Camera - - IN FOCUS - Paul Bur­rows, Ed­i­tor

ELEVEN YEARS AGO – al­most to the day as I write this – a group of cam­era jour­nal­ists were gath­ered in the sunny fore­court of a Tokyo of­fice block, en­joy­ing cof­fee and pas­tries. The of­fices be­longed to Sony Cor­po­ra­tion and we’d all just at­tended a tech­ni­cal brief­ing on the brand new Al­pha D-SLR sys­tem, launched the day be­fore.

As I chat­ted to a se­nior Sony ex­ec­u­tive, I hap­pened to glance across the small val­ley be­side the of­fice block to where the sky­line was dom­i­nated by an­other high-rise em­bla­zoned with the red Canon logo. The exec fol­lowed my gaze and smiled.

“That,” he said qui­etly, “is where we’re go­ing to be even­tu­ally”. He didn’t mean the lo­ca­tion, of course, but Canon’s num­ber one po­si­tion in in­ter­change­able lens cam­eras, then dom­i­nated by D-SLRs. If any­body else from any other com­pany had made a sim­i­lar as­ser­tion, I would have just nod­ded po­litely, but Sony is Sony and so I tucked that snip­pet away marked for fu­ture ref­er­ence. I sus­pected that, sooner or later, its re­call would be sig­nif­i­cant… and the ar­rival of the A9 seems like that time has come.

There have been other im­por­tant cam­eras in the Sony Al­pha time­line – A900, A55, NEX-7, A77, A99, A7 and A7R – but the A9 is ar­guably the most im­por­tant yet, not just be­cause of its gi­ant-killing spec­i­fi­ca­tions, but be­cause Sony is no longer be­ing coy about its in­ten­tions… Canon and Nikon, we’re com­ing to get ya! The A9 is unashamedly be­ing pit­ted against the EOS-1D X Mark II and the Nikon D5 and it’s the first mir­ror­less cam­era that’s ac­tu­ally po­ten­tially ca­pa­ble of the chal­lenge. For starters, it has a full-35mm sen­sor which – with all due re­spect to the likes of Fu­ji­film’s X-T2, Olym­pus’s OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Pana­sonic Lu­mix GH5 – is an es­sen­tial re­quire­ment in the eyes of the pho­tog­ra­phers buy­ing at this level. Then it has 20 fps shoot­ing at full-res – which is 24.2 megapix­els – with con­tin­u­ous AF and AE ad­just­ment plus, most im­por­tantly, no EVF black­out (as it’s re­fresh­ing at 120 fps) and, if nec­es­sary, ab­so­lutely no noise. Other kick-ass specs in­clude a top shut­ter speed of 1/32,000 sec­ond (with the sen­sor-based shut­ter), 693-points phase-de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus­ing giv­ing 93 per­cent frame cov­er­age, 500,000 cy­cles dura­bil­ity for the fo­cal-plane shut­ter, burst lengths of up to 240 com­pressed RAWs or 360 max-qual­ity JPEGs, 14 stops of dy­namic range, five-axis im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion and the op­tion of a four-bat­tery power sup­ply to mas­sively ex­tend ca­pac­ity. Marginally beefier than an A7 se­ries model, the A9 is still pos­i­tively svelte com­pared to its heavy­weight D-SLR ri­vals and you’d have to think this will be the clincher for sports pho­tog­ra­phers fac­ing long hours lug­ging gear around.

Sony in­her­ited its D-SLR sys­tem from Kon­ica Mi­nolta, but stamped its own mark on lat­ter prod­ucts with firstly the fixed-mir­ror SLT se­ries, then the com­pact NEX mir­ror­less mod­els and, in late 2013, the ‘big bang’ A7 and A7R full-35mm for­mat mir­ror­less sys­tem. This was a brave move for many rea­sons, not least that it in­volved a new lens mount when Sony al­ready had two dif­fer­ent fit­tings. To its credit, what ini­tially looked like a bit of a train wreck – with the com­pany openly pro­mot­ing third-party mount adapters – has quickly turned into some­thing of a tri­umph, with new FE lenses cur­rently ar­riv­ing at roughly one a month. There are cur­rently 24 mod­els span­ning 12mm to 400mm, plus oth­ers from Zeiss, Voigtlän­der (a.k.a. Cosina), Samyang, Tok­ina and a co­terie of Chi­nese man­u­fac­tur­ers. Im­por­tantly, the ex­em­plary G Mas­ter (GM) line-up now in­cludes the pro sta­ples of a 24-70mm f2.8 and an 70-200mm f2.8, al­though in all hon­esty, there will prob­a­bly have to be a 300mm f2.8 and 400mm f2.8 for sports shoot­ers to start de­fect­ing D-SLRs en masse (then again, the new 100-400mm f4.0 tele­zoom may just be enough in­cen­tive).

Equally im­por­tantly, Sony has taken a leaf out of the Canon book and is build­ing an ethos around its brand via com­pe­ti­tions, in­clud­ing the lo­cal Al­pha Awards, and other ac­tiv­i­ties which in­volve con­sumers be­yond sim­ply sell­ing them hard­ware. Th­ese are build­ing loy­al­ties which will stand Sony in good stead when Canon and Nikon fi­nally see the light and launch ri­val full-35mm mir­ror­less sys­tems (it has to be soon, doesn’t it?). For pros, there’s the newly-launched Sony Imag­ing PRO Sup­port which pro­vides var­i­ous back-ups, dis­counts and ser­vice ar­range­ments for mem­bers.

Based on my con­ver­sa­tion back in Tokyo 11 years ago, Sony at least had a ten-year plan for its in­ter­change­able lens cam­era (ILC) pro­gram, but it’s prob­a­bly a lot longer… or per­haps an­other tenyear plan is now be­ing rolled out with Canon even more firmly sighted in the crosshairs. What­ever, Sony says we ain’t seen nothin’ yet, and if you fol­low the evo­lu­tion from A100 to A9, that’s a scary prospect for its ri­vals. Right now, Sony is num­ber three glob­ally in ILCs, but num­ber one in mir­ror­less cam­eras. It’s cur­rently num­ber two in ILCs in the USA, hav­ing moved ahead of Nikon, and while there have been var­i­ous other fac­tors at play here, this is still a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment… es­pe­cially as A9 sales have only just be­gun. At the A100 launch back in June 2006, Sony talked of re­spect­ing tra­di­tions, but hav­ing a “chal­leng­ing spirit”… it’s a phi­los­o­phy that’s clearly work­ing.

A100 to A9: Sony’s in­ter­change­able lens cam­era pro­gram has come a long way in 11 years.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.