First, here are the two columns I wrote predicting/asking for high quality EVF's to replace optical finders going forward:
So why do I think Sony gets it when everyone else is stuck at 2004? When I first picked up an Olympus EP-2 with the VF2 finder on it I knew I was looking at the future of professional digital cameras. Not because the EP-2 was so incredible (and for many reasons it was) but because the EVF was such a revelation. You could see what you'd really get. When you look through an optical finder you're seeing an image that's always at a wide open aperture setting, and it's beguiling with a narrow depth of field and a bright image. But a great EVF shows you what you're really going to end up with once you push the button. It's reading all the stuff you shoved in ROM and it's finessing the image exactly the way you requested. If you set a color balance manually it's showing you THAT color balance in the finder. No surprises. If you set f11 or f1.4 the EVF is showing you the exact DOF you'll end up with. The only two glitches were the shooting delay caused by moving mirrors and the fact that early EVF's sucked in low light. As the camera's files got darker and noisier so did the finder image. That was/is the Achille's heel of my beloved Sony R1......
But the way around the delay in DSLR's was to go back to the Canon idea of a pellicle mirror that doesn't move and is mostly transparent. No need for mirror lock up means far fewer mechanical linkages and levers. Fewer little motors that drive things that have inertia. The second fix was to radically increase the video sample time for the finder image to eliminate lag and motion smear while you pan the camera or when the model moves in front of you. This appears to be part of the technology package of the a77.
According to the specs (thanks press release!) The camera has an ISO range of 50 to 16,000. I'll be happy if it does 100 to 3200 well and I'm pretty sure it will. It's a 24 megapixel camera and all of those pixels are crammed on to an APS-C sized sensor. I'm not sure how I feel about that but I've read white papers that largely refute the idea that "dense pack" is necessarily bad. The real adventure will be in finding (and affording) lenses that will do justice to the pixel density. Those lenses will need to be sharp, sharp, sharp. And fast, fast, fast. I say, "fast" because I think you'll want to stay closer to the large apertures to prevent diffraction effects.
And finally, Sony seems to have stuffed the camera with fast memory and many channels to move information off the sensor and into the processors because it can shoot bursts of 24 megapixel images at 12 fps. That's pretty astounding. But no a metric I really care much about.
The real story, besides the translucent mirror, is all about the EVF and that's where the revolution exists. What we're talking about here is a 2.4 megapixel OLED screen with ultra fast refresh times. This is at least a generation beyond the good work Olympus has done on the VF-2. While most of the old timers who grew up with luxuriously bright prism finders will howl in derision the reality is that a superbly made EVF has many advantages. Push one button to zoom in for critical manual focus. Preview all kinds of filter and balancing effects. Shoot movies with your eye on the finder (instead of doing the soccer mom, club nerd, iphone-aholic, full arm extension idiot camera hold). When you couple a great finder with no moving mirror you have a camera that's much cheaper to fabricate and that's the motivation for camera makers. If it's well implemented all the "upgrade" features of electronic viewfinders are what makes it wonderful for us.
Now all that remains is to watch Canon and Nikon play catch up with Sony. If Sony's sensor delivers in this product I think they will have finally caught the momentum they've been looking for. If they can quickly follow up the a77 with a full frame product and a mess of good lenses to fill in the lens line gap then I believe the professional market will turn into a horse race between the big three. This is the kind of innovation that will move everyone forward.
Finally, uninformed pundits who love their existing camera brands, will endlessly prattle on about how "people's investment in "glass" will prevent them from switching brands, dooming Sony to always be in third place..."
Not really. I'm pretty fickle. I've changed brands three times in four years. Each time I've found that while the bodies don't hold value at all the lenses hold value fairly well and are easy to move on the used market. If you are an early adopter you've already found the lens, embraced it, used it, gotten tired of it and moved on just about the time that the great muddling center of the "Bell Curve" has finally discovered the lens. By this time it's probably rising in popularity and becoming scarce because of demand. What a great time to sell a used copy into a warmed up market.
Since most professional photographers take advantage of the accelerated cost recovery aspect of federal taxes, the bodies and lenses we buy end up getting expensed in the first year of ownership. A constant flow of gear isn't necessarily the giant financial sink hole that it used to be. It's amazing to think of the cameras as disposables but I recently was shooting with my friend, Andy, and I was amazed to find that his images from a Sony Nex 5, in decent light, were just as good as the images I was pulling out of Canon 5D mk2. Yes, the Canon might have better low light resources but we were shooting in daylight on the shaded streets of downtown Austin and the Nex held its own well. Which makes me wonder yet again whether our acceptance of new technology drives marketing trends or if we're just finding better uses for the new stuff as it comes out.
It's all a crap shoot at this point but let me posit this: If this camera, with its 24 megapixels, 60fps video and miracle finder actually works as well as it's spec'd, and the images are commensurate in quality to their pixel quantity, and the asking price is around $1500, then why the hell wouldn't we buy it? These are specs that we would have laughed at as science fiction just a few years ago when we were shelling out $5000 for a Canon 1Dmk2n that shot 8 megapixels at 8 fps, had no video, was limited to ISO 1600 and so on. Or a few years earlier when we shelled out $ 5000 for a Nikon D2H with a whopping 4 megapixels......and a realistic top ISO of 400......