Sony to Go 100% Translucent, so Allow Me to Be Transparent
The head of Sony Spain told the Spanish tech site QueSabesDe.com (translation to English) that all Alpha cameras would use translucent mirror technology from here onwards. Yes, Virginia, that includes hypothetical full frame models too. Henceforth, it is decreed that all Alphas will be SLTs (Single Lens Translucent), not DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex).
How have the Alphanites reacted to this? If the interwebs are a reliable source, they are mostly bitter and unhappy. Some have already started photographing their equipment to beat the eBay rush and get more for their lenses before everyone finds out Sony is dying and nobody wants to buy used Alpha gear anymore. But there are a few who are rejoicing and looking forward to cheap used lenses that they will mount on their as-yet-unreleased A77s and A950s.
All joking aside, this is a bold move by Sony. I’ve written (somewhere on the internet) that I foresee all brands adopting mirrorless (or EVF over OVF) technology for their entry-level cameras within the next 2—3 years, with flapping mirrors disappearing even from top-end cameras eventually. I never expected a brand to do away with optical viewfinders and flapping mirrors all in one fell swoop; certainly not in 2011. But why is Sony doing this, and why now?
When Sony bought Minolta’s faltering camera division back in 2006 they vowed to become a major player in the DSLR market. That didn’t quite pan out as they hoped. Despite flooding the market with a gazillion barely-distinguashable APS-C DSLRs and a couple of affordable (relatively speaking) full frame cameras, they failed to gain the market share they so craved. I think Sony has realised it’s time for plan B.
Their recently introduced A33 and A55 SLTs, which we wrote about back in August 2010, have been quite successful with both reviewers and users alike, despite some issues with ghosting and the math police reminding everyone of the 1/3-stop light loss associated with the translucent mirror. It seems that quiet operation, lack of mirror slap, fast FPS, above-average EVF, and good video handling have won over the crowds. And why not? I’ve played with both these cameras on a couple of occasions and liked them; this in itself is positive because all the previous APS-C Sony cameras I’d handled had left me unimpressed. It’s clear Sony tried harder with these new SLTs, and I think this effort is going to pay off. Eventually, when on-sensor auto-focusing methods improve enough, I think Sony will drop the translucent mirror and send the image directly to the sensor.
For a year or so around 2009–10 Sony seemed to be lost: The much-awaited A700 successor was nowhere to be seen, there was talk of the FF DSLRs being dropped from the line, and some where wondering if Sony might not just drop the Alpha mount altogether. Then came the May 2010 announcement of the NEX-3 and NEX-5, Sony’s MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compact) system, with the new E mount. Then in August they released the aforementioned A33 and A55. NEX cameras seem to be selling well and new lenses for the system have already been announced; there are also rumours of a NEX-7 camera with integrated EVF and more “pro” features.
All of a sudden, it seems like Sony is on a roll again, and all it needed to do was get rid of those pesky flapping mirrors and optical viewfinders. Surely this new-found optimism spurred the development and upcoming release (in mid 2011) of the A77, the SLT successor to the DSLR A700. But what about full frame? Nothing is known, but at least it’s been a while since I heard that it had been abandoned. I suspect we’ll see a FF SLT within a year.
What has Sony learnt over the past year or so? That EVFs and mirrors that don’t flap are good things; they should be embraced, improved, and sold to as many people as possible. Furthermore, in a world of Canikon DSLRs that have stopped being innovative for fear of losing their customers, Sony’s camera line-up will stand out to newcomers. There will be no innovation unless we step onto unfamiliar terrain and commit to walking away from the old assumptions that restrain us—Sony have embraced this philosophy and will try to turn it into an increased market share. They will preach the benefits of a fixed translucent mirror in their Alpha SLTs, the benefits of losing the mirror altogether in their NEX compacts; they will boast of their audacity to take the first step into the inevitable future where DSLRs are obsolete—one small step for Sony, one giant leap for photographers. Will buyers be convinced? Or will they mutter witchcraft under their breath and buy a tried’n'true DSLR because that’s how things have always been done? Time will tell. But I applaud Sony for having the balls to go translucent.
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Tags: Cameras, DSLRs, Photography, SLTs, Sony, Sony A33, Sony A55, Sony A77