The Mirrorless Interchangeable lens sector of the camera market is without doubt the most dynamic, the most innovative and the most changeable. 2014 saw a lot of new products (Thanks to Photokina) but will 2015 be just as interesting or is this a year for consolidation?
The big players here are Sony, Fuji and the m4/3 dynamic duo, Panasonic and Olympus, They each deserve their own article, and today it's the turn of Sony in my final article of the series. So this is my take on what the state of play is at the moment and what might (or might not happen)
Sony have come some way since those first NEX cameras. One photographer I know said to me 'Who wants a camera that looks like a bar of soap!?' He's now using an A7r. The real 'game changer' had to be the NEX-7. '24MP on APS-C?? And you know it's actually decent quality.' Guess Who? After that we got the RX1, 'Full Frame' mirrorless. And whether or not Sony felt under pressure to get a FF interchangeable lens mirrorless system out ASAP (and the evidence of the VERY limited lens roll out would seem to bear that out) we then got the FE system. Maybe not what we might have expected from the history of mirrorless interchangeable (see my previous article) but attention grabbing none the less. And this FE system might be seen, at least in terms of high resolution and high ISO performance, as the pinnacle of what mirrorless can achieve. Even though it's somewhat different to all those Olympus Pens, NEX whatevers and Panasonic GF's.
Some people don't like Sony (Including the North Koreans!) but in terms of camera / sensor innovation and their 'Let's make this possible' attitude, I've always been a great fan. They constantly surprise and push the envelope again and again. And in terms of the files that come out of their cameras, they are hard to beat. Now they are far from perfect and the 'scattergun' approach that I've often written about does mean they have a lot of product out there and just as we get used to owning one camera, another 'improved' version has already been announced. Fuji's 'Kaizen' approach doesn't seem to have impacted much at Sony HQ. But even allowing for this, for me, Sony make the best mirrorless cameras. Simply because, with the FE system, they have gone for 'full-frame'. And yes the small NEX (sorry Alpha) cameras are decent enough and with the a6000, they have turned out a small scale wonder, but it's the possibilities that larger sensor can open up that excites me. We already have the high resolution A7r, complete with Howitzer shutter and the extraordinary A7s with its seemingly impossible low light capability. And when you realise that FE has only been with us just over a year, we can ask (with some anticipation) what will they (SONY) come up with next?
Yes there is the lens issue, but that is getting sorted (with again some unusual and innovative options) and there is always the possibility to use a-mount and third party lenses. As regular readers will know, I'm just as likely to have a Nikon prime bolted onto the front of my A7r and A7s as a 'native' FE lens and they work just fine. There aren't that many small(er) light(er) options, but the Sony / Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 + A7s combination takes some beating as a go anywhere, lightning fast, small footprint camera for all sorts of photography and gives any 'lookaleica' (or Leica for that matter) a run for it's money. And for me leaves them all trailing in it's wake. The Sony / Zeiss 55mm and the impeccable 16-35mm f/4 zoom have also restored confidence in Sony's ability as a lens maker after the two somewhat 'ordinary' standard zooms they announced when the system was in it's infancy. We're getting a 28mm f/2 (+ 21mm 'converter') a 90mm macro and a 24-240mm superzoom in the near future, so things look good for a decent native lens range to be in place in the relatively near future.
There is of course the issue of whether the 'full-frame' requirements make this a mirrorless system that looses much of the appeal of the smaller sensor cameras, but I tend to see the FE system as a system in it's own right. Certainly the cameras are light and small (though certainly not cheap!) and I can mix and match my lenses to get the kind of combinations I like using. And above all, it's that flexibility and versatility that I like. This is a system that I see as definitely heading somewhere very interesting. Whether it's higher resolution, even better low light capability and video options or anything else Sony come up with, for me it's very definitely a system worth sticking with and investing in. My A7s has an electronic shutter and a seriously good OLED EVF. Sony need to find a way to stop 4K video overheating the camera to make it record the footage 'in house', plus they have now whetted our appetites with in-body IS and that electronic shutter and those now need to be in all further upgrades. (Unfortunately the ES didn't make it to the A7 MkII which was an oversight) So no pussyfooting around Sony, sort this out!
Sony are ambitious, there is no denying that. They haven't been around long, but they want to be number one in all market sectors. And fortunately they have the R & D facility to make that possible. There are very few companies that haven't used their sensors and the fact that they are the world leaders in sensor tech. gives them a serious advantage. Because everybody else has to wait on them to see what they come up with. And they are extending what we can expect at the top and bottom ends of the range. Smaller sensors are getting better and better and they are achieving amazing things with the FF units. I looked at some Pentax 645Z raw files recently, compared them to my Sony A7r and thought why on earth would anybody want to buy the Pentax? I'm upsizing my A7r files to 52MP currently and they look just great, so why would I want to use some expensive and heavy MF camera anyway? Plus with my A7s I can literally shoot anywhere, anytime and get an image, including it seems almost total darkness.
And in terms of what they offer, Sony are some way ahead of their opposition. And while it's true that I don't use them all the time, my two Sony mirrorless interchangeable cameras are the best I have. I'd love someone at Sony to decide that the design department really could do better, but even allowing for their aesthetically challenged look, my A7r and A7s are superb picture making machines. So.......
WHAT COULD THEY DO
Go full-tilt into FE. Electronic shutters, 'in-house' 4K, in-body IS in all models. Loose the DSLT range (Does it actually sell? and is anybody really interested in it anymore?") Tighten up the APS-C range and keep that as a small, light optional alternative. And make (Lots!) more lenses.
WHAT THEY WILL PROBABLY DO
Keep all ranges going. Keep releasing lots of camera. And perhaps most importantly, keep surprising us.
UPDATE - Maybe one of those surprises is not that far away - http://www.sonyalpharumors.com/sr2-first-rumor-about-a-super-cheap-ff-e-mount-camera-costs-799-euro-with-lens/