Sony A900 Replacement – A950 Deal Breakers

Rumors are starting to abound of an A900 replacement coming in 2011 (I think) – named the mystic A950 with a new 30 megapixel+ sensor and either a SLT or traditional optical viewfinder design. I heard this from a guy who has a brother who has a friend who works at Sony R&D and he read this rumor on SonyAlphaRumors. Having shot the past year or so with my A900, I have an idea of what the A950 does and doesn’t need. I’ve used the A900 for various needs including weddings, studio portraits, documenting the painting process, grafitti shooting, Bratz dolls, Lego animation, etc. The A900 basically rocks, and only needs a few tweaks to be awesome. What are the deal breakers on the A900 replacement?

Live View

First off, live view is a deal-breaker on the A950. Deal Breaker is a word combination that I hate to write or read (I just felt some bile erupt in my innards at the sound in my head). People throw it around on forums everyday and when you look at the crap these people shoot it’s obvious that they only care about writing useless crap on the internet. But, live view is a deal-breaker on the A900 replacement. Why? Simply because live view dramatically increases the usefulness of a digital still camera.

As a stills device the A900 is awesome, but for shooting macro images or with manual focus lenses, the A900 sucks. Yes, it has a nice large viewfinder (for a DSLR), but the cheaper cameras like the NEX5 and every other DSLR now on the market have this very basic feature of previewing the image before it’s made in real time. Getting accurate focus and framing is just more precise on a large LCD than on a large DSLR focusing screen. It’s also nice for framing an image when you have the camera above your head or down low or at a weird angle. Live view is just a great feature if implemented correctly, and it’s a critical feature to have. Live view means precise macro focusing. It means precise focusing with manual lenses. It means the ability to enable remote camera operation from things like iPads, iPhones and computers (although I think Sony also needs to release a decent SDK for this to happen). Live view helps to frame images when your eye can’t be level with the viewfinder. Live view is needed on the A950 – period.

Take note however, Live View and Intelligent Preview should both be there. Intelligent preview is used to make a temporary image which is displayed on the LCD but not saved to the memory card. I love intelligent preview for quickly checking lighting and histograms in the studio. It’s needed because live view is useless for studio photography when external strobes are used. I use intelligent preview all the time in the studio to quickly preview the scene without taking a full image. And yes, it does make a difference, I don’t want to shoot a full-sized real image and have it saved to my memory card just to visualize lighting and to check the exposure histogram. Intelligent Preview is better for images made using strobes. Live view is needed for everything else.

HD Video

Look, yes, I know and appreciate the difference between stills and video. I bought a VG10 because it’s a proper video camera, not a stills camera that needs to be upgraded to a video device. Video is needed, but not in the same sense as live view, and no, putting the 24p 1080HD video option in an A950 will not kill the new CineAlta F3 or NXCAM cameras. The Canon 5D-II and other popular video DSLRs are being used to make movies because no other device is there to fill that niche, which is why Sony released the CineAlta F3 and the new NEX NXCAM. The F3 is for high-end Indy films and professional digital cinema. The NXCAM model is for Pro video, and there’s the VG10 for consumer video. People are not going to be buying the A950 instead of the new high-end video cameras to shoot movies with. People want to shoot video with video cameras, not giant DSLR rigs that look like baby transformers and have horrible moire performance. That’s why Panasonic is selling the AF100, why RED developed the Scarlet and Epic concepts, and why Sony released the VG10 (and will be releasing the Pro-NEX NXCAM). A video capable A900 would be an awesome compliment the my VG10. Video isn’t a deal-breaker in the A950, but it needs to be there.

