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Sony's Alpha for Amateurs

The Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 takes the top spot in Sony's dSLR lineup.

Sony Alpha DSLR-A700
Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 Sony Electronics

Although it made its unofficial debut under glass at last winter's PMA show with naught but "Sony's amateur dSLR" to identify it--and an equally and still mysterious big brother by its side--Sony's Alpha DSLR-A700 finally gets a name, a price, and some specs today.

The long-awaited (at the very least by Konica-Minolta diehards) midrange dSLR incorporates Sony's latest 12-megapixel CMOS chip. Unlike most other sensors, this new model performs its analog-to-digital conversion on its chip, rather than in the imaging pipeline, which Sony claims delivers better control over image noise.

I had a chance, along with several other journalists, to shoot with the A700 for a couple of days. You can find my comments on the experience in the accompanying slide show.

As you'd expect from the current flagship model, the A700 includes several new and enhanced technologies. For one, the SteadyShot stabilization system--not the optical version, but the sensor-shift mechanism inherited from Konica Minolta--has a new gyro, with claimed improved compensation for high-frequency motion, such as overcaffeinated hands.

Like the Nikon D300, the A700 also sports a somewhat confusingly specced 921,600-dot/307,200-pixel LCD with an approximate 170-degree rated viewing angle.

Sony has also overhauled the focusing system with a new 11-area AF system with 2 each horizontal and vertical line sensors in the center plus an f2.8 sensor to improve focus speed when shooting with a wide-aperture lens.

In-camera processing algorithms also get a boost. Sony's Dynamic Range Optimizer, which applies image adjustment curves to expand the tonal range, now offers an advanced mode that analyzes 1200 segments in the frame for theoretically better results. In addition, there's a DRO bracketing drive mode.

Alpha DSLR-A100 Alpha DSLR-A700 Canon EOS 40D
Sensor 10.2-megapixel CCD
23.6 x 15.8 mm
12.2-megapixel CMOS
23.5 x 15.6mm
10.1-megapixel CMOS
22.2 x 14.8mm
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 1600 ISO 200 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3200
Focal-length multiplier 1.5X 1.5X 1.6X
Continuous shooting 3fps
unlimited JPEG/6 raw
5 fps
8 (Extra fine) or unlimited (Fine) JPEG/18 raw
75 JPEG/17 raw
Viewfinder 95% coverage
0.83X magnification
20mm eye point
fixed matte focusing screen
95% coverage
0.90X magnification
25mm eye point
interchangeable matte focusing screen
2 optional focusing screens: tk
95% coverage
0.95X magnification
22mm eye point
interchangeable matte focusing screen.
2 optional focusing screens $45 each: grid, Super-Precision Matte
Autofocus 9-pt AF
one cross-type sensor in center
11-pt AF
two cross-type sensors in center (one f/2.8)
9-pt AF
all cross-type to f/5.6
Live View Limited No Yes
LCD size 2.5 inches
230,000 pixels
3 inches
307,200 pixels
3 inches
230,000 pixels
Shutter durability n/a 100,000 cycles 100,000 cycles
(body only)
$699.99 $1,399 $1,299

As is becoming the trend, the A700 includes an HDMI connector for output to an HDTV. Sony takes it one step further--at least for those few who plan to complement their A700 with a Bravia TV--by introducing PhotoTV HD viewing, a still-image optimized mode that automatically downconverts and applies relevant color and tonal range adjustments to show your photos at their best.

f3.5-f/5.6 16mm-to-105mm lens
f3.5-5.6 16mm-105mm lens Sony Electronics
f3.5-6.3 18mm-250mm lens
f3.5-to-f/6.3 18mm-250mm lens Sony Electronics

Wherever dSLRs tread, lenses follow. Accompanying the A700, Sony announced three new lenses. Though it makes a pricey kit,the new $580 f3.5-to f/5.6, 16mm-to-105mm lens covers a good general-purpose range, providing the same angle of view as a 24mm-to-157.5mm lens on a 35mm camera. Also debuting is the $550 f3.5-to-f/6.3, 18mm-to-250mm (27mm-to-375mm-equivalent). And though it won't be available until next spring, Sony announced a f4.5-to-f/5.6 70mm-to-300 mm (105mm-450mm-equivalent) lens that incorporates a supersonic motor in its autofocus system (for quieter, smoother operation).

The A700 is slated to ship around early November in three configurations: the body only for $1,399; a kit with the existing f3.5-to-f/5.6, 18mm-to-70mm lens for $1,499; and a kit including the new f3.5-to-f/5.6, 16mm-to-105mm lens for $1,899.