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Thursday, 11 September 2008

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I haven't even read the report yet but as soon as I saw the first photo I thought "Yes! - that's the one I want"
It would be such a nice option to be able to buy it with that plain prism housing and no Sony on the front, almost enough room there for a Minolta sticker?

Cheers, Robin

I think Nick did a good job of preparing an even-handed first look at this camera.

I meant to offer the following thought on the earlier post.

While I do believe that Sony is earnest about their commitment to their new dslr photography line I am skeptical of their future in this market. All of the truly great current and recent cameras have been crafted by companies with optical product heritages (i.e. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Mamiya, et.al.). When you learn more of their histories it becomes apparent that manufacturing cameras was perhaps originally a necessary inconvenience for selling their best lenses.

Sony's heritage is that of electronic gadgets and global distributorship of those gadgets. I wonder if lenses are a necessary inconvenience for selling electronics for Sony?

Photography products have unquestionably become devices driven principally by electrons rather than photons. So from that perspective it might seem that Sony's heritage could prove to be an enormous advantage for 21st century photographic products.

Nevertheless I wonder if optical heritage won't continue to prove more valuable in the camera market. We seem to be approaching the end of the conceivable electronic innovation trail for photography. (Once you have "smile detection" what can be left?) That may be the point at which the optical guys will be able to change the game.

"All of the truly great current and recent cameras have been crafted by companies with optical product heritages...I wonder if lenses are a necessary inconvenience for selling electronics for Sony?"

Ken,
Sony has Zeiss in its corner, certainly a company with great optical heritage. I can at least attest that the Zeiss lens on the F-707 was a fine lens. I don't think Sony will have any problems with lenses as long as Zeiss is designing/making its premium lens line.

Mike

Mike;
Sorry, I expressed my thoughts poorly. Indeed, Sony's partnership with Zeiss nicely augments Sony's lack of optical capabilities. (Ironically, Canon is Sony's defacto partner on the video side of the house.)

But the point I ham-handedly fumbled was that camera product concepts and strategies driven by an electronics company such as Sony might be quite different than those from an optical company. So I idly mused that optically-driven strategies from companies like Nikon and Canon might ultimately prove to be more innovative for cameras in the long run.

Ken wrote: "All of the truly great current and recent cameras have been crafted by companies with optical product heritages (i.e. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Mamiya, et.al.)."

I agree - when it comes to film cameras. But market success in the digital era depends more on being able to design high-powered, compact computers (i.e., cameras) than in grinding lenses. In fact, if you look at who's been successful at selling cameras in the digital age, some optically-proficient companies (Pentax, Olympus, Leica) have struggled to produce competitive cameras because the R&D costs of designing new sensors (and related components) are so high. In the brutal digital-camera marketplace, the "electronics" part of the equation may be a bigger challenge than the "optics" part - which, as Mike noted, electronics companies like Sony and Panasonic can buy from Zeiss and Leica.

Sony's prominence in the professional video world and their success in home entertainment mean that they both have decades of electronics expertise *and* can shift a lot of capital to developing new product lines. I wouldn't underestimate what Sony can do with SLRs if they put their mind to it.

Sony is an interesting case, and should not be written off. (I am currently not a Sony camera user.)

1. Digital still capture is a small part of the corporation. That means they can put revenue from other departments into DSLR's if they believe it will be worth it in the futher.They have more capital than Canon or Nikon.

2. I think they are developing a line for the future. They have tremendous global brand recognition, exspecially among the young. I would wager that the Sony DSLR customer profile averages younger than Canon & Nikon. Apple and Sony are considered "high end" in portable electronics.

3. As mentioned above, A DSLR is essentially a specialized computer/electronics device, that happens to have lenses attached. Zeiss (does that also mean Cosina?) has them covered on the lenses. The other stuff is an established cluster of compentencies they have had longer than Nikon/Canon. They absorbed the other of the Big Three from the 80's/90's, Minolta. Gee, handheld, shock resistant, weather resistent electronic devices with chips in them, sounds like......Sony?

