Sony A77 II Review: Sony announces the new APS-C flagship Alpha SLT-A77 II: It Is All About Speed
Sony presents the Alpha SLT-A77 II, the successor model of the Alpha 700 and Alpha 77, and in doing so, also declares its support for the Alpha bayonet, which has been gladly declared dead since the announcement of the Alpha 7/7R. With 12 frames per second for at least 60 consecutive images, the Alpha 77 II has advanced to become the sprinter star of system cameras with mirrors. The 79-point autofocus (nominally also a lonely top class) can also keep moving subjects in focus thanks to SLT technology, for which the A77 II offers sophisticated tracking modes.
- Excellent image quality, also with set lens
- Stabilized viewfinder image
- Extremely high continuous shooting rate paired with large buffer memory
- Powerful autofocus with wide field coverage
- Spongy Multicontroller
- GPS not available
- Slightly slower memory bus
After Sony has seen a veritable fireworks display of new DSLR and SLT cameras in recent years, things have been pretty quiet in this camera class lately. But now the electronics giant from Tokyo is back with the Alpha 77 II. While the model designation may suggest that the Mark II is merely a small facelift, a glance at the equipment list will teach you otherwise: The A77 II has been equipped with a completely new AF module that can adjust the sharpness even at a rapid 12 fps. In addition, there are a number of features that were previously reserved for the top model A99, as well as the new Bionz-X processor for further improved image quality and faster data processing
The 79 measuring points of the phase autofocus are distributed over a wide area of the viewfinder, so that it is possible to focus almost to the edge of the image. However, only 15 of the 79 measuring points are cross sensors. The central cross sensor is particularly sensitive and is matched to F2.8 fast lenses to enable higher precision at open aperture than the normal focus points. In addition, AF works down to -2 EV at ISO 100, focusing even when the human eye can hardly see anything. The fixed, semi-transparent mirror ensures that the autofocus can work without interruption, and the constantly exposed sensor also enables a live image to be displayed in the viewfinder or on the display. In continuous shooting mode, the Alpha 77 II spurs off at 12 frames per second and maintains this speed for at least 60 consecutive frames. The SLT technology enables permanent autofocus tracking. The autofocus can even predict the sharpness of moving objects, and different modes for the autofocus zones (Wide, Zone, Flexible Spot and Extended Flexible Spot) ensure that the focus is adjusted to the shooting situation. There are five levels of control to determine how the autofocus will lock on to or respond to detail once captured. Another interesting feature is the autofocus distance control, which allows the user to pre-define the distance range in which the subject is moving. For example, focusing can be prevented at close range and infinity and, for example, focusing can only be done in the range of 2 to 15 meters. Also on board is face recognition with eye autofocus for precisely focused portraits.
The APS-C large CMOS sensor of the Alpha 77 II has a resolution of 24.3 megapixels and is equipped with the improved microlens structure of the Alpha 6000 and Alpha 7R. The improved light output provides a 20 percent higher sensitivity, the setting range now extends from ISO 100 to 25,600. As with all Alpha SLTs from Sony, the sensor for image stabilisation is movably mounted. The current Bionz X image processor used in the A77 II achieves approximately three times the performance of the Alpha 77’s image processor, enabling image enhancement technologies such as better detail reproduction, diffraction correction and area-specific noise reduction.
The Alpha 77 II has an OLED viewfinder with a resolution of 2.36 million pixels (1,024 x 768 pixels) for image control in live view and after the image has been captured. However, the OLED viewfinder not only offers a large, high-resolution viewfinder image, but also a generous exit pupil of 27 millimeters, so it should also be suitable for people wearing glasses. The rear screen offers particularly high degrees of freedom thanks to its three joints. It measures 7.5 centimetres (about three inches) diagonally and has a resolution of 1.23 million pixels (640 x 480 pixels). Each pixel is made up of four sub-pixels, including red, green and blue as well as white for higher display brightness and therefore better readability in bright sunlight.
