The Sony SLT-A77v & Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens: First Look (2017)

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, the Sony corporation, released a digital camera onto the market which piqued my interest. It was, as far as I was aware, the first revolutionary step in DSLR cameras (since Auto Focus) for decades. . .

Forgive me, but I think a little history is needed to put things into perspective:

I was always a Canon shooter from my first T70 through to the EOS 10D (I loved my 10D), 50D, 7D x 2, 1D MKii x 2, 1Ds MKii, 1D MKiii, but switched to Nikon (then back to Canon and once again to Nikon) with the launch of the D3 which was and still is, a fantastic beast of a camera. Fast focus, stunning image quality and that full frame 12MP sensor, was the pinnacle of photographic perfection. Or so it was reported, onto the slightly more compact D800 with it’s revolutionary 36MP sensor. Resolving power giant.

I loved my D3, D800 and the Pro lenses I had. Unfortunately, my elbows really didn’t like the weight my kit forced them to endure when using.

Tennis elbow in one elbow is horrible, but imagine having it in both elbows at the same time! Lifting anything, became virtually impossible. So, I downgraded to lighter gear and lighter gear until I finally started using mirrorless cameras, which have proved to be excellent little cameras, but I could never find one which just felt right for extended shooting.

I’ve reviewed several mirrorless cameras on here and each one, as a photographic tool, has been very capable image gathering device. The most recent, was the Lumix GX8, which is a stunningly good camera, but, there was a slight niggle in my mind. . .

The size. . .

Mirrorless cameras by and large, are small and compact image gathering devices, from the likes of Canon’s EOS M (I still love that camera, despite it’s shortcomings) through to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 on to the Sony a6000 (which is a stunning image taking device). They all have good points and they all have bad points, so choosing one model to go with is a case of living with the bad points or short comings. The images you can get with each camera, within each individual model’s ‘hot spot’ settings, are great, but if you want true creative control, tweaking the settings is where I ran into the problems that over time, really start to bug me. . .

TINY CONTROL WHEELS AND BUTTONS

Now, you could opt for larger mirrorless bodies, like the Panasonic GH5 or GX8, bigger bodies (small DSLR size) with bigger and better laid out controls. Perfection? I thought so, but there again, perhaps not.

A larger Mirrorless body generally has a smaller sensor and we’re all pretty much familiar with the ongoing debates around sensor size. Enough said that bigger is generally better (please note I said generally). The Panasonic models all contain the Micro Four Thirds size sensor, which effectively has a 2x crop factor (or half the dimensions of a full frame 35mm sensor).

Now half a full frame size, may sound ok, but in reality, it is a quarter of the actual size.

Let me explain it this way:

A full size snooker / billiards table is 12 foot by 6 foot. A half size snooker table is 6 foot by 3 foot. Exactly half the dimensions of a full size table, but to get back to the full sized table, you need four half sized tables, side by side and end to end (3ft + 3ft = 6ft width, 6ft + 6ft = 12ft length). So, a Micro Four Thirds sensor is really a quarter of the size of a full frame sensor.

An APS Full Frame sensor is 35.9mm x 24.00mm, APS-C (1.5x Crop) is 23.7mm x 15.6mm, M4/3 (2x Crop) is 17.3mm x 13.00mm and the 1″ Sensor (2.7 x Crop) is 13.2mm x 8.8mm

Canon, for whatever reason, offers their own APS-C sized sensor in their mirrorless range with it’s 1.6x crop factor, while Fujifilm, Sony, Samsung etc. all offer APS-C sized sensors with 1.5x crop factors. Nikon’s mirrorless offerings offer a 1″ sensor or CX format as Nikon call it, which is tiny.

Now, while generally speaking, the bigger the sensor the better, the camera bodies with full sized sensors (I’ll come to Sony in a minute) are large. Large camera bodies generally mean heavy, especially when combined with the much larger, quality optics required to get the most out of those gorgeous full sized sensors.

Sony, have managed to install a full sized sensor in a tiny camera body in their RX1 camera, which is a remarkable feat and the RX1 does give stunning results. But, it’s a tiny camera body so for day to day shooting, dealing with minuscule control buttons and dials is a pain in the proverbial. The RX1 is also very expensive.

Sony also offer their highly regarded A7 range of Mirrorless cameras (A7, A7s, A7r), again all offer stunning image quality with full sized sensors ranging from the 12.1MP in the A7s, with super fast AF and fps, to the 24.3MP in the A7, with slower fps but higher resolution detail onto the fully magnesium alloy body A7r with significantly higher 36MP + resolution but slower fps over the other two.

