My very first digital SLR camera was a Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D… and I loved it. I had been quite ready to graduate from a Canon G series point and shooter and gain the resulting quality boost I’d see from the whopping 6 megapixels of interchangeable lens and bigger sensor goodness that Konica Minolta promised was packaged inside of this sturdy and highly capable camera. Minolta was a true pioneer in photography, having essentially invented autofocus technology and leaping out ahead of rivals Nikon, Pentax, and others (Canon who?) back in the day. Their merger with Konica was, I was certain, destined to bolster their position and ultimately help ensure a future foothold in the photographic realm. Boy was I wrong.
Not long after I started shooting with the 5D, Sony announced that it was acquiring the photographic “assets” of KM (meaning mostly of Minolta), thus providing them with a lens mount, some interesting technologies, engineering talent, and a perch from which they could set their sights on industry giants, Canon and Nikon.
What? Sony? No… anybody but Sony. Sony is the company that dies a thousand deaths every time it seeks and fails to establish a new standard (memory sticks, betamax, walkman) and which has more in common with plastic gaming consoles than precise electro-mechanical photographic tools. In addition, the guy at the local camera shop told me that Sony is impatient. They seek to dominate an industry segment and if they can’t after a few years, they jump ship. “Give ’em a couple of years… that’s it. Then they’ll be out.” And so, I jumped ship. To Nikon.
Sony has released a number of KM (now called Alpha) mount cameras as well as a smaller mirrorless mount (E mount) for it’s popular NEX line. Their sensor production capabilities are second to none, supplying core technologies to Nikon, Pentax and others. Nevertheless, they have remained largely irrelevant in the DSLR space, prompting few Canikonians to consider moving to the Alpha mount.
But overall, Sony has continued to fumble. Their electronic reader platform has been a complete failure, they made great strides in the personal computer industry before choking it up to HP and others (including or maybe especially to arch rival, Apple) and their PlayStation gaming platform once ruled the roost… but no more.
Sony loves to innovate, but their track record in creating stickiness and building long-term success off of their innovations is, in a word, lousy.
And they’ve continued to plod along with both the A and E mount series cameras. The E mount mirrorless platform competes directly with the micro four-thirds platform and although the E mount lens selection is minuscule compared to the m4/3 array, Sony has shown that it is possible to deliver high quality results for APS-C (i.e., bigger than m4/3) sized sensors. Industry pundits wonder if Canon and Nikon are listening as Sony and now Samsung have moved into the APS-C mirrorless space, a place the two giants should be occupying by now.
Additionally, they’ve added to their stable of A lenses while introducing an interesting translucent hybrid technology that allows traditional DSLRs to implement usable live view and continuous focus capabilities that until now have been the purview only of compacts. In other words, Sony have created DSLRs that allow for live view shooting and video recording in ways don’t seem like a clunky afterthought as is the case with other manufacturers’ products.
This past week, Sony introduced a series of new NEX and Alpha cameras. Key innovations include the ability to create a modular SLR system based on the NEX-5N body whereby faster autofocus on Alpha mount lenses is possible via an add-on adapter and a high quality electronic viewfinder can adorn the top of the camera. With these accessories, the camera can be stripped for the times when portability matters most or bulked up for when full functionality is critical. The 7 series introduces a more professional camera with an in-built VF designed to make Fujifilm X100 owners who pine for the ability to swap lenses rather jealous.
In the A77 and A65 cameras, Sony provides super high quality electronic viewfinders along with quick framerates, fast autofocus, and a number of truly useful features that may have once seemed like gimmicks but which now have found their way onto mainstream spec sheets. Examples include sweep panorama (ability to create and merge in camera panorama shots) and auto HDR shooting.
The breakthrough comes in the form of the high quality electronic viewfinder. Having shot with the X100 extensively, I’ve come to realize that I greatly prefer the EVF as it allows you to see the shot real time just as it will be captured once you depress the shutter button. Depth of field, white balance, exposure compensation, noise… are all seen as you’re taking the photo, not after. Additionally, the result can appear right after you shoot (if you want), allowing for a much quicker review of images since you no longer need to take your eye from the VF.
New (modular design, high quality EVFs, useful and well implemented features such sweep pano and HDR) meets old (venerable lens mount, traditional DSLR styling). Sony is pushing the envelope in ways that Nikon and Canon are not. And, they are working with APS-C (and full frame) sensors which are bound to ultimately win out over smaller sensor technologies.
Sony is changing the camera industry. Some are thinking that their cameras will eventually go the way of betamax, walkmans and memory sticks.
But I disagree…
Posted by Rey