The A700 is a pretty successful combination of the old and the new, with the control layout showing heavy Konica Minolta influence (as mentioned earlier, the spirit of the original Maxxum 7D lives on in this camera) but the styling taking a considerable step forward. 7D users will immediately notice the lack of a second dial on top of the camera, though we can happily report that we don't miss it, thanks to the A700's new GUI and control system. As with the 7D the camera positively bristles with buttons, switches, levers and dials, which can seem a little daunting at first. The advantage of retaining the Konica Minolta ethos of putting as many dedicated controls on the body as possible becomes more and more apparent the more you use the camera, and having so much control (quite literally) at your fingertips pays real dividends in situations where you need to react quickly to changing conditions.
Build quality is very solid; a real step up from the A100 and certainly a match for the Canon 40D, though if we're being brutally honest the plastics used still feel a little insubstantial, especially when compared to a true 'semi pro' model like the Nikon D300. The grip has a fine-grained rubber coating that could do with a little more 'grip', but overall the impression - in the hand - is very positive.
In your hand
The great news is that ergonomics are excellent; the A700 is not only very comfortable to use, but the key controls (shutter release, dials and multi selector) are perfectly positioned. As mentioned above I'd prefer the body to have a little more grip (a stickier rubber) to give that added bit of reassurance when holding the camera in one hand, but from a design point of view it's hard to fault the shape, balance or overall 'feel'.
Side by side
We'll look more closely at how the A700 compares with its direct competitors when we complete our full review, but as the shot below shows this is a bigger, more serious looking camera than the A100 - and it's a good 130g heavier too. Interestingly the A700 is around 100g / 0.2lb lighter than the 7D was, and it is actually the most lightweight in its class, though size-wise there is isn't a huge difference between the A700 and any of its nearest competitors.
(W x H x D)
(inc. battery & card)
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A100||133 x 95 x 71 mm (5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in)||638 g (1.4 lb)|
|Sony Alpha DSLR-A700||142 x 105 x 80 mm (5.6 x 4.2 x 3.2 in)||768 g (1.7 lb)|
|Pentax K10D||142 x 101 x 70 mm (5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in)||793g (1.7 lb)|
|Canon EOS 40D||146 x 108 x 74 mm(5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in||822 g (1.8 lb)|
|Nikon D300||147 x 114 x 74 mm (5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in)||925 g (2.0 lb)|
The A700 features a new 3.0 inch 'XFine' TFT monitor that boasts 922,000 pixels (640x 3 (RGB) x 480) and appears to be the same unit used on Nikon's new D300. We have to say, it's very, very impressive; sharp, detailed and contrasty, but it's the resolution that really catches your eye. At 270 ppi it's basically impossible to see the pixels with the naked eye, and the visual effect is similar to a good photo print. This makes checking focus in playback a lot easier without the need to zoom right in, and simply makes viewing saved pictures a real treat. We've seen LCD sizes creeping up over the last few years but the latest screens (featured on cameras such as the A700 and the D300) represent a breathtaking step forward in quality. Very, very nice.
The new GUI uses high resolution, beautifully aliased fonts and graphics to give an almost 'print like' quality that is easy on the eye even if it doesn't really make any difference to the actual taking of pictures (nothing wrong with that - I like the 11 speaker system in my car, but it doesn't make it go any faster).
Like the A100 the A700's screen has a pretty effective anti-reflective coating, and like the A100 you'll find yourself wiping smears from it pretty much every time you look at it.
Recording mode display
As per previous Konica Minolta digital SLR's and the A100 before it, the A700 doesn't have any control panel LCD displays, instead it uses the LCD monitor to provide a virtual control panel which summarizes camera settings (there are two levels of detail) and rotates automatically when the camera is placed in the portrait orientation. The big difference is that you can now access the information shown in the display and change settings directly from there (more of which later).
A full breakdown of available information is shown in the diagrams below (camera in horizontal orientation on left, vertical orientation on the right). Note that the diagrams are in the most detailed mode.
Information (advanced mode)
Through the viewfinder you will see the center spot-metering circle and 11 AF areas indicated. The selected / in-use AF area is indicated on a half-press of the shutter release with a red glow. The 'Anti-Shake scale' indicates how much the camera is having to compensate for movement, this is obviously a combination of the current actual movement, focal length and shutter speed, ideally you should be aiming to keep this as low as possible. The viewfinder display is very similar to the A100, though it has been tidied up a little, and there's a few new icons - though still, annoyingly, no ISO in the viewfinder. Note the 16:9 framing guide for those advanced SLR users who prefer to view their pictures on the TV.
The focusing screen image in the diagram above is simulated.