The Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 digital SLR is a complex, well-made camera with tons of controls. The A700 takes exceptionally sharp, well-exposed shots.

First impressions of the Alpha DSLR-A700, Sony's £1,124 inc VAT, 12Mp digital single-lens reflex camera, brings to mind terms like "massive," "brick-like," and "complex". With its deep righthand grip and 1.25Kg weight (which includes the zoom lens in the kit we tested), it feels big and heavy.

That impression is, however, a bit deceiving. The Sony Alpha DSLR-A700's body is comparable in size to the Canon EOS 30D, and most of the Sony's weight is in the lens - the body, without a battery, is 0.68g, less than the 30D or the Samsung Digimax GX-10 we reviewed at the same time as the Sony. Some of that savings in weight comes from the Sony's magnesium body, which should also add to its overall durability.

Unlike some other digital SLR brands, Sony did not go cheap on the kit lens bundled with its camera: The £1,124 inc VAT price includes a zoom lens with an appealing 24mm to 158mm (35mm equivalent) focal length.

Purchasing the body alone reduces the price again. Apart from this lens, however, the number of other lenses and accessories available for this model is limited.

Complex the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 certainly is - it probably has more exposure controls than any other DSLR we've seen to date. That said, the camera's ease of use is still exceptionally good. Like most current DSLRs, it has fore and aft selector dials for quickly changing shutter speeds, aperture values, and exposure compensation.

But it also has a healthy number of nicely placed, well-labeled, dedicated buttons for key controls such as white balance, drive mode, ISO setting, and metering modes.

Our favourite feature, however, is the Function button on the back of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700. In shooting mode, the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 displays a comprehensive summary of your exposure settings on its 3in LCD.

By pressing the Function button, then working the mini-joystick and the selector dials, you can directly select and change any of the displayed settings right on the screen. It's extremely quick and intuitive.

Other high points for the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 include slots for both Memory Stick Pro Duo and Compact Flash media; built-in optical image stabilisation that works with all of Sony's Alpha lenses; 5-frames-per-second (fps) burst shooting; three memory registers for custom user settings; plus a wireless remote and an HDMI port for viewing your images on a high-definition display.

Image bracketing options in the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 are extensive. In addition to the usual automatic exposure bracketing, it has white balance, flash bracketing with one shot, and two levels of dynamic-range bracketing. This latter feature is useful in scenes with extremely high contrast.

In a test shot that included the interior of a room and a window with a bright outdoor scene, turning up the dynamic range greatly improved shadow detail, although with a slight overexposure of the highlights.

NEXT PAGE: testing the Sony Alpha DSLR-A700 and our expert verdict > >

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