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In keeping with the A77's high-end status, it is positively encrusted with buttons that give direct access to its features. Better still, several of these buttons are customizable, allowing quick access to the settings you find yourself using most frequently. The AEL, AF/MF and ISO buttons can all be customized to hold one of 28 functions, from traditional shooting parameters such as drive mode and ISO through to processing features such as DRO and Picture Effects. It's a comprehensive list and delightfully free of restrictions (you can swap the ISO and AEL buttons if you fancy, or set all three to activate Smart Teleconverter if you're feeling especially perverse).

The A77 has lost the A700's obvious Konica Minolta 'heritage' styling but retains its solid build and deep, comfortable grip.
The A77 has a similar number of external buttons to its forebear but, in the light of the way the market has evolved, some of their functions have changed. The movie record button and Smart Teleconverter buttons replace the 'C' button but all the other functions are still represented. Overall, the only loss of direct control is the lack of the metering mode and image stabilisation switches.

The A700's joystick makes a return but sadly its 'QuickNavi' interactive control panel doesn't - you can choose to show a display of all the camera's settings on the rear screen but you can't get in and edit the settings, other than engaging the standard Function menu.

High resolution OLED EVF

According to Sony, one of the key technologies that it was waiting for before launching an A700 replacement was a suitably high-resolution EVF. The existing, field sequential 1.44M dot EVFs used in the first generation SLTs stand up reasonably well against the small optical finders found in the entry-level DSLR class, but were never likely to win over photographers used to the relatively large pentaprism viewfinder in the A700 and its competitors. Sony is certainly confident about the finder in the A77, for good reason; it is close enough to the quality of a high-end optical viewfinder that the advantages (the ability to preview exposure and white balance, or to gain-up for working in low light), outweigh the areas in which it isn't as good.

The EVF display in the A33 and A55 (and still-current A35) showed an 800 x 600 pixel array, updated one color at a time, which could lead to a rainbow-like 'tearing' effect if moved quickly. The OLED Trufinder that Sony is now using is a very different beast - its 2.4M dots are able to provide a 1024 x 768 pixel display and do so with a progressive update. As a result, the viewfinder not only gives a more detailed view but also one that's free from tearing. After extended use, we're confident in saying that it is the best EVF we've ever used.

The other great advantage of EVFs is that they aren't constrained by the size of the camera's sensor - even the best APS-C sensor cameras have small viewfinders when compared with inexpensive film SLRs. Trying to magnify the APS-C-sized reflection from the reflex mirror results in a darker viewfinder. With an electronic viewfinder, there is no such connection, so the size and brightness of the finder is dependant only on the current state of the technology. In the case of the A77, its 100% coverage, 1.09x magnification finder is essentially the same size as the immense optical finder in the A900.

Viewfinder size and crop

One figure hidden away in every SLR's spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing models impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in usability - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'.

The Sony SLT A77's electronic viewfinder is large - on a par with the optical finders of full-frame SLRs. This makes it substantially bigger than those in its APS-C SLR peers such as the Nikon D7000 or Canon EOS 7D. It offers 100% coverage of the final image, with no crop - what you see is what you get.