April 18, 2021

Alphatracks

Sony and Minolta SLR Weblog

New Sony A700: a wake up call for photo media

Features on new Sony dSLR place it in the top tier

Until we can actually get our hands on the new A700, we will have to turn to those lucky dogs who had a chance to actually use a pre-production A700. One of the more interesting preproduction reviews I’ve seen is Dan Richards’ Sony A700 field test at PopPhoto.com.

It seems that Richards was very, very impressed by the A700. Does this signal a major change in the photographic press?

While the Alpha A100 was showered with accolades when it was introduced, I always felt that the photo press simply didn’t know what to think about Sony’s A100.

The media was confused by the A100

The problem was that the A100 didn’t fit nicely into the categories established by the other manufacturers. The 10mp sensor broke a lot of ground in June 2006. Up until then, a 10mp sensor indicated a high-end dSLR. But the A100 had the price and feature set of a starter SLR. So it was either a high-end introductory model or a low-end advanced model. No one seemed to know which.

So the press had no yardstick to compare it to. The problem was intensified because the A100 was Sony’s only dSLR. So when the magazines ran those (usually useless) articles on “Which SLR system is right for you”, the Sony Alpha didn’t fit in very well.

All the other manufacturers had several different cameras that the media could compare against one another in a “shoot out” format. Sony only had a single camera and a handful of lenses, making it appear to be a limited “system” at best. Of course this mind set failed to take into account the millions of Minolta A-mount lenses available in the used market. The media generally doesn’t talk about used stuff when reviewing camera systems. So the photo press tended to ignore the Alpha, since they really couldn’t figure out how to categorize it.

Sony only compounded the problem by keeping their future Alpha plans secret and only doing limited marketing for the A100. It seemed both the press and Sony were intent on ignoring the Alpha line.

Alpha A700 set to impress the media

I believe the A700 might signal the end of that way of thinking. Unlike the A100, which had one foot in the low-end starter SLR camp and the other foot in the advanced dSLR corral, the A700 appears to be a true advanced enthusiast camera.

Until now, the press has divided the SLR market into two categories. There’s the Nikon/Canon group and then there’s everyone else. The Alpha was included in the second group by default.

The first group receives the lion’s share of coverage. Of course the smaller, secondary group does receive some recognition, but it usually pales when compared with the big two.

That was then. this is now.

In one swift (OK, not so swift) move, Sony has solidly moved into the Canon/Nikon class. It might not happen overnight, but the press can’t ignore the A700, it is too good of a camera. If the announced specs and picture quality live up to the press releases, the A700 is as good or better than anything in it’s price class.

If you read Richards’ article, he has nothing bad to say about the A700. He stresses that the improved auto-focus is excellent, shown by a Sony marketing stunt involving an attacking bi-plane.

For years I covered the auto industry “long lead press previews.” The auto manufactures would gather the press to show off their latest models. They were expert at arranging tests and situations that would paint their vehicles in the best possible light. They did their very best to let the press drive new vehicles in conditions that the car or truck excelled in.

Sony struts A700 Auto Focus for media’s benefit

If Sony was so so confident in the improved AF that they hired a bi-plane to buzz the demo A700 equipped photographic press, the AF on the A700 must be very good. Otherwise Sony would have arranged some other type of demo and avoided situations involving fast action.

Richards’ also calls the A700 controls excellent. This is in contradiction to the many users who bemoan the lack of extensive switches and dials available to set-up the Alpha 700. I too, am concerned that the A700 relies too much on menus instead of dials, but I haven’t used the camera. Richards has and he labels the controls and handling as excellent.

In his review, Richards says that his sunset shots taken at ISO 2000 appeared clean and sharp, although he doesn’t say whether he inspected the images on a computer monitor, printed them out or just looked at them on the A700’s 3″ LCD. Sony apparently didn’t allow images taken with the pre-release cameras to be taken home by the media, so we will have to wait to see high ISO images from production A700 cameras. Still, all indications are that Sony has taken great pains to reduce high ISO noise in the A700.

…by photographers for photographers…

At the end of his review, Richards says “…the A700 is a camera designed by photographers for photographers…” Wow. Those are the sort of comments the press used to make about Minolta SLRs. It’s not the typical comment we heard about the A100.

If the A700 is that good, I think we may see that the Sony Alpha series will shortly join Canon and Nikon as a top tier camera in the eyes of the photo press.

And then there were three….