IRL Review Sony a77 II SLT camera

The a77ii is a prosumer “sports” oriented APSC camera that was released in the waning lights of Sony a-mount cameras. It was meant to provide an action oriented body to track action. I hesitate to say sports because sports has traditionally been tied to the Canon 1DX and Nikon D series bodies; and now the R3 and Z9. This camera might be the similar equivalent to the d7200 or 7d bodies, possibly d500. I’m sure d500 owners would disagree to an extent given the rich history of Nikons 3d tracking, and Sonys not rich history of translucent mirror technology. At any rate, it has a high build quality, AF oriented feature set, and a large body that eclipses the mirrorless bodies to come after it in e-mount. Released quite a few years ago, it never gained the popularity that Nikon and Canon’s enthusiast APSC bodies had. I’ve seen plenty of d7xxx shooters but no a77 shooters. Although at the point of purchase, I had started to more heavily invest in full frame a-mount and to some extent had started to get into full frame e-mount, the a77ii body had always intrigued me, as one of my favourite bodies the a99ii was a natural big sibling to this body. After seeing a favourable price for one locally used, I jumped on it (likely the only one interested in it at the point of 2021). This is my IRL review.

Design- I don’t know if Sony followed the same design as the a99 series, but I remember the designers saying they aimed to provide a look of a taut skin draped between the angular points, providing some degree of an organic look to the camera (obviously quite different from the angular look of FE bodies now). It continues the trend of the a99 series and a77 series. I think it looks quite good, although I’ve read comments of boring. I think it is quite big- its a classic DSLR styled body that somewhat dwarfs the APSC lenses on it. It dwarfs the FE bodies full frame and APSC as well. But it handles really well. It feels great in the hand. Part of the greatness is the magnesium used- I believe the top plate is plastic, but I haven’t felt it was lacking compared to a full bodied magnesium body like the a99. It certainly feels more substantial than the a6000, and maybe less dense as the a6400 series bodies. It definitely feels good for build quality. I quite like the button placements too- big giant buttons that are easy to find. Dual dials and joystick to make easy AF point and aperture and shutter speed adjustments. The AF-on button feels great.

IQ- it takes good pictures and its not noticeably better or worse than other APSC bodies I have used. What might be noticeable is the high ISO handling- due to the translucent mirror tech, it loses a chunk of light that goes to the AF sensor. It’s definitely not a low light monster. That being said, I don’t feel it is noticeably worse or better than other APSC bodies. I’ve only really felt this way about first generation DSLRs where IQ was not quite as good and maybe also being CCD sensors and not backside illuminated like the a100. DXOmark tells a story of the a77ii sensor lagging in dynamic range and ISO performance compared to other similar enthusiast bodies like the d500 and a6000. Its fine. The interesting thing might be where its usage would lie – the d500 body is a prosumer body where IQ would matter much more so. The enthusiast segment while picky, is not really meant to be a money making body in comparison and IQ might not be as critical for shooters relative wise. I would also argue that a77ii shooters are a-mount shooters, and less likely to be coming from other camps. As this point of release, a-mount was not super popular, and mirrorless was taking off- the a6000 which this a77ii sensor is based off of, was cheaper and did not have the low light disadvantage. Point being, that IQ might not have been a crippling point at the time, since a-mount shooters were likely already committed to the system. I might just be providing excuses to not optimal IQ here.

AF- the AF is pretty decent- it offers more coverage than the system I had on the enthusiast d90 from years ago, and improves on the limited coverage of the a77 i and a99 i. Coverage means I don’t have to just shoot the centre focused AF points. It doesn’t provide the nearly full screen coverage of the a99ii though, but its an improvement. I didn’t really find AF accuracy to be a problem- however, reviews comparing it to real sports cameras found it didn’t keep up, as shame since the translucent mirror tech was supposed to help with AF tracking in burst shooting especially. The AF coverage and speed also does not seem as responsive and robust as the cheaper a6000 body. So while it had a lot of neat ideas going for it, it didn’t quite hold its own against pro action oriented bodies, and cheaper mirrorless bodies were pushing into its territory. It did get into eye AF as an AF advancement but compared to the eye AF now in Sony’s Real Time AF, its just ok. Tracking is abysmal. I don’t bother tracking with it. It loses the target relatively easily.