The magnesium housing of the Alpha 77 II is protected with seals against splash water and offers a large handle, easily accessible adjustment wheels and many buttons. Eleven of these can be freely assigned one of 51 functions each, and the program selector wheel also has three user memory locations for individual recording configurations. The shutter of the A77 II is designed for 150,000 releases. If you want, the case can be extended with a portrait format handle along with additional keys and batteries. It’s the same handle (VG-C77AM) as on the Alpha 77, which makes the changeover easier.
The Alpha 77 II records videos in full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 at a maximum of 60 or 24 frames per second in AVCHD format. Via HDMI, the picture signal can also be recorded uncompressed without disturbing insertions (clean HDMI output). Continuous autofocus is also active during video recording, and the sensitivity can be adjusted in three levels instead of five for still images. Speaking of adjustable sensitivity: The audio level can also be controlled and adjusted on the display, the A77 II also offers an external microphone connection via Multi Interface hot shoe.
Naturally, the Alpha 77 II is equipped with WLAN and NFC, and pictures and videos can be transmitted wirelessly to smartphones, tablets, PCs and televisions. The Alpha 77 II also supports the 4K resolution of current TV sets, whether via HDMI cable or wirelessly via WLAN. With the appropriate app, the Alpha 77 II can also be remote-controlled from a smartphone or tablet, including live image transmission.
Since the end of May 2014, the Sony Alpha SLT-A77 II is available without lens at a price of 1,200 EUR, this configuration is running or the name “ILCA-77M2”. However, the Alpha 77 II is also available as the “ILCA-77M2Q” in a set with the SAL-1650 (16-50 mm 2.8) at a price of just under 1,800 EUR. By the way, Sony has a total of 32 lenses with Alpha bayonet to offer.
Ergonomics and Workmanship
Externally, the Alpha 77 II resembles its predecessor like two peas in a pod. You have to look very carefully to see the differences in the roundish shaped case. For example, the new A77 II does not have an autofocus assist light, the red LED at the front is missing. The fact that Sony has refrained from redressing the Alpha 77 II doesn’t have to be a disadvantage. The housing, which is largely made of die-cast aluminium, fits perfectly in the hand – there was simply nothing left to improve. And because the A77 II largely takes over the case from its predecessor, the VG-C77AM vertical handle, which was introduced for the A77, still fits. By the way, according to Sony, the Alpha 77 II is armed against dust and humidity, but not splash-proof.
The A77 II may look like a classic DSLR, but it follows the SLT concept introduced by Sony a few years ago. It does not use a classic optical viewfinder; instead, the camera constantly displays a live view image in the electronic viewfinder (EVF). For example, the Alpha 77 II can do without oscillating mirrors; a wafer-thin, partially mirrored foil in the beam path diverts around 30 percent of the incident light to the completely newly developed autofocus module (more on this in the “Lens” section). With 2.36 million pixels, the EVF has a very high resolution and the viewfinder image is detailed and brilliant. Compared to its predecessor, Sony has clearly improved the color and contrast reproduction of the viewfinder image; overall, the display looks very natural, and doesn’t smear when panning quickly. As usual, the rear 7.5 cm screen is attached extremely flexibly with two hinges and a swivel joint and also resolves very finely with 1.23 million dots.
There has also been little change in operation compared to the predecessor. A new feature is the possibility of calling up three individual camera functions at the same time via the lockable program selector wheel. You navigate through the menus with a small joystick, the pressure points of which should be more precisely defined. This somewhat spongy controller provokes wrong inputs at the beginning, it wants to be used sensitively. Sony has equipped the A77 II with dedicated buttons for the most important settings, such as picture sequence mode, ISO sensitivity or white balance, and if required, they can be assigned functions of your choice. Other frequently used functions can be accessed via a quick menu with twelve memory locations – these can also be individually configured. Like its predecessor, the Alpha 77 II also offers the option of switching the display from viewfinder picture display to a detailed information display, the values shown there can then be changed directly. Sony is happy to see that the A77 II doesn’t have a touch display, the camera can be operated so quickly. There is another status display on the top side, which is illuminated at the push of a button.
