Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Slow Motion Disappointment That Is Sony

I let it be known that I am incredibly disappointed with the rumor that Sony is working on a full-frame mirrorless camera system. For a camera geek, this may seem like an odd thing to do, what with "the next big thing" perpetually on my mind. And perhaps if the previous big thing had actually arrived, I indeed would be excited. Only it didn't.

Sony has absolutely delivered a few big things, the RX1 and RX100 chief among them, but their SLR and NEX systems have utterly stagnated. They have been nothing but promise for nearly a year and a half, and Sony's own projections show nothing for at least the next year. No good lenses. No good accessories. Just promise.

What worries me is that Sony is run by idiots. Their camera division appears to be run by some pretty smart people, but the company itself is run by idiots. The RX100 and especially the RX1 sold like hotcakes while also maintaining a pretty healthy profit margin -- something Sony was, at one time in the distant past, accustomed to. Money like that is prone to drive executives off of the very track that earned them the money in the first place.

So instead of concentrating on their systems, Sony will veer off into super-expensive hardware aimed at high-end enthusiasts and professionals -- all sporting the Sony premium price, of course. Look at the increasingly uncompetitive A99. It is a camera that is competitive at the $2,000 price point, but Sony is selling it for $2,800. Sony did the same thing with the A900, which was a significant enough of a disappointment to cause Sony to make the A850, which didn't sell well even with the market-beating sub-$2,000 price. If they had released the A850 from the get-go, they may have been able to build up some momentum. But they didn't. They released an underperforming camera for three-thousand freaking dollars.

That is the problem. Sony's leadership still thinks that the Sony name can command a premium. It can't. The Sony name is dead. It has been long surpassed by the likes of Samsung, Apple, and even boutique brands. As they have done with the A900 and now the A99, Sony's executives seem to think that releasing prosumer-oriented gear with a price premium is the sweet spot for them. Further evidence of this systemic hubris can be found in the prices for the accessories of the RX1; to wit, they are in-fucking-sane. This is stupid.

The A99 will fail. If they try to do the same thing with a premium, full-frame mirrorless system, it will fail as well. The RX1/100 were huge successes because they were unique. Yet another mirrorless system or yet another SLR is not a unique proposition. Hell, Sony's lens system is is so far behind Cankon as to be alarming. They haven't even yet matched the competition, much less found a way to out-innovate them!

I had hopes that Sony would be the company to push the market toward a state of sustained innovation and development -- the company that would shake the thrones of Canon and Nikon. But no. Given its first taste of success, Sony devolved. Maybe a full-on bankruptcy will humble them enough.

While this has been something of a despondent, pissy article, I still have hope. Perhaps Sony has some massive system in the wings, with a tight integration of full-frame, APS-C, and mirrorless cameras. I doubt it, but the possibility is there. As it stands, we have Olympus looking pretty good, and Fuji is an increasing force to be reckoned with. The competition is there is ways that it hasn't been years. So if Sony fails, so be it. We'll all just move on to someone else.

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