June 19, 2024
How Sony broke the Canon and Nikon impasse

Sony is fast emerging as a leading camera manufacturer. This article explains how their innovative E Mount system and bold approach to features challenged Canon and Nikon’s monopoly in the photography industry.

a mount experiment

When Sony introduced the A-mount system in the early 2000s, it was a temporary move rather than a groundbreaking entry into the DSLR market. The market, which was firmly in the grip of Canon and Nikon, did not at all hold its breath for Sony’s entry into this field. With the A mount compatible with a wide variety of lenses, Sony was testing the waters in the professional and enthusiast photography circles, but without the fanfare of big expectations.

The centerpiece of the A mount was single-lens translucent (SLT) technology. This was a departure from the traditional DSLR mirror setup, which used a fixed translucent mirror that promised faster shooting and smoother autofocus in video. On paper, it was an interesting innovation, but in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a game-changer.

The reality was that the A-mount system did not make much of a splash. The light loss problem of the SLT technology was a significant fault, which weakened the camera’s performance in low-light scenarios – an important factor for any serious DSLR user. While Sony is known for great displays, A-mount has not been as successful. It lacked the disruptive impact needed to draw photographers away from established leaders.

In the end, the A-mount system was not a resounding success. It struggled to carve out a significant niche in a market dominated by more established brands. However, Sony’s venture into the DSLR market with the A-mount was an important learning experience. This highlighted the challenge of entering a market with deeply established leaders and the importance of aligning innovation with users’ core needs. The A-mount story is a modest chapter in Sony’s history, showing a more cautious approach to innovation, without the dramatic sense of transformative success.

Sony A7: pioneer and problematic

In 2013, Sony released the A7 and its E-mount system, the first modern full-frame mirrorless camera to hit the market. Honestly, this wasn’t as big of a deal as it might seem. Mirrorless cameras have been around for some time, the Coca-Cola M series can be considered mirrorless cameras and even some medium format technical cameras can be described as mirrorless. And if we are talking about modern mirrorless cameras, Fujifilm made mirrorless cameras many years before Sony. The A7 was Sony’s version of the same, but with a larger sensor.

Additionally the first A7 model had some serious problems. The E mount was reported to be too small for a full frame system, which was likely a design flaw. This limitation created doubts about its compatibility with larger, professional lenses. Then there were other significant problems: battery life was abysmal, the EVF was widely disliked, the menu system was a confusing mess, and the autofocus was barely passable. On the positive side, image quality, especially as seen in the a7R with its 36-megapixel sensor, was very impressive indeed. But overall, the camera felt like it wasn’t built to professional standards.

Many thought Sony’s full frame mirrorless efforts would fail, similar to the A mount system – some cameras and lenses appealing to a niche market but not making a real dent.

In 2014, Sony attracted some positive attention with the a7S. This model showed that Sony was trying to meet specific photographic needs, which was a step in the right direction. But despite this, they did not make any significant impact on the market – not until the release of the a7R II in 2015.

Features beyond the basics

The Sony a7R II was a groundbreaking camera in the industry, marking a significant milestone for Sony. With its impressive 42-megapixel sensor, superior autofocus capabilities and exceptional image quality, it attracted widespread attention from photographers and enthusiasts.

What really set the a7R II apart from its competitors was its groundbreaking feature: 4K video recording using the full width of the sensor. This innovation was a game-changer, as at the time Canon and Nikon were mainly offering incremental updates to their models. Sony’s strategy with the A7R II was clear – prioritize exciting and attention-grabbing features rather than delivering a completely polished product. They knew they could fix any problems and refine the camera in subsequent iterations.

This approach was successful, as the a7R II generated considerable buzz and firmly established Sony as a major player in the photography market. Sony’s focus on offering the specifications customers actually wanted was a departure from the industry norm, where incremental updates often overshadowed true innovation.

The a7R II’s 4K video capability with log profiles and an efficient autofocus system was revolutionary. Even issues like overheating didn’t deter customers, as Sony’s primary focus was on delivering feature-rich cameras that made headlines. Ergonomics, menu systems and other factors were initially left behind.

