Tag Archives: a700

Things I’d Like to See on an a700 Replacement.

Sony’s working on a new a700-level camera. As a current a700 owner, I’d be interested in upgrading to this camera sometime. I’m hoping they do several things to this camera in terms of feature set. We know the camera’s going to have video recording and some kind of live view, so let’s take that as a given.

a700 Replacement Concept

a700 Replacement Concept

Improve the Autofocus: This is a given. The AF has to be a big step forward. It’s a bridge too far to expect it to be the better of the D300’s system, but it has to be competitive. Add in more cross sensors, make the sensitive area larger, and improve the tracking. Not only that, improve the detection of focus distance for the least amount of effort and allow grouping of AF points.

Improve the metering (flash and ambient): Another given. The 500 series already improved on this a bit, but one again, we can never have too accurate of a meter.

Incorporate flash improvements: Allow the a700 replacement to use the HVL-F58AM as a commander in CTRL-2 mode to use older Minolta flashguns in ratio mode. Also allow the popup flash to act as a ratio commander. How about a Flash Value lock to fire a preflash early? Also, include the a550’s full time slow sync mode.

Improve dual card slot functionality: Allow for the splitting of RAW/JPEG to different card slots, or use mirroring on the slots to act as a backup. Allow us to change this via QuickNavi, too. Or allow for automatic switchover when one card is full.

Add an AF Point Lock: I don’t really care HOW they do it, be it a physical switch or some other method. Just put it in there.

Add AF Microadjust: Bring it over from the a900 for fun and profit.

Rerwrite the drive menu: Most of the drive menu options are OK, but we need more bracketing options. More than three frames in a bracket, more than 2 EV difference, with or without mirror lockup for HDR. Give us more drive modes!

Include Copyright Information: Although I use Lightroom to set this information, some guys don’t do imports. Let them apply copyright metadata directly to images.

A Transparent LCD Focusing Screen: Along with configurable AF points, this will allow for more information on the viewfinder, like grid lines, battery info, et cetera.

More Info in the Viewfinder: Specifically, put the freakin’ ISO in there. It’s about damn time.

More Body Button Configurability: For instance, let the EV button control flash compensation if I want it to. Hold down a combination of buttons (e.g. Delete and Fn for 3 seconds) to prompt for a format of the primary memory card. Let me set that FV Lock feature I just talked about to DOF preview. How about enabling AF-MF to act like an AF ON button?

Put the Sync port on the front: Like the a900. Basically, make all of the ports clear of potential L-brackets.

Tiltable Screen: If this thing has live view and no tilting screen, I’ll be disappointed.

More functions for the DOF Preview/Lens Button: Allow the button to enable MF Check Live View, enable intelligent preview, DOF preview, focus hold, focus start, memory adjustment, quick focus mode change (AF-A/S to AF-C while held, for instance).

Make Custom White Balance Faster: Give us some shortcut to set a custom WB to the current register.

Bring in the Auto HDR mode from the a5x0 series: This works amazingly well and should be part of DRO on this new camera.

Create an automatic multi-exposure mode: Slightly different than the auto HDR in end result, but a similar idea in and of itself. Allow the user to take multiple exposures and merge them together into one file on the camera.

Include a built-in Eyepiece Shutter: Bring this feature along from the a900. I hate using the clip on one.

Allow the use of non-ROM lenses in Aperture Priority Mode: Keep the a700’s behavior the same. Don’t make it like the a900 or the consumer cameras.

Illuminate the new extra LCD panel via metered light: If the metered light is under a certain EV, light it up, just like on the old Minolta film cameras. Use an efficient light that doesn’t drain excessive battery power.

In-body level: It would be really cool to have an auto-level when using the camera so that bubble levels are unnecessary.

Add Help Screens for custom functions: The lower level cameras have help screens for basic functions, but IMO the higher level cameras can eschew that in favor of help screens that can detail info about what each custom setting in the menu does.

Allow saving of custom settings to memory card/PC: this also means allow us to do custom settings configuration from, say, Remote Camera Control.

Allow precise clock setting: This means setting a time zone and setting the time in the cemera by seconds to synchronize clocks. If Sony ever adds a GPS attachment, allow the camera to determine the time via GPS time.

Create custom menus: Allow the user to create a list of frequently used menu items, a la My Menu.

