Dominance and Submission: Sony delivers the ultimate mirrorless political statement

Dominance and Submission: Sony delivers the ultimate mirrorless political statement

I hate to say "I told you so".

But I told you so, a while back. Sony is poised on becoming the digital-era Kodak.

Sony announced the next logical step in their a7 line. All data can be found over their dedicated minisite, and, frankly, all over the Internets. More so than just a new exciting technological achievement, the a7Rii is, in my view, a remarkable political statement.  And let's not forget that Politics is just War by other means.

First of all, as regards the "megapixel wars" the a7Rii just makes the, just entering the market, Canon 5Ds and "tweaked" 5Ds-R look like a pimped '50s muscle car, full with painted racing stripes, next to a purebred race-car ready to tackle the Nürburgring.

At this point, just a short definition a conservative: a person that is too lazy to prepare for war, too fat to run away, and too cowardly to stand and fight.

Conservatism doesn't win wars. It just delays their outcome. Canon will, once again, offer a camera with inferior DR (a common issue with their cameras for some years now) and, for the first time, it seems, will not even have any ISO advantage (highest native ISO being 6400, according to all sources). And all this in the high-megapixel market niche, dominated by 16-bit medium format cameras. Nice move, Canon. Just a reminder: having "the lens selection" advantage, doesn't even come close to saving the game, as we shall shortly see.

Sony decided to "go Samsung" with this one. In other words, putting everything and the kitchen sink into the camera. I'll admit I couldn't even expect half of the features. An EVF with high-grade Zeiss Optics? 399 AF points? A 500K cycle shutter mechanism, for crying out loud. Better yet, they seem to listen to their (growing) customer base lately. They took measures to improve shutter shock, one of the Achilles heels of the original a7R. They introduced in-camera 4K capability; in the process making the mk2 the first consumer camera with Super-35 footage capability.

Then, there are other important practical aspects to consider.

Sony themselves have made it clear for some time now that they are moving exclusively to mirrorless. Let's put things in perspective: Sony's DLSR line of old were only a digital continuation of the Minolta line of cameras, and took advantage of the huge inheritance of Minolta glass. SLT technology cameras were never anything more than a stepping stone; most people forget they are only in the market for 5 years. If Sony issues a replacement for the a99, it will be only as a huge favor to their customer base. I understand Sony SLT shooters, are apparently at the same position as Olympus DSLR users. The A7Rii shows that the solution will, probably, be the same: mirrorless cameras with adequate AF performance to manage the older -but still high value- lenses.

Having the ability to shoot Sony Alpha/Minolta lenses in a practical fashion, opens up a huge inventory of good to spectacular lenses for the FE shooter. In fact, the a7Rii does so without the need for a heavy, expensive and limited adapter, such as the LA-EA4. The much smaller, lighter and cheaper LA-EA3 seems capable of doing the job in a great way. All preliminary tests and reports indicate so.  

In recent months, the FE mount was augmented with several very nice lenses; the Batis duo being a great recent offering. Still, the Alpha mount has scores of amazing lenses, for instance, the Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 and 135mm f/1.8 are probably the very best in their respective classes. Admittedly, they will be heavier, if you factor in the adapter, but top quality nevertheless; and they can be found in the used market, too. Are the Zeiss too expensive for you? Just try the older Minoltas, such as the 85mm f/1.4, 135mm f/2.8, 100mm f/2.8 macro, and several others.

The  whole thing gets even more amusing, the moment one finds out even competitors lenses and, in fact, Canon's own, work pretty well even with a 100€/$ AF Chinese adapter. All the videos I've seen, seem to achieve AF speeds on par with most Canon cameras while using the Live View. Now, this really adds insult to injury. Not only it makes it damn easy to get rid of Canon bodies, for everyone ready to jump ship, but I think people are actually going to buy certain Canon lenses for the purpose of adapting them to the FE mount. Most of them will also cherish the thought that all their Canon lenses are now stabilized, making them even more useful on the Sony. As an interesting note, there are rumors of some Chinese company selling a Nikon F adapter soon. Nobody will be safe, it seems.

The whole picture of the One Beautiful System comes forward once again, and this time it's real.

There are still some issues that need addressing, such as the 11+7bits lossy RAW storage, which, Sony says, is "working on" and will implement "if there is enough interest". "Enough interest"? Seriously, now, Sony? The whole internet is screaming at you to fix this one!! On the issue of batteries, although I had it from dependable sources that Sony was working on a range of higher capacity batteries for 2015, there are no news about it; hope we'll see something relevant soon, though. And, finally, the a7Rii is, truth be told, a high-end, expensive camera. How can it turn the tables concerning the whole camera marketplace? What market share can it possibly achieve?

This is where the "political statement" argument is justified. You don't make a camera to, just, sell the camera. You make (such) cameras to sell other models also. Sony will sell far more a7000 models (or whatever the name will be) now that the a7Rii is a reality. They will even sell their stock of older first generation a7 and a7R cameras, probably at discounted prices, since many will see them as a stepping stone (and possibly use them as a second camera body anyway). Here is where a solid firmware update policy will pay out. Giving true 14-bit RAW support to these cameras, for instance, will send their current value through the roof.

The second part of the political statement can be boiled down to this: "We are making the sensors in your Nikons, Olympus, Panasonics, Pentax and other cameras -even medium format models; we are even in your iPhones and Samsung smartphones, and yes, even your Canon "premium compacts". We are not afraid to innovate. We are the pack leaders, and it's now time to show you how things are going to be in the future". 

With all their errors, mishaps, idiosyncratic ways of doing things and, sometimes, quite honestly, sheer stupidity, Sony is finally going places in Photographic Technology. For the first time I'll admit they have my respect and I sincerely place high hopes with their present and future products.

(all images, courtesy of Sony©)

Essay: For the Love of Dog

Essay: For the Love of Dog

Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G part 2 - event shooting, further remarks and conclusion

Sony FE 70-200mm f/4.0 G part 2 - event shooting, further remarks and conclusion