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Sony Alpha A700 Preview

The overall design of the A700 naturally has some similarities to the A100, but also bears a slight resemblance to the Konica-Minolta Dynax 7D. The body is made of magnesium alloy for strength and lightness. It weighs 690g without battery or card, which compares to 740g for the Canon EOS 40D and 825g for the Nikon D300. Despite its low weight the camera body is environmentally protected, with weatherproof grommets on all buttons, dials and hatches. It's not waterproof as such, but it should be able to withstand rain and dust without too much problem. The camera features the same successful dust-removal system as the A100, as well as the same Super Steady Shot sensor-shift image stabilisation system, although it has been re-tuned for the heavier camera to damp out more high-frequency vibration, and now provides 3-4 stops of low-speed shake-reduction, which is comparable with the performance of Canon's lens-based IS system.

The A700 features many new components, such as an excellent pentaprism viewfinder, which is one of the largest and brightest I've seen on a digital SLR. It also has a new shutter mechanism. The A100 has a rather noisy shutter action, but the A700 is much smoother and quieter. It's possibly a little noisier than its Canon and Nikon rivals, but not by much. Its maximum shutter speed is vastly improved, with a top setting of 1/8000th of a second and flash sync speed up to 1/250th of a second, comparable performance to both the EOS 40D and D300. The camera's performance has also been enhanced, with a maximum shooting speed of five frames a second, and a buffer capacity of 16 frames in the highest quality JPEG mode, 18 frames in RAW mode or 25 frames in the new compressed RAW mode. In Fine or Standard mode it can shoot until the memory card is full.

While the light metering system is apparently unchanged from the A100's excellent 40-segment honeycomb-pattern sensor, the A700's AF system is improved, with a new 11-point system with dual centre cross sensors and a special sensor for lens apertures of f/2.8 and larger. It is also equipped with a powerful infra-red AF-assist lamp for improved low-light focusing. It also has a button on the back of the camera to quickly toggle between AF and MF modes. One of the key features of the A100 is its Dynamic Range Optimiser system, which helps to retain shadow and highlight detail in high-contrast shots. This feature is improved for the A700, and is now adjustable with five optimisation levels.

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