by David Emerick
I've been shooting with digital cameras since 1999 or so. I think my first was a Nikon 900. It was quite a change after working exclusively with a 4x5 since 1980—it was like using a Kodak disc camera (remember those? The negatives were the size of your fingernail). But I had a feeling that digital was here to stay, and I needed to learn a whole new paradigm. Then, of course, there was very limited and costly output. I hoped things would change.
When the Sony F-828 hit the market, I think around 2003, I grabbed one. I spent the better part of three years working out a workflow and color management scheme for the F-828 and RAW with my Epson 9600 and a dedicated G4 print server. Got a Spyder2Pro monitor calibrator and Print Fix Pro colorimeter, creating my own profiles, the whole nine yards. The F-828 has been a durable performer with good optics, but I needed to make a step up. The Sony a700 was my first sortie into the DSLR market, and I wanted it to be a good first step. Comparing the specifications of the cameras in my price range of around $2,000, the Sony looked like a good choice.
The a700 felt good the first time I picked it up. It's light and ergonomically comfortable. The screen is large and very easy to read. With the large icons and the single toggling "joystick," the menus are easy to navigate.
The a700 actually weighs less than my Nikon F2! I think I only picked up the manual once to read about the differences in RAW and cRAW; everything else was pretty straightforward (cRAW, by the way, is a compressed RAW format). The camera also supports Adobe RGB, which is my preferred color working space for printing on the Epson 9600. All good.
There was still some light in the sky when I got the camera so I ventured out the door and began shooting. Two things that had really bugged me about shooting with the F-828 were that it could only record in RAW+JPEG, so the Flash card would fill fairly quickly and I would have to delete half the files when importing the photos. The other thing was a delay in capturing the image to the card. It took several seconds before I could make another exposure, and that really drove me nuts at times. Both of these issues were nonexistent with the a700: it shoots up to 5 frames per second at full resolution and had the option of only recording in RAW.
The 18–70mm ƒ/3.5–5.6 "kit" lens seems very sharp, although I really want to compare it with the Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* DT 16–80mm lens. The auto-focus response was quick and smooth and it only tries to focus when you put your eye to the viewfinder, but that is just one of the four auto-focusing control settings to choose from. There are also wide, local, and spot focusing modes as well as a focus hold button, all very conveniently located.
I just really enjoyed shooting with this camera right out of the box!
The downside is that Aperture, Capture One, and iPhoto do not support the new RAW data format yet, although they all support the a100, so I suspect in time everyone will support the a700. Adobe Camera Raw does open images but I am not sure it is interpreting the information as well as it could—the images seem slightly overexposed.
Upon analyzing the images I see very little noise and fringing (one thing the F-828 was not great at).
Here is a shot cropped to 100%:
...and the full image:
As you can see there is good definition in the shadows / highlights and the clarity is very good. Granted you are viewing a compressed JPEG on the web.
I would be happy to answer questions about the a700, but I'll be in D.C. this weekend and away from "the internets," so don't expect answers before next week.
The upshot for now is that I've been shooting for about three weeks and I am very happy with this next step in digital imagemaking, although I still miss the traditional 4x5 negative and printing from it. Of course I don't miss the brown fingernails and smelling like fixer all the time.