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Shooting speed has also been improved thanks to Sony's fast BIONZ image processor chip. Shooting in the RAW+JPEG mode that most serious photographers will prefer, in single shot mode the A700 has a consistent shot-to-shot time of approximately 0.6 seconds, while in high-speed continuous shooting mode it can fire off ten frames in just over two seconds before having to pause to write the buffer contents to the memory card. This takes around 15 seconds, but writing is sequential so the camera can shoot single frames almost immediately. There is also a slower 3fps continuous mode. Shooting in JPEG Extra Fine mode, the performance is a bit more irregular. In continuous mode it fires four frames at either 3fps or 5fps, but then slows to around 1.5fps, which rate it appears to be able to maintain until the memory card is full.
Also improved is the Dynamic Range Optimiser (DRO) feature, which now has three levels of operation, providing extra user control over this vital feature.
The A700 is a bit of a memory hog. Shooting in the almost uncompressed Extra Fine mode it produces very large files averaging around 9MB, which is great for picture quality but does mean that a 1GB memory card is enough for only 93 shots. In RAW + JPEG Fine mode the 1GB card is only enough for 39 shots, but there is also a compressed RAW mode which increases this to 53 shots with minimal reduction in quality. Battery life is also good, with Sony claiming 650 shots on a full charge. The A700 also includes Sony's proprietary InfoLithium system, so that remaining battery life is shown as a percentage figure, a lot more useful than the ‘four bars' system used by most other manufacturers.
The A700's menu system reveals a huge amount of user control, with useful features such as selectable minimum and maximum settings for auto ISO, three levels of high-ISO noise control, and seven Creative Style options, each of which is configurable with +/- 3 steps in contrast, saturation and sharpness. There are many more features which deserve more explanation, but this review is already turning into a bit of an epic so if you want to learn more I'd suggest going to Sony's website and downloading a brochure.
Of course the crucial area on which any new camera will stand or fall is image quality, and here Sony has really scored. All that sophisticated technology really does work, and the A700 produces some of the best images I've seen from a digital SLR, and certainly from one in this price bracket. With the excellent Carl Zeiss T* lens providing virtually perfect edge-to-edge sharpness, the ultra-fast AF system proving virtually infallible and the very low file compression making the most of it all, the A700 turns in superb results in virtually all circumstances. High-ISO noise control is excellent, with printable images showing good detail and colour at 3200 ISO. The actual gain in overall detail compared to a good 10MP DSLR is marginal, but there's no denying that overall image quality is up there with the very best. If you were considering buying a Nikon D300, Pentax K10D or Canon EOS 40D, you really should take a look at the A700. You will not be disappointed.
Having produced what is arguably the best entry-level DSLR on the market in the A100, Sony has followed it up with another outstanding camera. The A700 is a superb tool for the enthusiast or semi-professional photographer, providing high quality results in almost any conditions. The combination of rugged durability, fast performance, a class-leading AF system, on-board image stabilisation and great handling will prove hard to beat.
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