Sony Alpha A77 and A65 Announcements

NOTE: A full Sony A77 Review has been published.

Yesterday Sony released two brand new cropped-sensor DSLRs – the Sony Alpha A77 and Sony Alpha A65. Actually, it is not right to call these cameras DSLRs, because they are not equipped with a traditional DSLR mirror. Instead, the A77 and A65 use a “translucent mirror“, so the correct terminology is “Single-Lens Translucent” (versus Single-Lens Reflex), or “SLT”. On traditional DSLRs, the camera mirror reflects the light coming from the lens into both the viewfinder and the AF sensor, allowing the camera to quickly acquire focus through the phase-detection system. When a picture is taken, the mirror gets raised, thus blocking the viewfinder and preventing the light from reaching the AF sensor. Because of this, the camera can only focus using contrast-detect, which is much slower than phase-detect. Sony’s translucent mirror, on the other hand, allows the light to pass through the mirror and hit the camera sensor, simultaneously reflecting some of the light off the mirror on to the AF sensor. The mirror never moves and stays in the same spot. This allows the camera to acquire focus with the phase detection system even when shooting video. Because the shutter is the only moving component inside the camera, images can be captured at crazy fast speeds. For example, the top-of-the-line Nikon D3s can loudly capture 9 frames per second maximum, while the new Sony Alpha A77 SLT can take 12 frames per second and the only thing you will hear is the sound of shutter opening and closing. There are many advantages to SLTs like smaller size, less camera shake, etc.

Sony Alpha A77

Sony Alpha A77

The translucent mirror obviously has its own problems. The first problem is that only a small portion of the light gets reflected off the mirror into the camera viewfinder. This results in very dim viewfinder that is extremely hard to see. The workaround is to use an electronic viewfinder instead of an optical one (an electronic viewfinder is basically a small LCD inside the viewfinder). The difference between the two is huge – an optical viewfinder is just a mirror of what the lens sees and it cannot be altered, while an electronic viewfinder can be customized to display whatever the manufacturer wants. For example, if a photograph is going to be underexposed, the viewfinder could show a dimmed image with warnings. Or the histogram could be placed right on top of the image as an overlay. Or you could view your photos right inside the viewfinder after you take them, which is very useful in daylight conditions. You could do many different things with an electronic viewfinder. If it is not implemented properly, on the other hand, an electronic viewfinder could cause a lot of grief. The second problem with the translucent mirror is the fact that it is another piece of glass in front of the camera sensor. Any dust or other foreign particles could end up on this mirror, which would obviously mess up photographs. So now you have to worry about keeping both the camera sensor and the translucent mirror clean. On traditional DSLRs, you don’t have to worry about dust on the mirror. It will never show up in photographs, because once the mirror is raised, nothing stands between the lens and the sensor. The third problem is the amount of light that actually reaches the sensor – the translucent mirror blocks about one third of a stop of light, putting more stress on the sensor. Lastly, continuously looking at an LCD inside the viewfinder could put a lot of strain on eyes and the actual captured images would look better, because the viewfinder has much less dynamic range than the sensor.

So there are both advantages and disadvantages to using translucent mirrors. Why is this technology important for photographers? Because many of the current issues/disadvantages could be improved and addressed in the future, which would make SLTs superior and more convenient to use than SLRs.

I have been paying close attention to what Sony has been working on during the last couple of years. If Sony is committed to taking SLT to the next level and work on its shortcomings, this technology might eventually replace SLRs in the future. The technical specifications on the Sony Alpha A77 and A65 models are very impressive. Both have 24.3 megapixel sensors, OLED electronic viewfinders, crazy fast speed, 1080p video at 60 fps and much more. Obviously, Sony does not have the same experience as Nikon and Canon, especially when it comes to noise reduction, ergonomics and color reproduction, but they are working on it.

So why am I talking about Sony Alpha cameras now? Because I think I want to start looking at them in more detail, as I see a great potential.

Do you see a good future for Sony Alpha? Should I start reviewing Sony lenses and SLT cameras? Let me know what you think!

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Hussain Gadli
    August 25, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Dear Mr. Nasim Mansurov,

    I definitely think you should consider reviewing Sony lenses and camera equipment. As you said in your other blog that, Nikon uses camera sensor made by Sony. So if Sony is able to make heart of the camera well, then it wouldn’t take them much time to compete with other global players.

    Regards

    • August 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm

      Hussain, not all Nikon DSLRs have Sony sensors though. But I agree – I think it would be a good idea to start reviewing Sony cameras.

  2. August 25, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Dear Nasim,

    Would it be possible for you to review this camera? http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/736546-REG/Sigma_SD1_Digital_SLR_Camera.html

    Thanks,
    Mukhsim.

