I sometimes get accused of being too bored by certain things I'm supposed to be interested in, such as apps (if press releases for apps had weight and solidity, I would long since have had the breath crushed out of me and disappeared beneath the tide) or things like infrared remotes. I have trouble convincing people that what really interests me are pictures, to which my interest in camera gear is decidedly secondary.
But I also get bored when things are, well, boring. Because really, I'm just a hobbyist like everybody else. I've spent my life in photography and it's been my profession and I love it, but when it comes to my geeky side I yield to no man.
That's why I have trouble staying vitally interested in the ninth (or whatever) warmover of the undoubtedly excellent entry-level Nikon (it's currently called a D3000 and I admit I had to go look that up) or the undeniably outstanding umpteenth iteration of the capable but anodyne mid-level Canon (I know that one's called a 60D. I'm on top of that. Know little else about it aside from the fact that people love 'em.) And I gave up trying to keep track of point-and-shoots in about 2006. I'm surprised I stuck with it that long. My brain is not big enough to store that much minutiae.
But the two (+) introductions from Sony last week are, well, just what the doctor ordered. Both of these cameras hit our demographic (a fancy word for "me and you") squarely where we live. Both are sufficiently new that they inspire some geeky inquiry; both are sufficiently different that they are apt to trigger happy debate.
Finally, something for us to chew over.
The grass sure looks green over there
I'm "invested" in the Micro 4/3 standard shared by Olympus and Panasonic and their sundry coalition partners (I really did pre-order the yummy Olympus 45mm ƒ/1.8 we were talking about before I left on vacation. Two lenses, now that's an investment). So the NEX cameras have been a ship passing in the night. But Sony sure seems to be getting its act together. With the NEX-3 and NEX-5 I wondered a bit about the, well, balance of the package—the cameras seemed optimized for smallness, the sensor for bigness, both for bragging rights rather than to create a well-balanced, coherent package overall—the lenses thus missed the petite, right-sized aspect of their Micro 4/3 competitors (compare the new 24 with my fave Panny 20mm, both in length and price), and made the cameras look like a small person wearing an oversized hat. But I have to admit that, apart from embiggening the NEX-7 to give it a little more right-sized heft and hand-fit, Sony did the two things I would do if I were improving my GF1—they gave it both the ideal lens that I personally need (don't run away screaming, I'm not going to go into all that again) and a viewfinder. If there's one thing I've become convinced of after using a mirrorless camera for a year, it's that there are just times when you really do need a @#$!!^ viewfinder. I personally love the flip-up viewing screen, even though it's not new; I admired it on the NEX-5. Once a waistlevel guy, and all that.
From the wilderness
Then there's the A77. Let's be clear: I'd given up. My first DSLR was a Konica-Minolta 7D, bought used in 2006. My purchase immediately inspired Minolta to get out of the camera business altogether after 68 glorious years; evidently it reasoned that since its products appealed to a contrarian curmudgeon like me (it was my first Minolta) the company stood no chance at all in the marketplace and might as well fly the white flag. The DSLR department went to the wilderness and found shelter at Sony, and I looked long and longingly at the Sony A700, the 7D's successor and heir apparent. But by the time I was ready to buy it was a year or two into the A700's lifecycle, so I decided—fatefully—to simply wait a bit for the A700's successor, which logically couldn't come out any later than early to mid 2010. I'd just buy that.
I should have known; me wanting a not-yet-materialized camera is the Mike version of the umbrella rule. I waited, and waited, and waited. The A700 went away; I waited some more.
I wandered away and bought a Pentax.
Frankly, I never thought the A700 replacement would get here. It looked exactly like Sony had strategically and deliberately abandoned that segment of the marketplace, for whatever hard-hearted bean-counter rationale.
But it's here. Post-tsunami, post-recession, and not just a refresh of the K-M 7D / A700 DNA. It's got a 24-MP APS-C sensor, a "translucent mirror" like the pellicle mirror in my old EOS RT, and a—what?—a 2.4-million dot OLED EVF. Cool beans.
That EVF is not at all out of place on the NEX-7, but on the A77, it's a bold and bound-to-be-controversial move.
(Cold water, Dept.: See that new 16–50mm "Sony" lens? Don't forget that Konica-Minolta ported the fine Tamron 17–35mm and 28–75mm lenses into K-M dress, and that Sony has changed the latter's clothes yet again to make it into a SAL lens. Tamron then introduced an SP version to cover APS-C. Despite the ever-so-slightly different spec, which looks like camouflage for me (given focal lengths for zooms are not precise or in any way certified), I'm going to guess that the Sony 16–50mm is a close relative of the Tamron 17–50 made in Tamron's Foshan, Guangdong, People's Republic of China factory. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
Bottom line, I want to see both these new cameras. They both look tasty and cool, and they both excite my geek gene. And, unlike most of the electronic flotsam clogging my inbox, they both look perfectly mainstream for TOPpers to the manner born. More anon.
