Sony A77 II Conclusion
Sony A77 II Conclusion
The Sony A77 II provides an upgrade pretty much across the board compared to the original "Mark I" model, especially with regards to the sensor, image processor and autofocus system. Other tweaks and improvements include an improved EVF, higher-res multi-angled rear LCD and built-in Wi-Fi & NFC.
With regards to the APS-C sensor, the A77 II keeps the same 24-megapixel resolution as the original A77, but the Mark II borrows the updated, well-regarded version from the Sony A6000. Coupled with a faster BIONZ X image processor, the newer model has a wider ISO range up to ISO 25,600. In our testing, we found the image quality is excellent at lower ISOs, displaying a noticeable improvement over its predecessor. High ISO image quality is also visibly improved especially if you shoot RAW, however we felt the default high ISO noise reduction applied to in-camera JPEGs is still too heavy-handed.
Full HD video image quality also looks very good, and with the v2.00 firmware update, Sony's added its higher quality 50Mbps XAVC S video format. The camera includes full exposure controls for its Movie mode, full-time AF and uncompressed HDMI output as well as a mic jack, though it does lack a headphone jack for monitoring audio.
One of the headline features of the A77 II is its beefed-up autofocus system, which gets a substantial upgrade from 19 points to a whopping 79, covering about 40% of the frame and in which 15 of those points are cross-type. Couple that with some blazing performance specs, including a special 12fps continuous burst mode with continuous AF, and the A77 II was shaping up to be a hit camera for sports and action photographers. But unfortunately, the A77 II just doesn't hit the mark with regards to continuous AF performance. With single-shot autofocus, on the other hand, the A77 II is a stellar performer with excellent AF speeds, even in very low light situations. But with continuous autofocus, the A77 II struggled somewhat to get consistent, in-focus shots in comparison to competing DSLR cameras.
In his Field Test, pro photographer John Shafer, using firmware v1.01, averaged around a 40-50% keeper rate for challenging, fast-moving cyclists, though the camera did fare better with single-object, more clearly-isolated subjects. However, compared to his experience with other prosumer DSLRs, the A77 II just didn't meet his expectations -- though it was better than other Sony SLTs he'd used in the past. Soon after John's review of the camera, Sony released v2.00 firmware which was said to improve AF performance. However, when we here at IR re-tested the updated camera on a relatively fast-moving subject using a variety of autofocus modes, including standard center-point AF and the new Zone AF mode, as well as factoring in other focus-optimizing settings, we unfortunately didn't find the keeper rate to be much-improved compared to what John Shafer experienced with the older firmware.
Of course, there are multitudes of various sports, action and other moving subjects to photograph, all with varying lighting conditions, backgrounds and a number of other factors (not to mention differing AF performance based on the lens* used), that a 100% definitive score on AF performance is difficult to ascertain. However, from our testing of the camera, the A77 II's continuous AF performance did not live up to our expectations, unfortunately. (*We used the Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 SSM II lens for our real-world AF testing.)
On other fronts, the Sony A77 II is quite impressive. The burst shooting speeds are excellent, especially with the special 12fps burst mode, though there are some tradeoffs with the "Continuous Priority AE" mode, such as the inability to adjust aperture while in C-AF mode or manually adjust shutter speeds. Buffer depths were very good, with about 28 RAW frames in the 12fps mode and 32 frames in Continuous Hi (8fps) mode before the camera slowed. For JPEGs, the A77 II could chew through an impressive 56 Extra Fine JPEGs in 8fps mode. However, clearing a full buffer after a long burst of shots can be frustratingly slow (even with a very fast card), and playback mode becomes unavailable while the camera finishes writing to the memory card.
As for its physical features and design, the Sony A77 II is very comfortable in the hand, with a really nice contoured handgrip and grippy rubberized texture. The camera looks rather bulky and voluminous, but it's actually surprisingly lightweight, while still sporting a sturdy, weather-sealed build. Both the EVF and rear LCD display are very nice. The EVF is large and bright, with crisp text and no RGB rainbow effects. The rear LCD, with its vari-angle design, is nice for shooting at awkward angles and is easy to see, for the most part, out in bright sunlight. Glare is not completely unavoidable, but the vari-angle design makes is easy to adjust the screen if glare becomes too much of an issue, and of course, there's always the EVF.
The control layout is well thought out for the most part with lots of external controls and dials, as one would expect on an enthusiast-class DSLR. The one frustration with the controls lies with the multi-directional joystick control. The joystick itself also doubles as a selection button, however the integrated button presses inwards rather easily, which can lead to accidental presses, especially if you're trying to jog through various menus quickly.
All in all, the Sony A77 II hits most things right on target for a solid, high-performance, enthusiast-level "DSLR." Image quality is very good, especially at lower ISOs and at higher ISOs with RAW files, burst shooting performance is top-notch, single-shot AF is blazingly fast, and it's a feature-packed camera at a great price. Unfortunately, for one of its biggest features -- continuous autofocus performance -- the camera stumbles a bit when it comes to capturing fast action and other moving subjects, which is quite unfortunate for a high-framerate, high-performance flagship APS-C camera.
While it may not win an award for C-AF performance, the Sony A77 II gets top marks in most other areas. Given all the bells and whistles it offers as well as the fantastic, affordable pricepoint compared to competing models, the A77 II gets a nod from us as a Dave's Pick.
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