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Sony A77 II review

Ben Pitt
22 Oct 2014
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
930
inc VAT

Fast and feature-packed, the Sony A77 II delivers for image quality too

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Specifications

Sensor resolution: 24 megapixels, Sensor size: 23.5x15.6mm (APS-C), Focal length multiplier: 1.5x, Viewfinder: Electronic (2.4 million dots), LCD screen: 3in (1,228,800 dots), Lens mount: Sony Alpha, Weight: 728g, Size (HxWxD): 105x149x85mm

Sony's digital camera designers have been so innovative in recent years that the A77 II might seem stuffy and conventional in comparison. There's no real risk of that, though. While it looks like an SLR, the reality is that Sony no longer makes SLR cameras. Instead of a flip-up mirror that gives single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras their name, its single-lens translucent (SLT) technology uses a fixed, translucent mirror that directs light to both the main imaging sensor and the autofocus sensor simultaneously.

This has various repercussions, the most significant being an electronic rather than optical viewfinder. It might take getting used to, but the 2.4-million dot OLED is pin sharp and just as big as upmarket SLRs' optical viewfinders. It exhibits a small amount of lag in very low light, but we really appreciate the ability to preview exposure and white balance settings, magnify the preview for manual focus adjustment and see lots of useful information including a digital horizon, histogram and menus.

Essentially, the electronic viewfinder replicates the information shown on the LCD screen. By the same token, shooting with the LCD screen is just as responsive as with the viewfinder – something no true SLR can claim. This might be the clincher for people who cut their teeth on digital compact cameras, and who like to use the LCD screen as much as the viewfinder. The fact that this 3in screen is sharp and triply articulated to face virtually any direction adds to its appeal.

Sony a77 II screen

The fixed rather than flip-up mirror gives a boost to performance, with a 12fps continuous shooting speed. That's roughly double the speed on the A77 II's main competitors, the Nikon D7100 and Canon EOS 70D. 12fps is only available in a dedicated scene preset that lacks direct control over the shutter speed and aperture. It selects a 1/1,000 shutter speed by default, although this can often be slowed by setting the ISO speed manually.

In program, priority and manual exposure modes, continuous shooting was at 8fps in our tests – still an excellent result, especially as autofocus was active during capture. Both the 12fps and 8fps modes lasted for around 55 JPEGs or 27 RAW frames before slowing to around 1.5fps.

Because the imaging and autofocus sensors both receive light all the time, continuous autofocus is available during video capture – a feature that's also offered by the Canon 70D but not the Nikon D7100. However, it's only available when shooting video in auto and program modes, and not in priority and manual exposure modes. It's a bit annoying, but there's an argument that people who want manual exposure control for video will also want to focus manually. That's backed up by the high-resolution electronic viewfinder and peaking display that highlights areas of sharp focus.

One downside of the electronic viewfinder is that the imaging sensor is constantly active, and this takes its toll on battery life, which is quoted at 480 shots. The EOS 70D and D7100 offer almost double this. The translucent mirror also means not all of the light entering the lens reaches the imaging sensor, which pushes up noise levels. We'll return to this topic below.

So what's new?

Virtually all of these traits are shared with the original Sony A77. The only exception is that the A77's 12fps burst mode slowed after 14 frames, whereas the A77 II's bigger buffer kept it going for much longer.

So what else has changed in this model? The answer is surprisingly little, but that's not necessarily a criticism. The physical design is virtually identical, which means the substantial magnesium alloy body is comfortable and littered with single-function buttons for quick access to key settings. The passive LCD screen on the top plate relays settings, although with the highly informative electronic viewfinder and tilting LCD screen, we must admit that we didn't glance at the passive LCD screen often.

Sony a77 II top

One small difference is that the A77's Help button is now a customisable button labelled C. The default function is an Autofocus Range Control mode that we first saw on the Sony A99. Pressing it and rotating the front and back command dials limits the focusing distance, which is great for avoiding the camera accidentally focusing on the background or foreground.

There's the same generous allocation of sockets, with USB, HDMI, microphone, wired remote, flash sync and DC in. GPS has disappeared and Wi-Fi added. We'd have liked both but it's a welcome change nonetheless. NFC brings effortless Wi-Fi configuration with compatible devices – it took six seconds, from holding the camera and a Nexus 4 phone together, to launch a remote shooting facility in the app. The app's controls are limited to capture, flash and self-timer options, but it's also possible to use the app as a remote video monitor – something that's been missing from other recent Sony cameras. Holding the phone and camera together when the camera is in playback mode transfers the current photo in about four seconds.

A big change in this Mark II model is the move from a 19-point autofocus sensor to 79 points, 15 of which are cross-type for increased sensitivity. They're densely packed across a large area of the frame, so there's a high chance that there will be an autofocus point exactly where you want it. For times when that level of precision isn't needed, there's a Zone mode that groups the points into nine larger areas. There's also an Expanded Flexible Spot mode that allows any of the points to be selected but keeps all the neighbouring points active.

Sony a77 II autofocus

Then there's the Lock-on Expanded Flexible Spot mode, which is as above but can track moving subjects around the frame while the shutter button is half pressed. It worked reasonably well but seemed a little skittish in our tests. We didn't have the Nikon D7100 to hand to compare them directly, but our recollection is that its tracking autofocus performed better.

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