Sony DSLR-A700 review

Price when reviewed

Sony’s recent entry into the DSLR market has been greeted fairly positively. Its first effort, the A100, is on our A List, and its second, this A700, hopes to repeat the same trick. But the competition is tough, as its price pitches it squarely against Canon’s excellent EOS 40D (web ID: 128813).

Sony DSLR-A700 review

Existing A100 owners will be disappointed by the lack of external changes. The utilitarian body styling of the A700 is virtually unchanged from the A100, which was itself based on only minor tweaking of the venerable Konica Minolta Dynax 5D (web ID: 79987). While this doesn’t pose a problem for the A100, which is pitched against low-end models such as the Nikon D40 (web ID: 104944), the A700’s price means it has to compete against cameras designed to allow instant changes to settings. As such, it’s a source of irritation that the A700 lacks a secondary LCD screen for shooting info.

The 3in rear LCD has annoyances too, not least of which is its severe drain on battery life. It has a clever feature in the light sensor below the eye piece – raise your eye to the camera and the screen flicks off. However, if the camera is turned on and slung over your shoulder, the constant shifting in light means it never enters standby mode, so the screen is almost continuously on. This means you need to turn it off after every shot if you want to be assured of even a single day’s battery life. Coupled with the comparatively long start-up time (almost a second, versus near-instant for the Canon EOS 40D and Nikon D300), the A700 is, at times, painful to use. The widely spaced buttons also require you to splay your fingers uncomfortably when making changes. On the upside, the large grip is more comfortable.

Build quality has received a boost: the body is partially clad in magnesium alloy and, while we have no doubt that the A700 will withstand some brutal treatment, there’s still a fair amount of plastic on the back and sides and it doesn’t give quite the solid feel of the Canon EOS 40D’s build. We also dislike the micro USB connector: it will be fine until you lose the cable and only have more standard mini-USB cables to hand. On the plus side, there’s a mini-HDMI port for video-out.

Performance is reasonable. In high-speed continuous mode, the A700 shot 22 frames in five seconds before slowing down: a rate of 4fps. It’s entirely acceptable, but is put in the shade by the Canon EOS 40D’s 6.8fps and almost unlimited high-speed buffer.

It isn’t all bad: the A700 takes excellent pictures. Colour reproduction is faithful, and Sony has done a good job of keeping image noise down. Even at the maximum sensitivity of ISO 6,400 (the highest the A700 goes), image noise is some way short of wildly disruptive. It isn’t as good as the Nikon D300 or Canon EOS 40D, but it still produces excellent, competition-quality images. It’s helped by the stock 18-70mm f/3.5-f/5.6 lens. It’s made of plastic and is discouragingly small, but in our tests it produced good, clean images with minimal chromatic aberrations. We also appreciate the way that every lens you can fit to the A700 has full-time manual focusing thanks to the AF/MF button on the back – press and hold it to disengage the focus motor in AF mode and you can focus yourself. The A700 also has in-camera image stabilisation thanks to the platform-mounted CMOS sensor, so you’ll never have to pay a premium for a stabilised lens. The inclusion of a remote control (including a shutter-release button) is an unusual but useful extra.

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