Non-Crippled Exposure Mode

The A950 needs the ability to autoexpose in aperture or shutter speed priority modes when manual lenses are attached to the camera. With a manual focus lens you only have the option to shoot in full manual exposure mode with the A900. This sucks and is purely a firmware issue that should’ve been fixed years ago (and could be fixed by a new A900 firmware). I should be able to put a lens on the camera, adjust the aperture on the lens, and have the camera choose the shutter speed and ISO for a correct exposure, just like I can on my NEX-VG10. Without this basic function, your ability to use the camera is limited because you have to adjust the shutter to match the aperture you use. Even my old Minolta 7D chooses the correct shutter speed for an ideal exposure with a manual focus lens attached. It’s a very basic feature and should be a function on any camera body. One reason the NEX line is so popular is that people can use whatever lenses they want on their body (with adapters). This adds to the value of the camera, and it should be the same on the A900 replacement. Focus confirmation on manual focus lenses should also exist. Sure you might need to add an electrical interface to the lens, but this is possible with Canon and Nikon and their built-in rangefinder designs. It just makes the camera better. It’s useful when manual focusing with Sony/Zeiss autofocus lenses and as well old manual focus devices, it’s not a must, but would be awesome.

Optical vs. STL Viewfinder

If the STL viewfinder works as well as an optical one does and improves the user experience, then it should be there. Currently, the A33 and A55 do not do this. With the SLT cameras (and with the NEX-VG10) it’s very difficult to use the cameras in the studio with off-camera flashes. The reason is that the electronic viewfinders try to depict the scene according to the manual exposure the photographer sets on the camera, but this of course doesn’t account for the power output of the flashes that will go off when the shutter button is pushed. The resulting live view image is a black screen when I shoot in my studio with the VG10. This makes framing the shot very difficult and is also a rather huge deal-breaker because it severely limits the use of the camera on shoots. I like having an optical viewfinder because I can easily frame the shot (even if the camera isn’t turned on). What I’m hoping is that Sony will develop a dual-system hybrid view-finder, similar to the Fuji compact camera shown at Photokina 2010. Rumors suggest this will be available on the coming NEX7, and would actually make for a very nice addition to the A950 design.

In Summary

So, basically the A900 replacement needs: Live View, HD video and non-crippled manual exposure mode. If there’s a better viewfinder design than the current one that would be great, but it needs to be better than the A33/A55 design. A rangefinder should also be integrated to help manual focusing, but it’s not a deal-breaker.

A900 Firmware Update

Sony has released a firmware update for the A850/A900 which addresses the exposure issue with manual lenses. The update includes the following:

Faster autofocus, extended the range of exposure value (EV) compensation to increased to ±5EV, exposure bracketing range has been increased to a maximum of 6.0EV (-3EV, 0EV, +3EV). The A900 and A850 firmware updates are available on various Sony support websites, including http://support.sony-europe.com/dime/DSLR/dslr.aspx.

Sony A900 – First Impressions Sony A900

Ethan_IMy photography-digital-imaging-hobby-obsession has started peaking in the past few months. After putting up some profiles on Model Mayhem and Stylished I started getting requests for Time For CD (TFCD) shoots. So I figured: Hell, why not try out a Sony A900? Why the Sony A900? Well, I have a Minolta 7D, and all my lenses will work with the Sony DSLR line. Plus GraphicArt in Zurich rents the A900 as well as the A700 and all the Zeiss and G lenses. I started out renting the A900 and 24-70mm Zeiss zoom, and since picked up a body, a flash, and a Sigma 70-200 HSM zoom. What follows is a first impressions user review of the Sony A900, used in my apartment studio and around Winterthur and Zurich for location shooting.

Why the Sony A900?

Here’s my DSLR history. I started with a Canon D2000 from eBay, decided I like the DSLR concept, moved on to a Minolta 7D (I own the Minolta 7 film camera) and basically did nothing but shoot with the 7D and expand my lighting kit. Why? Because for basic shooting a 6 megapixel camera is all you need. If you have one then keep shooting with it, only camera freaks feel a constant need to upgrade. I saw little need to buy a new DSLR, in particular I saw no point unless the new camera was significantly better than my current one. I’ve been unimpressed with the results of the Nikon D300 files as compared with those from my 7D, so why consider the A700 (which sports a similar sensor). But after shooting with the Sony A900 for a weekend and seeing how much resolution and shadow texture (dynamic range) I could get with the thing, it was a natural reaction to look at my bank account and pick up a body of my own. So to get it straight, I bought the A900 because I love the colors and shadow detail.