    • August 26, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Mukhsim, the Sigma SD1 is definitely on my list of cameras to check out…

    • September 1, 2011 at 9:44 pm

      I second this request. I am seriously planning to buy an SD1, because I believe that it is not only a better camera in many respects than the Nikon D3x, for about $1,000 less money, but because I want to shoot with APS-C sensor camera now, because I believe there are many advantages to using the smaller sensor (depth of field, magnification, price of lenses, system weight).

  3. 3
    ) Carl TightShooster
    August 25, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    > I start reviewing Sony lenses and SLT cameras?
    Yes! because there is still no Nikon DSLR in the queue :)
    /Karl

    • August 26, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Carl, wait till the end of September – you might be surprised :)

  4. 4
    ) Barry
    August 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    Nasim,

    I seem to remember reading about cameras with a pellicle mirror in 1984. I think the idea may even go back as far as the 1960s. Why would SLTs displace SLRs now when it’s been an also-ran technology for so long?

    Thanks,

    Barry

    • 5
      ) Francois
      August 26, 2011 at 1:46 am

      Barry – I’ll answer that one. Most of the advantages offered by Sony’s SLT cameras require digital sensors and other digital technology. In the 1960s these technologies didn’t yet exist.

    • August 26, 2011 at 10:57 am

      Barry, something to add to comment from Francois – back in 1984 there were no LCD/OLED screens, so there was no way for manufacturers to design an electronic viewfinder. Now that we have the technology that could put millions of pixels in a very small area, I believe it was very smart move by Sony to reintroduce the concept of translucent mirrors. The Sony Alpha A55 did not go so well because of the poor implementation of EVF. Now they have OLED and almost flicker-free refresh rates, so the EVF is starting to look attractive. I believe that if EVF is done correctly, it would be an excellent, even superior alternative to OVF.

  5. 6
    ) Francois
    August 26, 2011 at 1:54 am

    Dear Nasim, thank you for yet another interesting posting!

    I think that SLT technology will always be inferior for people who want to get the very best low light performance – so I don’t see it replacing the D3s or its future DSLR descendants in the role of “low-light king” or indoor wedding photography (for example). But for sport photography the continuous phase-detect AF and high shooting rates are great. As for video. And beginners especially will love the flexibility of EVF.

    You mentioned dust – I don’t think there is any way for dust to get to the SLT sensor, and cleaning the mirror might be easier than cleaning a DSLR’s sensor. So actually the dust advantage might go to the SLT!

    Lastly: if contrast-detect AF gets better (and it will probably as processors get faster), I don’t see why mirrorless cameras (“MILCs” / “EVIL” such as Sony E-mount or micro-4/3) won’t triumph. SLT seems a bit like an intermediary solution for this time of transition. But Sony has a big stake in this technology too, so they’re not taking chances!

    • August 26, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Francois, that’s why I’m wondering if Sony will release the A900 successor with an EVF or not…it would be interesting to see how Sony would implement an EVF on an advanced full-frame camera. Who knows, maybe the bright OLED will be good enough for low-light situations as well. Not sure how autofocus will behave with a translucent mirror in low-light though.

      As for dust, if the mirror is sealed very well to protect the sensor, then it would probably be easier to clean the mirror than the sensor, but I don’t know how it all works yet. I saw a demonstration video where the photographer was raising the mirror to access the sensor…

      Mirrorless is definitely the future – but it might be a while till we get contrast-detect that is as fast as phase-detect. Till then, DSLR and SLT cameras will dominate the pro market.

      • 28
        ) Francois
        August 27, 2011 at 12:34 am

        Fujifilm has a very interesting technology – phase detection integrated into the sensor. They have already announced a year ago together with two cameras that use it, so it is also not only theory but already on the market! Here is a link to the announcement posted on dpreview:
        http://www.dpreview.com/news/1008/10080505fujifilmpd.asp

        I have not been able to find many reviews of these cameras but, although limited to the central focus position (not a big problem imo) it got good reviews. One reviewer wrote:

        “The headline hybrid autofocus system does its job really well. Focusing is fast even without it but there is a noticeable improvement when using the Quick-AF setting with center-point autofocus, which is what lets the camera use Phase-Detection instead of Contrast-Detection. This is certainly among the fastest focusing non-DSLR cameras to date. Focus is also very reliable and rarely misses.”

        Looks promising for the MILC market.

  6. 8
    ) Brooke Summer Photography
    August 26, 2011 at 6:15 am

    A Sony Alpha was my first DSLR and it’s still a backup. Sony was lagging in the camera department but with the purchase of Minolta years ago, they have the technology to make some awesome equipment. I will say though that it’s irritating to have proprietary hotshoes and mounts, as umashankar said. Although I guess that’s kind of the norm anymore. I’m excited to see what’s coming!

