2014-07-08

Sony SLT-A77 II - Thoughts and Review

On the 1st May 2014, Sony sent a bit of a shockwave through the enthusiast APS-C DSLR sector by announcing the replacement for the popular SLT-α77, with the very well specified α77 II. This sector has been dominated by the Canon EOS 7D and Nikon D7100 for a number of years with the SLT-α77 never really making its mark.

The α77 II will be welcomed with open arms by current Sony Alpha users but it wouldn't surprise me if its specs and features also raise a few eyebrows amongst current Nikon users and, probably more so, amongst Canon 7D users as the flagship APS-C DLSR is overdue an upgrade. On paper it really does seem to outdo the competition and what I plan to do across this review is to see what it’s like in the real world.


The Camera:
Looks and size wise there are very few changes from the α77, but they have removed the large and unattractive AF assist light from the front. The Mk II gains a new 24 megapixel image sensor and the very highly rated Bionz™ X processor that’s also used in cameras such as the α7 and α7R. This combination now allows the camera to have an expandable ISO range of 50-51200, a 20% increase on the α77, and a 60 shot buffer in JPEG large. Frames rate stays the same at a maximum of 12. One of the most exciting additions is the all new auto-focus system. Covering a very wide area of the frame with 79 autofocus points (of which 15 are cross-type), the α77 II boasts the highest AF point count of any DSLR type camera. The EVF stays the same as the A77 at 2,359,000 dots but an upgrade to the LCD screen sees the resolution grow to a class leading 1,299,000 dots. Wi-Fi makes its first appearance in an Alpha SLT body, but at the cost of the less popular GPS. Sony have also ditched the old Minolta type hot shoe in favour of Sony’s Multi-Interface shoe which means that it will now be compatible with Sony external microphones and Sony flashes without the need for an adapter.

