So after many happy years with the excellent A200, I decided to take the plunge and bought the A77 (body). Having read endless reviews on the A77 it seemed that the general opinion was that the technology wasn't quite there yet but the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. Being keen on sports photography it offered unparalled performance in terms on frame rate and focusing. As I've already mentioned there are endless reviews on this camera so I thought I would just mention a few of the main advantages and disadvantages that might affect your decision as to whether this is the right camera for you.
First, it's important to remember that many of the `fancy' features are only available in JPEG. Auto HDR, DRO, lens correction, etc, won't be available in RAW. I guess this is fairly obvious but worth pointing out as it wasn't completely obvious to me. A RAW image is just that. No adjustments, just the data direct off the sensor.
The infamous electronic viewfinder (EVF). Hmmm. I must admit that this was a huge disappointment. The advantages are that it is bright, clear and spacious. It can display information that an OVF never can. Also, I don't really notice the lag when panning a moving subject. However, the noise in low light conditions is truly awful. Outside on a bright day it's no problem but as soon as light levels drop the noise creeps in. As you move indoors then the noise becomes more and more obvious. If you're thinking of taking night shots then forget it. The EVF (and LV screen) is just a mass of red snow. In fact I was so shocked that I went to my local camera shop to compare it. They had an A65 available and I was dismayed to find that it was the same. I was hoping that my camera was faulty so that I could return it. No such luck.
Image noise. Again, disappointing. Compared to my A200 image noise is on a par. However, having read various reports on image noise and quality I really thought it would be slightly better. My A200 was ok up to ISO400. I expected the A77 to be useable up to ISO800. Not so. Really, you don't won't to go beyond 400. The A200 wasn't exactly renowned for noise control so the fact that the A77 (£1000 camera with 4 years of development behind it over the A200) can't beat it is hugely disappointing. I've contacted Sony regarding this matter but I suspect that this amount of noise is normal for this camera.
Exposure evaluation is a bit on the dark side. I've adjusted it to +0.3 to compensate. One thing to mention is that due to the fact that the sensor only receives 70% of available light then you will need to use a slightly larger aperture or slightly slower shutter speed to compensate. It seems to be about 1/3 to 1/2 a stop difference.
Ok, enough doom and gloom. The positives are that focusing is fast and accurate. Wow, I'm very impressed. The fact that it can track a moving object and take 10 frames a second whilst still maintain focus is incredible. In fact I haven't had an out of focus shot yet. You also have a myriad of cross sensor focus points. Perfect for sports photography. You'll need a large, fast memory card to keep up though. At the moment I'm looking at a Sandisk Extreme Pro 95 mb/s SD card. The A77 has a limited buffer but with a fast card I don't think it will be a problem. I rarely need the high frame rate anyway and tend to use the lower 8fps.
Images seem to be more vibrant than my old A200. I wouldn't say that they are significantly shaper but they definitely seem to `pop' more. Colour accuracy seems very good. My A200 could introduce a bit of a colour tint in certain situations but so far the A77 has been faultless. White balance is OK. In most situations it's fine but as mentioned elsewhere, in artificial light it's a bit too yellow. One of the advantages of digital cameras is that WB can be adjusted afterwards (if shot in RAW) so not a problem.
Dynamic range is also very good. I've taken back lit shots and the A77 seems to capture more detail and colour in the highlight and shadow areas. Again, I'm impressed.
Editing images. This is no criticism of the camera, but you may need to upgrade your PC if you intend doing any serious image editing. Editing 10 Meg images was fine on my PC but trying edit a 24 Meg image is just too slow. I'm using and old AMD 4400+ but will be upgrading to a faster CPU. Likewise, I need to buy an additional hard drive. These aren't complaints, just factors that might be important to you. Incidentally, I'm using Lightroom 3 for importing and editing of RAW images. It's faster than Sony IDC and has far more control over the image. It's worth it just for the lens correction function on its own. Amazing. The only negative is that highlight recovery is a bit limited. Lightroom 4 seems better in this respect so it might be on my birthday present list this year.
So there we have it. Not an extensive review of the A77. These are just the main points that I have noticed in the short time I've owned the camera. I hope it may be of use to you and help you to make that difficult decision. I suppose the important question is: Would I buy the camera if I knew all this beforehand. I honestly don't know. The advantages are fantastic but the disadvantages are really frustrating. I'm getting used to the noise issue so it doesn't bother me quite so much but I keep thinking that on a camera costing this much that the problem really shouldn't be there at all. It seems that Sony have rushed this camera out before it is fully developed. I think that once they get the noise sorted out (in the EVF as well as in the images) then they will have a truly great camera. Until then I shall be investing in quality noise reduction software and buying a used copy of the excellent A580 for any night shots.
I've struggled to decide how to rate the A77. As a sports camera it's 5 stars but as an all rounder it's only 3 stars so I've averaged it to 4 stars. For sports photography, which is my main interest, it's fantastic. But if I wanted take low light shots I'd want to use a different camera. Not a major problem for me as I rarely do this but you may want to wait until Sony finally perfect the SLT technology before investing.