Alpha 700 first impressions
I know that many of you expect a full detailed report about new Alpha 700 (writes Damir Tiljak). Unfortunately we had limited time to spent with new camera, which left us with just a few impressions. Good news is that most of impressions are positive. Although Sony rates this camera as their ‘advanced amateur’ model, I am sure it will be suitable for semi-professional or even professional use in fields like wedding photography.
All the pictures are linked to full resolution pictures, which are almost 6 MB each.
ISO 400 sample – click for full size
A700 body feels light but very solid. Although it is chunkier than 7D it is considerably lighter, or at least feels so because you expect much more weight from a camera of such a size. This is not a surprise due to the fact that outer skin is made from magnesium alloy while the internal skeleton is made from hard aluminium (similar to Duralumin). It is claimed that body is dust/moisture resistant with buttons, dials, slots and the viewfinder protected with silicone seals. It felt like having real professional camera in my hand, especially when I put the vertical grip on. It looks much larger than the 7D in the photo but that’s because the Portrait Grip is making the A700 taller.
Sony representatives told us that this model is a replacement for 7D. It is difficult to me to compare ergonomics of 7D versus Alpha 700, due to the fact that I worked with 7D only for a short time. My professional obligations forced me to change my system when I switched to digital photography. Anyway, I became familiar with Alpha 700 in a minute. It is nicely designed but has a few flaws. As you can see from the picture, the body is very thick which makes the top plate wide. It was impossible to reach DRIVE, WB and ISO buttons (near the rear thumbwheel) during shooting.
Every time when I wanted to reach one of these functions I had to move the camera from shooting position. Although I always shoot RAW+JPG, I like to preview various WB results. I also like to change ISO frequently in order to get slow or fast shutter speeds without changing depth of field, to control depth of field without changing shutter speed, or to accommodate to shooting conditions. In my opinion, inability to change ISO on the fly is the biggest drawback of Alpha 700 ergonomics. However people with hands bigger than mine, or with different shooting habits, may find this objection insignificant.
ISO 100 sample – click for full size
As a friend of mine had 7D with him, I was able to directly compare viewfinders. It seems to me that viewfinder on Alpha 700 is slightly brighter. I wonder if the reason of this brighter view is the new Super Spherical Acute Matte screen, which Sony has announced, as well as the new coatings they have applied to the prism surfaces.
One of the biggest surprises was LCD screen – it is a kind of miracle! At the time they gave us camera to test it, the sun was very strong and high on the sky. In spite of that, the stronger the sun was, the brighter the LCD became. In strong direct sunlight, the picture on the LCD starts to look like a hologram shining the light on you, not to mention that LCD is really big and has a very high resolution.
Another nice upgrade is that active controls have Sony’s orange colour. If you are shooting in A mode, the aperture value shown on LCD will be in the ‘cinnabar’ colour so you know which parameter you control when turning dials. When you are in the shooting mode, by pressing “Fn” button you will be switched to the “Quick Navigation” function that allows you to quickly and easily adjust all important shooting parameters with the joystick only.
ISO 800 sample – click for full size
For me, vertical grip is must-have. I am glad to inform you that the one Sony provides for Alpha 700 is almost perfect. It duplicates all the controls from body including the joystick and even the exposure compensation button, which is normally on the top plate.
Shooting in practice
This is more or less my first impression about body, commands and external parts of the camera. Let’s go to the shooting experience.
First I want to comment picture quality – it is really great considering we are dealing with JPEGs directly from camera. I shoot RAW+JPEG but Sony did not provide us with software for RAW conversion. In previous article I have already posted high ISO samples. Now you can find new pictures with normal ISO settings. Spoiled by high quality of new generations of digital SLRs my definition of high ISO is 3200 or more, and I consider ISO 1600 as a normal ISO for shooting interiors, sports, concerts and similar events. Here is an ISO 1600 picture made in the vintage car during our return from field trip:
What I miss on A700 is a low ISO option for shooting with limited depth of field without ND filter on bright days (it goes down to 100 – do you want ISO 50? DK). I must apologize for not have all information about lenses we had used for test shooting in Italy. Sony provided us with limited number of cameras – one camera was shared among four of us. Unfortunately, we also had limited time so I was not able to take notes about lenses.
I tried everything from the new kit lens provided with camera to 70-200 f/2.8 G, and I also used several old Minolta lenses. Focusing is significantly improved compared to A100. It works fast and precisely even in low light. Although the specification’s parameters say that A700 uses the same metering system as A100, it is obvious that metering algorithms are improved. A700 is equipped with new generation of BIONZ processor, which enable advanced new algorithms. Here are the pictures made in different metering modes with the 70-200 f/2.8 G.
Above: Pattern metering (40-segment)
And here is the one in which I shot directly into the sun with the 35 mm f/1.4 Minolta prime, without any exposure compensation.
The D-Range Optimizer, feature that I miss on other systems, is now fully adjustable and the effect can be applied to RAW (a big complaint from A100 users, who found it disabled whenever they wanted a RAW file, even RAW+JPEG). Here are pictures with and without it. As you can see it works great, and is ‘must’ for some types of photography.
In a peaceful Italian village we did not find any fast-moving objects to test continuous shooting at 5 fps – the only moving object was a dog chasing his ball. It is not hard to track such a slow moving object, but anyway I got a good feeling using this camera with continuous drive and focus. The focus system tracked the dog well as it moved towards the camera.
For the end of this short list of impressions, I left the lens resolution issue. It is maybe to early to talk about it, as we have to see pictures without JPEG compression, but I have feeling that many old lenses will not have enough resolution to cope with A700.
I noticed that some pictures are not as sharp as they can be. Maybe one of the reason was the fact that I was not able to carry tripod with me or that I made a mistake during the test by not putting Super Steady Shot OFF when it was not required. I must say that with top quality lenses, I didn’t have problems with picture detail.
To prove my point, here is another picture taken with the 70-200 f/2.8 G. I omitted this one from “metering series” because by mistake it was taken with focal length of 75 mm, not with 70 mm as all the other pictures.
Look at the tiny specks in the sky. Do you wonder what are they? Well take the one closest to the upper edge and magnify it to 100%. Let me help you, I will do it for you. Now you can see what the new A700 can do with a top quality lens!
I am really impressed!