Sony a77: My New Keeper Camera

Oh me. Oh my.

I gifted myself a with a Sony a77 — that’s a whopping big slt camera, for those not in the know — as they’d finally come down from the stratosphere in price. I’ve been using an a55.

I got the camera Saturday. As soon as the battery was charged, I fired it up and took a few shots. Oh wow. I used the same lens I’d been using on the a55 — a 17-50 f2.8. It was supposed to be a good lens, but it had always underwhelmed me on the a55.

On the a77, it’s like … I can’t even describe the difference. People have been underselling this camera. Either that, or the a55 is a point and shoot in disguise. I hated to put it down to go to mass. In fact, I thought about taking it to mass and annoying my pastor by snapping him during the homily. He’s a good sort and could probably surf through the annoyance. He is also already accustomed to my weirdnesses.

I have a plan that I’m going to record a year of a legislative session from the inside with this camera; that and take a full set of the people of District 89 as they go about their business.

I think these are worthwhile projects because not many people have the vantage that I do for recording either of these things.

I love cameras. It’s more than the gear, more even than the photos. It’s the ability to look through a viewfinder and, by changing a few things here and there, capture something more than is there. The camera can, once in a while, when you get lucky, capture the meaning of things.

My camera obsession goes all the way back to a Brownie I bought with my allowance when I was a little girl. When I got my first real job, I bought a 35mm film camera with 3 prime lenses (35mm, 50mm and 100mm) and a teleconverter that I used for decades. I was stubborn about not going to digital. I liked the plain and simple methods of setting the aperture and shutter by turning the dials. I even thought I liked using a light meter.

Then, on a trip to Hawaii, I watched as others used their new-fangled cameras, and converted in one afternoon to the its-all-in-the-box complicated simplicity of digital. I’ve been looking for a berth in the digital world that really fits me ever since.

My first jump into digital was a point and shoot Leica D-Lux2. I did good, buying that camera. It’s ten years old and I have no quarrels with it whatsoever. I’ve taken it all over the world and shot tens of thousands of photos with it. It will shoot raw or jpeg and offers fully manual control all the way through to fully automatic, all alongside a lot of pre-sets that I’ve never bothered to use. It has a fast lens that gives a lot of shooting leeway and tends toward a soft clarity that flatters both people and art. I love what it does with light.

I have no desire to replace the Leica. I may never replace the Leica.

But I had a lot harder time replacing my 35 mm. I really hated the digital dslrs I tried. They felt wrong in my hand, for starters. And they seemed limiting in a way that the film camera with its stark simplicity just didn’t. The Sony a55 was my first turn to the digital dslr (or, as purists like to point out, slt) world.

I bought it because — you guessed it — it felt right in my hand. Also, it could use my old lenses. Even though I liked the a55, I couldn’t seem to get the alive quality in my photos that I got with film. Then, I unboxed the a77 and that changed in one snap.

The a77 isn’t a perfect camera. But it’s pretty close. It’s water sealed, which may mean no more wrapping it in plastic on gnarly days. But the main thing is the detail and the aliveness of the photos.

With the Leica and the a77, I may just have found two cameras that I will never want to replace.

Oh me. Oh my.