It also provides Eye-Start AF -- when the sensor below the viewfinder detects an object, ostensibly your eye, it initiates AF -- a holdover from the A100. This model augments it with a grip sensor to minimise false starts. We're not fans of Eye-Start AF, since we find it disconcerting as well as battery draining, but we can see how some would find it useful. You can turn it all off if you want, as we do.
In some cases, the A700 offers features and options not usually found in a camera of this class. For instance, you can choose how long the AF area displays, as well as set both minimum and maximum values -- not just maximum -- for the Auto ISO range.
As we've said elsewhere, we'd love the ability to set similar boundaries for aperture and shutter speed as well. It also has extremely nice power handling -- like all Sony InfoLithium systems, it reports percentage of battery life remaining. With the battery grip attached and loaded with two batteries, the camera reports for both batteries. Like the 40D, the A700 supports interchangeable focusing screens.
And because it's from Sony, the A700 naturally has a TV tie-in. You can display photos on an HDTV via HDMI, thanks to a mini-HDMI connector on the camera, though Sony doesn't bundle a cable -- and they're still pretty pricey.
The camera automatically downconverts images for optimal presentation. If you happen to have a recent-vintage Bravia TV, the latter can automatically switch into a photo-optimised colourspace, called PhotoTV mode, when connected to the A700 -- and likely with forthcoming Sony snapshot cameras, as well. It's certainly a nice perk.
Like the 40D, Sony supplies a compressed raw format, cRaw, designed for faster raw-format burst shooting, in addition to its various combinations of standard raw and JPEG files. Unlike Canon's spatially compressed -- that is, lower resolution -- sRaw, however, Sony's cRaw uses lossless compression to shrink file size from about 18MB to 12MB. On one hand, cRaw does let you shoot about seven more frames in a burst --more, but not faster.
In-camera processing algorithms also get a boost. Sony's Dynamic Range Optimiser, which applies image adjustment curves to expand the tonal range, now offers an advanced mode that analyses 1,200 segments in the frame. In addition, there's a .
In a similar vein, the A700 ships with seven Creative Styles, which are named presets of combinations of contrast, saturation, sharpness and brightness: Standard, Vivid, Neutral, AdobeRGB, Portrait, Landscape and Black and White. Of those, the last three support user adjustments and add a Zone setting option, which can automatically adjust the tonal range for high-key (bright) or low-key (shadowy) scenes.
By the numbers, the A700 delivers very good -- though not outstanding -- performance for its class. It can shoot 0.5 seconds after power up, the same amount of time it takes to focus and shoot a typical well-lit scene, and two consecutive nonburst shots edges up to 0.6 seconds.
These results put it about 0.1 seconds behind the 40D overall for single shots, though in practice we didn't feel much of a difference. The responsive feel may be attributable to the overhauled focusing system, which uses 11 area AF sensors, two each horizontal and vertical line sensors in the centre plus an f/2.8 sensor to improve focus speed when shooting with a wide-aperture lens.