Okay, I confess I know nothing. I am not a giant corporation that knows all, sees all, and tells little. I am not worth billions of dollars and I do not have minions strung around the globe doing my bidding every day. I am just one very little guy—that quaint thing, a photographer.
But Sony appears to have released three new primes while I was away. For me, a long-awaited and much hoped-for event, even though I have fallen away from actually shooting Sony. I have fallen away, but Sony is still an important "anchor" for me because my first DSLR was a Minolta, which became Sony, and I've used and loved the A900 and made the A850 my personal pick for Camera of the Year 2009 and have been waiting (albeit with fading hopes) for the A700 replacement, which would be (or would have been, as the case may be) the two-generations-on descendant of my old K-M 7D, and I still have some Minolta-now-Sony stuff kicking around the closet. Somehow I still regard my Sony apostasy as temporary.
Of the three new primes, one is a premium Zeiss (ZA) lens and the other two are consumer-grade (SAM) Sony lenses. The premium lens is a 24mm ƒ/2, and the other two, the SAM lenses, are a 35mm ƒ/1.8 and an 85mm ƒ/2.8.
So my initial thought was, well, fine, you can use a cheap 35mm on the A850. It's still fast. Even consumer lenses are pretty good in this day and age. I can deal.
But wait...oh, no...crap....
The Sony press release is not clear. Not clear at all. But I think that there is also a very strange mix with regard to formats. I think the beautiful, big, expensive 24mm is a full-frame lens, and the little slow consumer 85mm is a full-frame lens, but the lens in the middle is an APS-C-only lens.
Rub eyes with fists, do comical triple-take. Whaaaa?
Mind, I'm not saying the new lenses aren't useful, especially the 24mm. Many serious Sony shooters are going to love the 24mm. Well, at least, all those who use the two closely-related bodies Sony makes for serious shooters.
But if what you're after is a 35mm (like, well, um, me) you can use the big WA as a 35mm on a reduced-sensor camera, an application for which it will be massively too big and too heavy, and in which application you would be throwing away at least three quarters of the capability you had to pay for—namely, it applicability as an ultra-wide on full frame. Or, you're still SOL. You do not have either a medium-sized, medium-speed 35mm to use on a full-frame Alpha camera or a smallish, light, reasonably-priced 35mm-equivalent to use on a reduced-sensor camera. You do have the option of cobbling together a mismatch between the high-grade 24mm lens and a consumer body. Meanwhile, the prices for used samples of the old Maxxum 35mm ƒ/2 AF lens continue to climb into the stratosphere on Ebay. Not much demand, but even less supply.
Photo via Photoclub Alpha
Would it be so hard to just reissue the old Maxxum lens? If I were a giant corporation worth billions of dollars with minions strung around the globe, I would throw that little batwing-sized bone to my poor, groveling, impecunious fans. They did it with a bunch of the other old Minolta primes. Why not this one? Which leads to my question.
Is the guy at Sony who is deciding what lenses to provide a) a super-smart but ruthless and heartless capitalist, who dresses like an evil Karl Lagerfeld and has a longhaired white cat in his lap which he strokes when he fires people, and knows what I need but just does not give a flying ninja kick; or b) the slightly cretinous nephew of the Vice-Chairman who falls asleep and drools during meetings and who has to work in someone's department and just please keep him the hell out of the PlayStation division, and never mind that he wouldn't know a camera from a 12-speed blender?
It's not going to help with my depression to know the answer; but I'm still curious, in a listless, crushed sort of way.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by amcananey: "Okay, I'll venture a guess. The A900 and A850 are, as you surmise, the cameras that the new 24mm is most likely to be used on. The A900 and A850 are high resolution cameras without video. They apparently are inferior to the Nikon and Canon equivalents when it comes to high ISO work. Accordingly, these cameras are most prized by landscape photographers, who are likely to be more interested in a 24mm lens than a 35mm lens. As much as you want a fast, reasonably light 35mm full-frame lens, I'm not sure there is as much demand for it as you seem to think. The trend recently has been decidedly in favor of people using ever-wider lenses (e.g., the Nikon 14–24mm ƒ/2.8 and 16–35mm ƒ/4 lenses and the Canon 17mm T/S lens). Many see 35mm as a boring, in-between focal length. They either go wide, or they go for a 'normal' lens that is slightly longer. Thirty-five millimeter is probably most likely to be used by photojournalists, who would also be more likely to use a Nikon D700/D3/D3s (and yes, I know that Nikon is missing a modern 35mm full-frame lens...one is 'supposedly' coming 'soon') or a Canon 5D Mark II.
