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Friday, January 16, 2015

Sony Alpha a99 SLT-A99V Camera

The Good The Sony Alpha a99 SLT-A99V has a lot going for it, including excellent photos and very good video, a well-constructed and well-designed body, solid performance, and a great feature set.
The Bad For some folks, things like the lack of CompactFlash, poor battery life, and compromises on video autofocus may not be reasonable trade-offs.
The Bottom Line The Sony Alpha SLT-A99V is a generally great camera that's equally adept at both stills and video, but with a few caveats.
I admit, I really didn't like Sony's first full-frame cameras, the DSLR-A900 and its stripped-down sibling, the DSLR-A850. I used to use them as examples of poor noise reduction and for before-and-after examples for the virtues of third-party raw-processing software. But that was almost four years ago, and just before Sony had its "aha!" moment and started churning out excellent sensors, like the one in the Alpha SLT-A99V. The company's flagship (and at least for now, only) full-frame model delivers excellent photos and very good video, and has a well-constructed and intelligently designed body, solid performance, and a great feature set. Despite all the excellence, though, there are some caveats to consider before shelling out the not-inconsiderable amount of dough it costs.
Image quality
The photo quality is great -- pretty much what you'd expect from a full-frame camera -- with well-resolved detail, accurate color (as long as you use the Neutral Creative Style setting), and a broad tonal range with very good latitude in the highlights. Though it doesn't have an antialiasing-filter-free model, the sensor in the A99V incorporates a new selectively applied low-pass filter as a compromise for increased ability to resolve detail.
According to Sony, the sensor also has new noise-reduction algorithms designed to reduce noise only where you need it, but I still find that (oddly) the Nikon D800 outperforms the A99V in this respect, especially around ISO 1600 and above. For JPEGs, photos are extremely clean through ISO 400, and you can start to see some slight edge artifacts appearing at ISO 800. There's a noticeable jump in noise suppression between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, regardless of how bright the scene is. But I couldn't gain any better noise reduction below ISO 3200 by processing the raw; at ISO 3200 and above I did manage to get some better results, enough to gain about a stop of latitude. Overall, though, while the SLT-A99V is extremely good at ISO 1600 and below, if you need the cleanest-possible high-sensitivity results, the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III are probably a bit better.
The camera also does an excellent job of preserving highlights in seemingly blown-out areas. I was less impressed with recovering clipped shadow detail, in part because it inevitably introduces a lot of color noise, significantly more so than with the D800.
I was especially impressed with the auto white balance. For one, it handled cloudy shooting conditions properly; a lot of cameras I've tested recently have not. Same goes for balance under our tungsten studio lights. Normally I don't comment on the tungsten results because every camera handles it miserably. On the flip side, though, Sony's default Standard Creative Style pushes hues slightly, throwing off color accuracy. Switching to the Neutral setting delivers the kind of results I expect from a pro camera, though some people might want to tweak the sharpness (like most manufacturers, Sony assumes if you want neutral colors you want no processing at all).
The video quality is very good as well, though here I admit I'm still partial to the warmer tonality delivered by the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 and the sharper, less noisy low-light video of 5D Mark III.
Most of the time, the A99V feels responsive and fluid to shoot with. Yes, there's the occasional bout of reluctant autofocus lock and battery death -- for decent battery life you really need the multibattery grip, though that kind of defeats the purpose of making the camera lighter -- and the menus take just a hair longer to come up than I'd like while the camera's processing images. But overall I was happy with the camera's speed.
By the numbers, the A99V offers performance competitive with other full-frame cameras. (Our benchmarks for the 5D Mark III and D800 used different methodology, but our numbers for the Nikon D600 and Canon EOS 6D are comparable.) It powers on and shoots in just under a second -- a little on the slow side. In good light, it takes about 0.4 second to focus, expose, and shoot, which rises to 0.5 second in dimmer conditions; that's relatively good, and partly held back by the somewhat slow-driving but optically excellent lens we used for performance testing, the Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8. Two sequential shots run about 0.3 second for either raw or JPEG, also decent times.
The camera excels at continuous shooting. Sony seems to have rated it pretty conservatively; as long as you stay below the buffer threshold, 20 JPEG shots or 17 raw shots, it can maintain a clip of roughly 6.2 frames per second (at least with a 95MBps SD card). Once you've exceeded the buffer, it slows considerably and erratically, below 3fps. In practice, shooting raw+JPEG, the buffer was less than 10 shots but overall adequate for small bursts.
Despite the tons of technological R&D it sounds like Sony put into the autofocus system, I didn't feel always feel the magic. It has a dual phase-detection AF system, which the company claims improves tracking AF considerably, and a new AF Range control that lets you specify near and far distance limiters for the focus range. I really like the tracking AF interface, with the big green box that follows your subject around the screen, but found that the focus lock just didn't keep up with the promise during continuous shooting, and even with the range limiter enabled I found that tracking box a little too fickle, willing to hightail off after any bigger object that enters the scene. Nonetheless, I had no issues with the AF system that I haven't had with other cameras.
In fact, I think the camera has too many autofocus options, making figuring out which settings you should use a bit too complicated. There are four AF mode choices: single, continuous, auto (which selects between single and continuous), and dynamic (Depth Map Assist Continuous AF), which seems to fine-tune the continuous AF phase-detection focus lock by expanding to the assist the areas. Then there are four AF area options: wide, zone, spot, and local. But the options or combinations that automatically choose the focus areas never seem to choose the correct ones, making it difficult to select the option with any confidence. This isn't a Sony- or A99V-specific issue; it's a problem with most AF systems that still remains despite all the effort.
I'm not sure if I've complained about this elsewhere, but every time you stick a card in, Sony cameras check it for an "Image Database" (a Sony-compatible file-system structure). But if it doesn't find the database, it pops up a message asking if you want to create one. Now, I don't know about you, but every time I stick a card in the first thing I do is format it and Sony's, um, helpfulness gets between me and the format operation, requiring an extra few button presses before I can start working. So no, Sony, I never want to create an image database. Get out of my way! I can sort of understand this on point-and-shoots where people might not realize the need to format, or if they never remove the cards, but on a pro camera it's intrusive and unnecessary.
Both the viewfinder and back display work very well, with no visibility issues in direct sunlight or refresh issues while shooting action, and though I still think that OLED displays are a little too cool and contrasty for cameras -- photos never look better than on those displays, and that's not necessarily a good thing -- Sony lets you adjust the color temperature of the viewfinder.
Design and features
For the most part, the camera body is very well designed and built, with a great grip -- one of the most comfortable I've used -- and an intelligent control layout. It's weather-sealed, though keep in mind that as far as I know Sony only offers two full-frame weather-sealed lenses to match. Yes, the body is also lighter than the competition, but I find once you stick a good lens on it that roughly 6-ounce advantage becomes moot.
All the controls are easily accessible and distinguishable by feel, the mode dial has a central lock button (not my favorite place for it), and everything is as configurable as you'd expect from a camera in its class. I don't think it's the snazziest design -- I'm not crazy about the bulbous look of the buttons boiling up from the surface on the back -- but it's effective and that's more important.