All the A7 range are pretty much in the same sized body as the Sony a6000 series cameras, give or take, with an EVF hump added in the middle. They are compact cameras with stunning image quality, but being full frame, require larger full frame sized lenses (FE Mount) whilst maintaining the smaller controls of a smaller bodied camera.

Fujifilm launched their X series mirrorless cameras, with the funky X-Trans sensor, which offered absolutely stunning image quality for an APS-C sensor. I had the X-Pro 1 (lovely camera), X-E1, X-E2 and numerous lenses. The lenses are great and the X-E2 was the best of the bunch I had, but despite firmware updates, the autofocus was still very slow for moving subjects.

I bought a Sony a6000 recently (I know late to the party, the story of my life) and it was a phenomenal camera: super fast AF, blistering fps, quality glass, but fiddly little controls and a less than ‘solid’ build quality. I’m not saying it was cheap or bad build. It wasn’t, but it was clearly built on a budget.

So, having tried out several different mirrorless cameras, to save the haters from hating, here they are:

Canon EOS M (I’ve had 7 of them), Canon EOS M3, Nikon 1 V1, Samsung Galaxy NX (EK-GN120 I’ve had two of them) Samsung NX300, Fujifilm X-Pro 1, X-E1, X-E2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Panasonic Lumix GX8 and Sony NEX 6 and a6000.

Each one had good points and bad points. Of all of them, the Canon EOS M was the one I kept going back to. The Touch Controls, compact size and amazing image quality kept drawing me back, despite it’s lethargic auto focus speed. The images from it were quite simply, great.

Canon have since improved the EOS M offerings, but and this is a huge BUT, the lenses Canon offer now are pretty much all plastic mounts.

I WILL NEVER USE A PLASTIC MOUNT LENS

Canon, this is how dumb you have been. You created a great innovation, a 28mm Macro lens for the EOS M, with built in and configurable LED lighting. GENIUS.

Then you put a plastic lens mount on it to save a few quid. STUPID. WRONG AND STUPID.

Why would anyone fork out over £1000.00 on an EOS M5 to stick a plastic mount lens on it? The 55-200mm EFM lens, the biggest, longest, ONLY distance zoom for the EOS M. . .yup PLASTIC MOUNT, so don’t knock that against anything or you could have a tricky job getting the mount out of the camera body.

Canon have clearly hampered their non DSLR offerings by making cheap lens mounts to scare potential buyers off.

Now, the observant amongst you will be asking yourself: “the title said Sony SLT-A77 first look, why hasn’t he mentioned it yet?” And, you would be correct, so here we go. . .

A brief aside:

Having been disillusioned with my purchase of a Sony a6000, not because it was a bad camera, it just didn’t suit me, the size, controls were just too small, I was bored and looking through the used section of Wex Photographic’s Web Site. They do offer some really good stuff, complete with a years warranty, and there it was . . .

Sony SLT-A77v Camera Body, Grade 9+ (Shows little signs of use) Shutter Count: 1035. Price: £359.00. Comes boxed with all original accessories, blah, blah, blah. Before I knew it, I had added it to my basket and had paid. It was going to arrive the next day. . .

 

 

 

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

During the time I had deserted cumbersome DSLR / Lens combos in favour of the smaller and lighter mirrorless offerings, Sony did something else, which was pretty much overlooked by the photography world:

Sony introduced Translucent Mirror System Cameras, in the A33 and A55. Sony called them DSLT (Digital Single Lens Translucent) as opposed to DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex).

Both cameras, were relatively low end and aimed at a budget market with relatively (I use the term loosely) poor performance. Neither were aimed at the enthusiast / Pro buyer.

Then in late 2011, Sony announced two new DSLT models, the more enthusiast aimed A65 and the all conquering weather proofed A77 (see, I told you I’d get there). Now the A77 did make me stop and think “interesting I must look into that”, but being a Canon 7D user at the time and being busy, I never did get round to trying out the SLT technology Sony had brought to the photography scene.

Time passed and like so many other things I’d forgotten about, the A77 left my consciousness.

In late 2014, Sony introduced the A77 Mk ii a new improved version of the A77. Again, I thought, “Oh yeah, I must look into that SLT tech”, but being busy, transitioning to mirrorless cameras, the SLT tech once again vanished from my consciousness.

So, here we are in May 2017 and I recently bought a Sony SLT-A77v camera body. The ‘v’ designates it as one with the built in GPS facility. Some people might hate this, but having geolocation data on your images is actually a really handy thing to have. Every Smartphone image has it these days, so why not cameras?

