Displays and operation

The SLT-A77's interface will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used a recent Sony DSLR - its menus, function panels and interface are entirely consistent with recent models such as the A55 and A580.

Record display modes:

There are five different views available through the camera's electronic viewfinder, plus an additional status panel view option for the rear display. You can define which views you want access to, with the ability to chose different options for the finder and rear screen. Once you've chosen the views you want, pressing the DISP button cycles through them. For instance, if you only find yourself needing the virtual horizon indicator when shooting using the articulated screen, you can set the camera so that it doen't appear as an option in the viewfinder.

There are six different views available on the camera's rear display, five of which have equivalents when using the viewfinder. The views available for each can be defined separately.

Unlike previous SLTs, you get the choice of whether the camera's display reflects the selected exposure or whether it ignores it and gains-up to still present an image in low light. This is particularly useful when working with strobes in a studio, where you need to be able to preview the scene despite setting the exposure for when the strobes fire.

Function menu

As with recent Sonys, the A77 has a function sub-menu of all the most commonly-used shooting settings. This can either be navigated with the joystick on the back of the camera or by using the dials. Many parameters have several options (such as DRO, which offers Off/DRO/HDR), and a selection of sub-settings (both DRO and HDR have Auto settings or allow you to manually set the extent of their effect) and there's a little inconsistency in the way the two methods of interacting with the camera deal with this.

While in the top-level Function menu, some parameters are fully adjustable using the two dials. In these cases, turning the front dial cycles through the options of the current parameter, while the rear dial cycles through the sub-settings of the current option. (So you can use the front dial to switch from DRO to HDR mode and the rear dial to specify a 4EV range for that HDR merge). However, this isn't true for parameters such as ISO and WB, which have more complex sub-settings. With these, both dials cycle through the options, rather than letting you at the sub-settings.

When using the joystick, selecting a parameter with the joystick button takes you to a sub-page, with the options arranged down the left-hand-side of the screen (Its the same screen you reach if that parameter has a direct-access button). On this sub-screen, pushing up or down on the joystick moves between options while pushing left and right scrolls through the sub-settings. In this view, all sub-settings are controlled by navigating left/right with the joystick. Even in these sub-screens, the behaviour of the dials is retained (with the front dial cycling ebtween options and the rear dial tending to adjust sub-settings).

We prefered the A700's Quick Navi interactive settings panel but this system is pretty simple and quick to use. Our only slight gripe is that the behavior of the rear dial appears to depend on the complexity of that option's sub-settings, making it a little hard to predict what it's going to do. This is a very, very minor inconsistency, though - overall it's a quick system to learn and use.

Pressing the Fn button brings up a standard Sony function menu. Pressing on the joysick button takes you to a sub-screen (right), while rotating the front dial cycles between options without having to leave the top-level Fn menu screen. Each of the parameters has its own sub-screen. In turn, many of these provide further sub-settings. In this instance you can use the joystick to navigate and define the upper and lower limits within which Auto ISO will operate.
This is the White Balance sub-screen. The same screen appears if you press the camera's WB button. Pressing right on the joystick then allows you to fine-tune the sub-settings. In this instance, White Balance fine tuning.

Focus Peaking

New in Sony's SLT range is 'Focus Peaking', first seen in the NEX-C3 (from which the screen grab below was taken) is a visual method for confirming the areas of highest contrast (and hence focus) when manually focusing the camera. With focus peaking set, a bright colored outline appears around the highest contrast regions of an image, denoting the current zone of focus. You can adjust both how thick an outline is applied, and its color, (from a choice of red, white or yellow), to ensure it's always easy to see.

Peaking works happily in conjunction both with magnified focus assist and, most usefully, when shooting movies.

With 'Focus Peaking' enabled, the outlines of the in-focus regions are highlighted. In this case in red but you can select white or yellow if red clashes with your subject.

Here it's being used in movie mode to aid manual focusing while recording.

In low-contrast scenes, depending on the exact level of contrast, focus peaking is disabled. Instead, a green AF lock reticule is placed on the area of the scene which is in focus.

Picture Effects

As we've seen increasingly on Sony (and most other brands') cameras, the A77 offers a range of special image processing modes, to provide a series of special effects when shoting JPEGs. There's a wide range of effects, many of which have options to allow you to fine-tune them to your tastes. For a better idea of what's on offer, take a look at our recent full review of the NEX-5N.

There are 11 filter effects available. (The same 11 as in PASM mode on the NEX-5N) Within each of these effects there can be multiple options.

Movie mode displays

The A77 is one of the first cameras we've encountered to offer 1080p60 movie shooting (enabled by the recent expansion of the AVCHD standard). As with previous SLTs, the A77 can offer continuous focus in movie mode however, it can only do so if it retains control of the aperture. As such, autofocus is only available in P mode.

However, if you're happy to manually pull focus (and the 'Focus Peaking' function will certainly be useful for that), then the A77 does offer A,S and M exposure modes in video.

Movie shooting mode inherits the display settings you've chosen from the other shooting modes. However, the field of view is cropped (to the 16:9 aspect ratio) in a way that's hard to predict. Movie recording is available from other shooting modes but you gain more control by selecting the dedicated movie mode from the mode dial. This presents a choice of exposure modes. Autofocus is only available in Program mode.

When movie shooting is engaged (either from stills shooting mode or in the dedicated recording mode), the camera crops its field-of-view dramatically. This means you really have to use the dedicated mode if you wish to properly compose your shot, as there is no indication in stills mode to warn which parts of the scene will be cropped-out. Sadly the crop is not the same as the 16:9 stills shooting mode, so you can't use that to predict what's going to be in your scene.

Playback mode displays

The A77's playback system is pretty standard - you can view just the image, have the image with data overlayed or a screen showing a thumbnail with more comprehensive image settings.

There are three, always available, playback displays - just the image, the image plus shooting info (including any GPS data), and full info (with blinking highlights).

Beyond this, there are the standard magnification options: press the AF/MF button on the shoulder of the camera when in playback mode and the camera will zoom in. Turning the rear dial changes the level of magnification while the front dial switches between images, allowing you to compare critical focus.

Pressing the AF/MF button again reverts back to the normal view. Alternatively, pressing the AEL button jumps out to a thumbnail view, allowing you to quickly browse through images.

Magnified playback. The rear dial adjusts magnification while the front switches between different images. Thumbnail view.