There's only one control I really dislike, and that's the navigation joystick. It simply feels mushy and imprecise.
While I think competitors produce better video quality than the A99V, this is my favorite camera for shooting video. It's one respect in which the fixed-mirror SLT technology gains a huge advantage over SLR. The articulated OLED display, great EVF, and manual-focus peaking make it extremely easy and comfortable to shoot without having to Frankenstein the camera out with a rig, loupe, and other accoutrements. The one, somewhat huge, exception to the love: you can't adjust shutter speed or aperture for video while autofocus is enabled. A lot of videographers use manual focus exclusively, so it won't faze them, but it irks me to no end. And if you don't know this up front, you can spend hours trying to figure out why the camera won't let you adjust those settings.

Sony brings its Silent Controller from its prosumer camcorders for better video control.
While the Silent Controller is intended to allow you to avoid introducing noise while changing settings during video shooting, it's also really nice for simply changing settings without having to drop the camera from your eye. It offers a lot of the same settings as the function menu, but it has a different interface that takes up far less space in the viewfinder.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III Nikon D800/ D800E Sony Alpha SLT-A99V
Sensor (effective resolution) 22.3MP CMOS
8-channel readout
24.3MP Exmor CMOS
36mm x 24mm 35.9mm x 24mm 35.8mm x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 25600/102400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25,600 (exp) ISO 50 (expanded) / ISO 100 - ISO 51200 / ISO 102400 (exp, via multishot NR)
Continuous shooting 6fps
13 raw/65 JPEG
(5fps with battery grip)
13 raw/14 JPEG
magnification/ effective magnification
100% coverage
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
Autofocus 61-pt High Density Reticular AF
21 center diagonal to f5.6
5 center to f2.8
20 outer to f4
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
dual phase -detection system
11 cross type;
102pt focal plane
AF exposure range -2 - 20 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,200 zones
Metering exposure range 0 - 20 EV (est) 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
Image stabilization Optical Optical Sensor shift
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/ 25p/24p
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/30p @ 12Mbps
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 29 minutes, 59 seconds 20 minutes n/a
Audio Mono; mic input; headphone jack Mono; mic input; headphone jack Stereo; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3.2 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3 inches articulated
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC
Wireless flash No Yes No
Battery life
viewfinder/Live View (CIPA rating)
950/200 shots
n/a shots
410 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 6.1 x 4.6 x 3.0 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 33.5 35.1 29.2
Mfr. price $3,499 (body only) $2,999.95/ $3,299.95 (body only) $2,799.99 (body only)
$4,299 (with 24-105mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date March 2012 March 2012/ April 2012 October 2012
In addition to the complete set of essential features for a pro camera, the A99V has a couple of unique features for this class, including built-in GPS (which strains the already lackluster battery life a bit), in-camera image stabilization (both Canon and Nikon use lens-based IS), and a built-in stereo microphone (which is nice to have in a pinch). On the downside, some folks may quibble with the decision to incorporate two SD card slots instead of an SD and a CompactFlash; while it would likely make little difference during shooting, CF is still the faster technology for moving files to your computer in a time-sensitive workflow.
If you're a Sony A series shooter disgruntled by the company's lack of tethering support for most of its modern models, the company has updated its Remote Camera Control software to support the A99V. And one note about accessories: the A99V uses the new Multi Interface Shoe, but ships with an adapter if you want to use your old accessories.
For a complete account of the A99V's features and operation, download the PDF manual.
The A99V is a powerful, complicated camera that may simply exceed the needs (or budget) of most photographers, and since Sony doesn't offer a cheaper full-frame model a la the Nikon D600 or Canon EOS 6D, the company's missing out on an opportunity. If you need a single model that can handle both stills and video with equal aplomb, and are willing to make some trade-offs -- sacrificing a little on the video and high-ISO quality as well as video AF -- it's a great choice.

Nikon D750 isn't cheap, but offers a great full-frame value

The Good The Nikon D750 delivers the best photo quality and continuous-shooting performance in its price class, along with a nicely well-rounded feature set.
The Bad Nikon's Wi-Fi implementation is weak and some of the other features could be executed a little better. Plus Live View performance is sad.
The Bottom Line It's not the cheapest camera in its class, but the Nikon D750 delivers an excellent combination of quality, performance and features for its price.

As the long-awaited sucessor to the six-year-old D700, the Nikon D750 delivers admirably. While its $2,300 price tag (£1,800/approximately AU$2,600) inhabits the upper reaches for many enthusiasts, it's a perfect camera for people who are picky about their photographs, who need better high-sensitivity quality than you can get with one of the less-expensive full-frame options or an APS-C-based dSLR, and who need speed for action shooting. Plus, it's a solid option for pros looking for a good value.
The camera comes in a couple of official kit configurations. The $3,000 bundle with the 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 lens is the only Nikon-approved kit in the US, but a 24-85mm f3.5-5.6 kit will also be available in the UK and possibly Australia (I couldn't find any available options with prices at the time this review was published, however).


The D750 will be sold with the 24-120mm lens in the US, plus additional kits with the 24-85mm f3.5-5.6 lens in the UK and possibly Australia. Sarah Tew/CNET

Image quality

Nikon really does a nice job on photo quality. The D750 has an excellent noise profile for both stills and video, and it produces significantly cleaner raw images than the Sony A99 does as ISO sensitivity increases -- unsurprising, since the latter is two years old and its image processing doesn't benefit from a couple years of fine tuning. I like the more neutral white balance of the Sony's default profile, though; Nikon's is just a hair shifted toward red/blue. And while the D810 maintains sharpness and tonal range better across the sensitivity range, for about $1,000 less the D750's photo quality stands up pretty well against the D810's.

JPEGs from the D750 look exceptionally clean up through ISO 1600, where a tiny bit of detail degradation begins in the in-focus areas. At ISO 3200, you can start to see some mushiness develop in the focused areas, and noise-reduction artifacts appear in the out-of-focus areas. Dynamic range displays visible decreases around ISO 3200 as well, with some clipping in low-key areas and loss of tonal distinctions in high-key areas. There's also a slight color shift between ISO 50 (Low) and ISO 100. However, I was happy with the JPEGs as high as ISO 6400 -- though that's dependent upon lighting and scene content -- and had ISO 12800 raw files that I could work with comfortably.
Movie quality looks great, even in low light, though as with the stills you start to lose tonal range about ISO 3200. Nevertheless, best quality video looks sharp, with few visible artifacts, and up to ISO 3200 there's practically no noise sparkle. I suggest switching from the default Picture Control for shooting video, though, unless you like your blacks crushed and your whites blown, even in good light.


