The Alpha 700 was introduced as a complementary model to the Alpha 100; aimed more at the serious amateur and semi-professional photographer it enters a segment of the market which is buzzing with new models (EOS 40D, D300 and E-3). The A700 clearly has a lot of Minolta DNA (it's a natural successor to the popular Maxxum 7D) but also exhibits a range of development which can be attributed to the new development team that has come out of Sony's purchase of the Konica Minolta DSLR division.
Konica Minolta were the first manufacturer to put a sensor-shift Anti-Shake system into a digital SLR (again, in the 7D which shipped in early 2005), this same feature graces the A700 but has now been renamed 'Super SteadyShot', refined possibly since then but it works in exactly the same way. In our tests it worked well enough to make a difference providing somewhere between 1.0 and 1.5 stops of 'improvement' which it has to be said is somewhat less than Sony's claims.
One thing that is clear when you start shooting with the A700 is that Sony has worked hard on performance; it feels very responsive, button presses for menus or image playback occurring instantly and there's no feeling of lag when changing settings. Other performance criteria such as continuous shooting speed, buffering and write speeds were all very good, with a pretty blazing 34 MB/sec write speed with SanDisk Extreme IV cards. I should also make special mention of that new high resolution LCD monitor which really does make a difference to the whole shoot & review experience.
My primary gripes were around a couple of questionable decisions; firstly that RAW files already have noise reduction applied to them, this in effect means that the photographer can't treat RAW as the 'digital negative'. This subsequently removes the ability to successfully apply any third party noise reduction method (either now or in the future) or to make his or her own decisions about the balance between noise and NR. I understand that this is because a certain amount of noise reduction occurs very early in the image pipeline (at or around the sensor) but why that can't be simply disabled by choice is a curious to say the least.
The second oddity is the fact that this camera's base sensitivity appears to be ISO 200 (not ISO 100), subtly hinted by the fact that the Auto ISO range begins at 200 and supported by our own dynamic range tests. Sony managed to indicated that ISO sensitivities above 3200 were 'out of calibration' but not those below 200 (the trade-off below this point is highlight dynamic range). This gives rise to the rather ridiculous situation where most users (who try to stick to the lowest ISO wherever possible) will not only be shooting at a setting that doesn't produce the optimum image quality, but also losing a valuable stop of sensitivity at the same time.
With the gripes out of the way I have to say that overall image quality was very good, with the A700 producing as much resolution / detail as the competition at lower sensitivities and noise reduction keeping noise levels in check at higher sensitivities without losing too much detail (although we personally would prefer less luminance reduction and more chroma reduction, which is Nikon's approach). Color was predictable and neutral and tonal response was good without ever being over contrasty (nice roll-off in highlights from ISO 200 upwards).
Overall then the A700 is a good performer with good overall image quality with a nice range of features - even if on the negative side there are some quirky design decisions which may or may not affect you. Best of all though is the fact that it weighs in at the lower end of the price band for this category of DSLR, that makes it about $400 less than the Nikon D300 and $300 less than the Olympus E-3.
|Detail (D-SLR)|| |
Rating (out of 10)
|Ergonomics & handling||8.5|