Cameras

The Sony Alpha a77 II Review – A Focused Sequel

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First Impressions

The successor to the a77 is here. Sony says the AF system is a whole lot better and so is the new imaging processor, which we’ve seen also on the Sony RX 100 III. Sony Alpha a77 II  The 24MP APS-C shooter retains the same ergonomics and build quality as its predecessor, but also has significant improvements all-round. At least on paper. But, how about real world tests? We tested to find out the asking price of about a lakh was justified.

Review

BUILD & DESIGNThe a77 II may not be the best looking camera around, but with the magnesium-alloy body and plastic covering, it does get a decent amount of weather-sealing too. The same ergonomics can be found here which we had seen on the a77, with an excellent grip on the right side and a chunky grip area around the palm. It’s surprisingly heavier than what you’d expect, but not overly so. The tilty flippy LCD screen is back, with a rather frustrating mechanism that only some will enjoy. It swivels in both directions, but not fully from left to right. And tilts up only till the Viewfinder gets in the way. The good thing here is that Sony has decided to use the WhiteMagic display which produces better results for outdoor shooting. The EVF is unchanged, but thanks to the OLED technology, it clearly is one of the best in the market – with minimal lag and hardly any other issues. The ports are neatly tucked away on the left, but no dedicated headphone port for audio monitoring.SHOOTING EXPERIENCERight, what about the actual shooting experience then? For people who’ve used Sony cameras of the past, getting used to the Menu system will be a familiar experience. Others might need a little while getting used to, but it still is surprisingly easy to adapt to. This camera is loaded with buttons and dials, but everything is logically placed – except perhaps the Menu button, which feels a bit odd next to the EVF. There are 11 customizable buttons with 51 assignable functions. A squiggly ‘joystick’ replaces a traditional 4-way controller, but this actually makes things a lot more comfortable. GPS has been removed, but NFC has been added – with Wi-Fi being the familiar experience that we’ve appreciated and enjoyed- while using the Play Memories app via a smartphone. Changing settings, customizing buttons and having the camera set-up just how I wanted, wasn’t all that difficult on the a77 II. In fact, I’d probably say it was pretty damn easy. And that’s saying something!AF SYSTEMThis has been the biggest improvement in the a77 II. There are 79 AF points spread out over almost 2/3rd of the viewing area. There are also focus-peaking and zebras to assist with Manual Focus, but the talking point really is the continuous phase detection that tracks moving objects even while shooting video. There is a new mode in the Menu system called ‘Lock-on AF:Expandible Flexible Spot’ which tracks your subject once you set the AF on them and as long as they are in the frame, while they keep moving. There is also an Eye-AF mode that concentrates on your subject’s pupils for great results while doing portrait photography. Even better was the concept of shooting in Drive mode, getting almost 12 fps (for JPGs) and not locking AE. The AE adjusts on-the-fly too, while you shoot images in burst. Fantastic!IMAGE QUALITYThe JPGs taken out of the camera are really clean and even shots taken during low-light at high ISO till 6400 were usable. But while this might not be the strength of the camera, it does produce some high quality images with great details captured with excellent levels of contrast, thanks to the new BIONZ X image processor. RAW files look clean and pretty impressive for a mid-range DSLR, though at higher ISO’s the camera does struggle a bit.VIDEOCapturing Full HD videos in the preferred AVCHD codec at both 60 and 24 fps, the look and feel is rather cinematic and pleasing. The fast AF system really shone through here, producing some amazing results while tracking birds, dogs playing around and other objects zooming past us. The noise-levels are kept low, but they did creep in after pushing to higher ISO’s. The3-way tilting LCD screen was handy, but also a bit annoying when the EVF came in the way, or it didn’t bend in a particular way that I wanted it to.

Verdict

Justifying a higher price tag, the a77 II did make quite an impression on me with all the improvements that Sony has introduced in it. While I’m not a big fan of the somewhat annoying tilting LCD mechanism, I certainly enjoyed the big improvements in the AF system. The continuous AF performed admirably while shooting moving objects and almost everything stayed in focus even while shooting at high speeds of about 1/4000th of a second. Though the provided A-mount kit lens (I got the 18-135mm) isn’t the best combo with this camera, it still did a pretty good job at wide open aperture at the low-end as well as narrow aperture at the high-end. While it can certainly outdo the likes of the D7100 from Nikon and the Canon 70D with its AF mechanism, the low-light image quality performance is about the same.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • 24.3MP APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • Gapless On-Chip Lens Design
  • Translucent Mirror Technology
  • 3.0″ 1,228k-Dot 3-Way Tilting LCD Screen
  • 0.5″ 2,359k-Dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder
  • Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
  • 79-Point Phase-Detection AF System
  • ISO 25600 and Shooting Up to 12 fps
  • Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC

Price: Rs. 84,990/- (Body Only)

            Rs. 1,04,990/- (with SAL 18-135mm lens)

Exhibit Rating: 4/5 

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