Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 final production review

Intro

 

The Alpha A700 is the highly anticipated second DSLR from Sony and the first to be entirely designed by Sony itself. Announced in September 2007 it fills a gap above the original A100 body, targeting serious enthusiasts and semi-pro photographers with higher resolution and more powerful features.

The A700 features a jump in resolution to 12.2 Megapixels with a new CMOS sensor, making it the highest resolution Alpha body, and a step-up from existing rival 10 Megapixel DSLRs. The sensor measures the same size as the existing APS-C chip in the A100, so rumours of a 1.25x crop or larger didn’t emerge for this particular model. On the upside though, this makes the A700 compatible with the full range of Alpha lenses including DT models, and like the A100 before it, all effectively become stabilised thanks to the built-in – and improved – Super SteadyShot.

Like most new DSLRs, Sony’s made the jump in screen size to 3in, but fitted the A700 with a super high resolution model sporting 640×480 resolution which is four times finer than typical 230k screens. And while every digital camera features a TV output, with better models even offering Component options for analogue HD connectivity, the A700 takes it one step further with an HDMI port for full digital HD output.

 

Sony of course understands you can’t woo higher-end photographers with gadgets alone, so has equipped the A700 with the kind of traditional features you’d expect from a semi-pro DSLR. As such you’ll find a PC Sync port for external lighting, 5fps continuous shooting, an 11-area AF system, interchangeable focusing screens, buttons offering direct access to key settings, both thumb and finger dials, the choice of uncompressed and compressed RAW files, 6400 ISO sensitivity and an optional battery / portrait grip. It’s also tougher with dust and moisture resistance. Perhaps the only thing missing is a secondary status screen on top of the body for shooting information, although to be fair the superb 3in colour monitor goes a long way to make up for it.

While the earlier Alpha A100 was little more than a rebadged Konica Minolta 5D with a higher resolution sensor, the Alpha A700 is a brand new, 100% Sony product. It clearly states the company’s intention to seriously go after the semi-pro market, although as such it’s up against very stiff competition from the likes of Canon’s new EOS 40D, Nikon’s D300 and the Olympus E-3. Since the A700 looks so close to one of the prototype DSLRs previewed by Sony earlier in 2007, it also implies the second prototype, a higher-end product still, could be closer to reality than thought.

Following our detailed preview in September we’re pleased to now publish our in-depth review of a final production model. Over the following pages you’ll find out how the Sony A700 performs in terms of resolution, noise, anti-shake, anti-dust and of course, general design, features and handling.

Suffice it to say we’ve compared the A700 closely against what’s likely to be its biggest rival, the Canon EOS 40D, while also seeing how it measures-up alongside Canon’s full-frame EOS 5D. So read on to find out if Sony has created a contender in the semi-pro DSLR market, and to see a demonstration of its highlights, be sure to check out our updated Sony A700 video tour.


Testing notes

The Alpha A700 tested here was a final production model, running the latest version 2.0 firmware. Following our convention of testing cameras using their factory default settings unless otherwise stated, the A700 was set to Large Fine JPEG quality, Auto White Balance, Multi-segment metering and its Standard Colour mode. High ISO NR and the D-Range Optimiser were set to their default Normal and Standard settings respectively.

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