Note: We recently updated our testing setup; though the methodology is similar the lighting conditions are not, so the results aren't comparable with previous testing. We're slowly retesting some important older products, and until we have comparable results we will not be posting performance charts.
In both lab and field testing, the D750's shooting performance fared typically for this class of camera; however, it's still really slow in Live View, and there are annoying hitches when accessing some settings.
It takes less than 0.2-second to power on, focus and shoot. Even then the bottleneck is the power switch, since you have to turn it on and press the shutter with the same finger. Single-shot performance is roughly what you'd expect for the money. In both bright and dim conditions (down to about 3 EV), time to focus and shoot runs just under 0.4-second; actual speed is a bit faster than that, since the kit lens tends to drive a little slowly. And while I didn't time it, focus down to -1 EV was is sufficiently fast and accurate as well. Both raw and JPEG take about 0.2-second between consecutive shots.
The camera excels when it comes to continuous-shooting performance, however. It bursts about 6.6fps for highest-quality JPEGs (not even the default of Normal quality) with a buffer well beyond my 30 test shots -- I got bored after 70. That sets a new high for its price class. While raw burst flies at an even faster 7fps, that's only for about 15 shots. After that it drops, though to a still-respectable 4.6fps. It manages about 10 raw+JPEG shots before slowing a lot.
Equally important, the autofocus seems reasonably able to keep up with the continuous shooting; my hit rate of usable shots using the new Group AF was significantly better than Nikon's various tracking options, partly because in those modes you have no real control over the actual focus points it uses. (Your mileage may vary depending upon your personal shooting quirks, of course.) I do miss an option for expanded-point AF, though, which essentially uses a single focus point and only expands to a group of points for support. The single-point autofocus mode is quite accurate and quick.
Unfortunately, the D750's Live View performance remains locked in the doldrums, taking about 1.5 seconds to focus and shoot under optimal conditions.
There's also some sluggishness bringing up screen-based options. For instance, using the back LCD view to change the ISO sensitivity (the only way to see it when the camera's set on a tripod at eye level), I frequently experienced long waits. This is something that Nikon should be able to address in a firmware update, though.

Design and features

With just a couple of small exceptions, the design of the D750 has a streamlined shooting design, a comfortable, high-quality build and an almost spot-on set of features. The body incorporates magnesium alloy for the rear and top cover, but uses lighter carbon fiber for the front chassis and cover. Physically it bears a striking resemblance to the D610, with comparable weather sealing to the D810.
The design is a useful cross between the consumer and pro models. It has a deep grip with a rubberized section on the back that is perfectly sized for my hands, for whatever that's worth. In the front, accessible via the fingers of your right hand, are two programmable buttons, while the left side has the flash popup/compensation button, bracketing button and manual focus/autofocus switch, with the button that brings up autofocus mode selections. As you'd expect in this class of camera, there are front and back adjustment dials.
On the top left sit a lockable mode and release-mode dials, similar to the D610. In addition to the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes, there's an Effects mode with a handful of basics: Night Vision (high ISO sensitivity monochrome), Color Sketch, miniature, selective color, silhouette, high key and low key. It also offers a pair of saved user settings slots on the dial.
The release-mode dial contains a full set of choices: single, continuous low and high, quiet single and continuous, mirror up, and a self-timer with options for multiple shots at various intervals.
The left top includes the power switch around the shutter button, and the metering and exposure compensation buttons. There's also a tiny, hard-to-find-by-feel record button near the power switch and the usual status LCD.
On the back you'll find the excellent viewfinder and a large tilting LCD. While I prefer a fully articulated display, this one does a full 90-degree angle facing both up and down. Down the left side of the LCD are the menu, white balance, image quality, and ISO sensitivity buttons, along with Nikon's i button. The latter provides access to context-sensitive semifrequently needed settings.

It incorporates a tilting LCD. Sarah Tew/CNET
Don't confuse the i button with the info button on the right, a non-interactive view of all the current settings. A combo AE-L/AF-L button is reachable via your right thumb. There's one big issue here: you have the ability to program the function of the button as well as to assign the AF-L function to another button on the camera, just like you can on higher-end models like the D810. Unfortunately, if you reassign that button -- I like to make it AE-L only -- then you lose the ability to focus via the shutter button. That's how it works on the D810, but that camera has separate AE-L and AF-L buttons so it's not as big an issue.
The camera also has the same lockable multicontroller with center OK button as the D610. I find it as uncomfortable to use on this camera as every other Nikon that uses it. And at the bottom right is a Live View/Movie toggle switch with a Live View button to initiate it.
You'll also find a solid complement of ports on the left side: an accessory terminal for remotes and Nikon GPS unit, HDMI (supporting clean output), mic and headphone jacks and a USB 3.0 port. And on the right there are two SD card slots, which are great to have.
As for features, the D750 provides all the essentials, plus highlights like multiple exposure, intervalometer and time-lapse with exposure smoothing; orientation-linked focus points; selectable spot size for centerweighted metering plus the ability to set a permanent exposure bias for each metering mode (matrix, center-weighted, spot and highlight-weighted) in 1/6-stop steps up to 1; and 50/60Hz flicker reduction.
In addition to clean HDMI out, the D750 includes the same movie-shooting specific menu as the D810, where you can choose default Picture Control, noise reduction and ISO sensitivity settings for movies. I really wish it let you set a default shutter speed and aperture as well; two custom settings slots aren't enough to handle both still and video needs.
The camera also supports Nikon's power aperture, which lets you change the aperture via the up/down buttons on the multicontroller while recording. Power aperture does not mean silent aperture, though. I also hate that you can't change other settings while shooting. For instance, if I realize that I've got the wrong ISO sensitivity set, I don't like having to stop and jump out, possibly missing something; I'd rather change it while recording and toss the transition portion of the clip later if necessary. I also miss an autofocus sensitivity setting, a feature that Canon debuted with the 7D Mark II, to make the autofocus more usable in video.
The D750 incorporates Wi-Fi connectivity. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi implementation is pretty weak, at least until Nikon improves its app. In its current incarnation, the app is basically a glorified remote shutter -- effectively all you can do is press the capture icon -- and utility to geotag and transfer photos to a mobile device or share them via the connectors installed on the device. (While Canon's EOS Remote software has more shooting flexibiility, at least Nikon's WMU can directly upload via installed services.)
While the software issue is resolvable, the hardware awkwardness isn't. There's no quick way to enable Wi-Fi in the camera; you have to go into the setup menu to do so, and you can't program another button as a shortcut.


