The Sony a77 II comes in to replace a camera that launched in 2011, the a77, so is long due an upgrade. A lot has changed during that time. Not only has Sony rejigged how it refers to cameras, rolling NEX into the alpha line, but it has also gone on a full frame crusade.
The a77 II arrives with a whole host of interesting features and falls into a category of camera that Sony calls "advanced amateur". That separates it from the likes of the a99, which has the full frame sensor. Here, the a77 II retains an APS-C size sensor, evolving much of what the a77 started.
We got our hands on the new Sony a77 II at the European launch of the new camera in London.
Since the last iteration, Sony has moved on from the Single Lens Translucent terminology, now referring to it as Translucent Mirror Technology, but the principle remains the same, as do the advantages that the a77 still offers: fast focusing, be that during stills or video shooting.
That's immediately evident when you start using Sony's new camera, which now offers 79 autofocus points, 15 of which are cross points. The wide proliferation of AF points means that the a77 II can very quickly focus, no matter where the subject is.
That's going to be ideal for fast moving subjects or changing scenes, so you're not left with seeking focus and missing the action. In our brief time with the a77 II we found it to be very fast, although we didn't have time to explore all the different focus modes on offer.
With so many focal points on offer, Sony is letting you set them to task with things like Lock-on AF, designed to follow your subject, an Eye AF function that will ensure that a subject's eye remains in focus, even when not fully turned to the camera, and many more.
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Fast focusing is combined with fast capture at up to 12fps, which is maintained for 60 frames when shooting JPEG. That will let you capture the fast action and get the shot you're looking for. We didn't really have anything moving that fast to warrant testing such speeds during our hands-on time.
In the hand, the Sony a77 II feels well weighted. It's 647g before you attach the A mount lens, which may add a considerable amount more, but we found it felt nicely balanced with the standard DT 16-50mm F/2.8 SSM zoom lens attached. As with other Sony cameras you have in-body stabilisation in the a77 II.
The layout of controls is mostly conventional, with dials falling under the fingers and thumb of the right hand, so they're easy to tweak settings. There are top-mounted controls for some major settings, like ISO, and the mode dial on the left-hand shoulder now as a lock to stop it being knocked to a different setting.
On the rear of the camera is the 3-inch LCD display. The mount is rather unconventional, but it does allow for a great deal of flexibility in articulation. You can have it facing forwards, if you want to shoot yourself, or are pretty much any other angle. Much of this will be familiar to fans of the a77, as will the 2.4 million dot electronic viewfinder.
The viewfinder looks stunning offering 100 per cent field of view and giving you all the information, previews and so on, that optical viewfinders often miss out on. However, as stunning as the Sony's OLED Tru-Finder is, as we found with the a77, as soon as we reverted to the optical viewfinder of our Canon DSLR, we much preferred its natural look.
We didn't have long to test the camera, but we're impressed with how happy it is to take photos in lower light conditions, at lower ISOs. Although we'll leave any definitive conclusions until we've had the Sony a77 II in for a full review, our first impressions are that it's going to handle much better in lower light than the previous model.
The new 24.3-megapixel sensor is more sensitive and the Bionz X processor is designed to better deal with noise, so those higher ISO shots should be cleaner than they were on the a77. From what we've seen so far, the a77 II offers great, natural colours, looking really realistic. In our quick hands-on session it was as happy outdoors as it was indoors, without the need to tweak the aperture or ISO to take into account the lower light conditions. The results look well exposed, but we didn't have anywhere near enough time to test much of what the a77 II has to offer.
There are a wealth of features we're still to explore on the a77 II and we still feel this is an exciting camera: it offers something different to the DSLR market which, whilst still offering great quality, doesn't seems to have evolved too far in recent times.
The Sony a77 II will be available in Europe in Summer 2014, pricing is still to be confirmed.