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

“What about a lens?”

Not being a Sony user and never getting round to checking their SLT system out, I had absolutely no idea what lenses would work with it, so I had to do some quick research. It was remarkably easy to find the answer:

Any Konica / Minolta  / Sony  A Mount lens would work on the SLT-A77v.

I remember from days long gone, that Minolta used to do some really amazing optics, so, whilst they may not be sonic wave near silent motors, the finished results could, I stress ‘could’ be quite something.

So, not knowing if I was going to be happy with the A77, I wasn’t going to fork out mega bucks on a lens, so I headed over to eBay and found a near mint Minolta 50mm F1.7 AF prime lens. £60 including P&P.

The Sony A77v turned up the next morning, beautifully packaged and upon opening the box, bar a slight mark where a tripod mount had been attached to the camera, the SLT-A77v was immaculate. Not a mark on it, complete with two screen protectors, one on the rear LCD and one on the control LCD up top.

It felt great in my hand, a good meaty grip to get your fingers around, nice thumb accents round back for a nice stable hold. I charged the battery and popped it in. With the battery inside, the A77 felt excellent in the hand, solid build, but not ‘heavy, heavy’. It felt just right.

All I had to do was wait for the lens.

The Minolta 50mm f1.7 AF arrived the day after, I let it come up to room temperature before fixing it to the A77. Once on:

I flipped the on/off switch and the camera jumped into life. I took the lens cap off and without a glance at the instruction book, starting taking some test snaps just to see how it felt.

All I can say is WOW.

I found out something about myself there and then. I am a DSLR/T shooter. The Sony SLT-A77v reminded me of how I felt with my old Canon EOS 10D. It just felt ‘right’, invisible, an extension of my arm. I took loads of test images, of nothing really, just shooting anything and everything.

Firstly, the Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens worked without issue. The AF as expected, was noisy, but not “oh no” noisy. The AF on the SLT-A77v worked quickly and accurately, with a lens from the mid 90s. Shot after shot. Close up distance wasn’t great with the lens, but it’s an old lens and the distance for it’s time period would have been great, but more modern optics / tech have allowed much closer focus distance.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Build: the SLT-A77v is solid, weather sealed, slightly smaller than a Canon EOS 7D, but with great button layout. Controls just happen to be where you need them, with a brilliant little joystick to whizz between menu settings (changeable either using the rear LCD or the EVF).

When paired with the Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM lens, which is also weatherproof, the Sony SLT-A77v is ready for any weather conditions and looks the whole pro photographer part (for those who care about things like that).

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

The PASM command dial has a reassuring friction to it. This dial will be unlikely to change as you slide the camera in and out of your bag. The front and rear dials for shutter and aperture however, do move quite freely and it is easy to change settings without meaning to, but that isn’t a deal breaker.

So, what about the SLT or Single Lens Translucent Technology at play? How does that stack up?

Other reviews have said that you loose around one third of a stop over conventional DSLR cameras, but according to Sony, they have ‘tweaked’ the ISO settings in camera to counteract this third stop light reduction, so, if you shoot at ISO 100, you should get the same result as ISO 100 on any DSLR. This however is not necessarily correct, as each camera manufacturer has their own software installed, tailored for the hardware they have in each model of camera (hence Firmware from one model, won’t work in another).

The bottom line is, the images from the SLT-A77v are excellent.

With no mirror slap to contend with and built in Sony SteadyShot Inside (image stabilisation) any lens mounted, even old Minolta ones, benefit from sensor stabilisation and the SteadyShot works really well.

The Translucent Mirror Technology offers something on par with mirrorless cameras. Unbelievable fps shooting. The A77 can shoot up to 12fps when set to the 12fps mode. There are some caveats to this as far as settings go, but with the smart tech that is built into the A77, you can set it on the 12fps mode and shoot away for short bursts, without missing the action.

SLT-A77v 5

Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Much has been written about EVF against OVT (that’s Electronic View Finder and Optical View Finder), the mirrorless cameras I have had, have ranged from no viewfinder, to optical/ EVF hybrid to exclusively EVF and I can happily say that the EVF on the Sony SLT-A77v is amazing.

The EVF in the Sony A77 is big. I mean full size viewfinder big, as in full frame camera big. Unlike the viewfinder on most crop sensor cameras, which look like you’re peering down a tunnel, the EVF on the A77 is gorgeous, with full scene, little lag and amazing amounts of detail. It puts all other EVF’s I’ve used to shame.