Alexandra_I.jpgThe A900 in the Studio

My first experience with the A900 was shooting Alexandra in my studio. She found me through Model Mayhem and we worked out a few concepts. Here I used the A900, the 24-70mm F/2.8 ZA SSM (SAL2470Z), two Elinchrom BxRi studio strobes as well as a Kacey Beauty Reflector with a Sunpak 383 flash and sometimes the Lastolite Trilite reflector kit. The Zeiss-A900 combination really leaves little to be desired. The resolution and color produced with this combination are simply fantastic, and almost exceeded my expectations (on can never be satisfied with camera gear). One major problem with the Minolta 7D is focusing. I have a number of image with a model against a wall where the camera focused on the wall instead of the model. The resulting image would of course be slightly out of focus. This doesn’t matter much for web stuff, but affects the image quality and provides less image information for post-processing work. Compared to the 7D the Sony A900 has very accurate focusing, in particular when used with a SSM (Sony Super Sonic) lens. The focus point can be controlled using a joystick on the camera, and is very useful when composing. There’s no need to “focus and recompose” as you can just move the focus point where you want. The Sony A900 is the only camera to sport a function called Intelligent Preview. Basically with Intelligent Preview you take a preview image, you can view it on the camera LCD for a few seconds, and make any adjustments necessary. On other cameras you just take an image, so at first I thought “who cares?” The face is, for light checking and shooting with the popular Strobist techniques, Intelligent Preview is a very useful feature. It allows you to fire the strobes and check exposure very quickly without filling up your memory card with test images. And when the full RAW images are 35 Megabytes in size, the Intelligent Preview feature actually saves you a lot of time and storage space.

No camera can produce an image without light. For the lighting, the Elinchrom BxRi flashes were triggered via the Skyport radio system and worked flawlessly. I hooked the Skyport camera trigger up to the A900 using a hotshoe adapter from Gadget Infinity, which enables connection of a standard 1-pin flash to the Sony/Minolta flash mount. The power of the BxRi flashes can then be adjusted directly from the camera. This is ideal when you don’t have an assistant and have a number of lights set up. There’s nothing more annoying than standing around while the photographer fiddles around with lighting equipment.


And what is the result? Perfection mon ami, perfection. The tones and colors from the A900 are fantastic. I shot Alexandra in a few different sets against green, red, and grey backgrounds. This included everything from a yellow dress to posing with a Katana and a severed Barbie head necklace. During the pre-shoot brainstorming stage I remember I was thinking something like, “Wouldn’t it be great if she was hunting Barbie dolls in the jungle and then cut off their heads and made a necklace?”

Margarita_I.jpgThe A900 on Location

I was contacted by Margarita via Stylished (she’s also on Model Mayhem). I wanted to do some photography in an urban environment, so we headed to the old industrial area of Winterthur and moved around the old Sulzer industrial-area-turned-hip-living-area. For this shoot I used the Sigma 70-200 HSM and a Sunpak 120J with a Kacey Beauty Reflector. I always use the TR-II battery pack with the 120J, as I can shoot almost all I like without worrying about battery life. I also had a Sunpak 383 with my Orbis ringflash adapter for added fill when needed. Margarita and I did a few different sets in the Sulzer parking garage and then outside. The A900 and Sigma combination was very nice. The Sigma includes an in-body ultra sonic motor, giving fast and accurate focusing. The 120J and Kacey dish is my favorite location lighting kit. Margarita posed against concrete walls, walked around the old industrial space, and contrasted quite well with the steel framework of the place.

