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Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 Review

It’s been almost two years since Konica Minolta pulled out of the photo business and transferred its entire camera division to Sony, and well over a year since the first Sony DSLR (the DSLR-A100) was announced. Two years is a long time in the digital SLR market, but the three years Minolta (latterly Konica Minolta, now Sony) SLR users have been waiting for a high end model to replace the innovative Maxxum (Dynax) 7D must have felt like a lifetime. But, finally, it’s here, and it looks very much like the mockup shown earlier in the year.

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Like the A100, the new camera still wears its Konica Minolta heritage very much on its sleeve, and when you start to look a little more closely at the specification it’s obvious that there’s still an awful lot of Konica Minolta DNA in the A700. This is hardly surprising given that the circumstances behind its development.

And, just as the A100 was obviously based on – and designed to be a successor to – the KM 5D, the A700 follows on from the 7D, and – despite lots of Sony touches and an attractive new design – 7D users are likely to find using the new model reassuringly familiar.

But of course Sony doesn’t only have existing system users in its cross hairs; the A700 is designed to go head to head with the latest ‘prosumer’ models from Nikon, Canon and Pentax. Whether the A700 offers enough to really put Sony on the DSLR map will be decided when we get to look properly at the image quality, but on specification, features and handling it certainly seems to have what it takes to play with the big boys.

Interestingly the one thing the A700 doesn’t have is any form of live view; when we spoke to Sony about this the answer was simple; they believe that the compromises involved in current systems are satisfactory, and they won’t implement live view until they can ‘get it right’. Whether the lack of live view has any real relevance in a camera at this level remains to be seen; we doubt it.

The A700 shares many technologies with earlier Konica Minolta models (including, naturally, the lens mount), plus all those introduced in the A100 – though virtually all have been uprated or upgraded in one way or another (we’ve been told the A100 and A700 share virtually no components). From the sensor to the construction of the body to the GUI to the extensive feature set, this is a very different camera to the entry-level A100 (more of which later in this review).

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Exmor CMOS sensor

The A700 is the first DSLR to feature Sony’s new CMOS sensor (now christened ‘Exmor’ – apparently not named after the national park in Devon or its eponymous ponies). Actually to be more accurate it’s the first DLSR that we know of to use the new sensor (other manufacturers tend not to boast about using Sony technology in their flagship cameras, but there has been some conjecture about the Nikon D300, for example).

But I digress. The interesting thing about the new Exmor sensor – announced a couple of months ago (see news story) – is that it takes a very different approach to A/D conversion (turning the analogue output of the sensor into the digital 0′s and 1′s that will be processed and turned into the final raw or JPEG file). Instead of using a separate A/D processor further down the imaging pipeline, the Exmor has lots of them built into CMOS sensor itself (there’s one per column – that’s over 4000 in this chip).

The advantage, in theory, is lower noise (though Sony’s original technical documents talk about a big boost in speed too), since the analog pathway is greatly reduced and analog signal noise reduction can happen a lot earlier in the process. I’m not going to go into any more detail here about the technicalities of the Exmor sensor’s unique design (mainly because the information we have is quite sketchy), but it is certainly an interesting development. We will be interested to see how well it performs in the real world (the proof, as with all these things, is in the pudding).

Body material *

Magnesium Alloy chassis, high grade plastic exterior

Sensor *

• 23.5 x 15.6 mm CMOS sensor ‘Exmor’
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 13.05 million total pixels
• 12.25 million effective pixels
• On-chip Column A/D Conversion & NR

Image sizes *

• 4288 x 2856 (L RAW )
• 4272 x 2848 (L)
• 3104 x 2064 (M)
• 2128 x 1424 (S)
• 4272 x 2400 (L) 16:9
• 2128 x 1200 (S) 16:9

File qualities / formats *

• RAW (.ARW 2.0)
• Compressed or uncompressed RAW option
• RAW + JPEG Fine
• JPEG Extra Fine
• JPEG Fine
• JPEG Standard

Dust reduction

• Static-resistant anti-dust coating
• CCD-shift dust reduction mechanism

Lenses

• Sony Alpha lenses
(also compatible with Minolta A-type bayonet mount lenses)

FOV crop

1.5x

Super SteadyShot

• CCD-Shift ‘Super SteadyShot’ system
• Five level LED shake indicator in viewfinder
• Claimed equivalent to 2.5 – 4 steps in shutter speed *

Auto Focus *

• TTL CCD line sensors (11-points, 10 lines with center dual cross sensor)
• EV 0 to 18 (ISO 100) detection range
• Predictive focus control for moving subjects

AF area selection

• Wide AF area
• Spot AF area (center)
• Focus area selection (any of 11)

Focus modes

• Single-shot AF
• Direct Manual Focus
• Continuous AF
• Automatic AF
• Manual focus

AF assist
illuminator *

• Yes (built-in LED lamp)
• Range approx 1m – 7m

Eye-start AF

Yes, selectable from menu (optionally with grip sensor trigger*)

Shooting modes

• Auto
• Programmed AE (with shift)
• Aperture priority AE
• Shutter priority AE
• Manual
• MR (memory recall) / Custom
• Scene modes (below)

Scene modes

• Portrait
• Landscape
• Macro
• Sports Action
• Sunset
• Night view/portrait

Sensitivity

• Auto (200 – 1600) – upper/lower limit selectable *
• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
• Up to ISO 6400 (expanded range) *

Metering modes

• Multi-segment (40 segment Honeycomb pattern)
• Center-weighted
• Spot

Metering range

• EV 0 to 20 (Multi-segment / Center-weighted) *
• EV 2 to 20 (Spot metering) *
(at ISO 100 with F1.4 lens)

AE Lock

• AEL button (customizable)
• Half-press shutter release

AE Bracketing

• Single or continuous bracketing
• 3 or 5 frames
• 0.3, 0.5 or 0.7 EV steps *

Exposure compen.

