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Sony Alpha A77 Digital Camera Review$1,999.99
The A77's large grip and comfortable contours make it possible to shoot with one hand (given the weight, two hands make it much easier). Aside from the finder/LCD toggle, main menu button, and mode dial, all of the buttons are within a finger's reach—either the thumb, index finger, or in the case of the preview button, the right pinky. The layout may not look as clean as the columns of buttons on some DSLRs, but it's more comfortable this way.
As a mid-level DSLR-styled camera with a bright kit lens, the A77 is a hefty piece of magnesium alloy and plastic. The shoulder-strap is a must, and a dedicated bag is a good idea, especially if you plan to carry a few lenses.
The articulating LCD—on an arm as well as a twisting hinge—takes the guesswork out of odd-angle shooting. The viewfinder is comfy and has a diopter adjustment, too. One advantage of the translucent mirror design was supposed to be smaller bodies, and we wish Sony had shaved a few ounces off of the A77 if they could have, but all things considered, it's a good design.
Buttons & Dials
The button layout is great. At a glance, it looks a bit haphazard: no neat columns of keys like most DSLRs have. But all the keys, dials, and joysticks fall under the fingers comfortably.
A total of 12 shooting modes earn a slot on the mode dial: Both auto modes, the PASM modes, the scene preset index, a memory recall index, and specialized shooting modes including manual video recording, 12fps burst, 3D capture, and sweep panorama modes all make an appearance. It's a tried and true way to get what you need quickly and easily.
The two-dial setup is great for manual shooting, allowing control over the shutter and aperture, and working as secondary navigators in the menu and playback systems. The joystick is a good primary control for the menus, with good tactile response.
In general, the button setup is easy to use by default, but with a high level of customizability. Some keys are fixed in their functions: the Fn menu (quick menu) and standard menu buttons, the display toggle, the finder/LCD toggle, movie button, magnification key, playback button, and help button.
Most of the commonly adjusted shooting options have their own hotkey: drive mode and timer, white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO setting.
Many of the buttons can be reassigned to other functions; the auto-exposure lock, ISO button, AF/MF toggle, and preview button (tucked on the front of the camera to the bottom-right of the lens) can all be reassigned to other functions.
A nice 3-inch, 921,000-pixel articulating LCD complements that excellent EVF. The screen tilts on a hinge and can extend from the body and rotate on an arm. It's versatile enough to frame a self-portrait above or below the camera, and the flexibility enables a bunch of unexpected shooting angles. The screen stays visible in all but direct sunlight, with punchy colors and smooth motion.
The A77 also has a secondary LCD on the top of the camera. It displays info like shutter speed, aperture, white balance setting, ISO setting, number of shots left, and so on.
The A77 has a 2.4-million pixel OLED electronic viewfinder—the nicest EVF we've ever encountered. Details are sharp, motion is smooth, colors pop, and lag is barely there. It doesn't quite match the feel of a proper optical viewfinder, but it's as close as we've come.
The in-body SteadyShot stabilization is very effective. We measured a 58 percent improvement in sharpness when stabilization was activated compared to no stabilization (tested in continuous shooting mode at the telephoto setting). This should keep handheld shots crisp at shutter speeds a bit lower than 1/30, which allows for lower ISOs in dark settings and overall crisper, cleaner shots.