Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 Verdict: final production model
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 is certainly an impressive DSLR and a significant step-up from the debut A100. It proves Sony can produce a camera tailored for higher-end enthusiasts while also incorporating the neat gadgets we’ve come to expect from the electronics giant.
In terms of conventional camera features, Sony’s been thoughtful about controls and ergonomics, producing a DSLR which feels good and responds quickly. The viewfinder is good, the controls sensible and easily operated while wearing gloves, and overall the A700 feels very confident in use.
In terms of gadgetry, the HDMI port is a fun addition and the 3in VGA screen a revelation, although revealingly both these ‘headline’ features are also present on Nikon’s D300.
Strangely considering Sony’s leadership in electronics and gadgetry though, the A700 is lacking both Live View and a Wifi transmitter option. And while the big VGA screen is undeniably nice, many specialist photographers will miss a secondary screen on the upper surface. These are handy not just when it’s very bright, but also when shooting with dark-adapted vision at night.
It’s additionally worth mentioning while the 5-frame bracketing option will be welcomed by fans of HDR, the 0.7EV maximum exposure difference is less useful. The Alpha A700 also comes up against some tough rivals, the major ones being Canon’s EOS 40D, Nikon’s D300 and the Olympus E-3. Before wrapping-up, here’s how it compares.
Compared to Canon EOS 40D
Canon’s EOS 40D is the latest model in its semi-pro line and priced slightly lower than the A700. With 10.1 Megapixels it comes up slightly lower in resolution to the A700’s 12, and while both cameras feature 3in screens, Sony’s trumped Canon with its VGA model. The information on the A700’s screen also turns to stay upright in portrait shooting, there’s an HDMI port for connection to HDTVs, and of course the really big advantage for the Sony is its built-in anti-shake.
In the 40D’s favour though it features slightly faster 6.5fps continuous shooting, Live View facilities and an optional wireless transmitter. Indeed it seems a little odd given Sony’s electronic expertise that the A700 doesn’t offer Live View or Wifi options. The Canon also sports a secondary LCD status screen on the top surface which some photographers will miss on the A700. See our Canon EOS 40D review for more details.
Compared to Nikon D300
Nikon’s D300 is a higher-end DSLR to both the Sony A700 and Canon EOS 40D, but many will undoubtedly be weighing-up all three models. Like the A700, the Nikon D300 features a 12 Megapixel CMOS sensor, a 3in screen with VGA resolution and an HDMI port, but in its favour the D300 also boasts Live View, slightly quicker 6fps continuous shooting (with an 8fps boost from the optional battery grip), a secondary LCD info screen, and a far more sophisticated 51-point AF system, along with an optional wireless transmitter. So the only major feature which the A700 has over the D300 is built-in anti-shake.
The D300 ultimately looks like being a more professional and better-featured camera, but the crucial comparison will be the final image quality and prices. We look forward to reviewing the D300 when a final production model becomes available, but in the meantime check out our Nikon D300 preview for more details.
Compared to Olympus E-3
The Olympus E-3 is the long-awaited successor to the camera which launched the Four Thirds standard back in 2003. Like the Sony A700, it features 5fps continuous shooting and built-in sensor-shift stabilisation, but adds Live View and unlike any other camera here, features a flip-out screen allowing you to shoot comfortably at unusual angles. It also features an upper LCD screen and the SuperSonic Wave Filter, which in tests has proven to be the most effective at reducing dust – or at least making it hard to see. Olympus is also making a big noise about AF performance, claiming it’s the fastest in the world – with the right lens.
In Sony’s favour, the A700 has two extra Megapixels, a VGA screen and an HDMI port. We look forward to reviewing the E-3 when a final production model becomes available, but in the meantime, check out our Olympus E-3 preview.
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 final thoughts
The Sony Alpha DSLR A700 is certainly a very capable DSLR which will greatly appeal to enthusiasts. The build quality and handling are very good, the controls well thought-out, the screen is superb and the image quality (with firmware 2.0) is also respectable – although some will prefer to increase the sharpening a little over the default settings.
It does however come up against very tough competition and bizarrely Sony’s neglected to include a handful of key features. It’s certainly revealing Canon, Nikon and Olympus have all included new features like Live View alongside traditional ones like a secondary status screen while Sony has neither on the A700. Nikon also appears to share several of what could have been the A700’s unique selling points, such as the 3in VGA screen and HDMI port. So the only major feature the A700 has over Canon and Nikon – but not Olympus – is built-in anti-shake.
As such while the A700 is undoubtedly very good, we believe the inclusion of a few features could have made it better still. If you personally don’t feel the need for Live View, an upper status screen or optional Wifi facilities, then it could be the right DSLR for you, but others will eliminate it because of their absence.
Then there’s the thornier issue of the system itself. Sony’s done a great job of launching Alpha with a decent array of rebadged and new lenses, but few focus as quickly or quietly as Canon’s USM or Nikon’s SWM models. Take a look at some of our video reviews of Canon, Nikon and Sony lenses and you’ll see and hear what we mean. Sony still claims its own quick and quiet SSM technology is only appropriate for high-end telephotos, but few would argue it wouldn’t also be desirable on their general-purpose models.
It’ll also be interesting to see how much of an advantage the A700’s built-in anti-shake will be for a target market with more to spend – semi-pro photographers may not baulk at buying image stabilised lenses and may also prefer seeing their stabilising effect through the optical viewfinder.
Of course these are all highly subjective issues and what could be a deal-breaker for one person may not be at all important to another. We certainly wouldn’t advise going out and buying one of these cameras based on specs and reviews alone. You really need to pick up and handle each camera in person and see how they look and feel to you.
If after weighing up the pros and cons you decide the A700’s the best overall package though, then you won’t be disappointed. It’s an excellent DSLR and one we can Highly Recommend, especially with the Carl Zeiss 16-80mm. But it’s crucial to also handle its rivals in person and think carefully about the entire feature-set and system as a whole.
To see and hear the A700 in action, check out our Sony A700 video tour.
(compared to 2007 mid-range DSLRs)
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