New Zealand D-Photo
Aaron Key, Sony’s digital imaging product specialist, talks challenges to the industry, innovation in mirrorless cameras, and what the future may hold
D-Photo: Can you tell me a little about what you do at Sony?
Aaron Key: As Sony New Zealand’s digital imaging product specialist, I have to learn about all of the latest Sony photography equipment and then pass this knowledge on to sales staff and end users. I also provide support for our growing base of professional users, organize gear loans, facilitate marketing activities, and manage the Sony Scene photography workshop portal here in New Zealand.
You’re also a professional photographer — what’s keeping you busy in that arena?
Working for Sony — and being a new dad — keeps me extremely busy, so I very rarely shoot commercial jobs these days. My goal for the coming year is to shoot more personal projects, as I find that this is the best way to learn about new gear.
What was lockdown like for you; were you able to work?
I was actually on parental leave during lockdown, so I spent most of my time looking after my daughter Ariella — which was always entertaining!
What are some of the big challenges facing your industry in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic?
I think the economic impacts of Covid-19 will continue through the year, so that will remain a challenge for us. On a positive note, we are seeing a lot of interest from New Zealanders in taking up photography — or getting back into it — as a hobby. There’s never been a better time to explore and photograph New Zealand.
What big release from Sony should people be excited about, and why?
Unfortunately, I can’t comment on future product releases, but we have confirmed that more E-mount lenses will be launched this year. Our lens division produces truly exceptional glass, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see some ‘world’s first’ features in these new lenses.
Sony is leading the way with the mirrorless form; what are some of the hot recent features in mirrorless?
The autofocus [AF] algorithms just keep getting better and better. Sony’s Real-Time Eye AF feature — in which the camera continuously tracks the subject’s eye — has been a game changer for many portrait and wedding photographers. Until late last year, this feature was only available when shooting stills, but now we have cameras like the a7R IV, a6600, RX100 VII, and ZV-1 that can track and focus on eyes when shooting video.
We’re also seeing wireless connectivity improvements, with pro cameras like the a7R IV and a9 II having 5GHz Wi-Fi for a better remote shooting experience.
The amount of detail you can capture in a single image with the 61MP full-frame sensor in the a7R IV is quite remarkable — but if you use the 16-shot Pixel Shift mode, you end up with an astoundingly detailed 240MP file.
Size and weight aside, what would you say are the most valuable advantages of the mirrorless form?
I’d say the main advantages now are the AF and movieshooting features.
Mirrorless cameras use the high-resolution image sensor for focusing, and this allows for more AF points across a larger area of the frame, while subject recognition and tracking functions are also vastly improved.
Mirrorless cameras have also been designed from the ground up to be equally capable whether shooting stills or video, so, in comparison with DSLRs, they are far better suited for recording high-quality movie footage.
Demand for video content is a growing trend within the industry; how do you see Sony serving that trend?
Video isn’t just a trend for Sony; it’s at the very heart of our business.
In the broadcasting sector, Sony has been the dominant video-camera manufacturer for many years, and we’ve probably all watched a fair few movies and TV shows produced by Sony Pictures.
Sony has been a leader in video-recording technology for over half a century. In 1961, Sony launched the SV-1, the world’s first transistor-based videotape recorder. This device was capable of still shots as well as slow motion playback, but as it weighed 200kg it wasn’t very portable!
In June, Sony launched the ZV-1, a compact camera purposebuilt for vloggers that is jam-packed with innovative features. Thankfully, it only weighs 294g and fits in your pocket, so it’s definitely portable.
I believe that a large part of Sony’s success can be attributed to the fact that we’re constantly collecting feedback from professional camera users — that’s another part of my role — and then using this data to create better products with functionality that meets, or exceeds, the needs of creators.
What’s new and exciting in Sony’s growing lens range?
Our latest E-mount release is the 20mm F1.8 G lens. This wide-angle prime produces impressive corner-to-corner resolution and is remarkably compact. It also incorporates some great features, such as a customizable focus hold button, a fluorine coating on the front element, and an aperture ring that you can de-click.
If I were new to photography but looking to get into it as a serious enthusiast, what starter kit would you recommend and why?
The Sony a7 III with 24–105mm G lens is a killer combo. In terms of feature set and value for money, the full-frame a7 III is really in a league of its own right now. It can produce stunning still images in virtually any environment — even in low light — and the video quality is outstanding.
The 24–105mm G is a fantastic all-purpose E-mount lens that’s great for landscapes, portraits, travel, still life, and movies. I have this lens on my Alpha camera 90 per cent of the time.
What is the best photographic accessory that not enough people know about or use?
If you’re shooting movies and need to record ambient audio, it pays to invest in a good-quality shotgun microphone. The new Sony ECM-B1M is worth considering, as it uses advanced digital signal processing to deliver three directivity patterns in a very compact design. It also connects to Sony cameras via the Multi Interface Shoe, so there are no wires to worry about.
Do you feel mirrorless cameras will fully replace DSLRs for professional photographers in the future?
I think DSLRs will become more niche, like rangefinder, medium-format, and large-format cameras. Over the next few years, mirrorless cameras will begin to dominate the professional sphere. It’s where all the hardware and software investment is happening now.
What are you looking forward to in 2020?
There’s bound to be more innovative Sony cameras and lenses launched this year, but what I’m really looking forward to is seeing how creators use Sony digital imaging equipment to produce entertaining, informative, and inspiring photos and films that fill the world with emotion.