Thus far, the D750 seems like the best overall value in the price segment between $1,800 and $3,000 (£1,300 to £2,300/AU$2,000 to $3,400); it's not cheap, but delivers the best combination of performance, image quality, features for the money.
Compared to a more expensive model like the D810, the D750 has only a few shortcomings. Its image quality isn't quite as good and the resolution isn't as high, but both may suffice for a lot of people. It also maxes out at one stop slower shutter speed (1/4,000 sec. vs. 1/8,000 sec.), and it has a lower flash sync of 1/200 vs. 1/250 sec.
But the D750 has advantages over the D810, including an updated, more low-light sensitive autofocus system (I haven't yet run performance tests on the D810) and slightly better continuous-shooting performance; built-in Wi-Fi; a tilting LCD; longer battery life; and it's smaller and lighter. It also has feature advantages over the Canon 5D Mark III, like the tilting LCD, built-in flash and Wi-Fi. (I haven't had a chance to retest the 5D Mark III for performance and image-quality comparison, however.)
The D610 currently runs about $400 (£400/AU$300) less than the D750, but that premium buys you better photo quality, newer autofocus and metering systems, slightly faster continuous shooting, 1080/60p video and clean HDMI out, a tilting LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 support and better battery life. And, in fact, with a few minor exceptions it has the same body design as the D610. That's a lot more camera for a fairly modest price differential.
The Sony A99 remains a compelling alternative, especially at its lower price, but aside from being old, it doesn't have the continuous-shooting performance, and some people prefer an optical viewfinder to the Sony's electronic viewfinder. And Sony's mirrorless full-frame alternatives -- the A7 series -- just don't offer the performance of a dSLR.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS 6D Nikon D610 Nikon D750 Nikon D810 Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP CMOS
12-channel readout
24.3mp Exmor CMOS
Sensor size 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 24mm 35.9 x 24mm 35.9 mm x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 25600/102,400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 32 (exp)/64 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ISO 102400 (exp,
via multishot NR)
Burst shooting 4.5fps
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)
13 raw/14 JPEG
(mag/ effective mag)
97% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 11-pt AF
1 center cross type
9 cross type
(Multi-CAM 4800-FX)
15 cross type
11 cross type to f8
(Multi-CAM 3500-FX II)
15 cross type
11 cross type to f8
(Multi-CAM 3500-FX)
Dual phase-detection system
11 cross type;
102pt focal plane
AF sensitivity
(at center point)
-3 - 18 EV -1 - 19 EV -3 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,200 zones
Metering sensitivity 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.264 Quicktime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p
H.264 Quicktime MOV
1080/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p, 50p @ 42Mbps, 1080/30p, 25p, 24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24MBps
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 29m, 59s 20 minutes 20 minutes 20 minutes internal
40 minutes (with external pack)
Clean HDMI out No No Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
1.04m dots
3.2 in/8 cm
921,000 dots
3.2 in/8cm
921,000 dots
3.2 in/8 cm
921,000 dots
3 in/7.5 cm
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter Wi-Fi Optional
(WT-4A Wireless transmitter or UT-1 Communication Unit with WT-5A)
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Wireless flash No Yes Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 1,090
900 shots
(1,900 mAh)
1,230 shots
(1,900 mAh)
1,200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
410 shots
Size (WHD) 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 in
144.8 x 111.8 x 71.1 mm
5.5 x 4.5 x 3.2 in
140.0 x 114.3 x 81.3 mm
5.6 x 4.5 x 3.1 in
140.5 x 113 x 78 mm
5.8 x 4.9 x 3.3 in
146 x 123 x 81.5 mm
5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1 in
147 x 111.2 x 78.4 mm
Body operating weight 27.2 oz.
771.1 g
30.1 oz.
853.3 g
29.6 oz.
840 g
34.6 oz.
980 g
29.2 oz.
Mfr. price
(body only)
£1,300 (est.)
£1,330 (est.)
AU$2,600 (est)
Release date December 2012 October 2013 September 2014 July 2014 October 2012

Samsung Galaxy S6 rumor roundup

The metal accents of the Galaxy A7 (shown here) may foreshadow a less plastic Galaxy S6. Samsung
CES 2015 is behind us, which means it's time to start looking forward to the next technology smorgasbord: Mobile World Congress. New phones and tablets make the rounds at the annual conference held in Spain, but Samsung has yet to officially announce any word on its expected upcoming flagship smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S6.
So, what can we expect from a Galaxy S6? All of this is conjecture, of course, but here's our best educated guesses on the details of Samsung's next big phone.
Announcement/release date: March to April is the mostly likely option -- possibly at Mobile World Congress, or maybe at a totally separate Samsung-only event. Both have precedents: The Samsung Galaxy S5 was unveiled at Mobile World Congress 2014 in February; its predecessor, the Samsung Galaxy S4 got its own splashy (and unintentionally controversial) launch event at Radio City Music Hall weeks after MWC in March 2013. Availability for both phones was a few weeks later in both cases.
CPU: Expect top-of-the-line guts for the GS6. Whether that's a Snapdragon 810 quad-core processor from Qualcomm (as found in the upcoming LG G Flex 2) or Samsung's own Exynos 7420 is anyone's guess. The company could also have different CPUs in different territories -- something it's done with past flagship phones.
Screen: The well-regarded Samsung Galaxy Note 4 packs an attractive 2,560-by-1,440p AMOLED display, and it stands to reason that the Galaxy S6 would follow suit. Rumors suggest that the screen size will be around 5.5-inches.
OS: Android 5.0 Lollipop will be the star of the show, coupled with Samsung's TouchWiz Android skin. But there's a curious wrinkle here: some rumors claim that Samsung is hoping to dial down TouchWiz on the new device, with the aim of improving performance.
Plastic or metal?: This is anyone's guess, though devices like the all-metal Samsung Galaxy A5 and Galaxy A3, as well as the Galaxy A7, suggest that Samsung might be looking to spruce up its image with premium metal designs.
Camera and more: We can likely expect a beefy front-shooter, too. Like it or not, smartphones at CES 2015 were all about the selfie, so there's a good chance Samsung will pay close attention to the oft-ignored front-facing camera. The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Note 4 both sported excellent cameras, though the former lacked optical image stabilization. That's becoming increasingly prevalent on kitted-out smartphones -- see the iPhone 6 Plus -- so it stands to reason Samsung would bake it into their latest phone's rear camera.

A device rumored to be the Galaxy S6 Toptienmobiel

January 13, 2015

Samsung's User Interface TouchWiz to Become Less Featured in the Galaxy S6 -- Business Korea

Citing remarks from "industry sources," Business Korea notes that Samsung is in the process of dialing down the TouchWiz experience for its upcoming Galaxy S6. Samsung's TouchWiz interface all but takes over the Android experience, and while it adds numerous features and functionality I've always preferred a cleaner, stock experience. Citing "a delay in responsiveness" from all of the added functionality TouchWiz bakes in, the company will reportedly be streamlining things for future devices. Whenever the Galaxy S6 is announced, there's a chance we'll be treated to a leaner software experience.

January 12, 2015

Samsung reportedly to unveil two versions of Galaxy S6

CES 2015 was still fresh on our minds when a rumor surfaced that Samsung might actually unveil two versions of its Galaxy S6. One would mimic the curved display found on the Galaxy Note Edge, while the other would offer a metal design, as opposed to Samsung's generally plastic wares.

