Thoughts on the A77 (with some test footage)Fri, 2012-01-27, 11:40
My father recently bought the A77 so of course I had to play with it and test some stuff. After doing some basic tests and got a feeling for the usage of the cam I decided to focus on a low light comparison with the NEX-5n and some AF testing. But after the video with this two topics and some words about it, I’ll write down some general thoughts about the A77.
Low light and AF test
Download the source file on Vimeo for better image quality. Keep in mind that this test is totally unscientific. All footage without color grading. Only post process are the titles and the tests with the Neat Video noise reduction plugin demo I’m currently playing with.
For the low light test I took my NEX-5n and the A77 with two tripods and shot some scenes in my hometown Schwäbisch Hall. I tried to have both cameras as near as possible. Both the NEX-5n with the LA-EA1 lens adapter and the A77 where equipped with the Sony SAL-2875 with 2.8 constant aperture. Then I tried to get the same field of view so the lens on the NEX needed more zoom due to the additional A77 video crop. Both cameras where rolled at the same time with the same settings to have direct comparison.
For me the NEX-5n seems a bit cleaner even if both have “some” noise especially when shooting at ISO1600. But nice on the A77 is, that you can also use ISO1000, ISO1250 and other steps between common ISO steps, while the NEX only allows an ISO value of 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600. Another point for the NEX is the lack of the translucent mirror which leads to a brighter image (visible and shown by exposure control in the cameras, difference about -0.3 EV).
The AF test – I shot more footage than I packed into this edit but this shows enough – showed to me that this part, always advertised by Sony, isn’t made for nice focus tracking while filming. And it’s only available in auto mode. The car scene was shot with the SAL-70200 which has a nice and fast AF with its super sonic motor (for photos). The shampoo bottle was filmed handheld (with steady shot on I think) and focus tracking set to the logo on the bottle. I went back and forth to stress the focus. The lens was the SAL-2875 again.
Sorry for the high noise in the car AF scene, I’m used to the A850 which switches back to ISO auto when changing from manual mode with specified ISO to program automatic. And I was a bit in a hurry while shooting this so I missed the ISO setting.
Picture profile for all fotage in the video above was Portrait with Contrast all down to -3, Saturation -1 and Sharpness down on -3 on both cams. White balance was set to auto.
Some general thoughts about the A77
As expected the video quality of the A77 is in general comparable to the NEX-5n. But the handling isn’t. The NEX is a bit fiddly with only the one control dial for aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. but when you get used to it, it’s no big problem. The A77 has direct dials for shutter speed and aperture + dedicated buttons for ISO and other stuff, but there is one big deal: You have to go to video mode on the program dial to shoot video with manual controlled apterture and shutter speed. And in video mode you can’t shoot pictures even when between some recordings. But the biggest minus of video mode is, that you can’t use the focus magnifier which for me is vital in many situations. So you have to switch to another mode, set an accurate focus with focus magnification and switch back to movie mode.
When hitting the movie record button in other program modes than video on the A77, the recording mode is always auto. The handling of the NEX is much better, because I’m always in manual mode which fits for manual controlled photos or movies(!) and you always have the focus magnifier when the camera isn’t recording. So all in all the NEX is the better Super 35 camcorder – when you’re used to it’s controls.
Expect some more footage from the A77 in the coming days. And here is my one last thing:
Additional crop in Video mode
The crop factor of about 1.86 in video mode is discussed often on the net but many people don’t really know why Sony crops videos. So here is a little explanation:
Sony (or better say Minolta) decided to let the camera do the stabilization when they released their first DSLRs. This was and is done with a piezoelectricity mechanism which compensates the camera movement by moving the sensor. This process works good for photos and was also used when Steady Shot was active while video recording on the A55. On the A55 this speed up the heating of the sensor which even without Steady Shot had only short recording times. So Sony decided to give the A77 a electronic stabilization in video mode. So it needs to have an area which is not regularly used for the video to move the recording area through the sensor to compensate the movement. Therefor it crops. The bad thing is that you can’t record with only the regular 1.5 APS-C crop when not using stabilization.