Sony A700 Review

Sony A700

The Sony A700 is rather aged at the time of this review in DSLR years.  I expect a refresh soon; however, I had one on my hands while working on the Sony A330 Review and thought it would be worthwhile to share my thoughts on this camera – mainly, because I really like it.

The Sony A700 was Sony’s first serious DSLR.  It was the second Alpha-series DSLR to be released and followed the introductory A100.  It was and still is a worthy second offering.  To find out why I think so, keep reading.

Sony A700 Key Features and Specs

  • 12.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor
  • 11-point AF system w/ Center Double Cross AF sensor
  • ISO 100-6400 (ISO 3200 & 6400 available in expanded range)
  • 5 frames per second
  • 100,000 shutter cycle
  • Super SteadyShot sensor-shift stabilization
  • Optical pentaprism
  • Weather sealing
  • 3.0-inch LCD w/ 922,000 dot resolution
  • 1080i HD output
  • Wireless remote included
  • CF card and Memory Stick compatibility
  • 16-105mm kit lens

Sony A700 Functionality and Performance

Sony A700

Looking at the key features and specs listed above and this camera still looks pretty impressive on paper, nearly 2-years since its release.  What I found out when using the camera was that it truly is a heck of a performer.  Equipped with the 16-105mm kit lens, I have put this camera through its paces over the past couple of months and really enjoyed it.

The Sony A700 fits great in my hands.  I love the ergonomics of the right hand grip.  The rubberized grip is really a perfect fit.  It feels like a prosumer and should receive few complaints for Canon 50D or Nikon D300 shooters.

Autofocus is downright snappy – even in low light at f/5.6 with its 16-105mm lens out to 105mm.  It easily bests the Canon 5D Mark II in low light AF speed – while probably staying on par with the Canon 50D and Nikon D300.  I’m a big fan of the center AF point in general – and the A700 does not disappoint with its Center Double Cross AF sensor.

The 5 frames per second capture speed is nice if you need a machine gun for some sports shots.  For the rest of us mere mortals, Sony has included a slower 3 frames per second capture mode, which works just fine as well.

The viewfinder is nice, big and bright.  More proof that the A700 is really a prosumer model.  No squinting or trying to make sure you get your eye far enough into the viewfinder to see the full image like is the case with entry-level DSLRs.

Sony A700

There are also plenty of buttons on the outside of the A700.  I really do love buttons – and I hate menus.  Just make a button for it.  Once I find it, I’ll know where to go back to when I need it.  If it’s in a menu somewhere, I may not see it for months and may even forget I had the option available.  Buttons for ISO, white balance and drive modes get there separate places atop the camera – well within reach of my right forefinger.  (Psst, Sony – there’s room for another 3 or so buttons up there.)

Even if I can’t find a button for one of my essential settings, Sony has done well to put a big Fn (for “function”) button on the back.  Combine this button with the joystick and the dual scroll wheels (I also love scroll wheels) and I can set most of the key settings on the A700 with one hand.

Overall, I am quite impressed with how the A700 handles, particularly with the DT 16-105mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.  This is a great walk around or vacation kit for the more serious photographer.

Sony Super SteadyShot

The sensor-based image stabilization system inside the Sony A700, Super SteadyShot, works by moving the sensor inside the camera body to effectively allow the use of image stabilization on all lenses attached to the camera. Sony’s primary competition (Canon and Nikon) use a lens-based image stabilization system, which moves the glass inside the lens to counter camera shake blur in your photos.  The image stabilized lenses are more expensive – and not all lenses from Canon and Nikon come with an image stabilization device built in.

If you aren’t familiar with image stabilization and what it does, it allows you to use a slower shutter speed than you would normally be able use.  While it doesn’t offer assistance to freeze a moving subject (you have to have a fast shutter speed to do so), it will tolerate a little bit of camera shake from your hands and shift the sensor or glass within the lens (depending on the system you are using).

To see how well the Sony A700’s built-in image stabilization works, take a look that the two photos below.  The first image was taken without Super SteadyShot enabled.  In the second image, I turned it on.  In both cases I used the same shutter speed of 1/4 of second, hand held and was zoomed out to 105mm using Sony’s 16-105mm lens.

Sony A700 Super SteadyShot OFF

Sony A700 Super SteadyShot ON

As you can see, Super SteadyShot can make a big difference when you are looking at 4×6 print sizes.  The bottom image is a little soft from camera shake blur when you look at larger images; however, I would have no worries printing some 4×6 photos for the family album from the bottom hand held 105mm shot.

Image Quality

The Sony A700 does just fine in overall image quality.  It can run with the Canon and Nikon DSLRs in most circumstances – certainly, when in good lighting.  While I prefer the Canon 5D Mark II overall image quality, that’s not really a fair comparison with the Sony A700.

I used the A700 in a lot of daily situations when I would otherwise pick up an entry-level Canon or Nikon DSLR.  I was plenty happy with the resulting images and some of my family’s best candid photos from our recent vacation were captured with the A700.  The RAW files were easy to work with in Adobe Lightroom 2, which made it easy to drop on my favorite presets for some solid images.