December 12, 2014

Could this be Samsung's Galaxy S6?

A picture is worth a thousand rumors: Dutch blog site Toptienmobiel leaked this image of someone holding what's alleged to be the Galaxy S6, with a big screen and a thin bezel. We'll take this image with a grain of salt, of course.

December 5, 2014

Samsung Galaxy S6 already? Alleged specs pop up online

The rumors started to firm up in December, when benchmarking site AnTuTu allegedly displayed some of the specs in its database. Those details showed a device packing the octa-core Samsung Exynos 7420 processor and a 5.5-inch display with a 2,560 by 1,440 pixel resolution. The device also reportedly has a 20-megapixel rear-shooter, a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, 3GB of RAM and a paltry 32GB of storage -- you can expect that to be expanded with microSD cards.

November 4, 2014

First batch of Samsung Galaxy S6 rumors creep online

The rumors started, as always, with sources leaking specs. Samsung is reportedly starting from scratch with the Galaxy S6, which is reportedly codenamed "Project Zero." We learned that it might feature a Quad HD display (2,560-by-1,440-pixel resolution), and pack a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, and a rear shooter offering between 16 and 20 megapixels. The device is also speculated to have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 CPU in some markets, and a Samsung Exynos 7420 in others.

Apple's high-end laptop gets better battery life and a lower price

The Good The second generation of Apple's Retina-screen MacBook Pro adds internal upgrades to its Wi-Fi, Thunderbolt, SSD, graphics card and CPU. The result is a faster laptop with better battery life and a lower starting price.
The Bad The changes are internal-only, and not significant enough to upgrade if you have last year's version. At $1,999 to start, this is still a very expensive laptop. Both the 13-inch MacBook Air and Pro have much better battery life.
The Bottom Line The slimmer body and higher-res screen of the original Retina MacBook Pro were a revolutionary leap. This revamp adds modest internal upgrades for modest improvements, but price cuts to both the 13-inch and 15-inch models sweeten the deal.

Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro, recently updated to current-generation Intel CPUs (just in time for the holiday shopping season), retains its position as a favorite premium laptop for power-users. But that long-awaited upgrade, introduced at an Apple press event in October 2013, happened just in time.
The high-end, high-price Retina Display versions of the previous MacBook Pro were stuck in an unusual position. While other systems, from budget laptops to premium hybrids, had all moved onto Intel's latest CPU platform, known as either the fourth-generation Core i-series or by the code name Haswell, the MacBook Pro used last year's processors, until now.

The first Mac systems to get Haswell were the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air back in June 2013. The iMac all-in-one desktop followed. That left the more expensive MacBook Pro a generation behind its less expensive Air counterpart in CPU power and battery life. That's important because our Labs testing has shown that Haswell offers significant improvements to battery life in PC and Mac systems.

Josh Miller/CNET
Note, however, that this CPU update applies only to the thinner MacBook Pro models with Retina Displays. Currently only the 13-inch version of the "classic" MacBook Pro is still for sale. The 15-inch version is presumably relegated to the same lonely afterlife as its long-gone 17-inch relative. For the sake of expediency, we'll now refer to the current 13-inch and 15-inch Retina Display models simply as the MacBook Pro.

Updated components and a lower price

The flagship MacBook Pro retains its very high screen resolution, which results in crisper text and clearer photos (2,560x1,600 pixels for the 13-inch model, 2,880x1,800 for the 15-inch model). Unlike some Windows PCs with higher-res screens, OS X is more interested in scaling your onscreen content to look its best (or what Apple thinks will look best), rather than giving you full unfettered access to that very, very high resolution. However, the tile interface view in Windows 8 does something similar with the handful of higher-res PCs now available.

Josh Miller/CNET
Like the recent MacBook Air and iMac updates, the new MacBook Pro models also feature 802.11ac Wi-Fi, faster PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) storage, and Thunderbolt 2 ports for data and video output.
We were pleasantly surprised when the 13-inch MacBook Air saw its starting price cut to $1,099 earlier this year. The MacBook Pro follows, with its prices going from $2,199 down to $1,999 for the 15-inch version (and from $1,499 for the 13-inch version down to $1,299). That's a break from traditional Apple pricing, where prices would remain the same generation over generation, with updated components adding value.
The 15-inch version defaults to 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD (which Apple cheekily described as a "quarter terabyte"). Our review configuration of the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the step-up model (and it's a big step) for $2,599, with a faster 2.3GHZ Core i7, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD, and the Nvidia GeForce 750M GPU.
In our hands-on testing, these new model looks and feels a lot like the previous generation, so if you bought one last year, there's no need to reach for your wallet. However, if you don't already own a Retina MacBook Pro, the promise of longer battery life, somewhat improved performance, faster Wi-Fi, and lower starting prices is enough to make this a significant overall update.

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013) Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display (June 2012) Alienware 14
Price $2,599 $2,199 $1,799
Display size/resolution 15.4-inch, 2,880x1,800 pixels 15.4-inch, 2,880x1,800 pixels 14-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels
PC CPU 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M 2GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 765M
Storage 512GB SSD 256GB SSD 256GB SSD + 750GB
Optical drive None None BD-ROM
Networking 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system OS X Mavericks 10.9 OS X Lion 10.7.4 Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

A power-packed thin design

As in the first generation of these MacBook Pro models from 2012, the current versions exist somewhere between the chunkier idea of a "pro-level," power-user laptop and the slim ultrabook ideal. Denser than it looks at first glance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro isn't exactly a carry-all-day-every-day package, although one could conceivably pull that off a few times per week.
Josh Miller/CNET
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is more striking than the 13-inch, especially considering that its slim chassis includes a decent discrete graphics card. Still, from the outside at least, this is the same MacBook Pro as last year. Like the 2013 MacBook Air and iMac updates, the new features are internal in nature, or software-based, if you're considering OS X Mavericks to be part of the overall package.
The keyboard and trackpad remain essentially the same as seen on the last several generations of MacBook. Other laptops have matched, but not surpassed, the backlit Apple keyboard, with the possible exception of Lenovo, a company as involved with keyboard research and development as any. The large glass trackpad, with its multifinger gestures, remains the industry leader, even as Windows laptops move to more touch-screen controls, at least partially to compensate for the hassle of using a touch pad with Windows 8. The ability to do easy four-finger swipes, and the no-lag scrolling in Web browsers, is something Mac users always have trouble with when they switch back to a PC. That said, tap-to-click really should be turned on by default. Instead, you'll have to go into the settings menu to turn this obvious feature on.
The 15-inch Retina Display remains a main selling point, and the Retina branding now crosses over between the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro. Some new and upcoming Windows laptops go for even higher resolutions, and it's not unreasonable to ask when we'll see this trickle down to the MacBook Air line. The Retina screen is a 2,880x1,800 display, and is at its best when displaying text or professional photography. Videos rarely go past 1080p, and most Mac games can't display higher resolutions to begin with.