Many people say you don’t need the 24 megapixels of the Sony A900, and this is probably true for me as well. However, more important then sensor count is the full-frame 35mm sized sensor. This means you’re able to use the bokeh qualities of your lenses the way they were designed to be used. In the Sulzer garage you have sunlight filtering through the roof and wall windows, I balanced this with my strobe and opened up the aperture of the Sigma lens to get fantastic background blur – an ideal portrait setup. I grabbed the super bokeh frames and then posed Margarita against the steel columns. I placed the Kacey dish just out of the frame to light Margarita’s upper torso and the steel column. Light fall-off from the Kacey dish was as fantastic as ever. Every time I use it I’m happy I bought it.


The Amazing A900 Files

I’ll be honest, I gag every time someone says something like, “I take real photos, I get it right IN-CAMERA and never use Photoshop.” The images I see in my head can rarely be captured in-camera. Many times they are, but like my paintings, the final image only starts with what I capture in-camera. The ability to manipulate your images in the post-processing stage depends heavily on how much information you’ve captured in-camera. So if you have a 24 megapixel image which isn’t focused properly, the shadows of the image will have poor definition and you’re limited in how well you’ll be able to manipulate those shadows, limiting your vision with Photoshop. The RAW .ARW image from the A900 are beautiful. You can shoot in normal or cRaw, the compressed .ARW format. The uncompressed RAW files are like 35 Mb, and the cRAW are like 24 Mb. Good money says you won’t see much difference between the two formats, and I’m shooting everything in cRAW at the moment. Now, I bought the A900 to get significantly better shadows texture and dynamic range than I was achieving with the 7D. Am I happy? Yes – fuck yes, I am ecstatically over-joyed with the shadow texture and post-processing ability of the A900 RAW files.

But beautiful files eat up a lot of CF card space when you’re like me and only have 1 and 2 gigabyte cards. But given how cheap these things are, I plan to be shooting with 4 or 8 gig cards with the A900. During shooting I copy the A900 files to my HyperDrive Space, then hook that up to my Mac Quicksilver 2002 G4 and copy the files using Adobe Lightroom. Basic adjustments are done in Lightroom, then choice images are exported to Adobe Photoshop to achieve the vision then fine-tuned again in Lightroom before final export to Flickr or for printing. I’ve been told you can just shoot JPEG with the A900, but I can’t figure out why. If you’re shooting JPEG with the A900 you probably don’t need the camera and should sell it to me at a good price so I can have a backup body.


Is the Sony A900 a sweet camera? Yes. Should you buy one? Yes, if you want a fine camera which produces fantastic files, has a speedy focus, handles really well. I kept my Minolta 7D for a long time, and I plan to keep on shooting with it, but I also plan on shooting with the A900. The 24 megapixels are over-kill for many applications, but when you want the fine shadow textures and ability to mainuplate the light of an image, the Sony ARW files are heaven to work with in Photoshop and Lightroom.

Photokina Nikon-Canon-Sony A900 Deathmatch

Sony A900 DSLRThe Sony A900 is a camera of purpose and symbolism. Probably the most important and influential DSLR release in the past 5 years. For some, it’s the realization of a Minolta dream that a robust full-featured behemoth in the spirit of the Maxxum 9 film camera would be realized. A professional tool for those of true grit. For others it’s a symbol of the megapixel race, and is decried as a waste of sensor area. I see it as the near final orgasm of a tantric seduction which Sony initiated nearly 2 years ago with the showing of two concept models at Photokina 2006. Now, just a digital blink a – few years after release the A100, Sony boasts a robust line of DSLRs, for soccer mom’s, guys with cameras, (GWCs) hobby fanatics, and now studio, landscape, and fashion photographers.