"And the 35mm ƒ/1.8 actually makes a lot of sense on a cropped-sensor camera. It is a fast 50mm-e. I disagreed with you when you complained about the Nikon 35mm ƒ/1.8, and I disagree with you now. The more I use the Nikon lens, the more I think it is a brilliant lens, especially for the price. Fifty millimeter was my favorite focal length on film, and now I have a digital equivalent.
"So I actually think there are strong reasons and solid logic behind Sony's decision to release these lenses in the form it did.
"Not that that helps you at all..."
Mike replies: Just two cavils with your sensible analysis. "Many see 35mm as a boring, in-between focal length" ...except for anyone who shoots an M6, M7, or M9 Leica (who are by necessity prime-lens shooters). For them it is the most popular normal lens. I'm just sayin'. Second, if the Maxxum 35mm ƒ/2 had been reissued, what would stop you from using that as your 50mm-e on your reduced-sized sensor camera? And why not kill two birds with one stone, instead of one bird with one stone?
Another solution to my dilemma would be for me to just not be so gol-darned cheap. I had an opportunity to buy a minty copy of the ideal iteration of the Maxxum 35/2 for I think $850, or just under 3X what it cost new. Many people could bring themselves to do that. Many perfectly sensible people. Me, on the other hand....
Featured Comment by jallu: "This was my reaction too upon finding that the 35mm is not a full frame. I would have bought an A850 a long time ago if the old Minolta 35mm ƒ/2 had been reissued at a reasonable price."
Featured [partial] Comment by Doroga: "They say that some glass types are not available now for 35/2, so it could not be reissued just like other Minolta lenses...."
Featured Comment by John Camp: "I've never understood this whole Sony/Minolta thing. It's like some sad cult based on the Yugo. Why would you even get involved? The Minoltas made my butt look handsome, and the Sonys managed to extend that aesthetic. The Sony cameras, I'm afraid, are like most other Sony products—a little tap-dancing, a big viewing screen on Times Square, and very little real interest in the product other than as something to peddle. I find it hard to scrape up any sympathy for Sony users; they should simply behave like adults, swallow their pride and move to Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Leica, etc."
Featured Comment by Mark Hespenheide: "Twelve hours after first reading them, John Camp's comments still drive me to the closest I've come to fanboy anger in fifteen years of reading the internet. I don't have any great love of Sony the corporate entity; in fact, their reputation for poor support of old consumer electronics almost kept me away from the A850. I'm glad it didn't. In concert with a good lens, I'm getting 16x20" prints subjectively equal to drum-scanned 645 or 6x7. I thought I was being an adult when I rented a 5d2 and didn't like the splotchy shadows even at ISO 100. I thought I was being an adult when I realized I could get a 24mp full-frame camera for $6000 less than Nikon's. I thought I'd swallowed my pride when I realized a consumer electronics company made a better camera, with better handling and features more actually useful to me than the Canons I'd been shooting for a decade. Thanks for letting me rant."
Mike replies: Forgive them, they know not whereof they speak (although I took John's comment as being quite funny. After that same twelve hours, I was still chuckling). In my opinion the Sony A900 and A850 are among the greatest cameras of the new millennium, meaning, the whole digital era. For me the A900 comes out ahead of the 5D Mark II and the D700 by two and five lengths at the finish line, respectively, that is if we decide we're going to go ahead and think and talk of cameras in terms of horse races. Both those others are great cameras too, don't get me wrong. Yet, oddly, the Sony—Sony!—is more of a purist photographer's camera than either the Canon or the Nikon.
It would truly sadden me, but not surprise me, if Thom Hogan is right and Sony is moving away from full-frame sensors for good. I also really liked the K-M 7D/A700 and would have loved to see that genetic line continue to be nurtured and improved; but then, I also loved the F-505/707/717/828 line and was very saddened when it ended with the abruptly orphaned—and quite briliant—DSC-R1. A great tragedy that Sony doesn't have the tradition to respect or protect its own products as much as it should, and that, for whatever reasons, so many photographers don't experience and appreciate them either.