Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

The RX1 and A99, Is Sony getting its mojo back?

Sony RX1

Sony RX1

Sony has seen some tough times over the past decade. The once completely dominant consumer electronics company has seen its lead lost to the likes of Samsung and Apple. Sony was a powerhouse in the 80s and 90s. They had a history of innovation from the transistor radio, to the Trinitron TV to the original portable music player, the Walkman. But the transition to the software based world has been tough for Sony. They are excellent at making analog or digital hardware but not very good at writing the software to power them.

But in one area, cameras, Sony seems to be showing some mojo. The have the guts to break with the past and create cameras for the next generation. Their translucent mirror with electronic view finder DSLTs started the ball rolling. They got rid of the legacy optical viewfinder and got rid of the primitive flapping mirror and went all electronic. They followed up with a stable of mirrorless offerings with the NEX line. Now they are redefining the high-end compact “point and shoot” cameras with the RX100 and RX1. Their foray into the full size sensors with the RX1 and A99 is the latest shot against the bow of the old camera guard.

This has all happened before in other industries. Whenever an incumbent with a large market share tries to protect itself, it gets complacent. It stops innovating and rests on their market share leading laurels to maintain the status quo. Sony lost the lead in TVs and portable music players. They stopped innovating and taking risks. However in the camera space, it is Canon and Nikon that are defending the the traditional camera designs. Their DSLR cash cow have only received incremental updates but no true innovations. Well, here comes Sony. They have no status quo to defend in the DSLR space. They are the underdog and are willing to take big risks to reinvent existing technologies.

Digital cameras are basically picture-taking computers. The more the mechanical components are removed, the more computer like they become. Sony now makes perhaps the best sensors and with their expertise in miniaturized electronics design and with help from Zeiss in the optics department, they may soon become unstoppable. For the first time in a while, Canon and Nikon have a worthy competitor. Yet the big two legacy camera companies respond with more of the same and with anemic mirrorless system camera offerings (EOS M and Nikon 1). Their current response is not adequate to fight off a resurgent Sony. Now if Sony can only beef up their software interface skills (I’m looking at you NEX) they will soon become the camera company to topple.

9 responses

  1. My own bet is that Kirk T is simply gushing over the new full frame (yes I read his post earlier) but I’ll bet is is secretly walking on air all day. And I surprised myself. too. I had not considered Sony previously because of the non standard hotshoe, but they have reworked things with the new NEX 6.

    I am in the market for a new body to fill in some gaps and will purchase probably by around November. I now have 3 contenders – the Oly OM-D, the Pana GH3 (or possibly old GH2), and now the new NEX 6. I am looking for a tool somewhere in that wide $1000 range to fill in some video gaps. No decision will come for awhile yet, but that NEX 6 is looking awfully good. That the Sony is an E-mount does not matter that much to me as adapters are available, and the Wifi capability is not a factor at all in me putting this camera on my list.

    Yes the other companies had better take notice. We need tools that evolve and make the best possible use of available technology. I really don’t consider the new offerings “big” risks. I look at it more as forward thinking. If Nikon would have come up with a full frame like the RX-1 two years ago, I would have bought in even of the price tag was $3k. Now, probably the only thing that I’ll be buying from Nikon in the future is a new DSLR if one breaks. I began to lose faith in Nikon with the Nikon 1 system. Sorry, but what a joke. I did consider getting a pink one as a toy – now I have regained sanity and I canned that idea soon after it came.

    The standard DSLR gravy train where shoving more megapixels down our throats is coming to an end. And since I can take a pretty much noise free image of a candle flame in a dark room the ISO race is peaking out as well. For those who doubted Trey Ratcliffe and Scott Bourne about the DSLR trend shift, well, they’ll be hauling around a 5 pound camera body, and I won’t be. Works for me.

    Yes I pull out the behemoth cameras and lenses when I need them, but it’s not nearly as often as it used to be. I have even started using the Oly E-PL1 for some food product shooting and the results have been outstanding. Sorry but for a 1/4 page ad, there’s no way I need a 36 or 40MP camera. My work methods have already shifted in some cases, and I’m one of those who never thought I would be using anything but a DSLR or medium format for product shoots.

    September 12, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    • I do admire what Sony is doing. For me though, in-body IS is very important as well as the color. I seem to like the Olympus color over the Panasonic and Sony colors.

      I’m curious about the Olympus Pen announcement coming soon. I will compare the new Pens vs the OM-D.

      September 12, 2012 at 11:19 pm

      • I’m going to see what falls out of the Photokina sky and then do some data smashing. Nikon has just announced D600 24MP full frame for $2100 body only. That complicates things for me, because one of my Nikons will need replacement next year. The kicker is that there’s no long wait on this one – will be available Sept 18. I’m just going to have to stay off the interwebs ;-)

        And do you want to know the funny thing? Pen users, OM-D users, a lot of Panny users – they are generally in a happy state. I just went on one of the Nikon forums and about the Nikon D600 – whine whine whine whine! So I guess small cameras make us happier ;-)

        September 13, 2012 at 12:23 am

      • Lots of exciting announcements. I’m curious, what are the Nikon people whining about?

        September 13, 2012 at 12:31 am

      • Price – that it’s not cheap enough. There were rumors flying for quite ahwile that it was going to be $1500. That’s a freakin pipe dream and I don’t know what those guys were smoking when they started spreading that one. Announcement is about an hour old, and one blogger whining that he won’t look “professional enough” at weddings. Really, these jerks need to get over this crap.

        Sorry but in 30 years, I’ve only had a client specify a certain camera once, and the reasons were valid for the request since it was a job continuation where another shooter bailed out. Otherwise, people don’t care, The only one who will rag on you is maybe a prospective bride or groom who read something in a wedding magazine about what cam a photog should have. And if I get a client who gets on me about a camera, they’re just no longer a client.

        Hey I’m chatty tonite – too much coffee ;-)

        September 13, 2012 at 12:42 am

  2. Gregg Mack

    You could be right about Sony. I thought that they acquired Minolta a few years ago. (They did acquire *someone*, just not sure if it was Minolta or not.) So they are not starting from scratch, but I do commend them for putting out some design creativity lately.

    In the past, I admired Canon, and I have a lot of their equipment, but now I have become disenchanted with them – for the exact reasons that you address in your post.

    I hope that Canon (and Nikon) regain some innovative moxy soon. Otherwise, I think it will be analogous to when the Japanese cars overtook the American cars, while Detroit refused to change – until it was way too late to remain competitive.

    September 16, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    • Gregg, I believe Sony acquired Konica-Minolta so you are correct. Looks like Canon and Nikon’s response maybe to produce less expensive full frame DSLRs.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  3. Laurent

    Nice move from Sony….I have pretty much decided that my next camera will be a SLT or a Nex

    September 17, 2012 at 7:04 am

  4. Rick

    Thom Hogan recently commented about the Sony a99 being bracketed both above and below (pricewise) by both Nikon and Canon leaving a choice based mostly on the sensor performance, which raises the question of whether the a99 offers enough compared to the a77 to warrant the additional cost.

    While it is true that we are seeing a wave of full frame sensors at price points which are lower than historic norms, the fact remains that full frame bodies are greatly more expensive than DX crop factor bodies and the differences in image quality may not justify the differences in price in many circumstances. After all, one of the major criticisms of the DX sensor has been the lack of wide angle lenses which are the equal of the FX wide angles. It seems that may be changing as Nikon, Canon, and the third party lens manufacturers come to realize that the DX market is here to stay.

    P.S. I noticed that Kirk bought another a57 and remarked what a good camera it is for the price.

    September 19, 2012 at 9:26 pm

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