Sony has richly equipped the A77 II with interfaces that disappear under somewhat fiddly hard rubber plugs on the left side. The memory card compartment on the right is closed by a robust flap that is hinged with a spring hinge. The battery is inserted from below into the generous handle. One battery charge does not go very far with a maximum of 480 pictures. After all, the tripod thread that is correctly arranged in the optical axis is far enough away from the battery compartment, so that the energy dispenser can be changed even when the quick release plate is attached.
Traditionally, Sony system cameras have a wide range of recording functions, but are reluctant to offer them in playback mode. The Alpha 77 II is no exception at first. For beginners and those who are switching from a compact camera, the only eight motif programs may seem a little sparse, but the camera still has the typical Sony assistants. For example with the really useful automatic panorama function or the practical HDR function. In addition, there are two fully automatic systems, one of which selects so-called “multi-shot programs” if required, which improve the image result by taking more pictures.
However, the Alpha 77 II is primarily aimed at demanding photographers, and it has a lot to offer them. First of all, no other camera in the APS-C upper house takes faster series of pictures than the A77 II. Whether you choose JPEG or Raw as your recording format, Sony’s latest prank sprints off at an almost breathtaking 12 fps and keeps up the high speed for a remarkably long time: Only after 53 JPEG or 26 raw shots does the camera run out of breath. But then she takes it very slowly, in the endurance run she just manages 0.8 JPEG or 1.8 raw shots. Nevertheless: In the sprint the A77 II can almost compete with sports cars like the Canon EOS 1Dx or Nikon D4S, especially since the Alpha 77 II can also adjust the focus during the shot (more about this in the “Lens” section). But the Alpha 77 II is inferior to professional sports and action cameras in one respect: its memory bus is quite slow. To transfer a 12fps burst with about 50 JPEGs to the memory card, the A77 II equipped with a UHS-1 card needs almost half a minute. Fortunately, however, the A77 II does not block completely while it is saving. Although the main menu cannot be accessed while the memory access lamp is lit, the quick menu is still available. Further recordings are also possible during this time, only the image playback is naturally blocked.
For domestic use (and beyond), the Alpha 77 II thus offers more than sufficient speed reserves. By the way, it does not necessarily have to be 12 fps, 8 fps and 3 fps are also available. The extremely high serial frame rate is also an advantage for all series or multi-shot recordings. And the A77 II certainly plays out this advantage. For example, in “multi-shot noise reduction”. Whereas previously six shots were combined in such a way as to minimise image noise, the A77 II now offers a choice of four or twelve. And bracketing is now finally possible with five exposures at a spread of 1 EV and more – until now Sony has only allowed three exposures in this case, which is not very practical. In practice, it has also proved to be very useful that the manual exposure control on the A77 II can be coupled with the ISO automatic.
There is also a small improvement in the flash system of the Alpha 77 II: it features the FEL function already familiar from the Alpha 99, which allows the flash exposure to be saved. Apart from that, the flash system from Sony offers everything you would expect from a sophisticated camera, and for emergencies the A77 II also has an integrated flash on board. The A77 II does not have a GPS receiver for determining the position of the respective images. The camera now features WiFi including NFC as a pairing aid. However, this does not provide the possibility to extend the functional range of the A77 II via Camera Apps.
When it comes to video recording, Sony’s SLT concept has always been ahead of a classic DSLR – especially in autofocus. And so the A77 II can also adjust the sharpness during video shooting in a flash and without pumping. Furthermore, all exposure control options are available for filming, which are also available for photo shots. If necessary, the stereo sound can be controlled manually; the Alpha 77 II also has a jack socket for connecting an external microphone on board. And that’s not all: the new multi-interface accessory shoe not only allows you to connect flash units, but also microphones or video lights from the Sony accessory range. It’s almost a pity that the A77 II only records in AVCHD at a maximum data rate of 28 Mbit per second – the better XAVC-S format or even 4K resolution is not available.
