INFORMED REVIEWER OVERALL RATING: 9/10
Sony had a very sad lull in terms of innovative cameras between 2005 and 2011 (somewhere between the DSC-R1 and the A55). Being all things to all men is never an easy thing – Sony have tried to be exactly that once too many over the last few decades and at times it has cost them dear.
The biggest mistake Sony made I think personally was the purchase of the Minolta division – they should have focused on continue developing the R-series cameras now (which they are doing now) and developing their own mount (which again they are doing with the E and FE mount).
No one can argue however of the quality of the Sony lenses developed for the A-mount over the last 10 years – from the excellent Zeiss lenses to the cheap but actually very good Sony easy-choice DT lenses, there’s not a bad lens that comes to mind. I was always a vocal critic of the Carl Zeiss 16-80mm lens (Sony sorely need to update this with an SSM motor) however as time has passed and lenses have been developed this is now probably the best 24-120mm (equivalent) lens on the market by someway in terms of what it delivers after lens corrections on Sony A65 and A77 bodies – the E-mount Zeiss zoom (16-70mm) and FE mount Zeiss zoom (24-70mm) have been failures in comparison even though they have updated focusing motors… the 16-80mm has matured to best the best option for those looking for a Zeiss walkaround telephoto zoom.
I disagree with the “noise” that the company should be split up – there are pros and cons yes to owning so much of the parts and supply chain, however there’s a lot of benefits too, and Sony have started to reap the rewards of integration – a vision the current CEO put in place and seems to be working to some extent with smartphones and cameras.
On the other hand though companies like Apple are doing plenty fine buying parts from the best suppliers in the world and integrating them to make the best devices. There’s a reason why Nikon, Haselblad and Apple use Sony Imaging sensors in their cameras – Sony make the best sensors in the world at the moment, and with the recent announcement of the Sony A7S camera sensor Sony has firmly jumped a clear league ahead of the rest of the market in terms of camera and sensor innovation. Innovation lifecycles in the current markets are short and getting shorter though and do innovations really last more than a year in this day and age… competition generally catches up within the years whether that will be Sony selling the competition or other companies replicating the technology that Sony has developed.
The Sony A77 was a tough APS-C act to follow – still industry leading in many ways the weaknesses were very few in terms of what you were getting for the money. 24 megapixels is seen as more than enough in the advanced amateur space and it was brimful of technology that Nikon and Canon still haven’t managed to match.
To the Sony A77 Mark 2 then. Let’s kick-off with the questions that all of you are begging to ask vs the A77 Mark 1.
Is it better than the A77 mark 1?: Absolutely, yes. More detail is resolved in JPEGS, photos look much better in ISO 1600 and 3200 and video in ISO 12600 looks very usable for my purposes.
What’s gone? GPS has gone. The intelligent auto is no longer on the selector, you need to select this by going into standard auto and then jumping into the menu item. The red focusing lamp is gone and replaced by improved low light focus and strobe lighting from the flash (Sony has gone from laser focusing to this, luckily low light focusing is not bad, however combined with laser focusing from the DSC-F717 and V3 would have been great.)
Does it handle differently? Yes, some changes feel significant such as being able to choose the focusing range by distance, using the iphone as a remote viewer and remote control through wi-fi, menu access is different although when you are taking pictures everything is familiar. Pictures and photos are now viewed in the same roll rather than separately, ISO is set to automatically go to 3200 (previously it went to 1600 in auto mode although this could be set manually in PASM modes), the hotshoe has been changed to the latest (Sony) and ISO standard, NFC has been added and the biggie – focusing has been improved to be industry leading. There’s a locking mode selector switch. The monitor is better in the sun with “white magic” technology as first seen in the RX100.
Tell me more about the focusing: there’s plenty more to be read on the other sites including Sony’s own. However in short this is the camera for fast autofocusing. Of about 1000 pictures it only seems to mis-focus three times and even then something else was in focus! However there is a challenge in terms of the use case vs. the original A77 – I always thought that had great focusing too and it very rarely failed me in my use.
As a standalone camera.
The camera was tested with the Sony 35mm f1.8, CZ16-80 and CZ 85mm. Overall I was very impressed with the results, the imaging is better than the A77 and is up there with the industry leaders such as the Nikon D7100. RAW images show that there is significant amounts of details that can be recaptured (I’ve always felt Sony RAW has more to it that Nikon – trolls will scream).
There are those purists that will never like the idea of a mirror between the sensor and the lens. I have no issue with it and ultimately the pros outweigh the cons. Sony has patented a mirror that moves out of the way however moving parts just means more to fail.
In short comparing it against my Nikon D7100 with a Nikon 16-85mm lens I can report that for my use purpose which is video, family portraits, transferring to smartphone and taking great photos with great contrast that A77 with the Zeiss 16-80mm is my new industry favourite combination (previously it was the Nikon).
Video noise with screw driven lenses is much improved – its got better with each generation and is significantly quieter than the A55 (which was horrendous with its hunting) and the A77. Of course if you are looking to video a lot the 16-50mm f2.8 kit lens is a must buy. Of course any serious videographer will have the lenses and the off-board microphone in the first place.
The A77 is an improvement in every conceivable dimension – except 1. The firmware seems to be buggy, an example of this is turning the flash “off” in P mode seems to be impossible. Pushing the flash up and down does make a difference and sometimes there is no error. Basically Sony has tried to make the menus to clever for their own good trying to explain what it can and can’t do and why. However this has led to the camera confusing itself as well as the user.
The other big question is will Sony be refreshing and upgrading the A mount lenses over the coming years? If so where is the evidence. The last big a-mount release was the 18-135mm a welcome but dull addition in my eyes.
To sum up then the best camera in its class. I hate hearing SLR mirrors flapping 10fps, this is superb technology that puts Sony ahead of the game. Don’t look as this as an SLR – see it as one better. Sony are on a roll at the moment and alongside Fuji are shaking up the industry particularly in EVF and mirrorless terms. Canon and Nikon take note… you’re slowly disappearing from the rear view mirror and your cameras are starting to look very dull indeed… same can’t be said for your lenses though!