The reason to buy into the Sony system is similar to why people pick Macs over PCs. There are differences in this analogy, the Alpha system isn’t inspired by LSD flash backs and Sony is as large as Microsoft. But the point is, if Sony (like Apple) wants any market share from Canon and Nikon (versus Dell, Microsoft, etc.), they have to produce excellent products. They have to innovate, they have to do it right the first time, and they have to listen to consumer needs. These are things which arguably, neither Nikon nor Canon have any need to, and don’t do. With its dominate market share in the DSLR world Canon has become complacent, releasing camera models which are impressive but lack any market pressure innovations. Nikon is starting to ramp up it’s game with the D3, D700, and D90, the first DSLR to offer video recording. There’s little doubt that the Canon 5D replacement will as well, because the wolves are now out of the woods and looking to satisfy their appetites for Canon blood and camera sales.

With the A900 Sony has released a real tool for studio and fine art photographers. Enough resolution to beat the freakishly expensive Canon flagship 1Ds Mark III, in-body lens stabilization, weather sealing, and micro tuning of lens focus are nice features to have, but considering the market price of $3000, the A900 offers the greatest price-performance combinations in any DSLR ever released so far. The A900 can accommodate fine tuning focus profiles for 30 lenses, so critical focus adjustments can be made on the spot by the user. Of course, Sony might prefer to get paid for tuning lenses like Canon does (instead of allowing users do it), but at the moment the infrastructure and pro service centers don’t exist like they do for Canon. Ahhh, and the lenses…the Carl Zeiss line of autofocus glass now includes a 16-35 and 24-70 f/2.8 lenses, the ideal objectives for a 35mm full-frame body. Then there’s the 85mm and 135mm lenses, fabulous for portraits and razor sharp. Then there’s the ability of using full-frame lenses or cropping to 11 megapixels for APS-sized lenses on the A900, which means one doesn’t have to debate about lens type, they’ll all work with the new Sony.

Of course, as an 800 pound Gorilla, everyone knew Sony was coming to the DSLR jungle, they could feel the ground shake as it approached and heard the monster when it began to roar with the A350 and A700 cameras. The recent news of the Nikon D90 is nice, but we all know that’s not the end of Nikon for this year. The Nikon D3, while a revolution for Nikon users, was only a stop-gap camera so they wouldn’t jump ship to Canon, it was meant to pacify Nikon pros for a little while before the real prophet was ready to be released. The Nikon D4, a capable 24 Megapixel DSLR will for sure be released at Photokina 2008, there’s just no reason for it not to be. The Nikon D300 has essentially the same chip as the Sony A700, and the D4 will probably have a chip very similar to the A900. The last question is what Sony will release in early 2009? The A900 is nice, but will all know the A700 is starting to age against the competition, and an A800/A850 with a full-frame sensor to fill the price gap between the A700 and A900 seems painfully logical.

It took some time to go from the A100 to the A900, and the Sony marketing tactic has been to tell everyone the end of the story first. “We want to take serious market share of the DSLR market, and this will be our flagship, the A900.” This was a bold and unheard of attempt in the digital camera world. Pentax tried this and then failed to deliver a digital version of their medium format camera system, and have since stayed in the shadows producing a niche DSLR for committed followers.

The tactic is designed to prevent users from purchasing from competitors and is very simple. You tell people about the awesome camera 18 months early because it’s a way to drum up enthusiasm for a new camera without immediately releasing a product. The point is to encourage people who are thinking of not buying a Sony A700 versus a Nikon D200 to go ahead and invest in Sony, because Sony is committed to being a contender and producing a full DSLR system. Such a system can’t be supported if people think that Sony is interested in only selling glorified point and shoot DSLRs. An 800 pound gorilla can do this.

The beast tells you what it will do and then laughs as the bush men try to kill it before the Kong destroys the village. But this is the DSLR world, far more dangerous than any jungle, and Sony is indeed a vulnerable beast. While Sony has been enticing consumers with dreams of the A900 for two years, Nikon and Canon have been gearing up for the death match. In particular Canon, the DSLR company which doesn’t need to innovate, has had more than enough heads-up on what would be coming, and are going to release a 5D-II for Photokina, which is rumored to have 24 megapixels, live-view, and movie capabilities. They have to, because at the moment the Canon line is aged and stiff compared to Nikon and Sony. 2009 will be the year of the full-frame DSLR death match between Nikon, Canon, and Sony, for all of them will have monster cameras to sell and all will have to be below the $3000 price point.

