Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sony Drops The (RX1, A99, NEX 6) Bomb

The first bits of Sony's camera explosion are hitting the interwebpipes. Steve Huff has sex with the RX1 in his preview, DPReview posts their more measured take on everything, and the camera world in general trembles in the face of true innovation. Bravo, Sony. Bravo.

The Sony may seem overpriced at $2799, and it is, but not by much. I am of course assuming that the lens is stellar. If it's not, then the camera's value plunges off a cliff, but I think it nearly impossible that Sony wouldn't put top-pro-level glass on the front of their new wunderkind.

The pro-oriented details of this camera are fantastic. The leaf shutter is silent and will likely have a flash-sync of 1/2000th (the shutter limit) when released. And here I was pining for a camera that had 1/250th. For anyone who has a standalone microphone, this compact camera comes with a microphone socket. A microphone socket! I hope that the HDMI output is clean. And praise the lord, a mechanical scroll wheel on the back! I can't describe how long I have waited for that.

This is the camera for the enthusiast community. It blows everything else out of the water. It will sell like crazy. Obviously, all of this effusive language must be put into context. The enthusiast community represents a small niche of the larger market. When I say "sell like crazy," crazy means tens of thousands of units.

I must admit, this camera is a bittersweet thing for me. Sony has hitherto been aggressive in both design and price. Nothing about this camera is aggressive in price. In fact, it evinces a degree of arrogance that I find unsettling. The accessories are priced in the sky. I'm talking stupid prices with mark-ups undoubtedly measured in quadruple digits. I thought the $80 lens hood for the Olympus 75mm was batshit stupid, but the Sony has it beat. Its lens hood costs $179, the thumb grip costs  $249, and the optical viewfinder (that simply sticks on the top of the camera), costs a sphincter-clenching $599. Sony is so far out of their fucking minds with those prices that it makes me think them a joke. Time will tell.

Moving away from super-expensive, niche cameras, we find that, from the perspective of the general market, and by association in many ways, the enthusiast market, the NEX-6 is the most interesting camera to be announced.

Firstly, it's yet another camera in the burgeoning NEX line of cameras and fills a price gap between the $600 NEX-5n and the $1,100 NEX-7. Secondly, while the NEX-7 was a great camera, its sensor was beyond the capabilities of every NEX lens. The only one that even came close cost more than the camera itself. While Sony accelerated its lens development, it still takes time to engineer top glass, grow the crystals to make the lenses, ramp up production facilities, and get the lenses to market. It was obvious that Sony needed to fill the gap with a different camera.

The NEX-6 has everything that the 7 has save for the 24Mp sensor, and that's a good thing. This new sensor supposedly is a noticeable step ahead vis-a-vis ISO performance and autofocus, which is really what we want and need out of these APS-C mirrorless cameras. With very few photos being printed, and the pros who will be printing interested in greater cameras, the APS-C market can sit quite pretty in the 15-20Mp range. I think Sony is smart to have the option of the high-res camera on the market, but the NEX-6 is the recipe for success. Good enough for the pros, cheap enough for everyone. I think that it's going to be huge. Millions of units huge.

The A99 is, again, precisely what everyone thought it would be: a full-frame camera with the SLT technology inside. Not Earth-shattering, and perhaps a bit boring after the annoucement of the RX1, but still very important. Sony takes its pro equipment seriously, and we can expect significant development in its lenses as they work to unify their SLT and mirrorless lines. That said, some of the camera's specs are underwhelming, specifically the slow shooting speed. I was expecting 10fps, or more, and instead got 6. The video performance better be world class to justify the price.

These three cameras, and the ongoing work that they represent, again causes me to consider making the jump to Sony. If Olympus hadn't released the world-class (and cheap) 75mm f/1.8, I would have made the jump to Sony and sold my Micro 4/3 gear yesterday. Perhaps that's just me being pissy. We've still got a lot of announcements to go. Micro 4/3, Fuji, Sony, and Nikon are all very tempting systems into which a new user could dive and be very happy and they all have stuff to announce this week. Photokina, bring it on!

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