Sony Alpha A77 Mark II Review - The Sony Alpha A77 Mark II replaces the ageing original with the addition of built-in Wi-fi, an enhanced AF set-up as well as image quality improvements, but can it topple APS-C heavyweights from Canon and Nikon?
When we reviewed the Sony Alpha A77 back in 2011, we were impressed with the combination of a class-leading specification, ultra-fast performance and intuitive operation.
The scene looked well set for Sony to mount a serious challenge to the APS-C DSLR heavyweights for years to come.
However, it has been some two years since Sony has released an A-mount DSLR (or SLT) camera, and as such some have questioned whether or not the manufacturer was committed to the sector or the market, or were instead focusing solely on the compact and CSC market.
That question has been emphatically answered with the launch of the Sony Alpha A77 Mark II. The model is touted by Sony as being the ‘King of APS-C’, and delivers a range of enhancements on its predecessor.
These include the addition of Wi-fi connectivity, a redesigned AF set-up and the claim of much improved image quality.
So, how do these claims stack up and is the A77 II a triumphant return to the A mount for Sony?
Sony A77 Mark II Review – Features
One of the major areas of development on the Alpha 77 II is the camera’s autofocus system.
The model features a newly-developed phase detection AF set-up complete with a centre-weighted algorithm which, Sony claims, will aid the model’s ability to track moving subject in the frame.
This is further added to by the presence of a truly impressive 79-point AF set-up, giving the photographer the flexibility they’d need to get accurate focus throughout the frame.
As with its predecessor, the A77 II is capable of shooting at 12fps, although it does feature a much larger buffer.
As a result, the Alpha 77 II is capable of shooting at 12fps for a duration 25 consecutive Raw and JPEG files in comparison to its predecessors limit of 11 frames.
If you’re happy with JPEG files alone then the buffer depth is extended to around 64 images, in comparison to just 18 on the model’s predecessor.
Bionz X processor
These boosts in the cameras performance with regards to buffer speed are largely made possible thanks to the utilisation of Sony’s latest Bionz X processor. Other benefits of the new processor include better image quality through improved noise reduction and better JPEG sharpening, as well as diffraction reduction technology.
In terms of the core imaging spec the A77 II utilises a 24.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor, the same resolution as was seen on the camera’s predecessor.
Connectivity is another interesting area on the Sony Alpha 77 Mark II. Unlike A77 the A77 II doesn’t feature built-in GPS, although its connectivity far surpasses that of its predecessor.
The A77 II now features both Wi-fi and NFC connectivity thus allowing it to be connected to either a smartphone or tablet – on both Android and iOS operating system – through the Sony PlayMemories app.
The great thing about the Sony PlayMemories app is that it allows for the functionality of the camera to be extended through add-on application such as the timelapse and sequence shots apps.
In terms of image shooting and review, the Alpha 77 Mark II features an LCD screen similarly specified to its predecessor. The LCD measures in at 3in and features the same three-way tilting system allowing for it to be viewed at a range of angles.
As you might expect three years down the line, the LCD screen itself has a much higher resolution than before, and is now a class-leading 1.23-million dot unit.
Furthermore, it also now boasts Sony’s complex WhiteMagic technology, facilitating improved viewing angled in difficult lighting conditions.
The impressive LCD screen is accompanied once again by an EVF, as is characteristic of Sony’s SLT range.
The EVF found on the A77 II is, much like the LCD screen, one of the more impressive examples on the market. It allows for 100% coverage and features a 2.3-million dot resolution.
Sony A77 Mark II Review – Design
In terms of the physical design of the camera, it’s very much a case of ‘as you were’ with the models predecessor. That’s no bad thing, however, as the Alpha 77 greatly impressed in terms of both its build quality and it’s handling.
One new feature, handed across from the new Sony Alpha 9000, is a new ‘Quick Navi Pro’ menu. This allows for direct access to some 19 of the most commonly used menu options, thus allowing for quick and problem free operation.
Outside of those on the Quick Navi Pro menu, the other camera variables and options are easy to find and as such you’ll have no trouble altering the camera settings in use.
Much as the Alpha 77, the A77 II features an abundance of physical buttons around the body. These include specific controls for settings such as White Balance and ISO, as well as a range of customisable buttons which can be assigned to commonly used functions.
