Blazing-fast shooting of 12 frames per second (fps) makes the Sony A77 a standout camera at any price, and it's even faster than some $6,000-plus pro cameras. Thanks to its searing speed and techno-wonder electronic viewfinder, experts recommend the A77 almost as often as our Best Reviewed Nikon D7000 (*Est. $1,000 body only). However, the Nikon shoots clearer low-light photos, adds dual memory card slots, has a traditional optical viewfinder that some experts still prefer and costs less.
Electronic viewfinder is "a revelation." The camera is comfortable and intuitive to use, testers say, but the big story here is the A77's electronic viewfinder. Because of their unique design, Sony cameras have no optical viewfinder. Unlike regular digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras whose internal mirrors swing out of the way with every shot, the Sony's mirror is fixed in place and is translucent so light shines through to record the image.
With no normal mirror to reflect the scene into your eye, Sony substitutes an electronic viewfinder that shows what's essentially a real-time video feed of the scene. On some cameras, these are laggy and grainy, but the Sony A77's is "a revelation," DPReview.com says, and other critics agree. "Details are sharp, motion is smooth, colors pop and lag is barely there," says Liam McCabe at DigitalCameraInfo.com. "It doesn't quite match the feel of a proper optical viewfinder, but it's as close as we've come."
You get a lot more information in the Sony's viewfinder, too -- such as shooting data, gridlines and a level gauge -- plus you get to "see" what your photo will look like before you click the shutter. "Too blue? You see it. A little green from fluorescents? You see it," writes one A77 owner at Amazon.com. "You can tweak settings until it is corrected and check the results in real time." The step-down Sony A65 (*Est. $900 with kit lens) gets the same great viewfinder, but lacks the A77's dual control dials, joystick controller and top LCD panel.
Equally fantastic is the A77's rear LCD screen, reviewers say. It's sharp and easy to see in both bright and dim light, and it tilts, swivels and extends to help you get odd-angle shots. The rival Canon EOS 60D (*Est. $935 body only) also has an articulated LCD screen, but the Nikon D7000's is fixed.
Like all cameras in this class, the Sony has a small, monochrome LCD panel on top so you can see settings at a glance. "The only real frustration is a slight [user interface] 'lag'" when using the menu, DPReview.com says. The LCD screens can trail a fraction of a second behind the user's commands, which can be "disorientating" for the shooter.
Great speed and resolution, but lags in low light. Sony brags that the A77 is the "world's fastest DSLR ever." Actually, the Canon EOS-1D X (*Est. $6,780 body only) can fire off 14 fps, but the Sony's 12 fps outguns almost everything else, including the 6-fps Nikon D7000. Sony's other headline feature is its super-sharp, 24.3-megapixel sensor, which promises to capture more detail than almost any other compact sensor on the market. The step-down Sony A65 boasts the same sensor, but it's slower.
How does it all work in real-life tests? Quite well, but not flawlessly. Shawn Barnett at Imaging-Resource.com captures fantastic detail with the Sony A77. In a shot of his son splashing in a fountain, "the water is frozen in the air, and a close-up reveals hundreds of tiny droplets ... You can even look at his watch and see what time it was." The A77's blistering speed grabs good detail at a football game, capturing a running back's resolute expression behind his facemask.
Yet DPReview.com warns, "If you're interested in the A77 as a sports and fast-action camera, don't be blinded by its fast frame rates alone." Testers say the Sony can't autofocus on quick, erratic motion nearly as reliably as a pricey pro camera like the Canon EOS-1D X, or the similarly priced Nikon D7000 and Canon EOS 7D (*Est. $1,500 body only).
Low light is the Sony's Achilles heel. In test after test in dim light, it can't quite keep up with true DSLRs like the Nikon D7000, which is a particularly great low-light shooter. Raw images get pretty noisy, and JPEGs' heavy noise reduction smoothes away some detail. Still, experts say it's fine for normal shooting: Imaging-Resource.com gets nice 8-by-10s from the Sony at ISO 6,400, and even "a good, if slightly faded 4x6" at ISO 16,000.
The A77 does a better job with video than its competition. It can shoot full 1,080p HD but in 60p or 60 fps progressive, which makes for particularly fluid motion, and with faster, better autofocus thanks to its translucent mirror. However, autofocus noise still shows up on your audio.
Battery life is rated at 530 shots if you use the LCD screen or 470 with the viewfinder, which is about half that of the Nikon D7000.
One of the tougher cameras in its class. Like the Nikon D7000, the Sony A77 wears a mostly metal shell that's sealed against dust and moisture. Only its top plate is plastic. Mostly magnesium-alloy bodies make these cameras tougher than the cheaper, plastic-bodied Canon EOS 60D.
"It should be able to withstand some time in light rain or a day at the beach," says McCabe at DigitalCameraInfo.com, as well as "some bumps that come along with active photography. But it isn't advertised as waterproof, shockproof, dustproof or freezeproof, so be sure to treat it with respect and care."
Loaded with Sony tricks, but one memory card slot. Sony cameras are known for their gee-whiz features, and the A77 is no exception. Even hard-to-please experts have fun shooting 3D Sweep Panorama, which snaps several photos as you pan the camera, then stitches them together into a panoramic shot; and Auto High Dynamic Range, which combines several exposures into one photo. Handheld Twilight Mode pulls the same trick so you can shoot at night without a tripod. Other automatic Scene modes help you capture tough shots like Sports Action and Sunset.
The A77 also packs plenty of "good old-fashioned manual control," DPReview.com says, just like the Nikon D7000. For example, both cameras can control external flashes wirelessly, let you fine-tune the autofocus, and offer full manual control over video. One feature is missing, though. While the D7000 has two memory card slots -- a pro-spec feature that testers find extremely useful -- the Sony A77 has only one.
1. Amateur Photographer
Review Credibility: Excellent After thorough testing, the Sony A77 ties for first place with the pro-quality Nikon D800 and Canon EOS-1D X. Its high-res sensor, outstanding electronic viewfinder and LCD screen, speed, video capabilities and "solid" photo quality help it edge out all other DSLRs in its price range. Coleman notes only one drawback: trouble with image noise in low light.
Review: Sony Alpha 77 Review, Tim Coleman, Oct. 15, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good The Sony A77 earns this website's Silver Award after an exhaustive review. Testers love its fabulous electronic viewfinder, intuitive ergonomics and "incredible amount of detail" it can capture when shooting in raw mode. They're not crazy about the JPEG quality, however, especially at high ISOs.
Review: Sony SLT-A77 In-depth Review, Barnaby Britton, October 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good This evaluation is extraordinarily thorough, with plenty of sample shots including fast-moving kids and sports. It also features head-to-head tests against rival cameras such as the Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D7000 at both low and high ISOs. Barnett, who does the shooting test, is impressed: "I'd buy one," he says.
Review: Sony Alpha SLT-A77, Dave Etchells, Mike Tomkins, Zig Weidelich and Shawn Barnett, Aug. 24, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good The Sony A77 outranks all other cameras in its price class here. McCabe agrees that it "struggles at high ISOs," but its incredible speed, great ergonomics and fantastic viewfinder and LCD screen make up for it.
Review: Sony Alpha A77, Liam McCabe, May 18, 2012
Review Credibility: Good It appears that owners overwhelmingly love their Sony A77 cameras. Only a handful of about 70 users posting comments here give it a mediocre or low score, usually saying it's subpar in low light.
Review: Sony A77 24.3 MP Translucent Mirror Digital SLR, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012