The A700 is confused. You see, Sony has placed its specs and price firmly in the prosumer range, yet so much about its Alpha range's flagship camera is entrenched in entry-level town.
This means we have a few gripes to get off our chest before we get into the meaty stuff. First, Sony offer a choice of two lens kits – and both are entry-standard zooms made from what feels like recycled ice-cream tubs. Why bother? When prepared to pay £1,000 for a camera, you buy it body only and choose the lens that suits you.
Talking of build, the A700 doesn't feel anywhere near as solid as competitors like the virtually bombproof Olympus E-3 or Canon EOS 40D.
Last complaint is the mode dial on top of the camera. Again, when you're spending this much money, why would you be interested in 'scene' modes? Serious photographers know what settings they want for a certain type of shot, and the controls offered by the A700 make it super-easy to change them already.
That leads us nicely onto all the good bits, like those controls. The layout is excellent, with dedicated buttons to change ISO, white balance, EV, continuous shooting etc, and click wheels front and back for changing aperture size and shutter speed with ease. The control stick on the rear is also better placed for the thumb than most D-pads, but the lack of a top-mounted LCD is surprising.
Image quality is generally excellent up to ISO 800, but above that it gets too noisy for serious use – no worse than the similarly priced Olympus E-3, but nowhere near as impressive as the Nikon D300. The in-camera image stabiliser is very effective at shutter speeds between 1/15 and 1/40 of a second. Colours are generally a little cool at standard settings, but that's easily fixed.
What isn't so easily fixed is the shutter noise, which – compared to its competitors – sound like a gunshot. This isn't a camera for subtle reportage, especially if you intend machine-gunning with the 5fps continuous shooting.
It's tough to recommend this Alpha above the superior E-3, or for little more money the even better D300. If you've already got a selection of Sony or Minolta lenses, go for it. Or perhaps if you pick one up and think, "Hmm, nice and light" rather than "Hmm, feels a bit cheap..."