Competition is good for the consumer and forces innovation, so what other forces are at play? What comes next you wonder? Look to the planet Mars…children of the night, for the Red One uber innovative digital movie camera maker is rumored to be developing its own DSLR, which will be more of a hand-held high definition video production system than a camera.

No one knows when this DSLR war will end, or exactly when the difference between DSLRs and camcorders will be a matter of marketing strategy, but it’s certain that the jungle will get bloody this year. The air is filled with the scent of DSLR blood, and it’s a great time to be a consumer of digital camera technology.

Further Reading:

A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

A Sony Alpha A900 Gorilla Eyes the DSLR Jungle

The end is near, and hack camera writers across the web are digging in for the mad-capped pseudo blood-bath set to be unleashed on the digital camera world. The release of the Sony A900, the full-framed 24 Megapixel beast will be launched before the end of 2008. There’s little doubt that Sony will unveil a DSLR marketing spectacle like the world has never seen at Photokina 2008 in Cologne (September 23rd-28th), and it might even be worth attending this year.

For give-or-take a decade now the DSLR market has been dominated by small sensor APS-sensor sized offerings, and Full Frame 35mm sized image sensors have been integrated into only a few cameras models, such as in the release of high-end Canon cameras such as the EOS-1Ds and more affordable 5D models, plus a few washout releases by Kodak. Full-frame 35mm image sensors have many advantages, in particular that the majority of DSLR lenses are designed for that sensor size. All the benefits of selective focus and shallow depth of field can be fully exploited when paired with 35mm sensors, which are less pronounced when one uses a 35mm-designed lens on an APS-sized camera body. So far the benefits of larger imaging sensors have stayed in the plus of $2500-$3000 (at the low end). Even the recent release of the affordable ($3000 MSRP) 35mm full-frame camera by Nikon; the D700 is really only there for professionals and gear heads thirsty to drop money on a new trophy camera. The D700 competes directly with the Canon 5D, which originally brought full-frame capabilities to pros and advanced amateurs the world over for the lowly MSRP price of $3299. The release of the Canon 5D and Nikon D700 were significant, but for true innovation the market need competition.

Competition benefits the consumer, and Canon has been the Microsoft of the digital camera market, nearly fully dominating the 35mm full-frame digital segment since it started. There’s good reason for it; Canon does cameras, lenses, sensors, and software/firmware, all of which are key components needed to produce a successful digital camera. Canon has the means of developing all of these essential components in-house using one design strategy.

By comparison, every other DSLR company has been able to do maybe two of the above (at most), but without the last piece of the development puzzle it’s been difficult to match Canon, which generally means the ability to develop and manufacture the imaging sensor. Many companies, such as Nikon have relied on partner companies to design and manufacture the imaging sensors. So while Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Leica and Olympus could design great cameras and lenses, they couldn’t build DSLRs without sensors from companies like Sony. Sony produces many of the imaging sensors used in current point-and-shoot as wells as DSLR cameras. But it wasn’t until Sony bought the camera technology from Minolta that they could start developing the Alpha DSLR System. The true strength of Canon has been its ability to develop, manufacture, and release DSLR models faster and with more precision than the competition. Even Nikon hasn’t kept up with the Canon camera release cycle and only released its first full-frame model a year ago in the form of the D3. Nikon is improving in this respect, but there is now another beast in the DSLR Jungle.


