Friday, February 24, 2012

A77 - Day 1, part 1

Today I'm writing about my initial thoughts with the A77.  I managed to spend last night initially setting up the camera (somewhat) and today I got a good three hours or so of pure shooting time.

Stereotypical low key masculine/menacing shot of camera

One thing jumps right out at me...

...its grip is amazingly comfortable, giving you a deep handhold on the right side of the camera.  In fact, I'm 6'0" with decently-sized hands and while holding the camera my fingertips never touch the end of the "well" that is the grip.  Very awesome.

A nice ridge in the grip allows for a very comfortable resting spot for the right hand middle finger, with a smaller ridge below it allowing for resting of the ring finger.  For me, my pinky finger does slightly hang over the bottom - this may drive some people absolutely bonkers and require the add-on grip, but for me it works just fine.

The mode dial is one of the best non-locking dials in existence.  

At first I was really worried I would be accidentally changing the camera to such non-essential modes such as Auto, Auto+ or better yet, 3-D Panorama!  This happens all.  the.  time.  with non-locking mode dials and is a common complaint amongst many brands and cameras.

My fears were soon abated - It takes effort to move the dial.   Sony gets this one right 100% (though it's debatable if they should be docked for including 'newbie' modes on the dial).  In fact, I just now attempted to move the dial using only my left-hand thumb and I simply couldn't - seriously!  I had to grab it with index and thumb to twist it into the next position, it giving a reassuring (but muted) 'click' each time it's moved.

Of course the real test comes in the field, and the dial performed superbly.  Over the course of three hours I placed and removed the camera into my camera bag probably 10 times, along with placing it and removing it from the passenger seat a lot (and also carrying it in my left hand) - Not once did the dial mode change.  This kind of usage would have definitely forced a change on my former 5D2 and 5D.

Finger prints haze courtesy me.

The swivel screen - I love it.

I first really fell in love with swivel screens with the Olympus E-5.  While many people poo poo the swivel screen, its usefulness (to me) greatly exceeds any real or perceived negatives.

Sony went with a 3-axis screen which is a bit strange to use at first, but with just minor practice it becomes almost as easy as the side-mount swivels.  According to Gary Friedman (who wrote an awesome A77 guide), the reason Sony went with this type of design is to keep the screen more-or-less in line with the optical path, to make composition easier.

I haven't done any severe testing of this claim, but it makes sense.  The screen itself is very firm feeling and very nice to look at.

Knee-high shots?  No longer do I need to squat or get dirty knees unless I want to.  Over-the-head shots?  Quite possible now.  Portrait shots from down low?  Now I can do so while still using the screen "correctly" (unlike the NEX-5N, which only tilts).

Crappy battery life - not as bad as Sony advertises.

Sony pegs the battery life at 'approx' 470 shots using the viewfinder or 530 using the rear LCD.
I was worried about this battery life, but I think Sony's being fairly conservative (or maybe that's with onboard flash involved, which I only use as a commander).  I'm not too familiar with the CIPA testing standards, so I can't say how they arrive at these numbers.

So far, my shot count is 491 using a mixture of rear LCD and VF (mostly VF) and my battery is at 39% remaining - not too shabby.  I disabled GPS, auto-review, and set the switching mode to "manual" so that the camera wouldn't auto-switch to a rear LCD display once I removed my eye.  I shot a mixture of JPEG and RAW and sometimes RAW+JPEG.

This is also with lots of futzing around in the menus, experimenting several times with auto-HDR or 'rich monotone' type shots (which take 3 shots but only increment the file counter by 1 and also require processing time) and one sweep panoramic shot, so I'd say the battery is pretty good for its size, and should serve most shooters at least a day's typical outing (unless your typical day is a 3000-shot wedding - get the grip and then some).

A really great kit option - Canon isn't the only company that can do it.

Optics, yay

The A77 I got came with the 16-50mm f/2.8 'kit' lens and boy it's nice - weather-sealed (for what it's worth), great construction, sharp images so far.  I haven't tried tracking much action with the lens but it seems to focus quickly enough, so no complaints from me.  A bit of crazy distortion at the wide end (what WA zoom doesn't have it?) that is fairly easily taken care of by either the in-camera control (JPEG) or through manually adjusting distortion in Adobe Lightroom.  Other software may actually have profiles, I'm not sure.

Sunken bench.  24mm, f/2.8

Smoke in the woods.  16mm, f/3.5
Flash Operation

That Minolta hot shoe.  Love it or hate it--most people tend to do the latter.  Special 'field dust' included by yours truly.

Along with the A77 kit and the Tamron 70-200, I also bought a Sony HVL-43AM flash.  There have been several spots on the 'net complaining of overexposure while using flash (requiring an EV comp of between -0.7 to -1.3), even with the newest 1.04 firmware, but I haven't seemed to need it so far.  In limited indoors testing, it's worked fine and provides a nice, bright image just touching the right edge of the histogram (matrix metering, 'ADI' flash mode).  I'll be testing this more.

People tend to hate on the Minolta flash shoe, and I'd imagine for lots of people using clip-on accessories it can be a pain (or at least more money to buy adapters).  For my uses, though, I really like it - I can't count the number of times I've attached a normal flash on my camera then forgot to lock the dial.  It's scary as hell every time you discover you've done so -- fortunately for me I never actually had a flash drop.

With the Minolta shoe, all that is solved - push forward to click-lock it in place.  Grab the base of the flash  (hitting the button to unlock) and slide it back -- too easy.

--> On to Day 1, part 2

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