MacBook Pro displays: the 2012 Retina vs. 2012 non-Retina. CNET
As originally noted last year, the Retina Display looks great, although you're more likely to notice it when comparing with a non-Retina laptop. A great way to see the screen in action is to zoom in closely on plain black text against a white background, as we did with the original Retina MacBook Pro.
By going into the settings menu, you can set the scaling so that onscreen text and icons appear as they would on a number of common resolutions, although I would have liked the opportunity to get the full unfettered 2,880 view.

Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2013)
Video HDMI, 2x Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt 2
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, 2 Thunderbolt 2, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

Apple can drive people a bit nuts when it comes to ports and connections, but over the past few years, some semblance of universality has come to many Macs, with the addition of SD card slots and HDMI ports to many models. As in last year's model, you get two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports (now Thunderbolt 2), which also double as Mini DisplayPort outputs, an SD card slot, and Bluetooth and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
The HDMI and Thunderbolt video outputs can drive two additional external displays, at up to 2,560x1,600 pixels (I've set up a Retina MacBook Pro with its Retina screen sandwiched by two high-resolution external monitors, and it becomes quite the command center).
If you're looking for legacy items, such as Ethernet, an optical drive, or FireWire, keep looking. And yes, Apple apparently considers Ethernet to be a legacy port.

Josh Miller/CNET
While our review unit is the (significantly) more expensive $2,599 model, you can quite easily trade down to the $1,999 model if you don't need the extra storage space or discrete GPU. For a hair under 2 grand, you get a 2.0GHz Core i7, and cut the RAM and SSD in half, to 8GB and 256GB. In the less-expensive version, you get Intel's Iris Pro graphics, the higher-end version of the improved integrated graphics offered with Intel's Haswell-generation processors.
In our benchmark testing, you can rightly expect the high-end configuration supplied by Apple to perform extraordinarily well. Some of our tests, including Photoshop and iTunes, display a natural OS X bias, but in each of the tests, it excelled, with the exception of a single-app Photoshop test, which suggests that program may not be fully optimized for Mavericks yet. In hands-on use, it felt just as fast as the original model, which is to say this is more than enough power for even heavy multitaskers, video editors, and photographers. The scores reflect a modest to medium jump in most cases over the 2012 version of this system, as seen in the charts below. However, true power users are no doubt waiting for the $2,999-and-up Mac Pro desktop, which will be available in December 2013.
Upgrading from last year's Nvidia GeForce 650M to the newer 750M is a great excuse to fire up a few games on the MacBook Pro, especially as it's easier than ever to be a Mac gamer. Steam,, and other game distributors have robust Mac sections now, and Windows games are being ported to OS X within months, not years.
Both BioShock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, excellent 2013 PC games, are available on Macs now, although in somewhat limited versions that cap the graphics options and resolutions, preventing them from truly showing off what the MacBook Pro can do. Diablo III allows you to fully crank up the resolution to 2,880x1,800, and the game ran with settings maxed at about 23 frames per second. Dropping the resolution to 1,968x1,230 (a 16:10 resolution close to 1080p), the game ran at 44 frames per second.
Our old Mac standby, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, ran at 35 frames per second at the highest detail settings and full 2,880x1,800 resolution. The game ran at 81.2 at a more reasonable 1,680x1,050 resolution. Last year's Retina MacBook Pro ran that test at 70.8 frames per second (1,680x1,050) and crashed at the higher resolution.

Josh Miller/CNET
One of the main reasons moving to the current generation of Intel CPUs is important is because of the improvement to battery life, always a key factor in a laptop. Apple promises 8 hours from this system, and last year's model ran for a bit under 7 hours. The summer 2013 MacBook Air -- the first Haswell MacBook -- exceeded Apple's own estimates in our tests, running for more than 12 hours. Our 15-inch 2013 MacBook Pro fell right in between those two numbers, running for 9:52, which is especially impressive for a 15-inch laptop.


If you like the idea of investing in a higher-resolution laptop, and can live without an optical drive (a concession that seems more reasonable every day), the updated 2013 version of the Retina MacBook Pro, especially in its 15-inch incarnation, remains an irresistibly powerful yet reasonably portable laptop.
This has been a year of incremental, and mostly internal, upgrades for Macs, from the Air to the iMac, but a handful of price cuts to base models help the entire line from feeling too stuck in time. The only really "new" Mac coming this year is the Mac Pro desktop, which is far from a casual/consumer machine, but will be idolized by anyone interested in technology design and aesthetics.
Its $2,599 price is a major hurdle (as is the $1,999 base model), but there is no other laptop this year (or last) that combines powerful components, design, display, and flexibility quite like the MacBook Pro.


Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
Alienware 14
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)


Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
Alienware 14
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus


Shorter bars indicate better performance

HandBrake test (in seconds)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
Alienware 14
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)


Shorter bars indicate better performance

Call of Duty 4 (Retina comparisons; in fps)

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013); resolution tested at 1,680x1,050
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012); resolution tested at 1,680x1,050
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013); resolution tested at 1,440x900
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012); resolution tested at 1,440x900


Longer bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (13-inch, October 2012)
Alienware 14


Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-4850HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro Graphics; 512GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM ; 1GB Intel Iris Graphics; 256GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display (15-inch, June 2012)
OSX 10.7.4 Lion; 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3610QM; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 650M + 512MB Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD
Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina Display (October 2012)
OSX 10.8.2 Mountain Lion 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3210M, 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz, 768MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000, 256GB Apple SSD
Alienware 14
Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit); 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 4700MQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M; HDD#1 256MB Lite-On SSD HDD#2 750GB, 7,200rpm Western Digital

Top Most tier RS 7 is a tech car in track-ready trim

The Good Feats of great speed are possible thanks to the 2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro's powerful V-8 engine, adaptive suspension, and all-wheel drive system. Cylinder deactivation tech and eight speeds help bump up the fuel economy. Standard Web-connected, Nvidia-powered tech is top of the class and optional tech takes some interesting chances.
The Bad Some options, such as Night Vision, seem more gimmicky than useful. Infotainment takes a few moments to "boot" at the beginning of every drive.
The Bottom Line Comfortable, high-tech, and fairly efficient, the Audi RS 7 is a total-package car with a healthy dose of horsepowe
The Audi RS 7 Quattro is one of those cars that tries to do it all. Not content to be good at just one thing or to be a jack-of-all-trades, the RS 7 tries to be great at everything...and pulls it off. It's possibly the most "total package" car that I'll drive this year. Startlingly fast, quite comfortable, and extremely high-tech, they don't come much more "CNET-style" than this.

