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The digital SLR market is dominated by Canon, with a share of around 47 percent for its eight-model range. In second place is Nikon, who's seven models have around 33 percent of the market. In third place is Sony, with a market share of roughly 6.2 percent. That may not sound like much in numbers, but it has achieved this in just a year and a half and with only one model, the amazingly successful Alpha A100 digital SLR. At the launch event for that camera, a Sony representative stated the company's intention to shoulder its way into the market and challenge the long-established leaders, and like most of the other journalists present I was somewhat sceptical, however I will gladly admit that I was wrong to doubt. Sony has succeeded in leapfrogging industry veterans Pentax, Olympus, Kodak and Sigma, and Nikon must be glancing nervously into the rear-view mirror, because Sony has just launched a new model aimed at the hobbyist and semi-professional photographer, the Alpha A700.
While the entry-level A100 was aimed at the end of the market dominated by the Canon EOS 400D and Nikon D40, the A700 is going after the mid-level territory of cameras such as the Canon EOS 40D and Nikon D300. If it succeeds as well as the A100 then the next eighteen months could see Sony moving into second place ahead of Nikon, and having now spent some time with the camera, I'd say that both Nikon and Canon have good reason to be worried. The A700 is an extremely impressive camera both in the flesh and on paper. It features Sony's brand new Exmor 12.23-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, the proven Super SteadyShot moving-sensor image stabilisation system, a rugged environmentally-sealed magnesium alloy body and an ultra-sharp three-inch LCD monitor. Its performance claims are equally impressive, with 5fps continuous shooting, an 11-point cross-type AF system, maximum sensitivity of 6400 ISO and a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second.
The A700 is currently available for around £949 body-only, £999 with the standard 18-70mm f3.5-5.6 Sony kit lens, or £1499 with the superb Carl Zeiss T* 16-80mm f3.5-4.5 lens. This is significantly more expensive than the 10-megapixel Canon EOS 40D which is currently selling for £749 body-only or £949 with a 17-85mm f4-5.6 USM lens, but is somewhat cheaper than the 12-megapixel Nikon D300, which is priced at £1299 body-only or £2139 with the 17-55mm f2.8 AF-S DX lens. Sony is clearly hoping that the extra resolution of the A700 will attract potential buyers away from the cheaper Canon, while the lower price will tempt those who would otherwise have opted for the Nikon. The only fly in the highly lucrative ointment could be the impressive 10-megapixel Pentax K10D, which is currently available for just £449 body-only or £733 with an SMC-DA 16-45mm f4 lens.