This week Sony invited several hundred European camera journalists to Baveno, on the shore of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy, for the official launch of the Alpha A700, the company's second digital SLR. I was there to cover the event for TrustedReviews, and to take a first look at this much-anticipated new camera.
Sony's first digital SLR, the Alpha A100, was launched in June last year in a similar high-profile press event in Morocco. It has proved to be a big success for Sony, with sales of the camera putting the company into third position in the lucrative DSLR market ahead of industry veterans Pentax and Olympus, and mounting a credible challenge to second-placed Nikon, quite an achievement for a single product.
Where the A100 is an entry-level camera aimed at newcomers and those graduating from digital compacts, the A700 is a more serious proposition. It is designed to meet the needs of advanced hobbyists and semi-professional photographers, and to compete with high-performance models such as the Canon EOS 40D and Nikon D300. It joins the battle with an impressive armoury of features which Sony hope will help increase its market share even further.
Central to the new camera's specification is a 12.24-megapixel CMOS sensor code-named "Exmor", a radical departure from the 10MP CCD sensor of the A100, and similar (or even identical?) to the Sony-supplied sensor in the Nikon D300. The sensor features on-chip A/D conversion and dual noise reduction, directly linked to RAW data noise reduction in the new Bionz image processing engine, which Sony claims will provide superior noise reduction even at the A700's maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 3200. I had the opportunity to briefly try the A700 at its maximum ISO setting, and I have to say that the image quality at ISO 3200 did appear to be pretty good, certainly comparable with other recent high-end DSLRs that I've tried, although I'll wait until I have a review sample and can make some proper test shots before I render judgement on this aspect of the camera's performance.