The camera’s body itself boasts the welcome addition of weather sealing, thanks to the utilisation of a magnesium alloy shell. This weather sealing means, in real terms, that the camera is resistant to dust and moisture and as such will be happy in more difficult conditions commonly found in wildlife and sports photography.
While the magnesium alloy body does mean that the A77 II is by no means a light camera – weighing in at 647g – being able to take the camera out in difficult conditions and not worry about getting it wet is a welcome compromise.
Sony A77 Mark II Review – Performance
As mentioned when discussing the camera’s features previously, one area of serious development with the A77 II was the camera’s autofocus system.
In fact, Sony states that they assigned a team of five engineers to the task of improving the AF speed over a six-month period, with a particular attention being paid to the model’s AF tracking functionality.
As such, there logically must be some pressure on the A77 II to deliver impressive AF performance, and the good news for Sony is that on the whole it performs well in this department.
To test the claimed AF improvements I took the A77 II down to a skate park and the camera had absolutely no troubles tracking fast moving subject. When combined with the 12fps continuous shooting, this makes the A77 II a formidable camera for shooting sports and action.
Thanks to the coverage offers by the 79 AF points – complete with 15 cross type AF points – the vast majority of images captured were in focus even when shot at 12fps.
The autofocus system also allows for continuous phase detect autofocusing whilst recording video at Full HD 60p, a feature some comparable cameras lack.
Although the LCD screen found on the A77 II is the same size as that on its predecessor, the addition of Sony’s WhiteMagic technology – as well as the jump in resolution up to 1.23-million dots – means that it’s a vastly improved unit.
In real life conditions the screen performs excellently. Although in direct sunlight the screen is still a little difficult to see it is still possible to compose images and as such it surpasses many LCDs currently on the market.
While an EVF might not be to every photographer’s tastes, the version found on the A77 II is one of the best examples on a camera of its type. Features such as the 100% viewable coverage, ability to view manual focus enlargements and accurate colour rendition all mean that it’s almost preferable to the optical variety.
Sony A77 Mark II Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
Colours straight out of the camera display a pleasing level of vibrancy, and appear punchy and rich without much need for work in post production.
The model’s automatic white balance setting copes well in a range of different shooting conditions, delivering a particularly pleasing finish in bright and sunny conditions.
If the white balance performance isn’t to your liking, there are a total of 15 different presets from which you can choose, all of which have magenta/green and amber/blue bias toggles for fine-tuning to your liking.
The same is true with the camera’s colour output, with a variety of different picture effects – such as Water Colour and Partial Colour – on hand for those looking for a more extreme finish.
There are a trio of metering options available on the Sony Alpha 77 II – Multi-segment, center-weighted and spot. These all utilise the 1200-zone metering system, and as such all offer a comprehensive level of performance, delivering even exposures.
The spot metering mode was particularly impressive when it came to shooting fast-moving subjects and with focus tracking enabled, maintaining accurate exposures even when the focus point was moving erratically.
Despite featuring a relatively high resolution in comparison to its APS-C dimensions, the A77 II performs well when it comes to noise control at high ISO settings.
There’s very little sign of image noise up to ISO 400 unless you’re really pixel peeping, and at ISO 800 there are some hints of colour noise in the shadow areas, although once again this is barely noticeable on A4 prints.
Above these settings noise does become more prevelant, although the in camera noise reduction does a good job of controlling it. As ever, this noise reduction does result in a slight loss of detail, so to avoid this it’s best shooting in Raw.
Sony A77 Mark II Review – Verdict
The first Sony Alpha 77 – or Mark I if you will – posed a serious threat to the APS-C DSLR duopoly of Canon and Nikon with its impressive specification and performance, thus making the three-year wait for a replacement frustrating for many Sony fans.
The arrival of the Sony Alpha 77 Mark II, however, signifies a successful return to the A mount area. The model boasts solid build quality, great handling and is simple to use.
While image quality does struggle a touch at the higher ISO settings and under closer scrutiny, images on the whole are pleasing out of the camera.
The improvements to the model’s AF system, meanwhile, push the A77 II further in to the domain of the sports and wildlife photographers.
On the whole, with the Alpha 77 Mark II Sony has brought a host of advanced functionality to a consumer DSLT and as such is well worthy of consideration.