  7. 9
    ) Carl TightShooster
    August 26, 2011 at 6:38 am

    And last but not least; this gives Nikon the right pressure to reveal it’s new DSLR Palette.
    /K

  8. 11
    ) Jaladhi
    August 26, 2011 at 5:42 am

    Nasim, please also consider reviewing Sony and other compact system cameras such as the NEX7 and Panasonic GH2. I think a lot of the readers of this site will be well served by such cameras rather than consumer/prosumer DSLRs.

    • 7
      ) Carl TightShooster
      August 26, 2011 at 6:05 am

      Jaladhi,
      if you start here with compact cams then there is no end – 100 thousands of cams; I like this sites concentration on DSLR’s – mainly – Nikon;
      /Karl

      • 13
        ) Jaladhi
        August 26, 2011 at 6:39 am

        Notice that I said compact system cameras not compacts. The higher end models like the GH2 have essentially replaced DSLRs for many photographers. Besides, the separation between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is arbitrary. A lot of people bought DSLRs in the past decade because that was the only option if you wanted to move up from compacts. Not anymore!

        • 10
          ) Carl TightShooster
          August 26, 2011 at 6:42 am

          I agree Jalahdi!
          but this would be an overload for Nasim, or he hires additional resources :)
          /K

          • August 26, 2011 at 11:45 am

            Yes, unless I have some volunteers to help me out, it would be difficult to review so much gear. Plus, my methodology is to actually use the gear for my work, rather than just shoot test charts when I review gear, which is why the process typically takes me much longer.

    • 14
      ) Starred
      August 26, 2011 at 7:31 am

      The nex7 is indeed a very interesting cam!

  9. August 26, 2011 at 5:57 am

    I hate the electronic viewfinder of my camcorder. Even though of a much higher order, i don’t believe the EVFs of translucent-mirror Sony DSLR’s would be anywhere close to pristine views of standard viewfinders. Again, Sony’s DSLR efforts should at best invoke attract academic interest. They should seriously consider developing a mount which is either Nikon or Canon compatible. Without serious lenses, it is apparently a drive to nowhere.

  10. August 26, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Четыре года назад на камеры Sony было смешно смотреть, а сейчас они весьма достойные конкуренты большой двойке. Было бы интересно читать Ваши отзывы о технике этой компании, тем более, что в линейке Alpha есть объективы, аналогам которых нет ни у Nikon, ни у Canon. Carl Zeiss Sonnar ZA 135 mm f/1.8, например.

    • August 26, 2011 at 7:47 am

      * опечатался, ну да ладно :)

      • 32
        ) Peter
        August 29, 2011 at 10:53 am

        Dear Amumpuu,

        Write your Russian in the Google translator and convert to English, then post it.

        Questo e semplice!

        • August 29, 2011 at 11:06 am

          Every online translator is crap, especially when it comes to Russian language. Google isn’t fluent as much as you think. That’s first. Second is that you deny even to read what machine translated. Heck, my name is not ‘Amumpuu’!

          • 35
            ) Peter
            August 30, 2011 at 12:36 pm

            Very good English, Mr. A. Keep it up.

            • August 30, 2011 at 2:00 pm

              Again, my name is Dmitry. What you see here is a cyrillic italic type. First letter is a ‘D’, fourth is a ‘t’.

            • 37
              ) Peter
              August 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm

              Mr. D., this is an English site with limnitations when it comes to cyrillic type.

              With your excellent understanding of English, why write in Russian?

    • August 26, 2011 at 11:37 am

      Дмитрий, согласен :) Поэтому я на Sony только начал обращать внимание последние несколько лет (в основном после A55). Разница между Sony и Nikon/Canon в том, что у них на много больше денег и естественно больше возможности вкладывать в R&D. И это кроме того, что у них есть отличные Цейсовские стекла. Будет очень интересно посмотреть что они сделают с новой версией full-frame A900 – будет ли он SLT или нет.

      • 31
        ) Peter
        August 29, 2011 at 10:51 am

        Dmitry, I agree:) So I am on the Sony only started paying attention the past few years (mostly after A55). The difference between Sony and Nikon / Canon is that they have much more money and of course more opportunity to invest in R & D. And this is besides the fact that they have excellent Zeiss glass. It will be interesting to see what they will do with the new version of full-frame A900 – whether he will or no SLT.

    • 30
      ) Peter
      August 29, 2011 at 10:49 am

      Enlish translation

      Four years ago, Sony’s been funny to watch, but now they are very worthy competitors big two. It would be interesting to read your comments about the technique of this company, especially as there is in the line of Alpha lenses, which is unique nor Nikon, nor the Canon. Carl Zeiss Sonnar ZA 135 mm f/1.8, for example.

