras like the Nikon D3X or the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III ... more so than the Alpha 850, in any case.
All of that explains the Alpha 77's eye-watering price tag, as the body only is likely to sell for around £1,100 (TBC). You can count on adding around £100 to that for an Alpha 77 bundled with a 18-55 mm kit lens and even more for the new 16-50 mm f/2.8 lens. The latter, most expensive bundle is actually the most attractive option, offering full splash-proofing for body and lens and very probably giving better optical quality than with the 18-55 mm lens.
This new 'fake' SLR will therefore be more expensive than traditional alternatives (Pentax K-5, Canon EOS 60D or Nikon D7000) and is easily rubbing shoulders with the expert/semi-pro market. That's pretty ambitious—but then it's not exactly unjustified given the impressive tech specs Sony has packed into its new SLT.
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