Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Photokina and the Sony user response

A lot of us were hoping for just a little more from Sony at Photokina. Specifically I think we wanted a) some details on the A700 replacement and b) a lens - any lens - for the A mount. Instead we got some promises and poor mockups we've seen before. As a result there is a lot of angst on the Sony forums at the moment and I for one fully understand it. In fact, I've been so put off all the forums that I have, by and large dropped out of them (except for posting this at Dyxum today). This post isnt really intended to resolve much, rather just put out a perspective that might calm peoples ire and cool down the debate a little.

We see constant calls (and I have made them as well) for Sony to be more open with its users, give us a better road map, give us confidence that the system is going somewhere so that we can have faith in future investments in the system. Personally I feel caught between decisions in so many ways, a-mount vs e-mount, APS vs FF, existing screw lenses vs rumoured SSM variants, stay with Sony or shift to Nikon? I'm pretty ambivalent on the whole EVF vs OVF debate but I understand others are very invested in this and thats causing them considerable concern.

Given what can really only be described as the collapse of the 4/3s format
(well described by PT here) I'm not one of those people that advise others to simply ignore this and go out and take photos. This is a real issue and one that shouldnt be ignored.

But on the other hand I also understand Sony's dilemma. It has learnt a hard lesson, that in a head to head, fair fight it cant beat Nikon and Canon. Sony isnt Pentax, prepared to hover around the fringes, being a respected niche brand, it has bigger ambitions. Those systems have too much built up expertise, too much system infrastructure, too much brand power and too many rusted on users. To try and go to war with those guys in the current DSLR market will mean years of trench warfare with an uncertain result and the possibility of only winning a pyrrhic victory as there is a strong chance that in 10 years time the current DSLR market might not be one worth being in. If I were running Sony I would also be looking for the game changer too, the thing that makes the fight between Sony and Canon/Nikon unfair in a way that suits me.

So in this context the E-mount, the move to SLT's, the possible ditching of the OVF all together starts to make enormous sense. And lets quickly look at some of the market indications we are seeing. After years of struggle, getting no-where in the Japanese market with a traditional SLR strategy, within a month the NEX achieved what Sony never managed with the 'old' A-mount formula. After years of at best mediocre, at worst outright damning reviews, Sony cameras are being hailed and people like MR over at Luminous Landscape who has described the A55 as one of the most important cameras ever. Finally, it appears the market has spoken with stories that the 'traditional' A560 DSLR is being delayed because demand for the new mirrorless/SLT formats is so great its consuming all available sensors.

I think the market is also showing us that no one out there is capable of doing it all at once. The 4/3s consortium clearly couldnt manage that format and develop the M4/3s. Samsung appear to have given up any pretension to traditional DSLR formats. Nikon has been rumoured to have a mirrorless concept coming for ages but seems to be getting no where and every day they delay more people buy an NEX an enter the Sony universe (my estimate less than 40% of NEX users at flickr came from Sony), while Canon might just be playing a very stealthy game but on the surface it looks to be a complete non-player in the mirrorless world right now instead just soldiering on with an warm over of the G series compacts. If the predictions from Samsung are right (and they have proven to be pretty savvy commercially) then Canon and Nikon could find themselves kings of very small and insignificant kingdoms in not to long.

Considering all this doesnt make me happy, it doesnt help me figure out where I will go or what I will do next. But, for me, thinking through my problem undeerstanding the realities of the world lessens my emotional investment and helps me think more clearly.

None of this is intended to make people stay with Sony. If you need to go to another mount for professional or creative reasons my recommendation is to go. Sony is juggling a lot of balls right now and I for one have no confidence that they will deliver exactly what anyone wants when they want it. But my other piece of advice (or perhaps plea) is that people accept the Godfather principle; this is strictly business, not personal. If Sony's business and yours go in different directions for a while, thats business, no need to go to the mattresses.

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