Friday, February 24, 2012

A77 - Day 1, part 2

Nicely molded buttons - ergonomic Nirvana.
(Day 1, part 1 found here)
The viewfinder

Okay, it's true - the viewfinder is just too damn 'dark' in bright sunlight.  It's annoying and disappointing, but easy enough to adjust to, at least if you don't wear glasses.  I've read reports of glass wearers having trouble due to ambient sunlight spilling through the eyecup and washing out the EVF even more.

This is the closest I can liken the 'dark' EVF to - Imagine going outside into moderate sun with a nice, full-frame viewfinder with a f/2.8 lens mounted.  Now, install a CPL or 2-stop ND filter on a slightly slower lens (maybe f/3.5) and mount it.  There ya go.  My completely unscientific number.

What you lose in 'wow this is bright' experience you gain with a rather roomy EVF view - this is pretty darn nice and the size of the view pretty darn good.

The clarity of the view is also very good - the screen is really that nice.  Sure there are people complaining of crushing blacks in high contrast scenes, but disabling "apply preview to live view" kinda resolves that.

It's also nice having real-time histogram feedback, 2-axis level and a very cool image preview capability, so at least for me the loss of brightness in daylight is something I can definitely deal with.

Every rose has its thorn

For the A77, it's the speed of the camera.  I have no trouble with the ridiculous (but limited) 12-fps mode or the 'normal' high speed of 8 fps.  Instead, I take issue with the speed of the camera's menus, real-time shooting performance and wake-up times.

For instance - you can set the A77 up to use three groups of AF points - it usually works really well and it's my preferred method of shooting.

To swap a group, you simply nudge the joystick left or right...and then wait almost 0.5 seconds to have the group switch (I timed it about 7 times and averaged almost 0.5 sec).  In a camera of this caliber, this is simply unacceptable, yet it seems Sony's incompetence at menu performance has carried over from the NEX-5N (another laggy camera).  It simply amazes me this is even an issue.

This type of slothful performance carries over to menu selections and scrolling, though not nearly as bad as the focal point swapping.  Scroll a wheel one click to change your aperture, and there's a tiny but perceptible pause between your command and the camera's response.  Hopefully Sony can address this issue with a firmware update, because it can actually get into the way of hectic shooting scenarios.

The wake-up time, however, is the worst culprit.  In turning on the camera from full-off to on, it takes about three seconds before the camera is ready to shoot.

Viewing the rear LCD, you see the image come into view at first...then a bit more then UI of the camera is overlaid.  Only after that happens can you snap a photo - this is a far cry from the nearly instant-on performance of many typical DSLRs.  I believe there is a rumored firmware update (1.05) that addresses this, but we'll see.

This slow performance also rears its head when waking the camera up from power-save, but at least it's "only" two seconds instead of about three - still way too slow to capture those near-instantaneous moments that seem to happen just as you've put your camera down.

There is a way to get past this problem, at least somewhat - leave your camera on, enable a long power-saving option (say 5 minutes instead of 10 seconds) and exclusively use the EVF - it still cuts itself off as soon as you remove your eye, but at least the camera will be ready as soon as you pick it back up to your eye again.  Unfortunately this means your camera's meter is still active this entire time (and who knows what else - maybe GPS if you've got it enabled, etc) but at least you'll be ready for whatever shot happens to present itself, assuming you didn't just kill your battery!
And speaking of that fast shooting speed...

12 frames per second is fast - one can chew through a memory card rather quickly.  I played with it a bit and liked it, but like many reviewers have mentioned, the 'slide-show' effect makes tracking fast objects difficult.

It's really hard to imagine without seeing it first-hand, but what happens is that if you hold the shutter down in either 12 or 8-fps mode, you're presenting with a rapid-fire slideshow of what just happened, not what is happening.

The problem, at least for me, can be really bad because of two reasons - a long burst means more time away from "reality" and a quirky human tendency to want to "watch what plays out" on the screen rather than realize "hey dummy, things are still happening) and maintain the pan speed!!

The problem can be mitigated rather easily - very short bursts (remember, you're shooting at least 8 FPS, that's pretty quick) and work on keeping your panning / lens movement under control - don't start watching the EVF like a TV, wondering what's going to happen next.

Duck chase.  A77 with Tamron 70-200

What I haven't touched

I haven't mentioned noise because I really thing it's an overblown "problem", if you even want to call it that, nor autofocus / EVF performance in dark spaces or movie modes, scene modes, etc.

Lots more to come, but I've already typed a bunch already.  Thanks and I hope you enjoyed reading this initial assessment.

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