Sony’s New dSLR Models

A couple of days ago I attended a press event by Sony where there were many interesting discussions about Sony’s cameras and future.
Sony’s current dSLR line-up is the A700, A350 and A200. There is also an A300 in some markets.

The A700 is the oldest model in the range and the first all Sony model. The older A100 was a mix of Konica-Minolta and Sony technology. It was clear from the discussions that Sony, while happy to purchase the entire KM manufacturing plant, was not entirely happy with Minolta technology and so was very keen with the A700 to raise manufacturing tolerances and change some of the mechanisms to improve reliability and longevity. The A700 is Sony’s current top model and is aimed at the serious amateur and perhaps the semi-professional. It is a 12Mpixel model and it is interesting that the A700 is likely to stay in the lineup for some time.

Sony Alpha 700 digital SLR

The A350 is their first model using the new 14Mpixel chip and is also their first model with Liveview. For Sony’s Liveview implementation they put a Cybershot sensor in the pentaprism with a mirror that flips into the lightpath to feed the chip. This gives them a Liveview that continues to work at up to two frames per second of shooting.

Sony Alpha 350 digital SLR

The A200 is Sony’s new entry level model and does not feature Liveview.

Sony Alpha 200 digital SLR

We’ll be reviewing these models shortly, along with having a god test of the Carl Zeiss lenses.

Beyond discussion of the current camera models, the discussion of Sony’s future plans was most interesting. Sony have two lines of lenses for their dSLRs: their own and the Carl Zeiss lenses. All the Carl Zeiss lenses and many of Sony’s are designed to cover the full 35mm frame, not just the APS-C size of Sony’s current models. Sony will be rolling out more Carl Zeiss models later this year. They would not be doing this if they did not intend to go full-frame soon.

Sony’s product cycle will bring the next dSLR models in the August/September timeframe. Sony did let slip that now that they felt they had great models for the amateur that their next target was the professional market.  It was pointed out that since their full frame 24Mpixel sensor was now in full production that it might not be unreasonable to expect an announcement at Photokina in September 2008 related to this in a camera. I’d say the fact that they are rolling out lots of high-end full frame Carl Zeiss lenses provides some extra support to this belief. So I am expecting a full frame, 24Mpixel professional dSLR to be announced at Photokina.

Sony has a huge professional support network worldwide for their broadcast video products, a market that they completely dominate. It was pointed out by Sony that this network is, in fact, much larger than both Canon and Nikon’s similar systems because of the massive number of television stations and other pro video users they support and that this network could readily provide support for Sony pro still cameras as soon as Sony felt they had a serious enough offering to make it worthwhile.

Another topic of discussion will re-assure Minolta users: Sony has no intention to make any changes to either the lens mount or the inclusion in the camera body of the autofocus motor, thus ensuring ongoing support for Minolta AF lenses.

In other news, Sony Australia has launched a dSLR section of their site with forums and how-to articles for alpha users:

I came out of the meeting convinced that we are about to see some significant moves from Sony and some most interesting products. Certainly the A200, A350 and A700 look the part and offer a great selection of features. Competition is good and with a Nikon that seems to have recently got their act together again, Olympus pushing forward, Pentax delivering an impressive camera with the K20D and a Canon 5D replacement expected at Photokina, the dSLR market is looking most interesting.

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