Sony offers the Alpha 77 II together with the DT 16-50 mm F2.8 SSM lens as a kit. The triple zoom covers a focal length range of 24 to 70 millimetres in relation to 35 mm, its closest focusing distance is 30 centimetres. The lens weighs around 580 grams and is therefore not a lightweight. As usual with Sony, it does without an optical image stabilizer, instead the sensor in the A77 II is stabilized. What’s new is that the “Sensor-Shift” stabilizer starts working as soon as you press the shutter release button – and not just at the moment of taking the picture. This makes the A77 II currently the only SLT camera from Sony in which the viewfinder image is also stabilized.
A big advantage of the SLT concept from Sony is that the autofocus sensors are constantly supplied with information, no oscillating mirror impedes the flow of information. But so far Sony hasn’t really made use of this advantage, the AF speed was mediocre, and at the highest continuous frame rate the A77 wasn’t even able to adjust the focus. In addition, the AF sensors only covered a fairly limited area in the center of the image. A completely new AF module was long overdue, and with the Alpha 77 II, Sony finally delivers it: It has 79 phase comparison sensors to offer. They cover around 40 percent of the field of view, more than twice the area of the A77, and extend far to the edges. 15 of these sensors are designed as cross sensors in order to be able to detect vertical structures perfectly. Thus, the AF module AF79 of the A77 II even outperforms the very good Canon EOS 1Dx and Nikon D4S, at least on paper.
The A77, in my test, II not only convinces with an AF performance that feels far above class average, the powerful autofocus is also very easy to configure and handle. This is especially true for the Lock-On AF, whose set-up often seems like a secret science in professional sports cameras. With the A77 II it is sufficient to specify the AF point at which focus tracking should start. For those who find this too complicated, the autofocus simply lets the action scene mode be recognized by itself.
Once the autofocus has grabbed an action object, it won’t let go of it so quickly. Even a footballer or a dog running at top speed directly towards the camera did not disturb the A77 II equipped with the Sony G 70-200/F2.8 SSM lens for this test. Even a lamppost, which wandered through the picture while pulling along, could not disturb the Lock-On-AF. For situations like these, there are five levels to choose from, whether the AF priority should remain on the initially selected subject or whether the autofocus should focus more quickly on a new subject. In addition, the A77 II adopts an electronic focus limiter from the A99, which limits the AF’s operating range. This is an easy way to prevent the camera from focusing on the wire mesh fence in the foreground and not on the lion further away, when we go to a zoo.
The APS-C sensor of the A77 II has a resolution of 24 megapixels – exactly the same as its predecessor. But in the A77 II Sony has implanted the Bionz-X processor, which is supposed to improve the image quality significantly. For this purpose, the image data is sharpened, for example, depending on the f-stop at the time of shooting, in order to counteract resolution losses caused by diffraction effects. Or the noise suppression packs in significantly more forcefully in even areas than on contrasting edges, thus protecting image details. But are these and other measures enough to give the Alpha 77 II a measurably and visibly better image quality than its predecessor? We have pursued this question in tough practical use but also in software tests.
The A77 II had to prove itself with the lens DT 16-50 mm F2.8 SSM (SAL-1650F28), provided by the dealer to us for the test. The fast 3x zoom surprises with an extremely high resolution, which, with an optimal aperture of F5.6 at the image center, almost reaches the level of a full format camera with 65 line pairs per millimeter (lp/mm). The loss of resolution towards the edges is also pleasingly low – at least in the wide-angle range. At the shortest focal length, the lab protocol still records a good 51.5 lp/mm in the image edges and corners. At medium and longest focal lengths, however, the marginal zones are clearly less resolved, which is easier to get over, especially in the telephoto range. By the way, Sony doesn’t try to compensate for this small flaw by exaggeratedly sharpening the edges – the measurement of the sharpness artifacts doesn’t show any unpleasant conspicuousness, the rates remain pleasingly low overall. Chromatic aberrations are only slightly pronounced on the set lens of the A77 II, again the wide-angle position of the zoom shows the best performance. However, the SAL-1650F28 does not become an insider tip for landscape or architectural photographers – because of all things it has a strong barrel shape at the short end. This is just about right for a zoom, especially as the lens images almost without distortion at the medium and longest focal lengths. The set lens of the A77 II is convincing in any case and even outperforms the Zeiss 24-70/2.8 on the A99 in some test disciplines.
