News for the Sony A77

The interview that Mark Weir, Senior Manager of Technology and Marketing at Sony Electronics, gave to Imaging Resource is choke full of relatively precise informations about what will be the Alpha 77 (forecasted successor to the Sony Alpha 700, as high-end for the APS-C sensor SLR photo cameras for Sony). You may read it all, of course, but I will try to clarify a few points important for the SLR camera lovers (leaving mostly aside the less rich issues brought about the compacts cameras).

  • we’re really quite dedicated to developing products for both the A-mount system and the E-mount system because we do believe that both have roles to play” : Mark Weir clearly indicates that the NEX (E-mount) and Alpha (A-mount) ranges are not designed to compete against each other by to be complementary and to reach different targets. This is certainly not a surprise, but it’s good to hear it said clearly.
  • “we absolutely understand and value the point about the continuity that an interim A700 successor model would have offered, but we prioritized the development of new capabilities, new benefits, and new technologies such that the A700 successor will be a truly unique and revolutionary product” is a key sentence where the Sony manager tells us that the spirit of continuity with the A700 does not have priority over the development of new revolutionary technologies. Who would not think about the semi-transparent mirror of the Alpha SLT (A33 and A55). This way, it is nearly completely confirmed (see more about it below), but it can also be understood as referring to many other improvements to come soon (at least, Electronic ViewFinder quality and -maybe- a record resolution for the sensor which may well be identified as a revolution).
  • Sony Alpha 77

  • everyone will realize that it was very valuable to first develop the technologies and the capabilities” has to be translated from marketese into plain English with some kind of We had too much in our hands, too much to work on, before we could build the product we wanted”. Elsewhere in the interview, it is easily understood that Sony did not want to work simultaneously on everywhere and that the A33/A55 developments must have been eating the lion’s share or the R&D resources. “We can’t do everything at the same time, so let’s spread it over time and let’s start with big-volume cameras.”
  • Mark Weir also clearly state that the A700 successor will be located between the A580 and the A850. Some will want to read this truism as the hope that a traditional viewfinder will be maintained against the possible semi-transparent Pellix-type mirror and an EVF, but I believe that nothing can stop the impetus acquired by the technological transformation aforementioned. And the following phrase (“the A700 successor […] will incorporate the translucent mirror technology.“) is without any doubt: the A77 will have a semi-transparent mirror. This is now certain. Mark Weir then defends this approach by publicly stating that the associated improvements will reduce the last worries and win the last complaints back.
  • Another remark about the Full Frame cameras, “the market has shifted increasingly toward the use of APS-C cameras, even in the enthusiast and semi-pro space” could well trouble those waiting for the replacement of the Alpha 850. More or less, if the market forces everybody to have high-end Full Frame photo cameras, sales go to the high-end APS-C photo cameras. We must admit that the limited success of Sony within the pro public, but it’s true that, inside Nikon or Canon, the same problem is certainly present too; with the critical difference that those two brands have a very strong presence in the pro market and probably have a slightly different perception of (and an easier path to) this constraint. As repeated by many observers, Sony still must prove worthy for pro photographers to collect the associated brand image, but the Sony Marketing is at a loss to find the means to this end. The consequence will certainly be a little less pleasant: Sony will wait more before working on an Alpha 950 (or Alpha 99) for Full Frame cameras. As everybody murmurs it, let’s not discuss this any longer before 2012.
  • Some more fuzzy comments about the difficulties to ship the Alpha 580 will not shed any new light on the issue. The camera is still hard to find, but these suggest simultaneous issues of primary parts procurement and manufacturing capacity. We will probably never learn anything more precise from a Sony employee in front of a microphone.
  • The zoom lenses included in camera kits are selling exceptionally well (“the 55-200mm telezoom or the 70-300mm telezoom that is promoted at the time of purchase really represents a tremendous part of the lens units that are sold.“). Nobody will be surprised by such a statement knowing that all camera manufacturers build camera kits at prices obviously attractive. But at a noticeably lower level of sales, Sony sees a real success for the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 (“The other part of the business is the lenses that are sold to enthusiasts, and these are typically wide-aperture 24-70mm or wide-aperture 70-200mm“). This is recognition of the value of lenses designed and bought to be present for a long time in the expert photographer’s bag (when I was saying the same…) But Sony also makes significant efforts to present high-end prime lenses (prime = not too expensive, or 150-250€).
  • What you are seeing is the emergence of hybrid silent AF motors.” is the introduction to a list of commentaries to explain that Sony will keep on developing SSM lenses (ultrasound motor AF, expensive but very quiet) along with SAM lenses (hybrid motor AF, cheaper and somewhat quiet). the E-mount lenses are designed from inception to be silent (for video capture), but the A-mount range shall also receive more lenses designed to satisfy the video lover in Alpha suit. To my eyes, this part contains too much warm water to warrant for a clear future and the marketroid who’s talking probably translates Sony’s indecision on this issue. He even goes to the point of defending the use of external microphones…
  • there’s full aperture control with movie capture in SLT right now, it’s just not with AF at the same time.” will certainly stop most dreams short for some people still hoping to get both fast AF and free choice of lens aperture. As Mark Weir finely explains, it is mostly a matter of technical limitations and the only hope left is to give contrast-based AF enough time to improve slowly (for the time being, for technical limitation, phase detect AF can only work at wide open A-stop – or up to f/5.6).
  • One short mention to confirm the 500mm G f/4.0 prime lens, without giving even a hint of a launch date.
  • the end of the interview covers the evolution of the different markets and requires to be analyzed with a big grain of salt in front of the statements from the other camera manufacturers, but it can be summarized in telling that all manufacturers think that 2011 will be a good year for photography and that Sony wants it to be a good year for 3D photography (Sony decided to heavily bet on 3D in all of its markets).

As we can see, this is one of those rare interviews where a brand representative openly speaks and provides a lot of precise data without hiding it behind a heavy curtain of unreadable bad English. Congratulations to Imaging Resource which had already shown their ability to write excellent gear tests and demonstrate that they can also write other article kinds.