So now that I have said that the AF and IQ are not superbly great, what’s good about the a77ii then? The lenses were certainly not helping- although Sony had a spread of APSC lenses, none of them were really stand out and matched the price range expectations the a77ii body suggested. Certainly not like the APSC emount lens options available now (although that did take a long time). I’ve seen more a77ii users with full frame a-mount tele lenses, which seems to be the same purpose of d500 and a6600 users. With APSC a-mount, the only two lenses that I felt were above average were the 16-80mm f3.5-4.5 Carl Zeiss and 16-50mm f2.8 SSM lens. Decent zooms. So lens selection is also limited here.

The really interesting thing is that it is just a smidgen smaller than the a99 and a99ii, both full frame bodies. Price obviously is a differentiator between them, but size and weight alone would suggest its worth it to go for full frame to reap the benefits of full frame sensor (aside from the wildlife tele photo crowd that likes shooting APSC bodies with full frame tele lenses). I do love shooting this camera, but its limited lo light performance means its not a great all a rounder. And its AF while good, really only performs well with the faster SSM lenses which are full frame (the SSM 16-50 f2.8 is just ok in speed, and the 16-80 CZ is below that in speed). I’m probably spoiled by the benefits of mirrorless as I evaluate this body TBH.

I think my biggest challenge is the a6000 which was released just a month before. It wasn’t really meant to compete in the enthusiast market like the a77ii but it probably still falls int he same category of high end APSC body. The biggest advantages are the 12FPS continuous shooting, sensor shift stabilization, weather proof build quality, fully articulating screen, better battery life (the M battery is like twice the capacity of the W battery), higher res LCD and faster mechanical shutter. The bigger disadvantages are the poorer high ISO ability, much larger size, less AF points (although the a77ii had a large number of AF points compared to its DSLR counterparts) and a modern lens mount system that would eventually kill off a-mount.

In comparison the non mirrorless cameras though- the nikon d7200 would have been a similar priced enthusiast body and while it had the low light advantage not using the translucent mirror tech, it was not able to shoot as fast in burst (half the speed of the a77ii). I’m not totally certain how they compare with AF accuracy in burst though. There was also 55% more AF points in the a77ii. It also has a multi hinged rear LCD which is huge for framing. It more or less acts as a mirrorless camera with the EVF as well, vs live view mode in a DSLR – although some people prefer OVF over EVF, the large transfer to mirrorless suggests that it wasn’t that big of a limitation. It was just different. Compared to the Canon 90d, the Sony still has more AF points, but less cross type AF points which are better for accuracy and still better burst speed. The standard DSLR design doesn’t have the advantage in ISO performance in the Canon as much as the Nikon. The Sony also has the advantage of sensor based steady shot built in, something that would take Canon and Nikon going mirrorless to bring into play. I don’t really consider its version of Eye-AF to be that advantageous- its too slow to really utilize, but its helpful nonetheless in static subjects. Continuous AF is also considered decent but I’d wager Nikon’s AF continuous tracking is more robust- esp when you get to d500 levels. Its generally a pretty competitive camera in comparison to its main competitors overall. Its not until you get to the d500 that you get a huge jump in AF point, cross type points, and likely tracking ability- thats also a bigger jump in costs as well. To some degree this applies to the 7d ii as well.

What can we conclude here? The a77ii was never really meant to go toe to toe with pro sports cam bodies like , but was meant to be an enthusiast DSLR that might compete with the d7200 and 90d bodies, not really the d500 or 7d ii. It was a pricier enthusiast camera that was relatively close to the sports APSC cameras but not all the way. Although it didn’t have the high ISO ability compared to its peers because of the translucent mirror tech, it wasn’t as big of a problem with Canon compared to Nikon. The AF points and continuous AF were good, although tracking was not competitive. Although in body stabilization is not considered as effective as optical stabilization, it was an advantage to have all lenses stabilized. Lenses were probably the bigger issue, with less development of APSC lenses for Sony – although Canon and Nikon also are guilty as well; its only now with APSC e-mount that we see far more robust APSC lens support. Overall, Sony dropped a really decent APSC enthusiast camera with good enough AF and ok enough IQ to keep up with its competitors. For me? I just love it as a high level Sony DSLR to pair with the 16-50mm f2.8 and 16-80mm f3.5-4.5 Zeiss lenses- at this point the writing was beginning to be on the wall for a-mount and DSLRs in general, but it was a good model for its category. I love the handling of the camera, the vibe of being peak APSC a-mount, the robust build quality and responsive AF in general. I can see why its still a pricey body in the used market.

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