The Sony A100 received accolades for its Super SteadyShot stabilizer that
also provides automatic dust removal by vibrating the (antistatic-coated) sensor.
The A700 includes both features but employs a more effective Anti-Shake system
that can dampen more high-frequency vibration. According to Sony, the new system
provides up to a four shutter speed step advantage over non-stabilized equipment.
I made many sharp photos at a 1/8 sec shutter speed when using a 70mm focal
length (105mm equivalent). Switching to 1/4 sec still allowed me to make some
photos that are adequately sharp for nice 5x7" prints.
Increased Speed And Efficiency
In order to provide great speed and superior image quality, the A700 employs
entirely new technology, starting with a CMOS (not CCD) sensor that provides
some preliminary data processing. The 12-bit A/D (Analog to Digital) conversion
occurs right on the new "Exmor" silicon chip instead of a separate
A/D processor, for greater overall speed. According to Sony, this technical
approach also provides "rich tonal reproduction" and less digital
noise because of cleaner analog data and a "shorter signal path."
There's also an improved BIONZ processing engine using Large Scale Integrated
(LSI) circuitry for greater speed, two-stage noise reduction before raw data
conversion, and less power drain. This processor also allows for a more versatile
Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) that applies image adjustment curves for better
shadow detail and contrast. Advanced mode is the most effective, since it analyzes
1200 segments in the frame. With the A700, the user can select any of several
DRO levels--or set DRO Bracketing for three shots--for just the right
increase in shadow detail in very contrasty light.
The combination of new sensor, processor, and a larger buffer (temporary storage
bank) combine to generate an "unlimited" number of Large/Fine JPEGs
or 18 raw files in a single burst at 5 fps (frame per second). (For the greatest
burst depth and recording speed use a 166x to 300x CompactFlash card instead
of a Memory Stick Pro/Pro Duo.) Because autofocus must be quick in order to
keep up, it's activated immediately with the Eye-Start feature. Sony developed
a new focus mechanism, faster AF microprocessor, improved algorithms, a more
powerful infrared focus-assist lamp for low light, and a new 11-point AF sensor.
The central focus point includes two horizontal plus two vertical sensors that
allow for quick focus acquisition on virtually any type of subject or pattern.
The improved Sony Image Data Converter SR 2 software is faster and
more versatile than the original version, making it preferable for
modifying raw images before conversion to JPEG or TIFF format. Numerous
functions are available, ranging from surprisingly intuitive to
more advanced/complex, making the program suitable for everyone
from novice to expert.
Although the Super SteadyShot system is most valuable in low-light
photography, this feature can also be useful whenever we want to
use longer shutter speeds while hand holding the camera. In this
case, I was able to make an image with motion blur for a desired
effect while the stabilizer ensured that the static parts of the
scene would be sharply rendered. (At a 1/8 sec shutter speed; ISO
100; Hoya Pro 1 circular polarizer.)
Performance And Image Quality
During extensive shooting, the Sony A700 lived up to its billing as a fast,
versatile camera for serious photography. It started up in a 1/2 sec, activated
AF instantly, responded without any apparent shutter lag, and was almost always
ready to shoot another long burst. Autofocus was fast, accurate, and reliable
even in dark locations. Tracking focus performance in action photography was
very good with an affordable Sony AF 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom. The camera's
new AF system also provides a bonus when used with an f/2.8 or wider aperture
lens: superior focusing accuracy with the dual cross-hatched central AF sensor
The improved Image Stabilizer is very effective, useful for sharper
photos at lower ISO levels when a tripod is not available or is
prohibited. This was an extreme test, using a 230mm focal length
(345mm equivalent) at a 1/30 sec shutter speed. While the
stabilized image is not razor sharp, it's obviously superior
to the image made without the Super SteadyShot system. (ISO 100;
DT 75-300mm zoom; Hoya Pro 1 circular polarizer.)