UPDATE: John Brewton just alerted me that Michael Reichmann has posted a First Impressions Report about the A77 at L-L, and John Roberts notes that Kirk Tuck has written about the A77 at Visual Science Lab.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by David L.: "One of the most under-appreciated bits of photographic technology is the pellicle mirror. I don't know why more still cameras don't take advantage of them. Of course I felt the same way about Canon's eye control focus in the EOS A2e and EOS 3, and look how that tech took off...."
Mike replies: I'm showing my age, but I beat that horse thoroughly to death in the early '90s. Metaphorically speaking only, of course—I love horses. I loved the pellicle mirror, too. See above comments re "contrarian curmudgeon" etc.
Featured Comment by John Camp: "As about a million people will probably tell you, the entry level Nikon is now the D3100—which probably makes your point even stronger, if your point is, Who Cares?
"There's been a lot of churn on the photo forums about the new Sonys. Yawn. The good old exciting days of the digital revolution just aren't coming back, kids. Ctein has made the point that you aren't going to see much difference in image quality until you double the pixels, and there have been a lot of cameras floating around that have a lot more than half what the new Sonys have. And to make real use of 24mp, you'll have to upsize your printer, etc., because the 24mp will make no difference to people who look at photos on video screens, or any print smaller than about 13x19.
"So, yawn, really, you know, I mean, OMG, pass the joint."
Mike replies: When you say "pass the joint," do you mean "walk past the entertainment establishment"? Because I don't know what else that phrase could refer to, given that TOP would never advocate retrogressive degenerate behavior.
Featured Comment by Oskar Ojala: "As someone who owns both a GF1 and a NEX-3, I can say that the GF1 is more a photographer's camera and the NEX is more for the gadget buyer. The NEX has better image quality; it actually fits well in the hand; but the controls are slower to use than those of the GF1 and there are some fundamental limitations with it that make it bad for tripod work (with 24 MP a tripod is not a bad idea...). AF is also better on the GF1. Also, I do feel that the images from my Nikon D300 are cleaner than those from the NEX. Sony might have had to make compromises to fit everything in that very small body.
"But the NEX does make for a great infrared camera after some painful modification work. It's not a poor camera by any means, just something that I simply couldn't use as my only camera or main camera."
Featured Comment by Roger Bradbury: "Hey look, a camera with a real viewfinder! And at $1,200 I should b£@@dy well hope so! Sony seem to be doing what was commonplace twenty odd years ago; providing a viewfinder that's usable in most conditions. As for all those other compacts, if I wanted to struggle to see what I'm photographing in daylight I would just put a film in my 1917 No. 2 Brownie and use that."
Mike replies: John Camp probably thinks you're talking about a different kind of brownie.
Featured Comment by Moose: "What really interests me is taking pictures and the images that result. I'm only interested in those aspects of the gear that further the process and results.
"You saw the 60D as just another iteration of a line of competent, but boring, cameras. I saw it as a revelation. Live view with an articulated screen (for which I don't have to buy a bunch of new lenses)! Wow!
"The sensor from a higher end camera with fixed screen in a smaller, lighter body, with addition of the articulated screen. All I lose is faster burst mode, which I virtually never use, and a dedicated movie button, which I would like. All for much less money, too!
"I've had mine for several weeks now—and I think I'm in love. It's how the camera makes it easier to get the images I want that matters above all else. For me, the 60D delivers.
"IQ is in some ways a slight step below the 5D, but NR software and careful technique make that a non-issue, unless I take up monster prints. Even then, the extra pixels may even the playing field.
"We recently had a thread on the Oly list about camera/lens appearance aesthetics. I realized I had no opinion about the appearance of the 60D and my lenses on it. It looks just like what it is, a modest sized, black DSLR, just like a jillion others.
"Who cares what it looks like or that it's just one in a series of mid-priced cameras? It's how it works for my way of doing photography and what comes out that count. I suppose now I do need a real wide angle for APS, so I don't need to have the 5D and 17–35mm at hand, too. That's OK.
"All that, and I finally found a tripod that works with me, instead of against me—and devised a new way of carrying it that makes carrying easier and use quicker and easier.
"Life is good. Any camera that contributes to that ain't boring."
Mike replies: Shhhhh. I'm trying to limit my current GAS attack to two Sonys which, conveniently, I can't impulse-buy. I don't need your 60D giving me GAS too.