Sony gives Alpha camera range a boost

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A completely revamped autofocus system is the standout feature of Sony’s update of its a77 camera, which now boasts 79 AF points, including 15 cross points within the central area of the sensor.


That number makes it the leading phase-detection AF system available in terms of focus points, says Sony, but it’s the sophisticated new focus-tracking system that will prove the biggest draw for some, particularly if you shoot sports or wildlife, or even street photography. Thanks to the accuracy of the AF system, which includes a dedicated f/2.8 point placed horizontally in the centre, the a77 II is much improved in low-light situations (as low as EV-2 at ISO100), and a new AF algorithm “that has been fine-tuned in extensive field tests”, along with Sony’s Translucent Mirror Technology, makes its predictive subject tracking incredibly responsive (assuming independent tests replicate yesterday’s demonstrations at the European press launch in central London).

“With approximately 2x wider coverage area than the previous a77 model, it outpaces the AF capabilities of many professional cameras,” claims Sony. “This predicts the subject’s next movement, combining AF metering data together with data on the subject’s position. AF precision is further improved when Lock-on AF is used, recognising the subject from its colour as well as its position in the frame… Expanded Flexible Spot mode maintains focus even if the selected AF point loses track of the subject, activating eight surrounding AF points that recognise the subject. In combination with AF-C AF mode, this dramatically increases performance with moving subject.”

Even though the mark II looks pretty much the same as its predecessor and has the same 24-megapixel resolution, it has a newly designed capture sensor, which is claimed to be 20 percent more light-sensitive at the top end (delivering up to ISO 25600), wrapped in a magnesium body with dust- and moisture-resistant seals.

It uses the same evolved Bionz X image processor featured in the flagship α7 and α7R cameras, which is claimed to operate three times faster than its predecessor, using detail reproduction, diffraction-reducing and area-specific, noise-reduction technologies “that contribute to amazing image definition, rich colours and textures with stills and full HD video”. And it can capture 60 full-resolution frames at up to 12fps.

For video capture, it can record full HD 60p and 24p movies using the AVCHD 2.0 format. Plus it delivers three-level AF tracking sensitivity adjustment, a pro-style Zebra function, audio level metering and a clean HDMI output that allows viewing on an external monitor and recording without compression to an external storage device.

Additional features include an LED electronic viewfinder and three-way tilting LCD.

The A-mount camera will go on sale this summer. While unconfirmed, the price has been reported at £1000 for the body only, or £1550 with a 16-50mm f/2.8 lens.

In a separate announcement, Sony says it will release up to 20 new lenses (including updates to existing models) for its E-mount system over the next 20 months.