Old α77 vs New

Sony α77
Sony α77 II
Lens Mount A-mount A-mount
Image Sensor Exmor APS-C HD CMOS Sensor (23.5 X 15.6mm) Exmor APS-C HD CMOS Sensor (23.5 X 15.6mm)
Effective Pixels 24.3MP 24.3MP
Total Pixels 24.7MP 24.7MP
Maximum Resolution 6000 x 4000 6000 x 4000
Image Processor BIONZ BIONZ X
Aspect Ratio 3:2; 16:9 3:2; 16:9
Still Image File Format JPEG; RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format); 3D MPO JPEG; RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format)
Storage Media SD, SDHC, SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo, PRO-HG Duo SD, SDHC, SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo, PRO-HG Duo, XC-HG Duo
Card Slot 1x Dual Compatability Slot 1x Dual Compatability Slot
Viewfinder Type 2,359k-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder Electronic Viewfinder 2,359k-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder Electronic Viewfinder
LCD 3" Fully articulated. 921,000 Dots 3" Fully articulated. 1,229,000 Dot WhiteMagic TFT
Frame Coverage
100%
100%
Magnification 1.09x (35mm equivalent: 0.71x) 1.09x (35mm equivalent: 0.71x)
Eyepoint 27mm from the eyepiece 27mm from the eyepiece
Diopter Adjustment -4.0 to +3.0m-1 -4.0 to +3.0m-1
Shutter Type Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type
Shutter Speed 1/8000th to 30 sec./ Bulb 1/8000th to 30 sec./ Bulb
Flash Sync Speed 1/250th sec 1/250th sec
Drive Modes Single, Continuous (Hi/Lo), Self Timer, Bracket Single, Continuous (Hi/Lo), Self Timer, Bracket
Top Continuous Shooting Rate 12 fps in Full Resolution 12 fps in Full Resolution
Self-Timer 2 sec, 10 sec, Delay 2 sec, 10 sec, Delay
Exposure Metering System 1200-zone Evaluative Metering 1200-zone Evaluative Metering
Metering Method Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot Multi-segment, Center-weighted, Spot
Metering Range EV -2 to EV 17 (at ISO 100 equivalent with f/1.4 lens attached) EV -2 to EV 17 (at ISO 100 equivalent with f/1.4 lens attached)
Exposure Modes Auto, Scene Selection, Sweep Panorama, 3D Sweep Panorama, Continuous Advance Priority AE, Movie, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter-speed Priority, Manual, Memory Recall iAuto, Superior Auto, Scene Selection, Sweep Panorama, Continuous Advance Priority AE, Movie, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter-speed Priority, Manual, Memory Recall
Exposure Compensation +/-5.0 EV (1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps) +/-5.0 EV (1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps)
Exposure Bracketing Bracket: Cont./Bracket: Single, With 1/3EV, 1/2EV, 2/3EV, 1.0EV, 2.0EV, 3.0EV increments, 3 /5frames Bracket: Cont./Bracket: Single, With 1/3EV, 1/2EV, 2/3EV, 1.0EV, 2.0EV, 3.0EV increments, 3 /5frames
ISO Sensitivity 100-16000 (1/3 EV Step); Expandable: 50-25600 100-25600 (1/3 EV Step); Expandable: 50-51200
Autofocus System TTL Phase-detection AF TTL Phase-detection AF
Number of Focus Points 19 points with 11 cross-type points 79 points with 15 cross-type points and 1 center f/2.8 point
Focus Modes Autofocus: Single-shot AF, Continuous AF, Automatic AF; Manual Focus Autofocus: Single-shot AF, Continuous AF, Automatic AF; Manual Focus
Autofocus Sensitivity EV -1 to EV 18 (at ISO 100 equivalent) EV -2 to EV 18 (at ISO 100 equivalent)
Built-In Flash Yes Yes
Flash Control ADI, Pre-flash TTL, Manual ADI, Pre-flash TTL, Manual
Flash Modes Off, Auto, Fill-flash, Slow Sync., Red-eye Reduction, Rear Sync, Wireless Off, Auto, Fill-flash, Slow Sync., Red-eye Reduction, Rear Sync, Wireless, Hi-Speed Sync
Flash Compensation  +/- 3.0 EV (1/3 and 1/2 EV steps)  +/- 3.0 EV (1/3 and 1/2 EV steps)
Flash Bracketing 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 EV steps, 3/5 frames selectable 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 EV steps, 3/5 frames selectable
External Flash Interface Sony Accessory Shoe Multi-Interface Shoe
White Balance Modes Auto / Daylight/ Shade/ Cloudy/ Incandescent/ Fluorescent(Warm White, Cool White, Day White, Daylight), Flash, Color Temp (2500 to 9900K), Color Filter (G7 to M7), 15-Step, Custom, AWB Micro Adjustment Auto / Daylight/ Shade/ Cloudy/ Incandescent/ Fluorescent(Warm White, Cool White, Day White, Daylight), Flash, Color Temp (2500 to 9900K), Color Filter (G7 to M7, A7 to B7), Custom (1,2,3), Custom Set
White Balance Bracketing 3 frames, H/L selectable 3 frames, H/L selectable
Movie Recording 1920 x 1080; 60, 50, 25, 24 fps;  1920 x 1080; 60, 50, 25, 24 fps; 
1440 x 1080; 30, 25 fps 1440 x 1080; 30, 25 fps
640 x 480; 30, 25 fps 1280 x 720; 30 fps;
640 x 480; 30, 25 fps
Movie Metering TTL exposure metering using main image sensor TTL exposure metering using main image sensor
File Format AVCHD 2.0 (Progressive), MP4 AVCHD 2.0 (Progressive), MP4
Compression AVCHD:MPEG-4 AVC/H.264; MP4:MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 AVCHD:MPEG-4 AVC/H.264; MP4:MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Audio Recording Built-in Stereo Microphone; 3.5mm External Stereo Microphone jack Built-in Stereo Microphone; 3.5mm External Stereo Microphone jack
Audio File Format AVCHD:Dolby Digital (AC-3) 2ch, Dolby Digital Stereo Creator; MP4:MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch AVCHD:Dolby Digital (AC-3) 2ch, Dolby Digital Stereo Creator; MP4:MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch
External Microphone Input Yes, 3.5 mm stereo minijack Yes, 3.5 mm stereo minijack
Headphone Jack No No
Maximum Recording Time 29 minutes 29 minutes
Monitor 3.0" 921,600 dot TFT LCD 3.0" 1,228,800 dot TFT LCD
Monitor Viewing Angle Tilt Up 150°; Tilt Down 180°;  180° Clockwise Rotation; 90° Counter clockwise Rotation  Tilt Up 150°; Tilt Down 180°;  180° Clockwise Rotation; 90° Counter clockwise Rotation 
Interface HDMI Mini (Type C), Micro USB 2.0, Auto-lock Accessory Shoe, PC Remote. Sync Terminal, DC IN Terminal HDMI Micro (Type D), Micro USB 2.0, Multi-Interface Shoe, PC Remote. Sync Terminal, DC IN Terminal
Wi-Fi N/A Yes, with NFC
GPS Yes N/A
Power Source NP-FM500H Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery Pack and AC Adapter (optional) NP-FM500H Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery Pack and AC Adapter (optional)
Battery Life 470 Shots w/ Viewfinder; 530 Shots w/ LCD; 185 minutes for Video (CIPA) 410 Shots w/ Viewfinder; 480 Shots w/ LCD; 110-120 minutes for Video (CIPA)
Operating Environment 32 - 104°F / 0 - 40°C 32 - 104°F / 0 - 40°C
Dimensions 5.6 x 4.1 x 3.2" / 143 x 104 x 81 mm 5.6 x 4.1 x 3.2" / 143 x 104 x 81 mm
Weight 1.4 lb / 653 g  (body only) 1.4 lb / 647 g  (body only)