Power and performance

The most powerful of Audi's A7-chassis cars, the RS is powered by a 4.0-liter V-8 engine that is stated at 560 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of torque. That torque is sent through an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission on its way to the Audi Quattro system and all four 20-inch RS Design wheels. In this configuration, Audi's all-wheel drive system splits power 40/60 between the front and rear axles, respectively. This slight rear bias, along with the torque-vectoring rear Sport Differential, contributes to the sporty RS 7's sporty driving characteristics.

The 560-horsepower RS 7 has as much power and torque as a Porsche 911 Turbo S. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
Twin turbochargers force feed air into the V-8's cylinders, which is then mixed with direct-injected premium gasoline and combusted to create gobs of power. When all of that capacity isn't required, such as when cruising along, the engine takes advantage of cylinder deactivation tech, shutting down one of its cylinder banks and dropping down to what is essentially a 2.0-liter inline four-banger when not under load. Tilt into the right pedal and the dormant cylinders spring to life so fast and transparently that you'd never know that they were sleeping on the job. This 4.0-liter engine is available with fuel-saving, stop-start anti-idling tech in other Audi vehicles in other markets, but our example was not so equipped.
As equipped, the EPA reckons that this big, 560-horsepower, all-wheel-drive sport sedan is good for 16 mpg in the city, 27 highway mpg, and a combined average of 19 mpg. No, it won't win any efficiency awards, but those aren't bad numbers at all and should be easily attainable in the real world.
However, if you're in the market for about $105K of sport sedan, you're probably more interested in the 0-to-60 time of 3.7 seconds and the stated top speed of 174 mph than in fuel econ.
For on-track driving and the blitzing of fantastically curvy roads, you can manually choose from the eight forward gears with the paddle shifter or the shift lever. But for 0-to-60 runs and the causal bending of traffic laws, you may do better to just leave the transmission in its automatic Sport mode. It does a great job of anticipating and firing off downshifts before cornering and of holding the revs high into the tachometer's swing when accelerating, ripping off quick upshifts without bouncing off of the rev-limiter. Comfort mode is the best for daily driving without the barking of the V-8 and jerkiness of the drivetrain, but it's still fairly responsive to throttle inputs.

Everything from the suspension to the engine to the seat belt tension is customizable via the Drive Select system. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Comfortable and customizable

Many cars these days feature some sort of driver-selectable transmission program or a Sport mode. Few are as customizable as the Audi Drive Select system on this RS 7.
From an onscreen menu, the driver can select Dynamic (sport), Comfort, or Automatic settings to instantly adjust the RS' engine output, transmission program, adaptive air suspension, the exhaust and engine sound, the feel of the electronic power steering, the assertiveness of the Stability Control and Sport Differential, the seat belt tension, and more.
Switching between the extremes of Comfort and Dynamic modes is like night and day. The RS 7 doesn't become a totally different Audi at the touch of a button, but the changes in steering responsiveness, road feel through the suspension, throttle responsiveness, and (most importantly) the barking and growling of the V-8 are certainly noticeable.
Even at its softest setting, RS 7 still feels like a sport sedan. It just gets easier to live with. The suspension is fairly firm. You'll still feel the bumps of the road, just with the harshness of the larger imperfections smoothed out. The Comfort steering feels lighter, trading a bit of Dynamic road feel for reduced fatigue for longer drives and effortless dancing around the tight turns of a parking deck. With the engine's throttle response smoothed out, the transmission keeping revs low, and the adjustable engine sound keeping noise low, the RS 7 can also be quite docile and quiet around town in its Comfort setting.
Switch to Dynamic and instantly you'll see the tachometer jump up a few revolutions per minute as the gearbox selects a more speed-appropriate ratio. You'll notice an increase in the engine's willingness to pour on power and hear the exhaust growl louder when accelerating and joyfully bark when you lift the accelerator. The optional $1,000 Sport Exhaust system no doubt made our example just a hair louder than stock, but I'm not complaining. The ride gets noticeably firmer and the rear end rotates just a bit more freely when cornering within the RS 7's generous handling limits. You'll probably also notice your fuel economy going down the drain, because who can say no to a bit more pedal play with the V-8 making a sound like that?
If you don't like the extreme presets or the automatic mode that adjusts the vehicle conditions based on your driving style, then you can also mix and match Dynamic, Auto, and Comfort settings for a variety of vehicle systems, storing your choices under the Individual Drive Select mode. You could have the engine, transmission, and exhaust set to their sportiest settings, leave the steering and suspension in the relaxed Comfort mode, and let the rest of the vehicle systems adjust automatically.

High-tech dashboard

For your $104,900 MSRP, the Audi RS 7 packs all of that performance plus an updated version of the dashboard tech package that previously won CNET's Tech Car of the Year Award for the 2012 Audi A7. Yes, that's a lot of money, but this is a lot of car.
The Audi MMI infotainment system can be commanded with a combination of a rotary controller on the center console, voice command, and a Touch Panel input. The controller is a bit wonky, but it's easy to get the hang of once you get past the odd inverted rotation control scheme. Shortcut buttons surrounding the control knob correspond with labels in the corners of the screen and lead to the various top-level areas of the system: Navigation, Telephone, Radio, and Media. There are also hardware buttons for the Main Menu, the Car Menu (where you can find the Drive Select settings), and a Back button.

Thanks to an onboard 3G data connection, Google Earth data can be integrated into the MMI maps. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
The Navigation system's coolest parlor trick is its integration with Google Earth and Google Local Destination search. Via an embedded 3G data connection, it can overlay satellite data on a 3D topographic map of the area around you. I was pleased to see map's roads curve behind and around 3D-rendered mountains and into valleys. Visually, it's much nicer-looking than the flat maps you'll get with other navigation systems. The onboard 3G connection also powers the online destination search, live fuel price and weather updates, the traffic system, and in-car Wi-Fi connectivity for passengers' mobile devices.
The trade-off for this Web-connected, Nvidia-powered infotainment experience is that it takes a few moments to boot up every time you start the car. The wait is only about 30 seconds, during which time you can't input a destination or even listen to audio. Thirty seconds isn't really that bad -- think of it as your moment of Zen, or the quiet before the storm -- but drivers who want to jump in and go may be a tad annoyed with the load screen.
Destination input can be initiated via voice command by pressing a button mounted on the steering wheel. Likewise, you can navigate to the Destination Input screen using the MMI controller and then input a street address or search term with the control knob or the Touch Panel. Not dissimilar from the touch pad on your laptop, the Touch Panel allows drivers to input destinations by simply writing the letters with a fingertip. I found the system to be quite accurate, picking up my chicken scratches almost flawlessly.
2014audirs7quattro03.jpgTouch Panel input allows the driver to write destination search terms with a fingertip.