  11. 24
    ) Vijay
    August 26, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Hello,
    I really enjoy your photography and at the same time been very closely following Sony’s progression. I do feel that taking inputs from a photographer whose work you enjoy is beneficial rather than comparisons on other review sites. Pls do try and fit Sony into your blog – it should be very helpful and offer fresh perspective

    I have a question, I own a D5100 + 18-105 lens and I’m generally very happy with the picture sharpness.. Would switching to a D7000 + 16-85 lens make a big difference? The articulating screen is a loss but how do the 39 AF points compare against the 11 that D5100 has? or should I just buy the 16-85 mm lens on D5100. I dont mind the price, my sister has been drooling over my D5100 from the minute I bought it.. so it would make a nice gift for her bday coming up next month :) Pls let me know what you think, your opinion makes a difference.

    Thanks for your help and very informative blog!

    • 26
      ) Amit
      August 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm

      Hi Vijay,
      You can get a feeling of Nasim’s opinion about this lens if you search for ’16-85′ in the article http://photographylife.com/first-nikon-lens.
      You can also try searching for the following through google search: 16-85 site:mansurovs.com
      This should give around 10 results and you can open each of these pages and search for 16-85.

      I haven’t used this lens but my feeling is that 16-85 would be slightly better than 18-105. Both of these lenses are not that good for taking photographs indoors.

      IMHO 16-85 at $650 is a bit overpriced.
      Have you looked at the reviews of fast prime lenses like 35mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.8G?
      I think D5100 + 18-55 kit + 35mm 1.8 is a very good combination. If you need telephoto then you can add 55-200 or 70-300 vr.

      I have D90 + 18-105 + 35mm 1.8 and I use 35mm for most of my photographs. It is a very good lens and costs just $200.

  12. 27
    ) mcliu
    August 26, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Review of new technology in any field is a great idea.. Each technology bring some new excitement and hope among us . In fact in some case it also ensue confusion and frustration while choosing a new body .. Wisdom says ,stay with one system ,but heart is nomad..
    So in nutshell , I will certainly appreciate the impartial reviews . Let the reader makes his/her choice at own peril ..LOL

    LIU

  13. 29
    ) Lilantha
    August 27, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Dear Nasim, I wish Hurricane Irene is not going to trouble you. Anyway I as a Buddhist wish “May Triple Gem(Buddha, Dhamma, Sanga) bless you and all of your US citizens.

  14. 33
    ) Peter
    August 29, 2011 at 10:56 am

    雖然我認為索尼是一個偉大的公司,他們不作相機不如尼康,佳能。所以,何必呢?

  15. 38
    ) Joe Brown
    August 31, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    Cool website, learned a lot!

  16. 40
    ) Steve M
    September 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I have been happily using the Sony SLT-a33 for the past year. Since my previous camera was a Panasonic FZ50 I had no issues making transition to EVF. Those folks who compare the OVF to viewing their composition through a window seem to lose sight of the fact that it is a projection on the focus screen.

    Anyway to answer your question, yes I think you should start following the developments Sony is making. I have become completely sold on their cameras and vision in the past year and believe their future is bright.

    • September 7, 2011 at 2:41 pm

      Thank you for your feedback Steve! Both cameras are coming to me in October for testing :)

  17. 42
    ) Luther
    September 9, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Hi Nasim , wonderful website with full of details , info’s and comparisons of DSLRS!!! I am interested in DSLR and going to get a very first one for myself soon. But it makes me headache in making decisions on which brands to go among CANON , NIKON and SONY. Personally i like HDR and 3D panorama very much. But most of the CANON and NIKON don’t have built-in features in themselves. Now came out the SONY with all the magnificient features that i wanted. But its stability and being a fresher in DSLR field seems not to be convincing yet. In fact have you got to know that SONY has a very big problems in OVERHEATING and night photos NOISES ?? especially in A55 . Would you please give some comments? thanks

  18. 43
    ) Red
    September 25, 2011 at 10:52 am

    Hello Nasim!
    I agree with many above that you should start checking Sonys DSLR too. And not only SLTs. Also with your knowledge of Nikon cameras it would be nice to see some comparisons made :)

    Cheers

  19. December 18, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Hi Nasim… have you reviewed the A77 yet? I’d love to read your verdict. I got my A77 last month and it’s awesome. I may be bias because it is my first “proper” camera and I’m just a hobbyist. I created a facebook page Sony A77 Shots to share my amateur photos.
    Cheers!

  20. December 19, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Could you also please include in your review the new weather sealed lens from Sony, the SAL1650 f28? Thanks again Nasim and Happy Holidays! :)

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