One of the more surprising announcements from the PMA event – Sony’s jumping into the small hybrid dSLR space too, after Olympus and Panasonic made a big splash with their Micro Four Thirds cameras (Pen and GF1 respectively) over the past 7 months. They showed off some concept prototypes (above) and plan to launch by the end of this year.
From PC Magazine:
Even though Sony is late to the market of small-body camera with interchangeable lenses, its camera will likely produce better-quality images than Micro Four-Thirds cameras because it will use a larger 24-mm by 16-mm APS-C image sensor, as opposed to the 17-mm by 13-mm sensor found in current Olympus and Panasonic cameras. The sensor, Sony’s Exmore APS HD CMOS, will also allow the camera to capture video using the AVCHD codec – a standard that can produce high-quality 1080p footage.
Excuse me, but Sony isn’t late to the party at all. It’s only just started.
I’ll admit I’ve been a SLR snob, refusing to touch any Sony dSLR largely because of my Canon fanboy status. (Also because no one asked me to try one when I was a tech journo. Will not comment further on Sony PR back in the mid 2000s.)
The Pen changed my perspective on the smaller camera players other than Canon and Nikon though.
Now despite my resistance against their Alpha cameras, I think Sony has a good shot at winning in this niche where Oly and Pana dominate now.
1. Despite rocky financials, Sony has never wavered in pushing the limits in industrial design. Their VAIO laptops are unsurpassed in style within the PC space. Anyone who’s owned a Sony MiniDisc knows they were beautiful machines. The prototypes above look boring, but the final version could surprise everyone.
2. A bigger image sensor than the MFT family. At almost 43% larger surface area, and at the same sensor size as many APS-C dSLRs today, the Sony cameras will provide true dSLR quality. The MFT sensor size is better than a digicam sensor, but gets really grainy at about ISO 1600. APS-C sensors today have really quite low noise at the same film sensitivity.
I love my Pen, but if a better Pen equivalent comes along, why not? These are the future of prosumer cameras, and they can’t come soon enough.
In 3-4 years, I predict that conventional dSLRs will go back to becoming niche products for enthusiasts and professionals, while these smaller hybrid dSLR cameras will cream the mid to high end of the mass audience.
Methinks prices need to reach these levels though (in Singapore currency) before hybrid dSLRs become mainstream, given current consumer price tolerance (which is elastic over a long period).
– Digicams (small compacts): $150 to $600
– Hybrid dSLRs (MFT, Alpha smalls dSLRs) : S$600 to S$1,000
– Conventional dSLRs (the usual guys): S$900 and above.
One interesting thing to note though – if you see the prototypes above, the lenses are a little too big for the bodies, which is natural given that these are dSLR-sized lenses, not smaller MFT lenses. It’ll be a big challenge to design an ergonomic camera with this constraint, but personally I don’t care as long as the images look good.