But what about the performance of the camera? Can the APS-C camera A77 II perhaps also keep up with a 35mm camera of the calibre of an A99? It can – not in all areas, but in most. In terms of signal-to-noise ratio for example. Although it is only very good up to ISO 400 with values above 40 dB, it only falls below the critical limit of 35 dB beyond ISO 12,800. This very good result is probably mainly due to the noise suppression. It intervenes from ISO 400 on and lets the texture sharpness decrease with every further ISO level. However, the loss of detail caused by this only becomes critical from ISO 6.400. Sony prefers to allow a bit more noise at even higher ISO levels instead of sacrificing even more merciless details. A rather large grain size in the red channel is not quite optimal from a metrological point of view, but this is not noticeable when looking at the prints. Apart from that, the grain of the A77 II is very fine and does not disturb the expression.
Impressively high is the dynamic range that the A77 II can handle. The input dynamic range reaches its peak of an impressive 10.8 EV only at ISO 800, but even at ISO 6.400, it is still a very good 10.4 EV. But the A77 II can’t convert these very good measuring values completely into a corresponding image quality, as the output dynamic breaks down already at more than ISO 400. But by no means dramatically, the usable dynamic range only drops below the critical limit of 160 tonal value steps per colour/brightness channel beyond ISO 3.200. But when it comes to highest colour and brightness differentiation, the A77 II only plays in the full format league at ISO 50 and ISO 100.
The A77 II has to take some criticism in terms of colour fidelity. In the standard setting it saturates orange tones too strongly, cyan tones shift it towards magenta. The latter gives the pictures a slightly cool undertone, which can easily be corrected afterwards or with the appropriate camera settings. In contrast, the white balance works reliably like a Swiss clockwork, even in the highest ISO spheres. The bottom line is that the image quality of the A77 II is convincing. The resolving power in combination with the set lens is impressive, and noise and dynamic range are at full-frame level at low ISO levels. For prints up to DIN A4 size, the camera delivers good results even at ISO 6,400.
After only a few days of practical use, we had already come to the conclusion in our preliminary test that Sony has succeeded in developing the Alpha 77 with the A77 II, which is a completely successful further development of the Alpha 77. This is all the more true after the camera has also passed through the digitalkamera.de test lab. Noise behaviour, dynamic range and resolution are at full format level up to ISO 400, up to ISO 6.400 the A77 II is also well suited for large format prints. The positive impression is rounded off by the image quality of the high-resolution DT 16-50 mm F2.8 SSM lens, with which Sony also offers the camera as a set. Unique in its class is the autofocus system of the A77 II. The fast and secure lock-on AF combined with the very high serial frame rate could almost make the A77 II a serious competitor for good cameras of the 6000 Euro class – if only its memory bus would not dawdle so much. Otherwise, there’s little to complain about on Sony’s top APS-C model: The range of functions is very high and finally closes one or the other gap that was previously found in the Alpha family. There is also nothing to complain about in terms of handling, apart from the spongy joystick. The fact that the Alpha 77 II has an electronic viewfinder is only noticeable in direct comparison with a DSLR – after a while, however, you get used to its few disadvantages and don’t want to miss its many advantages anymore. If you value a camera with GPS, the A77 II will give you the cold shoulder, but the Mark II now supports WiFi. The bottom line is that Sony delivers what is probably the best APS-C camera at the moment with the A77 II.