ISO Performance

While you can capture images with the Sony A700 at ISO 6400, it doesn’t mean you should.  Noise performance was one of the weaker points of the A700 in my day-to-day shooting.  I didn’t have a Nikon D300 or Canon 50D on hand to compare to the A700; however, it just seems to be a little noiser in ordinary use.  I felt like I got into some unacceptable noise situations at ISO 1600 and above.

To see the full range of what the Sony A700 does from ISO 100-6400, I’ve included a 100% crop chart below.  The top image is a reference shot that shows the whole scene captured by the Sony A700.  The bottom image contains several 100% crops from the center portion of the image at ISO 100-6400.

If you want to examine the full images, I’ve included links to those full size images below the ISO Test Chart. Just right-click on the links and choose “Save as…”.

Sony A700 ISO 100 Reference Image

Sony A700 ISO Test

Sony A700 – ISO 100 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 200 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 400 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 800 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 1600 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 3200 – Original File

Sony A700 – ISO 6400 – Original File

If that’s still not enough images to look at, consider the prior ISO comparison that I conducted between the Sony A330, A300 and A700 – click here.

Sony A700 Accessories

Sony A700

I have to give Sony more kudos on included accessories.  I’m not aware of any other DSLR maker that throws in a wireless remote for your camera, but Sony gives you the RMT-DSLR1 wireless remote that lets you control an array of features on the A700.  I hope this trend continues with future DSLRs from Sony.  Nikon and Canon could learn a lesson or two from Sony on this one.

Since the Sony A700 is compatible with Memory Sticks and CF cards, you have a couple of options; however, I recommend sticking with CF cards here.  They are more universally compatible and you may even have some lying around if you already own a DSLR.  If not, I would recommend picking up a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB card, which will help you keep up with the 5 fps image capture and give you plenty of space for capturing several hundred JPEG files or a couple hundred or so RAW files.

Other accessories available for the Sony A700 include the VG-C70AM Vertical Battery Grip – This grip does a couple of things.  First, it gives you a little more meat to hold onto the camera and adds a grip for vertical oriented shots, along with a shutter release that feels more natural when shooting vertically.  Second, it gives you extra battery capacity by allowing you to plug in two NP-FM500H batteries into the grip for double the juice.  Battery grips are generally a love’em or hate’em accessory among photographers and it generally comes down to more about “feel” than battery capacity (because you can always pack a spare battery or two).  Personally, I’m a big fan of battery grips.

Another consideration, which I would declare totally optional, is a 50mm lens, particularly, the affordable Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 lens.  To see why I recommend this 50mm lens, take a look at a prior post on Photography Bay – 4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Have a 50mm Lens.  Again, this is not an essential accessory; however, I hope that you can see the benefits of using the Sony 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Sony A700 Books and Guides

I think you should probably read your camera’s manual and the Bryan Peterson book recommended below before you decide upon an additional guide for your camera; however, I know that there are some who prefer to follow a step-by-step walk through of your camera’s features. As a result, I’ve listed a few offerings from popular publishers that may be up your alley. I encourage you to read the reviews on B&H Photo, Amazon and elsewhere before you decide on which resource is right for you.

Magic Lantern DVD Guide for the Sony A700

Magic Lantern Guide (book): Sony DSLR A700

The Digital Photography Book Kit (2-books) by Scott Kelby

Conclusion

Sony A700

Can I recommend the Sony A700?  Yeah, I like it a lot.  I would wait until it ages just a bit more and the price becomes a real bargain when some new camera models come out from Sony.  I suspect the Sony A700 will be capturing some great images for some time to come.  I think that the A700 has the potential to be a real workhorse for some wedding/event/portrait photographers in the same vein as the Canon 50D and Nikon D300 have been.  I suspect Sony’s eventual A700 successor will be quite the powerhouse and help further solidify Sony as a big part of the big three.  In a sense, the A700 really put Sony on the DSLR map and sent a signal that Sony means business.  I’m glad I had an opportunity to review the A700, even if it was a little late in the life cycle.

The A700 will give you a whole lot of camera to shoot with for a very long time.  It’s a tough and capable DSLR.

Additionally, if you are new to photography and need further guidance on your photographic endeavors, I highly recommend Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure. At around $15, it’ll be the best bang for your buck that you ever spend on photography.

Where to Buy the Sony A700

I recommend B&H Photo as a trusted online source for cameras like the Sony A700, along with a broad range of lenses and accessories to go with it.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for writing this review – I really want this camera but I only just got the a200…I’m aching for a more mid-range camera like this one though. I didn’t realize the kit lens was 16-105, that’s a great walkaround range! I love the remote too – I would get a lot of use out of that since I use my shutter release cable a lot on my a200.

  2. Sean S says

    Thanks for reinforcing what I already knew about the camera. It was the best purchase decision I made. The A700 is indeed both a thoroughbred and a workhorse. I shot some pretty great pics with it and using it all day was no problem as it was naturally comfortable to hold (though it can give your wrist a workout in one-handed shooting sessions). Even shooting with the older (but still excellent) Minolta lenses, the AF was fast and accurate, especially with the 135mm 2.8. All in all, this one’s a keeper.