Over time, Sony addressed the issues of stability and usability, which is why their cameras are considered some of the best on the market today. They continue to innovate, introducing features like 4K 120p, 8K video recording, blackout-free high frame rate shooting, and exceptional autofocus capabilities.

Sony’s dedication to being at the forefront of camera technology and meeting the growing needs of photographers is evident in their continued success. In short, the Sony a7R II’s innovative features and Sony’s commitment to prioritizing customer desires over incremental updates played a key role in their rise to prominence in the camera industry.

latest and greatest

Sony has once again demonstrated its prowess in camera innovation with the release of the Sony a9 III. Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Alpha full-frame mirrorless cameras, the A9 III marks a significant technological advancement in Sony’s illustrious history. This camera, aimed primarily at professionals in sports, wildlife photography and photojournalism, boasts a number of features that push the boundaries of the industry.

The most notable breakthrough in the Sony a9 III is the use of the world’s first full-frame Global Shutter image sensor. This 35mm Exmor RS CMOS stacked sensor, although offering the same megapixel count as its predecessor (about 24.6 megapixels for stills), offers a depth advantage due to its global shutter mechanism. Traditional electronic shutters read the sensor line by line, but the global shutter captures data from the entire sensor in one fast motion. It eliminates the rolling shutter effect in video, reduces distortion in fast-moving subjects, and significantly reduces flicker and banding under artificial lighting. Global Shutter also enables unprecedented shutter speeds of up to 1/80,000th of a second, ensuring flash-sync at any shutter speed and flicker-free shooting even at high frame rates like 120fps.

The A9 III further enhances its appeal with features like a 240 fps electronic viewfinder, 4-axis LCD screen and strong in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Its dual BIONZ XR processors support a sophisticated AI-based autofocus system. These features, combined with the capability of 6K oversampling for 4K 60p and 120p video recording, establish the a9 III as a powerful device for both still photography and videography. The camera also introduces a new Composite RAW shooting mode, which enables the capture of up to 32 images to significantly reduce noise, which is a boon for handheld shooting scenarios.

Although Sony’s leap to a global electronic shutter is admirable, it also brings certain changes. The a9 III’s native ISO range starts at 250, which is higher than the more common base ISO of 100 found in many cameras, including its predecessor the a9 II. This high base ISO is a feature of the global shutter sensor. Although this range is expandable to 125-51200 for stills, it is narrower than the a9 II’s range of 100-12000 (expandable to 50-204800). This can potentially affect dynamic range, especially in low light conditions or when shooting scenes with high contrast ratios.

Sony’s approach with the A9 III outlines a strategy that prioritizes innovative features over traditional fundamentals. This approach appears to be paying off, as evidenced by the industry’s enthusiastic response to this new release. Driven by its commitment to pushing technological boundaries and redefining what is possible in digital photography, Sony has successfully transitioned from a relatively unknown player in the A-mount system to a leading force in camera manufacturing.

final thoughts

Sony’s emergence as a major player in the camera industry, challenging the long-standing dominance of Canon and Nikon, is a story of strategic innovation and bold risk-taking. After initially entering the market as an underdog, Sony quickly gained a foothold with its Alpha series. This bold approach of prioritizing advanced features over traditional design has enabled Sony to redefine the digital imaging landscape.

Transitioning from the early A mount to the advanced E mount system, Sony demonstrated a continued commitment to pushing technological boundaries. The a7 series, especially the a7R II, was a watershed moment for Sony, showcasing their ability to integrate high-resolution sensors with strong video capabilities. These innovations attracted a broad spectrum of photographers and videographers, shifting the industry’s focus away from incremental upgrades toward significant, innovative leaps forward.

Ultimately, Sony figured out fairly quickly how to market itself in the industry. Focus on features that grab headlines and address any issues after the fact. Although this strategy may frustrate some people, it continues to get results by giving Sony no incentive to do things differently. Sony’s rise has been impressive, has benefited the industry massively and should be celebrated.

Source: fstoppers.com

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