The 12.25-megapixel Sony Alpha A700 is the second digital SLR the Japanese electronics giant has launched and is aimed at the serious enthusiast.
Build Quality and Styling
The build quality of the Alpha 700 is of a high standard. Constructed from magnesium alloy, Sony has also added dust and weatherproof seals to the exposed areas such as buttons and the dial. It isn’t to the build standard of true high-end pro cameras such as the Canon 1D series, and wouldn’t necessarily trust it to survive a three-month tour of the Belize rainforests, but it’s comparable to the new Nikon D300 and Canon 40D and survived a heavy downpour in Essex with no trouble.
The styling isn’t to everyone’s taste, continuing the slightly boxy design typical of Konica Minolta cameras, but it’s ergonomic grip and button placement make it a pleasure to use. Everything falls easily to hand. A pair of raised areas on the front of the grip, and at the rear provides security for the thumb and middle finger.
The right-hand top-plate is sparse, with just four buttons, plus the shutter release button. These buttons, controlling ISO:, WB and drive modes are fiddly to use: the grip is too deep for the forefinger to reach them comfortably. Sony has switched some features from the Sony Alpha 100 away from the left-hand dial to the back, so you no longer need to turn the dial to access the ISO: and DR tools, like you had to on the Sony Alpha 100. This leaves the dial free for the exposure modes, which include the standard PASM group, as well as a selection of scene modes and the Memory Recall or ‘custom’ mode.
The camera has some lovely touches. The viewfinder is nice and bright with a good eye point. We found it easy to see the whole frame and read the LCD readouts even with glasses. Like the Sony Alpha 100, the new model features Eye-Start AF, which is a useful feature but can result in the camera being accidentally left switched on when walking around. This means the Eye-Start sensor, situated beneath the viewfinder, is constantly activating the AF as the camera rubs against the body, running the battery down. Luckily a menu option lets you turn the sensor off.
The AF is better than on the Sony Alpha 100, with eleven selectable sensors and rapid operation. Using a Carl Zeiss 16-80mm lens in this test, the AF is also pretty quiet. We really appreciated the thumb-friendly AF/MF button. When this is pressed, you can manually focus the lens for fine-tuning. Its position is really well thought out and it’s a truly useful and thoughtful touch.
A welcome addition is the new shutter. Where the Sony Alpha 100 shared the Konica Minolta 5D’s clunky shutter, the A700 has a much quieter, dampened shutter and with shutter speeds available up to 1/8000sec. Sony also claims that the shutter has a service life of 100,000 operating cycles.