Hands On!

The Review
As a wildlife photographer the some of the most important elements I look for in a camera are a high megapixel sensor, high frame per seconds and fast auto focus. The α77 II definitely ticks all of these boxes. When I was offered one for the weekend to test I jumped at the chance. Armed with 2 lenses, the kit 16-50mm 4/2.8 DT and a 70-400mm 4/4-5.6 G SSM II, I set out to see how the camera performs in the real world and if it is as quick as Sony claim. In a camera as function-packed as the α77 II my two day evaluation of its capabilities only scratched the surface but below are my findings and thoughts.

The Camera
Camera: Sony Α77 Mk II.
Exposure: 1/320 Sec. ISO: 320
Focal Length: 50mm Aperture: F/2.8
As soon as you pick up the α77 Mk II you can immediately tell that it’s the real deal. This is the first time I’ve used a Sony SLT for any period of time and I have to say that it sits really well in the hand. The camera feels very well made with just enough weight to it to feel quality but not too heavy. Build quality is, as always with Sony, top notch. The button positioning is good (although there are a lot of them!) but if I’m honest as a Canon user it took a little getting used to. You can customize the function of 11 buttons with a mind boggling 51 different options so with a little bit of time it would be possible to set it up to your liking. The only thing I didn’t really like was the AF type dial on the front of the camera which I found didn't really allow you to change the setting as quickly as you can with Nikon or Canon. 


At 24.3 Megapixels the α77 Mk II hasn’t increased in size over the α77 but it still maintains an equal top spot on pixel count in the APS-C camera category. Sharpness was very impressive with excellent detail even at higher ISOs. I found that ISO 1600 was very usable in Large JPEG. I should also mention that the two lenses I used, the 16-50mm and 70-400mm were a lot better than I was expecting. The combination of this camera and these lenses worked splendidly.

Camera: Sony Α77 Mk II.
Exposure: 1/100 Sec. ISO: 250
Focal Length: 400mm Aperture: F/5.6
Before I tested the Sony I was pretty anti Electronic Viewfinders (EVF) but after the two days the α77 II changed this - slightly. EVFs nowadays have taken a huge leap forward from ones of a few years ago when I remember them being dark, slow refreshing and low resolution. The 2,359k-dot viewfinder is, to put it simply - wonderful. It is bright, sharp and has a lot of advantages over an optical viewfinder, most importantly being able to see exactly what the sensor sees due to the SLT mirror design. Because the light is continuously hitting the sensor I found this gave two major benefits over most DSLRs. One benefit was that the exposure was much better and easier to control than with a DSLR. When shooting brighter subjects the camera could much more accurately meter the shot and you could therefore see before you take the shot whether it’s blown out or not. The other was the auto white balance. There was very little correction needed when editing which is something I wish applied to my Canon DSLR.  Skin tones in particular are very pleasing. The only issues I found were that when tracking small subjects that didn't fill much of the frame, birds for example, the EVF refresh rate at high frame rates (8 Fps) wasn't quite fast enough. This meant that I would often lose the subject in the frame whilst tracking, missing the focus point or completing losing the subject. I think this would be something that with practice could be overcome but during my two days I missed a few shots that I think I would have got with a ‘mirrored’ DSLR. So I'm not completely sold, yet.

