Full Review of the Sony A 700 - Photo Jottings

Full Review of the Sony A 700

Check out the new Sony A 700.  This DSLR is an upgrade from the Sony A 100, and still an upgrade from the newer Sony A 200.  This is an advanced amateur model, but in my personal opinion, it’s more user friendly and produces higher quality results than the A 100.  It’s also much heavier and costs twice as much, which will probably be enough to keep most beginners from purchasing it; but it really shouldn’t.

This will be a running review, as I’ve done before.  I’ll post images and thoughts on this page every couple of days as I learn more about the camera.

This review will cover the Sony A 700, and I’ll be comparing it to the Sony A 100, which I have on hand also.  Note: I updated the camera to ver. 3 so everything below is based on the new updated firmware.

Here are some random thoughts about the A 700 so far.

The Sony A 700 has a great magnifying feature on the beautiful 3″ LCD, especially for checking focus.  You push the AF/MF button with your right thumb in playback mode, then zoom-in using the rear wheel. Once you get the appropriate magnification, use the front wheel for viewing your other shots at the same magnification, in the same area, very handy.  You just have to remember to frame your shots the same so you don’t have to do any scrolling.  This is a great feature, which more than makes up for the slow scroll rate.

Another nice touch: if you’ve been using manual focus, and turn the camera off, it’ll come on in auto focus—that’s good, as I’ve actually ruined more than a few shots by forgetting to reset the switch to AF.

The CF card slot is backwards to the A 100.  It makes it harder to remove the card by grabbing the raised edge on the bottom, which is now up close to the card door, this is a bad design.

Scrolling through a picture during playback is not as fast as on the A 100.

Use the “fine” setting for JPEGs.  I couldn’t see any difference what-so-ever from “extra fine” to “fine” so no need to waste double the memory.

The viewfinder is better on the A 700 with better relief and brightness.  You don’t need to put your eye-ball on the glass to see the entire view.

Nice included remote control, though most of the buttons are for TV.  Only the top left two buttons work with the camera itself.  Note that the 2 second timer will not lock the mirror up, like it does in the drive option; you’ll have to use your twenty year old wired release.  I’m not sure why they did it this way.  I like wireless remotes, so it’s not a big deal.  If you want mirror lock-up, just set it on the camera, 2 sec only, not 10 seconds.

Focuses great in very low light without raising the flash, thanks to the AF assist lamp.

Are ISO 100,125,160 processing gimmicks like Low 80 and Hi 200 on previous models?  It almost seems the ISO 200 shots are just a bit more detailed than 100.  could base sensitivity be at, or close to ISO 200.  I examined both at 100% and could find no real differences at all, other than what I just mentioned, unlike the A 100.  Plus, auto ISO starts at 200, so that’s how I’m coming up with my assumption.

The shutter is quieter than the A 100, with a totally different sound, this is good.

Build quality.  Fit and finish are very good, the outer shell is about the same as the A 100.  The frame on the A 700 is magnesium according to the literature.  I don’t really notice a better build quality though on the A 700.

Memory card door.  The camera is supposed to be weather-sealed.  The card door has a mating area that matches up with the rubber gasket around the two card slots, but I’m not sure this is a very tight seal.  I never had any problems with the A 100 getting loaded with dirt or water, so I’m not going to worry about this one either.

ISO.  Better than the A 100 all the way around.  ISO really starts at 200? (see below), so forget about 100-160.  It appears as though you’re going to wind up with at least a stop better than the A 100, meaning at ISO 1600 on the A 100, you can get the same results at ISO 3200 with the A 700.

Photo quality.  So far, very good.  If you like your colors jacked, check out the VIVID +3 setting!

Focusing.  Initial thoughts are: very good, better than the A 100.  It’s faster all the way around, and seems to be more accurate in the “wide” setting, and better able to predict what you want to focus on.  I also think the AF/MF button is a great addition for getting the correct focus, it’s very fast and easy to use this button, which is right by your thumb.  You can program it for; push and hold for momentary release, or push for release and push for engagement and return to AF.

LCD monitor.  3.0″ 921,00 pixels.  Crazy good.  You don’t come to appreciate the size and sharpness of this screen until you go back to your old 2.5″ 230,000 screen.

