Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sony and the A7XX saga

The single biggest discussion point on every Sony Alpha oriented forum I frequent concerns the mythical A7XX, the A700 follow on. When will it come? What will it be like? Will it confirm our hopes that Sony is going head to head with Canon and Nikon or will it confirm our fears that Sony will dumb it down? Why oh why was the A700 discontinued with no successor.

I feel the same angst as everyone else and as a result I'm still not buying any new A mount stuff. But then again, being more dispassionate I would say Sony was kind of stuck with the A7xx.

Look at the opposition in the meantime.

1. Nikon has released the D300s, a very mild warm over that gathered coverage for about 10 minutes then the world shrugged and moved on. Still it was worth it because there is a huge nikon user base that just keeps buying stuff so of course it made sense to keep production going. Still no idea on a genuine upgrade.

2. Canon very quickly replaced the 40D with the 50D because the 40D was an embarassment for the company that sees itself as the market leader and default 'pro' choice. Not saying that it was a bad camera but go back and read the reviews of how it was compared to the Nikon (and even Sony/Pentax) at the time. Also remember what else was going on then, the D3/D700 was all the rage, Nikon grabbed huge market share and Canon had to act.

3. Despite the 50D Canon was still obviously off the pace in the $US1200-1900, aps pro, segment and everyone new it. It had to get something out and it did - eventually - with the 7D.

4. In the meantime the market has gone crazy for mirrorless cameras and that segment is exploding and we have nothing from either of the big 2 except the promise of an announcement later from Nikon.

5. Sony new the A700 was off the pace but what to do?

a) keep it going potentially leading to a whole lot of embarrassing reviews with a tiny production volume?

b) release a D300s/D50 warm over that sucked up a lot of resources, still probably only had a tiny production run and not gained it much cred?

c) bite the bullet and carry a hole for 12 months and get on with business (like getting the NEX out)?

Personally I reckon option A is a non starter and only option B or C were viable. I also reckon none of us really know what would have been smarter from a business POV. I would have preferred B but I can understand Sony's choice of C.

Now, with 20/20 hindsight and zero visibility inside Sony I think Sony could have done better, however, Im I have no idea if much would have really changed. Just for a minute forget companies and think in terms of 'mount'. The A mount, F mount and (whats canon?) call it the EOS mount.

When you look at the F and EOS mounts we see this long, unbroken line of development, using Nikon the F3,4,5,6,D1,D1S,D2,D2S,D3,D3S plus X's and H's thrown in there. From this AF modules, flash systems, metering systems, control methods have had this nice steady flow, a consistent maturation leading almost inevitably to where we are now. The Canon flow is pretty similar.

Comparing that to the A mount flow, its clear that we have not been as well served. The A mount has had a number of changes in direction, long periods of hiatus, spurts of growth and stagnation not to mention a near bankruptcy, a corporate merger and finally a complete change of ownership in its last few years under what appeared to be pretty chaotic circumstances. Dont forget that when it took over the A mount it was almost dead in the water with perhaps 1-2% (on a good day) of DLSR sales. I'm only guessing but I'd think that this has resulted in significant technical and management churn over probably a few decades punctuated by the occasional massive dislocation.

On top of that add that the last owner in the history is also, at the very highest levels of the corporation, struggling to define themselves but are also suppliers to their own product's key competitors.

This lack of direction and inability to forge a culture is clearly evident in the alpha line.

In that context I wonder if we were ever going to be in a very different position without a heroic effort from Sony.

But, lots of companies face challenges, find new ways of proceeding and move on from those challenges - they find heroes - Sony has not. Therefore, while I understand why we are where we are, I dont excuse Sony. From where we sit we've seen Sony squander some simple opportunities, make some really dumb calls and pursue marketting strategies that deny explanation. They should do better and we should demand more - however, I often believe that without an understanding of the full context our demands are unreasonable, and being unreasonable, are easy to ignore.

Personally I think the great hope for A mount users is the E mount. I hope (and it is only hope) that the growth of the E mount will lead to the adoption of the A mount into the highly successful video family in Sony and provide a consistency of vision and direction that has been lacking in the A mount for perhaps 20 years.

No comments: