Sony Alpha A700 – Test

We are excited to kick off our fist digital camera review with Sony’s A700, a camera which has created no small stir with it’s many similarities to Nikon’s D300 and which is sure to help boost Sony’s position in the digital SLR market significantly this year, especially with more serious consumers.

With the large number of technical reviews and camera tests available on the internet and in magazines, we have taken a review approach that will look more specifically at the key benefits cameras offer in the field – not to say that we completely ignore the technical details too. I hope that you will enjoy our test report below and provide further feedback on such reports to photocomment@gmail.com

Sony Alpha A700 – Taking Delivery

If I am to be truly honest with you, collecting the A700 from Sony’s head office created a feeling of boyish excitement over the receipt of an early birthday present one just can’t wait to play with. Sadly the day was a busy one and when I finally got a break long enough to install the battery, it took two shots before it was flat – something that was obvious would happen thanks to Sony’s Info-Lithium battery that gives a full percentage battery read out on the LCD display.

The next morning with fully charged battery in hand – and a good night’s sleep – I opened the A700’s box to become more familiar with this current flagship body of the Sony Alpha range.

When opening a Sony A700 box, one of the first things that may surprise you is the pile of manuals (weighing in at a mere 1kg themselves – some 230 grams more than the camera) placed above the body, perhaps to suggest you tame your excitement and read them before operating anything further.

Also contained within the box are the obvious accessories for the camera including the USB cable, video cable (note that an HDMI cable is not included despite the camera’s HD compatibility) and a remote control that offers support for a whole host of remote picture taking – and playback features through Sony’s range of HD Bravia TVs.

First Impressions

Picking up the A700 for the first time one quickly finds that the camera sits comfortably in your hands, and while it may prove to be heavy for some, I found the 768g body (battery included) manageable and rather satisfying to handle – I’m not a big fan of very light camera’s.

The camera’s magnesium alloy body feels robust and has all the environmental seals you expect to find on a camera at this level – in fact it handled the last two weeks of thunder showers better than I did, coming down with the flu and delaying this test by an extra week. All in all, if you are buying a digital SLR for the first time, or you’re a Minolta user looking to upgrade, the A700 certainly feels like a workhorse that you won’t be disappointed with.

Image Quality

There are a few aspects I tend to look at when it comes to the image quality and as Sony supplied the A700 with the new DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, part of this section of our test will also look at the results of this lens.

Perhaps the two most important sales points of the Alpha A700 over it’s smaller A100 brother (at the time of the A700’s launch the A200 was still a rumour) is the resolution increase from a 10mp CCD sensor to the 12mp Exmor CMOS sensor which combined with the Sony Bionz processor should also give lower noise levels. So how good is it?

Well I kicked off my test with a couple of basic still life style shots lit by a single lamp and shooting at ISO3200, the Super Steady Shot turned on – this shot bears (no pun intended) testimony to the effectiveness of this sensor’s stabilization – shot hand held at 1/20s on the 105mm end of the zoom range.

Despite the noticeable levels of noise at this high ISO setting, I found the results pleasing with images more acceptable than other cameras I’ve used at ISO 1600.

As you may notice from the cropped image of the bear’s eyes, there is a loss in terms of sharpness or detail as is to be expected with most noise reduction algorithms, but the loss is certainly less than most other cameras set to ISO3200 and when you view the full image it is far less noticeable.

Of course by shooting in RAW one can gain even more detail and less noise, but I was presently surprised by the quality of these Jpeg’s.

One other point to note from the above image is that while the Auto White Balance works well in most situations, it still struggles in warmer light situations such as tungsten or candle light environments.

Here is one more example of noise, sharpness and Super Steady Shot using the camera’s black and white setting.

Lens Performance

The new 16-105mm lens is a lovely range and as a general purpose lens it performs rather well, there is however a weakness on the wide side when is comes to distortion as the following image shows.

One must bear in mind that most zoom lenses of this range will suffer quality losses somewhere and the 16-105mm is no different, though a lens of this performance level would be hard to come by several years ago. The following are our findings in terms of resolving power.

16mm – Centre

At 16mm the lens did fairly well in the centre, easily resolving 34-40 lines per millimeter. Though one should stop the aperture down a stop or two in order to get the best performance. Chromatic aberrations are not bad either considering this is not using high end glass. Click on the image to see the full size crop.

16mm – Edge

As I have come to expect from most wide angle lenses, the edges see a bit of fall off with figures most comfortably quoted between 28-34 lines per millimeter despite being stopped down 2 stops.

I suspect most people would not notice this fall off, for me the greater concern is the distortion at this end of the zoom.

50mm – Centre

At 50mm the centre sharpness is roughly the same as at 16mm if not being a tiny bit softer.

Sadly the edges seem to be softer than expected.

What struck me about this lens is that the results were fairly constant though out the range and even on the 105mm end of the zoom range the lens performed well.

Performance & Handling

I must admit that I found the A700 quick and responsive in use, with the layout of the camera placing frequently used buttons in easily accessible places. The auto focus system was quick and accurate, a major plus in my opinion.

Two unique features that I found useful were the D (dynamic)-Range Optimizer and the Sunset picture mode which works well in correcting the exposure allowing for those rich orange and red colours that are usually lost in most other auto-exposure modes. As far as the D-Range Optimizer goes, it works well in most situations where the difference between highlights and shadows in a scene do not exceed more than 4 stops.

Perhaps the best part of this camera for me is the 3 inch 920,000 pixel LCD display which makes previews a pleasure.

In Conclusion

I found the camera a pleasure to use and a highly capable performer. I confess that were it not for my current investment in my Canon system and being so familiar with the way it operates after several years as a Canon user, Sony’s Alpha A700 may just have tempted me to cross the line from the top two brands.

I had hoped to test the Sony A700 in Astro-Photography and also have a shoot out with a Nikon D300, sadly the telescope used for the Astro images struggled with the weight of the body while the A700 vs. D300 shoot out was cancelled by my struggle with the flu.

While the above events did not happen I do hope that the rest of this test has been informative and helpful.

Thanks to Sony SA for extending the testing period of the A700 by a week while I had the flu and to Kameraz in Rosebank for the use of one of their used telephoto lenses.

Author Bio

Greg W - Admin

You may know me better as 'Admin', as I work more behind the scenes to keep PhotoComment running smoothly, so here is a short history of how I got here. I started working in a camera store right out of high school having never picked up a camera before. I spent a few years working there and then moved to wholesale and then made a big change and went into the cycling industry for a few years, however I could not stay away and made the move back into the photography industry and have been working with PhotoComment since March 2008. It has become a passion and a labor of love to bring the best photographic content to you.