File sizes.  About 9MB average at “extra fine,” 4.5mb at “fine” and just over 3mb in the “standard” mode.  Uncompressed, 34.8MB.

Shot to shot speeds.  Using a 2GB CF SanDisk Ultra II card, I got around 4.5 shots per second in the “fine” mode.  I’ll test out a faster card soon.  

Image stabilization.  Seems to work as good as the A 100.

White balance.  Good, about the same as the A 100.

Battery life.  Not enough cycles yet but seems to be at least the advertised rate of 650 shots.  Initially it was just OK, but after a few recharges, I think it’s real good, in excess of the stated shots.  I don’t use the flash much, but I use the LCD more than most in my opinion.

Let’s check out some product shots.
Box and contents in the US. Earth to Sony; enough of the orange!
Also included remote.
A 700 with 50mm F/1.4
Great LCD, but you can’t tell here.

Next we have a couple of size comparisons, front and back with the A 100.

A 700 left, A 100 right.
A 700 left, A 100 right.

Look at the ISO comparisons below.  On the left is the A 700, on the right the A 100.  The A 100 only goes to ISO 1600, so I’ve substituted the resulting two empty boxes with an upsampled Konica Minolta 5D ISO 3200 shot to match the A 700 size (second to last on the right) then a fixed lens Panasonic FX100 ISO 1600 next to the 6400 A 700 shot, just for kicks (last on the right).  The A 100 shots look a little more sharp, but I think it’s in the processing, the A 700 using less sharpening, which is typical for a more advanced camera.All camera settings were at default levels except white balance.  Lens used; Sony 50mm F/1.4 @F/8

Sony A 700
Sony A 100
ISO 100
ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Konica Minolta 5D ISO 3200 upscaled to match A 700
ISO 6400
Full scale Panasonic FX100 ISO 1600

More to come!

Next we have some D-Range Optimizer samples.

D-R off D-R on
D-R+ Lv2
D-R+ Lv5
100% crop from image at left showing increased noise in shadow areas from D-R optimizer.

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the D-R off and D-R+ settings.  I think the D-R+ Lv2 is about all I would want to use as the more shadows it lightens up, the more noise is introduced; see bottom right image.Let’s look at the Standard and Vivid samples taken from Creative Style.



Standard +3
Vivid +3

The difference in color saturation is quite evident in the Standard to Standard 3 settings, though there isn’t much difference in the Standard 3 and Vivid 3 settings.  I like the Vivid 3, but I keep the camera on just “Vivid” normally.  I didn’t use any contrast or sharpening adjustments, just saturation.  I wouldn’t mess with the contrast settings, which can lead to trouble.  A better idea would be to make your corrections on the computer and save a copy.

The paragraph below and image samples were taken from the January homepage.
All you megapixel maniacs out there might want to stare at the two sets of images below and tell me which ones are 10.2mp, and which ones are 12.2mp.  I took both images in the top set with the same lens, and both images in the bottom set with the same lens, but different from the top.  I performed no image editing other than an upsample of the A 100 images to match the A 700 size.  Both are full (+) crops from the center of the image.  I left the metadata intact for those of you who can’t wait!  I’ll let you know in a few days which ones are which.
Sony A 100 10.2mp
Sony A 700 12.2mp
Konica Minolta 5D 6.1mp
Sony A 700 12.2mp

The bottom images were taken with the Sony 75-300mm lens, at 300mm at F/5.6, the top images are from the Sony 50mm F/1.4 at F/8.  It’s pretty clear you don’t get any megapixel advantage with a soft lens, like the above, especially at 300mm, which means you’ll need to invest in higher quality lenses to get a sharper image.  Don’t worry about paying more money for the extra megapixels, it’s a fruitless endeavor.  The top image samples show the A100 to be a little sharper, so we’ll look at sharpness settings on the A700 and see what the difference is.  I think Sony used conservative sharpness settings on the A700 as opposed to the A100.Next, we’ll look at the sharpness settings on the A700.

I think the -3 and -2 settings are a little too soft for me.  The default 0 or +1 are about right.  I’d stay clear of the +3 setting as it’s starting to look like an over-sharpened pocket camera image.

That’s it for this review.

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