- Excellent image quality, also with set lens
- Stabilized viewfinder image
- Extremely high continuous shooting rate paired with large buffer memory
- Powerful autofocus with wide field coverage
- Spongy Multicontroller
- GPS not applicable
- Slightly slower memory bus
Sony Alpha 77 II (SLT-A77 II) datasheet
|Sensor||CMOS sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.8 mm (crop factor 1.5
)24.7 megapixels (physical) and 24.3 megapixels (effective)
|Image formats||JPG, RAW|
|Color depth||36 bits (12 bits per color channel)|
|Metadata||Exif (version 2.2), DCF standard|
|Autofocus mode||Phase comparison autofocus with 79 sensors, 15 cross sensors and 64 line sensors, autofocus working range from -1 EV to 18 EV|
|Autofocus functions||Single AF, Continuous AF, Tracking AF, Manual, AF Assist Light, Focus Peaking, Focus Magnifier (12x)|
|Sharpness control||Live view|
Viewfinder and monitor
|Monitor||3.0″ TFT LCD monitor with 1,228,800 pixels, brightness adjustable, tiltable 330° upwards, rotatable 270|
|Info display||additional information display (top)|
|Video finder||Video viewfinder available, dioptre compensation (-4.0 to 1.0 dpt)|
|Exposure metering||Center-weighted integral measurement, matrix/multi-field measurement over 1,200 fields, spot measurement|
|Exposure times||1/8,000 to 30 s (Automatic
) Bulb function
|Exposure control||Programmed automatic, Shutter priority, Aperture priority, Manual|
|Exposure bracketing function||Step size from 0.3 to 1 EV, HDR function|
|Exposure Compensation||-5.0 to +5.0 EV with step size of 1/3 EV|
|Photosensitivity||ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 (automatic
)ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 (manual)
|Remote access||Remote release, cable release|
|Scene modes||Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait, Portrait, Sunset, Sports/Action, 0 additional scene modes|
|Picture effects||HDR effects, Blur, Colorkey|
|Color space||Adobe RGB, sRGB|
|Continuous shooting||Continuous shooting function max. 8.0 fps at highest resolution and max. 53 stored photos, AE mode 12 fps max. 60 shots|
|Self-timer||Self-timer with 2 s interval, special features: or 10 s (optional)|
|Recording functions||Live histogram|
|Flash||built-in flash (flip up
)Flash shoe: Sony Multi Interface, standard center
|Flash range||Flash sync speed 1/250 s|
|Flash code||Guide number 10 (ISO 100)|
|Flash functions||Auto, fill-in flash, flash on, flash off, slow sync, red-eye reduction|
|Image stabilizer||Sensor shift (optical)|
Memory Stick (Duo Pro)
|Power supply unit||Power supply connection|
|Power supply||1 x Sony NP-FM500H (Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), 1,650 mAh
)110 images according to CIPA standard
|Playback functions||Image index|
|Face recognition||Face recognition, smile recognition|
|Image parameters||Sharpness, contrast, color saturation, noise reduction|
|Special functions||Live view|
|Connections||Data interfaces: USBUSB type
:USB 2.0 High SpeedWLAN
|AV Connections||AV output: HDMI output Micro (Type D
)Audio input: yes (3.5 mm jack (stereo with power supply))
Audio output: no
|Supported direct printing methods||PictBridge|
|Housing||Splash water protection|
|Special features and miscellaneous||Semi-transparent non-moving mirror on the image sensor3D-Panorama4K image reproduction
via HDMI sensor
00 with MultiFrame NR (Multi-frame NR with up to 6 shots)
25,600 with Multiframe NRTone recording format
Size and weight
|Dimensions W x H x D||143 x 104 x 81 mm|
|Weight||726 g (ready for operation)|
|standard accessory||NP-FM500H-Li-Ion BatteryBattery ChargerUSB Connection CableStrapBeltImage Editing Software
Sony Software Package for Windows (XP/or higher) and for Macintosh (System X/or higher)
|additional accessories||Sony HVL-F20M Clip-on Flash with Swivel ReflectorNP-FM500H-Li-Ion Replacement Battery Power Supply
AC-PW10AMRemovable Memory CardAlpha LensesFlash Units
HVL-F56M, HVL-F36M, HVL-MT24AMMicrophones