For advanced creative control the A700 features a much wider range of colour parameters, with 14 pre-set Image Styles available at the press of a button. The main mode dial has the usual settings of program, aperture and shutter priority and full manual, as well as a range of program settings and a memory recall mode in which up to three user settings can be instantly recalled. The menu system has also been radically changed, and the camera now has a Quick Navigation user interface system similar to the one pioneered by Olympus on its digital SLRs, where the shooting data display on the monitor doubles as a fully navigable menu. The monitor screen itself is one of the biggest improvements. It is a three-inch display with an astonishing 920,000 dots, making it by far the sharpest camera monitor on the market.
As well as all the goodies on offer inside the camera, the A700 has several accessories that are worth a mention. It comes with a remote control as standard which can be used as a remote shutter release, but can also be used in playback mode when displaying your photos. The A700 has an HDMI output socket for connection to a modern HD TV, and is also the first product to feature Sony's new PhotoTV HD system. When the camera is connected to a compatible Sony Bravia TV, it automatically sets the TV to optimise for displaying still images. A 1616 x 1080 or 1920 x 1080 resolution image is embedded in the saved file for each image, optimised for either 3:2 or 16:9 viewing.
Another useful accessory is the optional vertical grip, which is designed to exactly duplicate the control positions of the normal camera grip, and also holds an extra battery, doubling the camera's battery life to an impressive 1,300 shots. The A700 also now fully implements Sony's InfoLithium technology, so remaining battery capacity is displayed on the screen as a percentage.
All in all the A700 is an auspicious and impressive second camera in what is shaping up to be a very good system. The addition of two new top-quality Carl Zeiss lenses, including a particularly gorgeous 16-105mm F3.5-5.6 zoom and a useful 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 wide-range zoom, as well as a new G-series 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 show that Sony is definitely taking the Alpha system seriously. Personally I'm really looking forward to fully reviewing the camera, hopefully in a few weeks time.
The Sony Alpha A700 will be available from October 2007, and although the official UK price has yet to be confirmed, based on some semi-official hints it is likely to be in the region of Â£900 body-only.