That should be enough from me for now. I know nobody at Sony will actually read this, so into the great internet circular file it goes.

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Some camera UI thoughts

One of the nice things I like about my a700 is that the camera is designed to be speedy and easily used in a lot of situations. The designers got a lot right (with a few things wrong) when they put it together.

The first thing that you see when you look at an a700 is that it has a ton of buttons. A veritable assload, even. There’s dedicated buttons for many common functions and a few general use buttons too. The top panel buttons include Drive mode, White Balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. The backside buttons are the Autoexposure lock, AF/MF toggle, the metering mode switch, the Fn (function) button, the C (custom) button, and the standard array of Menu, Display, Delete, and Playback on the left side. The first thing about these buttons is that they’re all dedicated. They do not duplicate functions in shooting mode or in playback. Some shooting buttons do have functions in playback mode, but they don’t do TWO playback or TWO shooting functions, for instance. The playback functions are clearly marked in blue color as well. This means that when you press the WB button, you always get White Balance, no matter what. Same for Drive and ISO too. You’ll never have a button that does one thing in A mode versus P mode, for instance. They’re very consistent in their usage.

All of the shooting buttons are also located within the reach of your right hand. You can reach your thumb up and touch the WB or ISO buttons (drive is a bit of a stretch for me) without removing your eye from the viewfinder, and your changes show up in the viewfinder screen. You don’t need to remove the camera from your eye to make changes. The buttons are also large and set into the body differently for each one. This way you can tell them apart by touch. The WB and ISO buttons are countersunk into the body shell, while the Drive button is not. The exposure comp button is a dish shaped top instead of a dome shaped top. The AF/MF toggle is not countersunk but it is recessed within the body to prevent accidental activation, and the AEL button is set within the metering mode switch. This is also important for another shooting scenario – gloves. The buttons are large enough and spaced far enough apart that it’s very easy to operate the camera on a cold winter’s day wearing a set of heavy Thinsulate gloves. In my climate this is quite useful as I like to go spotting in the wintertime and having gloves is a requirement.

The other great thing about the buttons is that most are duplicated on the vertical grip. The exposure comp, AEL, AF/MF, joystick, C, and Fn buttons are duplicated for portrait shooting so you can minimize turning the camera over again. Given the auto-rotation of the a700’s screen, it makes it almost painless to shoot vertically. This is in addition to the true grip of the vertical grip with the shutter aligned with the viewfinder, just like it is when you shoot horizontally. You can operate QuickNavi in portrait just as easily as you can in landscape, too.

This all comes together to form a consistent user interface that obeys its own rules. It’ll frustrate you in other ways – namely the fact that there are no button locks save for turning the camera off (there is a command dial software lock) and that there’s no AF point lock/selector switch. Changing AF point mode via quicknavi is OK to me, but there should be a switch on the camera around the joystick that enables locking the selected AF point when in multi-AF point select mode. Some have complained about the lack of no lock on the  mode dial, but I’ve never had it move accidentally.

The newer entry level Sonys have ditched the physical SteadyShot switch, which I am actually OK with if they do this on the a700 replacement – so long as its changeable via QuickNavi. The problem with physical switches is that their settings can’t be saved with user memories. They’re always fixed to their settings on the actual switch itself. Your custom memories can’t have AF-S or AF-C, for instance, nor can they have SteadyShot on or off. The risk is that setting custom memories with settings different than the switches can lead to a conflict issue – the physical switch says one thing while the memory does another. Sony’s tack with not saving the custom memories for the switches today works with that metaphor, so you don’t wind up in that situation.

Could the a700 use more buttons or dials (not just lock switches)? Maybe. The C (custom) button solves my want for a flash exposure compensation button. It does the job very well. I would like to see the actual exposure comp button have a custom function to do flash exposure comp, though. Pressing it and using the rear dial could adjust flash comp, while the front button adjusts normal compensation, for instance. Today, both dials do the same thing when you press the button. I would also like the Trash button to be able to format the memory card without having to go into a menu. For instance, you could hold the Trash button and the Fn button together for a second to get a formatting prompt. Most other needs are fulfilled by the C button – your pet function, be it Creative Styles, quality, DRO, etc, can all be set using that button. Perhaps Sony could add an additional C2 (custom 2) button, but I’m not sure where they’d put it.

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