• -3.0 to +3.0 EV *
• 0.3 or 0.5 EV steps *

Shutter

Electronically-controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane Shutter

Shutter Speed *

• 30 to 1/8000 sec
• Bulb

Flash X-sync *

• 1/250 sec
• 1/200 sec (with Super SteadyShot on)

Aperture values

Depends on lens, 0.3 EV steps

DOF preview

Yes, dedicated button

White balance

• Auto
• Daylight
• Shade
• Cloudy
• Tungsten
• Fluorescent
• Flash
• Color temperature (2500 – 9900 K)
• Manual (Custom) – 3 memories *

White balance fine tuning

• Auto (none)
• Preset WB: -3 to +3
• Fluorescent WB: -2 to +4
• Color temperature WB: G9 to M9 (Magenta to Green)

White balance bracketing

• 3 frames
• Hi or Lo steps

Dynamic range optimizer

• Off
• Standard
• Advanced Auto *
• Advanced
• DRO advanced bracketing (3 frames, High/Low selectable) *

Color space

• sRGB
• Adobe RGB

Color modes

• Standard
• Vivid
• Neutral *
• Clear *
• Deep *
• Light *
• Portrait
• Landscape
• Sunset
• Night view
• Autumn Leaves *
• B&W
• Sepia *
• Adobe RGB

Image parameters *

• Contrast (-3 to +3)
• Saturation (-3 to +3)
• Sharpness (-3 to +3)
• Zone Matching (-1 to +2 steps)
• Brightness (-3 to +3 steps)
(Available in all color modes)

Noise reduction *

• Long exposure for exposures longer than 1 second
• High ISO NR High/Normal/Low at ISO 1600 or higher
• User controllable: On / Off

Viewfinder *

• Eye-level fixed optical glass pentaprism
• Spherical Acute Matte focusing screen (interchangeable)
• Magnification approx. 0.9x
• 95% frame coverage
• Dioptric adjustment (-3 to +1.0)
• Eye-relief 25 mm from eyepiece, 21 mm from frame
• Eyepiece cup removable
• Viewfinder info bar

LCD monitor *

• 3.0 ” ‘Xtra Fine’ TFT LCD
• 920,000 pixels (640 x 480 x 3 (RGB))
• 270 ppi
• Anti-reflective coating

Flash

• Built-in pop-up flash (manual release)
• Metering: ADI, Pre-flash TTL, Manual flash control
• Guide number 12 (ISO 100/m)
• Angle of coverage 24 mm (35 mm equiv.)
• Flash sync 1/250 sec, 1/200 sec (SteadyShot on) *

Flash modes

• Auto
• Fill Flash
• Rear Sync
• Slow sync
• Manual Flash
• Red-eye Reduction (pre-flash)
• Wireless/Remote Off-camera Flash
• High Speed Sync.

Flash compensation *

-3.0 to +3.0 EV in 0.3 or 0.5 EV steps

External flash (optional)

• Sony HVL-F56M (guide no. 56)
• Sony HVL-F36M (guide no. 36)
• Macro Twin Flash Kit HVL-MT24AM
• Ring Light HVL-RLAM
• Off camera flash shoe FA-CS1 AM

Drive modes

• Single-frame
• Continuous (H/L selectable) *
• Self-timer (10 or 2 sec)
• Continuous bracket
• Single-frame bracket
• White balance bracket
• DRO bracket *

Continuous
shooting *

• H: Approx 5fps max
• L: Approx 3fps max
• RAW: Up to 18 frames
• cRAW (compressed): Up to 25 frames
• RAW+JPEG: Up to 12 frames
• JPEG (XFINE): Up to 16 frames
• JPEG (STD/FINE): Unlimited (to card capacity)

Self-timer

• 10 sec
• 2 sec
• Mirror up function (optional)*

Orientation sensor

Yes, for shooting, playback and control panel display

Connectivity *

• USB 2.0 Hi-Speed (mass storage, Multi-LUN or PTP)
• Video out (NTSC or PAL)
• HDMI type C mini jack
• DC-IN
• Remote terminal
• PC control (with supplied software)

Remote control *

• Wired: with optional RM-S1AM or RM-L1AM
• Wireless: with included remote control

Video out

• AV (Selectable NTSC or PAL)
• HDMI (1920 x 1080i, 1280 x 720p, 720 x 580p, 720 x 576p)
• ‘PhotoTV’ HD settings applied with BRAVIA.

Storage *

• Compact Flash Type I/II
• Memory Stick Duo / Pro Duo
• Supports FAT12 / FAT16 / FAT32

Power *

• NP-FM500H Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery (1650 mAh)
• Battery charger included
• Optional AC adapter
• Batter life Approx 650 shots (CIPA standard)

Vertical grip *

• Vertical Grip VG-C70AM
• One or Two NP-FM500H batteries with auto switchover for power (additional battery is optional).

Dimensions

141.7 x 104.8 x 79.7 mm (5.6 x 4.25 x 3.25 in)

Weight (body)

• No battery: 690 g (1.5 lb)
• With battery: 768 g (1.7 lb)


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