4. There core compentencies are also well positioned for the digital video/still convergence.

5. Sony can operate a digital still camera division at a loss for a long time, as an investment in market expansion.

"All of the truly great current and recent cameras have been crafted by companies with optical product heritages (i.e. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Mamiya, et.al.)."

The camera business has become a semi-conductor business. Cameras are now a computer with a lens. That's the reality, and that's the future, which belongs to electronics companies. See Kodak.

"All of the truly great current and recent cameras have been crafted by companies with optical product heritages"

Ken:

I would hope that Sony has retained some influence from the Minolta staff. I, for one, wish Sony had purchased Pentax, since it's likely there would now be a 645D and my MF Pentax lenses would have a digital body. In any event, it's a heck of a camera at a 3k price tag and to quote my next-door, ten-year-old neighbor: "that was then, this is now."

Unlike in the film days, building and successfully selling a modern camera is no different from building and successfully selling a modern automobile or a modern computer.

It comes down to a company's senior management having a firm and honest understanding of their core competencies, and being both strategically and tactically smart about outsourcing the rest, with a good insight into the supply and distribution chains and a keen awareness of competitive positioning. It's not just about delivering one killer product at one point in time, but being able to deliver it over and over again to create a trustworthy "brand".

Sony is a brand name with a mixed success record. Despite their virtually owning the Walkman and Discman market, what do they have to offer in an MP3 player that can hold a candle to iPod after so many years that iPod has been in the market? I understand that their TV business is also taking some serious hits from the competition. They did win the Blu-ray battle, but apparently at a very high cost.

Kudos to Sony for putting out a product such as A900 for $3000. Whether they win a large pro/prosumer customer base or not, they have given enough food for thought to the management at Canon who up until now enjoyed a virtual monopoly, and always shortchanged pro-level features in their non-1-series cameras simply to keep some artificial differentiators from the 1-series so as not to cannibalize sales of their flagship models. It has also been a matter of some debate whether the 1-series bodies really do cost as much to manufacture that Canon have to charge such a hefty price. The A900 ends that debate to some extent. Welcome Sony!

The 135mm f4 side-by-side comparison points out an interesting issue I've noticed in a few A900 images now - smeared reds. Almost everything in the Sony pic is as sharp or sharper than the Canon frame, but the red pipes (which seem to be on the same plane, so it's not some kind of DOF issue) are blurry. The Imaging Resource test pics show a bit of this too, on one of the bottle labels... the reds turn to mush, in a manner I've only seen before on tiny-sensor P&S cams. I wonder if it's a beta/pre-production issue of some sort...

tsi says "I, for one, wish Sony had purchased Pentax, since it's likely there would now be a 645D"

Probably true. But the bigger question for me is why Nikon and Canon never got into the development of medium format cameras. I can imagine photography being different today if they did. I'm thinking a slick well built,trim 645 with modern AF. The Pentax and Mamiya offerings are (were) plasticy, noisy and slow. I recently shot a candid of my wife with a old MF Pentax 645 when she wasn't looking. She screamed and jumped the damn thing was so loud. LOL Sorry I'm off topic but I'm sure we could have some very cool digital MF cameras by now if those two companies had decided to play the game.

Dear EmmJay,

The sad answer is that medium format is a very small niche market. The primary reason that camera and film manufacturers had even been playing there in the last 15 years is because it is perceived as the professional "prestige" market.

In terms of dollar volumes, it's been minor for decades, and it started to seriously crash beginning in the early 1990s when portrait and wedding photographers (almost the entire business) started migrating to 35mm, as improved films gave them sufficient quality of tonality that had previously required medium format. Digital really put the nail in the coffin, as its workflow was perfectly suited to those businesses in a way that film never was. The medium format market had collapsed several years before people even noticed the overall decline in film photography business.

Nikon and Canon have traditionally competed for the professional prestige with high-and 35mm systems. That's how they have (successfully) chosen to build their image. Consequently, there's not a big incentive for them to produce medium format equipment.

Which is not to say that they never will; I do not have future insider information nor a crystal ball. But, as they would say in acting school, "What's their motivation?"


~ pax \ Ctein
[ please excuse any word salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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