Audio sources run the gamut, ranging from Bluetooth for audio streaming and hands-free calling to the single-slot DVD/CD drive to USB, 30-pin iPod, and two SD card slots for digital audio. There's also a portion of the navigation system's hard drive dedicated to media storage and an interesting Wi-Fi Connect feature that allows Internet radio streaming from compatible devices running the Audi Music Stream app. My Google Nexus 5 was not a compatible device.
Over in the Radio area of the MMI system, I was able to select between AM, FM, HD Radio, and Satellite radio broadcasts.
The main screen is a large, motorized unit that flips and extends out of the dashboard, but it's not the only display at the driver's disposal. Tucked between the two main gauges of the instrument cluster is another large color LCD that can be customized (via steering-wheel controls) to display trip and fuel economy data, the current audio source, and map and turn-by-turn information, and can be used to browse contacts and initiate hands-free calls.
Inside and out, the Audi uses full LED illumination, from the headlamps to the taillights and all of the indicators and interior lights in between. While we're outside of the car, the Audi gets the "RS exterior appearance" treatment with larger grille openings out front, more aggressive skirts all around, and large 20-inch wheels.
Standard tech is rounded out with an advanced rear-camera system, Audi Side Assist with Pre-Sense Rear (a rebranding of blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert) and keyless entry and start.

Options and safety tech

You could hand your Audi dealer a check for $105,000 and drive away happy with a well-equipped and versatile sport sedan. Or you could tack on a few more options. (I'm sure that you can see where this is going.)

The optional Bang & Olufsen audio system looks as good as it sounds. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
We had the optional Bang & Olufsen Advanced audio system with its motorized acoustic lens tweeters that rise out of the dashboard to complete the 15-speaker, 1,200-plus watt surround-sound system. Audio from this system was fantastic -- easily one of the best rigs on the road today -- but without a side-by-side comparison with the standard Bose surround system, it's difficult to tell whether it sounds $5,900 better. It certainly looks the part with aluminum speaker grilles shining prominently around the cabin.
Our cabin was also augmented with $1,300 in layered aluminum and black wood inlays. A gorgeous example of craftsmanship, this gives a metal pinstripe effect to the exposed black wood sections around the cabin. Outside, we've got the $4,000 Carbon Optic package, which adds gloss black trim, carbon fiber side mirror housings, and aerodynamic carbon fiber front lip spoiler and rear diffuser. Look closely and you'll also see the addition of "Quattro" text raised above the lower grille. Rounding out the sound and style upgrades, we've also got $500 for soft-closing doors. Interestingly, our spec sheet lists $1,000 for optional 21-inch, 5-spoke wheels, but I checked and our example was wearing the stock 20s.

The Carbon Optic package adds glossy black trim, carbon fiber accents, and Quattro graphics. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
Equipped tech options are bundled into two packages.
The $2,800 Innovation package adds a very useful, full-color Head Up Display (HUD) that reflects semitransparently off of the windshield ahead of the driver. This display can show current speed data and float turn-by-turn directions within the driver's field of view. With the other displays, the HUD makes three different options for viewing navigation instructions along with the spoken prompts.
The Innovation package also adds a Night Vision Assistant feature that can be used to display an enhanced infrared view of the road ahead on the instrument cluster display. This system can detect and highlight pedestrians, outlining them with yellow boxes on the black-and-white display. However, I never found the system to be tremendously useful. Situations where Night Vision would have been handy are invariably the situations where you'll want to be watching the road through the windshield and not gawking at your instrument cluster. That, along with the fact that Night Vision never seemed to reveal anything that I couldn't see in the LED headlamps, keeps me from recommending checking this box unless you just like to show off to your other well-to-do buddies.
Finally, we've got the $2,800 Driver Assistance package, adding full-range adaptive cruise control, a forward precollision warning and intervention system, and lane-keeping alert. The standard rearview camera is upgraded to a wider angle unit with selectable multiple views and augmented by a front bumper camera that further helps with tight parallel parking.

The liftback configuration presents a massive opening to the cavernous rear storage space. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Hatchbacks are cool

Part low-slung sport sedan and part ultraluxe hatchback, the RS 7 tries to be all things to all people even in its design. Front-seat passengers are treated to a spacious cabin with plenty of head and shoulder room. The front seats are heated, deeply bolstered, and 12-way power-adjustable. Climate controls are automatic and feature temperature four-zones.
In the second row, taller passengers will probably find their heads touching or grazing the roof, but won't be left wanting for hip and leg room. Just aft of those passengers, the elongated lifting hatchback is motorized and can open or close at the touch of a button. With the liftback raised, there's a massive opening for the deep rear storage area, which should make loading bulky items easy.

Pricing and competition

The 2014 RS 7 handled pretty much everything that I could think to toss at it during my week of testing. It was a hoot of a ride, with excessive amounts of power on deck, but it was also amazingly easy to drive and difficult to get unsettled thanks to the standard Quattro all-wheel drive. The fuel economy was good -- it won't save the world like the Tesla Model S, but its 27 highway mpg estimate is nothing to thumb your nose at. The Audi's adjustable suspension gripped the road like nobody's business but could also be comfortable for commute or cross-country at the touch of a button. With its big power come big brains in the form of the exceptional standard and optional technologies.
About the only thing that it couldn't be was inexpensive. With its starting price of $104,900, $18,300 in options, and an $895 destination charge, our 2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro comes in at an as-tested price of $124,095.

The 2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro is a total-package kind of car. Antuan Goodwin/CNET
You could knock a few bucks off of that nearly one-eighth-of-a-million buck price tag by skipping gimmicky options like the Innovation package's Night Vision, the $4,000 carbon fiber trim, or -- if you're not an audiophile -- the $5,900 B&O audio system. Prospective drivers who are more into tech than performance can also save thousands by stepping down to the still-potent Audi S7 and A7, further down the line.
Not a fan of the Audi? Take a look at the BMW M6 Gran Coupe, another low-slung German sport sedan. The Bimmer holds a slight performance edge over the Audi, but I found the RS 7's driver controls, infotainment system, and liftback configuration made it just a tad more agreeable to use than the Gran Coupe, which required a Google search to figure out how to park. Of course, your mileage (and preferences) may vary. Both are splendid cars. There's also the aforementioned Tesla Model S to consider, though that's more of a threat to the A7 TDI than the RS 7.
Speaking of splendid cars, the RS 7's specifics make the Aston Martin Rapide S an easy performance comparison, but only if you've got money to burn.
Tech specs
Model 2014 Audi RS 7 Quattro
Trim RS 7 Quattro Tiptronic
Power train 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission, Audi Quattro AWD with Sport Differential
EPA fuel economy 16 city, 27 highway, 19 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation MMI Navigation with Audi Connect and Google Earth integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player single slot DVD/CD
MP3 player support standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB or iPod connection via Audi MMI
Other digital audio SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, 2x SD card slots, HDD media storage, Wi-Fi app integration
Audio system 15-speaker Bang & Olufsen Advanced Sound System
Driver aids blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert, rear camera, optional lane keep assistant, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, front and corner cameras
Base price $104,900
Price as tested $124,095