Sony A77II autofocus tips and tricks
- The new Sony A77II autofocus capabilities are probably one of the significant improvements over the A77.
- Its advanced AF system has 79 phase detection AF points and includes 15 cross points within the central area of the sensor.
The recent A6000 represents better value-for-money and has an autofocus system that in some ways exceeds the capabilities of that in the A77II. But the added flexibility and customizability of the latter will appeal to many action and wildlife photographers.
We’ll go over some settings that influence the performance of the focus area settings first.
Autofocus functions and focus Mode dial of the Sony A77II
- AF functionality is quickly set by the dedicated Mode Dial on the bottom left front of the camera.
- The usual choice of Single-shot AF (S), Continuous AF (C), Automatic AF (A, which switches automatically between S and C) or Manual Focus.
Tip: Set this to Continuous AF for action photography.
AF track Duration
The extent of subject-tracking duration can be fine-tuned in five steps in AF-C mode.
- A low setting is best for slow-moving subjects with predictable movements.
- A high setting delivers more responsive focusing for shooting different subjects at different distances, such as wildlife or sports photography.
These settings are also available in Full HD movie shooting. Tip: It might be a good idea to assign this to a button you don’t use much, or at least adjust this setting depending on the shooting conditions.
AF Drive speed
AF drive speed is switchable between slow and fast.
- This mode is best used for critical focusing. It’s linked to the speed at which the camera acquires critical focus, either when the lens has to bridge a big change in focus distance, or when the conditions force the camera to hunt when trying to lock-on.
- Different lenses behave differently, for instance; a wide prime lens has much less travel than a telephoto.
- The main advantage of slow mode is to cut down on hunting in low light and with tricky subjects. Overall focus speed is only slightly affected.
- Slow mode just takes a tiny bit more care, when approaching focus lock, not to overshoot or miss minor details in certain conditions.
- Sports and action photography might benefit from using Fast.
- Note that switching from slow to fast does not necessarily mean you’ll get better results, as focus acquisition might differ only in the order of microseconds, which may be insignificant.
Drive mode settings
Much depends on your drive mode settings.
- I found that in Continuous Shooting Lo, the camera performs better with AF Drive Speed set to Fast.
- In Continuous Shooting Hi, I got the best results when AF Drive Speed was set to Slow.
AF range control
This feature is accessible via the C button.
- The AF range control allows you manually to select a foreground and background distance to which the AF system will not respond.
- This is similar to the focus limiter on some zoom lenses that restricts the range of distance the camera will attempt to focus on.
Tip: This in-camera feature is especially useful for shooting fast-moving subjects with a complex background that commonly distract camera AF systems.
Center Lock-On AF
- Turning on Center lock-On AF in the menu enables a feature where you can use the Multi-controller centre button to tell the camera on what to focus.
Procedure: frame your image so that your subject is in the center, press the Multi-controller to select that is what you want to focus on, and it will follow your subject.Pressing the Multi-controller middle button twice will cancel your selection. This software can recognise and track a subject based on colour and position.The active AF area is illuminated in white upon focus lock as a visual reminder of which point was manually selected.
- Tip: An interesting aspect of this feature is that if you lose track of the subject, it can resume the Lock-on AF function when the subject re-appears on the screen.
- Activating the Center Lock-on AF with the Multi-controller centre button (when Center Lock-On AF is set to ON) will override your selected Focus Area when your subject moves beyond the area and reverts to the Wide Focus Area.
- Deactivating it will go back to your selected Focus Area. It is not always dependable for fast moving subjects, but it is a great way of reverting to Wide Focus area in whatever Mode you are (except Lock-on AF Wide), when your subject moves beyond that field.
This does change the function of the Multi-controller middle button in all modes (except Lock-on AF Wide) as when it is OFF, it acts as a center focus button.
- Tip: After some experimentation, I found that switching it OFF yielded better results, as I prefer having the option of a dedicated center focus button as opposed to a lock-on follow focus button. Before going to the selectable Focus Area settings, you should know that all selective zone Focus Area settings are easily adjustable on-the-fly to other areas using the Multi-controller.
- There are a six different Sony A77II autofocus area settings selectable.
- For subject tracking in action photography, the Expanded flexible spot placed in the centre and physically tracking your subject after locking on with a half-press of the shutter button will generate the most number of in-focus images.
Tip: This mode activates adjacent points if it is in danger of losing focus, a very useful feature.
Wide focus area
The default option is the 79 point Wide Focus mode.
- When using this mode, the camera decides which of the focus points to use to set the focus.
- This mode is somewhat random, in the sense that it will lock-on to any movement in your image.
- If you have a lot of activity going on with different subjects, it will switch to any of the 79 focus points depending on what the camera thinks you want to lock-on too.
Great if you don’t mind what is in focus (as long as something is) but not so great if you want to track one subject.
- The 72 AF points are divided in 9 zones.
- The three horizontal zones count 9 points while the two vertical zones adjacent to the centre each count 7 and the four corners each have 8.
- Zone mode lets you choose one of these 9.
- The camera will autofocus in the same way as wide focus area, but only in the selected zone.
Tip: Works well if you find the wide focus area setting too unstable in focussing on what you want , but you still want the camera to do some follow focusing without physically moving the A77II itself too much. Remember that you can always easily switch to different zones using the Multi-controller.
- Setting your focus are to one center spot, limits it to focussing on that centre spot in the middle of the frame.
- If all else fails, using centre spot focus and tracking the subject yourself (keeping it in the centre of the frame ) is a proven technique of keeping focus.
Tip: Expanded flexible spot does the same with the added benefit of switching to adjacent points.
- Flexible Spot is a manual AF area selection mode and lets you manually set the main AF point by using the Multi-controller to highlight one of the 15 points.
- This is comparable to the Center mode, except without the benefits of the dedicated centrally mounted AF sensor.
Related: Flexible spot points
- A related setting For both Flexible Spot and Expanded Flexible Spot is Flexible Spot Points.
- You can select if you want to use all AF area points or just 15 points spread out over the entire AF area.
Tip: I’d recommend setting it to 15 points and Expanded Flexible Spot if you want to use a Flexible spot zone, as this area setting activates surrounding AF points if it loses focus anyway.
Expanded flexible spot
- Expanded Flexible Spot mode keeps focus steady even if the selected AF point loses track of the subject, by activating eight surrounding AF points that recognise the subject.
- This is my favourite setting for action photography, as it gives you the most control over what the A77 MII is focussing on
It’s easy to run through the flexible spots (more so if you’ve set the limit to 15 Flexible Spots). Tip:
- switch to other zones by using the Multi-controller
- pressing the Multi-controller buttonputs focus on the centre of your frame
Lock-on AF: Wide
- Using all AF points, the camera will try to identify your target and follow it as the target moves in all directions.
- It adjusts target frame size based on subject characteristics and makes use of the optimal AF point for the smoothest possible autofocus. Just press the shutter to activate it.
Tip: Works well if your scene is not too busy, and is what I would call one of the advanced functions of the A77 M2.