Enter an 800 Pound Gorilla…

Unlike every other camera company, Sony can actually match and beat Canon in the camera development game. Sony bought the camera and lens technology from Minolta, who got out of the camera business because it couldn’t develop and release cameras at the rate of competitors. Sony has partnered with Carl Zeiss, who now designs and oversees production of high-end lenses and markets the Zeiss ZA line for the Sony Alpha mount. And as a final piece in the puzzle, Sony can design and produce their own imaging sensors, which is something only Canon does at the moment (although Nikon has recently started down this road with the D3 and D700). Add to that the fact that Sony is huge, with distribution centers and marketing people in every corner of the globe, and it’s a sure bet that with an aggressive business strategy they’ll change the DSLR playing field. Why? Because Sony doesn’t enter markets just to release products, they’re a contender. Sony over turned the high-end video and camcorder markets, and they’re poised to do the same with DSLRs – with the new A900.

The soon to be released A900 from Sony could change the status quo of the DSLR world. The release of the A900 will mean that together with Canon and Nikon, there will be three major development and manufacturing entities producing and marketing DSLRs with full-framed 35mm image sensors to the general consumer market. The potential technology infusion and price reductions could be the first real signs of an end (or at a least plateau) to the DSLR evolution game. The 2007/08 DSLR offerings from Sony have been significant. The A700 was released in late 2007.  Essentially the upgrade to the Minolta 7D, which fans of the camera had been waiting for, which showed the world that Sony can design and manufacture a serious DSLR.  Sony has implemented excellent Live-View capabilities as well as vibration reduction technology into their camera bodies (like the Sony A350), at prices which make the Alpha system extremely attractive for camera buyers transitioning from point-and-shoot models to DSLRs.

Once one transitions from a Sony W300 point-and-shoot to an A200, A300, A350, or A700 DSLR; the energized customer will be thirsty for something…more. The A900 will be the ultimate fulfillment of that thirst (at least until the next model), and has the potential to establish Sony as a serious camera Brand – not a rebagged Minolta camera maker, not a me-too-jump-on-the-bandwagen DSLR distributer, but a full-time serious contender in the DSLR Jungle. The most important notion here is that a full-frame DSLR from Sony will have to have a price lower than that of Nikon and Canon to be competitive.  The A900 will have Sony Super SteadyShot (SSS) built into the body as well as a 24.6 Megapixel CMOS imaging sensor. According to Mark Weir (Sony Digital Imaging and Audio Division), the senior technology and marketing manager of the Alpha camera line, the 24.6 Megapixel sensor will achieve very low noise due to an intelligent A/D converter technique (as reported at PMA 2008 in a Calumet Photo interveiw).  This could be significant, since it is generally felt that sensor noise has to dramatically increase with high pixel density.  If the A900 retains it’s high resolution with low noise levels and is offered at a price point below that of the competitors, the A900 could be an excellent options for photographers needing medium format resolution in a 35mm sized body.  The next camera with such features is the Canon 1Ds-Mark III, which boasts 21 Megapixels and retails for nearly $8,000. 

The true profits for digital camera makers is not in the cameras but in the system. Sony lenses, memory cards, flashes, and other random add-ons is where the long-term profit strategy exists. The point is to get people into the Alpha System, because once you have a sweet 24 megapixel beast in your hand, you want to fully exploit its potential with a Carl Zeiss 24-70 f/2.8, Sony 80-200 f/2.8, or any of the variety of other lenses which are currently available – as well as those that will be released into the marketplace. Not to mention a vertical grip to make the camera look cool, as well as the flagship Sony FL-58 flash, which actually has one of the most innovative head designs of any other maker, and boasts excellent wireless control for additional flashes.

I’m looking forward to the Sony A900, and might actually buy one. The successful Canon 5D is now essentailly discontinued and can be had for less than $2000, but only until the successor is released (probably called the Canon 6D). Aside from the new Canon 5D replacement and the new offerings from Nikon (the just released D700 and soon to be here D3x), the Sony A900 should have the biggest impact on the DSLR market in 2009. It will affect camera prices, encourage (more like force) innovation, and no matter your favorite brand, the release of the A900 will have a positive impact on the DSLR Jungle.



