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A great-performing DSLR for photos on a budget.
Consumer trends toward digital SLR cameras have made what were once professional tools part of the mainstream. Sony’s top-of-the-line camera from its Alpha series, the DSLR-A700, offers features not found on entry-level DSLRs, making it a capable camera for the professional on a budget—or the aspiring enthusiast.
We used the A700 to shoot an auto racing event, as well as family vacation photos. The camera performed well in both situations, working with us when we wanted total control of the image and working for us when we didn’t feel like thinking about exposure. It was a joy to use, and the resulting images were excellent.
People often buy DSLRs because they want precise control over focus and exposure. The A700 offers photographers control dials for aperture, shutter speed, and shooting mode; a lever for metering mode; dedicated autofocus on/off and auto exposure lock buttons for the right thumb; ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and drive mode buttons; a custom button that can be assigned any function; and a button that brings up a Quick Menu for setting common options.
A focus mode lever on the front can be set to single-shot, for still objects; continuous, so the camera can track moving objects; or automatic. The autofocus system can use one or all of 11 points, for added flexibility when composing. Zooming and manual focusing were smooth on the SAL-1870 lens included in the DSLR-A700K bundle we tested.
The A-700’s 12.24-megapixel sensor captures images larger than what it would take to print an 8x10 at 300 dpi. The sensor can be pushed as high as ISO 6400 for shorter exposure times in low light, though we don’t recommend shooting above ISO 3200 when shooting JPEGs, to prevent noise. The image stabilization built into the camera moves the sensor to compensate for camera shake, enabling sharp images with longer exposures than would otherwise be possible.
The camera offers high-speed drive modes of 3 or 5 frames per second, great for shooting sports. With a UDMA compact flash card inserted, we were able to take 19 RAW images before the camera stuttered; in JPEG mode, we got up to 28 images in sequence. We don’t need to take that many shots continuously, but that’s the point. We didn’t worry about missing shots.
The A700 connects to an HDTV by HDMI or to a standard-definition television with a composite video cable for image display. The included wireless remote control can be used for playing back images, as well as shooting, and the camera can also be controlled over USB via the included software.
When buying a DSLR, an important consideration is the lens family you’re buying into, because if you later switch to a DSLR from a different manufacturer, the lenses you already own probably won’t be compatible. We shot with an SAL-75300 lens ($229.99) for the auto race, and our images were fantastic. Sony also offers professional, wider-aperture lenses, and the A700 is compatible with existing Minolta lenses you might already own. The A700 is a capable, durable—and, above all, likeable—shooter. We wish we didn’t have to send it back to Sony.