Camera: Sony Α77 Mk II.
Exposure: 1/125 Sec. ISO: 400
Focal Length: 400mm Aperture: F/5.6
Another new addition is the WhiteMagic LCD. This sees a white pixel added to the normal red, blue and green to give the LCD better visibility outside, and obviously better colour. This pushes the dots to massive 2.3 million pixels, but doesn't really increase the resolution. If I’m honest, it didn't really blow me away. I found myself using the EVF a lot more as in bright light this provided much better results. However the fully articulating screen, which wasn't something I thought I would be a fan of, was great. There were a couple of occasions where ground level shots were needed and it was nice to achieve this without having to lay on the ground. The depth of field preview button is also a lot more useful than on a conventional DSLR. This is a feature I rarely use with my camera but because of the live view it works very well on the Sony. It was very handy when composing a shot with a much better ‘preview’ to see how blurred the background was going to be. 

Now in my eyes the most exciting bit of the camera for me was the huge 79 Autofocus points! Wide, Zone, Flexible Spot, Local, Expanded Flexible Spot and Lock-on AF modes are all available to cater for different subject types. In testing, the speed and accuracy of focusing was something most DSLR users can only dream of. In my view the only thing I’ve tried that was quicker was a Canon EOS-1D X and that was by a small margin. It locked on and tracked well almost every time; this coupled with the high 8fps is a formidable weapon. Tracking large fast moving subjects was very easy and incredibly precise. The camera is capable of 12fps but in this mode the camera locks the aperture at f/3.5, or the lens’ maximum aperture meaning it’s not ideal if you use a lens that need stopping. There are a lot of settings in the menus for fine tuning and in my limited time with the camera I sometimes struggled to choose the right option. However I'm sure that with time and experimentation you could achieve shots that most DSLRs would not.

Conclusion
Camera: Sony Α77 Mk II.
Exposure: 1/250 Sec. ISO: 400
Focal Length: 360mm Aperture: F/6.3
Sony has released this camera to try and take a bite out of Nikon and Canon’s hold in the Enthusiast sector. To a certain extent I think they have achieved this. Although the α77 II is not a huge upgrade over the α77, the improvements they have applied have worked very well. In my experience, coming from a conventional DLSR with a mirror, it did take a while to get used to an EVF. If I’m honest, despite all of the benefits of not having a mirror box, I personally prefer a camera with a mirror. Some people love them and some hate them. There were elements that I really liked - would I recommend it?  Definitely. The camera itself is excellent and if you were in the market for a 7D or D7100 then you would be crazy not to strongly consider the Sony.

Test Shots
Throughout this blog entry are a few of my favorites from my time with the α77 II.  All the shots are JPEG files and are un-cropped.  Editing wise I've only adjusted levels, otherwise they are straight from the camera. Please see below some notes about each image.

Russian Sailor.
This was shot at a D-Day carnival down in Selsey, West Sussex. Focus was nice and fast and by using the flip out LCD I managed to take this shot without drawing too much attention to myself. The 16-50mm was surprisingly sharp at F/2.8.

Eagle Owl eye
This is a testament to Sony’s in camera stabilization. 1/100 sec, 400mm and hand held and still tack sharp.

Frog's eye view
This is a prime example of why I loved the flip out screen. I was able to hold (carefully, I hasten to add in case the boss is reading) the camera just above the water to obtain this.

Tawny Owl 
Sadly a captive bird but still it wasn't stationary for long so the ultra quick AF really helped.

Auto focus test 
This video is 16 shots stitched together to show the how quick the AF tracking was.

video

You can see the Sony α77 II and the rest of the Sony range in our stores in Central London, and Burgess Hill (West Sussex). In both stores, you can touch and try them out for yourself. Alternatively visit www.ParkCameras.com where you can see the Sony range of cameras and accessories online.

If you've got a question about the Sony α77 II, why not post a comment in the box below and we’ll do our best to answer them for you.

Marc 
Park Cameras

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