Canon and Nikon make superlative SLR products, but currently on very conservative paths. Modern DSLRs are pure oldthink: they're based actually and conceptually on similar-looking film cameras (makes sense, since they're made to use the same lenses). Canon and Nikon are both stuck in ruts: useful, productive, and successful ruts, it's true, but still. Each sticks religiously to the "better is bigger, smaller is for amateurs" lockstep, and each line shares a corporate design language from top to bottom—designs that have not had significant rethinks for years. Decades, if you're counting. And which make their lineups all very samey and prevent different models from achieving significantly different "personalities" or styles. The standard of progress is constant and undeniable improvement, yes, but along the familiar, well-worn refresh/upgrade paradigm that has become de rigeur for both. It makes for "families" of camera models, each with its own "lineage" of similar cameras across cycles. The D30 begets the D60 begets the 10D begets the 20D begets the 30D begets the 40D begets the 50D begets the 60D. All indisputably excellent, just predictable. It's an essentially conservative, hidebound, take-no-chances approach that has worked well so far (although history tells us what can happen to companies that get too comfortable with that kind of status quo). And next we'll have the or the 70D and the D400, and they'll be better than the current models and have a few new features and look about the same and cost about the same and be indisputably excellent too, along the same old lines, another tick or tock in the usual refresh/upgrade cycle, and I'm bored already.
Sony, the new kid on the big block, bought Minolta's SLR unit when Konica-Minolta thought better of trying to compete without being the maker of its own sensors and stepped out of the fray. Sony's first two SLR offerings, the A100 and A700, were dutiful warmovers following the tried-and-true Canikon formula. 2007's A700, targeted at the upper end of the amateur market, was an immediate descendant of the 2004 Konica-Minolta 7D. (Unfortunately, Sony's acquisition of Minolta's SLR unit also killed its own F-505 / F-707 / F-717 / F-828 / R1 lineage, and that one I still mourn. Sony should revive a modernized R1 with a square sensor; it'd sell. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?)
Then the A700 was discontinued and...nothing. And then more nothing. And more*. Radio silence. Various speculations bubbled up: Sony isn't serious about the high end of the amateur market? There's going to remain a big gap between the traditional pro A900/A850 and the rest of the product lineup?
Turned out Sony was rethinking. Not just refreshing.
Whether the A77 with its wacko features turns out to be a good camera remains to be seen as of this writing. Whether it will be a popular camera is a separate, semi-related subject. I've written about the risks Sony might be taking elsewhere.
But different is cool and new...at least to talk about, at least while it's new. Different creates desire. True, the A77 might be more desirable than the Canon 7D and the Nikon D300s just because it's different and the latest to arrive, and for no other reasons. But that's good enough for a place on this list, whereas the excellent comparable Canikon products seem sorta sleepy by comparison. Desirable, yes, but not as.
*Why? Because I was waiting for the A700 successor, that's why. I can make it rain by leaving my umbrella at home. Because I had a K-M 7D, I opted to wait out the A700 and buy the next generation after it. It's my personal version of the umbrella rule: if I'm waiting for it, it doesn't come out.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.