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DCRP Review: Sony Alpha DSLR-A700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 5, 2007
Last Updated: January 17, 2008
Our final review of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 has been completed using a production-level camera. All sample and test photos were taken with this production camera running version 2.0 of the A700 firmware. Please note that the 16 - 80 mm (Zeiss) lens shown in some of the product photos is optional.
The Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 ($1400) is the second digital SLR from the Japanese electronics giant. This camera was first shown at PMA earlier this year, and had been referred to as the "advanced amateur" model. The camera is a descendant of Konica Minolta's digital SLRs, as Sony bought their assets in 2006. Thus, the A700 has many of the same features that were found on Minolta D-SLRs of days past. These include the Alpha lens mount, hot shoe, sensor-shift image stabilizer, EyeStart AF, and more.
Here are some standout features on the A700:
One feature you won't find on the A700 is live view. Three months ago I don't think anyone would care, but with the introduction of the Canon EOS-40D, Nikon D300, and Panasonic DMC-L10, the A700 seems a bit out-of-place.
How does the A700 perform against this tough competition? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The A700 is available in three kits: one with just the camera body ($1400), another with a 18 - 70 mm lens ($1500), and a third with a 16 - 105 mm lens ($1900). Here's what you'll find in the box for all three of these kits:
The 18 - 70 mm lens in the cheaper kit isn't new -- it was the kit lens for the DSLR-A100. The 16 - 105 mm lens is a new one, and its what I used for all of the sample photos in this review. The 16-105 lens is available separately for $580, if you don't buy to buy the pricey A700P kit right now. Otherwise, you can use most Minolta and all Sony-branded lenses with the A700, with a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio.
Digital SLRs never come with a memory card, so unless you have a CompactFlash or Memory Stick Duo card laying around, you'll need to buy one. The A700 supports both of these formats, and I'd recommend a 2GB card as a good starter size. It's absolutely worth spending the extra bucks for a high speed card, as D-SLRs really takes advantage of them.
The A700 uses the brand spankin' new NP-FM500H lithium-ion battery pack. This battery packs a lot of power, with 11.8 Wh of energy inside its plastic shell. Being what Sony calls an "InfoLithium" battery, the camera is able to tell you exactly how much charge the battery has left. Now, here's a look at how the A700 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of battery life:
The A700's battery life is just a hair above the average for this group. It's numbers are actually 15% worse than the original DSLR-A100 -- usually its the other way around.
I should point out a few issues regarding the proprietary battery used by the A700. First, they're really expensive -- an extra one will set you back at least $55. Second, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the rechargeable dies, as you could with an AA-based camera. Some cameras, however, can use AA batteries via their optional battery grips, but the A700 isn't one of them.
Above you can see the A700's optional battery grip, which is known as the VG-C70AM (priced from $315). It replicates quite a few of the buttons found on the back of the camera, including the two command dials, the four-way controller, and the shutter release button. The grip can hold one or two NP-FM500H batteries, allowing for double the battery life.
When it's time to charge the A700's battery, just pop it into the included charger. A typical charge takes around 175 minutes, while a full charge will take a whopping 235 minutes. The charger doesn't plug directly into the wall (which I like) -- you have to attach a power cable.
Sony includes a wireless remote control in the box with the A700. As you can see, it can be used for both taking and viewing your photos. This will come in handy when you're hooked into a HDTV. Speaking of which, in order to take advantage of the camera's HDMI port, you'll need a Mini HDMI to HDMI cable, which is not included.
Being a digital SLR, you shouldn't be surprised to hear that the DSLR-A700 supports plenty of accessories. Here's a summary of what's available:
A pretty standard selection for a D-SLR, I'd say -- and that's a good thing.
Normal thumbnail view in Picture Motion Browser
Sony includes several software products with the A700. The first one is Picture Motion Browser, and it's for Windows only. PMB can be used for acquiring photos from the camera, organizing them, and performing basic editing tasks.
Calendar view in PMB
Photos can be viewed in the traditional way (first screenshot) or in calendar view (above). Whichever view you're using, you can print photos, e-mail them, or burn them to a CD or DVD. Photos can also be quickly rotated, and a slideshow features is also available.
Edit screen in PMB
Editing options are fairly limited in Picture Motion Browser. Tools include auto enhancement, brightness, saturation, and sharpness adjustment, redeye reduction, and cropping. You can also adjust the tone curve, or print the date on your photo.
While Picture Motion Browser can view RAW files, it can't do anything with them. For that you'll want to fire up one of the following programs.
Image Data Converter SR
Image Data Converter SR 2.0 is your main RAW editing application. It works on both Mac and Windows, and it seemed relatively quick at performing edits. If you can imagine an image property to edit, chances are that IDC can do it. Some of the highlights include D-Range Optimizer adjustment, noise reduction, tone curves, and staples like white balance and exposure. A "version stack" option lets you go back in time through your various adjustments. Users can also save processing formulas, which can be applied to other images with the click of your mouse. Finally, there's a one-push "send to Photoshop" button, which exports the file to TIFF format and opens it up in Adobe's photo editor. Speaking of which, you can also open the camera's RAW files in Photoshop CS3, presuming that you have the latest Camera Raw plug-in.
Image Data Lightbox SR
A related program is known as Image Data Lightbox SR. This is an image browser that lets you select up to four images and view them zoomed in and side-by-side so you can compare details. The "synchronous" option moves the images you're comparing at the same time, which is quite handy.
Oh, and if you have no idea what the heck RAW is, I'll tell you. Basically, it's a file containing unprocessed image data direct from the camera's sensor. You'll need to process it on your computer (or on the camera -- more on this later), but this allows you to adjust things like white balance, exposure, and noise reduction, without reducing the quality of the original image. It's almost like taking the photo again. RAW files are quite a bit larger than their JPEG counterparts, though thankfully Sony offers a compressed RAW format, which helps to keep the file sizes down (by about 33%).
Remote Camera Control
The final piece of software included with the A700 is called Remote Capture Control. As its name implies, it lets you take photos from your computer via a USB connection. Photos are saved on your Mac or PC, so no memory card is needed. You can adjust many of the camera's settings in the software, though not even close to all of them.
The manual for the DSLR-A700 is split into two parts. There's a "Read This First" guide to get you up and running, and a much thicker manual that covers the details. The quality of the manuals is very good -- they're easy to read, with large type and a minimum of "notes" on each page. And that's a good thing, since this is a pretty complex camera.
Look and Feel
The DSLR-A700 is a midsize, rectangular-shaped digital SLR. It's made of a magnesium alloy (with some high grade plastic thrown in for good measure) and feels like a brick in your hands (that's good). The right hand grip is excellent, giving the A700 a secure feel in my hands. The buttons, dials, and doors on the camera are sealed against dust and moisture. Speaking of buttons, the camera has a lot of them -- it's a bit of a poster child for button clutter. Thankfully, they're all well-labeled.
The A700 is a larger, less-rounded version of the "old" DSLR-A100. Here's how the two look side-by-side:
|Images courtesy of Sony Electronics. Photos not to scale.|
As you can see, there are some similarities between the two, but a lot of differences as well.
Now, here's a look at how the A700 compares to other D-SLRs in its class: