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9/10

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Sony Alpha A700 Digital SLR - Sony Alpha A700 Digital SLR

In terms of features the A700 certainly acquits itself well in comparison to the competition. A major selling point is of course the body-integral Super SteadyShot moving-sensor image stabilisation system, which has been improved from the version on the A100 to take account of the new model's extra weight, and now offers a maximum of four stops of extra stability when shooting at slow shutter speeds. I personally prefer this type of image stabilisation to the lens-based optical system used by Canon and Nikon. While is doesn't stabilise the view through the viewfinder, it does mean that lenses are generally smaller, lighter and less expensive, and works with even the cheapest lens in the system. With the stability of the heavier chassis and smooth operation of the shutter release I found that with care I was able to take some very long exposure shots hand-held, including some at exposures of several seconds, although obviously this is not recommended.

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A well-justified complaint levelled at the A100 was its relatively loud shutter and mirror action, but this has been much improved on the A700. Although it is still somewhat louder than Canon's whisper-quiet EOS 40D, it is now much smoother and quieter. Having drawn disapproving glances from the congregation when using the A100 to take wedding photos during a service, I used the A700 for the same task without embarrassment.

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Another big improvement over the earlier model is the AF system, which now has eleven sensors with a cross-type centre sensor for increased speed and accuracy. The focus points are spread out quite widely over about half of the frame area, with the outermost positions being half-way between the centre and the edge. It is without question one of the best AF systems I have ever encountered, focusing quickly and accurately in all lighting conditions. I tried it out at a firework display, snap-shooting at the fireworks as they burst overhead, and found that it was able to focus on the explosion in a fraction of a second and capture the shot just as the firework reached full bloom When shooting fireworks it's usual practice to use a tripod, but I found that I was able to capture some good shots this way hand-held, which is quite a feat for any camera.

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