SONY A77: Get a grip!

I’ve been using a vertical grip on my cameras for years. Some photographers hate them. They prefer to keep the camera body light and small. I understand this feeling, but I like the vertical grip anyway, for several reasons.

  1. I’m a portrait photographer. I take a lot of photos in portrait orientation, that is, with the camera turned “sideways”. Now, I could of course just turn the camera without moving my right hand, so my right hand ends up on “top.” But the grip allows me to, um, take hold of (as in “grip”) the camera on what is now the side, and to hold it more comfortably and securely while I shoot. I like to shoot with the elbows of both arms firmly against the sides of my chest. Can’t do that if my right hand is “up”. 
  2. I’m an event photographer, shooting weddings and other events that often last for hours. The vertical grip holds an extra battery, so I can keep shooting twice as long without having to worry about running out of power.
It is important to note, in connection with #1, that the grip doesn’t just let you hold the camera, it lets you shoot, as well. The grip has a shutter button, a control dial (or dials) for changing exposure settings, and other useful buttons.
Sony A77 + VG-C77AM vertical grip
The grips that I used with my Pentax cameras, when I was still shooting Pentax, had a couple other nice advantages: they could hold an extra storage card and they could store the small infrared remote. Sony’s grips don’t provide these extras, but they do satisfy the two main goals: a better hold on the camera, and twice the battery life.

The vertical grip (model VC-C77AM) for the Sony A77

The SONY A77 has a new grip that is, in several ways, an improvement over the grip for the A550/A580.

For starters, to use the grip on the A580, you had to remove the battery bay cover from the bottom of the camera body. There was a niche in the grip where you could store that cover piece. It was a pain to take off, a pain to store in the niche (like changing a roll of toilet paper), and a pain again to reverse the process when you took the grip off. Well, good news: The grip for the A77 makes this fuss unnecessary. There’s a slot in the grip for the battery bay cover. You just open the battery bay and the cover slides nicely into that slot, without having to be removed. 

On to more consequential matters.

The A77 is bigger than the A580, and the grip for the A77 is bigger than the grip for the A580. Here they are side by side (A580 on the left, A77 on the right):

This is a matter of taste, I admit. But if, like me, you feel more comfortable when you have more to hold on to, well, you’ll like the feel of the A77 grip.
The A77 grip also provides more control buttons than the grip for the A580.
The A77 has two control dials, so of course the grip has two dials, also. The A77 is weather-resistant (whatever that means) and the grip is, too. And like the grip for the A580, the A77 grip has the +/- (exposure compensation) and AEL (exposure lock) buttons. 
But the A77 grip adds buttons for AF/MF (allowing the photographer to fine tune exposure manually, something I do all the time), a joystick (useful for moving the focus area around on the LCD or in the electronic viewfinder, as well as for reviewing photos or working with menus), a Fn (function) button (allowing quick access to a whole range of shooting settings) and a magnification button (which I use for magnifying a key part of the subject’s face while focusing manually). More buttons on the grip means I can work faster and more efficiently, without having to turn the camera right-ways up to do things that I want to do all the time.
The placement of these buttons is generally good, with one exception. On the body of the camera, the AEL and AF/MF buttons lie directly under my right thumb, and the +/- button is on the top of the camera. I can understand why Sony didn’t want to put the +/- in the corresponding position on the vertical grip — that would place it on the right side of the camera in its normal orientation. But I’m not sure why they didn’t put it on the front of the grip. That way, I could continue to use it with my right index finger no matter what the camera’s orientation.
But I’m generally very pleased with the A77 grip and expect that I’ll leave it on the camera most of the time.

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