The EVF really makes OVF antique by comparison. With Viewfinder Effect ON in the menu system (still hadn’t read the instruction book), what you see as you compose your image, is what you get, unlike an OVF, what you see is what’s there, regardless of the settings you have set.

SLT-A77v 6

Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Out of camera JPEGS looked great, RAW files even better. The 50mm Minolta did produce some CA, which was easily dealt with post processing, but the RAW images with the lens stopped down a bit, were amazing.

The Sony SLT-A77v, was a definite keeper.

I went online and ordered a used Sony SAL 16-50mm f2.8 SSM lens, with next day delivery. The reviews said wide open, it was a bit soft, but stoped down it was a sharp lens. Flickr provided some great examples of the A77 with the 16-50mm f2.8, so, I ordered the Sony SAL1650 with next day delivery.

Combined, the A77 and SAL1650 are both weather sealed, ideal for any outdoor eventuality. When fitted, the lens does add a bit of weight to the camera, but again combined, give a sense of assurance that what you have in your hands will take anything that life throws at it.

The Sony SLT-A77v, has a flip out, tilt and swivel rear screen, which whilst at first seems cumbersome, is actually really well thought out. The True Black rear LCD is lovely, with great sharpness (not a patch on the resolution of the EVF, which also allows you to review images : chimping on the sly).

SLT-A77v 7

Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

The buffer is a bit low, you can rattle off maybe 18 JPEG or 14 RAW before things slow down, which to machine gun shooters out there, will sound awful. I can hear the “my 7D will keep shooting all day long at 8fps” and whilst this may be true, the shots your 7D gets may not all be in focus, as the camera has to stop focus during mirror up and down before requiring focus for the next shot.

During which time, the conventional DSLR viewfinder is momentarily blacked out, so your own tracking expertise may also effect the outcome of the shots obtained. With the EVF on the A77, the viewfinder never blacks out, so you can keep tracking the object you want and make instant changes as they appear in the EVF.

On the 12fps once things slow down a bit, with a fast SD card installed, give the A77 a second or two to clear the buffer and you can start right off with the 12fps again. Predicting the ‘action’ shot is key with the A77 on 12fps mode.

The Sony SLT-A77v will keep focusing on every shot taken as the mirror doesn’t move. This isn’t to say that every shot is in focus, but the keeper rate (having had two 7D) I am getting from the Sony SLT-A77v is slightly higher than 8fps on the 7D.

On normal mode, high speed burst, the SLT-A77v will do 8fps, like the 7D, but will focus constantly throughout each shot, unlike the 7D.

The Canon 7D has 19 focus points, the same as the A77, but unlike the 11 cross type points of the A77, the 7D has 19 cross type focus points. The A77 however has constant focus, so the hit rate for keepers, so far, is higher than my experience with both the 7D I have owned.

What you do also have to keep in mind is that the 7D is 18MP (1.6 x Crop Factor = slightly smaller) with twin Digic IV processors, allowing for faster clearing of the buffer at 8fps. The A77 has a BionZ processor pushing 24.3MP (1.5x Crop factor = slightly bigger than the Canon) images through at 12fps.

Huh? I hear some readers cry. What has sensor size got to do with processing speed? The smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels, the smaller the data, the faster a processor can clear it. The larger the sensor, the larger the pixels, the longer the data from the sensor takes to be processed.

That’s why the Nikon 1 V3 for example with it’s 18MP 1 inch sensor can shoot something like 20fps. The smaller the sensor, the smaller the pixels, the smaller the amount of actual data needs to be processed, so the faster it can collect images before the buffer get’s filled up.

Another example at the opposite end of the scale is the Nikon D800 with it’s full frame 36.3MP sensor, which can only shoot at 3 fps. Larger sensor, larger (and more) pixels = more data per pixel to process.

Just for fun, here’s a highly simplified way of looking at it:

Nikon 1 V3 18.4MP, Pixel size 2.51µm = 46.184 million data inputs from all pixels

46.184 Million per shot x 20 fps = 923.68 Million data inputs per second.

Sony SLT-A77v 24.3MP, Pixel Pitch 3.88µm = 94.284 Million data inputs from all pixels

94.284 Million per shot x 12fps = 1.131408 Billion data inputs per second.

Nikon D800 36.3MP, Pixel Pitch 4.87µm = 176.281 Million data inputs from all pixels

176.781 Million per shot x 3fps = 530.343 Million data inputs per second.

If you are a machine gun shooter, a pray and spray photographer, the SLT-A77v really isn’t the camera for you. The Nikon 1 V3 is with it’s 20fps, but you don’t see any of them at sport events in the press areas do you? Why not? 18.4MP 20fps? This outperforms the the Nikon D4s and is a fraction of the cost! Bigger sensors, bigger pixels = better image quality.

