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.