March 2012 was a jump forward for my photographic gear with the purchase of the new Sony Alpha A77 DSLR (SLT). There are plenty of websites out there that go into great detail about the features of the A77, so I won't go into depth here but to comment on my personal feelings on the camera and settings I use as I figure them out!
FocusingWhat better subject to play with a new camera than squirrels at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens? The lively little guys would sometimes prove a test for the focusing of the Sony A100, but not so the the A77 with 16-15mm f2.8 SSM lens attached that came with the camera. That camera/lens combo was locking onto the squirrels with no problem at all. No doubt the plethera of focus points in the Sony A77 helped.
On reviewing the photos from the Alpha A77 however I was a little disappointed to see that the camera seemed to be missing focus, focusing instead of on the squirrels it was focusing in front of them by some way. Having spent so much on a camera + lens this was a big problem, until I found out about the A77's micro adjust feature. This lets you set an offset for each lens you use (up to 30 lenses IIRC) to correct this sort of issue. Having tweaked the micro adjust for the 16-50mm lens, focusing is now spot on.
Because the shots from this first trip were off I've not included any here.
NoiseA lot of criticism is directed at Sony cameras over apparent image noise. While I can't compare to other brands of cameras like Nikon or Canon as I don't own their cameras, I can say I've been quite impressed with lack of problematic noise. This photo of a ferret I used as a test subject for the camera was shot at ISO 1600.
Firmware issuesMy camera arrived with the 1.04 firmware onboard. Naturally firmware was low on my list of things to check, so first experience of the Sony A77 was based on 1.04.
At times the A77 felt a little sluggish to respond, noticeably around response time to changing the current shutter or aperture.
I since discovered there was an update available, so as soon as I had time I upgraded the firmware to the new 1.05 firmware.
You have to use Sony's software to load the new firmware into the camera. I'm not sure why Sony decided to do this, with the A100 an update was a simple matter of copying a file to memory card and booting up the camera. Of course the Sony software is Windows only - which causes headaches to folks like me who have opted to use Linux. So I tried doing the upgrade using a Virtual Machine instance of Windows XP, but that kept failing. It seems you have to use Windows running natively on real hardware for the upgrade to work properly.
Anyway, I got the upgrade done on a borrowed computer and the camera seems a lot more responsive when fiddling with settings.
The Sony A77 has lots of tweaks and settings to play with to get it to behave just as you want, so I thought I'd better make a note of them in case I lose them for some reason.
The A77 has a fantastic feature called 'focus peaking'. Which, when switched on in manual focus mode, highlights areas of the image that will be in sharp focus, immensely useful when manual focusing or in macro mode. I have this turned up to high and yellow (yes, you can choose the colour!).
Setting the camera focus to DMF mode (camera menu -> 3 -> AF-A setup (DMF)) means when the camera has found focus it switches to manual focus immediately (just for that shot), in combination with focus peaking this means you get a highlight of what will be sharp when using AF. This works nicely when the focus mode knob on the front of the camera is set to 'A'.
Depressing the shutter release half way causes AF to kick in again.
Of course when the subject is moving a lot you may want to tell the camera to keep focusing and don't use DMF, in this situation I switch the focus knob on the front of the A77 to C for continuous focus, which will ignore the DMF setting.
The A77 has 3 user definable memory slots. I have setup 2 of mine, the first for single shot efforts when I have time to compose and think carefully about a shot. The second is for faster action use of the camera. These give me a quick and easy way to setup the camera for certain uses.
MR1 - A priority, single shot drive, local AF point select, ISO 200
MR2 - S priority, flash off, dive more: continuous Hi, auto ISO (limited to 1600), Zone focus mode
Amongst the masses of customisation options in the Sony A77 is the option to reassign some of the buttons on the camera to have different uses meaning you can have exactly what you want where in the button layout. The only one I've tweaked is to change the AEL button to toggle spot metering as that seems like a feature I'd like to be able to quickly switch to as conditions change.
Other features/settings I'd need to change in a hurry (Shutter/Apeture/ISO/exp. compensation) all have dedicated controls already.