If however, you are a more ‘thoughtful’ photographer, who waits for the decisive moment, the SLT-A77v with it’s 12fps will allow you to get that moment. Time, after time, after time.

SLT-A77v 8

Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Thoughtfulness, brings me to another ‘feature’ of the SLT-A77v. It’s quite a quiet camera. No noisy shutter (like the D800).

The Focus Assist beam, is the old school form, it’s a subtle red light made up of bars, which won’t blind your subjects, unlike the latest iteration of LED ‘blind you senseless’ focus assist beams. It’s actually really accurate and a pleasant reminder of how things used to be on camera. Modern meets old school. (What ever happened to Canon’s Eye Focus Tracking system? It focused where your eye looked in the viewfinder).

Battery life? Well yeah, the SLT-A77v does chomp it’s way through the battery quite quickly. Hardly surprising when you consider the fact it’s powering one high resolution display and one very high resolution display, whilst powering the GPS system (which can be disabled in menu). It’s good for anywhere between 450- 550 shots depending on variables, so for a day out shooting one or ideally two spare batteries would be recommended.

You can get the Sony VG-C77AM dedicated vertical grip which will house two batteries, allowing extended shooting and vertical controls for portrait shooters, but does obviously increase the size and weight of the device being held in hand. Personally I prefer the smaller body and a couple of batteries in my bag or pocket to swap out when needed.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

So, what is my point?

I have discovered, at least for me and I hope it isn’t too late, that Sony have created a magnificent system which is revolutionary in terms of taking images with a DSLR type camera body. The Translucent Mirror technology is brilliant in what benefits it provides the photographer. Super fast frame rates with real time focusing as each image is taken.

I loved the Samsung Galaxy NX form factor, the large touch screen, the built in connectivity was fantastic, capturing moving subjects however, was very hit and miss, but for still subjects, the Galaxy NX was a brilliant camera. Please Sony, don’t do what Samsung did and scrap the NX department (just as Samsung had launched the excellent NX1 camera), don’t ditch the Alpha SLT class of cameras, that SLT technology offers the advantages of mirrorless cameras, while not having to sacrifice the flexibility or durability of a DSLR camera. It is the ultimate hybrid system.

With an improved buffer rate, to keep the machine gun shooters happy, Sony could have an all conquering DSLT system on their hands. Sony do appear to be the only company interested in real ‘innovation’ in regards the actual photography machine. The big two, Canon and Nikon, just seem to plod along offering incremental updates to what already exists and when those ideas run out, go back to the mega pixel war and throw even more pixels at the sensor. The truth is, you don’t really need more than 16MP for the majority of markets in the world today. 24MP allows a certain amount of cropping and any more than that is just excessive. Trust me I’ve had the D800, the 36.3MP sensor is unforgiving when it comes to lenses and more importantly technique.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

Now, what would be really interesting to see, would be an evolution of Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology, Sony’s 4D Focus system in conjunction with the Sony made, Fujifilm X-Trans sensor technology. What a combination those would make. . . I give you the Sony SLT-X (wishful thinking I know).

In the meantime, having discovered the Translucent Mirror Technology from Sony, I am happier than I have been in a very long time as far as what camera I am carrying around with me. I know it’s horses for courses and not everybody likes the same thing, but, I have found something I think really deserves photographer’s support.

Second hand prices of the SLT-A77v vary depending on condition and age, I was really lucky to find the one I did, when I did. I think it was meant to be: right place, right time. Sony have updated the A77v with the A77 II, with improvements (and loss of the built in GPS facility), which are more expensive, but there are bargains to be had.

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Sony SLT-A77v & Sony (SAL1650) DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM Lens

 

If you have wondered about how the whole SLT thing works, but are tied to another make of camera or system, now is a pretty good time, for a reasonably low outlay, to get your hands on one of these SLT cameras, cheap Minolta lenses on eBay (the 50mm f1.7 is a cracking little lens) and try something new.

You never know, it might even revolutionise your photography.

It may have taken me a few years to get round to investigating the Translucent Mirror Technology from Sony, but boy am I glad I have.

The Sony SLT-A77v has certainly inspired me to get out and shoot every day since I put a lens on it. With the Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM attached, I have a great lens, great image quality and a robust, weather sealed package that will take whatever nature has to throw at me.

Combined, the Sony SLT-A77v and the Sony DT 16-50mm f2.8 SSM are a formidable photographic package.

I’m so glad I found it when I did. Better late, than never, eh?

 

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