PMA 2008 – Sony Digital Junky Live View Nuclear Madness

Now we have come of Age
Descended from the Hills and Caves

This humble year of our Lord called 2008 is set to explode in the mind of this camera-politico-junky dream.  Forces are in motion and old battle scores are set to be replayed on the global stage.  We in the pro-amature photo industry news business take these things very seriously – more intently and at a higher adrenalin level than any fool CNN political commentator War junky journalist on the Net today.

The Photo Marketing Association held it’s yearly show, and among camera announcments from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Pentax and others, Sony is set to transform the digital camera market.

The stakes are higher than those wars overseas and every online junky comes out of the digital net to blast competitor companies and raise their favorite brand to Buddha like reverence with the crafty spirit of a Sun Tzu trained assassin.

First, let’s set the stage:

For those in the know, the competition between digital single lense reflex (DSLR) camera manufacturers is nothing less than a precision guerrilla war on the global chess board.  In any competition there are those on the top and there are underdogs.  The Goliath of the camera industry is Canon.  Dominant in the pro sports market their lenses and bodies penetrate the consiousness of anyone who has seen a main stream camera in the past 20 years.  Canon was really the first camera maker to develop its own imaging sensors and use full frame (35mm film sized) sensors.  Their pro cameras are always at the top of the performance charts and have dominantly defined the direction of digital camera technology since Kodak dropped the ball in developing DSLR technology.

Canon is the Golaith to knock off, and Nikon started the real assault late in 2007 with the release of the D3, a full frame high ISO DSLR beast which is creating a movement of dollars back to the Nikon brand.  Aside from Nikon, the small companies like Pentax, Olympus, and the now defunct Konica-Minolta released cool technologies like in camera images stabilization, anti-dust, and Live View innovations, which were either capatilized upon, improved, or ignored by Canikon.

Unlike War, the photography battles occur at prearranged places, generally the yearly PMA and biannual Photokina.  This year they’re both going down and the bloody push for market share is fierce.

The stage is set to explode because one last vestiage of the samurai inspired Nihon-Camera tradition has begun to growl and show its silver back.

An 800 lbs Gorilla is in the room – Sony started is mobilizing in the DSLR business about 2 years ago with all the vigor and quiet calm of a Tsunami – after aquiring the camera technology from Minolta.  Now the hurgry beast has declared a desire to capture 10% of the DSLR market in 2008.  At this time in 2007 Sony had one DSLR and a hand full of lenses on sale.  Now the line boasts the A100, A200, A300, A350, and A700.  Partnered with Carl Zeiss, the mystic German lens house to design and oversee high-end lens production – the pieces are coming into place for Sony to make some serious market penetration.  And then, just a few days before PMA opened and other manufacturers finished their announcements, a quiet press release was made:

Sony announces the development of 24.81 Megapixel Full Frame Sensor

The general camera geek consumer has been waiting for a hammer to drop… that full frame DSLRs would be produced is such numbers that they would actually become affordable and Canon would be knocked on its head – and this is one large step closer to reality.

Sony is more or less leap-frogging over Olympus and Pentax, which Minolta was incapatble of doing.  With in-house sensor manufacturing abilities and global marketing reach, Sony has the power to do what Nikon has had trouble with – entering a head-to-head Ram style war for the high resolution Pro-oriented DSLR market.

Let’s Focus…

The combination of Minolta camera technology, Zeiss lenses and a 24.81 megapixel CMOS imaging sensor is the camera industry equivalent of a country aquiring full-blown nuclear capabilities with ICBM cluster delivery systems overnight.  No matter your moral affiliations it means something, and the world will never seem the same again.  Of course, we’re dealing with cameras here, not atomic demons, but the analogy will stick for now.

The hammer is coming children…and it’s set to slam against the ground with the full force of an 800 lbs Japanese Gorilla behind it – and all the camera junkies are laying money down on Sony in announcing their Alpha 9/A900 full frame DSLR at Photokina in September 2008.